Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall Review
HBO‘s Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episode 6: Beyond the Wall was a fantastic action episode with very little character development outside of Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).
As Game of Thrones progressed throughout its later seasons, the show has veered away from palace intrigue toward on-screen grandeur and spectacle. Game of Thrones wants to go out with a bang in the viewer’s mind (this is the penultimate season), closing out all of its lingering plot lines along the way. The latter half of Season 6 and almost all of Season 7 of Game of Thrones are examples of this. Beyond the Wall, for better or worse, was no different, except with Ayra Stark and Sansa Stark. Those two characters took on the palace intrigue roles, since unlike the outrageously entertaining books this TV series is based on, no new families are going to be introduced into this series at this point (the series is coming to an end) nor the storylines that they would have brought with them. The existing characters and their storylines are being manipulated and re-engineered to take their places. Thus the growing animosity between Arya Stark and Sansa Stark, though the groundwork for it has been consistent.
Arya Stark’s training with the Faceless Men allows her to detect when someone is lying to her. That placed Sansa in a terrible position in Beyond the Wall as her inner most thoughts were laid bare. Ayra “coming out” to Sansa about her identity-taking ability made Sansa’s unease with Arya even worse. That was Ayra’s plan all along, to create that anxiety in Sansa. Ayra hoped that the web of discontent that she had created would stymie Sansa, curtail her ambition, and protect Jon Snow. What Ayra failed to calculate was the Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) factor. Littlefinger was a master manipulator and tactician, at a level that Ayra had never encountered. Littlefinger had already successfully pitied the two sisters against each other. In Beyond the Wall, he began pushing Sansa in a direction without Sansa knowing he was doing it. Littlefinger sensed Sansa’s growing ambition. Littlefinger had been around ambitious people all of his life, especially in King’s Landing. As Jon Snow’s absence stretched on, Sansa had begun to reek of it. When Sansa said earlier in the season that she had learned a lot from Cersei Lannister, she was being literal. With Petyr Baelish’s assistance, who slyly mentioned that Brienne of Tarth would have to protect Ayra if Ayra’s life became in danger, Sansa set the stage to eventually murder Ayra. Unfortunately for Sansa, she had already made the one mistake a conspirator should never make – Sansa had underestimated her opponent and that opponent’s resourcefulness.
Substantive family treachery and in-fighting, not the quick, fleeting kind seen with the Boltons, is something that has not been present on Game of Thrones in years. Through that dance…or game, Sansa and Ayra Stark are becoming something that they have never been before. The Lannisters.
The battle at the frozen lake was the action apex of Beyond The Wall but it was the dialogue that led up to it that had the viewer’s ears ringing with delight. Small storylines: lust was revealed, oaths, family ties, lost opportunities, desperation, and of course, fear were brought out into the snow-reflected light of day as previously separate characters came together on the long march south.
During key battle scenes in Beyond the Wall, a curious anomaly occurred. The observant viewer would have seen that Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) clearly had a sword with him in The Citadel during Stormborn, yet in Beyond the Wall Jorah only had two long daggers. What happened to his sword? Why in the world would a man, a knight, that had trained with a sword since he was a child go into the most dangerous, unforgiving region in the world without his primary weapon? If Jorah had lost his sword, why didn’t he get a new one at Dragonstone or Eastwatch-by-the-Sea? Why would Jorah Mormont want to lessen his attack range when he knew he was going to be fighting undead creatures, creatures that he had never fought before? It was little inconsistencies like that dragged the viewer out of what they were seeing on-screen in Beyond the Wall, causing that viewer to question the ambiguous logic of the screen writer behind it.
The logic behind the inclusion of the wight bear in Beyond the Wall was crystal clear – foundation. The wight bear was an element from the books deleted from the TV series until Beyond the Wall. In the books, the wight bear appeared during the battle on the Fist of the First Men but that entire battle was erased from the television show during Valar Dohaeris. Only a vapid wisp of that fantastic Night’s Watch / wight battle made it on-screen.
With the shift in tone from drama to action in Game of Thrones, part of that Fist of the First Men battle was resurrected in Beyond the Wall. The wight bear cleverly made clear that any dead animal, even a large one, could be resurrected to become a servant of White Walkers.
What led up to the dragon / wight / White Walker battle scene (e.g. sending Gendry (Joe Dempsie) back to Eastwatch), the battle scene itself, the death of Viserion by ice spear, and the resurrection of Viserion in Beyond the Wall where great pieces of dramatic writing. The dragon fire destruction scenes in Beyond the Wall were not as great as the ones in The Spoils of War but it raised the stakes for Game of Thrones‘ protagonists in a significant way. The death and resurrection of the dragon Viserion gave the Night King an undead weapon the likes of which the Game of Thrones‘ world had never seen. It was a game changer in the war between the living and the dead. Qyburns’ Scorpions will be useless against a flying dead animal that feels no pain. Qyburn could shoot wight Viserion a hundred times with Scorpion bows and wight Viserion would be unaffected. Wight Viserion’s living brothers will not be able to affect it either. Remember, dragons are impervious to dragon fire. I am guessing that applies to dead ones as well.
Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) was a good surprise in Beyond the Wall, one that failed to live up to its full potential. Benjen Stark should have returned to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with Jon Snow. In Beyond the Wall when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) asked Benjen to come with him and Benjen said that “There’s no time,” there was plenty of time. The wights were twenty or thirty feet away. There was enough time for Benjen to mount his horse behind Jon Snow and kick the horse into a gallop. Benjen Stark didn’t do that because Game of Thrones is winding down and its writers wanted to close out Benjen’s storyline. Evidently, Game of Thrones‘ writers are closing out its lingering, remaining storylines so that no one can say, when everything is said and done, “but what happened to [fill in the character’s name]”? The writers did that last season with Rickon Stark, Shaggy Dog, and Osha and they did it this season with Benjen Stark.
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