With episode #66, Game of Thrones begins to end Season 7 with the spectacle that its massive budget and production values demand. Some people (I raise my hand here) will give the show an attitude for indulging in spectacle over substance, but to be pragmatic the former pays the bills for the latter. And, to be 100% honest, I would much rather that the show indulge in the kind of spectacle on display in Season 7, including in this episode, than the disturbing amount of sexpositional spectacle it used in earlier seasons. This episode is relatively contained, we only visit three locations over its 71 minutes, but some very spectacular things happen in that hour+ of television.

(I assume any audience reading about Game of Thrones has read a lot about A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones and I will not be responsible for any information you may gain as a consequence of reading this article. That said, I attempt to ignore directly talking about leaked information. Thank you HBO for making that particularly difficult for this episode, well done.)

Start with a roaring fire

The episode begins in the Chamber of the Painted Table inside the castle Dragonstone on the island of Dragonstone. An establishing shot pans northward over the map, from the Vale of Arryn, over White Harbor, following the White Knife north of Long Lake, over Last Hearth, the Wall (and two of its forts, Castle Black and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea), and finally beyond the Wall. There are no labels for cities or forts or towns or mountains or islands up here; this is Terra incognita, a land where the people vying to rule over Westeros generally take no interest because the return of investment is low. For thousands of years that wasn’t a bad strategic choice…

Cut to the cold of the Great Wight Hunt

Season 7 showed up later in the year than the previous seasons because production time took a bit longer partially because filming in Iceland had to take place when it was pretty dang cold in Iceland. All of these beyond the Wall scenes were probably primarily filmed on location in Iceland during January and February of this year. So if the actors look cold, they are probably actually cold.

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There’s thirteen people in the GWH party. There’s the seven named characters (Jon, Davos, Tormund, Sandor, Thoros, Beric, Gendry) and there’s six Redshirt free folk. The redshirts are the ones pulling a sled around; I know what you’re thinking you’re thinking why are they not using Rhosgobel rabbits to pull the sled well that’s because they are not Radagast the Brown.

There are two establishing shots to get across to the audience that this area beyond the Wall is desolate. Snow and rock are the only things visible. It’s not a good spot for the living, but for the Dead it’s probably not that bad; as unliving beings they take less damage from cold.

There’s actually some communication in this third shot! Jon, Gendry, and Tormund are near the front of the line and they talk about snow, because Gendry has never seen snow. They also talk about the South, which Tormund doesn’t like. Jon says that Winterfell is not the South (it’s the North!) but Tormund dismisses that because he doesn’t care about Westeros’s geography naming conventions. Gendry asks how Tormund keeps his balls from freezing off, Tormund informs him that the secret is to keep moving.

Jon makes some heteronormative joke about how there’s no women within a hundred miles, Tormund makes a creepy heteronormative joke about how they’ll have to make do with what they got while he looks inquiringly at Gendry, Gendry is creeped out a bit because he didn’t expect the Free Folk to be so heteronormative.

Tormund it’s not Gendry’s fault he is maybe not very smart as an illegitimate child he didn’t have access to good affordable public education so he wasn’t given many opportunities to get book smart. Jon says that “Davos says he’s a strong fighter” which is not really what Davos said onscreen but maybe he said that offscreen, and Tormund says that’s more important than being smart.

As long as Tormund is talking to Jon he also wants to know about the Dragon Queen, Jon says she’s cool and all but she wants me to bend the knee, and Tormund jokingly says that Jon has hung out with the Free Folk too much because now he doesn’t like kneeling.

Dang that is a really good point there Tormund maybe Jon has too much pride.

Daenerys, literally two episodes ago: Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?

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Nice work Tormund and Daenerys if you two people from very different points of view and social settings both are giving Jon an attitude about him being too full of pride maybe he’ll realize he’s too full of pride. Good coordinated intervention tactics there, whoever wrote these intervention scenes did a great job.

There’s a break to a broader-filmed scene, and then we go back to the column of the GWH to go into another conversation. This one is between Gendry, Beric, and Thoros, who have some unsettled beef they would like to discuss. Thoros asks if Gendry is still mad, Gendry is still mad because he got sold to a witch, Thoros clarifies that she’s a priestess, Beric says that they’re fighting a great war and that wars cost money, Gendry is angry because he wanted to be part of the Brotherhood without Banners but they sold him off

Gendry: Do you know what she did to me? She strapped me down on a bed, she stripped me naked-
Sandor: Sounds alright so far.
Gendry: -and put leeches on me.
Sandor: Was she naked too?

Sandor knows what’s up!!!!!!!!!! Thoros says that she needed Gendry’s blood, Gendry is angry that Thoros thinks he’s dumb, Sandor says it could have been worse, Gendry is angry that she wanted to kill him and that they would have killed him if he hadn’t been smuggled out of there, and Sandor’s point is that they didn’t, so what is he whinging about. Gendry wants to claim that he’s not whinging, Sandor tells him, yes, he is whinging.

Thoros offers his canteen-full-of-liquor to Gendry so that Gendry can recover from the burn he just got from Sandor, Gendry gladly partakes of the liquor.

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Sandor has a good point here; Gendry had an interesting and at-times terrifying adventure but in the bigger picture so what? Gendry has survived the entirety of the War of the Five Kings while dying zero times while hiding in the same city where he was once almost killed. Things could be much much much worse for Gendry.

Jorah and Jon talk about their fathers; I think it was in the middle of this scene that I realized that I think Iain Glen is killin it with his portrayal of Jorah this year. Jorah at this time in his life is fully aware that he disgraced House Mormont; the main thing he wants to know from Jon is whether he was there when Jeor got shanked. Jon says he wasn’t but that every mutineer responsible for Jeor’s death found justice, Jorah says that the way Jeor went was terrible because Jeor loved the Night’s Watch, and Jon agrees it was terrible. Then it kind of seems like a quick edit erased something because Jon is mentioning his (assumed) father Ned and how he died in a dishonourable way. Jorah brings up that Ned would have executed Jorah if he had had the chance and that Ned was in the right for wanting to do so, but Jon is glad Ned didn’t catch Jorah.

Also wait how much of a height difference is there between these two oh Jorah is 5 inches taller than Jon that’s why Jon has to look up at him to talk to him, fascinating. Jon and Jorah get to the side of the GWH because Jon wants to offer Jorah something that is owed to Jorah; Longclaw, the sword that Jeor handed down to him ~5 years earlier. Jon says that it’s not right for him to keep carrying the sword if it’s supposed to be in House Mormont, and Jorah just says that Jeor gave it to Jon.

Jon’s upbringing made him feel like he never deserves anything good; he’s that kid you knew when you were growing up who had to be told on several occasions that yes this is your birthday party yes this is your cake you actually deserve nice things on occasion. Jon always wants to relinquish any honour granted upon him and assume any dishonour or noble last stand he can. This mindset of his has a lot of implications for his actions in this episode and I can only assume (given that he’s, arguably, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne) that it will come into focus often in Season 8. There’s also slight echoes there of a monologue that Varys gives in A Dance with Dragons about how a good leader should want to serve more than be served; Jon has often given every indication that he fits that description.

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Also there’s Jorah’s implication that Jon will be having kids. Jon is still coming to terms with his new identity as the Lord of Winterfell/Warden of the North/King in the North; he still has not really thought through that control of Winterfell might now rest with his bloodline. He might need, for the sake of the North’s continued stability, to marry and have children. I wonder if he’s met any single ladies recently? Who might also be interested in getting married?

The She-Wolves of Winterfell

Arya is watching over the courtyard of Winterfell when Sansa walks to join her in the watching. Arya talks of Ned, and how he used to watch the Stark children from up here. Arya is still being snippy towards Sansa, snarking that Sansa probably doesn’t remember because she was busy knitting. Arya tells her story of the first time she fired arrows and it’s a sweet story of a girl starting to measure her warrior skills and her father silently approving

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I looked up and he’s standing right here, smiling down on me. I knew what I was doing was against the rules, but he was smiling so I knew it wasn’t wrong, the rules were wrong. I was doing what I was meant to be doing and he knew it. Now he’s dead, killed by the Lannisters, with your help.

Although across Westeros there is a general belief that somehow warrior training is only for men, there are also areas of the Seven Kingdoms (Dorne, the Iron Islands, the North…) wherein such a belief is much less consistently accepted. House Stark in particular has a long history of “warrior women” among its members, which was why Ned always had a complex relationship towards Arya’s interest in warrior ways. Yes it’s not something that he, as a father, wants to tell his younger daughter to not show interest in, but that interest also reminds him of Lyanna, who maybe would still be alive if she hadn’t shown interest in fighting, an interest which made her of interest to Rhaegar, and all the subsequent troubles that occurred because of the Rhaegar-Lyanna affair-turned-marriage.

Anyway. Sansa doesn’t approve of Arya giving her grief for Ned being dead although it takes her a few seconds to fully digest what Arya just said. Arya then unrolls a scroll, the scroll she stole last episode from Petyr’s room, and reads it aloud.

Robb I write to you today with heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason, he conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me well and providing me with every comfort. I beg you, come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey, and prevent any strife between the Great Houses of Lannister and Stark. Your faithful sister, Sansa

Sansa plays the “I was forced” card, Arya’s like if it wasn’t literal torture you shouldn’t have written this, Sansa plays the “I was a child” card, Arya’s like so was I but I would never betray House Stark, Sansa plays the “it was the only way to save Ned” card, Arya says that was stupid to believe (Actually Arya, Cersei was willing to send Ned to the Wall rather than kill him, the issue was that Joffrey was a jerk), and Arya says that she remembers seeing Sansa feet away from the execution block. So Sansa plays the “well why didn’t you save him?” card and Arya doesn’t have much of a response for that so Sansa’s like “okay so you also did nothing to save Ned” but Arya is really just going to keep saying that Sansa betrayed all of House Stark. So Sansa plays the “the only reason we conquered Winterfell is because of the Knights of the Vale” card, which is still a valid card to play, whereas Arya was off somewhere training, Sansa was suffering things that Arya couldn’t even imagine, but Arya says she could imagine quite a lot, and Sansa says she’s a better survivor than Arya, and Arya says that they’ll never know.

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So Sansa wants to know what Arya is going to do with the letter, and Arya doesn’t know. Sansa asks more questions and Arya is mainly interested in why does Sansa want to know things, so she talks through the options of who Sansa is keeping the letter from. She figures out that it’s not Jon, because Jon would forgive, so she correctly guesses that Sansa would be scared that the Northern lords would read the letter, because they would see it as further evidence that Sansa’s loyalties do not stand with the North. Sansa says that Arya’s angry and she’s not really thinking this through, and Arya says that anger is better than fear, so she’ll keep being angry, and on that Arya leaves.

Last episode I was 100% sure that the Sansa-Arya conflict is constructed by them in order to lure Petyr’s scheming nature into a trap that he can’t talk his way out of. This episode does a lot of work in making that seem less likely, in this episode it seems like the majority of their arguments are for show but the two Stark sisters are drawing on the animosity they showed towards one another back in Season 1 to really dig at one another. It’s verbally fighting someone whose secrets you know, and who you can really hurt with words if you just apply the most damaging words in the most damaging way. Arya is making a show of reading the letter out loud, in public, to Sansa, because she knows that Petyr wanted her to steal the letter out of his room. But at the same time, Arya is relishing the opportunity to prod her sister, who she has always felt is more fragile/less resilient than she is. So the Sansa-Arya conflict is 70% “let’s lure Petyr into a trap”, 25% “well actually this allows Sansa and Arya to be open with each other about how they should do better”, 5% “D&D needed Stark v. Stark conflict this season so they invented this.”

The Great Wight Hunt is mostly just dudes talking to each other

Just like a real hunting experience, the GWH exists primarily to allow guys to talk to each other about guy things without any ladies around to, whatever, make it weird or something. As Sandor stops to adjust his shoes, Tormund stops by to talk, and they have probably the best chat of the entire episode. This chat is interesting because Tormund is aware that “hound” and “dog” are different words for the same thing but he is unaware that “dick” and “cock” are different words for the same thing so hey it’s an indication that Tormund and Sandor both learned words in very different places, good work show on remembering that not everyone in the world has the same vocabulary. Tormund continues his main character attribute of: likes to poke people until they’re uncomfortable. Tormund is a troll and he loves every minute of being a troll. Sandor is not very interested but he’s resigned that this pest is going to pester him for a few minutes so he will just bear the burden. Tormund wants to know about Sandor’s fire-caused scarring because he figures (correctly, really) that that’s the origin story for why Sandor is mean. Tormund (also, correctly) doesn’t think that Sandor is not truly mean because Sandor has sad eyes. Sandor thinks that Tormund is hitting on him, which Tormund isn’t, he’s just kind of a bit weird (because he’s a Free Folk).

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And here Tormund finally puts his position on Brienne fully on the table for the benefit of the shippers in the audience: he is totally into Brienne. As he describes this beautiful tall woman in Winterfell Sandor eventually realizes that Tormund is talking about Brienne and at first Sandor is like wait you and Brienne are an item?!?!?! in a tone of confused admiration. To which Tormund has to say that okay he’s not with her, but he knows that she wants the Big T. Sandor remains unconvinced.

Normal dude things that dudes talk about amongst themselves. Sandor is finally amused by Tormund, he realizes that Tormund’s not really trolling per se it’s more just that Tormund is out of his mind and offers a unique perspective on the world.

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The scriptwriters rolled the dice again and they came up with Jon and Beric getting to have the next chat. Beric tells Jon that Jon doesn’t look much like Ned (the audience here audibly all sighs in a frustrated manner). Beric’s entire journeys over the past few years have happened because Ned sent him out, originally, to eliminate the Mountain, so Beric might not be where he is right now if not for Ned. Beric also wants to talk about resurrection because they are, as far as he knows, the only two humans who have died and then lived. Beric says that he and Jon both serve the same Lord, but Jon insists that he serves the North. Beric says that the North didn’t resurrect Jon but Jon says that the Lord of Light never spoke to him and that he doesn’t know what he wants from him.

Beric: He wants you alive.
Jon: Why?
Beric: I don’t know.

I do appreciate Beric’s mindset here. He doesn’t know the exacts of why he has been resurrected or why Jon has been resurrected but he thinks it must mean something. Jon and Beric basically have a short conversation about faith, about why a human should serve a greater power who never makes their will known. Beric is okay with just having that faith, and he wants Jon to be aware that he is fighting for life.

Beric has come to the belief that the Lord of Light brought him back to life to defend the lives of others, and Jon quotes part of the Night’s Watch’s vows at him; both of them have served causes that seek to minimize harm to civilians by taking the brunt of violence from violent people. Maybe that’s all the understanding the two of them need; maybe that’s the great mission that the Lord of Light has kept them alive for.

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As the GWH party is walking, Sandor stops because he sees the visual landmark he has been looking for ever since he saw it as a vision in a fire. “A mountain like an arrowhead.” They’re getting close to the Army of the Dead.

A dwarf attempts to counsel a Queen

Back at Dragonstone, Daenerys tells Tyrion that his best quality, why she likes him, is because he’s not a hero. Tyrion is slightly insulted because he has been heroic on occasion, mentioning that one time his head almost got cut into two, but her point is that she doesn’t want Tyrion to be a hero, because heroes do stupid things and they die. And she lists off four men she knows who were/are heroes (Drogo, Jorah, Daario, even this … Jon Snow) (wait exactly how is Drogo a hero? He was a warlord whose ethics were murky at best) (also Daario is a mercenary with murky ethics) and Tyrion smiles at this list because it’s four guys (even this … Jon Snow) who all fell in love with Daenerys. Daenerys, being slightly bashful, is like nah Jon is not in love with me and Tyrion is like girl yes he is, and Daenerys dismisses the idea because

Which is a valid point Kit Harington is shorter than the actor for Drogo, the actor for Jorah, and the actors for Daario; they all have at least 4 inches on Kit. But it’s also a bit of a weird comment to make in front of a person with morphology-based height restrictions so uh Daenerys kind of backtracks to compliment Tyrion on his bravery because she wouldn’t have chosen a coward for her hand.

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She wants to talk about her (potential) upcoming meeting with Cersei, who she already assumes will not be very fun to meet with. Tyrion agrees that Cersei wants Daenerys dead, but assures Daenerys that their forces are going to King’s Landing with as much power as they can: two armies (the Unsullied and the Dothraki?) and three dragons.

Daenerys is like okay so what trap do you think she is thinking of setting, Tyrion points out that Cersei is probably thinking the same thing of Daenerys, and Daenerys asks if they are planning a trap. And this is where Tyrion starts his propaganda campaign: he does not think that deceit and mass murder are a good way to start a new and better world. I am unsure if Tyrion has never met Daenerys before? Deceit and mass murder are part of her repertoire of conquest. And Daenerys rightly points out that few wars are won without deceit or mass murder, to which Tyrion agrees, partially, because he thinks that Daenerys, unlike Cersei, Tywin, and Joffrey, has more than fear to inspire confidence in her abilities. Fear is a bad base of power because it makes the people below you want you to be dead. Daenerys is like “Aegon the Conqueror got quite a way on fear” and Tyrion is like but but but you said once that you want to break the wheel, we can’t use those old tactics of conquest if you want to be different. Daenerys is like okay fine so we’re going into a possible trap, Tyrion says that Jaime has assured him there will be no trap, and that he has assured Jaime that Daenerys will not do anything impulsive.

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This is where Tyrion loses his audience, because Daenerys is not keen on being told that she is impulsive. The lady who once walked into a giant funeral pyre on the hunch that the dragon eggs she had would hatch (and that she wouldn’t die) does not like being told she is impulsive. Tyrion realizes immediately that he chose the wrong word so he tries to dial it back: that negotiations with Cersei will be difficult and frustrating, and that she will probably say or do something that is provocative, and that Daenerys can’t lose her temper at that.

Tyrion has this look in his eyes of “Oh no” because he realizes that maybe this conversation is already lost, but he tries to say that burning the Tarlys was not a good idea. Daenerys is hurt and she says that maybe Tyrion is just taking his family’s side, and he says

Which is probably a good stopping point, Tyrion should probably stop there, but he’s already on a roll so he mentions the one thing that Daenerys does not want to talk about: what happens when she dies. He tries to approach the issue as diplomatically as possible (and to be 100% honest he raises great points about how she plans to make Westeros into a better country after the conquest) but she sees immediately what he’s talking about. He brings up how she has said she can’t have kids so he just wants to… like, start talking about ways of choosing a successor.

Tyrion is like but Daenerys you have been in combat you have been in a situation where you might die you need to have a plan now. She is still very annoyed that this is even being brought up so she gives him grief for losing Dorne and Highgarden and that shuts him up and she repeats her above line and leaves.

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In classic GoT/ASoIaF conversation tradition it’s one of those chats where both people have a point. Daenerys does have the good point that there’s no use in choosing a successor if Westeros is not conquered (although that ignores the question of “well what if your armies are winning but then you die?”) while Tyrion has the good point that there will be no long-term stability in Westeros unless some kind of peaceful transition of power, whether such an event is necessary in 1 month or 50 years from now, is established: that the War of the Five Kings happened primarily because of a succession crisis. It’s kind of amusing that this kind of conversation is happening a few hundred miles away from King’s Landing wherein Cersei recently seized the Iron Throne when it became available and there has been no real indication, at all, that anyone in Westeros (outside of the few noble houses who declared for Daenerys) has any strong negative feelings on the usurpation. Maybe Tyrion here is massively over-thinking this; maybe the people of Westeros would just quietly welcome Daenerys as their new leader and she doesn’t have to worry about usual actual political worries.

A bear there was, a bear a bear

The Great Wight Hunt finds itself in whiteout conditions. They … probably should have made a camp for the night as soon as their visibility dropped this low (literally walking into an Army of the Dead is not a good way to achieve their plan) but maybe they’re on a time budget or something so they’re walking in the blowing snow.

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There’s something large and on four legs in the distance, far away from the redshirt lead hunter. Tormund says, to Jon, who is next to him, “Look!” There is no indication that the lead hunter sees this large object but then he does see it and he looks back to the rest of the GWH party, maybe to make sure that they are aware they are all going to die. Someone (… Jorah? I can’t tell whose voice) says “a bear.” Sandor says it’s a “big fucker.” Gendry asks (because he has never seen a bear because King’s Landing has no zoological gardens) “do bears have blue eyes?” and then the bear is running at them because it’s not just a bear. It’s a wight bear! The lead hunter has a brief cameo of starting to run back to the GWH party when he gets charged, from the side, by either a different or the same bear, who grabs him like a snack and runs somewhere else.

The GWH party draws up onto into a defensive circle, all twelve of the ones who aren’t currently bear food. There’s a roaring and one of the other Free Folk redshirts gets attacked, fatally(?), by a bear. Jon comes at the bear with his sword and he gets knocked the frak back by the bear, Sandor goes to check on Jon and make sure he’s okay while Beric and Thoros command their swords to be flaming swords which means they do 1d6 extra points of fire damage. One of the bears attacks another redshirt Free Folk, that guy is thrown and various “body parts being broken or squished” Foley sound effects are made to indicate that he is dead. Beric uses the flaming sword on a bear: there is now a wight bear on fire which is where Sandor goes into an episode because he cannot deal with fire at all.

Before the flaming wight bear can attack Sandor, Thoros jumps in: he protec but he also attac. Thoros is very quickly overpowered by the bear; the only thing keeping that bear’s jaws from taking a bite out of Thoros is Thoros’s sword being shoved into the bear’s maw. Tormund screams and attacks the bear with an axe, all that manages to do is get Tormund pushed away by the bear. The bear eventually gets the sword out of Thoros’s hands, which is when things get worse for Thoros as the bear takes a bite and shakes Thoros around, as bears are wont to do. Sandor watches in terror. Jorah rushes at the bear with a dragonglass dagger and plunges it into the bear’s head, bear stops being a wight, resumes being a corpse. Gendry and Beric drag Thoros away from the now-very-much-on-fire bear corpse.

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Watching this scene multiple times I don’t understand if there was one or two bears? But the script doesn’t care, no time to think, because Thoros is not in good health. Thoros’s chest has a few wounds from the bear. Jorah says that they should get him back to Eastwatch, Thoros shakes his head no and he asks for his flask, which Beric gets for him. Thoros drinks a lot and then indicates that he is ready to get his wound cauterized, so Beric cauterizes the wound.

Beric: You alright?
Thoros: I just got bit by a dead bear
Beric: Aye, you did.
Thoros: Funny old life.

Thoros gets helped to his feet, Beric puts out his flaming sword, Tormund and Jon look on the corpse of one of the Redshirt free folk as the camera looks down the unknown pathway that the wight bear ran along to get to their GWH party.

Sansa plays Petyr while Petyr tries to play Sansa

This season has made a sizeable gamble on its Arya-Sansa scenes: there are very few hints showing why Arya and Sansa have decided to act the way they do and the show is asking that the audience just trust them until the season finale. This scene should help members of the audience who are concerned that Arya and Sansa are actually having a disagreement. Sansa closes her door with Petyr in the room (somewhere: a million fan fic writers all sigh in contentment) and she asks where Arya got the scroll. Petyr claims ignorance, saying that Arya seems resourceful. He correctly identifies that Sansa is worried about the solidity of her position. Petyr pushes his angle: that some of the northern lords might prefer her to Jon. Sansa says that those lords are very untrustworthy in their commitments and she says that if those lords find out she wrote that letter then they will probably abandon House Stark. Petyr says that Arya is more trustworthy, she wouldn’t betray Sansa. To which Sansa replies

In order to provide one more thing that Petyr can do to try to create an Arya-Sansa rift. Since that’s the entire point of this scene, it’s Sansa seeing what Petyr thinks is going on. Petyr says that perhaps Lady Brienne could help: “She’s sworn to protect both of Catelyn Stark’s girls, is she not?” and it’s here that Sansa realizes what Petyr’s plan is: to have Brienne intercede in a fight between Arya and Sansa, to have Brienne protect one of Catelyn’s girls from the other. That’s his big plan; it relies on Brienne beating up (or maybe killing?!?!?!) Arya. Which is why he watched the two of them fight so intently in an earlier episode; he was checking on these two possible combatants to see if Brienne is up to the task of defeat Arya.

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It’s not the worst plan possible but the show has dramatically reduced the possible courses of action for Petyr so uh his plans only make ~20% sense at best. Sansa knows that Brienne would intercede, and she has some kind of quiet appreciation for Petyr’s plan because it’s cunning. It’s evil as heck but it is cunning. And of course she identifies how to stop his plan but the show has to check back in on the GWH party.

The situation north of Eastwatch deteriorates

The GWH party is now down to ten members because three died in the wight bear fight. There’s still two people pulling a sled. The random number generator says that now Jorah and Thoros get to talk: the main topic is the Greyjoy Rebellion. Jorah wants to know how drunk Thoros was when he was attacking Pyke, Thoros doesn’t even remember parts of it so the implied answer is very. Jorah is full of appreciation for Thoros’s amazing actions that day, Thoros is like yeah I did okay but I was mostly just really drunk.

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Tormund, who is now at the front of the party after the previous scout died to wight bear, tells the group to stop, because he hears something, an occasional metallic clattering noise. Jon and Tormund look down a short cliff to see a single file of wights being led around by an Other. Jon wonders where the rest of them are, Tormund strongly suggests attacking now while they have some element of surprise, so they set up an ambush site some distance further of where the wights are marching. At this site they set up a campfire and the Other is like hey it’s dangerous to just leave a campfire unattended this is against all the safety regulations and while he’s composing an email to the local forestry service the GWH party attacks!

It’s a quick fight, it’s an appetizer for later, as most of the GWH party attack single wights (who have a low challenge rating so they’re easy to defeat) and Jon attacks the Other (because Jon is a higher level character so it’s a fair fight). When Jon slays the Other, most of the wights take some kind of integrity damage (they look like they “get hit” with something but nothing actually hits them) and stop being wights, they stop being reanimated. It’s slightly mentioned by the characters later but I’ll discuss it right here: this is the first indication, at all, of how it might be possible to win against the Others. Somehow when an Other creates a wight that spell is active until the death of the Other, at which time the spell becomes inactive. So to defeat the Others you only (…only) need to defeat them and their armies will dissipate; no one needs to walk around beyond the Wall and make sure every single wight has been disposed of.

Conveniently, the Other’s small scouting party had ~a dozen wights that they had created and one wight that they did not create: when Jon takes out the Other, he just leaves one wight left, functioning. So the GWH party circles the wight, Tormund punches the wight out, Sandor tackles the wight, and it starts shrieking. Loudly.

Really, really loudly.

As most of the GWH party starts to figure out how to grab this wight and start taking it back to Eastwatch, the audience (and Jon) hear a lot of noises. Avalanches and what looks like a lot of wights coming their way. Jon implores the rest of the party to tie up their hostage quickly, Jorah puts a bag over the wight’s head, Sandor ties the wight up. The noises are getting louder so Jon tells Gendry to run back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys because she is their only way out of this without dying. Gendry doesn’t want to go but Jon says he’s the fastest (based on: ?) and Gendry starts to go but then Tormund wants his big hammer so Gendry gives him the big hammer and then Gendry goes. The GWH party is down to nine as one runs an unknown distance for help.

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The party of nine starts running towards what looks like a defensible position: a slightly raised up rock area in the middle of a large bowl-shaped depression. As they’re running towards this area they realize that that depression is a frozen-over lake; they stop at the lake’s edge as the ice they are on starts cracking. But then they finally catch sight of the swarm that is pursuing them and their choice is either be swarmed by a lot of wights or risk the ice, so they risk the ice. The wights apparently were told to surround the GWH party rather than just run straight at it so they begin to form a circle around the party, which for a little bit of time means that their forces are spread out enough to not break through the ice. The party starts getting to the staging area but it looks like it might be for naught because the ice is still holding, but then one of the Redshirts gets tackled by a wight; the party is down to eight. Their impact causes the first crack to break in the ice, which propagates through the ice in a neat irregular circle-like crack around the staging area. Very convenient ice breakage. The GWH party is safe, temporarily, with a natural moat between them and most of the wight army.

The camera cuts off from here to go check in on Gendry. Gendry’s still rowin. Er wait he’s running. To me a lot of this snow covered mountainous landscape looks exactly the same but Gendry is good at geographical spatial awareness so he’s fine. The one major landmark he can see is the Wall itself, as long as he’s running towards that then he’s going in the right direction.

Meanwhile, back at the staging area, the night settles in and the party of eight stands watch against the wight army while their wight captive makes things interesting by squirming and growling. Meanwhile, back at Gendry, Gendry collapses in the snow after running for (unknown amount of time). BUT he collapses near the northern gate of Eastwatch, and a mixed crew of Night’s Watchmen, free folk, and Davos emerge to get Gendry out of the snow. Davos is like hey uh where are the others and Gendry is like SEND A RAVEN and Davos screams for a maester.

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Meanwhile, back at the staging area, it’s morning now! The party wakes up from an incredibly cold sleep. I’m sure that people have complained or whatever about how the GWH party members who are the Seven aren’t wearing hats. Listen, it’s a very old filming tradition that you never place an identifiable actor in anything that covers their face or their head; uh unless it’s Chris Evans as Captain America, or Ben Affleck as Batman, or okay fine actually this tradition has some very obvious counters, but the point is that on the GWH the Seven have distinct hair but very similar costumes so they aren’t wearing hats so the audience can see their hair and identify them. Okay? Calm down internet. Anyway it’s the morning and that wight is still growling so I guess it’s still upset that no one gave it a nice dinner before bedtime. Sandor, very diplomatically, gives the wight a nice solid kick in the back, making it holler. All of its wight friends make a ruckus because wights do not like hearing that other wights are in trouble. Wights apparently can see and/or hear: keep this in mind when you’re writing a ASoIaF fanfic.

Oh PS Thoros died over the course of the night, Beric is the first to notice that Thoros is dead; the party is down to seven: 5 of the Seven and 2 Redshirts. Place your bets now on which of them die. Sandor tries to comfort Beric by saying that they say it (freezing to death, not, uh, freezing to death after being bitten by a wight) is one of the better ways to go, then he takes Thoros’s flask and has some liquor.

Jon eventually grabs the flask from Sandor and says that we have to burn his body: Jon has enough wight awareness to remember that corpse + proximity to the Others = wight. Thankfully the Others either are not close enough to Thoros’s corpse to raise Thoros or they very kindly decided not to. Anyway Jon pours Thoros’s flask of liquor onto Thoros so that he will burn more easily. Tormund says well we need fire, Beric casts flaming onto his sword and sets Thoros’s body ablaze.

And the guys on the stage watch Thoros’s remains burn. Jorah walks over to Jon and tells him that they will all freeze soon and he also remarks to Jon that when he killed an Other most of the wights stopped working, and he asks Jon if Jon knows why. Jon gives his hypothesis that wight power is based on a living Other. Jorah says well heck let’s go for the Others maybe we will stand a chance, but Jon is like no we have to take this wight south. “There’s a raven flying for Dragonstone now” he says, hopefully, since he literally cannot know if that is true or not. “Daenerys is our only chance,” he says, because this entire plan doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and they need a draconis ex machina to save them. “No, there’s another,” says Beric, and he points at the Night’s King, who is watching them. “Kill him, he turned them all.”

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Okay Beric here raises the untested hypothesis that maybe killing the Head Other would kill all of their creations, wight and Other. That might be true, maybe, no one really knows, it seems difficult-at-best to test, but maybe it is true? and maybe just slaying the Night’s King would defeat the entire Army of the Dead, maybe it does have a top-down command structure wherein if you slay the Kingpin all the other pins fall. “You don’t understand,” responds Jon, cryptically. Why does Jon say this? Does Jon know something about the Others that makes him know that they won’t all just explode when the Night’s King explodes? Did he mean to say “Beric if we charge at them their wights will mob us and we will die”?

Beric points out that the Lord of Light only brought back two people in all the known world, him and Jon, and that has to be for a reason greater than “freezing to death,” so isn’t it possible that the reason is to slay the Night’s King? Sandor points out that Beric should be careful because his priest is dead and this is his last life, Beric (in a great shot of the five remaining members of the Seven as they look up the hill at the Night’s King) says that he’s been waiting for the end for a long time and the scene closes with the GWH and the Others staring at each other, waiting for their inevitable showdown.

Time to send Brienne away

Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Maester Wolkan hands Sansa a scroll. Sansa pops it open, Wolkan wants to know what it says, Sansa says it’s an invitation to King’s Landing. The audience is never shown the scroll so I can’t tell you who sent the invitation or who the invitation is addressed to; Cersei has written previously to Jon since he is the proclaimed “King in the North” so was this letter sent to him?

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Sansa, for what-should-be-obvious-to-the-audience reasons, wants to send Brienne south to be her representative at this meeting in King’s Landing. Brienne says that they (who? Cersei?) invited you (they literally asked for Sansa?) and Sansa is like I am not going to King’s Landing while Cersei is there that would be a very dumb move.

Get it audience get it she has to stay in Winterfell so that she can trap Petyr and take him off the game board because apparently that’s what the show wants her and Arya to focus on. Brienne doesn’t want to leave Winterfell because “it’s not safe” for Sansa in Winterfell with Petyr around, and Sansa says that she has a lot of guards who would take out Littlefinger at her request. Brienne asks if she trusts their loyalty, and Sansa has this look on her face like “I can’t tell Brienne my secret plan but I really want to” and Brienne even says she would leave Podrick here to watch over her

Brienne mentions the oath that she swore to protect Sansa and Arya which she does not want to abandon and Sansa, at this, mentions that it takes a while to go to King’s Landing so why doesn’t Brienne make haste and get the frak outta there. Brienne takes the command and leaves, Sansa sits back in her chair and tries to guess what will happen next in the elaborate theatrical performance she and Petyr are enacting.

Daenerys feels a strong compulsion to save her nephew

This first shot of three dragons taking a nap(?) allows us in the audience to really quickly reacquaint ourselves with these three dragons. Viserion has a white and gold colour pattern, Rhaegal is green and bronze, and Drogon is black and red. So in this shot Drogon is closest to the camera, Viserion is in the midground, and Rhaegal is in the background. There’s also some slight variation in their postorbital horns (Viserion has thicker horns that grow closer together, they look kind of like a pincher; Rhaegal has thinner horns that grow in the same general direction).

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Tyrion and Daenerys are walking and talking. Tyrion is saying it is a bad idea for Daenerys to fly away: the most important person in the world can’t fly off to the most dangerous place in the world. To which Daenerys counters that no one else can: only dragons can move fast enough to save the GWH party, and only she can command the dragons, so it has to be her. Unless Tyrion has better advice? Tyrion’s advice seems to be to do nothing? To let Jon Snow and the others die because their loss will be less of a disaster than the loss of Daenerys.

Daenerys doesn’t want to follow that advice; he told her to do nothing earlier and she listened to that advice and she doesn’t like where it left them. So she’s not doing nothing again, and she rides Drogon (with Rhaegal and Viserion following) off of Dragonstone and northwards towards the GWH.

CGI monsters and mayhem

Back at the staging rock, the seven remaining members of the GWH party await some form of salvation and the Army of the Dead awaits, well, the members of the GWH party to either die from the cold or die from unwisely attacking them. Neither side has any ranged weapons so it’s a bit of a standoff. Sandor is sick and tired of waiting so he assembles a ranged weapon from: a rock. And he throws the rock, hitting a skeletal wight right in the face, knocking its lower jaw off. Sandor swears at it and then throws another rock. This one skips across the surface of the ice, sliding into place just before the skeletal wight’s feet.

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Jon realizes that Sandor just told the Army of the Dead that the ice is thick enough to cross. The wight maybe also realizes this, I’m not sure how perceptive of their surroundings wights are. Sandor realizes that the wights are now aware.

And the skeletal wight starts walking across the ice. Other wights see that one of them is crossing the ice so they also start to shamble their way across the ice. It’s not thousands of them running towards the GWH, it’s instead a few at a time, but more over time as they make sure that the ice will support their weight, slowly advancing on their position. Beric sets his sword on fire in the footage that was shown in at least one of the Season 7 trailers. The fight begins again! There’s a minute or so wherein the seven are fighting a relatively small number of wights but after Sandor sends one (the skeletal wight friend he made!) into the pond by breaking the ice, the camera pans back to show that there are now hundreds of wights in close proximity to the GWH; the ice is solid enough that they can walk over it with ease. Sandor throws Gendry’s hammer onto the ground (sorry Gendry’s hammer!) and takes out smaller weapons as the melee continues. It’s an asymmetrical battle (in the sense that each wight is pretty handily taken out by a human) but the wight numbers are not relenting, and eventually they will win just by the element of numbers. A wight that’s on fire attempts to check on the hostage wight? But Jon kills that fire wight so no checking on hostages for you, fire wight. One of the redshirts gets overwhelmed by wights, sorry redshirt, the GWH party is now down to six members. A few seconds after that person is being taken apart by wights Jon screams FALL BACK and then Tormund takes a few hits from some wights (including the skeletal wight!) and I mean is the audience supposed to be worried that Tormund might die? Tormund doesn’t die, folks, don’t worry, unlike with the redshirt someone (Sandor) sees that he’s in trouble and saves him. The six remaining members start dragging/carrying the hostage up to a higher spot on the rock ledge (the wights very kindly did not take the high ground) in a partial retreat. Things are going okay for the redshirt helping this process but then he gets knocked off the ledge into a throng of wights; the GWH party is now down to five members.

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Even though they have the high ground, Jon, Beric, Jorah, Sandor, and Tormund continue to fend off attacking wights. There are lots and lots of wights, this looks like the GWH party’s last stand. How can they possibly survive and be airlifted out of this event? As Jon prepares to swing his sword down on some wights, he hears a roar and feel some heat; he drops down to avoid getting hit with dragonfire, because Daenerys and her three dragons have appeared. The three dragons make strafing runs onto the ring of wights advancing towards the stage, their fire is so hot that it melts the ice (nice) and they mostly isolate the stage from all of the many many wights surrounding them. Drogon, at Daenerys’s command, lands near the stage, using dragonfire to take out even more wights. The five (with one carrying the wight hostage) prepare to board Drogon Airlines, which is fairly easy you just climb up on the shoulder and then climb onto the back from there. Jon is almost first on but (in Jon fashion) he has to defend the rest of the party from the stray wights that are still there.

While this is happening, an Other grabs a large ice spear off of his horse’s saddle. That other hands the spear to the Night’s King, who walks forward, closer to the dragons. On the lake, Jon continues to fend off stray wights and the other four members of the GWH all are on board Drogon. The Night’s King walks forward some more, the episode is building up dread here. The GWH place their wight hostage onto a dragon spike and are ready to go except that Jon is still taking down isolated wights to stall for time. Jon should really stop doing this. The Night’s King walks forward some more, aims the spear, and throws it. Right into the neck of Viserion, who crashes into the ice and submerges beneath the lake.

Every one of the humans watches this happen with a look combining surprise and alarm. No one here (well, other than the Others, maybe) has seen a dragon be mortally wounded let alone die so this is a big deal, a massive blow to the power that Team Daenerys has. Daenerys and her dragons are hit the hardest; that was her child, that was their siblings. Even Jon is affected by this, but he goes right back to destroying wights. He gives the Night’s King a stare, the Night’s King returns the stare, and an Other grabs another spear for the Night’s King to throw. Jon yells for Daenerys and company to go and as he’s running back towards Drogon two wights tackle him and they collapse beneath the ice. Daenerys does the mental calculations to figure out what to do, she sees that the Night’s King is ready to throw another spear and possibly kill another dragon, she needs the dragons more than she needs Jon, so she gets the frak out of there, the second spear barely missing Drogon.

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I know what you’re thinking you’re thinking hey why doesn’t Rhaegal use his dragonfire against the Others while they’re all kind of just standing around there and the answer is because the show has one more season and it can’t end right now so neither Team Daenerys nor Team Night’s King can be defeated just yet. Heck Jorah almost falls off of Drogon’s back but Sandor saves him because this episode has already claimed a lot of victims so it can’t claim any more (just kidding there’s still one more left). As Daenerys looks back onto the ice lake it is just swarming with wights so there is no way she can rescue Jon if he’s even alive so just walk away, Dany. Just walk away.

The Night’s King gets back on his horse because hey he just killed a dragon that’s a lot of work. The Others and their wight minions begin to leave the lake because they have some important work to do off-camera. If you were worried for some reason that Jon had just died, don’t worry, he’s still alive, just very very cold because hypothermia is real and scary. But he’s still surrounded by wights, so he would be in trouble but this episode’s penultimate amazing coincidence of timing has to happen: Benjen has to show up to save Jon. Benjen saves Jon by giving him a horse and acting like a giant distraction. Jon has questions (i.e. how is Benjen animated?!?!?) that Benjen does not answer, and Benjen claims that there’s no time (!?!?!?) for him to share that horse so Benjen dies (? stops being reanimated?) fighting off the wights. Benjen saves his nephew right after Daenerys tried to save her nephew. This is awkward. Good work uncles/aunts.

We return to Eastwatch

The ship which I assumed was a Stark ship (but I was wrong, as will be revealed shortly) is still parked next to the Wall rather than docked in a frakkin port because the port castle of Eastwatch has no frakkin port I am so salty about this. Sandor, Tormund, and Beric walk the wight hostage to a rowboat, Sandor throws the hostage into the boat. Sandor and Tormund nod at each other as two men who have manly fought together on the field of manly combat to man man man. Beric says that he and Sandor will meet again, Sandor does not hope that happens, and at the noise of dragons screeching Beric and Tormund look up to see what’s going on.

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Drogon and Rhaegal are … grieving? Do dragons grieve? But they’re also waiting because Daenerys hasn’t left yet. I assumed that she was waiting for her dragons to grieve but no she’s waiting for Jon. Jorah tells her it’s time to go, and she says that she wants to wait just a bit longer. She turns to leave to go down from the top of the Wall which, as the episode’s final moment of great timing, is when the Night’s Watch horn blows to say that a rider has been sighted. It’s Jon, looking not at all in good shape, on the horse. Daenerys is beyond relieved to see that Jon is alive.

And I guess Team Daenerys has to leave immediately because hypothermia-suffering, injured-in-combat, half-dead Jon is taken to the parked ship (it has Targaryen sails! I did not notice that earlier, my apologies for thinking it was a Stark ship) rather than allowed to recover in Eastwatch. His frozen clothes are peeled off of him by Davos (Davos is used to seeing Jon without clothes on) while Daenerys watches, like a concerned aunt. She is rather stunned to see the healed scars on his chest and abdomen, including one right over his heart, just like Davos said. She shakes her head at this because she, and I’m not saying this is a bad thing, assumed that Jon had not literally been killed before but yes he has yes he has very literally died. If she had chatted with Beric while the two of them were both in Eastwatch she could have heard all about being brought back to life. But she didn’t chat with Beric because

Sansa and Arya have what feels like a confusing scene

Sansa unlocks the door into Arya’s room and lets herself in. She’s looking for something but it’s unclear exactly what, she’s just going through items that Arya might store things in. She opens up Arya’s satchel and finds faces. The first face she takes out of the satchel doesn’t look very familiar (a man with a mustache and closely-cut beard?) but the second one is most definitely Walder Frey’s face. And it’s at this moment that the camera reveals that Arya is now in the room, she somehow silently entered the room. Whatever I won’t ask how she’s an assassin, being sneaky is her job. Sansa is startled when Arya speaks up, Sansa wants to know what the faces are, Arya gives a quick description of what the faces are and where she got them.

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Arya doesn’t want to answer these questions, she instead wants to play the Game of Faces. The books call this the lying game but the show (GoT #43, 46) has called it the Game of Faces, so the show is being internally consistent. Sansa does not want to play this mind game with Arya, Arya wants to know if Sansa thinks someone else should rule the North besides Jon, Sansa does not want to answer that question, and eventually Arya is left having to explain the faces.

I like this monologue Arya I still think that your plot this season is kind of weird but this monologue is the good that comes with the weird. Arya grabs the catspaw dagger and moves towards Sansa for the last few sentences of her monologue and, once again, the audience is led to be concerned that maybe Arya is gonna kill Sansa, but no no don’t worry that’s not going to happen, because Arya hands the knife to Sansa and leaves the room.

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In the greater context of the game of thrones that Sansa and Petyr are playing against each other, this scene is less weird. There’s no indication, at all, until this scene, that Arya has talked to Sansa about what she can do. This is Arya being as direct as possible about what she can do. Yes it’s a bit odd but the entirety of the Sansa and Petyr showdown is odd, it’s people lying to one another in order to see what will happen.

Shipshippin

Jon awakens on a ship, alive. Which has got to be a surprising place to wake up. But he looks around the room and the only person in the room with him is his aunt, Daenerys. She looks sad, she is probably still grieving for Viserion and also being concerned about whether this … Jon Snow would awaken. She smiles on seeing him alive and awake, and the first words out of his mouth are “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” and she shakes her head and he GRABS HER HAND and continues “I wish we had never gone.” And I mean yes he has a good point Team Daenerys paid a hefty price for that one wight hostage but Daenerys is like nah if she hadn’t gone she wouldn’t have seen, and you have to see it to know. She wants to make it abundantly clear to Jon, for reasons, that the dragons are her children, the only children she will ever have, and that she suffered an immense personal loss in getting that hostage wight.

And Jon says thank you Dany and Daenerys is like whoa hold up no one has called me that since my brother and he’s not the company you want to keep

And the Jon-Daenerys theme starts playing over this beautiful moment of a nephew pledging fealty to his aunt. Daenerys asks what about all those proud Northern lords who have pledged to the King in the North and Jon is like no worries and so she GRABS HIS HAND and tearfully says: “I hope I deserve it” and Jon says “You do” and she tries to get her hand back but Jon is holding onto it too firmly AHEM and she looks at him and he looks at her and if this was a movie theatre someone in the audience would yell JUST DO HIM ALREADY anyway anyway Jon lets Daenerys’s hand go and she says he should get some rest and he’s like okay yeah sure and she awkwardly leaves the room before she accidentally makes love to her nephew and Jon is left there to ponder what about Daenerys feels so right and yet so wrong.

The dragon reanimation scene

The wights and the Others in the last scene beyond the Wall had to leave so they could get chains so they could have chains to drag Viserion out of the lake. I don’t know where they got the chains from (did they make the chains?) but that’s not important, what is important is that they drag Viserion out of the lake and then the Night’s King touches Viserion and Viserion is like HELLO so congratulations to Team Night’s King for now having their own lovely dragon.

Coda

I took entirely too long to find a chunk of open time to write this, my apologies, but a cool celestial event happened on Monday so I got distracted by the total solar eclipse. I’ll try gooder next week for #67.