Game of Thrones Review: Beyond the Wall

A lot has been said about the final two seasons of Game of Thrones. Comprising a total of just 13 episodes instead of what would normally have been 20, gave birth to a wave of disappointment. Out of that disappointment came the (false) hope that the remaining episodes would be much longer. Maybe even feature length. While that was a wonderful thought, 13 “movies” to wrap up what is looking like to become the most popular TV show ever produced, it was never very realistic. As David and Dan logically explained, they felt that they needed more time to create single episodes because the scope kept getting bigger, if not the cast, so having much longer episodes defeated the purpose of having less episodes a season. As a result the episode lengths have varied. With the shortest episode ever for the HBO worldwide phenomenon belonging to this seventh season as well as the longest, being the upcoming season finale which clocks in at a whopping 80 minutes.

Fewer episodes also means different pacing. At first glance that might seem as a disadvantage. A story you could tell in 20 episodes has now to be told in 13. That might mean cramming stuff in. but it can also be a blessing in disguise. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse famously got lost (pun intended) in their own story/mythology partially because there was no end date in sight. The ratings were stellar, everyone was talking about those people stranded on a (not so) deserted island. Lost was then, what Game of Thrones is now. When Darlton, as Cuse and Lindelof ware called by their fans, finally were granted the luxury of an end date they set a course to wrapping things in the best way possible. They said that they could do so in a way that the great show Lost started out as deserved, but ended up with an uneven final run and the most polarizing series finale ever created. Seeing the finish line can be a blessing. It is not a guarantee for focussed and perfectly balanced storytelling.

The penultimate season of Game of Thrones has suffered from pacing issues and Beyond the Wall more so than the episodes that went before it. No matter how good some of the exchanges were. No matter how gorgeous it all looked. No matter how thrilling the action was. I couldn’t (fully) suspend my disbelief. I couldn’t stop asking questions . I couldn’t stop being frustrated by no one giving any straight answers to anyone. This was a good episode to be sure. It just could have been so much better.

What happened
Littlefinger continues to manipulate Sansa and Arya. Arya confronts Sansa about the letter and threatens to tell the Northern Lords about it. Later Sansa goes into Arya’s room looking for the letter but finds her bag of faces instead. Arya was in the room waiting for her and she confronts her sister again. In the end she gives the valyrian steel dagger back to Sansa. After receiving a summons from King’s Landing Sansa since Brienne in her place.

Beyond the wall Jon and his team set out to capture a wight. After a wight polar bear attacks Thoros is badly injured. They later spot a small group of wights accompanied by a white walker. Jon’s team lays an ambush after which Jon kills the white walker and they successfully capture a wight. Soon the team gets attacked by the rest of the Night King’s army and Jon sends Gendry back to the wall to send a raven to Dany for help. The team flees but the army of the dead catches up to them. Team Jon ends up in the middle of a frozen lake with the wights surrounding them and the Night King looking on from a hill. After Sandor foolishly demonstrates that the look has frozen up again, and Thoros has already died from his wounds and the cold, the wights attack again. As all seems lost Dany and her dragons arrive, burning many of the army of the dead. Team Jon mounts Drogon but then the Night King throws an ice spear at Viserion killing the dragon. Jon, who didn’t have the chance  yet to mount Drogon, urges Dany to flee, which she does. Jon ends up in the lake.

Later Jon climbs out of the water and picks up Longclaw. The wights notice him and they attack. He is saved by Benjen, who gives him his horse and sacrifices himself for Jon. Jon reaches Eastwatch barely alive. He later wakes up on a ship heading for Dragonstone. He accepts Dany as her queen and Dany vows that they will destroy the Night King and his army together.

What I liked

There were some lovely exchanges in this episode. That’s the power of heaving built up to certain characters meeting for years and them having interwoven pasts. Gendry and the brotherhood, The Hound and Tormund, Jon and Jorah, Jon and Beric. It was pure gold. Well written and well acted. Especially Lord Beric was convincing. Also, the first part of the interactions between Arya and Sansa, as the reminisce the late Ned Stark was beautiful. There also was very strong dialogue between Dany and Tyrion.

The action. I know it’s getting repetitive. Even saying that it’s repetitive is getting repetitive. But it was just amazing. Shooting in Iceland paid dividends. I have never seen anything like it. Add to that the dragons and the white walkers. I can watch those sequences over and over. Game of Thrones is setting the bar so high I’m not sure who will ever reach it.

What I didn’t like

In the end I don’t like the bickering Stark sisters. There is no way that Arya is actually going to physically hurt her sister and as others have mentioned, it seems that the entire conflict is just there to give them something to do. I also don’t think that their reactions and interactions make sense and as I said, why will nobody give a straight answer for once! Sansa asks multiple questions that Arya could have and should have answered more clearly. And I’m not sure how much time has passed since their reunion but it doesn’t make sense for them to not have had a proper conversation elaborating on what they have been through in all those years, no matter how painful the memories.

Similarly, the whole R+L=J thing is just being handled frustratingly. The audience has known this for a while now. And instead of the news getting to Jon they are stalling. Stalling. And stalling some more. Just teasing us about it with all the remarks about Jon’s true parentage. It’s not clever but just annoying. Where is Bran in all this? I understand that he needs time to adjust to being the three eyed raven. He should know the importance of that piece of information however. Instead of being active he does nothing. And having Sam interrupt Gilly just while she was spelling out Jon’s parentage was just silly. I’m sure they want to keep it all for the season finale but this is bad storytelling.

What I’m looking forward to

The meeting in King’s Landing of course. That is going to be the highlight of the season. It has to be. Nothing else matters. All those people in the same place at the same time. Bring it on!!!

 

Observations

Alan Taylor returned to Game of Thrones after years away. I thought he made a mistake when he left, going to direct the mediocre Thor: The Dark World and the lackluster Terminator Genysis. But he is back and did a great job. I hope to see him return next season.

Speaking of returns. They must bring back David Nutter for the final season!

It seems like the Winterfell stuff is setting up either the Stark sisters hurting each other or someone hurting/killing Littlefinger. Though I can’t imagine that snake not being around till the very end. Or at least close to it.

The showrunners are really making it hard to suspend your disbelief when watching this. From Gendry running to Eastwatch to the raven arriving at Dragonstone to Dany arriving to save the day. It was way too much. Having too many Deus ex Machinas is never good either let alone having 2 in 1 episode. It’s just too much!

So Sandor is delivered the wight to King’s Landing thus he will have a reunion with his beloved brother. Can’t wait to see that!

The raiding party in this episode almost seemed like the A team. More should have died. Maybe all of them! How did they get out of that situation only losing 1 and a few red shirts?

Poor Viserion. I knew that the Night King was a formidable enemy but now, with a Dragon in his arsenal as well, he seems invincible.

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