Quick Q: You’re stranded on a deserted island (more of a small rock than an island) with water all around you. The water is covered in a thin layer of ice that may or may not hold your weight. Oh, you’re also trapped on all sides by an army of undead soldiers. Who would you choose to take with you?
If you didn’t answer Jorah, Tormund, Beric, and Jon Snow…well, you’re wrong. The big action on Game of Thrones this week took place north of the wall and it covered air, land, and sea. So, let’s dive into this extra long episode, shall we?
Let’s start with the fact that things were never going to be great for our merry band of misfits adventuring north of the wall in this episode. We open on them trekking and bonding; Gendry has never seen snow, Tormund reveals how Wildlings keep warm up there, and Beric defends selling Gendry to Melisandre. It would be endearing if we weren’t over here waiting to find out what will go wrong during this misguided expedition—but we don’t have to wait long.
The crew is caught in the winds of winter (not George R.R. Martin’s unreleased sixth book, unfortunately). Visibility is about zero, except they spot that a black blob in the distance is a bear, and Gendry is able to see that the bear has the blue eyes of the dead. That is some good eyesight. They don’t have much time to ponder before a group of undead bears descends. It’s not quite the enemy we expected for this crew, and we meet our first casualty: RIP, Thoros. Your ability to resurrect the dead will not be forgotten.
The group moves on and spots their first two-legged White Walkers near the arrowhead-shaped mountain The Hound saw in his vision. It’s a small traveling group. Team human baits them with a fire. Ultimately, Jon’s Valyrian steel sword is able to defeat most of the group of White Walkers by taking out the leader, which is a pretty nifty fact we learned during this struggle.
Jon dispatches Gendry to Eastwatch to send a Raven to Daenerys (he makes it back to the wall in bad shape, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gendry has had his fill of snow). The rest of the team essentially has no choice but to forge ahead. The men wrangle their undead loot to bring back to Cersei, and a thundery noise from behind lets us know that the terrifyingly large army of mobilized White Walkers is upon them. Their choice becomes clear: death by ice cold water from the frozen lake in front of them or death by violent undead humans behind (and also in front and on the sides). They opt against certain death on the ice lake and make it to the tiny rock island in the middle, surrounded. It seems like they’re SOL until the weight of the walker army cracks the ice and and large numbers begin to plunge through, which gives pause to the hundreds left on shore. The two sides are caught in a sort of standoff/staring contest and our men don’t seem to have a plan. After a chilly night stranded in the middle of the lake, The Hound kills time by throwing a rock at a jaw-less skeleton man, which provokes him to shuffle over to rock island now that the lake is re-frozen over. His emboldened, undead friends follow—and the epic penultimate episode clash really begins.
Down south, things are a little calmer (and warmer). Before the raven from Eastwatch arrives at Dragonstone, Dany talks to Tyrion about how heroes don’t interest her (heroes do stupid things, then they die), nor does the petty one-upsmanship of men who try to win her heart—and she uses Jon’s quest as an example. Tyrion echoes Jon from a few episodes before talking about being a different kind of ruler and taking things slower and less violent to avoid a “brittle” power. He’s thinking about the long term and who can succeed her as a ruler. Dany is done thinking it seems, and she blames Tyrion’s long-term planning for their early losses. She wants to get on the throne and be part of the action, and she’s fed up with Tyrion giving her shoddy counsel and worrying about old Lannister loyalties. She gets Gendry’s raven, and, if anything, Tyrion’s suggestions and talk push her to take to the skies. He pleas for her to stay and do nothing, which she’s not interested in doing again. This time she flies in a super-chic winter coat version of her go-to look, and with all three of her dragons.
Back north, where she’s headed, the plausibility of the small group of men holding off this giant army for as long as they did is weak at best. Still, we’re cheering for the good guys here, so it was nice to see them prevail. There’s minimal carnage on the living side (as in no major characters die after Thoros), and just when the tables start to turn, we get our first real taste of what’s truly a song of ice and fire. Dany comes in and warms things up with some fire breath, taking out a lot of the army in the process. I had been wondering if dragons were all-weather animals. The answer is a resounding yes.
The crew is about to make a great escape with the team on dragonback, but Jon has to play the martyr and fight off every leftover skeleton coming his way. That leaves enough time for the Night King to whip out his premium version of Cersei’s dragon spear crossbow completely undetected. He nails one of the dragons circling overhead right in the chest like an Olympic javelin thrower (I’m unclear as to which one it was). We now know of something that can definitely kill dragons. This death was a hard one to watch, even for the characters on screen, right down to the slow, tortured slide into the water.
The Night King is ready to lock and load again as Jon considers facing him. He takes one for the team by telling Dany to GTFO. He doesn’t reach the Night King, but he DOES get mauled by a couple of undead soldiers and knocked into the freezing water. Things don’t look great for our King in the North, but you heard Beric: There’s a reason the God of Fire brought him back, and it wasn’t to just die by drowning at the hands of two white walkers. Dany and friends manage to miss the next ice spear as they fly away, almost at the expense of Jorah. The army of the dead begins to retreat and Jon somehow emerges from the lake next to his sword, his wet clothes freezing fast. More walkers are headed his way and things don’t look good. That is, until he’s saved in the eleventh hour once again when his Uncle Benjen comes in on horseback swinging his fire ball chain thingy. He sends Jon and the horse back to the wall, but doesn’t join and save himself because there’s “no time” (which was a little confusing, two people could definitely have gotten on that horse). Jon arrives at the wall much like Gendry, alive, but barely. Nothing a little Ikea rug can’t fix.
When Jon comes to, Dany is at his bedside and she’s been crying. Jon feels awful about her dead dragon (but she’s crying about YOU Jon, duh), and she explains how they’re her children and the two have ~ a moment ~. Hand holding, staring, and nicknaming is involved. They kept it PG, though the show is fully teasing us now, even if Jon is “too little for her.” I can’t say I’m mad about it, even though I maybe should be because we should not be encouraging aunt/nephew relations.
Anyway, Dany can no longer deny Jon’s warnings about the army of the dead. She saw it with her own eyes and agrees they will team up to fight this shared enemy whether he bends the knee or not. She is out for blood…or whatever is going through the Night King’s veins after his savage takedown of her dragon child. Jon knows the way to Daenerys’s heart and calls her queen. So, they both got what they wanted and gave what they thought they wouldn’t. Cute.
A massive white walker battle isn’t the only drama we saw up north this week. We got some icy scenes in Winterfell, and I’m not just talking about the weather. We first see Arya reflecting on a happy moment from childhood, when she got to practice archery with Bran’s bow “against the rules” while Ned watched on and encouraged her (remember those season one days?). It would be sweet if she didn’t have an ulterior motive. She doesn’t wait long to bring up the letter she found to Sansa and insists on reciting the traitorous piece of parchment back to her. Sansa is visibly upset, but Arya truly doesn’t care and cuts her down pretty badly. She’s Ned’s daughter, and she can’t understand a world where a Stark wouldn’t rather die than write a letter turning on her family. They argue about who had it worse in their long journeys back home and shared suffering isn’t enough to bridge the gap between their differences.
Sansa retreats to the counsel of Littlefinger, who likely has her where he wants her, which is seeing Arya as a stranger. He reminds her Brienne is here to protect both her and her sister and plants a very dangerous idea by casually mentioning the two Stark women harming each other. With this conversation in mind, Sansa sends Brienne away in her place when she receives a summons by Cersei. She will not face the woman who caused her so much suffering. Instead, she’ll send arguably her only completely loyal ally in her place. Brienne protests—she doesn’t trust Littlefinger. Sansa makes it very clear she doesn’t need looking after. We’ll see about that.
Littlefinger’s words still in her mind, she sneaks into Arya’s room like a true sibling. She goes for her sister’s luggage under the bed and finds F***ING FACES INSIDE. Sansa is, understandably, freaked out. Arya sees her sister snoop and is happy to explain the world of the Many-Faced God and the Game of Faces. Sansa is now officially terrified by what both of her only living (real) siblings have become. Arya teases Sansa about wearing her face and becoming “someone else,” a.k.a. Sansa. She picks up her new fancy Valyrian steel knife but instead of attacking her sister she hands it to her and walks out, leaving Sansa petrified.
We end the episode where we began: north of the wall. The army of the dead have found big ass chains somewhere to recover the dragon from the depths of the frozen lake. Once he’s back on solid ground, our Night King graces the dragon with his magic touch, and we get an echo of this season’s poster images: a single blue eye as it becomes a zombie dragon. This is a game changer and one of the show’s biggest cliffhangers (and a popular fan theory). There’s no known precedent for an undead dragon and what type of fire (or ice) it might breathe. It would seem that in addition to a fatal ice spear, the living dragons now have another looming threat. Let’s cling to the hope that even in death, Dany’s dragon might stay loyal to its mother. I have a feeling we’ll find out whether or not that’s true the hard way.
And some things we can’t forget:
-MVP for this episode go to those badass fire swords. Imagine if every battle on this show had those?!
-The moment between Jorah and Jon about Jon’s sword Longclaw was so nice. Jorah’s father meant so much to Jon way back when, and it’s a nice gesture for Jon to offer the sword that’s been synonymous with him to it’s “rightful owner.” It’s hard to argue with family lineage, but I’m happy to see the sword stay in Jon’s possession. It’s basically an extra limb for him at this point.
-Arya has some girl power moments this episode. Her angry talks with Sansa are heavy with identity themes, and when she’s recounting her archery story, about how the rules said she couldn’t shoot and be a knight, she says, “the rules were wrong.” Later, she returns to this thought in her room with Sansa and says, “The world doesn’t let girls just decide what they’re going to be.” Arya was the right person to say these quotes, but that doesn’t meant they don’t apply to both women in the conversations. Sansa followed the rules, and they weren’t right for her either. She definitely didn’t get to choose what happened to her.
-Is Jon so sad about Dany’s dragon because of the dragon friend he made last week that might have stirred up some Targaryen feels? TBD. Beric also mentioned that Jon doesn’t look like Ned. This whole season basically has been ‘Will Jon Find Out Who He Really Is Watch 2017’.
-Speaking of Beric, his “death is the enemy” conversation with Jon is a pretty great double meaning for this episode/season/show. So is his “we’ll all be right behind him unless the Lord of Light is kind enough to send us a bit of fire” eulogy to Thoros, which was actually major foreshadowing.
-Am I expected to believe that Jon survived a winter wind storm, a very physical fight with an army of dead men, a fall into a frozen lake, a fast ride on horseback through the frozen north of the wall, almost dying of cold, and his man bun stays in place? Can we get a hair tie recommendation from this guy?
-For the zillionth time this season, I got major Harry Potter vibes from the battle. Remember when Harry and Dumbledore go into the cave in book six and have to fight of a lake full of bewitched corpses with fire after Harry is dragged under? Sound familiar?
-Also, when Jon kills the white walker leader it felt like this moment from the last movie:
-It’s 2017 and we don’t have high speed air travel, but Dany has the best transportation in Westeros. Can we get a dragon please?
Miss our other Game of Thrones recaps from this season? Check out: