There is a sequence near the end of the second “A Song of Ice and Fire” novel, A Clash of Kings, that is absolutely mesmerizing. Trapped in a snowy and secluded mountain passage with only one direction to go, a very green Jon Snow and the rugged Qhorin Halfhand lead a group of brother crows in a hopeless chase through the slush as the righteous Free Folk close in on them. One by one, and day after day, the brothers fall until eventually only Jon Snow and Qhorin remain. Trapped and doomed.
This passage was completely removed from Game of Thrones likely due to a variety of reasons: time limitations, the extreme weather conditions of shooting in Iceland, and the desire to beef up the intro to our now long-lost Ygritte (Jon merely allows her to escape in the novel after a moment’s hesitation with the sword). Still, it would seem this sequence’s absence haunted showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, because not only did they get it back in some form five years later, but they made it the gangbusters penultimate episode of the penultimate season. The event where the ice really hits the fan.
Granted, this version of the Westerosi Wild Bunch is a bit different. Now it is crows and Free Folk alike aligned against the forces of the dead, and rather shockingly most of them make it out of the snow alive, which did not seem plausible given the setup from last week. Then again, who cares about the humans? Tonight featured the stomach-churning vision of a dragon crashing to the earth never to breathe again. The wail of Viserion and his brothers as he plummeted into the ice was probably echoed amongst millions of viewers… and myself too.
We’ve seen just about every major character either die or have some tragedy befall them, but nothing prepared for the image of a dragon—essentially one of the show’s three mascots—murdered by an overly cocky freeze dried douchebag. Witnessing a dragon burn out is the television equivalent of staring into the Hindenburg’s flames. It’s a sight almost as unholy as the desecration of Viserion’s body which followed in the episode’s closing moments.
But before we get to that, we have a whole hour to unpack, starting with the journey that brought viewers to the tears and jeers of a gold dragon down.
The episode begins strong with the Magnificently Mad Seven picking up where they left off, walking Beyond the Wall. As far as I am aware, this is the first time since season 3 that Game of Thrones has filmed in the snowy reaches of Iceland, and returning to those glistening glaciers suits the series well. It feels as much like a homecoming as any Stark reunion—and a bit warmer than the last two, as well.
Along the walk, Jon Snow and Jorah Mormont have a heart-to-heart that is plenty overdue. It’s akin to long-lost brothers discovering one another. Aye, Jorah was the son that Jeor Mormont begat while Jon Snow is the one he wanted. It’s such a welcome moment of genuine character building—and without too much concern for plot, which is a blessed relief in season 7—that I can overlook that they would’ve surely discussed this during their weeks long boat ride between Dragonstone and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Yet here we are with Jorah learning the nature of his father’s fate: murdered by mutineers in the snow.
It’s an ignominious end for a great man, something that Jon can relate to. Ned’s fate was no more deserved than Jeor, and like Jorah, Jon was thousands of miles away, helpless to seek his vengeance, which came in the unrelated action of others. At least Jeor had justice. That and perhaps Jorah’s everlasting shame of being his family’s black sheep is why he wisely demurs reclaiming Longclaw as his own. Jon attempts to give the Bear Knight his father’s sword, which is his birthright. But Jorah knows probably the only thing Jeor liked about his son in the end is that he left the sword when he fled Ned Stark’s blade.
On that note, Jon might finally suggest he’s learning the cautions of governance by revealing he is glad that Eddard failed to take Jorah’s head. Then again, Jorah wound up saving who is increasingly likely to be Jon’s royal love, so what choice does he have? Comparatively, Jorah has an easy one, and he makes it again. He will never have a child to pass Longclaw down to. Even in the unlikely event that Jorah Mormont survives this war, he would have no interest in taking a wife, and amusingly I cannot imagine Daenerys would much care for that either. Ser Friendzone must keep to his post. So Jon must pass it to his own heirs. And given that he is currently courting a woman who cannot have children, those heirs might include…
Arya and Sansa. These two really are not using their time before the Long Night descends very well. Which is why despite all the dramatic spectacle Beyond the Wall, and the devastating angst of seeing my two favorite Starks go for each other’s throats, this subplot actually feels the most in line with George R.R. Martin. Perhaps because it is beginning to be the only subplot left.
Whereas much the rest of Game of Thrones season 7 has coalesced into Jon Snow trying to convince Daenerys, and now Cersei, into believing the dead are coming for us all, and how the two queens react to this news, it is in Winterfell where fantasy is supplanted by suspicion, paranoia, and treachery. This is all to say, it is where Game of Thrones’ true heart lies. The fact that this creeping distrust is between two characters whom fans have waited years to see reunite is both a bit contrived on the part of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and yet perfectly in keeping with the Martin goal of making fans rue the idea of satisfaction. Plus, Arya hating on Sansa is perfectly in line with their interactions from season 1, which is also where Arya appears to have stunted in emotional growth after so much tragedy.
Indeed, we see that beginning year echoed in Arya and Sansa’s first scene together while overlooking the frosty Winterfell courtyard. Perched somewhere between frigid anger and the mist of a long forgotten summer, Arya anticipates Sansa’s arrival by reminiscing about their dead father. Prior to even the first episode of Game of Thrones, wherein Arya sneakily shows up Bran Stark to the older boys’ delight with a bullseye shot fired from a stolen bow, there was a quiet afternoon where Ned apparently watched Arya practice with her solitary arrow until she landed her first shot.
Arya’s disdain for the patriarchy a childish Sansa so lovingly embraced is what really seems to bring fire to Arya’s words. It was against the rules that she should use a bow, even though both she and her father knew that it was her passion. These rules meant she must steal a lonely arrow to practice… and it’s the rules that allowed Sansa to become a hostage to the Lannister House that brought so much misery to the Stark family.
Of course Arya does not see it only that way. During their very first reunion this season, Arya begrudgingly asked if she must now call Sansa “Lady Stark.” The older girl teased yes, but Arya didn’t share in the laugh. Tellingly, she has not called her sister Sansa this whole season. She has simply been hissing “milady” and its variances at the only nearby blood relation who’s not on a permanent LSD trip. Tonight, Arya more than hissed. Unsurprisingly, she considers the letter that a 14-year-old or so Sansa wrote while in the clutches of Cersei as proof that Sansa is not a real Stark. Rather, Arya all but contends “Lady Stark” is a traitor to their house, no worthier of her current seat than Theon Greyjoy was in season 2. Seven Hells, I imagine Arya is not too far pressed away from giving Sansa the Reek treatment.
Arya proves she has neither a head nor understanding for the political game that dons the moniker of her TV show. Sure, she is a damn good assassin. Maybe the best given what she did to House Frey. But she cannot see beyond power moves as reckless and as cruel as Walder Frey’s very own. Her suggestion to behead any lords who displease her last week was certainly a Walder-esque idea, and her musing on the prospect of sharing that letter with the Northern lords is equally foolish. For whatever she thinks of Sansa, the Northerners are already growing weary of their absentee king. If Arya gives them reason to doubt Sansa as well, they may all come to the conclusion that this mythical Army of the Dead, which none of them have seen, is not worth spending the Long Night in Winterfell for; they’ll go home and deal with it in their own ways.
Forget about the possibility of wearing Sansa’s face—Arya is in danger of making them all just so many cosmetics for the Night King’s power.
Intriguingly, the show is in some ways addressing the “haters” of Sansa Stark this season by considering the assumption that her youth and naïveté does not excuse her mistakes in season 1. This could include the situation Arya is misreading—that Sansa should have spit in Cersei’s face and died screaming just to mildly annoy the Lannisters—as well as Arya’s real grievances: Sansa was a spoiled, self-centered child who looked down on her baby sister. And for that, Littlefinger’s plan is working more well than he could have hoped… albeit, I doubt he intends for Sansa to end up dead, which is definitely on the menu.
Admittedly, this entire plotting is derived from the television contrivance that Arya will not tell Sansa where she got that note, as that would clear up this whole misunderstanding in Three’s Company fashion. But unlike most other TV tropes that Game of Thrones has begun indulging during the last two seasons, this one is drawn from genuine character psychologies, and I can believe Arya at the height of her killing prowess, and thereby arrogance, would enjoy dangling her badassery over Sansa’s head. At least in their first encounter about the letter.
And to her credit, Arya does have one point: Sansa craves power. On a show like Game of Thrones that isn’t necessarily a sin. At times it can actually be a virtue. As Sansa says after finally breaking her shell of false modesty, she won the Battle of the Bastards. In so many words, she asks Arya to bend the knee. And this avarice for power makes Sansa a liar when she pretends she is happy Jon Snow alone wears the North’s crown. However, desiring power and wishing ill on her brother are two separate things.
Sansa is correct in her reading of the danger Arya offers the Starks, and not just her own standing. But her desire to maintain the latter is why she only confides this to Littlefinger, and thus his plans turn to his advantage as the daughter of Catelyn Tully moves further back into his sphere of influence. This leads to a chilling moment where Littlefinger points out that Brienne would always protect both sisters… and Sansa sends Brienne away.
Some viewers might be confused by this move, but it isn’t because she suspects only Brienne can best represent her interests with Cersei; Sansa does this because she doesn’t want Brienne around for if/when she makes a drastic move against Arya. It’s a grotesque thought and, again, a self-centered one. Not that it proves ill-prudent.
I honestly still do not think this storyline ends with one sister murdering the other… but the series surely made me hesitate on that notion when Arya catches Sansa snooping in her quarters. Sansa is probably right to fear her little sister even before discovering the bag of gruesome Halloween masks. And frankly, this sequence very well could have ended with Sansa getting to learn about Arya’s needle work.
On a purely speculative basis, if Sansa had played the lying game with Arya and claimed she does not covet a crown, I definitely think Arya would have reveled in slapping the older Stark at the very least. And when Arya lifted the knife, I still wonder if Sansa had not stood her ground and had instead attempted to flee or talk her way out of this—cooperate instead of electing Cersei’s torture—whether Arya wouldn’t have taken her face. To threaten to murder her own sister and pretend to be the Lady of Winterfell suggests that it’s a fantasy Arya has considered, and perhaps the only reason she passed on it is because Sansa behaved more like what Arya describes as a “warrior” than a lady, and didn’t flinch.
Again, it comes down to the patriarchy they both grew up in, and from Arya’s vantage her older sister has wrapped herself in it for materialistic gains. Of course this is a presumptuous reading. Sansa and Arya are really two sides of the same coin. One wanted to be like her mother, the other like her father. Each had fantasies about being a storybook lady or a storybook knight, but due to the culture they were raised in, neither got anything short of a bastardization of that dream. Arya is a warrior, but one who must murder in the dark and without honor, perhaps not even a soul; Sansa is a lady, but she is no queen, and she learned that in truth, highborn ladies for all their etiquette are considered little more than property. They are more alike than they realize.
Yet here we are with the fear now moving in the other direction: Sansa knows Arya has a letter that could destabilize her (and technically also Jon’s) power. She also knows lil’ sis is cray-cray and might gut her like a stable boy. With Brienne gone and Littlefinger whispering in her ear, does she order to have her own sister killed?
No, I still suspect if Game of Thrones wanted one Stark to murder the other, it would have been tonight in Arya’s bedchamber. Instead, they will yet have that Three’s Company conversation and lure Littlefinger to his doom. Ideally before the statue of Lord Eddard Stark. With that said, I wonder if the Stark sisters will ever be family again after tonight.
The only other break from the action north of the Wall occurred on Dragonstone, and this unto itself is a prelude of the tragedy to come. It begins pleasantly enough with Daenerys and Tyrion able to just have a drink as acquaintances and colleagues, if not great friends. Although Tyrion certainly lays it on thick trying to get it there. As Daenerys goes into full rom-com mode to complain about the boys in her life who’ve done boyish things—as in Drogo, Jorah, Daario, and now Jon Snow—it was all Peter Dinklage likely could do to stop himself from going complete BFF and say, “Girl, you don’t need any of them.”
Instead, he does the other BFF tic and helpfully points out to Dany that she is talking about Jon Snow an awful lot. Yet things become less cordial (and more interesting) when the subject turns to strategy. While preparing for the meeting to come with the Lannisters, Daenerys admits she has a temper simply by getting angry in her refusals of that fact.
Forget needing Cersei to bait her, as soon as Tyrion starts discussing the line of succession she is ready to lump him in with the Lannisters again—“You’ve been thinking about my death a lot!”—and one imagines she is fantasizing about how a dwarf’s head would look dangling from her spacious window. But I do think this whole sequence is laying some thick foreshadowing down for the end of the series.
Undoubtedly there remain those who speculate Dany will become Mad Queen Aerys III. Personally, I think this is dragon excrement since if the series was going to go there, they would not have allowed Cersei to survive long enough to also embody the Mad Queen archetype. Still Daenerys has a fiery temper, and even while I disagree with Tyrion’s reluctance to use dragonfire, he has a good point about the Tarlys. She could have killed the father and not the son, and then seen then if Dickon would bend the knee. Instead, she is behaving like a Targaryen who could fall into darkness.
This hints first she needs someone who can steer her toward the light better than Tyrion, and obviously that someone’s name rhymes with Don Glow. Beyond that though is the fact that if Daenerys really does break Aegon’s wheel and ends the feudal system in Westeros, what happens after her death? How do they prevent another monarch if she cannot have children? Well first, the child thing may not be as severe as it seems given the end of the episode (which we’ll eventually get to), but Tyrion is hinting at pushing Dany toward a new form of governance. By suggesting they look at both the Night’s Watch and the Kingsmoot on the Iron Islands for inspiration, Tyrion is positing a vaguely democratic system of governance. While I doubt the series is in danger of having an American Revolution, just maybe Westeros is closer to its own version of the magna carta than even Tyrion realizes.
Then again, this all in the longterm, and as Daenerys counters, she is only worried about the short term, which becomes heartbreakingly perilous when she gets a surprisingly Mach 5-fast raven from Eastwatch-by-the-sea. Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, and the proof she needs that the dead are walking are in danger. Come quickly.
And so she does. Tyrion again perhaps wrongfully cautions prudence. Given our love for Jon Snow and company, this seems to be another mistake on her Hand’s part, but Dinklage conveys so much despair at seeing her ride off that I wonder if in the long-run he may be proven correct. For if the King in the North died Beyond the Wall, Dany would still be convinced White Walkers are real… and the Dead wouldn’t have a dragon of their own. Alas then that we see the doomed reptile rise from his final slumber in this retroactively devastating moment.
Draped in a fuzzy gown of white, cream, and gold, Daenerys looks fabulous… in Viserion’s colors. An unbeknownst farewell to her third and honestly neglected child, she wears his colors while mounting Drogon, and leading Viserion to his watery death. It is Viserion’s wings that are the last to exit the frame, stage left.
For Daenerys flies as the raven does—at warp speeds—towards the Wall and the chilling doom that waits beyond. Aye, the rest of this episode focused on that grating feeling that you’re being hunted, and the dogs, as it were, are closing in.
The action north of the Wall continued innocuous enough at first. Watching the Hound and Tormund Giantsbane strike up an unlikely bromance over Brienne of Tarth is a beauty to behold. And honestly, the Brienne/Tormund shippers might have a point. Jaime is still hung up on his sister while here is Tormund imagining creating a race of super-warrior babies with Brienne and not minding at all what Sandor Clegane thinks of it. And why should he? Sandor couldn’t beat Brienne, and it is an open question if he could beat Tormund. But he would bend the knee quite happily for Brienne, and allow her to be a queen.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow’s own fate is hinted again. While Jorah imagines a future of children for the King in the North, and Tormund even plays wingman by suggesting Jon is being too proud like Mance Rayder was until the flames licked at his toes, Beric Dondarrion offers a grimmer prognosis. Suggesting that neither of them will find much joy in their second (or seventh) lives, Beric argues theirs is a life in service. If it isn’t serving the Lord of Light, Jon can still serve his people. By the end of the hour, Jon obviously thinks that might be in a marriage union with Daenerys Targaryen, but I imagine there is something to Beric’s words.
It genuinely is a marvel to have seven named characters, all with varying degrees of sincere audience investment, working together for the first time. There are some red shirts too, but to have this many principals on a suicide mission causes the tension to be at a fever pitch the whole hour-plus, even though rather miraculously only Thoros (probably the most predictable goner) pays the iron price for venturing past the Wall.
His demise becomes imminent when they are attacked by a wight Polar Bear, which without needing to be said is all sorts of awesome. The creature kills a few of the wildling extras who are onscreen simply to die, but in the glory of its frosty blue demeanor, it also proves fatal to the drunk priest from Essos. It’s also in this scene that it becomes clear that the Hound might have misjudged his destiny as fighting wights since the most effective way of destroying them is by flame. But after Thoros and Beric use their patented “burning sword” trick to toast the big beastie, the Hound freezes in his place as if he were the Wall itself.
Thoros takes one for the Hound, which is both great and terrible. It’s great because nobody wants to see the Hound die until he lays eyes again on Arya and maybe his zombie brother. But be that as it may, only Thoros has the ability to resurrect any of their fellowship from the dead. Since Thoros went ahead and Boromir’d himself for the Hound, he cannot resurrect the Hound or anyone else. Now that Thoros is dead—and Melisandre is worlds away, supposedly in Essos—there are no second or third chances for Jon Snow or anyone else. As the Hound helpfully reminds Beric later in the episode, “This is your last life.”
Use it well.
And they really do as before Thoros expires, they succeed in their task as well as telegraph the end of the War for the Long Night. Coming across a small squadron of Ice Zombies and one White Walker, all of the Fellowship of the Wight handle themselves well in battle. But as Jon Snow is the only one wielding Valyrian steel, he is the one to challenge the White Walker. Dispatching him with relative ease, they discover that a strike from a Valyrian blade vanquishes all the wights that that White Walker has resuscitated. Ergo, as Jorah and Beric helpfully spell out a little later, in Game of Thrones lore, the Night King is the first White Walker. If you kill him, you theoretically can kill them all.
I am not particularly crazy about this cutting off the head of the snake contrivance being used in Game of Thrones, because it is the kind of logic that makes for easy wins in superhero movies. Still, we don’t know if that is entirely accurate, and it also is built on the assumption that the Night King is the final foe, so let’s see how the series actually uses this trope before entirely condemning it.
In the meantime, another convenience occurs when only one and just one wight in the squad was not made by that White Walker. So the merry murdering band, with nary a moment to be in awe of finally seeing a zombie, wrap him up in almost perfect ease… except when it bites the Hound’s hand. The Hound is indeed quite lucky that the series does not play by George Romero or The Walking Dead rules given that this would’ve been otherwise fatal. But the bite is still just that since merely a few roars by this single corpse brings what feels like the entire Army of the Dead.
Accompanied by the Four White Walkers of the Apocalypse, a legion of wights chase our heroes and corner them on a lonely mount in a frozen lake. Jon Snow has the foresight to send Gendry back on a sprint to Eastwatch to beckon Daenerys by raven, but I have to hand it to Jon, it’s rather amazing(ly convenient) that he could predict they’d end up in a situation where they could wait days for Dany and the dragons’ salvation.
Upon first glance, the only reason the Night King’s army does not descend on the Snowy Suicide Squad is because the ice is too thin for a cascade of Ice Zombies to cross. They’ll simply wait for the water to refreeze and harden. After all, it’s not like the Children of the Cold have to worry about frostbite. But what if the Night King was waiting specifically for something?
If this is the same Night King of legend, then he has attacked the Wall at least once thousands of years ago, and Bran the Builder’s construct still stands. He needs something bigger to go through it. Or what if he goes over it? Flies right to the other side firing buckets of ice, and opening the gate for his army? It’s something he could do very well with a wight dragon, but there are no dragons in sight.
Yet if the Night King is also a seer like Bran—and he could see every time Bran spied on him—what if he knew dragons were once again in this world? On this continent?! What if he simply is waiting for Jon also to be rescued!!! What might at first glance be convenient writing by Benioff and Weiss instead has chilling ramifications, as “Beyond the Wall” reaches its wrenching climax.
It is when the men all sit waiting to die that my mind is taken back to A Clash of Kings and Jon Snow’s utter misery as they slowly, day by day, get devoured. While I still grin at the flagrant cheating of timelines this season, with ravens and dragons alike flying at the speed of jets, there is nothing amusing about six men waiting to join Thoros. During these intercutting scenes, the drunk priest’s watch comes to an end, and he becomes like Tormund: kissed by fire.
He is the first to die, but it is only a matter of time before they join him. Jon and Jorah make good internet forum speculation about the Night King being the entire White Walker race’s proverbial Death Star exhaust port, but the idea of fighting their way to him is a fool’s errand. As they sit there, waiting to freeze or bleed, I’m sure they all wondered why they forgot their hats. Alan Taylor—returned to Game of Thrones five years after directing most of season 1 and season 2’s blockbuster chapters—savors coming home to the TV series that made him a desired film director in Hollywood. He shoots the space here with often maximum width and imbuing the frame with funerary finesse.
And the wake’s procession begins when the Hound, always a big mouth, taunts the wights once too often and accidentally alerts them early to the fact that the water has frozen. Whether the army waited for the sake of plotting convenience or Jon Snow’s delayed rescue, the wights don’t care. One by one by one, they approach the bastion of living with the seeming inevitability of Death himself. Once again in a handful of minutes, Game of Thrones turns into a better zombie show than seasons worth of The Walking Dead.
Despite no human hero dying here, the sequence is nightmare inducing because any of them could go out, and in fact I thought it was Tormund’s time. All of Tormund’s boasting of Brienne looking at him with imagined love felt like a vision of a life he never could have (not that I think he will now). Being pulled by zombies toward the ice where they needn’t eat him to watch his life expire was horrific. But hearing Tormund, of all people, cry for help was what really made it unbearable.
The Hound cemented his bromance by offering the unlikely assist, but it’s a pyrrhic victory as death inches closer. I would consider criticizing how none of them actually die in this impossible scenario, but what comes next negates the need. For a death far more unexpected occurs when Daenerys’ dragons miraculously descend on the carnage.
Admittedly, there is little catharsis greater than seeing all three dragons mop up the wights like how a garden hose washes away a rainy night’s grime. Ever since the first season, we’ve all anticipated the moment the dragons would be unleashed on the Ice Zombies, and that the release came while saving the Brotherhood of the Bastard is all the sweeter. But this isn’t Blackwater Rush, and it isn’t meant to be nothing but a sugar high as the dragons do their thing.
I imagine Benioff and Weiss wanted viewers to speculate that the Night King’s ice spears were meant for Daenerys. They certainly suggested she could die in her tense goodbye with Tyrion, and at that moment it was unclear who Mr. Undead Olympic Athlete was going to aim the spear for. However, I knew upon seeing them it was the dragons whom he wanted. If the dragonfire in Daenerys’ blood is of a magical quality, saving her from being burned, then it only makes sense in the natural law of opposite forces that ice magic would be chillingly effective. What a White Walker’s ice is to a dragon is what a dragon’s version of a stone, Dragonglass, is to a White Walker.
What I thought we were about to bear witness to was the death of Drogon. The entire fellowship has climbed aboard their equivalent of a Huey Chopper (props to whoever thought about stabbing the wight to the dragon’s spike) while Charlie is moving in, and Jon Snow has elected to be the Willem Dafoe in this Platoon analogy. Staying behind while the one who loves him watches on. But what if they all became stranded when the Night King murders the most beloved televised pet this side of Lassie?
Instead, the Night King proves that he is a showboater every bit as uber-cocky as Oberyn Martell. Just to mock the heroes, he makes the impossible spiral and connects his javelin into Viserion, whom like Rhaegal, only wanted to protect his mama.
Watching Viserion crash into the ice shook me like no other death in this series since sweet baby girl Shireen. I always feel for Rhaegal and Viserion; they’re clearly not their mother’s favorite. Left chained in the dark for a year or so due to Drogon’s youthful rebellion, they seemed closer together than they ever were to Drogon. And it is Rhaegal who makes Viserion’s final flight with him, traveling right behind his brother as the fire and blood spews out of him in a wintry gush. Then the light in the eyes goes too.
Visierion is dead before he sinks into the abyss, at least spared what should have been the last insult to his demise. And it’s crushing.
The loss of one of the dragons, the only dragons, the only children Daenerys will ostensibly ever have, is also the best moment I have seen in Emilia Clarke’s career. As she watches her baby, even if it isn’t a favorite, die, a look of utter shock and crushing disbelief crosses her face. You can see something in her mind sink with Viserion. A switch gets permanently disconnected. It’s Clarke’s finest and most agonized moment onscreen. It’s also a shame that it has to be somewhat undercut by the show wishing to overplay their hand on the Jon and Daenerys romance.
She is forced to glance back as she and Drogon leave the King in the North to his seeming fate. Jon gives the Night King a look that promises one day Longclaw will scratch his smug icy face. But in this moment, Jon Snow appears lost. There is probably a viewer or two who even believed he was doomed when he plunged into the water. But the TV tropes start to come not by single spies but in battalions. First there is the “surprise” reveal that Jon pulled himself to the surface. Next, Uncle Benjen returns as a Deus Ex Machina, saving his nephew when all other evidence suggests Jon should be dead. Frankly, it’s clear the showrunners are somewhat annoyed they have this plot thread to wrap up after leaving it dangling like George R.R. Martin did in season 1. But Benjen surviving as a Daywalker (or Summerwalker?) until season 7 just so he can offer Jon Snow a ride is less than ideal. And then there is the last minute ride toward a jubilant Daenerys right as she is walking away from Eastwatch’s overlook.
It can all be a bit too Lord of the Rings. But given the emotional ringer we all just went through while watching Viserion die and seeing the most visually spectacular sequence on TV this year, I’m too like Dany in my shellshock to mind right now. I’m just happy Jon Snow is safe.
So the hour ends on a series of farewells.
The first is between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. Beric probably should have died with his buddy Thoros, only because it is hard to imagine there is much of a role left to play. Yet he insists the Red God is not done with him yet, and it appears that Benioff and Weiss agree. As mentioned, the Hound appears to have wised up to the realization that he isn’t that great in a fight with wights if he becomes a statue when someone breaks out the fire. Like Tormund he was kissed by fire, but he won’t kiss it back. Granted, I wouldn’t mind seeing him swing Gendry’s war hammer again in battle against his brother or in defending the Stark girls he has such a soft spot for (assuming one doesn’t kill the other).
The next goodbye is a temporary one. It comes as Daenerys allows Jon Snow to get his rest and recoup after the hour’s trials. But it isn’t before some major revelations. First Daenerys finally allows herself to crumble a little over the loss of Viserion. And she doesn’t do it before Jorah or Tyrion. She saves it only for the King in the North, little more than a stranger but a more intimate relation she hasn’t known since Drogo.
She confides that she’ll never have children other than her dragons, one of whom rots now beneath the ice. Jon Snow offers her a different future though by first calling her Dany—which she apparently detests as it reminds her of Viserys (sorry though, Dany; if George does it, so do we!)—and then Jon calls her his queen. All but proposing marriage, Jon figuratively bends the knee. It’s a moment so romantic that Dany even finds the scars that prove he was stabbed in the heart endearing. Jon appears to truly be hers, and hey he still tellingly didn’t ride Drogon with the rest of his comrades… he has his father’s namesake, Rhaegal, to look forward to mounting.
I imagine many viewers are cheering as the Jon and Daenerys ship has finally pulled into port. But I’d caution to keep a weather eye on the horizon. The fact that Jon is himself magical, as that glance of his wounded heart reminds us, will probably come back in many ways. This episode highlighted, repeatedly, that she will never have children. She has been touched by blood magic that has taken that away from her. But Jon is also a product of magic now, and some even speculate the equivalent of the Red God’s wight.
Perhaps his job is to also provide an heir for Dany that no other man can? But as Beric warns, happiness is not meant for Jon Snow in this world.
… And then that final goodbye is to our ability to love Viserion. Never given enough attention by his mother, poor Viserion’s memory is destined to be tarnished and disgraced by one last unholy act of malevolence by the Night King. Viserion is now a wight, and he will be the Night King’s mount: the steed who brings the Night King over the Wall and to mama’s country.
This is a powerhouse cliffhanger. A real cliffhanger. One that reconfirms Game of Thrones is in its final movements. We’ve been in the third act all season, but now we’re in a long climactic tension of action. And it begins with a devastating punch to the system. All the air has been so sucked out of me, so the only thing I can do, like Jon, is to bend a knee at the majesty of we’ve just beheld.
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