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‘Game of Thrones’ recap: ‘Beyond the Wall,’ score one for the Night King

Here's a recap of the sixth episode in Season 7 of "Game of Thrones." (Video: Daron Taylor, Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Last week I speculated in the comments that eventually we might see a situation in which one of the dragons gets felled by a White Walker, creating a situation in which it would be resurrected to join the army of the dead. I assumed that if this happened, it would happen close to the very end of the show’s run, in one of the final episodes. But since we’re now in hyperspeed “Thrones” mode and every episode feels like it has enough plot for an entire season, we’ve already got an ice dragon. That’s a nice weapon for the Night King to add to his arsenal of thousands of wights and some deadly ice spears. Does an ice dragon breath fire or ice? We’ll probably find out soon enough.

Also, Jon and Dany are about to get it on, while Sansa and Arya are about to kill each other. There is only one more episode left this season, and things are happening.

Read Alyssa Rosenberg’s review of ‘Beyond the Wall’

The journey beyond The Wall
Jon leads a group of 13 — Tormund, the Hound, Jorah, Gendry, Beric Dondarion, Thoros of Myr and six nameless randos (don’t get too attached to them) — on the mission to capture a single wight and bring it back to King’s Landing to prove the existence of the ultimate enemy to Cersei. You’d think there would be an easier way, but alas. The (beautifully filmed, majestically scenic) journey to the northern reaches of the world gives these men a chance to catch up with one another, a mini-tribute to the way things used to be on the show. A quick recap of some of the paired-off conversations:

‘Game of Thrones’ used to be all about the journey. Now it’s about the destination.

— Jon tells Tormund that he’s met Daenerys, and she’ll only fight beside them if he bends the knee. Tormund says that Mance Rayder was a great man and a proud king who never bent the knee. But how many of his people died for his pride, he asks, echoing exactly what Daenerys asked Jon earlier this season.

— Thoros and Gendry get reacquainted, but Gendry is still upset about the whole selling him to Melisandre for her blood magic needs. The Hound doesn’t care much for Gendry’s complaining, though. Excuse me, whinging. His lips are moving and he’s complaining about something, therefore Gendry is whinging.

— Jon and Jorah have an interesting little chat, trading stories about each other’s respective fathers. Jon attempts to give his sword, Longclaw, back to Jorah, since it was Jeor Mormont who gifted the sword to Jon. It’s been in the Mormont family for centuries and belongs with Jorah, Jon says. But Jorah says he forfeited his claim to the sword by bringing shame upon his family name. “May it serve you well, and your children after you,” Jorah says to Jon. And by the look on his face, that’s pretty much the first time Jon has ever thought about being Papa Jon.

— The Hound and Tormund. It doesn’t get much better than these two. Tormund speaks of his true love waiting for him back on the other side of the Wall, and the Hound quickly deduces that it’s Brienne. That makes him chuckle, while Tormund saying, “I want to make babies with her” makes me chuckle.

— Beric Dondarion tells Jon he doesn’t much resemble his father, which makes perfect sense since Ned Stark isn’t Jon’s father. These two share a bond, having both been brought back to life by the Lord of Light, even if Beric has gone through that process five more times than Jon. Beric gets existential with Jon, saying the battle they are facing is simple. They fight for life; death is the enemy, the first and last one.

The Chatting Hour reaches its end when a bear — of the blue-eyed, undead variety — wreaks havoc on the group. Three of the randos get chewed up (RIP, randos), before Jorah inflicts a death blow with a dragonglass dagger. Of the core group, Thoros suffers the most damage. Jorah wants to get him back to Eastwatch to heal, but they’ve gone too far on this mission to turn back. Beric uses his fire-sword to cauterize Thoros’s wounds and the mission continues.

They come upon a small collection of undead and spring a trap, ambushing the group that’s distracted by a fire. In the brief battle, Jon uses his Valyrian steel sword to vanquish the White Walker leading the group, which causes the rest of the wights to instantly disintegrate, since that’s what happens to wights when the Walkers that turned them get killed. Quite conveniently (a theme for this episode), there was one wight who must have gotten separated from his turner, and that’s who the group manages to take hostage after a brief scrap that featured a horrible high-pitched squeal from the wight that probably angered people in the apartment next door all over the country.

The squeal also let the rest of the thousands of undead in the general area know that there’s some fresh meat nearby. Jon knows the group is about to be overrun, so he tells Gendry to hoof it back to Eastwatch and get a raven to Daenerys and tell her of this dire situation. As Gendry runs (is running through harsh, snow mountains an upgrade or a downgrade from rowing?), the people he left find themselves marooned on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake. They lose one rando (RIP, other rando) on their race to the safe-rock, but at least they are temporarily secure since the undead don’t mess with water. (Gendry made it back to Eastwatch in near-record time, because of course he did.)

Despite the fact that Jon and company are in subzero conditions and surrounded on all sides by a flesh-eating army of undead, they manage to get some shut-eye overnight. Poor ol’ Thoros of Myr gets lost to the eternal sleep — RIP, Thoros and your surprisingly on-trend man bun. His body is set ablaze so he doesn’t come back as a wight, and now the group of 13 is down to just seven. (And now Beric is out his reanimator.) Jorah and Jon discuss strategy; Jorah recommends going after the Walkers, since killing them would also take out the wights they turned. Beric says all they need to do is take out the Night King, who is just casually observing from a hill in the distance. (Night King and Littlefinger should have a pleased-with-himself-observe off.) Beric says that the Lord of Light brought him and Jon back for a reason, and that reason is staring them in the face.

The Walkers and wights seem content to wait as long as they need to, but the Hound gets us to the inevitable as his restless rock-throwing helps the wights realize that the water is actually frozen and they can walk on the ice. (Do we know what the cognitive abilities of the wights are?) There’s no need to get into the details of the battle, but the wights attack at the exact right time to make sure that these seven men with one weapon each hold their own. Actually, make that six because one rando does get taken down, which prompts Jon to tell the men to fall back, all while going to great lengths to save the wight that they plan to take to King’s Landing.

During their retreat, the last rando gets killed, but he’s given the dramatic music and slo-mo treatment that for a split second makes you think it was someone we actually cared about. But no worries, it was just the final Convenient Rando. And just when it seems all hope is lost, Daenerys, Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal swoop in to the rescue. The five survivors watch in awe as the dragons destroy scores and scores of the undead.

The Night King, who is never in a hurry, seems unfazed by this. One of his four horsemen assistants hands him an ice javelin, and he calmly spots his target, fires away and scores a direct hit on Viserion. (At least we think it’s Viserion.) An ice javelin from the Night King is effective in ways that Qyburn can only dream of, because one hit spells the end for Viserion, who crashes to the ground, spilling tons of blood everywhere, before his dead body slinks into the water.

Are the dragons in trouble on ‘Game of Thrones’?

Daenerys is overcome with sadness but there’s no time for mourning, since Night King is loading up for round two. Except for Jon, the survivors in the group (plus the wight) are saddled up and ready to depart and they take off quickly. Drogon manages to swerve and avoid the Night King’s second shot, but Jon is left to fend for himself and gets tackled into the water.

But of course this isn’t the end for Jon. He fights his way out of the water, emerges exactly where Longclaw is and staggers away before being spotted by the horde of wights. But what’s one more out-of-nowhere rescue, right? Because here comes Benjen Stark, to save the day. Just like he did with Bran and Meera last season. (Benjen, of course, is Ned Stark’s kinda-dead brother who was killed north of the Wall but given a dragonglass infusion by the Children of the Forest to preserve him in his current state, which is Person Who Saves Characters When All Seems Lost.)

Benjen uses his flaming chain to fight off enough wights to give him time to put Jon on his horse and send him on his way back to Eastwatch. Since all forms of transportation have been completely optimized, the horse knows exactly which way to go. Benjen quickly gets taken down by the converging wights — RIP, Benjen/convenient plot device.

But un-RIP to Viserion, who gets dragged back to the surface by the chain gang of wights and brought back to some form of life by the Night King.

Daenerys and Jon, about to get it on
After escaping the Night King, Daenerys is back at Eastwatch, perched on the lookout, hoping against hope that Jon will make his way through the forest. Jorah tells her it’s time to depart, but Daenerys wants to wait just a little longer. And that’s when, miraculously, Jon comes riding through. Sailing back to Dragonstone (it’ll probably take about 15 minutes), Jon gets tended to below deck and Daenerys is there to watch. She gets a look at both his chiseled physique and his fatal stab wounds and seems to be turned on by both. When he comes to, they share a gaze and there’s no mistaking what it means. Jon apologizes for the dragon death; she says that they are the only children she’ll ever have. So much talk of children this episode …

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen in love: Disgusting, awesome or disgustingly awesome?

She gives Jon her word that they’ll fight the Night King together. And he gives her his loyalty: “I’d bend the knee, but …” All you need to know about how these two feel about each other is to look at how Daenerys moved her thumb across Jon’s hand. The thumb-across-the-top-of-the-hand move is not for friends or acquaintances but only for lovers or very-soon-to-be lovers. It’s touching that these two have found feelings for each other; it’s also incest.

Sansa and Arya are headed to a bad place
The complete breakdown of the Sansa/Arya relationship is another one of those story lines that would have unfolded over an entire season in past years, but they’ve plowed through it in just a couple of weeks. After finding the Season 1 letter (that Littlefinger made sure she would find) that Sansa sent to Robb telling him to swear fealty to Joffrey, Arya’s trust in Sansa has completely eroded. When Arya lets Sansa know she found the scroll, Sansa understandably points out that she was forced to write the letter, was just a child at the time and that it was the only way she thought their father’s life could be saved. The explanation isn’t good enough for Arya, who accuses Sansa of betraying her entire family for her “beloved Joffrey.”

Sansa turns the tables and informs Arya that she should be on her knees thanking her for the fact they’re even standing in Winterfell. The Knights of the Vale won the Battle of the Bastards and it was only because of Sansa that they were there. And while Arya was off “training,” Sansa was suffering at the hands of the two most sadistic people in the Seven Kingdoms.

Sansa lets Littlefinger know the situation, but obviously he knows what’s going on. Sansa is worried that if the note is made public, she’ll lose the loyalty of the northern lords, who, after all, have pledged loyalty to Jon and not her. Her, who already married two enemies of the House Stark. Littlefinger brings up Brienne, and the fact that she is sworn to protect both of the Stark girls, due to her long-ago pledge to their mother. If one of you were planning to harm the other, Littlefinger notes, she would be honor-bound to intercede.

Soon after, Sansa receives a scroll — which she makes a point of reading out loud in front of the person who delivered it to her, which is kind of weird, right? — that says Cersei is hosting a sort of G-8 gathering in King’s Landing, and Sansa is invited. She won’t set foot in King’s Landing, so she wants to send Brienne to this supposed gathering in her place. Brienne doesn’t want to go, or at least wants to let Podrick stay behind to offer protection in her absence. Sansa won’t have it, and Brienne is sent on her way. As she walks out the door, we see Sansa staring in her direction in a very Littlefinger-y way. Brienne won’t be there to protect Sansa from Arya, but just as importantly, she won’t be there to protect Arya from Sansa, either.

Later, Sansa is snooping around Arya’s room and she finds the dagger that Littlefinger gave to Bran, who then re-gifted it to Arya. More interestingly, she finds Arya’s travel bag (which honestly looks kind of like the Kenneth Cole thing I take to work every day) and the faces she keeps in there. It’s a little weird to see them as simple rubber masks, but hey, those dragon effects are really expensive, you need to save money somewhere. Sansa is utterly confused by the whole situation, and Arya’s newly adopted creepy speaking style only makes the situation more uneasy.

Arya presses Sansa on her loyalty to Jon, or whether she’s after his seat of power. She knows that Sansa always wanted to be a queen who sat next to the Iron Throne. Arya always wanted to be a knight, and now she’s finally able to live out her dreams to the best of her abilities, with the help of her handy faces. She picks up her dagger and says she could even become Sansa … at which point she flips the dagger, handle-side toward Sansa, and gives it to her. A perfect bit of intimidation. And then Arya walks out the room. Which is weird, because wasn’t Sansa snooping in her room in the first place? In any case, Sansa is properly freaked out by her newly menacing sister.

These two seem to be reaching a boiling point, but it was interesting that Bran was conspicuously absent this episode. Littlefinger may think that he’s manipulated the situation exactly to his liking, but all it takes is for Bran to say “he’s playing both of you, I know because I literally know everything” for the sisters to come together against a common enemy. We’ve already seen Bran show Littlefinger his all-knowing abilities once before; he could do in his latest plot if he wishes.

As for Arya, the Overton window with anything involving her is unwieldy because of her face-swapping abilities. She sinisterly told Sansa in their final showdown that the last person to play the game of faces didn’t fare so well. Does this mean she’s killed again and is just waiting to break out her latest face? Did that already happen? Maybe she killed Brienne (I really don’t think so) and Sansa was interacting with Arya that entire time. It just makes you overthink every scene involving her, is all.

Tyrion just wants to stick to a plan

Tyrion is finding it pretty difficult to be Hand to an all-action Daenerys. Back at Dragonstone, he tries to convince her that going into King’s Landing dragons-blazing isn’t the smartest move, just like it wasn’t the smartest move to execute the Tarlys. But careful planning and diplomacy is a tough sell to Daenerys. Tyrion is also planning for the far future and wants to set in place a line of succession, particularly since Daenerys says she cannot have children; she will not even give this a single thought until she is sitting on the Iron Throne.

Later, Tyrion’s lack of influence rears its head again when he tries to persuade Daenerys to let Jon and his group die north of the Wall, on account of it being too risky for her to attempt a rescue. “Sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do,” he says. But (obviously) she doesn’t listen to that advice. Imagine such a thing, an impulsive ruler who can’t be reined in by a top adviser.


Episode 5: ‘Eastwatch’

Episode 4: ‘The Spoils of War’

Episode 3: ‘The Queen’s Justice’

Episode 2: ‘Stormborn’

Episode 1: ‘Dragonstone’