Small Council: What did we think of “Beyond the Wall?” – Winter Is Coming
DAN: So. This episode. I feel like we’ve been on a journey processing this one since it aired.
I’m having trouble putting my thoughts into words because most of my thoughts are negative. There were definitely good things. I liked Tyrion’s conversation with Daenerys. I understood why he wanted to talk about succession, and I understood why mention of her inability to have kids would make Daenerys uncomfortable — I wonder if she’s more or less likely to want to discuss it now that one of her “children” has died. I liked the scene with Jon and Dany on the boat — Emilia Clarke sold Dany’s heartache, and it’s good to see her and Jon forming bonds of trust. And of course I enjoyed seeing the dragons torch wights, because how’s that not fun?
We’ve talked a lot this week about all the little inconsistencies and implausibilities in the episode. But while a few bugged me, I think they stood out more than usual because the wight hunt as a whole just felt odd and forced from the start. I could feel the episode reaching for it. I could feel it straining to accommodate this plot, not because the story demanded it happen but because the show needed to get from Point A from Point B and didn’t mind taking shortcuts. “Beyond the Wall” was where the season’s reduced episode count caught up to it. It didn’t help that the execution was less-than-perfect, but I think the problem went deeper than that. Now that it’s over and the Night King has his weapon, I’m hoping things straighten themselves out a bit.
None of which means it wasn’t fun hearing Tormund talk about all the babies he’s going to make with Brienne, by the way.
Weirdly, I found myself liking the Winterfell scenes on rewatch. Arya and Sansa have felt off ever since Arya returned to Winterfell, so I decided to just go with it and enjoy the creepiness of Arya advancing on her sister with a knife and threatening to cut off her face. I think of it like this: I have a brother with whom I did not get along at all when I was a kid. Even today, after we’ve both done a lot of growing, I find it very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if he deserves it. I think that’s where Arya’s at, only her feelings are exacerbated by the post-traumatic stress of seeing her father die. I know I’m reaching, but at least the scenes make me want to reach.
The floor is open.
BROOKE: This episode was a tough one. Watching the Night King kill Viserion ranks as one of the top three most traumatizing moments in the show for me, and the potential damage an ice dragon will be able to inflict on Westeros is too harrowing to contemplate just yet.
The Sansa/Arya conflict continues to be both disturbing and puzzling. I don’t like to see them pitted against each other, but the “why” of it is the most troubling aspect. Sansa tried to explain the context of the scroll to Arya but Arya refused to give Sansa one iota of the benefit of the doubt. Why? I realize they had issues with each other as children and that Arya doesn’t trust Sansa’s motives, but why is she so antagonistic towards her? What is she trying to accomplish?
And why did Sansa take Littlefinger’s hint and send Brienne away at the first opportunity? I want to believe (tm Mulder) that Sansa has good intentions and is playing the long game with Littlefinger in an attempt to outmaneuver him, but I’m doubtful. The only good thing that can come from Brienne being sent to King’s Landing is a Brienne/Jaime reunion.
I loved the Jon/Dany scene on the ship. It was nice to see Dany be vulnerable for a change and express some humanizing self-doubt. Jon’s decision to bend the knee to her will probably go over like a lead balloon with the Lords of the North, but it will be interesting to see what happens when he gets back to Winterfell.
My favorite scene of the episode was the conversation between the Hound and Tormund about Brienne. It provided some much-needed comic relief from the darkness of dragon death and Stark strife. As a tall woman myself, I totally understand Brienne’s discomfort in her own skin. I love that Tormund lusts after her for the very qualities that have made her feel like a lumbering curiosity in Westerosi society, and hope she can learn to appreciate him in return. If nothing else, they would be a formidable pair on the battlefield.
COREY: I think my enjoyment of the episode falls pretty closely in line with Dan’s. There were plenty of things this episode got right, but many that it got wrong. Each time I watch the episode, I enjoy it as I’m watching it. The visceral nature of the events leaves little time for dissection, but afterwards…
First, I love all of the conversations between our suicide squad as they marched north. The Hound was severely missed during his season 5 absence. I love his dry pragmatism and clever wit. Whinging is my new favorite word, and I’m hoping they stick that on a t-shirt soon. (Seems they already have.) It was a lot of fun to see new characters connect, which I suppose should be expected since their numbers keep dwindling.
To me, nothing was more emblematic of the sloppiness of this episode than the use of dragonglass weapons by our heroes. The first words out of Jon Snow’s mouth this season were about dragonglass, Jon went to Dragonstone to get dragonglass, Tyrion used the dragonglass as a goodwill gesture, we saw them mine dragonglass…I could go on and on about how important they made dragonglass out to be, and yet when it finally came down to using it, many people, including myself on first viewing, didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing.
It’s a problem when many of your viewers don’t understand a fundamental plot point like that. A simple comment from one of the characters could have explained it. There were plenty of other instances of sloppy mistakes, like where the hell they got all those chains, but the dragonglass stood out to me.
All of this becomes especially frustrating when you consider that they were all self-imposed mistakes. HBO was practically begging Benioff and Weiss for more episodes, but the duo choose to give us seven episodes of wildly differing lengths instead of the normal 10. I’m hoping that the season 7 finale will rectify a lot of the issues we’ve had so far with the season, but I don’t think it’s likely.
RICHARD: It feels like I liked “Beyond the Wall” overall a little more than Dan and Corey, although they are by no means trashing it. Most of my problems were with the Winterfell storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed the extended bromance section of the suicide squad’s march north, even though in some ways it felt like they quickly had to acknowledge the reunion of so many long-separated characters. It was well-written and the lightness worked for me, with the highest points going to the Jorah Mormont-Jon Snow exchange and the wonderful humor in the conversation the Hound and Tormund had about Brienne. It was all good stuff, on a boy scout camping trip into hell’s jamboree.
I’ve also felt the “let’s go nab a wight” storyline has been forced ever since the lousy idea spilled out of Tyrion’s mouth, and in this episode it got messy with the establishing of White Walker-wight rules. I enjoyed the drawn out battle sequence on the ice lake despite some inconsistencies, like how Jon was unable to board the Drogon 747 when everybody else could manage it. As for the chains and hooking them to Viserion underwater, you gotta figure the Night King has been round forever so he’s collected immense amounts of stuff, like massive chains. Plus, if his wight army reflects his ability to raise anything dead that might have been frozen in a glacier since the Westerosi Jurassic period, you have to think he’s got a lot of variety in his ranks (wight-mermaids or wight-seals, anyone?) Yeah, but I don’t know how he did it, either.
I’m also totally in on Jon and Daenerys getting together. Their scene on the ship was tender and warm and grimdark Game of Thrones needs this kind of love affair to balance things out. Remember the wonderful moments we got from the Dany/Drogo and Jon/Ygritte romances? Let’s give these two kids a break, now that the pain of those losses are behind them, and let’s see the Dragon and the Wolf form a personal alliance along with the strategic one.
As for my Winterfell problem, I’m with Brooke: the Sansa dynamic has been an issue for me almost ever since she returned home with Jon. She may not be as experienced in the great game as she thinks she is, but she’s smart. Jon is smart. These two characters understand leadership, and they’d never air their dirty laundry and argue in front of the northern lords they way they have done. Jon and Sansa would work everything out beforehand to present a united front to their followers. It all felt artificial to me, making these characters dumber to generate conflict. Now, Arya’s immediate, unmotivated, bat-s**t crazy aggression towards Sansa feels uncharacteristic, and once again a clunky effort to generate conflict in the Sansa-Arya-Littlefinger triangle.