Penultimate episode! That means that for all you haters, there's only one episode remaining in this season and then we can get back to sticking to sports. Hooray. Without any further ado, let's get to it, shall we?
Let's get the negative out of the way at the start here, shall we?
The Ends make the Means. Well, we know what Benioff & Weiss were going for when they sent the Magnificent Snowven north of the Wall last week... and it wasn't mainly to catch a wight. It was to give the Night King a sweet new ride. When talking with My Buddy Andrew last week, I mentioned that I wanted to see a rescue sequence where Dany flew north and saved them (but I was also hoping for a Dragonrider Jon moment). The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what happens with the dragons. They seemed like they would just wreck shop against an army of Flammable Zombies and White Walkers who shatter like the T-1000 whenever Valyrian Steel touches any part of them. In that regard, I'm happy with this end... It raises the stakes, and makes the threat in the North feel like the true enemy in a season that was heavily focused on Cersei. But it's about the journey, not the destination, and this particular journey sucks.* It was a dumb plan when Tyrion suggested it last week, and it remains a dumb plan, even if the particular details of it ended up being interesting.
*Note: I mean this plan. I found the execution within this episode to be enjoyable. But that doesn't meant I don't still hate the plan. I freaking hate the plan.
Tyrion's Entire Season Arc. Do Benioff and Weiss just hate Tyrion as a character? The plan to get Dorne to besiege King's Landing? His idea—sunk by Euron Greyjoy. The plan to take Casterly Rock? His idea—outmaneuvered by Cersei and Jaime. The worst idea in the history of bad ideas: sending men north of the Wall to capture a wight to make Cersei "see reason?" His idea—ends up with one of the three super-weapons in the show in the True Enemy's hands. Then we turn to this week's episode. The fireside chat scene between he and Dany started out strong enough. He makes some compelling points about succession to Dany, but she has a point, too... what's the point of succession planning when she doesn't have a throne? Then, after putting Jon, Jorah, Gendry, etc. in absolute harm's way, he simply wants Dany to abandon them to their fates and do nothing without even the slightest acknowledgement that this was HIS plan. I'm not a fan of the way the show has treated him in this season. I really hope that they don't push him down a road where he ends up betraying Daenerys in favor of his family, because that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Part of it, I think, stems from my own disappointment with the show runners' decision to have this lingering question about whether or not Dany is the Mad Queen. Tyrion is the show's chosen standard-bearer for the "don't be the Mad Queen" set, and it doesn't land for me. It might be a more compelling story arc if Dany had been the one to blow up an entire religious institution along with her greatest enemies, all without regard for collateral damage or the lives of innocent civilians. Oh wait, another Queen already freaking did that... AND SHE WASN'T EVEN QUEEN AT THE TIME. Why spend all that time setting up a clear Mad Queen and then use this season to ask the question about a different character entirely?
Minor Details. Some minor details bugged me in this episode. Where was Bran? Shouldn't he be helping the Magnificent Snowven or his sisters not to fall into Littlefinger's traps or something? But nah, he's nowhere to be found. Also, where did the White Walkers get those Giant Chains™? As one Redditor put it, maybe they got them at "the Hardhome Depot." There have also been some complaints about the passage of time in the episode, what with Gendry running back to the Wall, sending a raven, which has to get to Dragonstone, then Daenerys has to fly north to get back, but another Redditor talked about those events, plus how long ice takes to re-form in order to support the weight of an army. My only issue is that I sort of wish they'd had a line that referenced the passage of time so that we had a better understanding. All of these were minor nitpicks, nothing to write home about.
Let's blast through this. First we'll deal with Winterfell because while a part of this episode, it doesn't really have any connection to the other plot points. Sansa finds Arya looking out over the training yard. Arya tells Sansa a nice story from when they were kids, but then has to go and ruin it with some revisionist history about what happened the day that Eddard was executed. Apparently she forgot that Sansa was beside herself with grief over what was going on, but she's got her letter, so she lets Sansa have it. A bit later on, Sansa complains to, who else, LIttlefinger. She's worried that Arya will show the letter to the Northern Lords, who will, like Arya, totally misinterpret it. He sows more seeds of distrust between Sansa and Arya under the guise of being helpful and supportive, then suggests that Sansa keep Brienne close so that she can protect Sansa from Arya. This seems like decent advice for a change.
Does Sansa listen? Nope. She gets a raven inviting her to King's Landing for this shindig that they're putting together for Zombie Show and Tell. Sansa's not having it, though, and she's sending Brienne instead. Brienne's not a fan of this idea, since Littlefinger is still around. Sansa is a big girl though, and doesn't want to be told what to do.
At the very end of the episode, Sansa steals into Arya's room, presumably to recover the letter. Instead, she finds Arya's faces in a satchel that's cleverly tucked directly under her bed. Arya materializes in the room, and the two continue to have it out a bit. Arya is suuuuuuper creepy and seemingly wants to cut off Sansa's face, but then flips the Catspaw Dagger around and hands it to Sansa before walking out the door.
Jon and his Merry Band of Insanely Stupid But Good Fighters head north of the wall. Pretty much each one gets a character moment, except for the extras. Jon talks with Jorah (THANK YOU, SHOW), Gendry with Thoros/Beric about that whole "You sold me to die" bit, Tormund and Jon have a nice chat, then Tormund and The Hound have an even better chat. It's all fun and games north of the Wall until a giant zombie bear rips people to pieces. Thoros is quite injured but it's okay because he can just drink more wine and feel much better. Afterwards, Jorah and Thoros have a nice chat about the Good Ol' Days.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Daenerys roast marshmallows by the fire and have a nice chat about who's got a crush on whom, and the coming negotiations with the Lannisters after Zombie Show and Tell. They know that there will be traps laid by Cersei, but apparently the only traps they can conceive of involve deceit and mass murder, so Tyrion's not all about those. As usual in these scenes, both Tyrion and Dany have relatively decent points to make. Tyrion seems to be heavily relying on his family's promises of safety, which kind of seem like a horrible idea, seeing that these are the forebears of the man that engineered the Red Wedding and the Rains of Castamere. Anyway, talk turns to Dany's plans for succession, with Tyrion apparently wanting to create the United States of Westeros (sidebar: I really hope that this isn't how the show ends). Dany won't have any of it.
Back in the North, Jon and crew come upon a White Walker and his band of Twenty Good Dead Men. They lay a trap for the White Walker, kill him, and suddenly all the wights die, save one. Lucky for them, they're after just one! The wight screams and alerts the rest of the Army of the Dead, which was apparently around the corner. Jon sends Gendry to run back to the Wall to get a raven to Dragonstone. Gendry, familiar with long distance activities like rowing and running, sprints back to Eastwatch as fast as he can and gets Davos to send a raven. The rest of the Gang fight off the dead as long as they can, then retreat to the center of an iced-over lake. The ice breaks underneath the army of the dead, but the Gang finds respite on an island at the center of the lake. The dead encircle the lake, waiting for the ice to re-freeze so that they can resume their assault. The White Walkers and the Night King watch over all of this from a nearby overlook.
Dany, having received the raven from Eastwatch, is mounting up on Drogon and taking her dragons north to regulate. Tyrion wants her to do nothing, because she's too important. Because that plan worked oh so well for them the first several times they did it, Dany ignores Tyrion's advice and lifts off.
Unfortunately for the Gang, Thoros succumbs to his wounds from the Zombie Bear. They burn the body, then return to freezing their butts off. Beric thinks that they should just kill the Night King, but Jon reminds him that there's an entire army between them and the Night King so killing him isn't really on the table. The Hound abuses the captured wight and uses his buddies as target practice until one of the stones that he throws skids across the now-hardened ice. This clues the wights into the fact that they can attack, so the game's afoot.
The Gang fights off the Army of the Dead for a little while, with all of the extras getting killed off. Tormund almost gets taken down, but the Hound, moved by their earlier talk about Brienne and the nature of true love, saves Tormund from a grisly death. Just as things get hopeless, Dany appears with her dragons to unleash fire upon the poor dead people. Drogon lands on the island and the Gang mounts up. The Night King targets Viserion because apparently he's really working on his javelin skills for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and stationary targets are too easy for a King. Viserion takes a popsicle to the heart and comes crashing down in devastating fashion. Jon speeds Dany and the Gang away while the Night King loads up his next javelin throw. Drogon, having learned from his encounter with the scorpion two weeks ago, nimbly dodges the popsicle. Jon sinks beneath the broken ice, only to emerge in time to be reduced by UNCLE BENJEN!!!! and not a dragon named Rhaegal, because we've gotta stretch things out even longer.
Back at Eastwatch, Dany stands atop the Wall, keeping watch for Jon. Just as she's about to give up hope, a single horn blast cuts the air: rangers returning! They hurry Jon to the safety and warmth of Dany's ship, where she sees that Davos's bit about Jon taking a knife to the heart wasn't just embellishment.
Dany stays by his side until he wakes. Jon is crushed for Dany, since he knows that she sees the dragons as her children. He wishes they'd never gone beyond the Wall (so say we all). Dany, to her credit, says that it was worth it. She had to see the Night King and the Army of the Dead to believe it. She pointedly says that the dragons are the only children she'll ever have, and pledges her support to Jon's cause. Jon calls her Dany, but maybe that's not a good idea because that's what Viserys called her, so he says, "How about 'My Queen'?" He'd bend the knee but he can't because he's lying down.
In the final scene of the week, the Zombie Blacksmith's Guild has whipped up some Giant Chains™. The wights are using the chains to drag Viserion's corpse out of the water. The Night King dismounts, approaches, and lays his hand on the dead dragon's snout. Viserion's eye opens, the deep blue of the thralls of the Night King. The Army of the Dead now has a dragon in its ranks.
I already did the bad stuff, so let's talk the rest.
I can't say that I liked it, because I'm confused as heck about the goings on at Winterfell. It certainly seems like Sansa and Arya both are playing right into Littlefinger's hands. Arya's acting completely strange, seemingly failing to see reason and logic when it comes to Sansa, and also failing to heed her own father's advice that he gave to her in the books.* Sansa is frightened by her sister and worries about what will happen if the Northern Lords find out about the letter she wrote to Robb back in Season One. She seemingly runs to Littlefinger for advice, who tells her to keep Brienne close. To her apparent credit, she doesn't take that particular piece of advice, sending Brienne to King's Landing instead. I'm hoping that something else is going on here. Some seem to think that there is. What's more, I really hope we have a resolution this season. I'm freaking tired of Littlefinger.
*The quote from Sansa that we heard in a trailer for this season: "When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives." This is actually part of a speech Ned gives to Arya in A Game of Thrones, when Arya and Sansa are fighting. Here's the full quote:
Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa … Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you....
I pretty much loved each and every interaction north of the Wall. Like I said, while I hated the overall plan, I really enjoyed the implementation in this episode. I was especially appreciative of the interaction between Jorah and Jon. Jon offers to return Longlcaw to Jorah, who refuses it. The exchange is beautiful, and Jorah pointedly tells Jon, "It's yours. May it serve you well, and your children after you." Ooooooooh. I also loved the sequence between Tormund and Sandor. They've both had run-ins with Brienne of F---ing Tarth, and their interchange here is quite fantastic. All in all, I'm really glad that they brought The Hound back. He grounds the story both he and Tormund bring a modicum of levity to a pretty dark situation.
Ok, this is kinda new territory for me, but I need to stop and talk about just how much I freaking LOVED Dany's winter battle dress. While the dialogue in the sequence where she leaves Dragonstone annoyed me, the scene itself is absolutely gorgeous, from the vivid rendering of the dragons, stark landscape and Dany's striking attire. The white fur with elaborate striping, and the off-white scaling down the center of the back of the dress makes it mimic dragon scale to me. Coupled with the stark landscape and her coloring, the dress was maybe one of my all-time favorite outfits in the entire series. She was the image of a warrior queen, striking and beautiful.
While we're at it, I thought Emilia Clarke was excellent in this entire episode. Given the fact that her dragonriding takes place entirely on a green-screen set, she does a remarkable job showing the proper emotions and giving the sense that she's actually riding a dragon, not a mechanical construct on a sound stage somewhere. When Viserion fell, the shock and fear on her face were evident.
And, speaking of Viserion's fall, I didn't want to see it happen. The moment that she mounted up, I figured it was coming and dreaded its arrival. But, that said, I'm glad that they did it. It was gut-wrenching, on par with some of the more surprising deaths of the series for me. For one, it once again demonstrates that no one is safe in this game, even seemingly-invincible super weapons. For two, it leveled the playing field and shows us that the Night King and his Army of the Dead are the true enemy to be feared, especially now that he has Zombie Viserion.
Finally, I absolutely loved the final sequence between Jon and Dany. I hope I'm not the only one thinking it, but I feel like these two actors really take it to another level when they're working together. The scene in the ship was one of the most touching and emotional scenes of the series for me. Dany's emotion over the loss of her "child" was evident, which made the fact that she wasn't sorry to have gone north of the Wall all the more powerful. It intensified her pledge to fight for the North without any strings attached. What's more, it felt like a declaration of love. Jon responds perfectly, by "bending the knee" to Dany. His response, to me, felt very much like an "I love you, too." I could almost feel the electricity in the room as they held each other's hand. I'm glad that they left it at that, though, and didn't pursue anything further. The moment itself was intimate enough.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Not a perfect episode, but a very good one. The show continues to nail those "character moments" and has really upped the ante on the spectacle front. For all of my grousing about the horribleness of the plan, it's behind us and I'm ready to move forward. I'm anticipating the season finale with bated breath, especially since the preview revealed next to nothing. One more episode!