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Game of Thrones “Beyond the Wall” 

Game of Thrones “Beyond the Wall”
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

It’s disappointing to see a premise with so much potential fall apart in execution. An episode fully devoted to the real threat to the north is as promising as any concept in the Game of Thrones world. But in many ways, “Beyond the Wall” was one step forward and two steps back in terms of quality. 

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

I’ve commented on how valuable traveling scenes are for fleshing out relationships and developing characters in Game of Thrones, and “Beyond the Wall” clearly makes an effort to do just that, focusing on an array of conversations between those in the caravan in search for a wight. I will happily admit that I appreciated the levity of Tormund and The Hound, as well as what felt like the most words I’ve ever heard Jorah string together this entire series. Jorah and Jon’s scene is probably the most attention that has ever been given to Jorah’s background or personality, and it was a welcome change considering that otherwise his most notable trait is his school-boy crush on Daenerys. And conversations aside, on a wider scale, “Beyond the Wall” was a pleasure to actually watch — it was visually stunning as Game of Thrones frequently is; not just because of the frigid Icelandic backdrop, but with the overhead shots establishing the hordes of the dead surrounding our protagonists, and the obvious special attention devoted creating an atmosphere of dread. 

I want to make it clear how much I enjoyed portions of this episode. From the first encounter with a handful of wights, to the thousands that ended up attacking, it was constant, perfect, palpable tension. I’m reiterating this because although I have a lot of issues with this episode, I want to hold to the fact that I’m not cynical about the show. Even at its worst, Game of Thrones is fantastic, entertaining television. And I shower it with praise when it shines. In terms of action and pure entertainment value, there was a lot to like in “Beyond the Wall.” But we know how good Game of Thrones can be. So let’s talk about how bad it can be.

Game of Thrones has turned into a TV version of a summer blockbuster — easily digestible, full of explosions, a certified turn-your-brain-off guilty pleasure. And sadly, it has had to trade much of what made it the cerebral, complex, gut-wrenching, nail-biting show that it still exists as in my head to get there. I can only speculate why. But above all else, Game of Thrones is falling into fan-service traps and lazy writing that risks any sort of worthy pay off when this show comes to an end.

For years, Game of Thrones was known as the show where no character was “safe.” Since that moment when Ned Stark, our alleged lead, got beheaded, we knew this was going to be a bumpy ride. And the show followed this method for quite some time, killing off main characters and introducing new ones at the same speed. However, once we knew the rules, the audience was just waiting for the next death. And so they came further and further apart, until now, where it seems a deus ex machina can save just about anyone. I incorrectly thought we were going to lose multiple main characters in “Beyond the Wall” and was bracing for something that never came. The thing is, I don’t care if everyone survives. That’s fine! But bringing on non-characters just to kill them off, as in this episode, is cheap and unnecessary. It just highlights how empty the threat of danger is. Having Tormund live is fan-service. Having Jon Snow live is sloppy writing.

The breakneck speed of this season has had some benefits that left me willing to deal with the “teleporting” that everyone seems to be doing this season. But the timeline has gotten too absurd to hand wave away at this point. The problem is that we have no scope of time in a time-sensitive episode. How long does it take a raven to get from The Wall to Dragonstone? How long has the team been on this expedition? How long did it take Gendry to run back to the wall? An hour? A day? How long were they on that island in frozen lake? Just the one night? So Gendry ran back to The Wall, got a raven to Dragonstone, Daenerys got the message, commissioned a bomb winter coat for herself, and flew north of The Wall in under a day? At this point, the less you think about it, the easier it all is.

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

Unfortunately, even the story south of The Wall had major issues. I’m baffled by the strife between Arya and Sansa. What in the world is the point of it? Why would Arya ever want to blow up the coalition of support in the North? There is virtually no build up or character motivation in any of this storyline. We stopped having scenes alone with Arya; instead, we only see her through Sansa’s eyes. Consequently, she’s flat, one-note, and totally out of character. I even had a moment when I considered if she had been killed by another man of faces and if this was someone pretending to be Arya. It just doesn’t work to dredge up drama from seasons past that seem irrelevant now. Who cares about Joffrey anymore? Robb has been dead for years. Both Sansa and Arya have been through hell and made it out. They wouldn’t feud like this. I actually did like the scene when Sansa finds the faces in Arya’s room, but entirely because Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner play amazingly well off of each other and are doing commendable work with some thin material. But it’s just them carrying this. And that’s not enough.

Finally, the relationship they are teasing between Daenerys and Jon is painful to watch. I think many people thought this would happen, even season ago, but the execution has been terrible.

They’re alleged attraction to each other is really just built on nothing except a couple of random comments from Davos and Tyrion. They have never seemed anything other than skeptical of each other, or, at best, vaguely friendly. Their vibe is platonic as hell. And Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington, bless them, have no romantic chemistry whatsoever. That last scene between them was utter dreck. Having Jon call Daenerys “Dany?” But why? He’s never heard anyone say that. I also just re-watched the Viserys death scene, so Daenerys’ calling Jon out on it was good, it was just awkward. Imagine how much better it would have been if he called her his “hero” and she rebuffed the notion and then he called her his queen instead? So much better! And this wasn’t even the most cringe-worthy part of the scene.

There was a moment when apparently Jon was supposed to be looking at Daenerys longingly while they were holding hands and I literally exclaimed “Oh my god, is he dying now?” Because he looked like he was dead. Like frozen, eyes wide open, dead. I think Kit does stressed out, uptight, miserable Jon Snow great most of the time, but that was painful. What an odd, terrible way to attempt to push forward a romance.

At the end, the weird narrative choices in “Beyond the Wall” make me think Benioff and Weiss have an end game they are working toward but have nowhere near enough time to get there. So they’re taking short cuts. They’ve done incredible work adapting, but I don’t know if they ever expected to have to create something from scratch that met the same quality as a story that took decades to write. They’ve made it work before, and at this point, I’m desperate for a “Winds of Winter”-esque turn in the season finale to prove that they can do it again.

Other thoughts:

Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
  • I did enjoy Daenerys and Tyrion snipping at each other, especially the bits about Tyrion not being heroic and Jon Snow being too little for Daenerys.
  • Uncle Benjen got a “hell yeah” out of me, but his death was too idiotic to talk about.
  • I’m confused about the zombie dragon. Will it still breathe fire? No, right? So it’s just big and strong? Will it have frost breath?
  • When will Bran, the kid who spent years becoming a magical, omniscient bird, finally become plot relevant?

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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