This week’s Game of Thrones was as close to a bottle episode as one will find in Westeros. Split between Winterfell, the expedition north of the Wall, and Dragonstone, “Beyond the Wall” focuses on Jon Snow’s quest to capture a White Walker, bring it south as evidence of the Army of the Dead and proof that winter really is here, and unite Westeros behind a common enemy. How could this expedition possibly go wrong, you ask? “Beyond the Wall,” which clocks in at nearly 70 minutes, is here to show you all the ways. Like the fourth episode, “The Spoils of War,” this week’s Game of Thrones was a whole lot of foreplay before arriving at the main event: a face-off between two ancient powers, White Walkers and dragons. (It’s always a face-off with the dragons.)
But the Night King proves himself far better matched to Daenerys’s “children” than Jaime Lannister’s army at Highgarden—he takes out Viserion, and, in a moment that recalls Jon Snow’s gasping return to the realm of the living at the beginning of Season 6, reanimates him as a blue-eyed undead dragon. It remains to be seen how compatible dragon fire is with the frosty zombies of the north, but this is definitely a point we’ll give to the Night King.
And while none of the action takes place in King’s Landing, it still exerts a clear influence: Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen are consumed with Cersei’s machinations, and Cersei summons Sansa Stark by raven to visit her at the Red Keep.
In case the above did not make it abundantly clear, this episode is insane. Last week, Gendry Baratheon returned to the fray; this week, it’s Jon Snow’s mystery uncle Benjen Stark. Beric comes up with what might be the most plausible solution to the gang’s Army of the Dead problem. Arya has this whole “creepy teen from a horror movie” thing going on. Sansa and Dany are getting really paranoid. We’re considering pretty much anyone left standing to be a winner—and this means there are plenty of losers, too. Let’s get to it.
Jon Snow: Shout out to Jon Snow for avoiding incest for the second week running, and for surviving yet another near-death experience. (Why did he lead a group north of the wall sans all that dragonglass he schemed so hard for?) He has now sworn fealty to Daenerys Targaryen—don’t call her Dany—but the dramatic irony is we’ve just learned he might have a more legitimate claim to the throne than Dany herself, because Westeros is not a feminist utopia.
Gendry: The bastard son of Robert Baratheon does pretty well for someone who, by his own admission, had “never seen snow before.” Quick on his feet, he’s sent to run—literally run—through the snow back to Eastwatch when Jon Snow’s expedition is suddenly beset by the Army of the Dead.
Arya Stark: Arya tells it like it is: “The world doesn’t just let girls decide what they’re going to be,” she says. (Again: Westeros, not a feminist utopia.) But this week, Arya also gets a little scary. Sansa uncovers a leather crossbody bag (very mall rat circa 2007) where Arya has been storing the faces of the men on her murder list. “What are those?” Sansa asks. “My faces,” Arya responds, not without an edge of glee. She’s got a definite demonic horror movie thing going on right now, and Sansa is having none of it.
Tormund Giantsbane: Jon Snow’s wildling ally has some of the best one-liners north—and south—of the wall, gently ribbing the Hound (and everyone else). He narrowly avoids a watery death in the battle with the dead. And he has a giant crush on Brienne of Tarth, to top it all off. Tormund Giantsbane is living his best life.
The Night King: Dany’s not the only one with a dragon on her team now. There’s nothing you can’t zombie-fy.
The Raven: When he returns to Eastwatch, Gendry sends a raven to Daenerys Targaryen to advise her on the situation north of the Wall. Said raven must have broken the sound barrier delivering that message, because Daenerys and her dragons roll in post haste—but we already knew geography behaves a little strangely in Westeros. After all, Jon Snow managed to sail to Dragonstone in just a day.
Beric: The last one standing of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric may also have schemed up the solution to the gang’s Night King problem. When Jon Snow kills the first White Walker they confront, all his little undead minions crumble to dust. So, Beric reasons, wouldn’t the same hold true if they take out the Night King? All his underlings would also fall? (He credits the Lord of Light. This is probably giving the Lord of Light a little too much credit.) Of course, with the death of Thoros of Myr, Beric is out of reincarnations. Six deaths is probably enough, after all.
Littlefinger: Whatever he wants, he’s getting it. And what he wants seems to be to drive a wedge between Sansa and Arya, thus bringing Sansa closer to him. (Good thing she still has Brienne of Tarth looking out for her, the ungrateful wretch.)
Daenerys Targaryen: Give Emilia Clarke an Emmy for the scene in which she watches her dragon, Viserion, plunge into the water, killed by the Night King’s ice spear. Daenerys also deserves a prize for the fur dress she wears during the pivotal scene. Nevertheless, Daenerys lost a dragon (what is a cat lady without her cats?) and she’s getting more than a little paranoid—when Tyrion brings up the line of succession, Daenerys wants none of it.
The dragons: Dragon down. The Night King’s spears are even more effective than that über-crossbow, and he handily takes out Viserion, who plunges into an icy lake in a fountain of blood. Messy.
Brienne of Tarth: Brienne is the only one who knows what’s up, but no one is listening to her. Sansa is sending her south to the G-20 summit of the Seven Kingdoms, which seems ill-advised, but who are we to question Westeros’s foremost mall goth?
Sansa Stark: Sansa receives an invitation to King’s Landing, but sends Brienne of Tarth and Podrick in her stead. The lady of Winterfell is getting paranoid, and with good reason—though for some reason, she’s also being incredibly daft, telling Brienne she can take care of herself. Sure she can—but not the way Brienne can. She and Daenerys would make a good team.
Jorah Mormont: Why is he here?
The Hound: The de facto navigator of the expedition, the Hound guides the seven adventurers based on a vision he received from the Lord of Light in a fireplace. Has no one learned yet not to trust the Lord of Light? (Gendry has certainly learned; he spends the beginning of the episode lamenting how the Brotherhood sold him to Melisandre, who proceeded to suck his blood with leeches.) Of course, the Hound is also responsible, in his way, for the siege laid by the Army of the Dead; he taunts a few of the dead by chucking rocks at them, so naturally they’re going to come for him.
Tyrion Lannister: After earning the favor—and eventually the title of Hand of the Queen—of Daenerys, Tyrion has begun to fall out of favor. (He warned her about heading north, but did she listen?) And, it seems, he’s the only one who observes her increasing tendency towards violence, the only one who wants to plan in the event she is killed, and the only one who intuits Jon Snow’s little crush on his aunt. Will Tyrion, the superego of Game of Thrones, ever get his due?
Thoros of Myr: The Brotherhood Without Banners is dwindling, with the death of Thoros of Myr in the maw of a zombie polar bear. (his episode is still insane.) Still, he got a few good quips in. “I just got bit by a dead bear,” he says. “Aye, you did,” Beric replies. “Funny old life.”
Benjen Stark: Former First Commander of the Night’s Watch Benjen Stark returns at the eleventh hour to save Jon Snow from the Army of the Dead. Just like Rose and Jack on the Titanic, though, Uncle Benjy gets the short end of this deal. He leaps off his horse, scoops Jon Snow on its back, and sends them on their way back to Eastwatch, leaving Benjen and his swinging ball of fire to take on the Army of the Dead solo. There was definitely enough room on that horse for the two of them. But his return also reminded us that at the end of last season, Benjen told Meera Reed and Bran “The Three-Eyed Raven” Stark he couldn’t join them in venturing south of the Wall, because the dead couldn’t enter Westeros. (Perhaps that’s why he declined to join Jon Snow in his return south.) So how, exactly, do Jon Snow and co. propose to bring their undead captive back to Winterfell/King’s Landing/Dragonstone for his Winter Is Here ^TM^ world tour?
The Wight: This brings us to our final loser. Not only did this particular zombie footsoldier get captured, but he was also the only one who didn’t crumble when Jon Snow killed his White Walker-animator. And he might not even make it south of the wall.
The Most Pompous Entrances and Rudest Exits on Game of Thrones Season 7 So Far
Olenna Tyrell may have been served poison after her army had been defeated and her grain stores raided, but she didn’t go out without making a gut-punch of a reveal: It was she who poisoned Joffrey Baratheon, not his uncle Tyrion Lannister, three ago. Good thing Cersei is again pregnant by her brother, because their incestuous brood has dwindled considerably since Joffrey’s death.
Melisandre might have made her graceful exit when she incited Stannis Baratheon to roast his own daughter Shireen on a burning pyre, but no—it’s taken her two more seasons to take her leave. She left Dragonstone bound for Volantis, but never fear. She’ll be back, because, as she promised, she has to die in Westeros. As does Varys, apparently.
Not Bran Stark precisely, but at least, his social skills—since he became the Three-Eyed Raven, these have quietly bid him adieu (as Meera Reed says dramatically, “You died in that cave”). Even his sister Arya, who has undergone her own transformation into a girl with no name (it’s Arya. her name is Arya.), has taken note. The Three-Eyed Raven might be the biggest drama queen in Westeros, and it’s a land filled with high drama. “I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark,” he tells Meera. “But I remember so much else now.” Including, apparently, “everything that’s ever happened to anyone.”
Speaking of Meera Reed, Bran Stark’s faithful companion north of the wall takes her leave once Bran (sorry, the Three-Eyed Raven) is securely installed back at Winterfell.
Nymeria (Stark?), Arya Stark’s direwolf, had been AWOL since the first season, but she returned earlier this year for a brief mystical encounter with her former mistress in the forest. Just as quickly as she appears, Nymeria vanishes again into the woods, because a wolf has no master.
The latest victim of Cersei Lannister’s revenge tour—an odyssey that gives Arya Stark’s murder list some real competition—Ellaria Sand and her daughter were chained in the basement of the Red Keep, where Ellaria was forced to watch her daughter die of the same poison with which she poisoned Myrcella Lannister.
Euron Greyjoy didn’t make a literal return this season, because after he dropped in on the Iron Islands last season, he never really left. But when he arrived at King’s Landing earlier this season, intent on seducing Cersei Lannister—or at least securing the power and authority that comes with marrying her—he did so with a new look. Meera’s departure from Winterfell may have been meme-able, but it couldn’t compare to the stir Euron’s Rick Owens makeover caused on Twitter.
Thanks to Samwell Tarley, Jorah “no one glowers like you” Mormont has been reintegrated into society, free of greyscale at last. It remains to be seen if that’s a good thing.
Dickon Tarly, gone too soon. While he made a prominent entrance at the beginning of the season and spent the first four episodes currying favor with Jaime Lannister—seeming to secure his future on the series in the process—it turns out, he allied himself with the wrong team; this week, he was promptly incinerated alongside his father.
The Night King, still freezing hearts and taking names, is back, and Jon Snow and co. are running straight for him.
Certainly our favorite blacksmith-hammer-wielding bastard, if not our favorite bastard, Gendry Baratheon, the illegitimate son of King Robert Baratheon, made a grand re-entrance, joining the cause of the King in the North.
First Ranger of the Night’s Watch Benjen Stark makes a grand entrance swinging a ball and chain wreathed in fire. He sends Jon Snow on his way, and we last see him falling beneath a dog pile of wights. (Zombies. They’re zombies.) Local hero Benjen Stark seems to always show up at the right place at the right time.
Don’t call her Dany. That’s all.
The Brotherhood Without Banners is dwindling; Thoros of Myr has been eviscerated by a zombie bear. (Zombies, everywhere.) For the uninitiated, Thoros is the one without the eyepatch. The other one is Beric.
To anyone who isn’t Daenerys, her three dragons—her “children,” as she tells us again and again—might appear interchangeable. But with the death of Viserion by the Night King’s ice javelin, we lose the dragon named for her psychopathic late brother Viserys Targaryen. But where we lose a dragon, we gain a zombie dragon, which definitely seems like an upgrade as far as fantasy scenarios go.
Honestly, it’s impressive Littlefinger survived this long. Nobody wanted him around, least of all the sisters Stark, who wrought his demise. But as they say, one man’s death is another woman’s death mask. Arya, here’s a face for your morbid collection of tokens.
Kit Harington auditioned for Game of Thrones with a black eye: