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.
Kit Harington auditioned for Game of Thrones with a black eye: