It finally happened. Game of Thrones has finally lost its goddamn mind. For one thrilling, confounding, horrific, hysterical, completely cracked-out hour (and six minutes), the biggest show on TV abandoned all pretenses and went buck-wild insane. It was spectacular.
“Beyond the Wall” shines as what this show achieves when it gives up, gives in, and leans into the ridiculousness baked into its nerdy-ass DNA. Forget Westerosi geopolitics, or hand-wringing over the ethics of war. This episode, as scripted by D.B. Weiss’ and David Benioff’s inner 12-year-olds, is just happy to revel in cool shit, like flaming swords and ice zombies. Jon Snow’s standoff with the Night King plays like a late-stage RPG boss battle and ends with a literal blue eyes white dragon. Cleganebowl hype is back on. Zombie polar bears are a thing now. Jon and Daenerys almost make out. Everyone starts talking about babies.
In everything but its clunker of a Winterfell plot—more on that later—this hour is just so brazenly, blissfully bananas, I can only slow-clap and salute. Does all of it make perfect sense? Not remotely. Time and space lose all meaning somewhere between Gendry’s marathon back to Eastwatch and Dany’s miraculous arrival from Dragonstone. Arya’s characterization, meanwhile, has taken a head-scratching turn. And certain characters’ plot armor is all but visible onscreen throughout. Still, “Beyond the Wall” succeeds in being entertaining as hell. And what are we here for if not to be entertained?
Apart from all the fire-on-ice action, the episode brims with crackling dialogue and humor, buoyed chiefly by Jon Snow’s magnificent seven of Westeros: Thoros of Myr, Beric Dondarrion, The Hound, Gendry, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane, and himself. We last saw them in “Eastwatch” trudging heroically beyond the Wall, sans this episode’s three or four anonymous extras who tag along for the express purpose of being eaten alive. Their comically tacked-on inclusion (the easiest way to demonstrate stakes is to sacrifice randos no one cares about, I guess) makes room for funny, meaningful repartee between the rest of the gang.
Tormund, Beric, Thoros, and The Hound instantly unite in their fraternal bullying of Gendry, who gets bumped to the role of whiny, “whinging” little brother. Jon passes on memories of Jorah’s father Jeor Mormont, the late Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who was betrayed by his men and killed at Craster’s Keep back in Season 3. In a rare moment of introspection about his own resurrection, Jon also ponders the Lord of Light’s intent with the only other man who can relate: Beric, who’s been brought back to life six times. There’s no way to divine that, a serene Beric informs him, only renewed purpose in the service of humanity. Jon puts that into terms he understands: “I am the shield that guards the realms of men,” a line from the Night’s Watch oath.
The episode’s greatest gift, however, may be the sublime first-time conversational pairing of Kristofer Hivju and Rory McCann, the show’s funniest actors. Tormund—thrilled to be back in his native climate, where “walking, fighting, and fucking” are a way of life—and Sandor Clegane are peerlessly crude and totally delightful together. “I don’t think you’re truly mean. You have sad eyes,” Tormund says, nailing The Hound in a single line. The wildling’s eyes, meanwhile, positively sparkle as he confesses his dream of having “great big monster” babies with Brienne of Tarth to “conquer the world.”
Baby fever runs rampant throughout the episode, in fact. When Jorah—who seems at peace with Daenerys’ attraction to Jon Snow—rebuffs Jon’s attempt to return Longclaw to House Mormont (Jeor was the blade’s original owner), he gives Jon a curious look and says, “May it serve you well. And your children after you.” At Dragonstone, Tyrion broaches the subject of Daenerys’ heir, which she angrily shuts down. As she later explains to Jon by his bedside, it’s a painful subject: she believes she can’t bear any more children.
At least, that was the deal according to Mirri Maz Duur, the witch who “revived” Khal Drogo with blood magic in Season 1 and cost Dany her pregnancy. She prophesied Dany would “bear a living child” only when “the sun rises in the west and sets in the east” and “the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves”—so never, basically. But Jorah, Tyrion, and Daenerys all mentioning heirs and children in the same episode that Jon bends the knee to his “Dany” (awww) and she falls head over heels for his rock-hard abs seems…significant. Was Mirri bluffing? The two telegenic Targaryens are now clearly in love. Is a union and a child on the way too?
That bonkers yet increasingly likely scenario packs its own world of meaning. The Prince Who Was Promised, the hero who would save the world from another Long Night, is often thought to be either Jon or Daenerys, both of whom fit different aspects of the prophecy. Some theorists take this to mean it could actually refer to their child—the perfect union of fire and ice. Melisandre, who is driven by the search for the Prince Who Was Promised, notably mentioned before peacing out from Dragonstone, “I’ve done my part. I’ve brought ice and fire together.”
There’s yet another prophecy that predicts Daenerys giving birth to the savior of the world. The Dothraki, you might remember, pinned Dany as the mother of “the stallion who mounts the world,” another conquering figure who sounds a lot like Azor Ahai or the Prince Who Was Promised. In Season 1, Dany thought her unborn child with Khal Drogo would fulfill that prophecy. She was wrong; she lost her son in a miscarriage. But what if the prophecy still holds—and the heir she produces with Jon fits the bill instead? (Some think Dany herself might be the stallion, or her favorite “son” Drogon instead. And true: waiting for a baby to grow up to beat the Night King would throw a hell of a wrench in the show’s accelerated timeline.)
Incredibly, foreshadowing a Targaryen incest baby is only about the tenth-most deranged thing about this episode. Did I mention zombie polar bears? The discovery that undead bears are actually the scariest thing to happen to Game of Thrones comes at the cost of Thoros of Myr, who succumbs to a grisly mauling. On the plus side: we learn that killing a White Walker instantly destroys every wight it’s ever turned. And since the Night King turned most these wights himself, along with the White Walkers who ride with him, killing him stands as the closest thing to a one-stroke solution to saving Westeros.
If only it were so easy. Jon’s party (now down a healer; this is so much like a video game that even The Hound reminds Beric he has “one life left”) is nearly crushed by a Lord of the Rings-scale onslaught of wights. The paper-thin ice of a frozen lake, combined with wights’ inability to swim, buys enough time for Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and send a raven to Daenerys for help. Poor Gendry. Little siblings always get hit with “but you’re the fastest” as an excuse to send them on errands.
In the meantime, stranded for hours in the middle of the ice, surrounded by tens of thousands of undead enemies, The Hound gets bored. He chucks a snowball at a wight, knocks its “dumb cunt” jaw clean off, then upgrades to a rock. As one does. This time, he misses—and breaks hell all the way loose, accidentally demonstrating in front of wights, White Walkers, and humans alike that the ice has refrozen solid. And now nothing stands between them. “Oh, fuck” indeed, Clegane.
The next four desperate, hopeless minutes are torture; the legions descend, we almost lose Tormund (again, after what we suffered in Battle of the Bastards; foul play, Dan and David), and everyone looks so alike flailing around in snow-caked furs that when Rando #3 falls into a pit of wights, it’s five horrible seconds of panicked uncertainty (and squinting) before we’re sure it wasn’t Beric or Jorah. Pressure builds and boils and everything seems lost—until Dany’s dragons fly in, bulldozing thousands of wights to ash.
Ramin Djawadi is all but guaranteed an Emmy for his work this season; his themes, especially during battle scenes, tell entire stories in themselves. But for the simple relief of Daenerys’ triumphant musical entrance after all that hell, the man deserves a raise. Dany locks eyes with her damsel in distress, Jon Snow, as he stares up in awe at her wreaking destruction. It’s true romance: Girl meets boy, girl saves boy in her couture winter coat, girl scorches the earth.
Still, the joy is short-lived. Everyone, including the hostage wight destined to convince Cersei of the Night King’s imminent threat, piles onto Drogon’s back—except for Jon. No, for some reason, our leader of the resistance goes from protecting the others while they load up, to pushing forward alone, nonsensically, long after his friends have all sat down and begun yelling for him to please come with them if he wants to live. He doesn’t. And it allows enough time for ol’ Blue Eyes to calmly saunter forward with an icy javelin—and fatally impale Viserion.
What a life. Poor Viserion spent two years under the catacombs of Meereen, only to finally fly free to Westeros, sit out his mother’s first battle, and die promptly in the second. Daenerys’ stricken face watching her “son” crash into the ice, followed closely by Rhaegal moving as if to catch his brother, is heartbreaking. Jon snaps and rounds on the Night King like a madman; mercifully, he’s stopped by three wights who drag him underwater while Dany escapes instead.
Sudden bouts of Stark lunacy prove a running theme this episode. Back in Winterfell, Arya’s baseless paranoia about Sansa’s loyalty to their family escalates to threats of violence. Little of what she says makes sense—but maybe that’s on purpose. She digs up the letter Littlefinger let her find, the one Cersei forced Sansa to write to Robb back in Season 1. She accuses Sansa of conspiring with the Lannisters to betray their father Ned—then dismisses her valid and honest explanation. She actually asks, “with a knife at your throat?” as if that’s the only way she can fathom being coerced.
It’s a strange line of attack from a girl who was also once forced to serve a Lannister. (Remember Arya’s stint as Tywin’s cup-bearer?) It’s also strange that she remembers Sansa’s “pretty dress” and the “fancy way” she wore her hair the day Ned was beheaded—but not the way she burst into tears and screamed for mercy when Joffrey changed his mind about sparing Ned’s life. It’s all so bizarre, and plays so neatly into Littlefinger’s plan to drive the sisters apart, that it almost seems deliberate. I found myself scouring the edges of every frame to spot some lurking servant or Baelish himself, eavesdropping on false leads. But alas, no luck.
Sansa receives an invitation to King’s Landing from Cersei; after Littlefinger suggests using Brienne as a “defense” against Arya, she promptly sends Brienne down south instead. She won’t even led Pod stay behind, over Brienne’s protests and warnings. Sansa is indeed the Lady of Winterfell and probably means it when she says she isn’t a child who needs minding. But we know she trusts Brienne a lot more than she trusts Lord Baelish. What is she thinking? And whatever it is, is Arya thinking it too? (Even if it is some kind of ruse, I’m not sure the reveal would justify two episodes of inscrutable, abrupt, out-of-character plotting. More often than not, the “will Sansa betray us” theatrics grind the episode to a halt rather than raise intrigue.)
Back north beyond the Wall, Jon emerges from his plunge underwater to find himself stranded alone with the Night King’s army, dragons long gone. Endearingly in the face of the odds, he raises his sword and turns toward the enemy anyway—classic Jon Snow. Still, he wouldn’t have survived without his undead uncle Benjen Stark aka “Coldhands,” who swoops in heroically to pass his horse off to Jon and perishes in a last stand against the wights. It’s thanks to him that Jon makes it back to Eastwatch and is able to sail with Dany to King’s Landing—with, from the looks of it, none other than Sandor Clegane onboard as well.
Did you catch that? The Hound will be in King’s Landing. The Hound’s undead brother The Mountain will be in King’s Landing. Dare I say it aloud: CLEGANEBOWL CONFIRMED? The brother-on-brother throwdown a vocal faction of Game of Thrones fans have waited years for might actually be upon us. Tormund kindly reminds us in this episode of Sandor’s deep-seated hatred for his older brother, who burned his face as a child and tormented him growing up. And we see the lingering effects of that trauma on Sandor—he’s too paralyzed by his fire phobia to help rescue Thoros from a flaming zombie-bear. With only seven episodes of the series left, the time for revenge (and closure) is now. GET HYPE.
The war for Westeros changes irrevocably with the addition of a wight dragon to the Night King’s forces. Viserion, known for his cream-colored scales, is dragged from his icy resting place and revived as a living Yu-Gi-Oh fantasy. It’s insane. The question on everyone’s mind: will it breathe ice or fire? Rumors of “ice dragons” exist in Westeros, though they don't seem to match what the Night King created. In A World of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin describes beasts “many times larger” than Valyrian dragons with “pale blue crystal” eyes, bodies made from “living ice,” and “vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky.”
Those ice dragons, which hailed from the Shivering Sea, are said to breathe cold, “a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.” The Night King’s Frankendragon then, will likely still breathe fire. Maybe it’ll be blue for effect? One thing’s for certain: Dany is pissed—and you know how she gets when she’s angry. (“We are going to destroy the Night King,” she vows to Jon, in that steely determined voice of hers.) The Night King may have gained a dragon, but he also helped bring two together: Jon and Dany. If what the show is hinting at pans out, he may have even helped spur the birth of one more—maybe the one who’ll be his demise.