This episode was interesting in that we had major events happen but it didn’t feel rushed or packed and we didn’t have a gazillion storylines everywhere. We even only used a little plot bending (honestly, my main issue this season is how the plot broke itself to make it work -between Cersei’s prescient army, High Garden, the fleet of ships apparently made by Santa’s Elves and last episode’s ability to teleport the length and breadth of the entire continent in a few days is beginning to really annoy me).
So on that note let’s begin with the most annoying storyline - Winterfell. Where Arya and Sansa begin reminiscing about their childhood, their beloved father and Arya’s wish to step outside of the constraints that society put on her and which her father supported her through. This shows her childhood disdain for Sansa as well as her devotion to her father and Jon
She taunts Sansa about the letter she wrote as a child and considers it a betrayal, adding what the northern lords (and, more importantly, Lyanna Mormont) would think.
What strikes me most about this scene is that while Arya has learned many skills and become tough and hard and unforgiving she’s also been isolated. We talk a lot about how much everyone has grown and changed but here we see that in many ways she IS still a child. Her condemnation of Sansa is childish - it shows a complete unwillingness to deal with greater political realities, a complete naivety over what you can actually do and what is a smart answer.
Sansa tries to point this out - and rejects any idea she’s a coward or weak because of what she has endured and survived. Sadly Sansa, in an act that is utterly bemusing, turns to Littlefinger (who, of course, doesn’t reveal that he’s the one who led to Arya finding the letter anyway) who tries to drive more a rift between them and even suggests he use Brienne as a bodyguard
Sansa doesn’t do that because she has an invite from Cersei… yeah no. Sansa is not having that. Brienne can go and rely on the sexual tension between her and Jaime to keep things safe. Brienne wants to stay to protect Sansa. Not from Arya - but from everyone, because as long as Littlefinger’s around everyone can have their loyalty manipulated. She’s not wrong - but Sansa won’t hear it
Later she does discover Arya’s stash of faces and Arya menacingly explains what they all mean in a not-quite-overtly-threatening-but-the-threat-is-there manner.
Next we have to go to Dragonstone where Tyrion is making a very noble and powerful attempt to try and get Daenerys to back away from the cliffedge of killing everyone. Especially before they go into a meeting with Cersei and she may actually lose her temper and just burn everyone in the city. Some of it is very touching, especially when Tyrion talks about Jon (and how she and Jon are totally getting married) and she makes a brief joking comment about Jon’s height and realises how this could be seen as insulting by Tyrion and quickly walks it back. Despite their very strong differences- and Daenerys all but accusing Tyrion of treason a couple of times due to his advice leading to her failures - and because he keeps talking about her succession.
Because she can’t have kids… and she’s going into battle a lot which is super dangerous. He also wisely points out that her wonderful vision for a different world which isn’t dominated by fear (while also acknowledging the usefulness of fear… but how if fear is all you have pretty much everyone you rule wants you to die) may take generations to come about. So she has to plan for those generations - including establishing a
Do I think Daenerys believes that Tyrion actually betrayed her or will? No, the already established bond makes that clear. I think, though, she is using that to both deflect her anger over Dorne and Highgarden and as a silencing tactic. She doesn’t want to discuss these things so throws out accusations. The problem with that is it doesn’t bode well for Daenerys’s rule - it’s understandable that these conversations poke her very large pride and make her upset and uncomfortable - but not a few episodes ago she was demanding Varys come to her face if he thought she was a threat to the kingdoms. Which is good - but this whole scene proves that Daenerys simply Does Not Accept Criticism. And if she won’t listen to anyone who has any kind of criticism for her, then she’s on the same path as every other terrible ruler, despite her good intentions.
Leaving Daenerys’s path to dictator behind us, it’s time to catch up with the real plot and action.
Jon, Jorah, Tormund, Thoros, Beric, Gendry, the Hound and some disposable extras are all heading north to capture themselves a real liv… uh… still moving Wight.
They travel north and begin lots of banter to establish these characters as a band of merry men. Gendry informs everyone he’s never seen snow before, Tormund tells them all to keep warm by moving around and having sex and decides he is the Hound’s best friend now much to the Hound’s hostilty and bemusement. The Hound says cock and c*nt a lot. Because that’s kind of the extend of the Hound’s dialogue. Gendry has an issue with how the band of brothers sold him to Melisandre to kill wah wah wah but he’s deemed a proper whiner for harping on about it, after all, Beric has died 6 times already. Gendry learns to get over it.
Tormund also talks muchly about Brienne and how their giant children would take over the world and how “I am trying to kill you with my glare” is sexy looks - I think this is trying to be amusing and, yes, it’s hard not to find Tormund amusing. But can we remember that this is a man continuing to creep on a woman who has made it abundantly clear she is very not interested. No matter how “entertaining” his persistence is, it’s still wrong
Interestingly, as one of the Free Folk, he also gives Jon a verbal slap for NOT kneeling to Daenerys - he calls it stubborn pride. I guess the Free Folk may be free, but they’re also practical and he remembers the foolishness of Mance Rider refusing to kneel
Jorah and Jon also have a humble-off, each discussing how their fathers were totally more awesome than they are - Jorah wins hands down so much so I expect a nun with a bell to appear to remind him how unworthy it is
I want Jorah to meet his relative Lyanna and have her kill him with her contemptuous glare
Honestly, it’s fun. I like it - I like how Game of Thrones takes the time to establish this band and build some relationships between them
They lose some extras when they come across a zombie polar bear and…
...zombie polar bear? We’ve been freaking about dragons and there are ZOMBIE POLAR BEARS out there? Zombie polar bears to fight in a snow storm! That’s almost a joke. They do lose and extra and Thoros is injured badly.
Then they find a small band of Wights and a White walker - they fight and manage to win because when you kill a White Walker the Wights they raised all shatter with him. This is a good idea if you kill the Night King himself - which seems like a mission from god to Beric, the many resurrected.
They capture the Wight and it promptly makes a noise, summoning an army. In desperation Jon sends Gendry, the fastest (leaving his hammer behind) to run back to the Wall and send a raven to Daenerys basically saying “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”.
The rest of them make a stand on a frozen lake - thankfully because the huge hordes of Wights crack the ice and fall through - creating a useful moat to delay the inevitable. They hunker down and hope, still holding on to their imprisoned Wight still.
Thoros succumbs to his injuries and the cold - and the lake eventually refreezes resulting in another awesome fight scene with hordes of Wights and lots of desperate battles, several dead extras a moment when Tormund nearly died.
Honestly, my notes are: “TORMUND!”
The Hound saves him (redeeming him for freezing around the burning zombie polar bear.) It all gets very desperate and dramatic and Beric dies (I think) for the last time since his priest is dead…
And then Daenerys arrives (against Tyrion’s advice) with all three of her dragons and a whole lot of fire. Burny burny burny
Of course it’s all dramatic and wonderful and they haul everyone up on dragon back for a rescue - but Jon is busy killing Wights and, maybe, too interested in trying to take down the Night King. This gives the Night King time to grab a great big ice spear and throw it at a dragon
And kill it.
What? No no no, Game of Thrones take Tormund, I take it back, you can have Tormund!
Jon Snow is also dragged under the ice by undead hordes after giving up his whole duel thing when he sees the Night King just killed a dragon. Daenerys and co fly to the wall before the Night King throws more spears. Everyone is upset
While Jon Snow with the most amazing plot amour ever, not only pulls himself out of a frozen lake in a frozen wasteland, but then his long missing uncle Ben appears out of that vast frozen wasteland just in time to sacrifice himself to save Jon, give him a horse (which has been eating ice, I assume) and send him towards the wall. While, despite being frozen, soaking wet et al, he STILL manages to make it and live.
Seriously, I can accept the raven reaching dragonstone and the dragons flying back in the time it took that lake to freeze (whatever, rocket pack ravens is nothing compared to the speed with which everyone has been crisscrossing the Seven Kingdoms this season) but Jon Snow living through this? Is this what happens when you combine Targaryen and Stark blood? Daenerys is immune to fire and Jon is immune to cold? Do all the main families have a Captain Planet ring or something? (I’m giving Heart to the Lannisters because it would amuse the hell out of me. Also, someone now has to write me this fanfic).
At the wall Daenerys has waited desperately for him and looks on lovingly while they strip Jon out of his frozen clothes (because she cares and also, 6 pack). She waits until he wakes - and when he does the first thing he does is express his deep and sincere sympathy to her for her lost dragon, her lost child. He regrets the whole adventure if it would cost her this
Which really shows that he has truly understood how much the dragons mean to her. She doesn’t regret though, despite her grief - because it made her come north and truly see what they’re up against and this is something you have to see to believe. She promises to help him - and he pledges fealty, confident he can convince his lords to see in her what he has (two awesome dragons and a huge army and the willingness to use them). Honestly I can see this - with both Tormund’s reality check, their growing chemistry and her willingness to sacrifice one of her children to save him and fight the Night King? For the first time Daenerys has actually earned a whole boat load of respect beyond being the deeply problematic White Saviour narrative
Of course there’s a downside - the Night King drags the body of the dead dragon from the lake… and then raises it as a Wight
On Sansa and Arya - and even the fairweather Northern Lords - this brings me back to a conversation we had on Twitter recently
Here we see, perhaps, Arya being the most true to the Stark principles. We think of Ned Stark (and the rest of the very dead Stark line) as being honourable to the point of stupidity - but remember Ned fostered with Lord Aryn of the Vale. The Vale - whose words are “As High as Honour”. Honour to the point of suicide is an Aryn thing. Or we look at the focus on family, family loyalty, doing anything for their loved ones and children and even compassionate reign - but that’s a Tully thing: “Family, Duty, Honour” from Catelyn
But the Starks? “Winter is coming”. Grim, uncompromising. The Northerners are isolationists, cold, even brutal and old fashioned (doing their own executions). We’ve already seen that the Northerners are pretty isolationist who didn’t really have to play the political games (and generally have a very bad feeling about going south). They’re cold and hard, they speak their minds, they are quick to take offence and, as we see with the debacle of the Umbers and Karstarks - honour and duty may take a back seat to pride, revenge and their own people. Perhaps the Bolton’s are not that far from what the true North is. And she may be amusing - but let’s face it Lyanna Mormont would be a terrifying and pretty terrible ruler. Maybe Arya doesn’t follow Sansa’s political games because, on some level, she’s just too Stark for them.
And as for the battle - more and more Cersei is now clearly a prologue. Because, yes, the only reason Cersei is a threat to Daenerys is because Daenerys is holding back. But the Night King with his zombie Dragon just make it clear that Daenerys cannot walk this fight