I don’t know whether to be pissed about how Game of Thrones has became a parade of absurdities, or jazzed about how goddam cool some of them are. Fortunately, I guess I’m allowed to be both.
Let me be clear up front: as far as I’m concerned, Game of Thrones has pretty much become pure A Song of Ice and Fire fanfiction at this point. Really good fanfiction for the most part, but fanfic nonetheless. This series is all about payoffs now, as if the milestones and cliffhanger endings are written first and the rest of the material is filled in later. And as anyone who writes fiction can tell you, that’s a dangerous method of creation. When what’s important is where you need to get to, characters (and the laws of physics) tend to be twisted in whatever means necessary to get you there.
I think suspension of disbelief has never been more important with GoT than it is right now, but that’s obvious. But more than that, to enjoy the TV series I think one has to finally let go of the ghost of George R.R. Martin – to accept that his guiding hand is no longer, well- guiding. For me, this show stopped being an adaptation after that door finally gave out and those wights fell upon poor old Hodor. Logic no longer rules here, and characters are no longer required to behave in a manner true to their nature. It’s all about making cool stuff happen now.
In a way, I think that’s been easier this season than last, because we’re far enough removed that the pain when we see something Martin would never do isn’s so acute. If one can let go of what this show once was and appreciate it for what it now is, I think they can enjoy it immensely because Game of Thrones is still pretty frequently great television. And “Beyond the Wall” is a perfect litmus test because frankly, it’s built around a series of constructs that make an absolute mockery of the source material (and those darn laws of physics). But it’s also some of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring and exciting TV you’ll ever see.
There are two main pillars to the current narrative as expressed in “Beyond the Wall”, and both are nonsensical to me. First, the whole ludicrous scheme to capture a wight in order to convince Cersei – Cersei! – to do the right thing. And second, this contrived feud between Arya and Sansa Stark at Winterfell. We also get a bit of time at Dragonstone, where Dany and Tyrion’s fireside chat provides some of the more sober moments of the episode, but the bulk of it is these two false dramas playing out. The difference comes in the execution: silly as it is, the one north of the Wall is full of very juicy moments. The sisterhood of the sniping Starks is just a disaster from start to finish, as bad an extended thread as the series has done since it left Dorne.
The truth is, the magnificent seven or whatever you want to call Jon’s suicide squad is plain awesome. It’s a gruff, growly, cynical group of right bastards (even if not literally) played by an armada of great actors. There are a few redshirts along for the right who we know will suffer the fate of all redshirts (they do) but the focus is on the core group. And there are so many great moments here – Jon offering Longclaw to Jorah, and Jorah refusing. Sandor and Tormund bonding over Brienne of Tarth. Thoros and Gendry going at it over Gendry being sold as a slave. And Beric, every time Richard Dormer opens his damn mouth – but especially when he schools Jon on the true nature of the war they’re fighting, and what their role in it might be.
There are more Dues ex Machina needed to make this plot work than anyone should be comfortable with, but seeing these guys tromp through the gorgeous backcountry of Iceland and take on zombies still counts as must see TV. The first of them is how easy it is for the suicide squad to capture their wight (conveniently, he’s the only one who doesn’t turn to turn when the local white walker is taken down – which is a potentially huge development it itself). I did like seeing the Hound’s reaction to fire here – even with Thoros’ life on the line, Sandor is still frozen (fittingly) in place. The second, most obvious and biggest is having the team survive on that rock long enough for Gendry to run all the way back to the wall, get a raven to Dragonstone, and have Daenerys fly her dragons back up in time to save them. Even with as silly as time-bending has become in Game of Thrones, that’s a whopper. But by hell or high water, Benioff and Weiss were going to give us that zombie dragon – whatever they had to do to make it happen, they were going to do it.
For all that, seeing Dany’s children take it out on the Army of the Dead was pretty stunning. They looked almost beautiful here, those dragons – and it was almost heartbreaking when the Night King shot one of them down. I could have done without another false drowning (seriously, Guys – so played out), and having Benjen Coldhands decline to ride back to the Wall with Jon for no good reason (his arrival in the first place was yet a third Dues ex Machina). But the show got what it wanted – that incredible shot of the wights pulling Viserion from beneath the ice with giant chains, and that eye. Will his fire be blue now too, I wonder – or will he shoot ice from his decaying jaws?
I’m not even going to dignify the whole Sansa and Arya debacle by talking about it, but there is the matter of Jon deciding to bend the knee (figuratively at least) to Dany. No matter how you think Martin defined them, Daenerys and Jon or dragons and white walkers (I think both), fire and ice have now truly met. I get why Jon did what he did – it was obvious from the moment Tormund brought up Mance Rayder that he would. But I don’t think it was Dany who proved she “deserved it” – it was Jon. Jon is the one with the scars of betrayal across his body, the one who always takes the hardest and most thankless jobs on himself. I’m not sure there’s going to be anyone on the Iron Throne when this is all over, or even if there’s going to be an Iron Throne. But anyone who wants to sit on it as badly as Daenerys does is still highly suspect in my book – and it’s hard not to wonder how she’s going to react when she finds out her new subject (and soon-to-be lover, probably) has a legal claim to the throne that trumps hers.