‘Game of Thrones’ Delivers an Astonishing Episode of Ice and Fire

'Game of Thrones' Recap, Season 7,

An icy confrontation brings Dany and Jon closer together and claims a surprising victim

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “Beyond the Wall” the Aug. 20 episode of “Game of Thrones.”

It’s not always easy to tell what’s happening in any given episode of “Game of Thrones,” but Sunday night’s episode “Beyond the Wall” was an exception. During the extra-long episode’s climactic finale, the Night King killed a dragon! And then hauled it out of the water, with the apparent goal of turning it into… a zombie dragon. The episode’s final moment shows us Viserion’s eye opening — to reveal creepy peepers that are the same icy blue as the White Walkers’ eyes.

Never a dull moment in Season 7!

“Beyond the Wall” is an involving episode, centering on Jon’s expedition north of the Wall to bring back a wight for the warring queens of Westeros. And yet it’s a confusing one, too. So much has happened so quickly that it’s been difficult to track motivations. From a strategic perspective, it’s really hard to justify why Jon thought any of his plan would be a good idea. There’s something kind of enjoyable about how reckless the plotting has gotten this season — the slow grind of medieval history has been replaced with a kind of hyper-speed fantasyland epic — but it continues to feel surface-level for most of the characters.

We’re at the point in the show’s lifespan where there isn’t time for the meatier characterization of earlier seasons. As a result, the viewers are being asked to take a lot on faith — or, better yet, graft their own interpretations of the story on top of the bare bones being presented. There are whole scenes of “Game of Thrones” that beg for fan fiction to illuminate them, and several are in this episode (and most are about the very poorly acted and ambitiously paced romance between Daenerys and Jon Snow). There are whole other scenes that seem designed to make fans happy — like those strangely long scene-setting conversations between the men of the expedition beyond the Wall, which gives each character just enough opportunity to get off a bantering one-liner that can be easily meme-d out.

This is especially noticeable when half of an episode’s screentime is devoted to dead people with no personality. “Game of Thrones” has never felt more like a Dungeons & Dragons game than during the expedition’s skirmishes with, literally, non-playing characters — whether those are zombie bears, zombie people, or icy inhuman White Walkers. The episode does emphasize each character’s superficial characteristics, like his magical weaponry or individual fighting style. But it does that as an apparent replacement for building out characters. This was Gendry’s first real battle; how did that go for him? Had any of the other men used dragonglass before? What’s the Hound’s way of coping with so much dragonfire, when fire is the one thing he’s afraid of? It didn’t really feel like we were inside the characters’ experience; it felt like we were watching them play out parts in a board game.

Otherwise, the battle scenes were kind of incredible — and seeded a lot of interesting information about this mysterious and primal magic beyond the Wall. The White Walkers’ long wait to attack their prey was a little convenient — yes, they were technically waiting for the lake to freeze over — but it might have been a long pause so that Gendry could get to Eastwatch, send a raven to Dany, and get her panicked and on a dragon up to the North so that the White Walkers could take one out for themselves. (I don’t know how else to explain why the White Walkers didn’t break out their huge deadly spears earlier in the show. They certainly were prepared with huge chains for dragging Viserion out of the lake, too.) The dragons’ scorching of the earth is breathtaking, and you can feel Dany’s heart breaking for the only children she’s ever known as one plummets. The scar Viserion leaves on the snow and ice when he crashes to the ground is devastating (an overhead shot after the battle gives you a glimpse of it). Overall the battle has an incredible, palpable sense of scale, of the type that only “Game of Thrones” can deliver.

Still, this momentous climax of the battle was a little undercut by what happened immediately afterward — a bizarrely gooey set of romantic scenes between Jon and Dany, which start when he decides to keep fighting off wights until he’s dragged into the (presumably freezing) ocean and ends when they’re on a ship back to Dragonstone and holding hands. (Apparently, taking a dunk in a frozen lake for a whole minute, and then emerging into freezing temperatures, barely even winds our heroic Jon Snow.)

I’ve more or less made my peace with the Dany/Jon romance, and there are things about it that make a lot of sense to me. Dany has been lonely all her life, and she was surprisingly content and serene when married to Khal Drogo, so her sudden fixation on Jon seems in line with her character. Similarly, the groundwork is there for Jon to be interested in a terrifying and deadly foreign woman who may or may not want to kill him; Ygritte even had standout hair, like Dany. They appear to comfort each other, and for these two much-battered characters, that’s a deeply moving quality. But there’s not a lot of passion, is there? For some reason, watching Jon and Dany is like watching two teenagers who have just discovered the merits of staring into each other’s eyes and calling each other “babe.” I’m happy for them, and occasionally, these glimpses of depth shine through. But mostly, they appear to be responding to a chemistry that the show hasn’t done much to sell to the audience. Iain Glen, as Jorah Mormont, delivers more heat with one look than Dany and Jon have for each other in their entire relationship — even if she is checking out his pecs, pretty shamelessly, when she’s waiting for him to get better.

It’s this type of inert character dynamic that makes an episode like “Beyond the Wall” feel sort of superficially magnificent and otherwise somewhat forgettable. (In other parts of Westeros, as intrigued as I am by Arya and Sansa’s escalating rivalry, I can barely understand where they stand by the end of the episode. What does either of them want from the other?) The takeaway of this episode is mostly that Viserion turned into a blue-eyed wight. And frankly, that’s all that matters, right?

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  1. Scott says:

    The mountain ranges shown in Beyond the Wall are stunning. Does anyone know where that was filmed… assuming they’re even real.

  2. bubba booey says:

    Did we even see the same episode?!!! The writing was absolute shit. Game of Thrones has finally jumped the shark.

  3. Daryle Gardner-Bonneau says:

    I don’t know if I agree with all of Sonia’s comments, but she is “spot on” about Jorah Mormont generating heat! He is, bar none, the SEXIEST character on GoT. Lots more chemistry between him and Dany than between Jon Snow and Dany, I guess we all have characters that we’re hoping will make it to the end. Jorah and Tyrion are the ones I most care about. Maybe because each clearly has a certain amount of “honor” that makes you cheer for them.

  4. deegeefee says:

    Am completely baffled as to how people are reading romance between Jon & Dany. It was pretty obvious that the return of Ser Jorah meant more to her than anything. Jon is “too little” for her & it all smacks a little of Leia & Lukes early relationship in Star Wars, tbh. A big love, but not “that” kind of love & I think it’s being acted out pretty well while keeping the suspense going. Fair play :-D

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Has everyone forgotten Khaleesi and Jon are RELATED! She’s his Aunt! They pushed that one in to home plate last week. So eww on the romance, no thank you! And Thurmond set up the “bend the knee” by bad mouthing Mance to Jon saying, “he let his people die for his own pride,” that was a super cheap way to do it but it got Jon on his knees. I do agree that the whole winterfell thing is horribly done. At first I thought the Stark kids (the wolf pack) were playing with Littlefinger so they could kill him, after all isn’t that why Bran gave Arya the knife, to kill Littlefinger. After all, chaos is a ladder. But who knows. It seems whenever the showrunners write the episode it sucks. Which gives me GREAT pause that anyone would trust these two idiots helm the Confederate show, especially after Charlottesville. No please!

    • Targeryans have wed within their bloodline for centuries.

    • Nan says:

      No we didn’t forget and she’ll be able to have his baby, “Only death can pay for life.” He died and lived, so she’s interested in him. And remember last week, John is not a Bastard, his parents were married secretly, did you miss that one? Loved this episode.

  6. Bruce says:

    Where was the third dragon during that battle and why didn’t they go after the white walkers and night king? If the Night King can throw a spear that far, why didn’t he just pick off everyone on that island with those throwing spears? Where did those giant chains come from and how did they get underwater and come back up with the dragon when they couldn’t before in reaching the island especially if they had those chains handy?!

  7. Vjackson says:

    I’ve always loved the recaps, but sorry to say Variety missed it on this one. This was a huge episode and never disappointed. The pace at which it moves is unlike any other series on TV. This is cinematic, and Jon and Dany have huge chemistry that is building deeply. Well done HBO for keeping the standard high.

  8. Biff Malibu says:

    Another note to the editor…Are you paying attention at all? Dany wasn’t looking at his pecs she was looking at the scar on his chest due to the knife in the heart that she asked him about. Very important.

  9. VforValmont says:

    Four ex machina moments, the most stupid villain from tv (he’s got the main characters as sitting ducks in front of him to be killed and instead aims for a far target), romance cheaper than the one in The Hobbit trilogy, magic chains and zombie divers, convenient unnamed extras to die and create false tension, and an ending stolen from Avatar/BreakingDawn/TheHobbit.

    This was by far the worst episode in the series and one of the worst in recent t.v.

    • Zoot says:

      Amen brother.

      This season went off the rails in Jamie’s charge at Dany and the dragon after their battle. If Martin had written that scene, then probably two out of the four involved would have died. Tonight’s episode was deathly dull and then completely idiotic as you describe. The show has gone completely “Hollywood” now, with good guys and bad guys and the good guys can’t actually suffer any permanent harm. They even poke fun at us by having the readhead guy wax romantically about Brienne then almost get pulled into the water by the wights but then “haha we fooled you! He can’t ACTUALLY die of course!” Good thing there were all those nameless redshirts along on the expedition that they must have picked up at an extras-R-us along the way after they left the wall last week. And Jorah’s almost fall off the dragon.

      Bad writing is bad.


      • K says:

        The show is based on the book. And martins vision for how the story unfolds for each character. The characters don’t die if they aren’t dead in martins original character storyline. A book has many pages to build a character and tell a more indepth story. It took 7 years of this show for danerys to reach to westeroos. And yet people are complaining that the show is being rushed this season. This season is more condensed and story line rushed but all the gaps that are not being told on screen will be told when the books are released. And for that the glorious details Martin is so good at will fill all the gaps not seen on screen. I actually think this is a clever approach. At the end of the day this story was always a midevil like fantasy show. It played up the human aspect in the early seasons but it was always a fantasy show.

      • planer says:

        Indeed. Worst writing of the series thus far. It’s all starting to feel like a Bay/Bruckheimer production, with action sequences staged as if some of the central characters certainly must die… yet, the events which prevent their deaths are about as likely as the Hand of God itself descending from the heavens to lift them back to safety.

        The stakes are approaching zero. The tension nil. But hey, we have a Dragon Zombie now! I’m so bummed what they’ve done to the show this season. RIP. GOT.

  10. Pippy says:

    Worst overview ever. Obviously Sonia is looking to increase her ratings by being the unpopular vote. Her Arguments were not thought out and emotions leaked through the edges. Looking to be controversial just to be controversial. All in all looking for a better vantage point. Moving on.

  11. Clark says:

    Note to the author, this was not Jon’s plan, it was Tyrion’s. Like this whole season, Tyrion’s plans have been bad.

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