Our small band of heroes trudges through the snow-capped mountains beyond the wall. The Brotherhood Without Banners is represented, as is Winterfell and the Wildlings. Even the South has a delegate, in the form of Gendry. There isn’t a person of colour in sight, and yet, diversity!
Talk turns to how anyone could keep warm this far north, and Tormund Giantsbane extols the virtues of exercise: walking, fighting, or screwing your brains out.
“There are no women around,” says Gendry.
“Then we have make do with what we’ve got,” replies the wildling with a leer. Good old Tormund. Always up for anything.
Gendry meanwhile, is tromping through the snow still stewing over the betrayal of the brotherhood he had wanted to join. “You sold me to a witch!” he complains. The Hound, as usual, cuts to the heart of the matter, pointing to Beric Dondarrion. “This one’s been killed six times, you don’t hear him bitching about it.” Clegane may not say much, but when he does, it’s almost always a verbal knee in the balls.
As Jon and Ser Jorah of the Greyscale reminisce about fathers, swords and honor, Arya and Sansa are taking their own walk down memory lane. Gazing over the keep of Winterfell, Arya recounts a time when her father applauded her for playing with a forbidden bow and arrow. The reverie swiftly disintegrates into bickering over who suffered more, as Arya reads aloud from the note she found in Littlefinger’s quarters. The line “my beloved Joffrey” is the last straw for her and she accuses her sister of going along to get along. Stung, Sansa says she is responsible for winning back Winterfell, and asks Arya what she’s done to further the Stark cause, and scoffs when her sister says she’s been training. Lord Baelish of the Balustrade would be so happy to see the sisters at each other’s throats again, but he’s nowhere in sight. Sansa the sensible reminds Arya that anger makes people make mistakes. Arya counters that fear does the same, and given the choice, she’d rather be angry than afraid, realizing Sansa does not want the Northern lords to read the letter, with their loyalties so tenuous.
Back beyond the wall, Tormund befriends the Hound, as much as the Hound can allow friends. “You want to suck my dick, is that it?” he snarls. Tormund, the perverse bastard, thrives on antagonism. In his mind, he and the Hound are already the best of friends and wastes no time sharing his attraction for Brienne of Tarth. “I want to make babies with her!” he announces happily. The Hound however, found himself sorely beaten by the love of Tormund’s life, so he busies himself with telling everyone the mountain in the distance is the same one he saw in his fire vision. We need more Tormund on the show. If only because of moments like this.
Meanwhile in a slightly warmer locale, Dany and Tyrion are having a nice comfortable chat by the fire, with the dragon queen going on about how men like Jon like to go out and do stupid things in the name of heroism. It’s clear she cares for Jon more than she wants to admit, and the Imp calls her out on it, with a hint of sadness and acceptance. He knows Dany will never love him the way he loves her. Peter Dinklage manages to convey all this with nothing more than a look. Give him all the Emmys, you bastards.
If Mirri Maz Dhuur’s prophecy for Daenerys is true, that she will know three betrayals: one for blood (Mirri), one for gold (Ser Jorah), and one for love (no one yet), could the internet buzz about Tyrion possibly being the third betrayer have some traction? All I know at this point is, if Tyrion dies, we riot.
He’s certainly tempting death as he reminds Dany that she can be too impulsive, bringing up the Tarly execution. He hasn’t been the same since he saw the Lannister forces decimated, and Dany points out the execution was necessary, again saying he seems to have taken the side of her enemies. The Imp doesn’t deny this and goes all Sun Tzu on Dany, pointing out that perspective goes a long way towards winning a war and staying a step ahead of one’s enemies. But Dany still hasn’t forgiven him for losing them Dorne and Highgarden, and impatiently cuts him off when he starts talking about future plans and successors. “We will discuss the succession when I wear the crown,” she says and walks away.
The last Lannister who discussed succession with a Targaryen was Lord Tywin, who helped set about Robert’s Rebellion when his plans for a Targaryen-Lannister union were dashed. His offer of Cersei for Rhaegar was rebuffed when the Mad King betrothed the prince to Elia of Dorne instead. Refusing a Lannister alliance didn’t end well for Aerys Targaryen. How will being at odds with Tyrion end for his daughter?
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Beyond the wall our ragtag band of heroes have stumbled across a bear-wight who’s wasted no time attacking them, managing to still be in full berserker barrage mode despite having been set on fire. He’s already disposed of one random red shirt and is on his way to attack The Hound, who is frozen in his tracks. Nothing scares him more than fire, so Thoros of Myr steps in to save him and gets bitten in the chest and shoulder for his trouble. Undeterred, he chugs a flask like it’s mother’s milk and gives Dondarrion the go ahead to seal the wounds with a flaming sword. Daenerys was right. Heroes love outdoing each other when it comes to sheer badassery.
Anyway we’re now midway into the episode and the action is thankfully starting, as the heroes come across a straggling chunk of the wight army and waste no time laying siege in a small skirmish.
Jon battles one of the Night King’s lieutenants, inevitably reducing him to a snow shower, de-animating the wights in the vicinity. All but one. Convenient! All they need is one very nasty wight to show the southerners anyway. Not that it makes it easy for our band of heroes. The Hound is busy making up for his nerves and throws himself on the struggling wight, covering its mouth and coming away with a handful of necrotic flesh for his pains.
The clouds in the distance begin to darken and an ominous rumble is heard. As the men work to tie the wight up in knots and make their escape, Jon realizes the Army of the Dead will be on them in no time. He turns to Gendry. “Run to Eastwatch,” he commands, like they haven’t spent at least a day trudging through the snow and it will likely take forever for a boy who’s never even seen snow before he got to Eastwatch to get back. Baratheon’s son doesn’t want to of course (a marathon? In snow drifts? No thanks!) but Jon insists. “You’re the fastest,” he claims. Did anyone see the 100m dash that established this fact? Anyway Gendry reluctantly hands his hammer over to Tormund and takes off like he’s Forrest Gump or something.
Jon was right to dispatch a runner, because the Army of the Dead has arrived. As the heroes flee to a rocky outpost that just happens to be in the middle of a semi-frozen lake. Convenient! The wights form a black circle of nightmares around the rocky outpost, stopped by the ice on the lake itself. The weight of their number is too much for the ice to hold all of them so our heroes are safe for the nonce. But they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no food, no water, no escape in sight and night has fallen. Things are looking hopeless.
But Gendry saves the day! Somehow having reached the Wall in record time, he falls on his face, exhausted. “A raven,” he croaks. “Send a raven.” The sooner the better, because the dawn finds our heroes huddled together for warmth, and Thoros of Myr dead. Poor Thoros. All the bootleg alcohol in the world couldn’t save him from the cold and the bite of a dead bear. The Hound wastes no time looting the dead body and is about to consume the rest of Thoros’ alcohol when Jon stops him. “We have to burn the body,”‘ he says. And they do. Hey, at least Thoros can warm them for a little while.
Sansa knows the weather is bad, and restless men are hard to manage. Venting to Littlefinger about the note Arya found – still unaware of how it came to be found – he maneuvers her into considering Brienne as a possible danger and his master plan becomes clear. Set sister against sister, and eliminate the bodyguard. Is Sansa taking his advice? A raven comes from King’s Landing, summoning the leaders and she dispatches Brienne to go as her proxy. Sansa may still be listening to Littlefinger, but she at least won’t make the Stark mistake of going South. Not while Cersei lives, at any rate.
As Sansa sits safe at Winterfell, Tyrion is urging Dany to do the same at Dragonstone. “Sometimes, doing nothing is the hardest thing to do,” he pleads, saying their hopes of changing Westeros for good will all die if Daenerys dies. Maybe this is why Tyrion doesn’t want death and disaster. It’s not the Lannister forces, or the people in King’s Landing, or the good of the whole of Westeros. The thought of Dany in danger is agonizing to him. Watching her under a hail of arrows at the Blackwater Rush may have been what tore him apart the most, and now he’s watching his queen – who presumably got Gendry’s raven telegram – fly away to their aid, despite saying she’d only help if Jon bent the knee.
But no one is bending anything right now, least of all Dany, who flies off on Drogon wearing a fabulous winter coat that still manages to scream Targaryen despite all the fur trimming (well done, Michelle Clapton!), her other two dragons in tow.
“Dumb cunt,” grunts the Hound, bored and using wights for target practice. Is that a fitting epithet for Dany? No, it’s a fitting epithet for him, as an ill-timed throw reveals what could’ve stayed hidden a little bit longer – the lake has frozen solid and there’s nothing between the dead and the living, dun dun dunnnnnn.
The undead swarm over our small band of heroes like ants on a tiny anthill – thanks for the aerial view – and they fight, valiantly, but it’s obviously a losing battle. The numbers are too overwhelming, and there’s only so much they can do. Jon yells at everyone to fall back (where?) and they heed the call, but Tormund gets clouted on the head and a bunch of zombies are on him as fast as you can say wight. He goes down in a tangle of arms and legs, and not the kind he prefers. Whatever is happening to Tormund, you know for sure he isn’t feeling the cold.
I spoke too soon. Two wights who had earlier plunged into the lake pop up like gnarly jack-in-the-boxes and grab hold of Mr. Giantsbane and start dragging him down into the depths. It’s looking hopeless. Everyone else is too busy fending off their own wights.
Clegane breaks through the fray and comes to his aid, dragging our favourite ginger back to the tight circle the men have formed atop the last overhang on their hill. It’s a last stand. Death is imminent, and all for a single wight. Jon gazes at the sea of scrabbling, blue-eyed faces and then at his comrades, probably having a flashback to the Battle of the Bastards, when they were surrounded by Boltons and rapidly degenerating into a pile of corpses. That almost seemed easier, eh Snow?
We kind of knew this was coming since Dany left Tyrion on that cliff, but suddenly flames shoot over the horde and we realize the last Targaryen has finally come to set the party on fire, breaking the rules of time and space into the bargain. How fast can Drogon fly? We’re talking Dragonstone to beyond the Wall…. is it like Toronto to Vancouver? Anyway it’s glorious, as Dany sweeps the place with fire, like she’s riding a massive flamethrower. Her other two dragons do their part, and seeing this much firepower skating over a frozen waste looks glorious. The damage a Targaryen can truly do against the Night’s King is apparent.
Dany alights on the overhang, and the fighters clamber onboard the Drogon Express, with the exception of Jon, who stays on the ground to fight off the wights, who haven’t stopped coming.
The Night’s King isn’t taking this sitting down, as a lieutenant hands him an ice spear and he strides purposefully to the head of his phalanx. Who will he strike? Dany or Jon, who at this point are sitting ducks of the worst order? But no – he ignores the fighters and scans the skies. He couldn’t possibly be after a dragon, could he?
Taking aim, he throws his ice javelin at a wheeling dragon – not sure who it is at this point – and hits his mark like he’s a freaking Olympian at Olympics Beyond the Wall 2027. His throwing arm is stronger and more accurate than Qyburn’s scorpion.
Dany looks up in horror as one of her three comes crashing down and sinks into the lake and Drogon roars his own farewell. Jon doesn’t miss a beat, still fighting wights like a bad mofo, when he sees the Night King’s lieutenant hand him another javelin and starts yelling at everyone to leave. Running back to Dany and her dragon, he is accosted by a few stray wights and tumbles through the shattered ice into the cold water. Faced with fight or flight, Dany has no choice but to flee, flying off on Drogon, everyone else in tow (sticking the wight on one of Drogon’s spikes? Genius move, Clegane) and not a moment too soon, as the Olympian Beyond the Wall readies another strike, but misses this time, thanks to a timely aerial maneuver by Drogon.
Like Ser Jorah, whose fate was uncertain for a minute as he nearly slides off Drogon for a minute, we don’t know if Jon will survive this disaster. Somehow he finds the strength to struggle through icy water in sodden furs and prepare to make his last stand. How he isn’t frozen solid already, we’ll never know, because another saviour comes riding to his rescue in the nick of time – Coldhands, nee Uncle Benjen. Their reunion is split-second brief, consisting of Uncle B hoisting Jon on his horse, a brief “come with me,” not even enough time to complete it with “if you want to live,” and Jon is off as his uncle sacrifices himself, knocking out a few flashy poi moves before going under in a sea of wights. RIP Uncle Benjen. We hardly knew you.
Over at Eastwatch, The Hound dumps the screeching wight they all came for into a boat that presumably will take them to the ship that’s anchored just off the coast. High on the ramparts, Dany is mourning the loss of her dragon and of Jon. Just as she turns to leave, a horn sounds and a horse with a rider canters into view . It’s Jon. Also, time is seriously compressed in this episode.
Sparks are flying between the Stark sisters as Sensible Sansa pokes through Angry Arya’s portfolio of rubber masks and gets busted. Sansa demands to know what the faces are about, and Arya obliges before handing her the knife of Valyrian steel. What’s this showdown about? Is Littlefinger going to succeed in tearing the Starks apart from within?
But this drama is easily ignored in the face of what’s happening at Eastwatch. Setting sail for Dragonstone, in his cabin an unconscious Jon is being summarily stripped of all his clothing. Daenerys gazes at Jon’s exposed torso, sees the wounds inflicted by the Night’s Watch and realizes… its been a long time since Daario Naharis. Welp, we did ask for sparks.
As he regains consciousness, Jon sees a shaken but resolute Daenerys. He apologizes for dragging them all up north, Dany says he was right to do so, blah blah blah, emotion blah. Jon finds a way to bend the knee without actually doing so because he’s flat on his back (savvy!) and Dany accepts his allegiance and swears her own. Aww, good deeds. But no one is jumping each other’s bones today, because Dany’s too sad and Jon is too weak and really this feels so long right now but it isn’t over yet because HBO is milking this hour for all it’s worth.
While they sail off into the sunset, the Night’s King has conscripted a big chunk of his army to drag up the dead dragon from the depths of the lake. Wight labour is the best. Cheap and plentiful, they’ll fight for you and work for you until they all fall to pieces.
As the dragon is slowly revealed and the Night’s King walks toward it, swelling orchestral music tells us something. Is. Going. Down. He lays hands on its scaly head and after a few tense moments the dragon’s eyes open. They’re glowing. They’re blue.
Take a wight from the Night’s King, and he’ll simply make another one.
Dun dun dunnnnnn.
Featured Image by HBO, by way of WinterisComing.net