Airing in the UK at 2am and 9pm Mondays on Sky Atlantic
Writers: David Benioff and DB Weiss
Director: Alan Taylor
Essential Plot Points:
- A pan across Daenerys’ map at Dragonstone fades to the real destination beyond the wall, far from those glowing fire embers. Jon and the gang are making their way towards the Night King’s army to capture a foot soldier and prove the threat is real.
- There’s some classic lad bants as the men march towards their objective.
- Jon tries to give his sword, Longclaw, back to Jorah Mormont. It was given to him by the leader of the Night’s Watch, Jeor (Jorah’s father). Jorah tells him to keep it, and pass it onto his children.
- Arya Stark seems to have inherited her sister’s passion for looking out across Winterfell from the upper walkway. She reminisces about her old life and their father, before confronting Sansa with the note she sent asking Rob to defend her “beloved Joffrey”.
- More classic lad bants, including a peach of a conversation between Tormund and the Hound.
- Tyrion and Daenerys discuss heroes, children and heirs.
- A redshirt member of Jon’s travelling party is killed by a bear. A dead bear. During the fight, Thoros of Myr is injured saving a stunned Hound. They cauterize his wounds using a flaming sword.
- Littlefinger continues his manipulation of Sansa. He intimates that Brianne might be a problem if the sisters clash, as she’s been tasked with protecting both
- Thoros and Jorah reminisce over a war story, which both have very different memories of.
- The party spots a White Walker with a smaller group of dead soldiers and lays a trap. But when Jon kills the Walker itself, most of the group lose their animation. Only one remains for them to take.
- Gendry makes for Eastwatch to call for help from Daenerys, while the rest are surrounded in the middle of a frozen lake the army of the dead can’t cross without breaking.
- Thoros of Myr dies in his sleep during the night, trapped at the centre of the lake with the others. They burn his body and we get to see up close how Beric lights his flaming sword. The group surmises that its best chance might be to kill the Night King and watch all those he turned drop.
- Sansa gets an invitation to King’s Landing. She uses the opportunity to send Brianne in her place, removing her as an element in the dispute with her sister.
- Tyrion tries to stop Daenerys going off with her dragons to save Jon. “You can’t win the throne if you’re dead. You can’t break the wheel if you’re dead.” She goes anyway.
- The Hound is bored. He throws a stone at a dead soldier and smashes its jaw off. But when he throws a bigger stone it skitters across the ice and comes to a stop. The soldier looks down at the ice and takes a step forward…
- One by one the army of the dead walk across and attack. They may be minions and easily put down, but there’s a lot of them, and they keep getting back up. It’s a redshirt apocalypse.
- Showing up with three dragons to fight an army of the dead should bring an immediate end to the war. Hurrah for Daenerys! Hang on, the Night King’s picking up an ice spear. Oh no!
- Jon is pulled under the ice and Daenerys and her two remaining dragons retreat with the other rescued survivors.
- The dead spot Jon when he resurfaces from the water and it appears the end is nigh. Until his uncle Benjen shows up, puts Jon on a horse and sacrifices his own life to let him escape.
- Daenerys looks longingly from the top of Eastwatch, hoping for sign of Jon. Jorah says they have to go. Just as she turns, there he is, on Benjen’s horse.
- They get Jon on the ship headed for King’s Landing, practically snapping his frozen clothing from him. Daenerys sees the deep wound near his heart, among others.
- Sansa is looking for the note in Arya’s room. She finds a bag full of faces instead. Arya appears and says she’s always wondered what it would be like to be Sansa. “All I’d need to find out, is your face.” But she hands her sister the knife instead and walks away.
- Jon and Daenerys share a moment, as he pledges fealty. But it ends oddly.
- The Night King’s army might have suffered a setback. But now he has a dragon…
The dialogue at the opening of this episode is some of the best we’ve been treated to in seven season of Thrones. It’s helped by the fact that this uneasy alliance heading towards the army of the dead is made up of people who, rightfully, have every reason to hate each other. A wildling leader and the son of his main enemy; two “bastard” princes (those quote marks are for Jon Snow, rather than Gendry, as George RR Martin seems to be laying an increasing number of breadcrumbs that he’s actually a full blown Targaryen descendent); two followers of the Lord of Light and the man they sold to a witch; the King of the North and the man his father wanted to have executed for his crimes; and the man who is in love with Brienne and the man who was beaten by her (although the Hound really does hate everyone, so no matter what those “sad eyes” are saying, he’d be at odds with everyone here no matter what).
There’s some important words spoken among the banter, too. “You spent too much time with the free folk. Now you don’t like kneeling. Mance Rayder was a proud man. The King Beyond the Wall never bent the knee. How many of his people died for his pride?” Tormund Giantsbane tells Jon. Even given Daenerys’s amazing rescue, and her terrible loss, it’s no surprise that this is the episode Jon does metaphorically bend that knee. We can’t help but believe that it’s this piece of dialogue that helps push him in that direction.
There’s also a surprising amount of forward looking this episode, as if not having a major character die for a while has everyone suddenly a little surer of their place in the world. Tyrion is worried about the succession to the throne should Daenerys become the ruler of the seven kingdoms, given that by her own admission she can’t have any more children. That issue is raised again a couple of times: both when Jorah Mormont tells Jon Snow to keep his father’s sword, Longclaw, and pass it onto his children; and when Daenerys and Jon talk at the end of the episode, and she explains the dragons are the last children she will ever have, adding “Do you understand?”
Not that Jon and “Dany” look as likely to get it on as they did in previous episodes. Dany’s handholding comes to an end rather abruptly – is she having a Back to the Future moment, a bit like Marty McFly’s mum, where even that contact with Jon feels like “Kissing my brother”?
In other power couple news… if you’d asked us for an endgame plot about whose bum might actually warm that iron seat everyone’s so keen to park their posterior on, we’d have told you it wouldn’t surprise us if Littlefinger and Sansa didn’t cosy up on it in the final shots of the series. However, pitting Stark sister against Stark sister (as masterful a manipulation as it is), could be a step too far even for this Machiavellian mastermind. Sure, they look pretty dangerous to each other right now, and their talk is all of “fear” and “anger”, but if they get a whiff of his plan and join forces, it’ll surely be the end of him.
Even more dangerous this episode is an early encounter for our boys north of the Wall, who meet their first non-human follower of the Night King: an undead bear. On the plus side, this lets us know that men aren’t the only thing that can be reanimated, allowing our mind to race ahead of the events in this episode’s final scene. However, the sudden understanding that the equivalent of Star Trek’s redshirts have also joined this adventure north, as the first of them bites the dust, is actually a bit of a downer and drains some of the episode’s tension.
Much worse still is the final piece of grade A deus ex machina. Naturally, we’re expecting the rescue from Daenerys and the kids (and this being Thrones we’re even expecting that not to go entirely to plan), but Jon’s uncle showing up – as he did before to help Brandon Stark – is a billion to one-shot get-out-of-jail-free card, and feels massively contrived. Almost as contrived as an army of the dead carrying a set of chains that are enormous enough to raise a dragon from a lake. Even if their actions do give us that squeal of joy at the end of the episode…
- Tormund really does have the hots for Brienne! He wants to “make babies with her. Think of them, great big monsters. They’d conquer the world.”
- Sound has been so important in the battles so far – and as Jamie and Bronn can attest, when you can hear the enemy before you see them, it’s probably not a good thing.
- We add a lot of lore this episode, including that the Night King can resurrect pretty much anything he wants to and that killing a Walker destroys the men they’ve raised.
- The bit where Tormund is overwhelmed and dragged towards the hole in the ice is a proper heart-in-mouth moment. Especially after all that future planning about babies, which is like signing your own death warrant in Thrones.
- The Hound, who steals almost every good line this episode.
- There was genuine excitement that the party heading north of the Wall was filled with named characters. If anything was going to happen to this group, it would be a major blow. And then the redshirts we hadn’t previously spotted started dropping. Weak.
- The Hound trying to silence the dead soldier – dude, you’ve got some dead dude on you!
The Hound: “You want to suck my dick, is that it?”
The Hound: “Cock.”
Tormund: “Ah, dick. I like it.”
The Hound: “I bet you do.”
Beric Dondarrion: “You alright?”
Thoros: “I just got bit by a dead bear!”
Review by Matt Chapman