Monday, September 11, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.6: "Beyond the Wall"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

7.6 “Beyond the Wall”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alan Taylor

I think no other episode yet this season makes it quite as obvious that Benioff & Weiss are working entirely on plot points and not on a fully developed world anymore. I read somewhere (I don’t remember where; I read a lot) that the show is no longer character-driven or even really plot-driven, but plot-point driven. That the first 4 seasons or so were clearly developed from books, while seasons 5-7 were obviously developed from notes. We’ve lost any sense of continuous and consistent characterization or character development; instead, plot points need to happen so characters do stuff to make them happen regardless of how dumb their actions are. Everything happens in service of big “shock” moments and set pieces, not because it makes any logical sense.

Nothing that happens in this episode makes any logical sense, but they wanted the Night King to end up with a dragon, so they had to create this ridiculous mess to get Daenerys and her dragons north so that could happen. And yet, they completely ignored so many possibilities that could have made that happen (or at least made what did happen more believable). Remember how I said I wasn’t going to talk about distance and geography anymore? This episode breaks physics so hard there really isn’t any way not to talk about it.

The men are clearly walking for a long time. The walking is intercut with them talking to each other, getting acquainted or reacquainted, airing old grievances, etc. Clearly this is supposed to show them bonding so when they help each other and risk their lives for each other in the battle to come, it’s coming from a place that makes something resembling sense. Unfortunately, it also lengthens the amount of time they spend walking, which makes the rest of the timing of the episode not work.

Jon, Gendry, and Tormund discuss the cold. Tormund finally feels free, like he can breathe again: “Down South the air smells like pig shit.” Jon reminds Tormund he’s never been south, that Winterfell is still the north, and Tormund pfffts that away. Gendry asks how you keep from “freezing your balls off” and Tormund says to keep moving—“Walking’s good, fighting’s better, fucking’s best.” Jon points out there are no women up here (how very heteronormative of you, Jon), and Tormund gives Gendry a pointed look and says they have to make do with what they have (how very rapey of you, Tormund).

Tormund wants to know about Dany, and Jon tells him she’ll only help if he swears fealty. Tormund thinks Jon should do it because Mance not kneeling really screwed over the Free Folk and I just . . . what?

 Thoros asks Gendry (who’s run away from Tormund to another cluster) whether he’s still mad at them and Gendry yells about them selling him to Melisandre like a slave. (Not quite, but whatever. The show really has issues with how serious slavery really is.) He tells them that she stripped him naked and tied him to a bed, which Sandor thinks isn’t all that bad, especially if she was naked, too, because men can’t be raped and sexual assault against men is hilarious. Gendry yells that then she put leeches on him, and Thoros shrugs and says she needed his blood, and Gendry is like thanks for that, captain obvious! Sandor tells him to quit whining and they keep walking.

Jon and Jorah pause to have a talk about Jeor. They discuss how honor doesn’t save you in the end, and how Ned wanted to kill Jorah for slaving. Jon’s glad he didn’t (because slavery, no big deal, whatever, pffft) and tries to give Jorah Longclaw back because it’s not like they’re headed into zombie territory and Valyrian steel has proven effective against the zombie overlords. And Jon’s the only one who’s fought them. Jorah refuses, and Jon puts his damn sword back on.

Tormund tries to bond with Sandor, who tells him to fuck off. When he doesn’t, but keeps trying to talk to him, Sandor asks if Tormund’s trying to get in Sandor’s pants, introducing Tormund to “dick” as slang, which apparently he never knew before. Tormund assures him he’s not gay and even has a woman waiting for him, who Sandor recognizes from her description and leads to this gold nugget of dialogue: “I’ve seen the way she looks at me.” “Like she wants to carve you up and eat your liver?” “You do know her!” Tormund wants to have Brienne’s babies and conquer the world, and Sandor thinks he’s completely insane.

Beric notes that Jon doesn’t look a lot like Ned and must take after his mother (which makes no actual sense because they were both Starks, though of course Beric doesn’t know that). They talk about Ned some more and how R’hllor was responsible for bringing them both back from death so they must have some purpose. Jon reflects on part of the Night’s Watch vow—“I am the shield that guards the realms of men”—though I would argue he forsook those vows and doesn’t get to invoke them anymore.

Then they come upon a pointy mountain that Sandor recognizes as the one from his vision so they head toward it. A storm blows up, reducing visibility to nothing, but one of the redshirts wildlings moves out way ahead of everyone else. This is clearly a dumb idea and a minute later a zombie polar bear charges out of the snow to show why it’s a dumb idea. (Somehow Gendry can see through all this snow that a) it’s a bear; and b) it has blue eyes, but that’s the least egregious stupidity that happens in this episode.) The bear kills the unnamed wildling scout, then mauls Thoros while Sandor watches, unable to do anything because Beric set the bear on fire with his sword. Jorah puts a dragonglass dagger in the bear’s head and they pull Thoros out from under him, then Beric cauterizes the wounds with his flamey sword. Since the bear came from that way, the dead are obviously that way, so the troop troops that way.

More bonding! Jorah and Thoros talk about the battle of Pyke during Balon’s Rebellion, and then the whole group manages to sneak up on a random group of wights led by a Walker. The group ambushes the wights, and Jon manages to kill the Walker, which makes all but one of the wights collapse (how convenient). They tie it up and it makes a horrifying shrieking noise that’s echoed from the distance. Uh-oh. Jon tells Gendry to run back to the Wall and send a raven to Dany for help, and this is where everything gets extra stupid. Jon says Gendry’s the fastest—how does he know that? They haven’t done any running yet and Gendry’s a blacksmith, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to speed. Also, he’s never been in the north before. Also also, they’ve been walking for at least a day, and he’s supposed to make it back to the Wall before everyone’s completely overwhelmed by the army of the dead?

The army comes out of the ravine, and the only thing that saves our heroes is that they’re on a lake. The ice breaks under the weight of all the dead, and apparently they can’t swim, so the men find shelter on a rocky island in the middle of the lake.

Maybe an hour later, Gendry makes it to within sight of the Wall.

Night falls and the men’s watch begins as they wait for rescue or for the ice to refreeze and the dead to come get them all. Gendry makes it to the Wall and falls over right at the gate; he’s awake enough to tell Davos they need to send a raven when the men come out and get him.

Sometime during the night Thoros dies; Sandor remarks that dying in your sleep is one of the best ways to go and steals his flask. So much for the character development we got earlier in the season; he’s not the least little bit guilty that his pyrophobia stopped him from helping Thoros? And now he’s dead? I don’t like this Sandor.

They try to figure out why all the wights fell down when the Walker died and theorize that it’s because he made those particular wights. Jorah suggests going after the Walkers, who are up on a hill watching the men slowly freeze to death, but Jon says it’s more important to get this one wight back to King’s Landing. He says there’s a raven headed for Dragonstone and Dany’s there only chance, to which Beric replies—I shit you not—“No. There is another.”

I can’t even with this show anymore.

Beric also wants to take out the Night King and says he and Jon were brought back for a reason and this is probably it. Sandor’s not convinced. Commence hard staring between the Walkers and the living.

Up at Dragonstone, Dany’s spent the last few days arguing with Tyrion. She complains that men keep haring off on grand heroic adventures and abandoning her—Drogo, Daario, Jorah, Jon. Tyrion points out that all those men were in love with her and Dany pfts the idea that Jon’s in love with her. Tyrion assures her he totally is because there’s so little chemistry between the actors that we need other characters to tell us how in love they are (see also Davos remarking on Jon’s tendency to stare at Dany’s boobs, a tendency I sure never noticed). Dany changes the subject to Cersei and the meeting, asking what Tyrion’s planning because apparently they haven’t been talking about it. Tyrion makes a last-ditch effort to get Dany back under his control but it’s so heavy-handed it backfires; he says she can’t act just like Aegon or the Lannisters if she wants to Break the Wheel, and that he’s promised to keep her on a short leash because she has a tendency to lose her temper. He wants to know who she plans to name her heir and she doesn’t want to talk about it. So when the raven comes and Tyrion tells her going to help is a very bad idea, she tells him to shut his damn mouth, mounts Drogon, and flies off with all three dragons. (Wearing a coat that makes her look like she’s cosplaying a White Walker. Apparently she's not worried about her ears freezing, though.)

Meanwhile, Sandor gets tired of waiting and starts throwing rocks at the wights. Unfortunately, when he misses, it reveals that the lake has refrozen and the army moves in. There’s complete chaos during which Jorah saves Jon, Jon saves the captured wight, and another nameless wildling is killed. Jon starts yelling “fall back” (to where, Jon? You’re surrounded!), Sandor saves Tormund, another wildling dies, and Jon looks over the incoming army and realizes that he is completely screwed. Again.

Then—dragons! Fire! Dany and Jon eye contact! Drogon lands and the men start piling aboard while Jon smacks wights away. Jon’s the last one on the ground and Jorah’s yelling at him to get in the damn car when the Night King picks up a spear and aims it—not at Drogon, who’s on the ground and has all his current enemies on his back—but at Viserion. He scores a direct hit and Viserion goes down bleeding fire and screaming, crashing through the ice and sinking. Dany stares with almost no expression (now would be a perfectly understandable time to lose control), and Jon yells at them to get going while he keeps swatting wights. The Night King grabs another spear and Jon turns to run back to the dragon but gets overwhelmed and goes in the water. Drogon takes off, dodging the second spear, and they fly away.

Luckily for Jon, Longclaw fell on the ice next to the hole, so he manages to haul himself out of the water using the quillions as an ice pick and then manages to not immediately die of hypothermia. Instead, Coldhands Benjen comes riding out of nowhere, heaves Jon up on his horse, and stays behind to die while the horse takes Jon to the Wall.

There’s been a lot of talk all over the place about the logistics, distance, and time in this episode, so I’ll hold off except to say that it might not have been quite so egregious if they hadn’t started the episode with a pan-over of the Dragonstone map table from Dragonstone to Beyond the Wall before dissolving into the northern landscape. They showed us just how far that is before breaking all the laws of physics.

At the Wall, Dany waits for Jon while Drogon and Rhaegal circle overhead, crying. Right as Dany gives up on Jon, he comes trotting out of the trees. They get him, bundle him onto the boat, cut his frozen clothes off of him, and I guess give him some kind of medical treatment besides throwing a blanket over him (at least I hope they do). Dany watches and sees all his wounds, which haven’t healed so much as they aren’t bleeding anymore (I have questions about just how alive Jon is right now). When Jon wakes up, Dany’s sitting right next to him, and his first words are a heartfelt apology for the loss of Viserion. This is when Dany finally breaks down crying (or almost-crying), and while I’ve seen some criticism that she has more reaction to Jon being awake than to Viserion dying, I can see the argument that Jon waking up was just the last huge emotion that broke the dam she’d been hiding everything behind. It’s not that she’s happier to see Jon alive than she was sad to see Viserion die, but that losing Viserion was huge and a shock and it took her a little while to come to an actual reaction. Grief does weird things to people and I’ll give actress and director a pass on this one.

Dany tells him that not only are the dragons her children, they’re the only children she’ll ever have. She says she’s going to fight with him, and Jon calls her Dany, only for her to say maybe don’t call her that since the last person to do so was Viserys, who was an abusive monster. He asks what if he calls her “my queen” instead and promises the North will understand. So they both get what they want, exchange actual longing looks and several hand-squeezes, and then she leaves him to his rest.

Back up north, the wights have learned how to swim and gotten several massive chains from somewhere, and they haul Viserion out of the water so the Night King can turn him into a zombie dragon. Dun dun!

Believe it or not, stuff was happening between all the walking and talking and fighting and dying! In Winterfell, the sister-intrigue has reached some seriously idiotic heights. Arya accuses Sansa of betraying Ned to the Lannisters because of the letter, rejecting her argument that she was just a child, surrounded by adults that told her this was what was necessary. Sansa says it wasn’t like Arya stopped Ned’s execution, either, but Arya says Sansa actively betrayed the whole family. Sansa says that Arya has no idea what she’s been through and what she did to save Winterfell; Arya also rejects that whole argument. Arya thinks that the lords—especially Lyanna—might turn on Sansa if they find out about this and proceeds to hold it over Sansa’s head.

Sansa talks to Petyr about it (who doesn’t admit his role in getting the scroll to Arya in the first place, of course), and he says that if Arya does try anything, Brienne will obviously have to protect Sansa. So Sansa sends Brienne away, naming her her emissary for the big meeting that’s supposed to happen in King’s Landing. Then she goes to search Arya’s room and things get really weird. Sansa finds Arya’s bag of faces (including Walder Frey’s), and Arya confronts her. Arya tries to get Sansa to play the Game of Faces, which Sansa obviously does not want to do, and talks about how the faces are how she gets to be anyone she wants. She could even be Sansa, she says, if she just murdered her and cut her face off. Then she hands Sansa the dagger and leaves.

Now, obviously the writers are setting up a big twist and obviously it involves Petyr. The difficulty is how much does each of the women know and when do they know it. Is Arya lying her face off in this scene and trying to clue Sansa in to that by talking about the Game of Faces? Is she honestly threatening Sansa? It’s pretty clear Sansa is honestly freaked out. If Arya is trying to counter-intrigue Petyr, how does this help?

I also have serious problems with the gendered attacks Arya keeps using because it’s yet more of that whole girl-stuff-is-bad bull the show keeps spouting. We’re shown/told that Sansa’s doing a good job of leading until Arya decides that she’s trying to replace Jon and then somehow planning for the future becomes a bad thing? Also, the digs against pretty and ladylike things are constant; Arya is snide about knitting, pretty handwriting, pretty dresses, pretty hairstyles, even being Lady of Winterfell. All of this, combined with how the show constantly tells us that women who don’t/can’t resort to physical violence are weak and deserve whatever happens to them, oh and also sewing and knitting and parties and poetry are stupid and useless, creates an attempt to align viewer sympathies with Arya—who just threatened to murder her sister and wear her face. The show cannot give us a healthy relationship between women—there’s nearly always some sort of catty and/or manipulative behavior happening—and this is just the latest example in a long line of them. The fact that it’s between the Stark sisters, who in the books spend time thinking about where each other might be and appreciating each other after they’re separated—is just . . . mean.

Next week: I completely run out of evens with this whole show.

Benjen Stark (for real this time)
White Walker #4
Wildling scouts

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