Empty but breathtaking bombast produces the most divisive episode in the show’s history
After seven years of unsparing violence, Machiavellian intrigue, and perspicacious dialogue, tonight we finally got it — the end of Game of Thrones, in the form of ‘Beyond the Wall’. HBO may be producing another season of budget-busting fan fiction, but their plot has become too ludicrous to take seriously any longer.
The show runners didn’t drop the ball here, they buried it.
Last week, I expressed uneasiness that the writers were lending themselves to plot inconsistencies and erasure of realism within their world. I predicted that ‘Beyond the Wall’ would turn things around from the failings of ‘Eastwatch’.
I was wrong. Narrative integrity has now fully departed. Despite that, Season Seven’s penultimate episode is still an exceptional spectacle. Television is a visual experience, so a show isn’t just the creation of its writers.
As a showpiece for visual effects, special effects, set design, fight choreography, makeup, and costume design, it’s in top form. The work of these creative teams are as commendable as that of writers’ when they produce exceptional material, so I still admire the episode in many ways.
The climactic scene is one of the most visually stunning in television history. Dragons fought off an army of wights, fire blasted a frozen lake, and Viserion was struck down by an ice spear.
It’s unfortunate that the scene’s basis was nonsensical. The plot hinged on the wights waiting at least a whole day (as long as it takes for Gendry to marathon his way through the snow back to Eastwatch, for a raven to fly across an entire continent, and for dragons to fly across that continent again to find Jon and company beyond the Wall) for holes in a frozen lake to freeze back over. They only notice that the water has indeed frozen back over when the Hound skids a pebble across it.
It is only five minutes into the following skirmish before dragons ex machina arrive to save the day. Before this, six characters are surrounded and attacked by an undead army, and none of them are hurt. Instead, magic extras materialise at various points to die on screen to create a semblance of danger.
The Night King presents another potential threat when he draws an ice spear. This is, sadly, when suspension of disbelief is broken and never returns. Why does he aim it at Viserion when Drogon, carrying all our protagonists, is a far closer, larger, and immobile target? And why, when Viserion falls, does Daenerys look like she’s restraining a smile? Why does she smirk when watching Jon drown?
The dragons leave Jon behind, sinking into the icy water in layers and layers of drenched furs. Viewers learned from Jaime Lannister, however, that that is no problem. He pulls himself out and gets walking.
When Jon needs a horse, Benjen suddenly appears and decides to commit suicide so Jon can use his horse. The purpose of Benjen’s suicide is unclear. He tells Jon that there’s “not enough time” for him to stay on the horse with Jon, but the wights are so far away he has to stand round waiting for them to come to him.
I won’t try to examine what happened in the polar bear attack, or Jon and Daenerys’ conversation on the boat. Their absurdity simply cannot be accounted for.
Down south in Winterfell, we find our one worthwhile storyline. Despite the psychotic, aberrant dialogue written for Arya, this was an interesting episode for Sansa and Littlefinger. It’s up in the air who’s got the upper hand right now, but I suspect it’s Littlefinger. It’s likely he tricked Sansa into sending Brienne away and thinking it was her own idea. Either way, Winterfell definitely looks like the most interesting place to be in the season finale next week.
I don’t have much interest in how the wight kidnapping storyline wraps up. Undoubtedly, it will conclude as outrageously as it was conceived. Viewers will keep watching, though, because to watch it isn’t essential to think. The writers’ lapse doesn’t, and shouldn’t, inhibit our appreciation for all the other extraordinary work that’s gone into this show’s production.