On last night’s “Game of Thrones,” a North of the Wall-focussed episode that we expected to be snowy, wighty, and grunty, we got all that, and just a smidge more: Khaleesi tears, a swinging-lantern surprise, a knapsack full of gross intrigue. And yet, for some of us, this penultimate episode of the penultimate season of our show of shows underwhelmed; I got reports of a bird flipped at a television in Massachusetts. On the other hand, it’s hard not to love these crazy goofballs. Shall we?
We open on snow, snow, and more snow: our gang of fur-clad bravehearts, bareheaded except for Gendry, who wears an amusing hood atop what appears to be a shearling coat.
“You ever been North before?” Jon Snow asks. “Never seen snow before!” Gendry says, shivering. Tormund mentions the utility of fucking to keep warm, then, after making a crude joke to Gendry that leaves him wide-eyed, worries to Jon Snow that Gendry isn’t smart. How dare you, sir!
The long trudge through the North gives the men lots of time to catch up—there won’t be time for exposition, the writers seem to be reminding us, once the wights start skibbling. They talk of the Dragon Queen, and of everybody’s favorite topic: bending the knee. Jon Snow complains about it; Tormund reminds him that Mance Rayder was too proud to do it. “How many of his people died for his pride?” Tormund says. Gendry squabbles with the Brotherhood guys for selling him to Melisandre—remember the leeches, you bastards? The Hound rolls his eyes. “This one’s been killed six times,” he says, nodding at Beric. “You don’t hear him bitching about it.” Like real brothers!
Jon and Jorah catch up about Jeor Mormont and Ned Stark: fathers who lived nobly and died unfairly. This is a manly prelude to a portentous moment: the handing back and forth of Longclaw, Jon Snow’s Valyrian-steel sword. If you, like me, did a little who’s-got-Valyrian-steel refresher before this episode—because Valyrian steel and dragonglass are the only things that can kill White Walkers—you might have been reminded that Jeor gave Jorah’s sword to Jon, who was like a son to him. “Changed the pommel from a bear to a wolf, but it’s still Longclaw,” Jon says, all decency. No, Jon Snow! You are too noble! You need that thing, for chrissakes. “It’s been in your family for centuries,” Jon says. Aw, shucks, Jorah says—but I brought shame upon my house. You take it. May it serve you well. Phew.
At Winterfell, Arya, somehow effectively tricked by Littlefinger’s machinations of last week, has grown suspicious and scheming. Arya tells Sansa a story about shooting arrows even though it was against the rules, and their father clapping for her when she hit the bull’s-eye. “I knew that what I was doing was against the rules, but he was smiling, so I knew it wasn’t wrong,” she says. “The rules were wrong.” She’s off to a good start; they think of Dad fondly for a second. “Now he’s dead, killed by the Lannisters, with your help,” she says. Oy! No, Arya, no!
Sansa’s eyes widen. “What?!” Arya takes out the scroll she found in Littlefinger’s mattress and reads it melodramatically. It’s the letter that the Lannisters made Sansa send to Robb—remember Robb?—asking him to swear fealty to Joffrey. Standing in front of what appears to be a huge pink slab of meat, they bicker about loyalties and Ned’s execution. Seems like they should have spent more time catching up before this—surely Sansa would have mentioned despising Joffrey at some point? More bickering, hard to believe and harder to enjoy. (You want to be a pretty queen! You should be on your knees thanking me for saving Winterfell! Well, I still hate you! Your suffering sounds like baloney! Etc.) Then Sansa says something sensible: “Do you know how happy Cersei would be right now if she saw us fighting?” To this I might add, do you know how happy Littlefinger would be, too? In fact, he’s probably nestled behind a nearby pole, but for once, the camera doesn’t cut to him doing the old lurk-and-smirk.
On the Long Cold Trudge, Tormund and the Hound engage in some sailor talk. At least someone’s got some joie de vivre around here! Tormund says he wants to make babies with Brienne of Tarth. “Great big monsters,” he says. “They’d conquer the world.” The Hound, we can see, is more focussed on the time that Brienne nearly killed him, but he doesn’t get into it. Beric and Jon Snow discuss the Lord of Light, a.k.a. the Great Resurrector, and his mysterious ways. “Death is the enemy,” Beric says. “The enemy always wins, but we still need to fight.” You said it, brother. Up ahead of them, the Hound sees the vision he saw in the fire made real: “A mountain like an arrowhead.”
The plot is nearly upon us!
In cozier quarters—the regal caves of Dragonstone—Tyrion is staring into the fire, talking about boys with Dany. “Do you know why I like you?” she says. I honestly don’t, he says. “You’re not a hero,” she says. As Tyrion offers evidence about the Mud Gate and his face slash, she continues: heroes do stupid things and they die. She rattles some off—all heroic, most not dead. “Drogo, Jorah, Daario. Even this . . . Jon Snow.” They’re all in love with you, he points out. She scoffs at Jon Snow’s puniness, then asks about Cersei. If Bran wargs this conversation and tells Jon about it, I hope he leaves that part out.
Up in Snowsville, things are really getting cooking: a huge blizzard, panting and trudging, and lo—a creature in the distance! Could it be an ice spider? No—before you know what the hell is going on, or why, a bear—a bear the size of a woolly mammoth, with the threadbare fur of an old teddy bear and the eerie shuddering moves of a military-grade robotic dog—is upon them, snarling and snorting and chomping, and being whacked with flaming swords.
At Winterfell, just as reasonably, Sansa is confiding in Littlefinger. Her concerns are legit: Now that Arya’s found that scroll and believed the worst, will the Lords of the North have reason to mistrust her as she leads them into the Long Horrible Winter? Why not talk to Bran, all-seeing stiff, or that woeful tree he hangs out with? That thing’s never betrayed you while purring about being in love with you and your late mother. Littlefinger acts like he’s being loyal to both sisters. “Arya’s not like them,” he says. “She would never betray your family.” He suggests that Brienne help—a legitimately good idea. What is he up to?
Now we’re scaling Mt. Arrowhead. Jon and Tormund see some bad guys d
own below: a White Walker, accompanied by wights. The White Walker—tall, with good posture, a balding head, and long white hair and beard—looks like a metal version of Mr. Rosso from “Freaks and Geeks.” Sadly, he is much less chill. Our ragtag troupe attacks from behind, and, after a whole bunch of group fighting, Jon whacks the W.W. and he shatters like glass—Goodbye, Mr. Chips!—and the wights, in turn, crumble, too. Well, not all of them.
“[Snarling continues],” as the closed captioning says: in the background, one precious brown-skulled howler howls on. Our heroes look at him, a little bit in love. Could you be the one?, they all think simultaneously, and begin to capture their new friend to bring to Cersei. They’re in too deep to realize the absurdity of this plan now. (As a friend put it, bringing a wight to Cersei would be like bringing some melted glacier water to prove climate change to Trump—that is to say, ineffective. On the other hand, you can’t let glacier water out of a bag and have it run around the office like a psychopath. I’m optimistic!) As they subdue it and put a bag over its head—?—they hear the rumblings of a jillion more wights in the distance. Jon tells Gendry to scram. “Run back to Eastwatch! Get a raven to Daenerys, tell her what’s happened!” he says. I’d be very curious to read that raven’s scroll.
Our pals scamper onto thin ice, pursued by the jillion wights. Within seconds the little group is surrounded, à la a certain recent Boston situation, with good guys and bad guys reversed, and minus the gazebo. Meanwhile, Gendry scurries up and down mountains, moving at the speed of late-season “Game of Thrones” everything—in other words, fast. The wights have our boys surrounded, and it’s still just a weird stare-off. Why? I am unclear on wight strategy, but they don’t have brains in those rattling skulls, I guess. Gendry collapses—but he’s right outside the gate! Ser Davos pops out to summon a maester and a pen. So far, so good. And so unlikely, but who cares?
Thoros of Myr has not survived all this mishegas. Beric prays for him to the Lord of Light; Jon says to burn his body; they do. The wight thrashes a little in his burlap. Jorah suggests that they kill the walkers and hope that their wights fall, too. Jon disagrees.
“Daenerys is our only chance,” he says. Beric suggests killing the Night King, gesturing up at a hill, where the N.K. and some friends are looming icily on horseback. Might that solve this whole shebang?
“You don’t understand,” Jon whispers, snow in his hair. Him and me both.
Sansa receives an invitation to King’s Landing; inexplicably, she decides to send Brienne of Tarth in her stead. “My lady, I swore an oath to protect you and your sister. If I abandon you—” Brienne says, offering to leave Podrick behind. Nope, Sansa says.
You’re outta here. Man, oh, man, it’s not easy being Brienne of Tarth! How do you serve people who make decisions that aren’t in their best interest—decisions you will later have to fix? (Editorial assistants the world over can relate to this.) On the other hand! Sansa’s weird decision will reunite Brienne with Jaime, which I am very pleased about. Let Sansa be in the hoist-petard business: I want to see what happens when Jaime confronts someone he respects again. In the finale, they can wave hello.
At Dragonstone, Dany is saddling up the dragons. Tryion is pleading with her not to leave, telling her that she’s the most important person in the world. He’s come a long way since his days of being a drunkard in a basket. Forget it, she tells him: “I’m not doing nothing again!” I’m with you, babe. Our fellows need saving. But Dany—while you’re headed that way, shouldn’t you bring, I don’t know, a ton of dragonglass? Just flap down to the mine on your way! (Where are the storage compartments on a dragon?)
As we all know, one of the greatest qualities of White Walkers and wights is their love of pausing, staring, and waiting. Yes, they’ve had the ability to unleash a lot of hurt on our heroes this entire time. Yes, they’ve had some great opportunities. But, like classic Bond villains, or Red John on “The Mentalist,” they’d just as soon lurk maddeningly, forever, torturing us with bad vibes. Back at Battle of the Bastards on Ice, we see that the Hound and Jon Snow & Company are still just staring at the ring of wights, which is, frankly, insane. So is the fact that the Hound, apparently bored, throws a rock at one, and then another; the rock slides, like curling. It’s on, dingbats. Old Flame Sword fires up his flame sword, the wights advance like ants at a picnic, the men brace themselves, and thus commences about an hour and a half of growling and swordplay. Snarling, flames, throaty noises, chopping with a hatchet, whacking, clubbing, Tormund fighting off one thing after another. Meanwhile, I’m checking the wights for disguised members of rock bands, hoping to jazz things up. Somehow, after a while, Jon and his buddies are on a small cliff, and music begins playing, which, along with the slo-mo, makes you wonder if dragons are coming. They are! Dracarys, motherfuckers! Dany looks cute in her army-of-the-dead-fighting dress, too.
The dragons breathe fire on everything—careful, you guys, don’t breathe fire on our pals!—and Jon Snow looks up at her. These two are finally hitting it off, I think. But uh-oh. The Night King, who clearly has an ice Qyburn, or is his own ice Qyburn, unsheaths some kind of kryptonite ice javelin. In a beautiful and horrifying shot, he throws it at a dragon—Viserion—and hits him, making him catch fire. (Hang on—what is a dragon’s relationship to fire? He breathes it but doesn’t want to be engulfed by it? This is no time to ask questions, I suppose.) Viserion falls from the sky and slips beneath the ice into the water, and everyone watches in horror. Tormund is wide-eyed; Dany is stricken. Even Drogon looks sad. Jon resumes fighting. He looks up at the Night King, like, You want to mess with my sexy secret aunt’s dragons, asshole? “Go! Go now!” he yells to his fellow-humans, and falls through the ice. Everybody’s underwater these days! Suddenly, our whole crew, sans Jon, is on the dragon—pile on, gang!—and they’re flying off as the Night King throws another spear, which, to be fair, should logically hit them all and basically end this show but does not. They fly off, Dany smiling placidly, and Jorah swinging off the side and then clambering on. (Greyscale, take a look at me now!)
Down below, an artful shot of Longclaw the Sword by the edge of Jon’s ice hole, and then Jon, spluttering his way out. Is this the classic be-your-own-Bronn maneuver, where you outwit your foes simply by going for a dip mid-battle, emerging safely before you freeze, drown, or run out of oxygen? I’m really not sure, nor am I sure what his plan is for defeating an unending army of the dead by himself. Advanced glowering? Staring contest? Super-swift swordplay? Luckily, none of this becomes an issue, because in the distance, on horseback, a man gallops up swinging a fiery lantern and clocking wights with it willy-nilly. Well, if it isn’t Uncle Benjen! I forgot about him, but showing up to save the day is his thing, like Big scooping up Carrie in his town car. “Uncle Benjen—how?” Jon sputters. No time to explain that—the season is ending! Take my horse, please! I’ve
got this lantern to swing around. I’ll be fine.
Around this time, I got a text from a dear friend that said “THIS EPISODE IS SO DUMB I AM DYING.” Fair enough! Dany is watching anxiously for Jon on the Eastwatch ramparts, where Jorah, too noble right now to be jealous, is telling her it’s time to go. Where the hell are they going in such a hurry? But don’t worry, here’s Jon Snow on that horse; two seconds later, they’re caring for him on a boat, and he’s shirtless. Yowza.
Dany looks at his flagrantly scarred chest, like, A-ha—I knew he was stabbed to death and brought back from the dead! It seems only to increase her affection.
After all of this, you’re probably not expecting that one of the episode’s craziest scenes involves Sansa snooping around in Arya’s room—unless, unlike me, you’d stopped to consider the notion that Arya probably keeps a knapsack full of human faces under her bed. “What are these?” Sansa asks Arya.
“My faces,” Arya says.
In this episode, Arya has basically started strutting around like a total Jaqen H’ghar—a stringy-haired hotshot enamored with her own freakiness. She makes an irritating speech that she ends with dagger in hand, threatening to cut her sister’s face off. “I wonder what it would feel like to wear those pretty dresses, to be the Lady of Winterfell?” she says.
“All I need to find out is your face.” I miss the days of Needle and a little gumption, maybe a pie or two.
That unpleasant scene is followed by a vast improvement. Jon, still shirtless, and Dany are talking about the day’s events, over a fur pelt. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, shaking his head. “I’m so sorry.” He takes her hand. “I wish I could take it back. I wish we had never gone.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t,” she says, kindly. It’s crazy up North; now she knows. The dragons are the only children she’ll ever have, she says. “We are going to destroy the Night King and his army.” Now she’s invested. “And we’ll do it together. You have my word.” Her eyes are glistening with tears. Emotion, Khaleesi! After all this time!
Well, well. He calls her Dany; she laughs; he says, “How about my Queen?” He offers to bend the knee. She protests a bit. This I like—two people not acting like jerks. She cries and says she hopes she deserves it; more tender hand-holding in the fur. “You do,” he says.
O.K., I’ve made a decision here: they should have sex. Yes, they’re secretly aunt and nephew, but, hey, I didn’t invent this creeped-out world. Jon makes an expression of fatigue that reminds us of when he was dead on the slab. “You should get some rest,” she says.
You know who doesn’t need rest anymore? Viserion the dragon. In the final scene, we’re back in Snowtown, where an unusually well-coördinated army of the dead, standing in lines and lugging chains, is hauling Viserion out of the water like a sedan from a lake.
The Night King has a scheme, and I don’t like it one bit. (If only they’d set the rest of Viserion’s body on fire! Benjen really did a sloppy job with that lantern.) In the final moments, Viserion’s eyes open—and they’re as Windex-blue as the Night King’s.
Sometimes kids will break your heart. Next week: the season finale. Things might get weird.
Sarah Larson is a roving cultural correspondent for newyorker.com.
Culled from www.newyorker.com