Game of Thrones 7.06: Beyond The Wall
There are spoilers aplenty below... Read at your own peril.
The early leak of tonight's episode of Game of Thrones, Beyond The Wall, means the episode will have already been seen by a few thousand people and so the risk of spoilers from that 'one guy in the office' will have been very high. If you've managed to make it this far unscathed then tonight's episode, directed by Thor: The Dark World's Alan Taylor answers plenty of outstanding questions and ups the ante furthermore.
Starting where last week left us, we find our merry band of Westerosians led by Jon Snow heading north beyond the wall in the search of a solitary White Walker to prove to Daenerys and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms that the threat is real. The hope being that the evidence of the living dead will force them all to join forces.
One thing not mentioned in last week's review is the sheer amount of history and narrative shared between the group. Despite the huge cast of characters it is clear that their stories are now so intertwined that it makes the mind boggle but more importantly makes the camaraderie of the group just that little bit more earned and heartfelt. It's clear the group was bulked out with a few redshirts but the rest of the group are characters we, as viewers, have an affinity for.
As we have already seen Alan Taylor, both in his earlier Thrones work and also his wider oeuvre can clearly and effectively direct a great action scene. This is quickly evident again when the group happen upon a resurrected bear - their first encounter that suggests that the army of the dead are near. A more claustrophobic encounter than we're used to and one that has lasting repercussions as Paul Kaye's Thoros of Myr finds himself being eviscerated by the bear - his injuries are life threatening but not enough to take him out of the action just yet.
While the White Walker-hunters are the focus of episode, there are some moments that sees the lens shift to other storylines and the narrative does stumble slightly. Our first foray south of the wall is to Winterfell where Arya's discovery of Sansa's message to her brother is quickly addressed; pitting the recently reunited sisters against each other. The nefarious plot by Littlefinger would have played out across multiple episodes in previous seasons but this year it's the opposite. This brief aside from the main thrust of the episode does bring the action to a halt - we can't help wondering whether following the single thread of the actions in the North may well have been preferable.
In an episode which could be one of the darkest so far, it's refreshing that the show's humour manages to show through as Tormund Giantsbane decrees his love for Brienne of Tarth to the Hound ("do you know her?!"). The delivery of his lines and his monologues further warm the audience to his character and his journey to win Briennes heart. There's also the highly amusing revelation on how The Brotherhood Without Banners battle the cold by keeping their balls warm the most.
The episode finds its arena in the form of a frozen lake with a large stone structure in the middle of it. Here we see the massed armies of the White Walkers come across our rag tag band of brothers and a stalemate occurs as Gendry is told to get back to the wall in order to inform Daenerys of their predicament. This is where the episode ramps up and you can't help but cheer Gendry as he makes his way on foot towards the wall with his message. These moments, while again driving narrative forward, also serve to reduce the perceived scale of Westeros...
On receiving the message from the wall, Daenaerys quickly makes the decision to take her dragons into battle. She arrives, creates a living hell for the White Army with the corpses of the undead engulfed in dragon flame - this is even more impressive than the Loot Train battle and serves to show just how awesome a weapon the dragons are. It's all looking to easy but things take a shocking and unexpected term as the Night King gets his own back with a javelin throw of epic proportions as he brutally stakes Viserion. Dany can only look on as one of her children slowly sinks beneath the waves. Emilia Clarke always plays her connection to the dragons well and there is real devastation in her eyes as she sees one of her children seemingly die.
In amongst the Dragon annihilation we again get a story beat of 'is Jon dead?' and thankfully he is not, saved by a hooded figure wielding a flaming chain/ball combo which turns out to Benjin Stark. He is put on a horse and arrives back home to recover. Here is where the episode has its one and only stumble, where it 'bends the knee' so to speak. Dany is watching Jon recover and they have a discussion that we have been waiting years for. Cleary both Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington have their characters intricacies down to second nature now but the small exchange although played well with close ups and delicate facial expressions, the moment Jon calls Daenerys 'Dany' and she smiles like a teenager is not becoming of the character and belittles her slightly. The Danny we know would not accept this, a small script fault in what is a wonderful, cinematic episode as a whole.
What happens now in next week's episode is anybody's guess, will it continue to ramp up to leave viewers waiting for another year on the edge of their seats or not? As always we will be there regardless.