Small Council: What did we think of “Beyond the Wall?”

“Beyond the Wall,” the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones season 7, aired this past Sunday. What did we think of it? Read our thoughts below, tell us yours in the comments, and vote in the poll!

DAN: So. This episode. I feel like we’ve been on a journey processing this one since it aired.

I’m having trouble putting my thoughts into words because most of my thoughts are negative. There were definitely good things. I liked Tyrion’s conversation with Daenerys. I understood why he wanted to talk about succession, and I understood why mention of her inability to have kids would make Daenerys uncomfortable — I wonder if she’s more or less likely to want to discuss it now that one of her “children” has died. I liked the scene with Jon and Dany on the boat — Emilia Clarke sold Dany’s heartache, and it’s good to see her and Jon forming bonds of trust. And of course I enjoyed seeing the dragons torch wights, because how’s that not fun?

We’ve talked a lot this week about all the little inconsistencies and implausibilities in the episode. But while a few bugged me, I think they stood out more than usual because the wight hunt as a whole just felt odd and forced from the start. I could feel the episode reaching for it. I could feel it straining to accommodate this plot, not because the story demanded it happen but because the show needed to get from Point A from Point B and didn’t mind taking shortcuts. “Beyond the Wall” was where the season’s reduced episode count caught up to it. It didn’t help that the execution was less-than-perfect, but I think the problem went deeper than that. Now that it’s over and the Night King has his weapon, I’m hoping things straighten themselves out a bit.

None of which means it wasn’t fun hearing Tormund talk about all the babies he’s going to make with Brienne, by the way.

Weirdly, I found myself liking the Winterfell scenes on rewatch. Arya and Sansa have felt off ever since Arya returned to Winterfell, so I decided to just go with it and enjoy the creepiness of Arya advancing on her sister with a knife and threatening to cut off her face. I think of it like this: I have a brother with whom I did not get along at all when I was a kid. Even today, after we’ve both done a lot of growing, I find it very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if he deserves it. I think that’s where Arya’s at, only her feelings are exacerbated by the post-traumatic stress of seeing her father die. I know I’m reaching, but at least the scenes make me want to reach.

The floor is open.

Helen Sloan – HBO

BROOKE: This episode was a tough one. Watching the Night King kill Viserion ranks as one of the top three most traumatizing moments in the show for me, and the potential damage an ice dragon will be able to inflict on Westeros is too harrowing to contemplate just yet.

The Sansa/Arya conflict continues to be both disturbing and puzzling. I don’t like to see them pitted against each other, but the “why” of it is the most troubling aspect. Sansa tried to explain the context of the scroll to Arya but Arya refused to give Sansa one iota of the benefit of the doubt. Why? I realize they had issues with each other as children and that Arya doesn’t trust Sansa’s motives, but why is she so antagonistic towards her? What is she trying to accomplish?

And why did Sansa take Littlefinger’s hint and send Brienne away at the first opportunity? I want to believe (tm Mulder) that Sansa has good intentions and is playing the long game with Littlefinger in an attempt to outmaneuver him, but I’m doubtful. The only good thing that can come from Brienne being sent to King’s Landing is a Brienne/Jaime reunion.

I loved the Jon/Dany scene on the ship. It was nice to see Dany be vulnerable for a change and express some humanizing self-doubt. Jon’s decision to bend the knee to her will probably go over like a lead balloon with the Lords of the North, but it will be interesting to see what happens when he gets back to Winterfell.

My favorite scene of the episode was the conversation between the Hound and Tormund about Brienne. It provided some much-needed comic relief from the darkness of dragon death and Stark strife. As a tall woman myself, I totally understand Brienne’s discomfort in her own skin. I love that Tormund lusts after her for the very qualities that have made her feel like a lumbering curiosity in Westerosi society, and hope she can learn to appreciate him in return. If nothing else, they would be a formidable pair on the battlefield.

COREY: I think my enjoyment of the episode falls pretty closely in line with Dan’s. There were plenty of things this episode got right, but many that it got wrong. Each time I watch the episode, I enjoy it as I’m watching it. The visceral nature of the events leaves little time for dissection, but afterward…

First, I love all of the conversations between our suicide squad as they marched north. The Hound was severely missed during his season 5 absence. I love his dry pragmatism and clever wit. Whinging is my new favorite word, and I’m hoping they stick that on a t-shirt soon. (Seems they already have.) It was a lot of fun to see new characters connect, which I suppose should be expected since their numbers keep dwindling.

To me, nothing was more emblematic of the sloppiness of this episode than the use of dragonglass weapons by our heroes. The first words out of Jon Snow’s mouth this season were about dragonglass, Jon went to Dragonstone to get dragonglass, Tyrion used the dragonglass as a goodwill gesture, we saw them mine dragonglass…I could go on and on about how important they made dragonglass out to be, and yet when it finally came down to using it, many people, including myself on first viewing, didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing.

It’s a problem when many of your viewers don’t understand a fundamental plot point like that. A simple comment from one of the characters could have explained it. There were plenty of other instances of sloppy mistakes, like where the hell they got all those chains, but the dragonglass stood out to me.

All of this becomes especially frustrating when you consider that they were all self-imposed mistakes. HBO was practically begging Benioff and Weiss for more episodes, but the duo choose to give us seven episodes of wildly differing lengths instead of the normal 10. I’m hoping that the season 7 finale will rectify a lot of the issues we’ve had so far with the season, but I don’t think it’s likely.

RICHARD: It feels like I liked “Beyond the Wall” overall a little more than Dan and Corey, although they are by no means trashing it. Most of my problems were with the Winterfell storyline. I thoroughly enjoyed the extended bromance section of the suicide squad’s march north, even though in some ways it felt like they quickly had to acknowledge the reunion of so many long-separated characters. It was well-written and the lightness worked for me, with the highest points going to the Jorah Mormont-Jon Snow exchange and the wonderful humor in the conversation the Hound and Tormund had about Brienne. It was all good stuff, on a boy scout camping trip into hell’s jamboree.

I’ve also felt the “let’s go nab a wight” storyline has been forced ever since the lousy idea spilled out of Tyrion’s mouth, and in this episode it got messy with the establishing of White Walker-wight rules. I enjoyed the drawn out battle sequence on the ice lake despite some inconsistencies, like how Jon was unable to board the Drogon 747 when everybody else could manage it. As for the chains and hooking them to Viserion underwater, you gotta figure the Night King has been round forever so he’s collected immense amounts of stuff, like massive chains. Plus, if his wight army reflects his ability to raise anything dead that might have been frozen in a glacier since the Westerosi Jurassic period, you have to think he’s got a lot of variety in his ranks (wight-mermaids or wight-seals, anyone?) Yeah, but I don’t know how he did it, either.

I’m also totally in on Jon and Daenerys getting together. Their scene on the ship was tender and warm and grimdark Game of Thrones needs this kind of love affair to balance things out. Remember the wonderful moments we got from the Dany/Drogo and Jon/Ygritte romances? Let’s give these two kids a break, now that the pain of those losses are behind them, and let’s see the Dragon and the Wolf form a personal alliance along with the strategic one.

As for my Winterfell problem, I’m with Brooke: the Sansa dynamic has been an issue for me almost ever since she returned home with Jon. She may not be as experienced in the great game as she thinks she is, but she’s smart. Jon is smart. These two characters understand leadership, and they’d never air their dirty laundry and argue in front of the northern lords they way they have done. Jon and Sansa would work everything out beforehand to present a united front to their followers. It all felt artificial to me, making these characters dumber to generate conflict. Now, Arya’s immediate, unmotivated, bat-s**t crazy aggression towards Sansa feels uncharacteristic, and once again a clunky effort to generate conflict in the Sansa-Arya-Littlefinger triangle.

Would the producers have benefited from a few more episodes in order to slow things down and provide more space to seed these conflicts? It seems unlikely, since HBO had already given them all the room in the series expansion sandbox they ever could have wanted. And while “Beyond the Wall” may have stumbled, we’ve also been served a number of masterpieces or near-masterpieces this season, including “The Queen’s Justice,” “The Spoils of War” and “Eastwatch.” I’m hoping the story glitches evidenced in “Beyond the Wall” have now worked themselves out, and the dramatic narrative locomotive will be back on track at full power in “The Dragon and the Wolf.”

MOLLY: For an episode that was supposed to be the big penultimate hour, it felt like a let down, at least until the very end when we see that Viserion had turned into a White Flyer (I will never stop using that).

So…the Suicide Squad — or the Night’s Brothers or North Direction — went to find a wight. Maybe I’m not sentimental enough, but I was expecting someone BIG to die. Tormund, the Hound, Gendry or Jorah, specifically. I was sad when Thoros died, but I wasn’t shocked. Maybe that’s what happens when you watch a show known for killing characters — you get upset when there’s not enough death.

To me, all the scenes beyond the Wall weren’t as serious as they could have been. I loved the bromances, especially between the Hound and Tormund. It was great to see just how in love with Brienne is.

But the time on the rock with the wights surrounding them? Realistically, how were they supposed to wait for Gendry to go aaaaaall the way to Wall, send a raven, wait for Daenerys, and not freeze to death? And then there was the Hound trying to start a snowball fight with the army of the dead…doesn’t he know he’ll never win? The writers can claim that this is nitpicking, but when there are this many problems to point out, it becomes an issue.

The sisters’ argument…I’ve come to the conclusion that something’s up that we don’t know about, that they’re playing LittleFinger because what the hell, guys? Sansa didn’t stand up there during Ned’s execution and smile — she was being held back by someone while Ned was being beheaded.

If they were my children, or my younger sisters, I would tell them to sit down and shut up and listen to what the other went through. This petty childish BS that we had in the beginning of the episode is exactly what we don’t need now and is only playing into LIttlefinger’s hands.

As for Daenerys and Jon…I’m firmly on that ship. Sorry guys.

JULIA: What an honor to take part in the Small Council for the first time, guys. But getting to the point here: this episode feels bittersweet to me. As well as Richard, it was a very thrilling experience to watch it for the first time, so I enjoyed it quite a lot then. I was alone at home but had several of the reactions we see on bar videos in scenes like the zombie bear attack, the almost-death of Tormund and the dragon entrance (which always brings excitement). I even felt glad to see Uncle Benjen Deus-Ex-Machina-ing, mostly because he simply had to reunite with Jon at some point of the show — they have a history, after all. It felt right that he was the one who went to his rescue.

The bitter part is acknowledging that Benioff and Weiss made a choice that changes to some degree the focus of the show. It’s clear now that they would rather spend time and money filming extraordinary action sequences instead of investing those same resources in telling a slow-burning story over the course of a full 10 episodes. Unfortunately for me, it seems like this decision led the production to put aside what I always felt was the best thing in Thrones: the character development.

Let’s take the example of my favorite scene from “Beyond the Wall”: the Jonerys ship. I really liked it, mostly because I’d been missing these important characters interactions throughout the season. These are what make the characters human for me. The show has been lacking moments that showed us what the “good side” is fighting for in the first place, such as the opportunity to experience love or raise a family. But some fans have deemed this relationship forced, probably because we haven’t seen the same lingering stares that Davos and Tyrion have. Even though it was a touching and beautiful scene, the timing wasn’t right.

This is the point we should all pull a Sansa on D&D and say that although it must feel really “satisfying” to have zombie bears and great battles every other episode, this is not how you make up for shorter seasons. Let’s hope they make it right in the movie-length season finale and that they present more narrative delight to us in season 8.

SARAH: Something we have come to expect from Game of Thrones is that when it comes to large action scenes, the show knows how to deliver. Since season 2’s “Blackwater,” we’ve been treated to a steady procession of thrilling sequences, each one improving on the last, and with that in mind, I have to say that the action sequence in this episode was the most disappointing facet of a sloppy, overzealous mess of an episode.

The writing for the episode was poor in several parts, and the fact that Alan Taylor asked us to suspend our disbelief in reference to the unfeasible timeline because “there are dragons” is a little insulting. As far as I’m aware, the presence of dragons should have no bearing on Gendry’s ability to sprint a great distance like he’s got a rocket shoved up his bottom. Genre should not act as a stand-in for common sense. A lot of the episode didn’t make sense. The least the showrunners can do is own it.

When I wasn’t rolling my eyes at the unending number of deux ex machina moments, I wished at several points that Miguel Sapochnik had been at the helm. With his untouchable flair for heart-stopping thrills, I feel like his influence would, at the very least, have given us more to enjoy from a visual standpoint. The fight scene would have been great in an earlier season, but coming off the back of the Battle of the Bastards and the Loot Train Attack, the entire sequence was rather flat. I feel as if Viserion’s death was used as a crutch to prop up the episode and make up for a lack of innovation in any other regard. It’s fine, I guess. But only fine.

Speaking of, I didn’t care about Viserion’s death. I have never — even in the days when I was a big fan of Dany’s — been remotely interested in the dragons, and like all weapons of mass destruction, I’d rather see them destroyed than watch them flourish. I also felt that the death itself was undercut by the fact that Daenerys has rarely paid a blind bit of attention to Viserion or Rhaegal, for which I blame the writers, not her. Daenerys is supposed to love all three of her ‘children’ passionately, yet the last time she had any proper interaction with Viserion, she was locking him in a crypt. Poor form on the part of the showrunners.

There were parts I liked, though. Jorah and Jon’s interaction was my personal highlight. The Mormonts have had such a huge impact on Jon over the course of his journey and it seems only right that he and Jorah meet, bond, and support one another through such a treacherous situation. It’s also wonderful to see the Hound, who never gets enough time on screen and had a genuinely funny moment with Tormund. As far as Winterfell is concerned, I understand why Arya is acting the way she’s acting because she hasn’t been privy to what we as an audience have witnessed, which is Sansa’s growth since they were separated in season 1. However, the entire Stark sister plot has been badly handled, mainly because it was rushed. A 10-episode season would have rectified this problem, but alas, this is one of those cases where it’s painfully obvious that the show is no longer taking guidance from the novels.

I also really enjoyed Daenerys’ scenes this week. She had some brilliant moments in this episode — not only did she showcase her bravery and determination to be the heroine of her own story, her treatment of Tyrion during their private chat demonstrated her growing paranoia and her short temper, and the juxtaposition between these two sides of her character was very well-presented. She remains at a crossroads, and could go either way in season 8, when she will inevitably learn that she no longer has any birthright to speak of. Though the writers dropped the ball regarding her relationship with Viserion and Rhaegal, her writing has been very strong overall.

RAZOR: Yes, I know I’m late, but let’s get right into it, shall we? Take the Black Podcast panel member Cory Thone put it best on this week’s episode when he said:

It was like I was 12 years old, watching Cinemax late-night soft-porn. Only, my parents didn’t pay for Cinemax, and the old cable box would let me watch what I could only imagine was boobs through a blanket of squiggly lines and television snow. I didn’t really know what I was watching, but goddammit, I had a boner.

That’s the best compliment I can give “Beyond the Wall.” I didn’t really understand what I was watching, but I sure got a raging nerd boner from it.

Obviously, Viserion dying absolutely gutted me, and what made it worse was watching and hearing his siblings — Drogon and Rhaegal — roar in pain at the loss, as well as how Rhaegal flew just above Viserion as he fell to his death, pulling up just as his egg-mate hit the ice and sank into the water below.

However, the one actor who sold that scene more than any of the all-star, award-winning talents on screen was Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) as he turned to look at Daenerys’ reaction. His eyes told a story of heartbreak and loss for the woman he loves and admires, and for the dragon he’d known since it came out of the fire in the season 1 finale, crawling up Dany’s leg.

The rest of the foibles in the episode are just that: foibles. Unexplained and messy plot holes piled on top of insane and visceral action. Let’s hope the finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” makes all the nonsense of the past two episode seem like a bad dream.

What did you think of “Beyond the Wall?”