22nd Aug2017

‘Game of Thrones 7×06: Beyond The Wall’ Review

by Steven Riley

SPOILERS: This review contains key plot points from episode six of season seven, Beyond The Wall. If you haven’t yet seen the episode then watch it before you read this recap.

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With this being the penultimate episode of the most explosive, fast-paced and set-piece packed season yet, things were sure to go down with a bang.

While Eastwatch had excelled last week by temporarily putting the knives away and dowsing the flames to focus on a few of the dynamics between characters and verbal sparring, it also served to move the pieces around and setup an action-packed hour-and-a-bit with Westeros’ own Expendables.

The episode had it’s memorable moments and a number of important events that will serve to change the landscape in the war against the White Walkers but unfortunately, like the whole idea of a frosty expedition to retrieve a lone, undead soldier, ‘Beyond The Wall’ wasn’t very logical and focussed a bit too much on dumb fun.

Action-wise it didn’t really put a foot wrong – watching the Magnificent Seven battle against zombie bears and a thousand strong army with the help of three dragons never was going to be dull – and some parts of the show were exhilarating as show highlights Hardhome, The Red Weddings and the battle at the wall or Blackwater. But unfortunately it all too quickly devolved into a bro-fest where you eventually got the feeling that there wasn’t all that much as stake and the events of the show had been choreographed to give the audience some CGI action-porn rather than a tense showdown that had developed naturally.

From the moment Jon and co were surrounded on a small island as they accidentally wondered into the entire Night King’s army and our King in the North proclaimed Daenarys and the dragons were their only chance of salvation, you felt as if you knew where the episode was going. We knew we would see swordplay, one-liners and some ice-melting from the Dragon Queen and her winged beasts, but unlike earlier seasons where such a battle would have left us with our heart rate beating faster than Gendry’s little legs it all felt a bit disappointing compared to the best episodes of the past few seasons.

This was partly down to a lack of fear for the central characters. For a suicide mission to a glacial wasteland against a legion of monsters to end with the death of a character we’ve met only a handful of times and one of Daenarys’ dragons – an event that many had predicted would take place this season – feels a bit underwhelming, especially considering the show had previously prided itself on making the audience fear their favourite character could die at any moment.

It was never going to be Jon – having been resurrected only last season and clearly having a huge say in the show’s endgame – and killing off Gendry would have felt cheap after just being reintroduced back into the show after his long row. The Hound’s ability to see events in the flames – while a stretch considering his unsentimental mindset before – is arguably enough to justify his survival as well.

But it’s amazing that Jon’s main bromance Tormund, or Jorah, the man undertaking the mission as someone willing to die for his queen, or Berric, a man apparently willing to die for more or less anything as he was willing to charge the Night King would all make it through unscathed, with the former even surviving being dragged by a group of enemies strong enough to literally rip a nameless extra apart.

And why were there so many plot-holes or uncharacteristic decisions? Why wouldn’t the gang ride out on horseback? Why wouldn’t the Night King go for the stationery Drogon carrying a queen rather than a moving target in midair? Where did those chains comes form?

It made the whole episode feel like fan-service or meme-fodder and reduced a number of previously complex characters like those named above into nothing more than catchphrases. Perhaps it is a necessary sacrifice to tie things up, or a result of the decision to reduce the number of episodes (one that is looking worse and worse all the time), but the lack of travelling time that has been previously bemoaned and eagerness to quickly set up huge battles rather than let the naturally unfold makes it feel like we’re missing the world-building, character development and grounded realism (in an unreal world) that has previously made the Game of Thrones so great. It also means the show is in danger of straying into the territory The Walking Dead often ambles into – waiting for characters to become unimportant to the story or simply too one-dimensional before killing them off and relying on cliffhangers (Bronn and Jaime in full armour both survive? Really?) and detracting from a tension the show runners had done so well to build.

That’s not to say that’s all there was to it; for the most part it was an enjoyable battle in the snow. On top of that, things seem to be reaching a boiling point between the Stark sisters as Brienne is no longer there to keep them from each other’s throats (wouldn’t it make for a shock if it was Arya dressed as Sansa rather than the Lady of Winterfell who sent her and Pod away), resulting in a tense scene that would suggest the North is anything but secure.

Moments like that, as well as the choreographed fight-scenes and gratuitous violence, are what make the show great. One thing that has always set it apart is that a betrayal, revealed secret or even conversation between two characters was often more interesting than a skirmish or grizzly death.

If the end result is as rushed or as illogical as this, those weighty moments and revelations we wait so long won’t feel quite so significant.

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