Let’s start with the positives. Game of Thrones continues to raise the bar in excellence when it comes to visuals and effects. Cinematography, costume design, CGI, explosions and battles, when combined with Ramin Djawadi’s top-notch music and the cast’s (mostly) exceptional acting creates a sensory feast, and enough of an anchor to keep us engaged through any rough patches in the show.
The bad news is that the writing has officially fallen off. Unreasonably fast pace, convenience, and plot holes have been a problem for a while now (notably since the show has caught up to the source material), but the sheer amount of dei ex machina in this episode alone are pretty much the nail in the coffin.
First off, traveling beyond the Wall to capture a Wight was NEVER a good idea. The sheer stupidity of the plan, as well as the execution, was worthy of a monumental face-palm.
Once the plan was set into motion, the writers seemed confused how to carry it off. What’s worse – they were unable to take the time or dole out the consequences that such a blunder deserved.
Once the group of warriors holed up on the little snow island, Daenerys and dragons had to come to the rescue, that much was clear. Because what other option could there have been? The seven main and near-main characters dying and joining the legions of the dead? (Well, that actually would have been a much more interesting choice.) No, the only thing we know of that could have saved our heroes was the same dragon fire we were intentionally shown recently in the loot train battle during “The Spoils of War”.
The characters narrowly escaped once again, except of course for Thoros of Myr (who was one of the lowest tier characters of the group, and who was the dramatically correct choice out of anyone to die since taking out the group’s healer means no resurrections) and some Westerosi Red-Shirts.
But the consequence is part of what made Game of Thrones so great to begin with. Everything has a consequence, and mistakes are punished. Daenerys and Tyrion even talk about this earlier in the episode.
Don’t think I’m ignoring the elephant – or dragon – in the room. Viserion paid for the human’s blunders here when the Night King expertly hurled an ice javelin at him mid-flight. If you get upset when a Direwolf dies, watching the death of a dragon is even more devastating. A truly mythical and glorious beast – and now there are only two left in the entire world.
What’s worse: now the Night King has an ice dragon to add to his legion of the undead, giants, and polar bears. THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Side note: some people criticize that the Night King missed Drogon while being able to hit Viserion, who was farther away. This is one of the few things in the episode that did not bother me because we saw Drogon hit by a very similar projectile a few episodes back. There was a reason for that: dragons are intelligent and he learned. So when Drogon saw a bolt fly at him he was able to dodge it because he had that experience to draw on. Did plot armor help? Of course! But there’s at least a plausible explanation underneath as well.
Benjen Stark / Coldhands rushes in to save Jon Snow in an offensively opportune moment, and after seeing him for about 30 seconds in this episode and season – and only briefly throughout the show – he sacrifices himself.
Meanwhile, we cut back and forth to Winterfell, where some confusing family drama is slowly playing out.
I understand that Arya and Sansa have been through so many experiences that are as varied as they are traumatic. They have come out the other side of many challenges and become hardened in the process. I get it, but why does it have to be a weird competition? Why do they refuse to see eye to eye? Why are they so defensive that they have been through the worst things? Why don’t they just sit down with each other and talk about what they’ve been through? Even if Arya’s too pissed off, and even if Sansa is too freaked out by her psycho siblings – why in the world would she send Brienne of Tarth away? And why in the seven hells would she confide in Littlefinger!?
The writing in this season makes it impossible to empathize or understand the motivations of these characters. As a result, their sibling rivalry just comes off as annoying. Littlefinger is playing the game in Winterfell, because for some reason no one has ever learned that you can’t trust him – even Sansa despite her own warnings. But that’s all that we know.
I can’t wait for this story line to wrap up. I just hope that Arya doesn’t come out the wrong end of it.
Back Jon and co: the brief and fool-hardy expedition did yield some pleasant and necessary interaction between the warriors. Tormund gushing about Brienne to the Hound was certainly a highlight. Jon offering Longclaw to Jorah and Jorah refusing the sword showed how noble both men were. And the group did snag a wight. Let’s just hope that it was worth it.
The most poignant scene in the entire episode was Jon and Dany on the boat. I have been known to criticize Emilia Clarke’s acting ability, but I also have noted how she and Kit Harrington really make each other shine. It’s true here. I honestly believe – even despite the scattershot writing of the season – that the two characters have fallen in love. I believe that (with a nudge from Tormund reminding him of the mistakes Mance Rayder made in the past) Jon finally submitted to Daenerys’ rule. And I applaud the show for holding onto their romantic and sexual tension rather than diving straight in for a kiss. We got to see these two characters truly vulnerable with each other, and regarding each other as equals.
I never thought I would be rooting for two family members to get together so badly, but boy do I want Daenerys and Jon to be together.
My final thought: Considering this was the penultimate episode of the season, it was particularly disappointing. Such episodes in the past have included epic battles (Blackwater, Bastards, the Wall). While we did watch a small group of men fight off some ice zombies for a while, the Loot Train Battle dwarfed this one. Past penultimate episodes have also had shocking deaths – Ned Stark’s beheading and the Red Wedding to name a few. Certainly, the dragon’s death was serious, but this season has not had any main character die.
Only one episode of the season remains, and everything is coming to a head. We will see whether some heads will roll, or if the writers have some more easy outs in store for our characters.
Draconic prediction: The book prophesy regarding the three-headed dragon did make some people believe that Daenerys, Jon, and perhaps Tyrion would all ultimately ride one each. That option is obviously off the table now. I believe that one more dragon – Rhaegal more likely than not – will have to die. Then Daenerys and Jon will ride Drogon together: the three heads of the dragon.