HBO can't catch a break this year. Two major, game-changing episodes have been leaked ahead of time — although this most recent one was HBO’s own fault — and hackers are threatening to release next week’s finale online, too.
Whether you managed to go into this week’s episode unsullied or not, this battle beyond the wall was exciting to witness, even with the unevenness of the episode as a whole. (Just how fast do Westerosi ravens fly?)
Warning: Spoilers are coming.
One of the main locations we spend time this week is Winterfell. Last week, Arya found Sansa’s letter to Robb, and while we were hoping she would realise Sansa was forced to write it and see through Littlefinger’s plan, this isn’t the case.
Arya aggressively questions Sansa and threatens to show the letter to the Northern lords. Sansa turns to Littlefinger for advice, and he reminds her that Lady Brienne is sworn to protect both Stark sisters, so she should be safe.
Of course, Sansa then immediately sends Brienne south to represent her and Jon at King’s Landing after being summoned there by Cersei. We’re excited for the inevitable reunion between Brienne and Jaime (and Brienne and the Hound), but a bit puzzled by this whole storyline.
Sending Brienne away runs counter to what Sansa and Littlefinger discussed, so we’re still holding out hope that this is a ruse by the Stark sisters and they’re the ones scheming behind Littlefinger’s back. But the most heated exchange between the two takes place in Arya’s room (where Arya essentially threatens to cut off her sister’s face) behind closed doors, so we’re really not sure why they would keep up the pretence of this plot in a private setting, too, if it is just an elaborate ploy to catch Littlefinger in his own game.
We don’t spend much time in Dragonstone this week, aside from an important conversation between Dany and Tyrion that sets up next week’s episode.
Tyrion tries to talk sense into Daenerys and warns her to keep calm during the meeting with Cersei as she’ll likely try to provoke the dragon queen. He also brings up the issue of succession (possibly through democracy) and Jon Snow’s romantic interest in her, perhaps paving the way for an alliance through marriage.
Dany doesn’t respond well to any of these topics, aside from the subject of her and Jon. She refuses to talk about how she’ll secure her hold on the Iron Throne until she actually gets the Iron Throne, and she insists that she isn’t rash or impulsive — and then proceeds to do something incredibly rash and impulsive with dire consequences.
North of the Wall
The bulk of the episode takes place beyond the Wall with Jon, Gendry, Tormund, Jorah, Beric, Thoros and the Hound enacting their questionable plan of capturing a wight to bring to King’s Landing so they can enlist Cersei’s help against the White Walkers.
The group dynamics and history provide some good conversations along the way. Gendry confronts Beric and Thoros about them selling him to Melisandre so she could sacrifice him to the Lord of Light. Tormund warns Jon about letting his pride get in the way of bending the knee, Jorah gets some resolution around his father in a conversation with Jon, and the Hound and Tormund bond over their mutual acquaintance, Brienne. These small conversations all highlight the fact that series seven has foregone little moments like these in favour of streamlining the plot to make up for the shortened series length.
Before they get too far north of the Wall, the group gets attacked by a polar bear wight. We’ve previously seen reanimated horses and giants, and now we’re seeing what other creatures the White Walkers have on their side. Beric and Thoros light the bear on fire with their swords, and the Hound freezes up as he’s confronted by his worst fear again. Thoros saves him but takes some nasty injuries along the way.
As they venture a bit further, the group comes across a small group of wights accompanied by a White Walker. They set a trap, and during the ensuing fight, we make a critical discovery: when you kill a White Walker, all the wights he’s turned also die. Luckily one of the wights traveling in the group was apparently turned by another White Walker because he alone survives, and the group manages to restrain him so they can carry him back to King’s Landing — mission accomplished.
Of course, things can’t be that easy. On the horizon, we can see the giant winter storm which signals the White Walkers approaching. Jon sends Gendry ahead to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daenerys. The rest of the group tries to run back as well, but the White Walkers and their army catch up quickly.
We assume we’re in for another big showdown like Hardhome, but it ends up with our heroes stuck on a rock in the centre of a frozen lake that splinters under the weight of the wights. Instead of battling it out, Jon Snow and company — minus Thoros, who dies from his injuries and the cold — are forced to wait and see if Dany will show up to help them, although Beric proposes another plan: taking out the Night King. If he’s the White Walker who turned all the other White Walkers, it stands to reason that killing him would destroy all of them, thereby taking down the entire army.
Before they can act on this plan and before Dany can arrive, the lake freezes over, allowing the wights to get across the lake. They initially trickle across in manageable numbers, but this eventually turns into a swarm that nearly kills Tormund and quickly overtakes our group, forcing them to fall back to the rock.
Dany and her dragons show up in the nick of time, and they take out a number of wights. Once he’s cleared a space, Drogon lands on the rock so everyone (including the wight, whom the Hound impales on one of Drogon’s spikes) can get on his back aside from Jon, who keeps fighting random wights.
Before Drogon can take off, the Night King picks up an ice spear and throws it at the dragon Viserion, impaling him and killing him instantly. It’s a surprisingly touching scene, with all the human characters looking very saddened by the dragon’s death.
There’s no time to mourn Viserion, however, as there are more spears and the group need to leave. Jon urges the group to fly off since he — like Jaime in episode four — sees a dangerous but clear path to ending the war. Dany and company take off once they realise it’s hopeless for Jon to win this battle and before the Night King can hit Drogon with another spear.
Jon gets pulled under the frozen lake by some wights, but he of course resurfaces — only to be faced by another swarm of wights. Alone and frozen, he starts to face off against them, but he sees someone approaching on a horse and swinging fire. It’s his Uncle Benjen, who gives Jon his horse and sends him back to the Wall while he holds off the wights for a bit longer.
Dany and the rest of the group — aside from the Hound, who’s sailing to King’s Landing with the wight — wait for Jon at Eastwatch. Once he shows up, they immediately get him to their ship and Davos takes off Jon’s frozen clothes to start warming him up. This leads Dany to see Jon’s wounds and that the ‘knife to the heart’ Davos was referring to was literal, not metaphorical.
Once Jon regains consciousness, he and Dany have a touching conversation about her loss. She agrees to fight the White Walkers with him, and he agrees to bend the knee and call her his queen. There are obviously romantic overtones to this conversation, but we’re finding it a bit hard to root for an aunt and her nephew falling in love.
In the last few moments, we jump back north of the Wall and return to the frozen lake, where the wights are using very large chains to heave Viserion out of the water. The Night King touches Viserion and the dragon opens its eyes to reveal he’s been turned.
Whether he breathes fire or ice, we’ll have to find out next week in the 80-minute series finale.