Game of Thrones: 706 “Beyond the Wall” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
With an altered episode count this year, the shows tried and tested formula of a massive shake up in the penultimate episode of the series. Obviously, there is no episode nine this time out, so episode six takes the role. Traditionally the event episodes have taken the form of an epic battle, or a shock character death. This year however the same could be said for virtually every episode of the series as the show accelerates towards its denouement.
The bulk of the narrative follows Jon Snow and his newly formed team as they head Beyond the Wall in search of the undead with the mission to capture one to prove to Westeros that the threat posed by the others is real. Essentially that’s the full story of the episode in a nutshell resulting in what was undoubtedly the thinnest story this year, fleshed out only by some notable character moments. The premise itself is also fundamentally flawed based off the show’s established rules. The Wall stops the undead from crossing into Westeros, so how Jon and co hope to circumvent this should be an issue for the episode. Unfortunately, this is a point which goes completely unaddressed by the story leaving fans to fill in the blanks themselves. Two popular theories are drawn from events of previous series: one states that there is a precedent for the undead crossing the wall in small numbers, as seen way back in season one. Another more popular suggestion is that Bran Stark is responsible due to the events of last season where he is marked by the Night King, weakening the magic that protects the wall allowing the others to pass.
The oversight in the premise is not the only thing that mars the narrative this week as plot convenience makes it very hard to take the episode seriously. It’s perfectly acceptable for there to be the odd issue every now and then, but the story beyond the wall this week gives us four separate talking points which ask the viewer to suspend all reasonable logic. First, we have the issue of the single Wight surviving the scrap at the start whist all the rest die. Not only is this highly unlikely, but it allows the plot to move on. There’s a key revelation made to the team and viewers within the scene: kill a White Walker and all Wights that were re-animated by that White Walker will fall too. Arguably this is one of the most important titbits of information the characters have discovered, so you should question why this wasn’t shared in some way to Daenerys either in the Raven Message or upon her arrival. Speaking of which, the time frame of her arriving to save the day is apparently unrealistic, which is a shame as this could easily have been rectified by the addition of a single line of dialogue.
The battle itself contains the biggest of the four suspensions of belief, as the Night’s King opts to attack a flying dragon whilst Drogon sits as an easier target. The obvious reason for this is that Dany’s favourite dragon obviously has plot armour and was never going to fall here. Unfortunately, this shoehorns the narrative into taking the course of action it did with the Night’s King taking out Viserion, something which should have been one of the show’s most epic moments to date, instead becoming an internet meme. That’s not the only gripe I have with the battle scene, as the choreography is a little lacking at times with it hard to keep track of who’s who, and the fact that the only casualties are Thoros and the two unnamed characters meaning all the main characters make it out unscathed. Naturally given the nature of the episode, comparisons with Hardhome are an inevitability and unfortunately Beyond the Wall comes nowhere near the lofty heights set by its predecessor.
Elsewhere the episode fares a little better with tensions in Winterfell rising rapidly as Littlefinger’s plan to pit the Stark girls against each other seems to be working. There’s a wonderful tense scene between Arya and Sansa where you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happened or how far Arya will go. It’s genuine heart in mouth stuff and probably the tensest scene of the entire episode. By the end of the episode we also see Jon and Dany finally talk about their relationship and get the first signs that there could be something more. There’s some subtle foreshadowing of Jon’s true heritage in the fact that he calls her Dany, something she points out has only ever been done by family.
It’s a very hard episode to score, because by no means is it a bad one. As highlighted above there are issues within the script that do drag the enjoyment of it down somewhat. I feel frustrating is the right description, because the groundwork to get around each is already there, all the episode had to do was so fine tuning to tie these up. That said the episode still delivers what it set out to do and certainly makes the finale look very interesting indeed.