The Reel World generally does not like to write reactionary articles to television shows (especially individual episodes of television). We find that it’s more valuable to actually give shows time to breathe and for us to wait to share our opinions. We do of course sometimes break that rule, but something, something, something guidelines more than actual rules. Well, I am *really* breaking that rule here because I’m not even waiting for the season 7 finale of Game of Thrones before I tear apart the season’s penultimate episode. It got my dander up that much.
While the penultimate episode of the seventh season of Game of Thrones featured a number of great scenes, moments, and action beats, it was a complete mess of an episode overall. It was so bad that it would be completely reasonable to question whether or not the show is still capable of sticking the landing in the final seven episodes. What follows are eight reasons why this episode was fucking stupid.
1. The Entire Premise for the Mission Beyond the Wall
Team Dany and Team Jon Snow managed to convince themselves in a manner of minutes without much debate of this dumbass fucking plan.
Team Dany effectively proved at The Loot Train Battle they will have no problem defeating Team Cersei and that the war is effectively over. They had all the power at this point in time and were in a position to demand pretty much anything from Team Cersei in exchange for letting them live out their days in some semblance of respect and comfort.
They for some reason though feel the need to convince Cersei at this point in time to stop fighting the war for Westeros because the Army of the Dead is approaching the (impenetrable) Wall. Instead of just demanding Cersei stop fighting the war or quickly wiping her and her army out, they think they can convince her to stop this war by providing an animate zombie.
They decide on this plan despite the fact that Varys’ spies and Tyrion himself should be able to know that Cersei, never exactly the most rational leader, is acting with irrational, reckless abandon of late. Based on that foolish assumption that Cersei will be open to reason, they agree to risk the lives of Jon Snow and Jorah Mormont in order to execute this suicidal plan.
This was all a long way of saying that the very premise of this episode was based on idiotic decision-making disguised as a “plan” which just serves to make the consequences of the mission beyond the wall have less impact and meaning. While it was very sad to see one of the dragons die the way it did, the death felt more frustrating due to the rushed stupidity of the storytelling than tragic for the foolhardiness for which the animal died.
2. The Cynical Use of Redshirts
The people making Game of Thrones clearly knew that there was no way this ridiculously suicidal mission beyond the wall could not result in every character surviving. They also clearly recognized that none of the main characters (no, Thoros was not a main character) were at the point where their stories were ready to be concluded.
What’s a show to do? Insert a number of Redshirts (who were not even clearly established to be physically present when the mission started last episode) to die in order to prove that the situation is dangerous. That is so not Game of Thrones.
3. Arya and Sansa’s Forced Drama
There is a certain amount of logic to the fact that Sansa and Arya have not been buddy-buddy since their reunion a few episodes ago. First off, they were never really all that fond of each other, and they never got a chance to grow out of that together as siblings often do. Secondly, they had both been through some very traumatic experiences in the five seasons since they had last seen each other, and those experiences clearly informed their reluctance to accept who the other had grown into. All well and good.
WITH THAT BEING SAID, it appears that these two characters who have grown wise beyond their years during the course of the show, are being easily outwitted by Littlefinger* and a scheme so silly that neither Sansa, nor Arya should be falling for in the slightest. The fact that Sansa is responding to it by sending Brienne away and letting Littlefinger get closer to her is making it all the worse.**
*Why is Littlefinger getting bogged down in the weeds of the feuding Stark girls? Is this his plan to convince Sansa to marry him? Seems very shortsighted and reckless of him either way.
**Now, there is a chance that Arya and Sansa are playing Littlefinger here, but that seems like a stretch since they are acting so harshly towards each other when there is no reason for them to believe that they are being watched.
It’s revealed in this episode that if you kill the White Walkers, all the zombies they created collapse when they are killed. This leads to the logical conclusion that by killing The Night King, there is chance that the entire Army of the Dead will be killed along with him due to the theory he is, in a somewhat roundabout way, responsible for all of their existences.
While an extended battle sequence featuring the armies of Westeros systematically killing as many zombies as humanly possible does not really sound all that interesting, the idea that this zombie army, which has been progressively teased more and more over the course of seven seasons, will be wiped out simply by killing one of them seems like a very wet fart of an ending to that particular thread of the show.
With that being said, it’s still not perfectly clear how the Army of the Dead story will be wrapped up. At this point though, it does seem distinctly possible that we’re heading in a direction similar to the final battle of Mordor. Westeros sends their armies to take on the zombies in order to give someone (Jon Snow, in all likelihood) the chance to
drop the ring in Mount Doom assassinate The Night King.
The show may have written themselves into a corner here where they either have to earnestly do an all-out zombie battle or do the cop-out of only having to kill one specific zombie to save everyone. This late of a reveal for something like that will feel like a major cop-out.
5. Creating Death-Defying Situations That Our Main Characters Have to Survive
While Game of Thrones made their reputation based on the death of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding which established that our main characters and traditional heroes could die long before the end of the whole story, the show has never *had* to kill off characters to tell satisfying and meaning stories (see Water, Black).
The show clearly recognizes that they do not have to kill characters in order to give their stories meaning which is great, but they have now unfortunately gone too far on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The show has fallen into the habit of continuously creating certain-death situations for our main characters to survive time and time again. More than that though, they are throwing in these moments at times where it would make no sense for the characters to die which is making their survivals seem even more hollow.
Jon Snow had to way too much story left to tell to not survive the assassination from his Night’s Watch underlings. Jon Snow was also not going to be resurrected only to be killed by Ramsay fucking Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards. We did not spend two season with Arya in Essos only for her to be killed by multiple knife wounds to the stomach from a one-dimensional Faceless Assassin “character.” Jaime Lannister was not gonna be burned to death by a dragon before he had a chance to finally conclude his journey with Cersei. Dany was not gonna be killed by Jaime and a damn spear nine episodes before the show ended.
Sandor Clegane was not brought back to the show just to be killed by a zombie five episodes later. Jorah Mormont did not survive becoming a Rock Monster only to have a rushed death two episodes later. Gendry was not gonna be brought back after being missing for three seasons only to die two episodes later. Even Tormund Giantsbane wasn’t going to die before he got to see “Brienne of fucking Tarth” at least one final time.
And obviously, Jon Snow after surviving fucking DEATH was not gonna die in “Beyond the Wall.”
Game of Thrones does not need to be killing off their main characters willy nilly (they do that enough with the supporting characters). But they also really need to stop creating near-death situations for their characters when there is no storytelling justification for their death to happen yet.
6. Sansa Sends Brienne Away
Unless it’s revealed that Sansa has some ridiculously coy master plan or that Arya has somehow found a way to make a Sansa face without killing Sansa, then the decision for Sansa to send away Brienne from Winterfell was absolutely one of the dumbest tactical decisions made by Sansa yet. You don’t give away the best bodyguard in the world when your demon sister is threatening to completely end you. What the hell.
7. Space and Time Continues to be Meaningless
Since episode 1 of season 7, it’s been made clear that the show has opted to no longer operate at the methodical pace that was its trademark for the great majority of the first six seasons. Characters now move from location to location at a pace that suggests Westeros is the size of New Jersey instead of the large continent it’s always been explained to be.
The show has not just continued that fast pace established in the season premiere though. They seemingly double down every episode until it’s gotten to the point in the last two episodes where ALL sense of tension has been undercut due to the ridiculous pacing issues.
The fact that Gendry ran to the wall, sent a raven, and Dany arrived via dragon to save everyone in this episode in such a compressed timeframe in this episode was so frustratingly distracting.
And it would have been so simple to just have the plan be Dany waiting at Eastwatch with her dragons or for Dany to decide at the beginning of the episode that she would rather wait there than at Dragonstone. Blarfingar.
8. The Blink-And-You-Miss-It End of Benjen Stark
While Benjen Stark was never going to be a major player in the Game of Thrones universe, he certainly always had the potential to play a pivotal (or at least substantive) role somehow. After his mysterious disappearance in season 1, he was established as someone who had more to do in this world. His return in season 6 to help Bran confirmed that.
In “Beyond the Wall,” he made an logistically inexplicable return here to save Jon Snow who ended up all on his own against the entire zombie army. Benjen threw Jon on his horse and then refused to get on too because, “there’s no time.” From there he walked to certain death while taking a few zombies with him.
It was not filmed in a way to suggest that there was no time. The zombies never even chased after Jon. And Benjen was given no story time to explain why he might just simply opt to end his time in purgatory after doing one last good deed for his family. In other words, his death here neither felt like a earned conclusion to his (small) story or like a logical consequence of the situation he was in.
The magically (literally) alive, younger brother of Ned Stark deserved more than this cameo death. If the show was not going to conclude his story in a meaningful manner, it almost certainly would have been better to just leave his character dangling instead of closing the loop. We don’t always need to know why there are polar bears on The Island or what happened to The Russian.
Bonus: Jon Snow Telling Everyone to Fall Back When They’re on a Rock “Island” Surrounded by Ice and Zombies
Fall back where, Jon? Fall back where?