Everyone knows the penultimate episode of every season of “Game of Thrones” is a doozy, but it’s still hard to prepare one’s self. For Season 7, “Beyond the Wall” not only were fans treated to some of the most mystical encounters to date, but some pretty big heroes laid down their lives in the process.
It was a battle that was almost a decade in the making, and it’s hard to imagine anyone saw it coming. Finally, after years of worrying about both fire-breathing dragons and magical ice zombies, the two sides clashed in an aggressive confrontation that could very well turn the tide of the war against the living. But, before we get into all that, let’s start at the beginning.
The episode opened where fans hoped it would, beyond the wall with the cadre of seven heroes on a mission to capture a wight (not to be confused with a White Walker) so that they’ll have proof of the army of the dead’s existence when it comes time to meet with Cersei. It was so exciting to see warriors like The Hound, Jorah Mormont and Jon Snow together that one could forget how much these men actually have to talk about. Gendry is still mad at Thoros and Beric for selling him to the Red Priestess, Tormund is in love with the same woman that nearly killed The Hound and Jon is carrying a sword that was meant for Jorah. The point being, there’s a lot of subtext to be covered in their little adventure. It could have been boring to watch these people trudge through the snow for a day, but it wasn’t. It felt more like a payoff than anything else. Besides, the action would come.
Not wanting to give viewers too much story beyond The Wall, things shifted back to Winterfell and the tension between the Stark girls. Last week, Arya was set up by Littlefinger into discovering the letter that Sansa was forced to send when she was the Lannister’s captive in King’s Landing. It told Robb Stark to come and bend the knee to Joffrey. Needless to say, this would be pretty damning evidence to present to the lords of the North. Arya confronts Sansa with the information and makes it clear that she can and will ruin her and cause complete dissent in the North if she tries to take the throne from Jon.
Sansa reminds her that the only reason they’re standing in Wnterfell and not the Boltons is because of her. She even goes as far as to say that Jon lost the Battle of the Bastards – and she’s not wrong. The two trade words about their respective experiences since they last saw each other, each believing that the other wouldn’t have survived. However, it’s hard not to side with Sansa. When she speaks with Littlefinger, she seems to only be concerned about losing control of the North in Jon’s absence, not taking the position herself. Meanwhile, all the hardened Arya sees is the silly, boy-obsessed girl she knew before.
In an effort to get the incriminating letter back, she sneaks into Arya’s room and snoops. She doesn’t find a letter, but she does find Arya’s bag of faces. Obviously, this is shocking to the average person and, when discovered, Sansa demands to know what Arya is doing. She explains herself, but in a very threatening way. She explains that whenever she chooses, she could kill and become Sansa. For someone who is upset at her sister for wanting to seize power, she certainly figured out how to do it herself in as few moves as possible. However, she instead gives Sansa the Valyrian steel dagger she got from Brandon Stark and leaves the room.
Meanwhile, Tyrion is hard at work on his mission to convince Daenerys to start thinking with a more merciful head. He doesn’t like that she wiped out the Tarly family, but she refuses to acknowledge that she had a choice in the matter. They both make valid arguments, but it’s Tyrion who gets the upper hand when he mentiones that Cersei will most definitely make Daenerys lose her temper, and if she reacts with fire and blood like she normally does, her entire reign will be built off fear, the same cocktail that Cersei, Tywin and the Mad King had and ultimately lost.
OK, that’s the last of the loose ends and drama, we now go back beyond the wall. Our party of heroes sees a bear in the distance, but Gendry notices that it has blue eyes. It turns out that even creatures can be converted into the army of the dead, a fact that will become incredibly important later. Thoros and Beric do their awesome fire sword trick and manage to light the bear up. However, it charges The Hound and his fear of flames sets in. Thoros leaps to save him, but takes a pretty bad bite to the chest for his trouble. Gravely wounded, but unable to go back, he soldiers on.
Eventually, they stumble upon a small group of wights being led by a single White Walker. Knowing they won’t get a better chance, Jon and company engage. Jon cuts down yet another with his Valyrian steel sword, giving him the highest White Walker body count to date. When he does, however, the remaining wights in the area die, except one that they’re able to subdue. Sadly, their caper attracts the full army, and they’re forced to flee with their new prisoner. Jon sends Gendry back to The Wall to send a distress raven To Daenerys while he leads the rest. In what is perhaps the greatest battle setting since Blackwater Bay, the group runs across some thin ice atop a rock in the center of a lake. The army gives chase, but their weight cracks the ice creating a moat around our heroes.
They spend the night surrounded in a stalemate against the Night King – a night that the injured Thoros doesn’t survive. With that, the first casualty of the encounter is revealed. While they wait, Jon reflects on the White Walker he killed and the wights that fell after. He theorizes that he only needs to kill the Night King, the one that created all of them, to stop the army.
Before a plan can be hatched, the impatient Hound starts chucking rocks at the army, which proves to be a bad idea. Once a sizeable one lands on the ice without breaking it, the dead know they can advance. A battle ensues and the party hits them with everything they’ve got – dragon glass, fire, Valyrian steel and grit. The dead quickly tear through all the party’s red shirt characters before cornering Tormund, The Hound, Beric, Jorah and Jon. Just when it looks like all is lost – you guessed it – Daenerys comes flying in on her dragons.
Everyone theorized what a bout between her dragons and the army of the dead would be like, but it’s hard to imagine anyone expected this. She lays waste to a great portion of them, burning them alive and giving our heroes time enough to get on the back and ready to fly out of there… except Jon.
Possibly thinking he can take a shot at the Night King here and now, Jon goes rogue and starts chopping his way toward the general. The Night King, however, is not paying him any attention, he’s got his sights fixed on a dragon. With one of his magical ice spears and a heck of a throwing arm, he throws one right into a flying dragon, gravely wounding it. The beast screams and gushes blood before falling out of the sky and into the waters below. Daenerys has lost one of her three dragons. Let that sink in.
Realizing that the plan to slowly burn through the army of the dead won’t work as long as those spears are in play, Daenerys can’t wait for Jon, who urges them to leave without him. He’s tackled into the water and the remaining survivors get out of there. Things don’t look good for Jon.
Fortunately for his fans, his many lives don’t run out here. Through presumably grit and stubbornness, he emerges from the water, half freezing. He can barely hold his sword up as he prepares to take on the army by himself, when an old ally reveals himself. Benjen Stark, Jon’s uncle who disappeared beyond The Wall only to later reveal to Bran that he’s become some kind of White Walker/human hybrid, returns. Book readers will know a bit more about Benjen’s story, but for now this is what we have. It doesn’t matter much anyway, as the hero gives Jon a horse and succumbs to the might of the army of the dead in order to cover his escape.
Back at The Wall, just as Daenerys prepares to leave without him, Jon arrives half dead. In order to save him, they must strip off his cold clothes, and that’s when she notices his knife wounds. When he awakens, they’re battle buddies and she agrees to fight the Night King with him while he agrees to bend the knee.
With one dragon lost, one hero lost and one captive wight, things don’t look all that bad for the side of the living. Now, Daenerys and Jon can properly talk things out with Cersei. Episode over, right?
The last scene we see is the army of the dead pulling chains. They’re still at the battlefield, dragging the corpse of the fallen dragon out of the water. With a single touch of his creepy blue hand, the dragon awakens, a wight.
That’s right… Ice dragon.