by: Geoffrey Golia and Michael Shields
With the opening of an enormous eye, the playing field has dramatically changed in a thrilling episode of Game of Thrones entitled “Beyond the Wall”…
MCS: I feel confident in stating that Game of Thrones once again delivered the goods in this season’s penultimate episode entitled “Beyond the Wall,” which, as the title aptly implies, escorted viewers deep into the frozen lands that exist beyond the Wall, and face-to-terrifying-face with the colossal Army of the Dead. The first half of this week’s episode was, to me, dialogue-driven bliss, where the elite members of the GoT All-Star team, engaged in a mission to capture a White Walker, get to know each other a little better. These encounters, which include unforgettable, stirring moments between Jon and Tormund (“you spent too much time with the free folk, now you don’t like kneeling”), Jon and Jorah (“I forfeited the right to claim this sword, it’s yours”), the Hound and Tormund (“you have sad eyes”), and Jon and Beric (“you and I won’t find much joy while we’re here”), that were as captivating as they were delightful. They could have continued with those sort of conversations all episode as far as I was concerned, and I’d be as happy as could be. But, what am I going on about, as come next episode there will be an undead dragon (Viserion) flying around fucking Westeros! Is all of Westeros just flat-out fucked? How the hell do you kill an ice dragon and what do you make of this bombshell of a development?
G.G.: I wonder how much of that dialogue was necessary for the purpose of exposition versus humanizing the group and building a sense of camaraderie, at least from the viewer’s perspective. I suspect the latter, particularly because we didn’t really learn anything new that is relevant to the larger story playing out (though, it was nice to get a piece of dialogue about the Greyjoy Rebellion and Thoros’ drunken heroics). That makes sense because if this rag-tag bunch of misfits just shows up in front of an Army of the Dead, kicking ass and taking wights, and saving each other while some die in dramatic fashion, I think it would seem inauthentic. With that said, I’m happy to know that: (1) sex is an adequate way to keep warm north of the Wall, (2) Jorah is not susceptible to frostbite but is susceptible to some sense of honor, (3) up until his last, boozy breath, Thoros was committed to his “top-bun,” and (4) Sandor is quite the wordsmith, teaching Gendry the definition of “whinging” and letting Tormund know that “dick” is an acceptable synonym for “cock.” (Also, I don’t know that I’ll ever get over Tormund saying, “I want to make babies” with Brienne of Tarth, even if he did pronounce her name wrong.)
But, clearly, all of that dialogue, including Sansa and Arya’s, and Dany and Tyrion’s (as tense as they were), took a backseat to the tragic death and icy resurrection of Viscerion — I guessed as much given that Jon will most likely ride Rhaegal (you know why), and Drogon is Dany’s dragon. Viscerion’s death, which was far more depressing than that of the prince after whom he was named, is important for a few reasons. Foremost, it makes the Night King and his forces that much more potent, as he turned what seemed like merely an Allied loss into an Axis gain. On the flip side, it has made Daenerys that much more resolute in her determination to join Jon in his fight against the Army of the Dead, as she has not only seen this army with her own eyes now, but lost one of her “children” to it. We all know what happens when Dany sets her mind on something, so regardless of the outcome of the King’s Landing peace summit: It. Is. On. (As an aside, these developments also put to bed the theory that Tyrion, being a secret Targaryen, will ride Viscerion.)
Since we’re beyond the books, I have to rely on my knowledge of fantasy tropes and medieval-themed video games to speculate on zombie-Viscerion’s arsenal of weapons. Clearly, he is a large, flying nightmare, so psychologically, he’s going to freak everyone the fuck out (especially with the Night King riding him). Additionally, he will probably retain the physical strength and agility he had previously. While human wights are clunky zombies, we’ve seen many of the animals turned by the Night King maintain their ferocity and agility (see, for instance, the zombie-polar bear from this episode). Finally, Viscerion can’t breathe fire anymore; that would be silly. Since he’s clearly a zombie ice dragon, and in Final Fantasy I for NES ice dragons breathed, well, ice, then what will come forth will probably be a stream of ice, which will make a really cool scene when it slams against a stream of fire from Drogon or Rhaegal.
As for how you kill a zombie ice dragon, I imagine it would susceptible to the same weaponry and materials as the Others: Valyrian steel, dragonglass, fire, and other dragons of the traditional variety…though, interestingly, not manic 4:00am Tweetstorms. Here the breadth of Martin’s work can give us some clues. When he released The Princess and The Queen in 2013 — a novella about an early Targaryen Civil War — we saw just how brutal dragon-on-dragon fighting can become. Additionally, when we watched the “Field of Fire 2.0” a few weeks back, we saw Drogon injured (perhaps nearly killed) by a bolt from the scorpion. Finally, Viscerion seemed to have been the smallest of the trio and this could be a factor moving forward, as well as the fact that he is outnumbered. So, dragons appear to have their own narrow set of vulnerabilities, and only time will tell whether this zombie ice dragon can live up to the hype.
MCS: This question is more broad in its scope, but I am wondering about the Night King. Now that he is actively engaging, and on the verge of an all out war with the living, I am curious just exactly what his motivation is for all this aggression? What do we know about the Night King’s aims? Is he just set on “assimilating” (that was for all my Star Trek:TNG brethren) the entire population of Planetos?
G.G.: It might be helpful to make a distinction between the Night King in the show and the Night’s King from the books. Book readers are told about the Night’s King, an ancient renegade commander of the Night’s Watch who, legend has it, married a woman who fits the description of an Other, declared himself king and her queen, and turned the Night’s Watch into his personal army. He was eventually defeated by a Stark-Wildling alliance. The reason I bring this up is because the Night King from the show is basically the king or commander of the Others. In the books, there is no extant commander or king of the Others, save in the Legends of R’hllor, where they speak of a “Great Other.” To that extent, I think the “Great Other” is probably the inspiration for the television show’s Night King, with the name conjuring up images of the Long Night, and so forth. And, for the sake of the show’s plot, it makes sense to have a central focus of evil in the form of a Night King.
What we know about the show’s Night King is that he was created as a last, desperate weapon of the Children of the Forest against their enemy, the First Men. In a tale of unintended consequences, Leaf, a Child of the Forest we are introduced to earlier in the show, stabs a First Man in the chest with an obsidian (dragonglass dagger), his eyes turn blue and, well, there he is. We can interpret that this creation, like other weapons, backfired on the Children, and is now threatening the realms of men.
So you’re question is a good one: What do the Others want? In the show and the books, through their actions and the mythology surrounding them, it seems that they seek world domination and a winter that never ends. Beric Dondarrion speaks of this in the show; the Others are the enemy of life, they embody death, even as they animate it…in this way, I suppose they are not dissimilar to the Trump administration. Many metaphors are apt, whether it’s climate change, or nuclear war, or anything that threatens the future of mankind. And, yet, when you personify a global threat, give it a will and sentience, it begs a kind of unanswerable question: What world are the Others seeking? Climate change, for instance, is not sentient; it does not have a will. And while, like the Others, it is the product of discrete human action, there is no goal, aside from those who either seek to mitigate it or ignore it, and that’s probably more important than the world the Others will make, particularly since there will be no one alive to see it.
MCS: I was freaking out some this week, as “Wight Team 6” (I really think we can come up with a better name for this squad) was surrounded by the Army of the Dead on all sides, and I really thought we were about to lose Tormund there for a second, before he could make those giant babies you spoke of earlier (“great big monsters that’ll conquer the world”). But, in the end, it was Thoros of Myr who we lost. What a gem of a character he was! As a tribute to this native of the Free City of Myr and serviceman to the Brotherhood Without Banners, can you talk a little about this brilliant character and share your thoughts about his sacrifice? Also, since we are paying our respects to the lost, I have to ask, was saving Jon from certain death in this episode Benjen Stark’s swan song (a man who is responsible for Jon and Bran being alive now, and the reason that Sam found dragonglass) ? Any chance we will will be seeing him again, in some form?
G.G.: Thoros of Myr, while a minor character in the books (and, pretty minor in the show up until now), is one of those colorful and iconoclastic personas that works well in a story like The Song of Ice and Fire. We’re introduced to him in the first novel, A Game of Thrones, as a member of King Robert’s court. According to canon sources, he was given to the Red Temple when he was a child, and was sent to Westeros to convert Aerys to the faith of R’hllor. He was never particularly pious, at least not until he linked up with Beric, and preferred women and wine to worship. He is well-known for his tattered red robes and using a flaming sword in combat and in tourneys. It was the show that gave him his au courant hairstyle. He gained renown during the Greyjoy Rebellion, a decade prior to the events of the show/books, when Balon Greyjoy rose up in rebellion against Robert Baratheon’s nascent reign. As was remarked upon in this week’s episode, Thoros was the first to breach the walls of Pyke. A prolific tourney competitor, Thoros won the melee, again with his flaming sword, at the Tourney of the Hand, which was organized to celebrate Ned Stark’s ascension to that position. It was also Ned who charged Thoros, Beric, and others with bringing Gregor Clegane back to the capital to face the King’s justice for terrorizing the Riverlands in the run up to the War of the Five Kings. This group became outlaws after Robert and Ned’s deaths and Joffrey’s rise to the throne. That is when they became the Brotherhood without Banners, and when Thoros started wielding the power, seemingly, of R’hllor, the Lord of Light.
I don’t know that I have a great deal of thoughts regarding his sacrifice, except as a plot device to let us know that Beric can’t be readily brought back to life…unless Melisandre finds her way back into the mix. Thoros was a cool dude, and he will be missed. If only Sandor wasn’t a complete wuss, he may still be alive (though I’d probably freeze up if a flaming zombie- polar bear was mauling my companion).
And, yes, I think we’ve seen the last of Benjen. This meeting was necessary because, in the show but particularly in the novel A Game of Thrones, Benjen takes up a lot of Jon’s emotional energy, especially when he goes missing. Remember, Jon hasn’t seen him in a while, and probably assumed he was dead…as opposed to, you know, sort of dead. There’s a sense of closure here, for sure. If he came back AGAIN, I think that would be beyond the pale.
MCS: Let’s stay on the Brotherhood Without Banners for a moment, as Beric Dondarrion shined like his sword this week in an episode that featured him considerably. He presses on into the frigid north with such a sense of purpose, a purpose he shares with Jon, which makes sense as anyone who has been brought back to life six times would appropriately believe it is for a reason. Beric compares the Army of the Dead to death, describing it, as you touched on, as “the first enemy and the last,” a very poetic take proving that Beric plans to not go quietly into that good night! “You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here,” he tells Jon, “but we can keep others alive.” Does Beric have a considerable role in all that is to play out moving forward? And on that note, and in reference to Beric and Jon’s conversation, Jon could be found stating “I am the shield that guards the realm of men” when discussing the purpose the Dark Lord intends for him. Where is Jon Snow quoting this from, who has said it before him (if anyone), and what does it mean?
G.G.: “I am the shield that guards the realm of men” is taken from the vow of the Night’s Watch. It’s clear that the original purpose of the Night’s Watch was not to keep out Wildlings — it was to protect the realms of men against the Night: the Night King and the Long Night (of Winter) that he will bring. This lines up well with the Manichean eschatology of the cult of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, of which Beric is an adherent. In fact, there are indications that various religious traditions developed divergent, though thematically similar, legends and prophecies based on the same “mythical” events — in this case, the “myth” of the Long Night and the Azor Ahai and the “prophecy” of the Prince(ss) who was Promised, who will be the savior of mankind. Beric’s goal is not so much to convert Jon to the worship of R’hllor, as much as to put this struggle in context and show Jon that their fight is fundamentally the same, regardless of semantics.
MCS: I know you were skeptical about Littlefinger’s plot to divide the Starks when we discussed this last week, as you had faith in Arya to see through his conniving. But Arya laid into Sansa this week, brilliantly invoking the baddest bitch on the planet Lady Mormont (who is younger than Sansa was when she wrote the note in question). What did you think of this exchange and what does it means for the Stark family?
G.G.: …Or did she? Why do you suppose she gave her that knife then? Yes, it’s unsettling to see them at each other’s throats (and to find a bag of faces underneath her bed), and clearly there are some hard feelings that need to be processed, but I really feel like Arya is playing 5-D chess against Petyr!
MCS: We cannot close this penultimate deconstruction without talking about Dany and her unproductive womb. It seems like they were driving home the idea that Jon and Dany having or not having a child could be of importance.
G.G.: Succession is always important, as Tyrion pointed out. And even if Dany didn’t want to talk about it then, prior to flying off to face the Army of the Dead, perhaps Tyrion could have persuaded her to maybe think about having some armor made. But clearly, Dany is all about getting her outfits right. From her ditching Daario onward, everything is pointing towards Dany and Jon getting together; his legitimacy, unknowingly recognized only by Gilly, will only make their marriage more necessary. The question of Dany’s fertility goes back to Mirri Maz Duur’s prophecy/curse, which indicates that she will bear a living son basically when “hell freezes over” (my words, not hers). Some have suggested that her prophecy/curse is contingent on different factors, many of which involve minutiae from the books, and that she may actually, in some way, fulfill the various prophecies and become fertile again. Maybe yes, maybe no. But either way, Dany needs an heir, at least until she weds Jon.
Join us next week for ATM’s Deconstruction of Season 7’s Finale!