This ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode Was the Beginning of the End for the Show

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The Big Picture

  • Season 7 marked a shift in Game of Thrones with a focus on action over political intrigue.
  • The episode “Beyond The Wall” had plot holes, terrible time handling, and unbreakable plot armor for the main characters.
  • The writers prioritized cool scenes and the desired ending, regardless of logic or character development.


There are very few shows whose fall from grace was harder than Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of the dark fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin. With its complicated political plots, multifaceted characters, and impressive budget for a television show, it captivated audiences around the world and became one of the cultural juggernauts of the 2010s. However, all of that love and praise turned to ash following the disastrous eighth and final season in 2019. Nowadays, Game of Thrones is brought up either to talk about how far it fell, or how the current adaptation of Martin’s work, House of the Dragon, compares to its earlier seasons.

But, some might say the writing was on the wall as early as Season 7, but fans held onto hope that things could improve. Sure, the season had some rocky moments, like the usually politically savvy Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) giving terrible advice that loses Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) all of her Westerosi allies. But the season delivered one of the show’s best battles. Fan favorites like Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) were able to reunite with their family. Major characters who had been separated or never met were getting together as the show prepared for its climactic showdown with the army of the dead. Unfortunately, any hope of the show averting its plunge into the abyss was killed after Episode 6, “Beyond The Wall.”

Game Of Thrones

Nine noble families fight for control over the lands of Westeros, while an ancient enemy returns after being dormant for a millennia.

Release Date
April 17, 2011

Creator
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Main Genre
Drama

Seasons
8


What Happened To “Beyond The Wall’s” Plot?

The plot of “Beyond The Wall” sees Jon Snow lead Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Ser Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), and some expendable Wildlings, north of The Wall to capture a walking corpse known as a wight. The plan is to present the wight to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) in the hopes of reaching an armistice and possibly an alliance, so the living can stand united against the army of the dead. Of course, this plan hinges on Cersei not being a narcissistic and power-hungry leader who uses every opportunity possible to weaken her rivals, but let’s ignore that for some of the more glaring structural problems.

“Beyond The Wall” is very much the beginning of the end for Game of Thrones. It is the episode where complicated games of political intrigue that saw many fan-favorite characters die grisly deaths are replaced with an attitude of, “Don’t question it, just enjoy the dragons”. This is evident with the first obstacle the hunters encounter: an undead polar bear. A beast that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had been trying to get into the show for years. There’s little about this action scene that works: the polar bear is somehow able to teleport to pick off some red shirts, doesn’t immediately die when lit on fire like previous wights, and the rest of the group stands around when one of them gets attacked, instead of swarming the bear from all sides. Then there is the question of why this bear is on its own instead of with the rest of the army. No explanation is given for any of this: Benioff and Weiss wanted a polar bear fight, so they got one.

The episode is also one of the most egregious examples of Game of Thrones’ terrible handling of time. Once the group finally captures the wight, they are trapped on an island in the middle of a lake. Jon sends Gendry (who has never been to the North before and is somehow able to navigate through blizzard conditions) back to The Wall to send for help. A message then reaches Daenerys on Dragonstone, and she flies all three of her dragons to rescue Jon and company during the climax. When one looks at a map of Westeros, this is a huge distance to travel that would take more than just a handful of days even on dragons. Yet Jon’s storyline makes it seem like the group waited on the island for roughly one night.

While this is all going on, the B-plot focuses on Winterfell, where tensions between Arya and Sansa (Sophie Turner) continue to build up following Arya’s discovery of the letter Sansa wrote in Season 1 asking their brother, Robb (Richard Madden), to surrender. Episode 7 reveals that all of this anger is a red herring meant to lure Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) into a trap. But it doesn’t make much sense, due to the way Arya and Sansa are hostile towards one another even when he can’t possibly be listening in on them. While the cloak and dagger no doubt makes Littlefinger’s death surprising, the scenes don’t fully add up, and it makes his downfall even more disappointing.

Related

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“Beyond The Wall” Has Unbreakable Plot Armor

One of the reasons Game of Thrones became so popular was that it shook up the conventional television structure. The main character of Season 1, fan favorite Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), gets beheaded in front of his daughters, and two seasons later, his eldest son is killed while trying to avenge him. This was a huge game changer at the time and established that nobody was safe from the consequences of their actions.

By the time of Season 7, the reverse became true: the main characters were spared the chopping block until the endgame, while expendable side characters dropped like flies. “Beyond The Wall” is one of the most egregious examples thanks to how dangerous the situation is for the heroes. Not counting the nameless wildlings, the only member of the expedition to die is Thoros. Sure, he was a fun take on a disillusioned priest, but the only repercussion of his death is that Beric, another side-character with little impact on the plot, can’t come back from the dead now. Jon’s uncle, Benjen (Joseph Mawle), also pointlessly sacrifices himself when he rescues Jon from a freezing lake, which makes one wonder why the writers even brought him back in season six if this was to be his fate.

The worst cases come during the climax when Daenerys arrives to rescue the group. When Sandor randomly throws a rock at one of the wights and reveals that the ice has frozen over, the army of the dead attacks slowly, one at a time, so the heroes can fight back. This goes against how the undead have fought in every episode before or after, where they prefer to rush their targets and kill them in a flurry of blades and bites. Plus, the White Walkers have the power to freeze water with their presence, and the Night King is an expert javelin thrower who could have easily picked them off on the island. The only reason Jon and his companions survived was that the writers needed them to.

Why Did “Beyond The Wall” Turn Out As It Did?

Viserion is animated as a wight in Game of Thrones
Image via HBO

When writing “Beyond The Wall”, Benioff and Weiss knew that they wanted the Night King to obtain a dragon. As such, the story and the characters were written to lead to this ending, regardless of how little sense it made. Who cares if the zombie polar bear was an egregious filler, or that the Night King was an idiot for not killing Drogon first to stop everyone from fleeing: it got the job done, and it sounded cool in the writer’s heads. Things are made even worse in the next episode when the wight hunt proves to be a pointless net loss for the heroes. Cersie doesn’t give Jon and Daenerys any help against the undead, and the Night King uses an undead Viserion to destroy the Wall and begin his invasion.

In Season 8, all the problems in “Beyond The Wall” were amplified like never before. The overuse of fast travel allows Jon and his army to get to King’s Landing before Arya and The Hound, who left before them. The focus on flashy moments caused the Dothraki cavalry to be slaughtered by the army of the dead, and the plot armor was so strong that Jon survived killing Daenerys only to go north with Tormund in the end. People might remember Season 8 as the worst season of Game of Thrones but the problems had already started in Season 7 and “Beyond The Wall” was that major turning point.

All seasons of Game of Thrones are available to be streamed on Max in the U.S.

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