Before tonight’s episode, journalists laid odds as to which member of Jon’s ranging party would die north of the Wall at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Tonight’s episode offered lots of thrills and was a game changer. There’s intrigue at Winterfell, but it’s far from clear (to me at least) who is playing whom.
Intrigue at Winterfell
The Stark sisters are not getting along – and, frankly, it reminds me of nothing so much as the Wars of the Roses. Littlefinger turned the already mistrustful sisters against each other without breaking a sweat.
Arya confronts Sansa with the letter she wrote, at Cersei’s behest, to Robb urging him to come to King’s Landing and bend the knee. Sansa defends her actions, stating she was just a child. Arya is having none of it. In her heart, she blames Sansa for her father’s death.
If Sansa hadn’t wanted to live out her princess fantasies so badly, maybe she wouldn’t have begged Catelyn to make Ned to go forward with the betrothal to Joffrey. Maybe Sansa wouldn’t have lied about Joffrey and the butcher’s boy. Maybe the Stark daughters never would have gone to King’s Landing. Maybe Ned would still be alive.
Arya believes she would choose death over writing that letter to Robb.
Sansa fears Arya will show the Northern lords the letter and some of the 10,000 men from the Vale, who are already miserable in the Northern winter, will use the letter as an excuse to bolt.
Years of festering resentment over petty squabbles that meant the world to them as girls is behind their conflict, but so is Arya’s not completely unjustified fear that Sansa will usurp Jon.
Meanwhile Sansa sends Brienne to King’s Landing to represent her. This is a wise move given Jaime and Brienne’s affinity. Brienne doesn’t like this plan at all since Sansa will be left all along without any protection – and she might need it.
This is especially true after Arya’s bizarre behavior when Sansa finds the masks.
The sequence shows reminded me all too much of how Edward IV until condemned his own brother George, Duke of Clarence to die. The potential lethal and rapidly escalating conflict between the Stark girls show how easy it is for courtiers (Littlefinger) to turn a noble or ruler against his or her loved ones. In Edward IV and Clarence’s case, their mutual mistrust grew and grew – and ultimately Edward could never forgive his younger brother for his betrayal when Clarence sided with Warwick and unseated the king.
Fighting at Dragonstone
Tyrion and Daenerys are not getting along – and frankly the Imp isn’t exactly giving the best advice these days. The duo can’t agree on how best to avoid Cersei’s traps if and when Daenerys goes to King’s Landing for a parley with the Lannister queen. Worse, when she gets news that Jon and his party are in a life of death situation, he doesn’t want her to go help him.
Ranging North of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea
Jon, Thoros of Myr, Beric Dondarion, the Hound, Gendry, and Joras are ranging north to try to capture a wight. The idea is to bring Cersei a wight to convince her the Night King is real. As everyone in the party is aware, this is an incredibly stupid idea.
Everyone is bickering but there are some good near-bromance moments as the men march deeper into the north.
First, they encounter a polar bear wight, which Beric and Thoros fight off with blazing swords. (Love those flaming swords.) The Hound, however, freezes because its fire – and he hates fire — so Thoros saves him. But, Thoros is badly wounded in his chest.
Beric attempts to cauterize the wound with fire.
Later on, the party stumble across a White Walker and some wights. A skirmish ensues. When Jon kills the White Walker with Jon’s valyrian steel sword, all of the wights go poof – except for one. (Newsflash: Kill the master and its “babies” die too!)
Then the lads make a huge mistake. They try to lasso that one remaining wight to take back to Cersei. The wight screams like a banshee and it awakens the White Walkers to the men’s presence.
Quick thinking Jon hears the avalanche like sound of the Army of the Dead moving towards them. He orders Gendry to run as fast as he can for Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and send a raven to Dany. Jon’s right: she’s the only one who can save them now.
Soon enough, the massive zombie army are closing in on Jon and party. The wights drive the men onto an island in the center of a frozen lake. The lads are safe for now – the army can’t cross its too heavy.
Gendry arrives half dead at the Eastwatch castle. Davos and company see him coming and rush down to catch him just as he collapses. Gendry chokes out “Raven!” and Davos shouts for a scribe. Now!
When Daenerys receives the raven, she resolves to go. Tyrion is having none of it. (After all, if she dies, what becomes of him?) To her credit, Dany always fights for the ones she loves – and in her heart, she is a warrior. She immediately mounts Drogon and flies him north of Eastwatch – her other two dragons flying convoy.
When Daenerys arrives, her dragons incinerate row upon row of the Night King’s army.
Now this is magnificent and what we’ve been awaiting for SEVEN seasons. It feels great to see it finally – and it was even better than I imagined it.
Just as Dany is about to fly home with the men on Drogon’s back, the Night King hurls an ice spear through the air at one of Dany’s other dragons.
The spear strikes the dragon in the chest and it crashes into the frozen lake, clearly dying. It’s frankly shocking to see one of these near-extinct creatures killed.
Dany, of course, is devastated. The dragons are her children.
But, she nearly as devastated by what happens next.
Jon Snow sacrifices himself so Dany and party can get away before the Night King hurls another one of those deadly spears at Drogon.
The wights attack Jon and drag him onto a frozen lake, which somehow he manages to drag himself out of the water.
Given his sodden clothes, the icy water, and the distance he is from Eastwatch – not to mention all the wights that descend on him – Jon looks doomed.
His uncle Benjen – who is actually dead but stuck in limbo North of the Wall – comes to his rescue and gives him his horse. By doing so, Benjen appears to make the ultimate sacrifice: the wights descend on him and he appears to be killed. Again.
When Jon arrives half-dead at Eastwatch, Daenerys is standing watch for him. Later on in his chamber, it becomes clear how the aunt and uncle feel about each. What’s really strange is somehow this seems romantic and not grotty in this universe.
Perhaps GRRM really was okay with the idea of Richard III marrying Elizabeth of York. <shudder>
The big game changer at the end is not just that Dany is down a dragon, but also that the dragon will now be a blue-eyed zombie.