As per usual, I’d prefer to think of thematic connections in these episodes, but sometimes that’s obscured. Instead, I will merely consider the stories this episode tells. One is the Littlestupid story, the unfortunate situation of the Stark girls at each other’s throats, forcing fans to take “sides.” That’s ludicrous, of course.
Arya is a damaged sociopathic assassin girl who doesn’t trust anyone, and Sansa is a post-trauma survivor who sees someone like the ultimate survivor Cersei as a good role model. Both are not evil monsters. Why bother backing one over the other? Instead, what people should be rooting for (and in fairness, some are) is for them to get past it.
Now, I did like the extreme subtlety in the Winterfell scenes, but that extreme subtlety also leads to misunderstandings and confusion. The showrunners have already said Littlefinger wants Sansa to be afraid of Arya, but there are a lot of hidden pieces too. Brienne’s true connection to Sansa is unclear; is Sansa sending her away because she fears Brienne will defend Arya against herself, is she doing it to spite Littlefinger’s comments, or something else? It’s unclear.
The faces Arya left for Sansa to hide are even more confusing. They literally look like cheap rubber Halloween masks, hardly the Mission: Impossible style immersion we’ve seen Arya pull off. Arya discussing her faces or her questions, that’s creepy and open to interpretation, especially as we’ve seen essentially supernatural things in Arya’s training. But the masks were a misstep, a logical failure.
Another is the acknowledgment of time and distance. Sansa tells Brienne the way to King’s Landing is long. Sure, you might think so. But not this season, when Gendry runs back to the Wall in what must be two hours to cover the ground of near a day, when a raven from Eastwatch to Dragonstone takes less than a day, and when a dragon flies less than that. Sure, flight is fast, far faster than any mode of transportation.
But although it was obvious Dany would come to the rescue of her boys, the way the episode built it made no sense. Instead the episode focused on moments to make it interesting, and this sometimes worked. Essentially all the dialog between the Snowcean’s Seven gang was pretty good, many funny lines, and a few interestingly sneaky ones. Like when Beric Dondarrion mentions that Jon doesn’t look like his father, does he know the truth of Jon’s parentage?
Or the way the undead bear paved the way to realize an undead dragon. Of course that dragon reveal, cool though it was, couldn’t help but be surrounded by something weird, the long chains that came from … ice? It’s a cool visual with no logic behind it. Similarly, the island concept had an interesting logic to it, but then it fell apart logistically because it was impossible to get a sense of what was actually happening in the final battle. Weren’t they surrounded?
Of course, the “Grab a zombie” plan is still stupid, but it sort of “worked” if you ignore the problems. For example, isn’t it convenient that only one zombie didn’t fall apart instantly when Jon killed the White Walker? Narrative contrivance to sacrifice logic.
But other subtleties were clever. Dany has always bonded closest with Drogon, the dragon named for her first problematic love Khal Drogo. The dragon turned evil is Viserion, named for her evil brother Viserys. And the remaining dragon is Rhaegal, named for her brother Rhaegar, and likely the father of Jon Snow. That has a good narrative consistency.
One of the problems with the episode is a concept often called “plot armor” — in this case, we know that far too many characters will survive, at least until next episode and the season finale. So it’s hard to be worried when they aren’t worried. In contrast, say, the Oberyn vs Mountain battle had the biggest shock of the show to me, because he seemed too good, too interesting. Obviously he’d win, right? Well, he did, and he didn’t. That was a tense fight.
Some of the other pieces are mixed; Dany and Tyrion had some interesting little discussions, but to me it’s just setting up more pieces to be paid off later. The show (including Tyrion and Davos) are pushing the Daenerys/Jon love thing so heavily, it makes you wonder how badly it’ll actually go. Considering the truths we already know, it seems doomed.
Spectacle trumped sense this time around, and that’s a shame, because I can think of one very easy way most of this could’ve been fixed: More episodes.
What did you think of this episode? Tell us in the comments below!