Epic is one of those words that can be overused when describing a show like Game of Thrones. But in the case of ‘Beyond The Wall’, it really is the only word that comes near to what episode six delivered.
Directed by Alan Taylor, who helmed those other earlier ‘epics’ Baelor and Valar Morghulis (among others) Beyond The Wall is ‘big’ in scale and scope.
Apart from a brief visit to Dragonstone, most of action takes place in the cold frozen north, where Jon and his crew are hunting the dead.
It starts off as a GoT ‘buddy movie’ and some of the lighter moments of the episode come courtesy of Tormund Giantsbane. He cracks jokes at Gendry’s expense and winds up the Hound by telling him he’s not truly mean because he has ‘sad eyes’.
He also reveals his hankering for Brienne of Tarth much to the Hound’s bemusement.
“You’re with Brienne of f***ing Tarth”.
“Well, not with her yet. But I’ve seen the way she looks at me”.
“Like she wants to carve you up and eat your liver”.
“You do know her”.
It’s one of the rare funny moments on a show not known for its comedy and Tormund absolutely owns it.
He also offers Jon some advice on the dangers of pride, which echo comments made by Daenerys.
“Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, would never bend the knee. How many of his people died for his pride”?
It gives Jon something to think about as takes time out with Jorah, presenting him with his father’s sword “Long Claw”.
In a way, they make peace and put any rivalries aside as Jorah refuses to take up the offer.
“I brought shame to my house, broke my father’s heart. I forfeited my right to the sword. It’s to yours. It’s served you well. Your children after you”.
Hmm. It’s a loaded comment. Does he recognise Jon may be the one to claim the heart of his Khaleesi?
Meanwhile at Winterfell, Littlefinger has been fanning the flames of distrust between Arya and Sansa. And all because of the note Arya found in his chambers.
Sansa wrote to Robb while practically a prisoner at King’s Landing. In it, she informs him that their father is a traitor.
It was written under duress but there are very few left to speak the truth of the matter. And it leads to the first of two confrontations between the sisters.
Arya all but accuses Sansa of causing their father’s death. Sansa’s response does little to convince Arya that she’s not plotting to depose Jon as King of the North.
“You should be on your knees thanking me. Standing in Winterfell again because of me.
You didn’t win it back. Jon didn’t win it back. He lost the Battle of the Bastards.
The Knights of the Vale win the battle and they rode north for me while you were off traveling the world”.
We know Arya wasn’t ‘travelling the world’. She searches Arya’s room for the note that could damage her standing with the northern lords, but makes a disturbing discovery: a satchel full of faces.
And in walks Arya, who provides a chilling explanation.
“The world doesn’t let girls decide what to be. But I can now. With the faces, I can choose. I can become someone else, speak in their voice, live in their skin. I can even become you”.
“I wonder what it would feel like to wear those pretty dresses. To be the Lady of Winterfell. All I’d need to find out is your face”.
She hands Sansa the assassin’s dagger and walks out.
Meantime at Dragonstone, we get a glimpse of what Daenerys feels for Jon Snow in a fireside chat with Tyrion.
“Heroes do the stupidest things and then they die. Drogo, Jorah, Daario and even this .. … Jon Snow. They all try to outdo each other. Who can do the stupidest, bravest thing”.
“It’s interesting these heroes you name. Drogo, Jorah, Daario. Even this … Jon Snow. They all fell in love with you”.
“Jon Snow isn’t in love with me”.
“Oh. My mistake. I suppose he looks at you longingly because he’s hopeful of a successful military alliance”.
It naturally leads to a conversation about heirs. Tyrion urges her to come with a succession plan before she takes on Cersei and Jaime. But it doesn’t go down too well.
The object of her growing affection, meantime, is still blundering around in the snow and ice.
Jon’s getting to know his companions and that includes Beric Dondarrion – the only to share Jon’s experience of being brought back from the dead.
It leads to a philosophical question about the Lord of Light, which reveals Dondarrion also shares a similar attitude towards the downtrodden as Jon.
“You and I won’t find much joy while we’re here, but we can keep others alive. We can defend those who can’t defend themselves”.
Then we see something looming in the distance. And it’s on!
It shambles towards them and all of a sudden, a zombie bear attacks and what follows is pretty intense.
The men form a circle as the ice bear attacks. Dondarrion and Thoros light the flame swords and slash at the bear, which turns on the Hound, before grabbing Thoros by the throat.
It’s Jorah who saves the day, killing it with Dragonglass.
After spotting the army of the dead, they lay a trap and kill an Ice Lord, who stops to investigate a burning campfire.
All but of the zombie followers are destroyed. As they capture it, it lets out a blood curdling scream, drawing more zombies to it.
Facing the reality of an approaching zombie hoard, Jon sends Gendry back to Eastwatch to get help.
They’re soon surrounded and the only thing that stops the dead coming after them is a thin layer of ice covering the lake.
Unfortunately, the freezing conditions take their toll on the Red Priest. Thoros falls victim to the cold and freezes to death. To prevent him coming back as a blue-eyed zombie, his body is burned.
And trust the Hound to call a spade a spade and put everything into perspective.
“Careful, Beric, you’ve lost your priest. This is your last life”.
“I’ve been waiting for the end for a long time. Maybe the Lord brought me here to find it”.
At Dragonstone, a raven has arrived from Eastwatch and Daenerys doesn’t hesitate in setting off on a rescue mission, even though Tyrion begs her to stay.
“You can’t. The most important person in the world can’t fly off to the most dangerous place in the world”.
“Who else can”?
“No one. They knew the risks when they left. You can’t win the throne if you’re dead”.
It makes perfect sense, but she’s not willing to listen and she climbs on board Drogon and off they go: Daenerys and her three dragons.
While the Dragon Queen takes wing, Jon and the others wait. The army of the dead is also waiting. Stalemate.
And then the Hound goes and ruins everything by throwing a rock in frustration. It hits one of the zombies on the head. He throws another and it skittles across a now frozen lake.
All of a sudden, the undead run towards the living. Tormund is overwhelmed by the zombies and dragged back towards the icy water until the Hound comes to the rescue. But they remain trapped on an outcrop.
Borrowing heavily from the Battle of the Bastards, Jon draws his sword and assumes a fighting position.
And just as Sansa came to his rescue, it’s Daenerys who appears on the scene to save the day.
Her dragons breathe fire, incinerating zombies and melting ice and snow.
Tormund, Beric, Jorah and the Hound climb on board Drogon as the Night King arrives.
He pulls out an ice spear and flings it at one of the dragons and down it goes and slams into the lake. A heartbroken Daenerys watches as one of her ‘children’ disappears under the water.
Just as Jon is about to scramble aboard Drogon, he realises the Night King is reaching for another ice spear and goes after him.
Drogon takes off and dodges the spear, but Jon is nowhere to be seen. He’s fallen into the water and has disappeared.
Jon drags himself out of the water as the army of the dead leaves. But he’s not out of danger yet.
That is until a figure in black gallops up and saves the day. It’s Benjen Stark, who puts Jon on his horse and turns to faces the dead.
At Eastwatch, Jorah and Daenerys are in a lookout tower. He wants them to leave. She wants them to stay ‘a bit longer’.
Suddenly, one blast of a horn signals a returning Ranger. In the distance, a lone figure on horseback appears from the snow.
He wakes to find Daenerys by his bedside as they sail towards Dragonstone. He reaches for her hand:
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish I could take it back. I wish we’d never gone”.
“I don’t. If we hadn’t gone I wouldn’t have seen. You have to see it to know. Now I know.
We’re going to destroy the Night King and his army and we’re going to do it together. You have my word”.
As Daenerys mourns the loss of one of her dragons, the Night King watches as the dead drag its body from the lake.
The lost dragon slowly appears from the icy waters. The Night King reaches out and yellow dragon eyes turn blue.
The Night King has a dragon. Does that make him invincible? Who knows whether that question will be answered in next week’ season finale.
Or maybe they’ll make us wait until next season.