Each Monday, the New Republic staff will discuss the newest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is in its seventh and penultimate season. Join us as we chat about the latest plot developments, cheering for the White Walkers, and that feeling when your sister sneaks into your room and finds all the faces in your leather satchel.
Ryu Spaeth: Let the record show that at the start of this roundtable six weeks ago, Alex Shephard wrote, “Mark my words. Before this season is done, they’re getting an ice dragon.” Alex isn’t here to crow about his lucky guess—he is on vacation in Great Britain, the real Westeros—but in last night’s episode, “Beyond the Wall,” the White Walkers did indeed get their hands on this mythic beast, by means of what was perhaps the most contrived plot twist of the entire series. We will discuss this cockamamie twist in greater depth—in which Daenerys flies her three dragons beyond the Wall to rescue Jon Snow and his ragtag band of bros—but suffice it to say: Holy cow the White Walkers have an ice dragon!
Clio Chang: It pains me more than anyone to say that Alex was right. So I won’t! But honestly, the ice dragon makes a lot of sense. Dany had way too much fire power, even for a Night King vs. Dragons title match. Now the world is balanced.
However, the manner in which it was done has pushed us far into the realm of directors Benioff and Weiss’s fan fic. None of those guys had to go up North in the first place, and the Dany-Night King encounter, across a writhing sea of undead wights, was rushed. George R. R. Martin would never have allowed a raven to get from the Wall to Dragonstone in less time than it takes for me to get to work on the New York City subway. It’s also crazy that the Night King’s arm is as strong as an enormous crossbow, and even crazier that he would use that ungodly bicep to kill Viserion, who is flying, rather than Drogon, who is sitting right in front of him with all the Night King’s enemies conveniently sitting on his back. (Side note: Get on the freaking dragon, Jon.)
I do love that Benioff and Weiss have effectively killed off one of ASOIAF’s greatest theories, which is that Tyrion is the third head of the dragon and will ride alongside Jon and Dany when they take control of Westeros. It never felt quite right to me, and especially now that Tyrion is serving as Dany’s hand. But I do endorse the idea of undead Tyrion riding undead Viserion.
Sarah Jones: I am distraught over Viserion’s demise, which allowed the Night King to resurrect him as an ice dragon. I’m not sure what to think about the fact that I am more affected by Viserion dying than pretty much any of the human deaths on Game of Thrones, but here we are. This is my personal plot hole.
And this show has a lot of plot holes! Like: Why in god’s name didn’t Beric or Thoros light up their swords so that they wouldn’t nearly freeze to death? Why isn’t anyone wearing a hat north of the Wall, when any mom can tell you most of your body heat escapes through your head??
And what has Benjen been doing? Is he dead now? Does he hate his name, which sounds like it belongs to a golden retriever? Will he ride the undead dragon?
Emily Atkin: Obviously, the Night King chose to kill flying Viserion instead of sitting Drogon for two reasons: One, because it makes symbolic sense to ice-zombify the dragon named after Dany’s douchebag brother Viserys (of course he’s the one to switch sides); and two, because the Night King is out to prove he’s the baddest in the game. I’ve long been Team White Walker, and if this show does anything productive for society, I hope it’s to make people realize the importance of tackling long-term existential threats early, before they grow too strong to defeat. But in a show where every “team” is morally bankrupt in some way, I’m content with just being on the winning side. And this week’s episode proved that the strong, silent Night King is where we should place our bets.
But I also have a lot of questions. An ice dragon can’t really breathe fire, can it? Why doesn’t The Hound, who’s supposedly deathly afraid of fire, look even remotely scared of those magic fire swords? Is Jon Snow really so short that Dany is embarrassed to admit she’d hit it? And if Bran the creepy Three Eyed Raven can’t even intervene to tell Arya and Sansa they’re being royally played by Littlefinger, what is the point of having him around?
Ryu Spaeth: There is a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with the Jon-Dany dynamic. Like Sarah, I was pretty broken up about Viserion’s death, so much so that I thought Dany was lingering on the Wall because she couldn’t bear to part from the corpse of her dragon-child. In fact, she was … hoping that Jon was still alive? Anyway, they are clearly becoming a thing, Jorah even seemed to gallantly stand aside by letting Jon keep Longclaw, which was definitely not a phallic symbol of any kind in that scene. But we have one last wrinkle in this plot line, which is that Jon is probably Dany’s nephew. So how does that play out?
Sarah Jones: They get married. Dany magically realizes she can have human children as well as dragon children and they have a bunch of very honorable and dull offspring.
Clio Chang: Ugh, Ryu. That’s the whole point—Targaryens only marry their relatives so the only way Jon and Dany can hook up is if they are related.
Ryu Spaeth: Okay, but! One of the central themes of this show, whose moral lesson I happen to agree with, is that incest is BAD, and that generations of incest led to the Targaryens being utterly insane. This was echoed in how the brother-sister coupling of Jaime and Cersei resulted in Joffrey, who was the Mad King Aerys-lite. I think that if you really want to break the wheel of oppression for all time, the royal intra-family sex has to stop, no?
Emily Atkin: Yes, but not all incest (oh my god, I just said “not all incest”) on the show results in bad things. Take the wildling Craster’s daughter Gilly, who is pure and good and an all-around treasure (and was the first to reveal the secret marriage of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark). Myrcella and Tommen Lannister didn’t appear to be terrible either.
Man, this show is really pushing the boundaries of my tolerance for fictional incest.
Sarah Jones: I think we have to consider the possibility that Dany is going to die. No one heroic ever lasts that long in Westeros. It’s canon—for now—that she can’t have children, and it’s also canon that Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Plus, Beric did tell Jon last night that neither of them would find any joy in this life, and Jon quite obviously has a crush on Dany at this point. Tragedy looks good on him! At this point there’s not much narrative space left for Dany to do anything but yell “Dracarys.”
Ryu Spaeth: Okay, on to the other great intrigue of the episode, featuring Psycho Killer Arya. Is she going to murder Sansa in her sleep or what?
Emily Atkin: Arya would never murder anyone in their sleep. Girl is way too savage for that.
Sarah Jones: I don’t think she’s going to murder Sansa. She hands her that dagger at the end of their very creepy scene together, which I read as a combined threat/second chance. But Arya is also very clearly in the wrong, and needs Sansa to knock her out of this weird headspace she’s in. After all, Sansa’s reaction to finding a messenger bag of human goddamn faces is pretty normal! And Arya hasn’t considered what it must have been like to be a hostage in Cersei Lannister’s court; you can even see that realization dawn on her a little bit.
It would help if Sansa just tells Arya that her ex-husband brutalized her every single day, forcing her to escape and eventually feed him to his own dogs. That’s something Arya could respect. They should also be united in their hatred of Littlefinger, which is ultimately what I think will bring them together.
Still, Arya is definitely becoming unhinged. What gives me a bit of hope for her is the fact that Nymeria is still out there, and the direwolves have always represented something deep about each of the Stark children. Maybe she’ll come back to herself in time.
Clio Chang: Arya is being completely unreasonable. If someone finds a bag of faces under your bed, you should have a good explanation as to why they are there, instead of basically saying, “What’s the big deal, that’s my face bag.” A lot of this seems like unnecessary drama driven by miscommunication. Which makes me extra annoyed because Bran could just solve everything.
Ryu Spaeth: Let’s conclude with a look forward to the season finale next week, where Dany is slated to meet Cersei for the first time, bringing with her an extra from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. What do we think will happen?
Sarah Jones: Cersei will probably agree to fight on their side because the showrunners need that to happen. But she’s Cersei, so she’ll probably also try to find a way to use the zombies to her advantage.
Clio Chang: I wonder if Qyburn is going to be mad that he spent all this time making one zombie thinking he’s this great and smart guy, and then he finds out that there are like a bajillion zombies up north.
Emily Atkin: Jaime will see himself in the wight. He will relate to it. He will befriend it. They are both cold and dead inside.