Game of Thrones Recap: A Secret Targaryen Accepts the Ultimate Mission
This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6, "Beyond the Wall," and every episode before it. Visit our official hub for more GoT recaps, theories, and spoilers.
Call it recency bias, but "Beyond the Wall,” the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season 7, is among the best episodes of the show to date. Rapid plotting and fan-favorite characters meshed to enact the first big showdown between the power of fire and the icy Army of the Dead. It’s also the first episode to start the long road toward the end of the series: We know how to defeat the Army of the Dead.
But… the Night King has a dragon now. We should talk about the Targaryen line of succession, but oh crap, the Night King has a dragon now! Jon is ready to bend the knee to his lovely looking Aunt, but… the Night King! Dragon! You get it. But there's more.
House Mormont (or: the past as a subtle tool for foreshadowing)
Yes, we'll get to the Ice Dragon soon! But first a stop at Jorah's house. The disgraced soldier and Jon Snow need to form a quick bond before all the wights hit the fan on the frozen lake, which means we got a continuation of last week's brush with history, when Jon admitted to knowing Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont. Unsaid was the fact that Jorah also knew the person Jon Snow thinks was his father, having been banished by Ned Stark after buying into the slave trade. It’s that dishonor on Jorah, not the fact that he can’t pass it down the line, that weighs on him when he turns down his family’s ancestral sword.
Which raises the question: why imply Jon Snow is going to have children by telling the bastard king, "May [the sword] serve you well, and your children after you"? Is it just to up the tension even more, or have we begun laying a series of hints about the Targaryen line? More on that in a second.
The other cool Jorah moment is his buddy-buddy talk with Thoros of Myr. Jorah has brought up this story once before in the show, but we didn’t know who Thoros was then, so "Thoros of Myr and his flaming sword" sounded more like legend than reality. Back in the day, Thoros and Jorah both fought off Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion. Since the Greyjoys didn’t pledge to any side during Robert’s Rebellion, they had the armies and ships to try and reclaim what Balon saw as Greyjoy land before the events of the series. That’s the rebellion that sent Theon to live with the Starks as Ned’s ward. The final battle of that Rebellion was when Robert and Ned took back Pyke, and the walls of the castle were breached by a drunk Thoros, brandishing his flaming sword. That campaign is what earned both Jorah and Thoros knighthoods from Robert Baratheon.
This isn’t the first time the Greyjoy Rebellion has been name-checked in Season 7. Euron’s attack on the Lannisters was a point of contention between Euron and Jaime earlier in the season. Just goes to show even the most action-packed episodes of Game of Thrones featuring zombies vs. dragons still have time for those deep history cuts.
The Army of the Dead (or: all the wight stuff)
This episode was packed with revelations about how the Army Of The Dead actually works. We’ll discuss the revelations about the series endgame below, but if you want to learn super nitpicky fun facts about this episode, like when all the characters switch over to dragonglass weapons, check it out here.
I have one lingering question that is probably not important for next week, but serves as an interesting thought experiment: if Viserion is a White Walker Dragon, not a wight dragon, and White Walkers can create wights (because destroying a White Walker kills the wights it created), can Viserion create wights? Because our heroes really don't want that to be possible.
Brienne’s Musketeers (or: please, please, please give us this team-up)
Who wants a team of Jaime, The Hound, and Tormund Giantsbane fighting back-to-back-to-back with Brienne of Tarth, all driven by personal connections and mutual respect? I do. Granted, Jaime is the odd person out in that line-up for now, but he’s the person Brienne trusts enough to attend the summit at the King’s Landing dragonpit on behalf of Sansa. Tormund’s silent goodbye to The Hound at the end of this week’s episode suggests that Tormund is not going South for the meeting. Here’s hoping The Hound gets a chance to pass on a vision of the future to Brienne: There’s a ginger up North who wants to make giant babies with you that can one day conquer the world.
We’ve come a long way on Game of Thrones where the most romantically sought after female character is Brienne of Tarth, who hasn’t shown any interest in any suitor besides honorable-yet-incestual Jaime Lannister. Tormund and The Hound both seemed like characters that could bite the dust this week -- fans like them, so they're bound to die -- but they haven’t proven to be essential to any understanding of the series' end game, making their continued existence questionable. That also goes for Jaime and Brienne in the overall arc, even if they weren’t in mortal danger this week. I guess what I'm saying is, if they all don’t get to be with Brienne, they should at least get a moment in the upcoming season to unite as a pro-Brienne force, accusations of fan service be damned.
Single-minded Jon Snow (or: tfw you're the chosen one)
"Beyond the Wall" actually pulls off quite a feat. Jon Snow brings key characters together and recontextualizes their purpose, specifically the Brotherhood Without Banners members Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. Beric and Thoros return to the spotlight to drop important information and get mauled by zombie bears. The conversations Jon has with Beric, though, end up reorienting the grand narrative of what it must be like to be a "fire wight."
Technically, that’s the term for those resurrected by R'Hllor. In this adventuring party, that's Beric and Jon. Their first conversation this episode deals with resurrection and the Lord of Light's mysterious ways. Beric has to convince Jon that they can serve without knowing the supreme being's purpose or motivations. This ends up being a fairly neat narrative trick that the show has been building ever since the Smoke Baby stabbed Renly in Season 2. If you can prove that things are happening as per a prophecy of R'Hllor, or that people actually see accurate visions in the fire, but the audience is never let in on definitive proof, questions like "why didn’t anyone major die in this episode?" can be legitimately waved away not with "plot convenience" but "divine intervention."
Jon Snow’s plan is really stupid, and he admits as much to Daenerys in the boat after he wakes up. Next week, we’ll get to see if his big gamble pays off, assuming the wight successfully gets to the King’s Landing dragon pit. It’s hard to predict what the actual response is going to be from Cersei and Euron (who haven’t indicated they think the Army of the Undead exists), but even if they are convinced, there are smarter ways to get a wight. However, if R’Hollar’s will is being served, the Jon Snow expedition of certain death also had another big revelation -- the one that provides our first glimpses at the conclusion of the "great war to come."
After the battle at Hardhome, it seemed obvious that the Night King and Jon Snow were destined for a showdown. "Beyond the Wall" gives the target even more weight by introducing the idea that killing a White Walker also destroys the zombified progeny of that White Walker. Beric Dondarrion is the person who pieces together that the Night King is the one making all the White Walkers (presumably out of generations of Craster incest males) so killing that single enemy effectively cuts the head off the snake. As Beric says, if R’Hollar is against the dead, he and Jon's purpose must be to kill the Night King. It helps when someone says it out loud.
Now we know what Jon Snow has to do in the next, final season of Game of Thrones. The Azor Ahai prophecy has always been about who can defend men against the Long Night, not about who is going to rule Westeros, so although Daenerys has a role to play, it’s down to Jon to deliver the final blow that instantly ends the war. Or Beric Dondarrion could do it, theoretically, but Jon Snow has never lost in actual combat and everyone beats Beric Dondarrion. So that's the end of that theory.
Since he’s now a soldier serving a fire god he doesn’t understand, it’s easier to embrace Jon Snow’s acceptance that he "knows nothing" and is willing to bend the knee at the end of this episode. Jon takes the death of Viserion to heart before Uncle Benjen comes to his rescue, so when he finally wakes up and Daenerys is sitting next to his bed, he opens with the most sensible thing: an apology. Unlike the Game of Thrones that existed for at least five seasons, this new and brusquely plotted iteration seems to reward good leadership qualities. Jon’s gone from assuming his Northerners wouldn’t serve a Southern Queen to thinking they’ll eventually come around to it. It’s also hard to see how he didn’t notice this about Daenerys up until now (he wasn’t present for the Tarly burning, so all he’s seen is a thoughtful Dragon Queen), but it’s nice to have Jon and Daenerys reach an accord to help each other save the world.
Of course, all the foreshadowing this season, plus the switch of a Dany and Jon alliance, suggests we should raise the incest alert from orange to red. Sam’s on the move and has some key information. He could get news to Jon about his Aunt before anything happens. Also, we still have Bran-as-Raven, who can reveal information at any time. They’ve made the "Bend the Knee" pledge and both have openly acknowledged some attraction for the other one... we're definitely close to an attractive and highly anticipated hook-up.
House Targaryen (or: who's going to tell Dany and Jon what's up?)
Why draw us close to incest after spending a whole scene reminding us that Daenerys can’t have children? Is it supposed to make us feel better about the upcoming nasty bumping? Are we supposed to triple down on the "dragons are her children" narrative the Khaleesi herself pushed just last week? Or are we getting subtle hints that if she were to get pregnant it wouldn’t be just a baby, it’d be some sort of miracle baby since her womb was cursed with the blood magic of her son with Khal Drogo? Game of Thrones may not be driven by the A Song of Ice and Fire source material anymore, but it is still smart enough to only show the necessary scenes, so we shouldn’t dismiss that Tyrion had to bring up her line of succession.
The twist: Daenerys doesn't need to have a child to continue the Targaryen bloodline. In theory, Jon Snow is actually the one with the legitimate Targaryen claim to the Throne, and as far as we know, is still capable of fathering a son. If there was going to be tension between Daenerys and Jon, it would be that -- although that possibility might be fizzling out now that we’ve seen the two make googly eyes at each other while mourning a dragon-child. Perhaps Dany was actually a little freaked out by seeing Jon’s scars and realizing just how much she’s met her magic-match mere weeks earlier (a timeline Sansa confirms this week). It’s unlikely, but there’s nothing stopping a convenient conflict between characters that should be on the same side (see House Stark).
There have been signs all season that the finale could have some official Targaryen bombshell. Sam and Gilly, with knowledge of Rhaegar's annulment, are on the move; Bran, knowing what happened at the Tower of Joy, is in Winterfell; and,most interestingly, we have that dagger at Winterfell that appeared in a book about how Targaryens decorated their blades with dragonglass. Foreshadowing clues are mounting that we get some House Targaryen news in the finale.
Here’s what could happen, ranked from the most likely to the most far-fetched.
- We get to see a flashback pertaining to Jon Snow’s parents and his adoption by Ned
- We finally get to see Rhaegar Targaryen on screen
- Two characters discuss Jon Snow’s parentage (not in flashback)
- We learn Jon Snow’s Targaryen name.
- We see the Catspaw Dagger in the flashback
- Someone straight up tells Jon Snow he’s a Targaryen
I can think of a few batshit insane possibilities, like a flashback revealing that the Catspaw Dagger was a gift to Lyanna from Rhaegar and it’s actually a reformed Dark Sister… but those above items seem like the most likely events to occur in next week’s finale or beyond. It would be very convenient for someone to tell Jon Snow, but it would require more travel, as Jon’s on his way South to the King's Landing dragonpit and everyone who knows a piece about his origins is heading elsewhere.
Hopefully whatever we learn about House Targaryen is just the beginning of the unraveling of the mysteries that have served as the basis for the series since the very beginning. It’s possible that next season only spends a fraction of its runtime on the "great war to come" and instead spends the majority of the plot sorting out the argument Tyrion brings up in this episode: what replaces the broken wheel?
House Baelish (or: is Littlefinger going to get away with this?)
As expected, the scroll discovered by Arya is the message sent from Sansa, held captive by the Lannisters, to her brother Robb, a compliant effort she thought could avert Ned’s death. What was less obvious was Littlefinger's next move: turning Sansa’s attention to Arya’s disturbing behavior while casting doubt on Brienne’s compromised position as the protector of both Stark girls. Why Littlefinger creeped out Jon in the crypt, or handed the dagger over to Bran, remains something of a mystery.
Here’s something that’s either a portent of ill things to come or a minor mistake in how Maester Luwin operated. Earlier this season, when Maester Wolkan mentioned that Maester Luwin "kept copies" of all the scrolls sent to Winterfell, Littlefinger gave him a look. Thus far, the assumption has been that he would uncover the copy of a scroll to make Sansa look bad. This week, Arya mentions that the scroll is in Sansa’s handwriting. If you go back to when the original Sansa scroll that was delivered to Robb, you can see him return the scroll to Maester Luwin, so the inclusion of the word "copy" in the original line muddies the water a bit. Was that just to tell us that Luwin was a studious record keeper and would also keep scrolls that were returned to him, or is there still foreshadowed information in Luwin’s copies that Littlefinger knows is dangerous enough to undo his plans?
House Stark (or: this will not end well)
For the purposes of this episode, all the drama that’s unrelated to the North falls to House Stark, as we return for the next chapter in the strange conflict between Arya and Sansa. As mentioned in last week’s recap, the desire to see Arya and Sansa work together, since the audience has been privy to the complete arc of their journeys away from each other, creates another dynamic in all of these scenes. Mostly frustration. Last week, Arya falling for a Littlefinger plot wasn’t frustrating because "Arya should be smarter than that," it was frustrating because the conflict between the two largely went unspoken, so we had to guess why Arya was so pissed at Sansa, and we had to guess what was in the scroll that Littlefinger planted.
This week’s episode dodges a lot of frustration problems because someone states aloud the intentions and fears of both the Stark sisters. Arya thinks Sansa is potentially disloyal and dangerous to Jon. Sansa thinks Arya’s unhinged and is worried the North will turn against her. It’s going to be harder to convince anyone who knows Sansa’s full story that she’d actually turn against Jon, and while most of the major characters are dealing with wars, Sansa is the only one burdened with actual preparations for winter. Winter, y’all, it’s both a metaphor and a season!
Which brings us to Sansa finding her sister’s bag of faces. Any question of whether the Faceless Men made Arya "magical" can be wiped away after the reveal of those rubbery faces. It’s cool to see Arya being confident and stone cold, but... she is being duped and lashes out by threatening to cut off her sister’s face. In a strange parallel to when Sansa also didn’t know what Bran meant when he said he was the "Three-Eyed Raven," Arya tells Sansa about her secret organization and their lying game, which comes off super creepy, and really hammers home that this is a little serial killer. Though we may like the people that she kills, she has a corruptible will because she’s not a true Faceless Man. She’s Arya Stark.
If you’ve ever read an argument online about if Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi is actually a Jedi, then you might know the difference. Like Luke in Empire Strikes Back, Arya left her place of training to deal with personal connections. Luke returned to complete his training only to find Yoda dying. Arya refused to give up her identity and serve the God of Death. We may get an answer about what happened next for Luke laer this year in The Last Jedi, but I doubt the show is going to return to the House of Black and White, so we’ll never know for sure if Arya is a complete Faceless Man. The key thing is that she's not right now, in this boiled-over state of emotion. When she’s saying what Sansa is thinking about out loud, it’s through an imperfect filter. We can trust some of it, but it’s far from accepted fact just because Arya said it. Arya is a stone-cold killer, but is still fallible, because we know she’s being tricked.
We only have one more episode to figure out if these two are going to be foiled by Littlefinger’s plot or if they’re finally going to find a way to put family duty first. It seems very unlikely this storyline ends with Arya killing Sansa. Then again, this is Game of Thrones.