Viserion the Dragon passed away unexpectedly Sunday night, north of the Wall. Although his line is from Westeros, he was born in Essos, adopted child of Daenerys Targaryen, He was active in eating livestock, enjoyed spending time in the sky, and was an enthusiastic Mahjong player. His death north of the Wall was the direct result of an altercation with the Night King and the army of the dead. He is survived by his brothers, Rhaegal and Drogon, and his adopted mother, and apparently himself, resurrected as an evil zombie dragon in the service of the Night King. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Viserion Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of Volantis, or cattle may be sent to Rhaegal and Drogon, care of Dragonstone. Valar morghulis.
A whole bunch of characters without names
At the same battle in which Viserion the Dragon heroically gave his life to save Medieval Avengers, a large number of red shirts also got majorly killed. But nobody you care about or even any character with a name. I mean there was a minute where you were really worried about Tormund Giantsbane, and Thoros of Myr got shanked and eventually passed and was cremated (but let’s be honest, no one said, “Not Thoros of Myr!” A lot of people said, “Which one was that? The Doros guy or Derek Whats-his-name?” I have heard them referred to as “Eye patch guy and the man bun.”) A whole bunch of characters without names passed away after being dragged off to be torn apart. Services will not be held. In lieu of flowers, keep your money. Valar morghulis.
Thoros of Myr
It was Thoros of Myr who got mortally wounded by an undead bear, not the other guy (Beric What's-his-name). We appear to be running out of characters we care about to kill. Valar morghulis or whatever.
Okay, all playing aside, this episode was a bit of a mix. The battle of zombie pond (Let’s just call it that.) was very satisfying in terms of action and excitement. But it was missing Game of Thrones’ typical brutality. Oh, it was violent and nasty and gory. But the main rule of GoT got dropped: Screw up and you pay the price. Ask Robb Stark. Ask Ned Stark. Ask Jaime Lannister’s hand. Ask the Waif. But Jon Snow, apparently an original Trek fanboy, brought a number of red shirts to be killed so nobody you care about will be.
Make no mistake: I love Tormund Giantsbane. His exchange with the Hound was one of the best and most real conversations this season. Tormund describes his crush, and the Hound realizes who it is:
The Hound: Brienne of Tarth!
Tormund: You know her?
The Hound: You're with Brienne of fucking Tarth?
Tormund: Well, not with her yet, but I see the way she looks at me.
The Hound: How does she look at you? Like she wants to carve you up and eat your liver?
Tormund: You do know her!
The Hound: We've met.
Tormund: I want to make babies with her. Think of them - great big monsters. They'd conquer the world.
The Hound: How did a mad fucker like you live this long?
Tormund: I'm good at killing people.
That’s just good, fun writing. It’s got comic genius: Tormund’s exclamation that the Hound does know Brienne when he describes her look, Tormund’s desire to “make babies with her,” and the final two lines: two oddballs being honest.
And this exchange is one of the reasons I thought we’d see Tormund die tonight. First, you send a party north of the Wall to kidnap a wight. Crazy idea. Then, you have them face an army of the dead led directly by the Night King. This was a bad idea. In GoT logic, someone we love must die. Tormund got grabbed and overwhelmed and was dragged towards a hole in the ice. Every other member of the party who found themselves in that situation was gone in seconds, but not Tormund. By deus ex Houndica, he literally gets saved at the last second with only a scratch on his head. Now, on the one hand, I am happy because I love this character. On the other hand, as an honest fanboy, I think this episode cheated. GoT is not Trek; Trek has red shirts, so no main character gets killed. GoT has main characters for that. While it is in character (as it has been developing) for the Hound to rescue Tormund, it is out of character or the series to allow him to do so.
Similarly, while the loss of a dragon is important, sad, and game-changing, it did not carry the emotional resonance it should have. Partly, I suspect that is because the dragons themselves have been props, not characters. How many viewers even knew which dragon was killed? In addition, that event was telegraphed from the second Dany headed north with all three. My wife sat on the couch next to me, calmly telling the characters what was going to happen: “You guys aren’t watching the Night King. He’s going to go for a dragon. He’s got a lance. You guys know who he is and what he does. You had another dragon get shot two episodes ago. Seriously, just look over there. Okay, and see, now he’s going to throw the lance, and…I TOLD YOU SO!” She was not alone in offering advice to the screen, which means the show is a bit predictable. GoT has done better, and the audience deserves better. Still, zombie dragon = pretty cool. Will make for a more interesting series climatic battle.
Make no mistake - there was a lot of good stuff in this episode. The opening shot of the map table at Dragonstone, echoing the credits but also showing the route by which Jon and fam headed to Eastwatch and beyond. We had a bird’s eye view, which would be repeated several times during the show. Undead bears? Cool. Haven’t seen that before. The low visibility because of snow made it more exciting and terrifying. During the journey, Beric explained to Jon Snow what the audience knew instinctively but loved to hear articulated: “We’re soldiers. We have to know what we’re fighting for. I’m not fighting so that some man or woman I barely know can sit on a throne made of swords.” Jon asks what he does fight for. “Life,” comes the answer, “Death is the enemy. The first enemy and the last. The enemy always wins, and we still need to fight him.” YEAH! We are with you on that one. (Wait, does that make us red shirts?)
Tyrion tells Dany that Jon is crushing on her, in a lovely moment, but she begins to act out of character in rejecting his council. While he was wrong to advise her not to go north to rescue Jon and friends, he did offer the most important question she must answer: “How do we ensure your vision endures? Once you break the wheel, how do we ensure it stays broken?” He is right. Dany must think not just of the immediate future, not just three steps ahead, but the long-term picture. In response, Dany acts like Cersei and accuses Tyrion of undermining her. In character for him, out of character for her.
Dany rescues everyone we care about, including Jon Snow, who apparently is the Elsa of Westeros, because the cold doesn’t bother him anyway. She is unharmed by fire; he gets dragged into a frozen lake after standing all night on a little island, after days of trudging north of the wall, and pulls himself out ready for round two. Uncle Benjen comes out of nowhere, deus ex Houndica, gives Jon a horse and dies in his place. Really? It goes by so quickly, so nonsensically, and so needlessly that Uncle Benjen didn’t even get an obituary.
Later, on the ship, Dany sees Jon’s many dagger scars and begins to realize what Ser Davos meant when he said Jon took a dagger to the heart for the North. She explains to him, “The dragons are my children. They are the only children I will ever have. We’re going to destroy the Night King and his army. We are going to do it together.” In response, Jon offers to bend the knee and says the North will be cool with it. He calls her “my queen” and takes her hand and Dany looks like she can’t decide if he just submitted to her or proposed to her.
But in that case, I wonder why Dany seems resigned to the loss of one of her “children” and is already moving on. Maybe I’ve just been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack too much lately, but if Dany lost one of her children, she should be going through the unimaginable. I mentioned above that I don’t think we feel a great sense of loss with the death of Viserion. It’s just out of character for Dany to not project a great sense of loss either.
Oddly in character is Arya. There has been some scuttlebutt around the internets about not being happy with Arya threatening and taking issue with Sansa. But go back to season four, episode one, “Two Swords.” One of the eponymous swords is Needle, Arya’s blade, a gift from her father, taken from her by Polliver, who killed her friend Lommy just because he could. She is at the nadir of her existence, believing herself utterly alone in the world, a prisoner of the Hound. She enters the inn where the soldiers are violating the innkeeper’s daughter, demanding food, and generally being not nice, forcing the Hound to follow. After some not-so-nice chit-chat, the Hound begins a bar brawl that sees Arya kill two men (her second and third kills). The first one she stabs quickly through the heart, killing him instantly, but stabs Polliver in the lower back so he falls. She takes her sword from Polliver as he lies bleeding, helpless and unarmed, on the ground. She repeats to him the words he said as he killed Lommy. At first he is confused but when she says, “Fine little blade. Maybe I'll pick my teeth with it,” his eyes widen in terror and recognition and she runs him through the throat, just as he did Lommy.
Why do I bring this memory back in such detail? It points to what Arya will become by season seven. She was always vindictive, and we found that satisfying when she was killing characters we hate. But she is the Rambo of Winterfell; you can’t train someone to be a vicious killer and then be surprised when they viciously kill people. In the current episode, Arya tells the story of how she found an arrow and kept practicing with it until she hit the bullseye and her father applauded. She realized he had been watching the whole time and the facts that he did not stop her, clapped for her success, never punished her, and never told Catelyn (who would not have approved) shows that he did approve. He also had Needle made for her and in King’s Landing paid a “dancing master” to teach her to dance with Needle. From early childhood, Arya has been tacitly allowed to become a warrior, but unlike Brienne of Tarth, who has been a public warrior and follows a knightly code of honor, Arya has been a secret fighter. In hindsight, of course she sought training among the Faceless Men; she has been prepped to be an assassin and not a knight since she was a tween.
But look at that scene from “Two Swords” again. She does not merely want to fight as a knight. She kills easily the first time and then slows down to make Polliver’s death last. She wants him to know who she is and why she is killing him. A smile plays around her lips. This is the Arya who will kill Walder Frey and all the little Freys. She enjoys killing; she enjoys watching her victims die, and she does so with a profound sense of justice. That aspect of her character is what makes young Arya (and let us remember she is at best in her mid-teens) so dangerous: She believes in the utter rightness of her actions when she kills. She is a crusading assassin, which means that if she believes you deserve to die, you will, with no recourse to any other possible means of justice. When she tells Sansa that she could kill her and wear her face and sleep the sleep of the just, she means it.
Arya is setting up Sansa, but Littlefinger is setting up Arya. The only question is, does Arya know it? Their fight was not a play to misdirect Littlefinger, but it was completely in character for both of them. Both have been through a great deal, both have grown and matured. But it doesn’t matter how old you get, your siblings are still your siblings and you never quite let go of the fact that your younger brother lost your Obi-Wan action figure when you specifically asked him to be careful with it and you only let him play with it because mom insisted and he never really got in trouble for losing it and didn’t apologize and I DON’T CARE THAT IT WAS THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, DAVE, THAT WAS MY ACTION FIGURE! My point is, Sansa and Arya are two sisters who never got along. Why should they get along now? They have different values, different world views, different priorities, and Arya is also more than a little sociopathic now. Sansa’s realpolitik doesn’t convince crazy; it just makes her suspect in Arya’s eyes. And Arya got Sansa’s direwolf killed. We are long past the “dad liked you best” phase of the argument and are now comfortably circling “I could kill you and wear your face as a mask and nobody would notice or care!” (If I had a nickel for every Thanksgiving dinner ruined by that old argument…) Littlefinger, also in character, is playing both of them against each other. Why? Because the show is called “Game of Thrones,” and he has been playing it longer than almost anyone left! Chaos is a ladder, and the Stark sisters’ inability to get along is a rung.
Adding all of this up, the penultimate episode of the season (and, if we are counting, the eighth one left overall, sigh), delivers a lot, but delivers it out of character and thus this one feels just a little hollow. But, to be honest, even when Game of Thrones is not at its best, it is still better than almost anything around. More Ser Davos in the next one, please. And would it kill you to bring Lyanna Mormont back before the end of the season? I can seriously see her commanding an undead bear to “stop it!” Then, she could ride it into battle. Completely in character for her (and the bear). I will also accept a spinoff in which Brienne, Tormund, and the Hound are forced to become roommates in a beachfront apartment in Dorne. (Bronn runs a bar or yogurt stand down the street - it writes itself.) A boy can dream. Usually, in a ten-episode season, the penultimate episode is the explosion and the final episode is the aftermath. Fingers crossed that next week will be out of character for the series and literally the ultimate episode in the season, setting up a final season worthy of all that has come before.
Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University. His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films. For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.