This episode could have been titled "The Road to Abilene". For those of you who've never heard of it, The Road to Abilene is the story of how several people ended up going on a road trip that none of them actually wanted to take, due to each of them having a desire not to rock the boat. It's supposed to be a warning about groupthink.
So who the hell thought going north of the wall was a good idea? Sandor saw the vision in the flames. Thoros and Beric are serving their lord. Jorah is trying to serve Daenerys in any way she'll let him. Gendry is just happy to not be working for the Lannisters. Tormund was already at Eastwatch preparing to meet the dead, and he could consider it a scouting mission. But this was Jon's idea, and of all of them, Jon has cause to know what the White Walkers can do. He saw it up close at Hardhome. Bad call, brother.
North of Eastwatch
Jon, Gendry, Tormund, Thoros, Beric, Sandor, Gendry and Jorah (plus some cannon fodder) march in search of Schrodinger's Cat...dead and alive, in a manner of speaking. Along the way, we get to dig into some backstories. Jorah insists that Jon keep the sword Longclaw, because his dad (Lord Commander of the Night's Watch Jeor Mormont) gave it to Jon after Jorah disgraced the family name. Gendry is roundly mocked for complaining that Thoros and Beric sold him to Melisandre. Tormund expresses his admiration for Brienne of Tarth, whom Sandor has some experience with...
Also of note, Beric casually notes that Jon doesn't look like Ned Stark, and says he must favor his mother. Jon and Beric have a religious discussion, too. The Game of Thrones is irrelevant to Beric - death is the enemy, and they have to fight death to give others a chance at life. But the Lord of Light hasn't really shared that with him. It's all speculation. Nevertheless, the last part seems to resonate with Jon, who equates it to part of the oath of the Night's Watch - "I am the shield that guards the realms of men".
Daenerys is fed up with heroic men. They are so busy being brave that they don't realize they're behaving stupidly. Drogo, Daario, Jorah, and this...Jon Snow. She acts like she's just casually throwing Jon into the mix, but wise Tyrion understands her concern. He deflects a bit by saying that it's Jon who has fallen for Daeny, but clearly those feelings are reciprocated.
Talk turns to treacherous Cersei, and what traps she's likely to lay for a summit in King's Landing. Tyrion encourages Daeny to not respond to provocative comments from Cersei, and not to commit any treachery of her own. When Daeny expresses some impatience at "playing nice", Tyrion points out that the shared vision they have is to end the continuous cycle of tyranny and be a different kind of ruler. Tyrion has clearly bought in, but Daeny still seems to have reservations. She just wants to burn her enemies to the ground. Tyrion, as he has been tending to do, pushes a little too hard on the long term vision, asking who will take over to take over after they're gone. Whether Daeny is a bit sensitive about being barren post Mirri Maz Duur (the lady who "healed" Drogo into a vegetative state), or a bit untrusting of Tyrion, she abruptly says they won't discuss the heir until the throne is won.
Back in the North
Cannon Fodder One is ranging ahead of the group of heroes when they see a bear. The bear is not just any bear. He's an undead bear.
Let's unpack our adjectives, like the fine folks at Schoolhouse Rock:
We hiked along without care.
Then we ran into a bear.
He was a hairy bear,
He was a scary bear,
We beat a hasty retreat from his lair.
And described him with adjectives.
Whoah! Boy! That was one big, ugly bear!
And that big, ugly bear did some damage. Not only the Cannon Fodder, but Thoros gets a nasty wound saving a fire-frozen Sandor from a grisly death. Beric uses his flaming sword to cauterize Thoros' wounds, and on they march. Thoros is laboring, and Jorah distracts him by talking about Thoros charging through the gap on Pyke. This is a reference to the rebellion that Theon's dad led when he felt that Robert's defeat of the Targaryens gave him an opportunity to be a king himself. That was the "proper scrap" that led to Theon being a ward of House Stark.
Finally, the ranging heroes come across a small number of the dead. Laying a trap, they charge. Jon himself duels a White Walker, and killing it, he finds that all but one of the dead crumbles back into corpsedom. Then it's bull in the ring time - this is their opportunity to catch one of the dead - but once they've caught it, it screeches and summons a larger force.
Jon sends Gendry running back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Daeny. The rest of them run onto a frozen lake, pursued by thousands of the dead. Jon and company make it to an island in the middle of the lake, and when the dead come in pursuit, their weight breaks through the ice. It's a bit of a stalemate. Jon and team can't go anywhere, but the dead can't come at them in numbers either.
Gendry makes it back to Eastwatch, and a raven is sent to Daeny.
The Breathing Team wakes up in the morning. Most of them do, that is. Thoros has frozen to death in the night. They burn his body.
Tyrion tries to convince Daeny to leave Jon and Co to their fate. Everything rides on her being alive. She refuses to listen to his counsel, and off she goes with her dragons.
Sandor is out of his element. Not only did he freeze when faced with a flaming bear, but he starts throwing rocks at the dead. It's not unlike Pippen starting a chain reaction with the orcs under Moria. Sandor's last throw convinces a jawless corpse that the ice solidified in the night and they can make their move. Quick deducers, the dead.
In ones and twos, then in bunches, the dead charge. Chaos ensues. At one point it looks very bad for Tormund, but Sandor redeems himself and stages a rescue. Still, the team is getting pushed to the edge, and the end is near, when the three dragons arrive and start torching the place. Drogon lands and everyone except Jon gets on Drogon's back. They secure the captured dead.
The Night King has just been observing, but now it's time to join the fray. He is handed a special javelin, which he throws with incredible force and accuracy into Viserion (I believe), ripping open and killing one of Daeny's children.
Stunned, they all stare helplessly at the dead dragon as it sinks into the lake. Jon notices the Night King preparing another javelin, and he screams at Daeny to leave. She does, and the second throw is narrowly off the mark. Jon is tackled into the water by the dead as Daeny takes off. Looking back, she believes he must be dead. Jon manages to climb back out, and the dead notice and prepare to finish him. Another mysterious savior comes, this time in the form of Uncle Benjen on horseback. He gets Jon on the horse and sends him back to Eastwatch while the dead swarm Benjen under.
Back in Eastwatch, Daeny vainly looks for Jon, but finally turns to go. A horn sounds, though, and looking down from the Wall they see Jon. He's unconscious. Daeny watches them strip Jon out of his sodden clothing, and stares in amazement at his vicious scarring.
Awaking, Jon sees Daeny hovering at his bedside. His first words are to apologize for her loss, which catches Daeny by surprise. She is overcome by emotion and they briefly hold hands.
Jon calls her Daeny, which also surprises her...but not in a good way, since she thinks Viserys was the last one who calls her that. Okay, says Jon, I won't call you Daeny. I'll call you my queen. This is the third surprise for Daeny, who is again emotional (and again they hold hands). She hopes to be worthy of his fealty, and he is sure she will be.
Meanwhile, in Winterfell
If Arya is playing Littlefinger, she's playing the long game. Her distaste for Sansa seems very real. She accuses Sansa of helping the Lannisters kill Ned Stark. She reads her the note that Sansa wrote to Robb begging him to bend the knee to Joffrey. Sansa protests that she was forced to do it, that she was just a child and she was trying to save Ned. Arya isn't having any of it. She claims she would have died before letting herself be used to betray the Stark family.
Sansa (with some justification) points out that Arya didn't do anything to help Ned even though she was there at the execution. And that while Arya was training, Sansa was suffering mightily.
Sansa makes a lot of good points, but Arya is unforgiving, at least outwardly. She is merciless, and she seizes on Sansa's fear of the letter being read more broadly. Arya sniffs it out, and intuits that Sansa would be ashamed and damaged if the Karstarks and the Umbers and the Mormonts (etc etc) saw the letter. She asks what Arya plans to do with it and she asks where she got it...if only Arya had replied to the latter, perhaps Sansa would see who the schemer behind this conflict truly is. They part on a bad note.
Sansa expresses her concern to Littlefinger...where did she get the note? "She seems very resourceful" is Littlefinger's reply. He flatters her, and suggests that Brienne could help deal with the Arya problem. What is Littlefinger planning?
Sansa receives an invitation to go to King's Landing. She decides to send Brienne...which seems like an odd choice given the discussion she just had with Littlefinger. Tormund's going to be disappointed.
Sansa steals into Arya's room, looking for the message. She finds Arya's luggage and, opening it, finds a few of Arya's faces. Arya catches her pawing through her things. Sansa is afraid, and she tries to cover it by demanding answers to these faces in Arya's belongings. Arya tells Sansa that she can experience other lives by using the faces. She lives in someone else's skin. She tells Sansa that she could experience what it's like to be Sansa...if she just had her face. Sansa is sure Arya is going to kill her with the Valyrian steel dagger, but Arya just flips it over and hands it to her hilt first and then leaves the room. Chilling encounter.
Once more North
Somewhere the undead army has come across some big chains (maybe from their junk drawer?), which they use to pull the corpse of Viserion from the lake. The Night King approaches and lays hands on the body...and crystal blue eyes open. Night King has an undead dragon.
Scenes From Next Week:
- Daeny's army of Dothraki and Unsullied is at King's Landing in full force
- Two navies eye each other
- Someone stumbles in the surf
- At the gathering of leaders, Jon says that the only war that matters is here