Lenika Cruz: Speaking of light, I want to go back first to the conversation between Beric Dondarrion—who here looked very Westerosi Walter White—and Jon Snow, the two people on the show we know have come back from the dead. Both confronted the inscrutability of the Lord of Light’s desires, something followers of R’hllor have long acknowledged. “What’s the point in serving a god if none of us knows what he wants?” Jon said, making me for a second think he was talking instead about the story’s authors rather than some mystical fiery deity. Beric admitted to not knowing the exact purpose for their resurrection but nonetheless suggested he at least knew what he was fighting for: people who can’t defend themselves. “Maybe we don’t need to understand any more than that. Maybe that’s enough,” he told Jon. Being of the stock of heroes and martyrs, Jon instantly agreed.
This episode’s chitchat didn’t bother me as much as it did you, Spencer—in part because the remedial refresher in the characters’ backstories was helpful, but also because I found these pairings somewhat enlightening. (I should add here that much of what irked you both about “Beyond the Wall,” also irked me, but having had a little time to think on this, I’m going to try and push back a little on some of your assessments.) Jon and Jorah finally got to talk properly about their fathers and their own relationships with each of the dead men. They spoke of the deep injustice of the deaths of Jeor Mormont and Ned Stark, two men who lived lives of honor and yet who met undignified ends: the late Lord Commander slain by Night’s Watch mutineers (like Jon himself) and Ned Stark on the executioner’s block for a treason he didn’t commit.
Other conversations, too, returned to that favorite Thrones theme of yore: skepticism of the romantic hero trope. Dany (sorry, I still gotta call her that) and Tyrion spoke, with little subtlety, about how heroes “do stupid things, and they die.” Thoros lived long enough after suffering his zombie-bear-inflicted wounds to destroy Jorah’s impression of him as “the bravest man I ever saw” and admit it was drunkenness that led to his legendary charging of the breach at Pyke with his flaming sword, not courage. Tormund accepted Jon’s explanation for Gendry’s presence (“he’s a good fighter”), saying, “Smart people don’t come up here looking for the dead.” And then the fire-kissed wildling, who lauded Mance Rayder as “a brave man, a proud man,” implicitly gave Jon permission to bend the knee to Daenerys to avoid the slaughter of his people (“How many of his people died for his pride?” Tormund said of Mance, apparently coming around to the thinking of Ned Stark when he traded his honor for the lives of his children.)
All these takedowns of heroism—as a trait often indistinguishable from foolishness, drunkenness, vanity—made the final showdown that much more disappointing on a larger narrative level, I’ll give you that. (As far as spectacle and effects go, it was terrific.) On one hand, you could argue that all these stupid heroes getting out alive, after the show once again heavily debated the stupidity of their mission, is subversive. And I know Thoros’s death, and the impending death of Melisandre, is supposed to weaken the audience’s expectation that, if someone important dies, someone can easily bring them back. But the fact that these men (minus the faceless expendables) were delivered at precisely the moment they needed deliverance—from a plot perspective—completely undermined the show’s apparent efforts at self-awareness. Regardless of what Benioff and Weiss say, all the head-scratching set-up and predictable dragon/Benjen ex machina wasn’t enough to justify Ice Viserion on its own, as cool as that image was. To me, the fact that no major characters lost their lives, or worse, exposed the insincerity of all that “heroes are dumb” dialogue. Comeuppance, in the world of Thrones, would have been something like quintessential tortured hero Jon Snow being captured and turned into a White Walker, not Coldhands swooping in to save the day for another foolhardy Stark.