game of thrones beyond the wall 8

One More Conversation

While our gruff, grizzled, bearded men-on-a-mission kill time with conversation north of the Wall, another vital conversation takes place at Dragonstone. Tyrion Lannister, making good on his vow to give his queen some tough love after she scorched the Tarly family with her dragons, has a tough conversation. And it does not go well.

For years, we’ve cheered on Daenerys Targaryen as she’s fought (and won) all kinds of righteous battles. In the continent of Essos, her black-and-white, good versus evil approach to the world seemed to get the job done. The bad guys got melted by dragon flame. Slaves were freed. Things only went to shit when other bad guys stepped into stab her in the back.

But Dany’s tactics take on a different tone in Westeros, a continent we understand more than we ever did Essos. The land across the Narrow Sea was a world of strangers, of magic and superstition and one-off characters who often only existed to push Daenerys one step closer toward conquering her homeland. This is no longer true. Sure, Randyll Tarly wasn’t a nice guy (but Dickon seemed like a decent fellow), but he was still Samwell’s father. He was still the kin of a character we love.

This new context is not lost on the audience and it’s not lost on Tyrion. When he tells Daenerys that she needs to understand how her enemies think, he might as well be talking about us. After all, we’ve grown to love (and sometimes love to hate) just about every major character on this show. Even when they’re despicable, we admire them. We can understand where they’re coming from. To Daenerys, Jaime Lannister isn’t the broken, complex, sometimes cruel, sometimes noble knight who destroyed his reputation to save a city – he’s the son of a bitch who killed her father. Game of Thrones has always been masterful at portraying perspectives, of dealing in those shades of grey, and Tyrion understands the need for Daenerys to better understand the world she’s in before she can conquer it.

But Daenerys, one of the most stubborn people in a cast full of thick-skulls, isn’t having it. This exchange between Dany and her Hand provides as many fireworks as the later battle sequence. Tyrion’s words are full of wisdom, yes, but his words have also let them down before. And while tempers flare and voices are raised, this conversation can’t help but feel…healthy? Like something is being done? Isn’t this what a good Hand of the King/Queen does? To be the sole individual with the right amount of nerve, power, and insight to butt heads with the ruler of the land? If the king shits and the Hand wipes (to paraphrase season 1), then Tyrion is acting as responsibly as possible: the Mother of Dragons makes the glorious mess and the Imp has to spin it.

Of course, Daenerys is also rightfully suspicious of why the brother of her greatest enemy is so interested in a line of succession. After all, it’s all a matter of perspective. But you already knew that.

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A Rift in House Stark

Littlefinger gets what Littlefinger wants, and last week, we saw that he wanted to drive a wedge between the two Stark Sisters. In “Beyond the Wall,” he gets what wanted – and then some. Arya Stark, shaped to be suspicious of anyone and everyone by a world that has battered her around for seven seasons, is convinced that her pretty princess of a sister may not be as loyal to House Stark as she claims to be. Sansa Stark, shaped to be tougher than most by a world that has used and abused her for seven seasons, is convinced that her creepy weirdo of a sister is up to no good in a major way.

Of course, we know that these two are more similar than they could possibly imagine: the world has chewed up the Stark women and spit them out, but they’ve risen stronger than ever. But their strength manifests in different ways: Arya is about action and Sansa is about caution and neither one of them realizes that one needs the other to survive.

Instead, we have to watch two of Game of Thrones‘ best characters drift apart during a time when their bonds should be stronger than ever. Arya simply cannot comprehend the political web that her older sister has to navigate to keep the North from falling apart. Sansa simply cannot comprehend why her younger sister has a satchel full of faces. Families are weird.

Will these two realize that they’re being played? And if so, how do you go about disposing of the fox (mockingbird?) in your midst, especially since he’s the reason you’re still alive? That’s the question to ask going into the season finale, but it all hinges on these two sisters realizing that they’re united by more than just blood. They’re united by the desire to remake a world that has stacked the deck against them.

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Meet Me in King’s Landing

While Sansa deals with her weirdo sister and her bag of faces, she also has to run the house and keep the neighbors happy. It’s a tough gig, the kind of tough gig that will keep her from making a road trip to King’s Landing for talks of a potential armistice. But like anyone who has ever used work as an excuse to get out of another obligation, it’s clear that Sansa simply has no interest in returning to the castle where she was physically and psychologically abused for years. No, thanks.

So in an interesting little turn, she decides to send the endlessly loyal Brienne of Tarth as her representative at the talks. It’s a smart move because Brienne is a worthy Stark rep – she’s brave, determined, and straightforward (sometimes to a fault). It’s also a dumb move because she’s ending away her fiercest protector right when her sister is pointing knives at her and talking about training to be a Faceless Man in Braavos. Then again, Sansa could be the first Stark to be playing a game of three-dimensional chess and she’s sending Brienne away because she’s too noble and would probably stand in the Stark girls’ way if they plan to reconcile and team up to deal with Littlefinger. If so, we’re seeing a pinch of Lannister being added to the Stark recipe, and that’s a good look.

In any case, Brienne is heading south, where she’ll get to reunite with Jaime Lannister again. Since she’s always been a little Jiminy Cricket on the Kingslayer’s shoulder, it’ll be fascinating to see how (or if) she can counteract the machinations of Cersei. After all, Jaime will do a lot of things for love and, whether he’s ready to admit it or not, he certainly loves the lady knight from the Sapphire Isle like a sister. You know, one he doesn’t have sex with.

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