Despite all its charm, grandeur, glut of legitimately great filmmaking and stirring moments, “Beyond the Wall” remains for me one of, if not the most frustrating episode of Game of Thrones to this point due to its relative abundance of logic holes and writing shortcuts. To be clear, I don’t think the flaws I’ll discuss below are enough to completely sink the episode, even in the the aggregate. Nor do they take much away from the experience of the viewing the handful of unforgettable moments the episode contains. However, based on the standard that the series has set for itself, I can’t ignore the amount of compromises made.
Having said all that, I do feel there is more to be praised in this episode than criticized. Chief among the praiseworthy aspects is the absolutely stunning visuals captured by Alan Taylor (in his triumphant return) and DP Jonathan Freeman who use the Icelandic locations for all their worth. The sheer beauty and moodiness of the locations serve as the prefect backdrop for a sprawling, feature-length episode that looks and feels like a Sam Peckinpah Western made from a script by J.R.R. Tolkein.
The locations also served as a perfect backdrop for some of the best banter of the season. One of Game of Thrones’ specialties all along has been creating inspired on-screen duos. Along with Liam Cunningham and Diana Rigg, Kristofer Hivju and Rory McCann have long been the preeminent scene-stealers in the series, so getting Tormond and Glegane together is such a pairing as mentioned above. Their dialogue about Brienne was one of the funniest moments of the season.
The triangle of suspicion and intrigue comprising Arya, Sansa, and Baelish has a Gothic Bronte-esque quality about it I find quite entertaining, especially in this episode. The push and pull of Sansa and Arya’s familial bond and the tension that has always existed between them makes for a compelling and challenging dynamic, especially as its accentuated by their respective experiences in their time apart. That element in their characters’ relationship makes it especially interesting to watch Williams and Turner play it, especially in relation to their dynamic in season 1.
Deus ex machinas aside, the climactic sequence beyond the wall is unquestionably great television, all beautifully shot, choreographed, and executed. Furthermore, the developments in character and narrative far outweigh any flaws in the sequence, especially in regards to Viseryon’s death, which might be the single most devastating moment of the series since the Red Wedding. The dragons’ very presence in that setting, however, highlights the overarching logic hole that runs through the entire episode.
While I recognize that attempting to calculate the flight speed of mythical creatures in a work of genre fiction is approaching folly, there are only so many concessions one can credibly make to functional logic and suspension of disbelief has its limits. Most people on the other side of “water cooler” and bar talk debates I’ve had on the subject vehemently disagree with me, but I have a hard time believing that Dany and the dragons were able to make it north before the posse was either slaughtered or froze to death.I realize dragon’s aren’t real, but we can all surmise from viewing, logic, and a rudimentary knowledge of the laws of physics that they can only fly so fast, especially with a human being riding through the open air. These guys stood on that island over the course of the time it took Gendry to run to Eastwatch, the raven flying to Dragonstone to deliver the message, and Dany and the dragons arriving.
The big issue here, which didn’t need to be a big issue in the first place if it didn’t bleed into or/and lead to these other issues, is that we never get even a general sense of how far they’ve ranged from Eastwatch. But even the shortest estimate one could credibly make puts they’re location far enough away for Gendry to collapse from exhaustion after running there from the place of the engagement.
Again, I acknowledge that following threads of logic too far when it comes to narrative elements as fantastical as the Army of the Dead and dragons is a thorny endeavor, but I can’t get around the fact that this is the first episode where they’ve truly written themselves in to these many corners. I recognize that Benioff and Weiss are trying to wrap things up with a fair amount of alacrity, but I can’t help being a bit disappointed that they’ve chosen to compromise at such a crucial juncture in the series.