Episode 06: Beyond The Wall
"Beyond the Wall" is the sixth and penultimate episode of the seventh season of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 66th overall. It was written by series co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Alan Taylor. At 70 minutes, it was the series' longest episode until the airing of the season's finale.
Episode 06: Beyond the Wall
The episode's main plot focuses on Jon Snow's raiding party as they journey north of the Wall; they successfully capture a wight to prove the threat, though Thoros is killed. Daenerys rescues the group from the Army of the Dead, and the Night King kills and reanimates Viserion. Jon is separately rescued by Benjen, who sacrifices himself, and Jon acknowledges Daenerys as queen. Meanwhile, at Winterfell, tension builds between Sansa and Arya.
The title of the episode is taken from the namesake lands where most of the episode takes place. "Beyond the Wall" received mostly positive praise from critics, who listed the epic scale and special effects of the battle between the White Walkers and the dragons, the interactions between the northern raiding party, and Jon swearing fealty to Daenerys as highlights of the episode, though some reviewers criticized the episode for "defying logic" and its rushed storytelling. In the United States, the episode achieved a viewership of 10.24 million in its initial broadcast.
Jon, the Hound, Jorah, Beric, Thoros, and Gendry journey beyond the wall with Tormund and several other Wildlings. Jon offers Longclaw, the ancestral Mormont sword, to Jorah, but Jorah insists Jon keep it.
"Beyond the Wall" was written by the series' creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. In the "Inside the Episode" featurette published by HBO following the airing of the episode, David Benioff indicated that the death of the dragon Viserion was something that he and the writers had been working towards for a long time, and added "The whole path of the show in some way has been trying to map out all of the episode end points, and with this one, it was the dragon opening its blue eye, and realizing that the Night King has finally gotten his own weapon of mass destruction." Weiss also stated that the most enjoyable part in writing the sequence was to make it seem as though all of the "good guys" were going to "get out the other side more or less scot-free", and knew that subsequently killing the dragon would have "a tremendous emotional impact", due to its importance to Daenerys. He continued by saying that they knew it would be important for the Night King to seize on the opportunity to kill a dragon, and that they intended for the scene to be a "one-two punch" by having the viewer witness "the horror" involved with seeing "one of these three amazing beings like this in the world going under the water and not coming up again, and processing that", but also "processing something that's even worse", by having the dragon pulled out of the water and becoming a part of the Night King's army.
Regarding the inclusion of the wight polar bear attack, Benioff and Weiss stated that they had wanted to have a wight polar bear for "about four seasons", but never made it onto the screen due to opposition from the special effects team. Weiss recalled being told that they were not able to afford the special effect, but felt that it made "perfect sense that you could have one of these things out there, and we really put our four feet down and said goddamnit, we want a zombie polar bear", and thus wrote it into the episode.
Weiss also spoke about the concluding Winterfell sequence, saying that once Sansa finds Arya's collection of faces and is confronted, Sansa was intended to start to see Arya as "a real, physical danger to her", and that they wanted to translate that fear to the subsequent episode, in "The Dragon and the Wolf".
"Beyond the Wall" was directed by Alan Taylor. This was Taylor's seventh episode as a director for the series, but it was his first episode since the second season, where he directed that season's finale episode, "Valar Morghulis". He was also a director for two episodes in the first season, "Baelor" and "Fire and Blood", as well as four other episodes in the second season. Since his hiatus from the series, Taylor was a director for several big budget Hollywood films, including Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys. Taylor had fallen into depression following his bad experiences working in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Terminator franchise, so he felt that returning to direct this episode of Game of Thrones was part of his "healing process" to rediscover his joy for filmmaking. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Taylor spoke about the differences between his earlier stint with the series, and his return for the show's seventh season, saying he was previously told to avoid using green screen, and thus special effects, due to the budgetary constraints that the series had in its earlier seasons. However, with "Beyond the Wall", he was able to fully utilize visual effects to create the large environment, dragons and armies due to the increased budget. He also described the experience as "going full circle", having witnessed the evolution of characters such as Sophie Turner as Sansa and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, who he directed when they were children, and that they have since grown up.
Many of the scenes leading up to the battle with the White Walker army were filmed in Iceland, but the majority of the episode's battle sequence was filmed in a quarry in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Taylor had expected to film the sequence entirely in Iceland, but quickly realized that it was not feasible due to the amount of production that was required. In filming the wight polar bear attack, Taylor noted that the bear was designed by the New Zealand-based Weta Digital, which previously worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Richard Dormer, who portrays Beric Dondarrion, described filming the scene in a separate interview, saying "It was very cold, wet and physical. Hot as well, running around imagining a 12-foot flaming polar bear. It's pretty weird, but it was fun." Dormer also noted the difficulty of filming a flaming sword, revealing that the sword could only burn for two minutes at a time, and could not be swung too quickly, requiring Dormer to slow down his movement. He also said that the sword he was using weighed approximately three times more than a normal sword. Though the actors were dressed warmly for the scenes beyond the Wall, their suits contained a "tube system through which cold water can be circulated between shots using a portable pump to keep them from getting overheated", due to the actual warmth of filming on a fake set in Northern Ireland. This was also essential due to the possibility of Rory McCann's, who portrays Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, prosthetic makeup melting off his face.
Some reviews were more negative. Terri Schwartz of IGN wrote in her review of the episode, "Game of Thrones has long set the precedent that its penultimate episodes of its seasons would be the biggest in terms of scale and, oftentimes, loss, in everything from "Baelor" to "The Rains of Castamere". In that way, "Beyond the Wall" was no different, as it arguably featured the greatest loss the series has faced to date: a dragon killed by the Night King, and even worse, resurrected by him." However, Schwartz also criticized the episode saying that it suffered "more than any other episode to date from the rushed, truncated storytelling in Season 7." Schwartz went on to also praise the interactions between the northern raiding party on their journey to find the White Walkers, and ultimately gave the episode a 6.9 out of 10. Daniel D'Addario of Time magazine wrote in his review of the episode "This episode, occupying the penultimate-in-the-season slot that has historically been the spot where the biggest moments occur, was ever-so-slightly less a barnburner than last year's 'Battle of the Bastards', for instance. But that's in part due to the increasing obviousness of the stakes." Myles McNutt of The A.V. Club spoke similarly in his comparison of the episode to the previous season's penultimate episode, questioning some of the reasoning behind the battle, writing "we have a situation here where a series of events engineered for action and suspense effectively sells out the characters involved." He also praised the episode, however, by saying "On the level of spectacle, "Beyond The Wall" is another series high point, with stellar work from returning director Alan Taylor, capturing the visceral battles that the seven men and several Red Shirts encounter on their journey. And I was charmed by the series of "walk and talks" that punctuate their travels, brief vignettes of characters like Sandor and Tormund interacting for the first time while marching toward their potential dooms." He gave the episode a B. Steve Greene of IndieWire wrote in his review, ""Beyond the Wall" might not be the best episode of the season, but it's more assuredly the most important. By bringing the season-long promise of terror and triumph in rapid succession, the series turned this vital episode into a horror story to remember."
Similar to the fourth episode of the season, "The Spoils of War", the episode was leaked before it was set to air, on August 20, 2017. Four days before its official broadcast, HBO Spain and HBO Nordic accidentally allowed "Beyond the Wall" to be available for on-demand viewing for one hour before being removed.
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