Game of Thrones small council: Who will die beyond the Wall?
With the seventh season of Game of Thrones in full swing, EW’s Darren Franich and Shirley Li venture into the weeds of Westeros every week to untangle the latest burning questions, ruminate over theories, and trace the show’s remaining connections to the unfinished books. Consider it EW’s small council, made of two people far too obsessed with everything Thrones. This week’s burning question: Who will die beyond the Wall?
SHIRLEY: Let’s play a game, Darren. We’ve got seven suicidal guys beyond the Wall: Jon, Jorah, Gendry, Thoros, Beric, Tormund, and the Hound. Some of them have just met, some of them hate each other, and all of them are heading out into the cold to capture an ice zombie with zero planning and, like, a whole lot of wishful thinking. There’s no way the faith of these seven (sorry) will carry them all to frozen hell and back, so the question is: Who’s going to die?
Jon has enough plot armor on him to keep him in play, but everyone else is vulnerable. I want to believe that D&D would want to keep Tormund around — he’s now Head Wildling, and I imagine that gives him some plot, uhh, chainmail — and that they want to eventually reunite the Hound with the Stark sisters, so I’m betting on those two making it through. I’m hopeful that Gendry didn’t row all this way just to pull a Rickon and make a two-episode appearance, but then again, the Baratheon bastard doesn’t seem to have a larger destiny. There’s a good chance Thoros and Beric have been guided by the Lord of Light to their deaths, but would their deaths carry as much weight as anybody else’s? We’ve gone a few episodes now with only minor character offings (Olenna’s the exception, IMHO), which makes me think we’re gearing up for someone who’s reached the end of his emotional journey and whose death would devastate enough fans to make this Northern jaunt matter. So in other words, I’m very, very worried for Jorah.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. That final shot of the seven men leaving Eastwatch naturally drew comparisons to Seven Samuraiand Magnificent Seven and Suicide Squad and, I don’t know, A Bug’s Life, but I’m struggling to apply superlatives to everyone in the group, and I’m pretty sure it’s because this plan makes no sense. It’s a fun team, for sure, but why are they doing this without any strategy? Why do they think this’ll work at all with Cersei? Why, six seasons after Alliser Thorne failed to use the severed wight hand to convince King’s Landing of the threat, are they trying this again? Why does anyone think this would be a good idea?!
Darren, who would you bet on dying this Sunday? This isn’t a very fun game, is it?
DARREN: Disagree, this is a VERY fun game! I say embrace the brutal nature of this plotline, since the set-up is so weirdly mathematical: “Quick, we need meatshields for Jon! Find six vaguely beloved warrior-characters who aren’t from any of the major families and are still alive!” What’s Jorah up to? Nothing? Great, send him along! Hey, is Gendry still alive? Does he has a groovy bespoke weapon? You’re on the team, and you’re on the team, and you’re on the team!
We’re deep down the rabbit hole of main-character-meetup wish fulfillment here. And like you, I don’t really buy the goal of this particular Fetch Quest. Can a wight survive a long trip South, so far from the source of their undeadliness? Would Cersei’s social consciousness really expand if she saw a walking corpse? Why did you think a balloon would stop him? Shut up, that’s why! And I’ll shut up, because I love Seven Samurai, and playing Seven Samurai with Game of Thrones action figures could teach kids a valuable lesson about group dynamics.
And playing the “who dies” game is more than just a simple exeunt lotto. Who the writers kill, and why they kill them, could help us read the tea leaves for the final season of Thrones – and, maybe, reveal just how much the show still believes in the George R. R. Martin mandate to zag where most fantasy stories proudly, nobly, and boringly zig. So, of course, Jon’s not dying, because that happened already. And I hear all your other reasoning and accept its logic: Tormund needs to continue baiting ‘shippers hearts with Brienne, the Hound must have a reckoning with the Stark women, surely they didn’t just bring Gendry back to kill some ice zombies?
But I’m anticipating madness, and maybe yearning for surprise. So I think that besides Jon, everybody dies up North. Well, almost everybody. After Gendry goes down swinging, after Beric goes down burning, after Jorah dies whispering “Khaleesi” like the lovesick chump he always was, after the Hound and Tormund make like the Bash Brothers in Mighty Ducks and pull a White Walker in half before getting buried under a mountain of undead – after all that, I see Jon Snow limping back through Eastwatch. His only companions? A murderous wight…and Thoros of Myr. Score one for the topknot!
(And of course, the most horrifying part about watching Jon’s crew perish? The final shot, when the risen Fatal Five march South with the other deadites.)
Am I crazy for thinking things go all ending-of-Dirty–Dozen, Shirley? Is it equally emotional for Arya to slay a poignantly undead Hound? And, on that note: What the hell is Arya doing? Her whole “Cut off the heads of the Lords of the Eyrie!” idea is the weirdest suggestion since “Let’s show Cersei our cool new pet corpse!”
SHIRLEY: Oh no, Darren, you brought up my biggest fear in all this. I avoided humoring the possibility that Jon lives while everyone dies around him, because A) I refuse to read too much into the shot of him in the trailer all by his lonesome scampering away on a horse and B) because it’s giving me flashbacks to watching Rogue One and realizing three deaths in what was going to happen by the end and UGH, WHY! SORRY FOR THE SPOILERS!
What I’m saying is you’re not crazy, but also how dare you. Having Arya slay an undead Hound would not be equally emotional (right?), having Brienne permanently murder Tormund would not be cool (or maybe it would?), and having Daenerys burn down zombie Jorah would so not be awesome! It just wouldn’t! (Would it?) No! I refuse to go down this line of thinking any further! Let’s talk about ice dragons instead.
Just kidding, let’s talk Arya! What is Arya doing? For that matter, what is happening with the Stark sisters? I’m not saying they should start braiding each other’s hair and pretending everything’s okay in Winterfell, but the way this sisterhood is being portrayed feels… wrong. Artificial, even. It makes little sense for her to have even suggested the idea to use murder against the whiny lords, because it’s not as if Arya has turned into some mindless killer; we saw her sympathize with the Lannister soldiers, and though she may not be as politically savvy as Sansa, she knows Sansa. Did she think she would impress her traumatized sister by bringing up even more violence?
I guess it’s just strange to me that the same episode that gave us Tyrion and Jaime’s gripping heart-to-heart also gave us such bluntly written scenes between the Stark sisters — and I’d say there’s just as much baggage between the former than the latter — but speaking of Tyrion, I’m honestly worried he’s lost his touch. The idea to go all the way back to King’s Landing just to talk to Jaime and then to send the Thrones All Stars beyond the Wall… Darren, do you think he’s off his rocker? What the hell is he doing?
DARREN: I think the Arya-Sansa stuff suffers the most from this season’s acceleration. Sure, it’s fun to see characters Fast Travel across Westeros from one plot point to the next. But with the Stark sisters, we’ve skipped right from a years-long reunion to what seems like petty infighting, without any slow-burn of tension or simmering character drama to fill in the blanks. I think we’re meant to remember how little they liked each other before – but the whole point of their reunion was how much they’ve changed.
Also, didn’t Arya used to hate Sansa because she was so vain and boringly royal? Shouldn’t she like how her elder sister has become such an empowered, authoritative person? It feels reductive on all counts: We don’t buy that Sansa wants to usurp Jon, so Arya’s suggestion in that direction reads as paranoid, and we don’t buy that Arya would be so obsessive about Northern loyalty, so the suggestion that she wants to decapitate high-ranking lords for mild disagreements vibes Bolton-ish.
I will say, though, that we may want to hold off on final judgment on this subplot. The discovery of Sansa’s Ned-betraying message could lead to a showdown, or Arya could be reverse-double-playing Littlefinger. Now that I think about it, the Eyrie is basically the one non-Stark/Lannister/Targaryen power left in Westeros that hasn’t been destroyed this season – so the brewing tensions between House Arryn and House Stark could reach a curious reckoning. What a weird season at Winterfell! So many great characters, and everyone’s just grimacing over courtyards and looming around corridors.
As for Tyrion: Maybe he’s the rare strategist who actually operates better when he’s three sheets to the wind? I thought it was a powerful moment, seeing him walking amidst the burnt remnants of the Lannister army, and I like his slowly dawning realization that Dany isn’t some idealized pacifist warlord who can forgive all nemesis bannermen their trespasses. (Bye-bye, Randall!) But his arc right now feels deflating and tragic. He spent his whole life seeking to get out of the shadow of his cruel, famous family. And now, having seen his great strategy for country-conquering set ablaze by surprise attacks, his big plan is…to have a heart-to-heart conversation with his brother about their sister.
But about his sister! Cersei knows that Tyrion is strolling around King’s Landing – and she lets him stroll out? And she’s pregnant? And she’s cleverly willing to at least pretend to negotiate an armistice? My head hurts a bit whenever a show throws out a SURPRISE BABY, but I find it weirdly touching that Cersei circa Right Now has achieved a modicum of inner peace. She’s restraining her most vengeful instincts; she’s got a future to build towards, with the man she always loved. (And if all else fails, she’s still got Oceanmaster Euron on backburner.) Do you think we’ll ever meet Jaime’s fourth kid? Or is that as likely as Sam paying attention to Gilly’s ramblings about Prince Rah-grrr’s secret wedding?
SHIRLEY: All right, I’ll cut Tyrion some slack. But I don’t know if I can cut D&D too much slack because the internal logic of many characters has been falling apart this season: We went from Tyrion looking at the ashes of the loot train attack to him being on board with roaming King’s Landing. (In another season, he would have debated that decision to wander back into Lannister territory far more than he did last Sunday.) We went from Dany giving Jon the cold shoulder to Dany gazing fondly at him as he leaves. (One cave scene + one crucial interaction with Drogon = forgetting how much she wanted him to bend the knee, I guess?) We went from a faithless Hound to a Hound so eager to head beyond the Wall he cuts Beric off mid-speech. (Okay, I guess that one can be explained by the vision he saw in the flames, but still.)
Look, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. We’re in the third and final act, and it’s not all that fair to scrutinize every scene by questioning whether it’s a waste of time or it’s forgetting time exists. Which brings me back to your question about Cersei. My knee-jerk reaction to her reveal was, like you, to reach for some Advil and wonder why we’re being pitched this curveball. Should we doubt her? Is she lying to Jaime so he’ll stay by her side? Would a pregnancy encourage him to continue fighting a losing battle?
After a few days of overthinking it, I believe Cersei at her word, because there simply isn’t enough time to turn this into some nuanced twist that allows her to formulate a new, overly complicated plot to take Westeros. You’re right to point out that the Cersei we see in that scene comes off almost zen about her pregnancy — it reminds me of the few other times we’ve seen Cersei genuinely emote about her children, like this one between her and Catelyn in season 1. There’s no ulterior motive here.
Buuuuuut with all that said, no, I don’t think we’ll ever meet that fourth kid. I believe in that prophecy Tiny Evil Cersei heard — she’ll have three children and they’ll die — and I’m still on board the Kill Cersei Already train, so this pregnancy has to spell the end for her, don’t you think? And as far as Sam failing to listen to Gilly deliver the biggest bombshell the show’s dropped so far on the Prince Rah-grrr front, well, here’s hoping Gilly brings it up again? Otherwise, it’s up to Bran to tell Jon he’s legitimate and ahead of Daenerys in line for the throne. And without Bran or Sam or Gilly or Ned’s ghost or direwolf Ghost anywhere near Jon next week, I’m wondering if the show is leaving Jon’s parentage open-ended until its final season. Azor Ahai won’t be a hot topic (sorry) until after this nonsensical plan to bring a wight South, right? We haven’t discussed or translated the prophecy about the Prince/ss That Was Promised in sooooo looooong.
DARREN: I’m allergic to prophecies, so I maintain hope that Azor Ahai is a red (God’s) herring (not sorry!) and the final Throne-sitter will be some latecoming Fortinbras sweeping up after the mutual destruction of all the High Families of Westeros. (My new money’s on Robin Arryn: When you’re King, every door is a Moon Door!)
I am intrigued, though, by the suggestion that everyone’s favorite bastard could be a trueborn Targaryen. This season’s been high on epic showdowns and low on careful politicking – evidence of the Third-And-Final-Act paradigm. But any good fantasy story has a lengthy epilogue, and I wonder if we’re being set up for the final battle after the final battle, when Dany discovers that her birthright isn’t her birthright. On one hand, who cares: As Missandei reminded us, people haven’t followed Dany because she’s a Targaryen. On the other hand, who does care? Would the average Westerosi seek a return to normalcy and accept the last two decades as a hiccup between one admittedly mad King and his decidedly saner grandson?
Dany’s interactions with Jon this season have trended too quickly towards mutual understanding. And we’re encouraged to read good things into their dynamic. We’ve seen them both suffer, and there’s the natural inclination to see pretty people be pretty together. But today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies. We might look back on their Dragonstone days like the British and the German soldier in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, friends aging through cruel history that renders them history.
Jon wished Dany good fortune in the wars to come, plural. He might regret that if her war is against him.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
Game of Thrones
HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'