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Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall”

Far sooner than most of us probably expected, “Beyond the Wall,” the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’s seventh season, sees Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) dragons doing battle with an army of White Walkers. It’s an action-packed moment, for sure, but its sense of thrill is ultimately unearned. Given how hard the series has worked to establish not only the stakes of Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) mission, which supposedly only he could carry out, but also the terror of the creatures beyond the wall (who seemed unstoppable in “Hardhome”), it’s almost ludicrous how Daenerys simply swoops down out of nowhere to save the day. There’s no handwringing about who might die here, and in contrast to “The Spoils of War,” which strikingly invited our sympathy for those on both sides of the skirmish at the episode’s climax, “Beyond the Wall” simply offers up a battle between CGI dragons and CGI zombies, to pulpy effect but no moral consequence.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 5, “Eastwatch”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 5, “Eastwatch”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 5, “Eastwatch”

“Eastwatch” picks up exactly where the last episode of Game of Thrones left off, with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) fishing Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) out of a river, and marks a turning point for the series, as it finally fully embraces its fantasy. To this point, Game of Thrones has carefully rooted itself in medieval lore and tactics (dragons-as-nuclear-bombs notwithstanding), but “Eastwatch” feels more like a heist movie than what’s come before. To some extent, this is a result of the ever-accelerated pacing: The journey is no longer shown, only the destinations, and character re-introductions are distilled into essential quips and action. But more importantly, it’s an episode that dials back from the epic confrontations that have filled out the majority of this season, choosing instead to focus on eight brave individuals and their almost certainly hopeless quest.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”

There are currently two queens vying for control of Westeros, and the latest episode of Game of Thrones centers around the ways in which they rule. “The Queen’s Justice” is an effective summary of the various futures and beliefs for which the protagonists are all fighting for, but much of the episode feels as if it’s going through familiar motions. First there’s Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), stuck repeating the lessons of her father, Tywin. Her sense of justice is nothing more than revenge, and we already saw that play out in the far more masterful “The Winds of Winter.” And then there’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who stands in direct contrast to Cersei by distancing herself from her own father, apologizing to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) for Mad King Aerys’s evil, but then again, that’s also nothing new for her.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Once upon a time on Game of Thrones, Oberyn Martell made an oath to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), promising that her daughter, who’d been sent to Dorne as part of a marriage treaty, would be treated well: “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” After Oberyn’s death, however, his vengeful lover, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), did precisely that, poisoning the innocent girl. Now, months later, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) calls Ellaria to account for that, passionately arguing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) that they be more than indiscriminate murderers. It’s one of many callbacks to past actions that are brought up in “Stormborn,” an episode that’s not only packed with intrigue, intimacy, and insanity, but also with a richness of history.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

Whenever Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the newly minted King of the North, seeks guidance, he thinks back to the words of his deceased father, Ned Stark. When it comes to whether he should punish the disloyal houses of Karstark and Umber, who fought against his rightful rule in last season’s Game of Thrones episode “Battle of the Bastards,” he chooses not to hold the children responsible for the mistakes of their parents, and bulldozes his way past the more vengeful desires of his sister, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Yes, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has seized control of King’s Landing and summons Jon to take a knee before her, and yes, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has finally returned to her ancestral home at Dragonstone, but “Yesterday’s wars don’t matter anymore,” Jon announces. Winter is here, women and children will learn to fight alongside men—a prospect fully backed by the fiery young Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey)—and gold is irrelevant. Only dragonglass (and Valyrian steel) can slay the marching armies of the dead.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 5, "The Door"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

There’s been much talk of prophecy on Game of Thrones, but it’s usually in an abstract sense. After all, those who follow the Lord of Light, like Melisandre (Carice van Houten), have been wrong before, and the newest Red Priestess, Kinvara (Ania Bukstein), might be wrong about Daenerys being the chosen one. But she’s right when she tells a skeptical Varys (Conleth Hill) that God is never wrong, only sometimes misinterpreted by his messengers. Even more accurate is her observation that “Terrible things happen for a reason.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 4, "Book of the Stranger"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

According to the Book of the Stranger, the religious tome of the seven-pointed star from which this episode of Game of Thrones takes its name, death makes strangers of us all. Some, like the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), take that to mean that there’s no point in the luxuries of life, and that we must instead do our best to simply live in peace. Others, like the masters of Slaver’s Bay, take the other extreme, finding meaning only by intensifying the anonymity of their slaves and thereby elevating themselves.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 1, "The Red Woman"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

Previous seasons of Game of Thrones have played a precarious dance between the past and present action detailed within George R.R. Martin’s series, but the season-six premiere episode, “The Red Woman,” provides viewers with their first glimpse of what the future looks like, and it’s disappointing. Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the sorceress from whom this episode takes its title, stands over the bloodless corpse of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and remarks that “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell.” Magic may yet play a role in some sort of resurrection, but this episode focuses only on the weary, bitter state of affairs in Westeros.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 10, "Mother’s Mercy"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

It’s long been a given on Game of Thrones that “All men must die.” The question, then, is less a matter of whether they will, but how they will. Those who accept death, like those in the service of the Many-Faced God, are ironically those who manage to find agency in the time they have left. On the other hand, those who break the rules and customs of the land are those most likely to suffer most before their last breath.

To begin with, there’s the fall of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). As foreshadowed a few episodes back in the advice given by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), those who kill the people most devoted to them rarely inspire future devotion. Stannis has broken several natural laws in his determined, mindless quest to recapture the Iron Throne, most recently when he commanded his beloved daughter be set ablaze as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Though his actions may have broken the bitter winter that threatened to destroy his army before he could even besiege Winterfell, they’ve also divided his army, with half of his forces committing mutiny and running off in the night. (His wife also chooses to flee, albeit at the end of a noose.) But it’s not Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) who gets him in the end. Instead, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) tracks him and lands the killing blow—not because he dared to challenge the Boltons, but because he murdered his own brother, Renly, with blood magic. Perhaps realizing the depths of his own horrible actions, Stannis confesses, accepting the consequences of his actions: “Go on and do your duty.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 9, "The Dance of Dragons"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons”

The title of tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones comes from a book of Westerosian history, the so-called Dance of Dragons, which, as Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) points out to his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), is an awfully poetic way of putting things. From a safe distance, these moments in history might look quite beautiful, filled with ominous foreshadowing and eerie parallels, but on the ground level, things can be quite horrific.

So it is, for instance, with Stannis’s own situation. The episode begins with a fire breaking out across his camp—an act of sabotage from the Boltons in Winterfell—which in turn leads to Stannis caving into the black-magic demands of Melisandre (Carice van Houten), as he allows the witch to burn Shireen alive in a blood sacrifice to the Lord of Light. And while it’s easy to allow such necessities in the abstract, as Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald) is at first able to do, when a mother hears her daughter screaming for help within the billowing flames, the cost seems too high. This may explain why Stannis chooses to share a fatalistic philosophy with Shireen in his last conversation with her. If it’s true that his history has already been written, then he has no choice and can absolve himself of this murder: “He must become who he is meant to be, no matter how much he may hate it.”