Look, I get it. Continuing a wildly successful series without the benefit of the genius source material must be incredibly challenging. I don’t envy the writers.
But I cannot stay silent when it gets this bad. Many others have already pointed out the absurdity of the ground covered by Jon Snow, the desperately slow march of the White Walkers, the faster-than-light speed of the ravens, just to name a few of the letdowns of “Beyond the Wall.”
I’m going to point out two. Probably someone else already has and I just haven’t read it yet.
1 | I don’t care about your heroes anymore
I can imagine the writers in their conference room, lamenting the obvious fact that Dany’s three dragons give her such an advantage over everyone else – White Walkers included – that it makes the outcome of all confrontations foregone. “We need to give the White Walkers a dragon,” someone says, and from that lightbulb an entire episode is crafted. An unlikely band of heroes is sent north of the wall to kidnap a white walker (sigh), only to come face-to-face with the entire army AND their leader (hey look, if we kill him they all die – just like every vampire movie). They’ll have this weird stand off on a rocky island in the middle of a frozen pond in order to buy time for a raven to get to Dany and Dany to get north of wall so she can tear shit up, save the group, but eventually lose on of her children. Easy peasy.
Except we’re to believe that not one character had the sense to suggest to Dany that she turn her dragons on the Night King and end it all right then and there. Not you, Jon? King of the North? Jorah Mormont? You’re a smart fucker. The Hound? You seem pretty sharp.
I get that giving the White Walkers a dragon is pretty cool. It does even things out nicely. But in order to turn that card you had some of your best characters – including your two main characters – act like idiots. In other words, they had to act out of character. It broke some spell for me, and as a result I just don’t care for them like I once did.
2 | You broke a rule of good storytelling
That rule goes something like: “Put your hero into a challenging/impossible situation and let them figure a way out.” Think of Odysseus and the Cyclops. How does he escape? His wits. Much of that epic is Odysseus using his resourcefulness to get out of bad situations. You get added points (and so does your hero) if he put himself in that situation to begin with. Think Indian Jones*. This is where we learn something about a character, and they learn something about themselves.
Which is why a writer mustn’t use dumb luck or random miracle to save the hero from the situation. It’s a passive solution. There’s no character growth.
So it was when Jon Snow emerges from the frigid waters beneath the frozen pond, attracts the attention of the white walkers, and ends up getting saved by the sudden and utterly random arrival of Benjen Stark, who goes down in a blaze of glory to help his nephew escape.
So lame. Just as the entire episode felt crafted around the writers’ desire to give the White Walkers a dragon, this scene felt crafted from a need to kill off Benjen Stark, and maybe buy a few more minutes of screen time to fill it out to 70 minutes. It did nothing for character development.
Here's to hoping we've hit bottom and can only go up.
*Interestingly enough, Lucas seems this to break this rule once in Raiders, when Indy pulls out his revolver and shoots dead the sword-wielding maniac. What makes this scene so memorable is that it is one of the only times Indy is "saved" by something other than his wit, resourcefulness, or perseverance. Given that this scene was but a few seconds in a larger chase scene, it doesn't work to the story or character's detriment.