****MAJOR SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES “BEYOND THE WALL” AHEAD****
Well. That could have went better.
Game of Thrones always delivers a doozy with its penultimate episode of the season and Beyond the Wall was no different. It was every bit as intense and brutal as we have come to expect from Game of Thrones.
I speculated that this mission would have many casualties and throughout the episode we were teased as multiple characters had literal brushes with death.
Surprisingly, of the magnificent seven, only Thoros of Myr met his end at winter’s hands.
However, by far the biggest casualty, physically and in terms of impact going forward, was Daenery’s dragon, Viserion.
So in light of that, was it all worth the high cost that was paid? And what does this mean for the characters moving forward as we head into Game of Thrones’ season finale and beyond.
What was lost?
Despite the suicidal nature of this mission, only Thoros (and some red shirts) lost his life. This is all thanks to Daenerys and her dragons. But Dany, who believes she can never have children other than her dragons, just lost one.
As Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon roasted the army of the dead surrounding Jon & Co., things were looking pretty good.
Seeing that the dragons could ash-ify the wights as effortlessly as anything else, it was easy to think — that’s ballgame. But things were never going to be that simple.
Without an ounce of surprise or concern on his face, the Night King took an ice spear and launched it at Viserion.
The magic of the white walkers allowed that spear to do what no weapons of mortal men could. Kill a dragon.
Dany is now down to two dragons. While those two, along with her Dothraki and Unsullied are still more than enough to obliterate Cersei, the loss is still keenly felt and Dany is now weaker than she once was.
But it is called the Great War for a reason. Every casualty lost fighting the white walkers not only weakens you, but strengthens them.
All it took was one spear from the Night King to fell Viserion. Dany can no longer use the dragons against the white walkers except in the most dire of circumstances. The risk is simply too great and dragons are not replaceable.
And as if he wasn’t already deadly enough, the Night King now has an air force. A weapon of mass destruction fighting for his side. But will Zombie Viserion shoot fire, or ice?
What was gained?
Despite the heartbreaking death of Viserion, this mission was not a total loss.
The stated mission succeeded. The team captured a wight to take to King’s Landing. The hope is that if they show this evil to Cersei that she will agree to set aside hostilities and band together against the Night King and his army.
But convincing Cersei will not be easy. Even if she believes them, she may still try and use the situation to her advantage to betray Jon and Dany and consolidate power.
Yet, even if Cersei is as untrustworthy as ever, Jamie and the other lords of the realm might be convinced. If they are able to see the realness of the threat, then the mission will have succeeded on that front.
And although she lost a great deal, the wight alone might not have convinced Dany of the gravity of the situation.
Like Jon at Hardhome, Dany now has the kind of understanding that only experience can give you.
Seeing the army and witnessing the ease with which the Night King killed one of her seemingly indestructible weapons brings a level of clarity nothing else could.
Dany is now fully onboard and team captain on the side of the living. And while she lost a dragon, Daenerys gained an ally.
Jon and Daenerys were already sort of temporary, unofficial allies. But he has now called her ‘my queen’ and offered to do that knee-bending thing she loves so much.
This means that the power of the north is aligned with Daenerys, as long as Sansa doesn’t muck it up. Daenerys now has a crucial ally at her side and a united front against Cersei.
Then, and perhaps most importantly, is what was learned on this mission.
Littlefinger has said that knowledge is power. Knowledge could be the key to winning the great war.
Sam was supposed to go to the Citadel to find out what he could about how to defeat the white walkers. But he decided to ignore his girlfriend, steal a few books and quit his job, before he learned how the first long night was ended.
Though, when Jon killed a white walker and his wights fell, the objective became crystal clear. Beric made the connection that perhaps, if you kill the Night King, all those he has reanimated will fall as well. This would hopefully include the newly zombified Viserion.
The dragons are extremely vulnerable and the living are outnumbered by a massive and constantly replenishing army.
This is not a winnable war. At least not by any methods they currently possess. It may be that the only way the living can defeat the dead, is to cut the head off the snake.
Knowing how to defeat the enemy and being able to execute it are two entirely different things of course.
But Jon now has the best piece of information yet about how to possibly end the long night before it begins. He has to assassinate the Night King.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.