*This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 7 episode 6, 'Beyond the Wall', which was accidentally released early by HBO Spain and HBO Nordic. If you're yet to see it, please click away now*
It's become Game of Thrones tradition that the penultimate episode of the season is epic in scale, the crescendo to the season in terms of action, leaving the final episode to mop up its political fallout.
'Beyond the Wall' kept this up, but with a very different kind of battle sequence than we're used to, the team of warriors' (hereon: the Still Breathing Seven, to paraphrase Jon) stealth ambush quickly becoming a battle for survival.
With the show finale coming at them faster than an Ironborn fleet on the horizon, the creators have been at a sprint all season, every episode hurtling through plot gates and finding little time for the plot misdirection or character studies of earlier seasons. Episode 6 felt like the inevitable conclusion to this, going from 0 to 100 in seconds with regard to pretty much every character and involving some bananas decisions that I just can't get my head around.
Please allow me to get a ton of issues I had with 'Beyond the Wall' off my flame sword-cauterised chest so I can tell you why none of them ultimately matter:
Why was Arya so pissed about how Sansa acted as a teen that she hinted she would like to see her tortured? How did this trouble Sansa so much that she immediately began plotting to kill her own sister? Why didn't she question Littlefinger's advice given she called him out earlier in the season? Why didn't she question where Arya got the letter from? Why does Daenerys oscillate between tyrant and tearful egalitarian? Why did Jon continue to slay wights after every member of the Still Breathing Seven (SBS) had boarded Drogon? What kind of lightning quick ravens have they got in Westeros? Why did the wights and white walkers just wait for ages around the edge when they had ice javelins the whole time? Why did they have Benjen save Jon, when it could have been Rhaegal swooping into the water and scooping up the secret Targaryen, better serving the over-arching narrative? How ridiculous and kamikaze was that whole SBS mission in retrospect?
I wish I hadn't had these thoughts during the episode as there's nothing more boring than poking holes in a fantasy show, but they're indicative of how the show's mantra has kind of become: 'To hell with logic and narratively justified character decisions, let's create a spectacle the likes of which television has never seen before!'
When Thoros of Myr's line: "I just got bit by a dead bear...funny old life" came, it felt knowingly meta, addressing just how bonkers the show has become.
The part were I say 'however'
However, this very criticism is also a plus, if you disengage your critical faculties and just enjoy the episode for what it is: a rip roaring piece of entertainment.
Childish joys I experienced during the episode to counterbalance the issues above: How cool is Jon! He's so nice! He tried to give Jorah his family sword back what a good guy! He's very stoic but occasionally gives this whisper of a smile and it's so endearing! Beric can set his sword on fire! The Hound threw a snowball at a reanimated corpse! Tyrion said wise things like "fear makes their power brittle because everyone beneath them wants to see them dead"! Tormund is consistently hilarious! This is shot beautifully! The costumes look incredible! The dragons are badass! The ice dragons are even more badass!
Ultimately, it's these fist-pumping moments that won out for me. It's absurd to compare Game of Thrones to the artistry of a Sopranos or a Wire by this point, but it's unparalleled in terms of thrill and I will miss it very much when it's gone (in just seven episodes' time).
Read more: R.I.P. Viserion - an obituary