This post discusses events depicted in last night’s Game Of Thrones episode, “Beyond The Wall.”
Not every part of Game Of Thrones’ latest episode justifies its super-sized running time. If season seven had the previously customary 10 episodes at its disposal, “Beyond The Wall” might have a little more focus, with the ratcheting of tensions between Stark sisters reserved for a later episode, and Danerys’ deliberations with Tyrion coming earlier—the better to preserve the surprise when she swoops in, dragons in tow, to lend crucial air support in the fight against the Night King. It’s a thrilling episode, but one that would’ve been better served by a season with more storytelling real estate, in which “Beyond The Wall” would’ve been a devoted showcase for Jon Snow and his Snow-cean’s Seven wight-heist scheme.
Despite the padding, you’ll still want to watch all 75 mintues of “Beyond The Wall,” because then you’ll get to see the Night King and his army of the dead drag one of Dany’s large adult sons from the icy depths before transforming it into some type of blue-eyed, living-dead hell-serpent. The dragon’s death is a chilling reverse of the raid on the Loot Train—in which Drogon managed to survive an attack from Qyburn’s giant crossbow—and a downright frost-bite-inducing demonstration of the Night King’s powers. We’ve previously seen him raise entire legions of the dead; now he’s not only brought down a dragon with a frozen javelin of death, he apparently has that dragon under his control.
But which dragon is it? There’s a lot to keep track of on Game Of Thrones: a vast, far-flung cast of characters, shifting allegiances and grievances, and the geography that’s laid out at the beginning of every episode. But you can recap this show for two seasons and still need to consult your co-workers on which leathery-winged reptile is which. When I did so last week, it prompted this equally pressing question from editor-at-large and host of The A.V. Club on Fusion, John Teti:
The denouement of “Beyond The Wall” is a tragic twisting of the knife, but at least it lends an assist in the curious and slippery game of knowing your dragons. You can tell Drogon from his siblings because he’s the one that Daenerys rides. Which, as Vulture points out in this helpful primer, leaves Viserion and Rhaegal as the two remaining candidates for resurrection-via-Night King:
“For a brief moment after the dragon is hit, he passes by Dany’s third dragon and we can see the clear difference in coloring. It’s Viserion. He’s the one that dies and ultimately comes back at the end of the episode as a dragon wight. (Or wight dragon. Zombdragon? There’s really no terminology for this.)”
Describing Viserion’s predicament is a whole other can of worms. The first instinct is to call him an ice dragon, a subject of much fascination and speculation in the universe of A Song Of Ice And Fire. But that’s a universe that’s separate from the one depicted in an existing George R.R. Martin text called The Ice Dragon. It’s a children’s novel published in 1980, shortly after Martin retired from teaching, but several years before he branched into television writing through the oh-so-’80s-genre-TV triumverate of the revived Twilight Zone, Max Headroom, and Beauty And The Beast. It was also a time before the author had begun laying the groundwork for the franchise that would inspire Game Of Thrones, hence Martin’s insistence that The Ice Dragon and A Song Of Ice And Fire take place in different worlds. (Not that that has stopped various publishers from insisting otherwise.)
But there are ice dragons in the world of A Song Of Ice And Fire and Game Of Thrones. It just remains to be seen if Viserion has joined their ranks. Following last night’s episode, Vanity Fair and IGN both pointed to the following passage in The World Of Ice & Fire, the “untold history” of Westeros released in 2014, in which ice dragons are said to occupy cold depths north of Essos.
Of all the queer and fabulous denizens of the Shivering Sea, however, the greatest are the ice dragons. These colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky. Whereas common dragons (if any dragon can truly be said to be common) breathe flame, ice dragons supposedly breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.
Sailors from half a hundred nations have glimpsed these great beasts over the centuries, so mayhaps there is some truth behind the tales. Archmaester Margate has suggested that many legends of the north—freezing mists, ice ships, Cannibal Bay, and the like—can be explained as distorted reports of ice-dragon activity. Though an amusing notion, and not without a certain elegance, this remains the purest conjecture. As ice dragons supposedly melt when slain, no actual proof of their existence has ever been found.
That information has been out there for a while, as has the notion that, if a creature who breathes flames exists in this world of ice and fire, then its inverse must exist. And that explains why a lot of viewers saw the end of “Beyond The Wall” coming, as well as the note of vindication in some headlines about the episode. Today’s savvy TV viewer is harder to surprise than their predecessor, in large part because shows like Game Of Thrones have inspired mass, online efforts to record and report any shred of information that might point to where those shows are headed in the future. And those savvy viewers have long discussed the possibility of ice dragons on Game Of Thrones, during the 21 years (and counting) that it’s taken for Martin to complete A Song Of Ice And Fire.
They’ve even discussed the possibility of the Night King raising a dead dragon for his own, nefarious purposes—just take a gander at the very answer in the very first installment of The A.V. Club’s Mailbag Of Thrones feature. Reddit is flush with such speculation, be it about how The Ice Dragon could feed into A Song Of Ice And Fire (even as the Redditor admits that that they don’t believe the two stories share a setting), or how there might be a true ice dragon hiding inside The Wall.
“We tremble on the cusp of half-remembered prophecies,” says Maester Aemon in the portion of A Feast For Crows excerpted in the latter thread. Keep those words in mind as you tumble down the rabbit’s hole of idle Game Of Thrones speculation. For now, we know this for sure: The Night King has a dragon, and the war between the living and the dead just got a lot more interesting. The night is getting darker, and it’s full of at least one more terror.