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

Jon’s expedition succeeds at a heavy cost in one of the series’ most emotionally wrenching episodes ever

By AT&T Digital Media Productions editorial team 


“Beyond the Wall” had the narrowest scope of this season of Game of Thrones, keeping focus on the North with a brief (but critical) detour to Dragonstone. But what it lacked in continental sprawl, it made up for in drama, dragons, and fierce winter outfits.

Last week’s tension-building “Eastwatch” ended with Jon Snow’s Magnificent Seven venturing beyond the Wall to go wight-hunting, and most of this week’s thrills (and chills, literally) come courtesy of that plotline. But before we go north of the North, a quick stop in Winterfell, site of ever-icier relations between Sansa and Arya Stark.


As Sansa completes her weekly gaze out into the castle courtyard, Arya shares a sweet reminiscence about their father Ned, then abruptly segues into how furious she is about the years-old letter she oh-so-conveniently found in Littlefinger’s chambers. Arya accuses Sansa of moral cowardice and filial disloyalty—despite the fact that everyone, even Robb, dismissed the note as an obvious Lannister ploy. Arya nevertheless claims that the letter helped kill their father.

Ned’s death isn’t the only psychic wound that’s smarting here. Arya’s dig about Sansa’s Joffrey infatuation smacks of old insecurities: how Sansa always played the lady while Arya got reprimanded, the squabble on the Kingsroad that ended with the butcher boy’s murder, and resentment that even now, Sansa commands respect and attention from Northerners. We knew she didn’t really become No One, but as she dredges up the past, it’s safe to wonder: has Arya really evolved at all?


Arya threatens to show the damning letter to the Northern lords, which rattles Sansa enough to make a classic mistake: thinking you can trust a man. She confides in Littlefinger, which is music to his conniving ears. Baelish is back in his element: “You’re the Lady of Winterfell,” he purrs, suggesting that Sansa turn to Brienne of Tarth for help. 


Instead, Sansa sends Brienne away, delegating her to represent the Starks’ interests in King’s Landing. Though it’s a good instinct to do the opposite of whatever Littlefinger says, Sansa might come to regret sending her loyal protector into the lion’s den.

In the final Stark scene of the episode, Sansa rifles through Arya’s room and finds her death mask murder trophies, after which Arya actually threatens to kill her if her loyalty slips again. Or does she? Arya’s definitely the type to nurse old grudges, but she might be playing a game within a game.

Of course, a few clarifications from their omniscient brother Bran could put an end to the Stark sister feud, but instead they’re playing right into Littlefinger’s hands. Let’s hope they remember their father’s advice: in winter, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.


Speaking of wolf packs, Jon and Valyrian Steel Team Six are tromping merrily through the frozen wilderness. Banter abounds along the way, offering a refresher on the crew’s many shared backstories. That’s good news for Thoros of Myr, who doesn’t even remember participating in the siege of Pyke alongside Jorah Mormont.

But the most delightful odd couple on this trek is Tormund Giantsbane and Sandor Clegane, two formidable warriors with markedly opposing outlooks. Tormund presses the Hound about his wintry disposition, Sandor gives the wilding a memorable Southern vocab lesson, and they bond over their decidedly different experiences with Brienne of Tarth.

Tormund also ribs Jon about his refusal to bend the knee to Daenerys Targaryen. “You spent too much time with the Free Folk and now you don’t like kneeling,” he says—but for once, it’s not a compliment. Instead, he thoughtfully compares Jon to Mance Rayder, whose pride led many wildlings to their deaths.

In another weighted moment, Jon offers to return Longclaw to Jorah. The Valyrian steel sword was the ancestral blade of House Mormont, and it would have passed to Jorah had he not fled the country and been stripped of his inheritance. But Jorah refuses the priceless heirloom, cryptically suggesting that Jon may want to hang on to it...for his future children.


Back on Dragonstone, Daenerys is restless, clearly fretting over Jon. She frames her anxiety around a criticism of performative masculinity: “They all try to outdo each other. Who can do the stupidest, bravest thing?”

Tyrion astutely notes that all his queen’s “heroes”—Drogo, Jorah, Daario, and now Jon—want to impress her because they’re in love with her. The queen scoffs at her Hand’s extremely accurate observation, deflecting with “he’s too little for me.” Dany, you’re no Brienne yourself, so quit being a size queen and make some compromises.

The two turn to a discussion of tactics. Daenerys fears that without deceit and trickery, they’ll be at a disadvantage against Cersei Lannister, who’s definitely planning some deceit and trickery. But Tyrion reminds her that she’s trying to “break the wheel,” not perpetuate the system of turn-based brutality that has been the rule for centuries.


The wight hunters, meanwhile, suffer their own brutality, courtesy of a zombie polar bear—only the second scariest undead animal this episode. Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr fire up their trick swords, but the bear gives Thoros a serious mauling (all because the Hound is still too afraid of fire to engage the burning beast).

Beric gives poor Thoros the best medical care you can get outside the Citadel, cauterizing the wound with his flaming sword, then prescribing whatever grog Thoros is carrying in that flask. Alas, the drunken priest doesn’t make it through the night. At least freezing’s a peaceful way to go.

The team then finds what they came for: a wight brigade led by a White Walker. Perhaps even more valuably, they discover that killing a Walker brings down all the wights he turned. Destroy the Night King, and they can end the war for good. But as they’re trussing up their quarry for delivery to Cersei, it emits a piercing cry that alerts the entire undead horde. So much for a stealth mission.

With the army of the dead descending, Jon commands Gendry to run back to Eastwatch and send a raven to Daenerys, their only hope. First rowing, now running: Gendry’s built for endurance events. As he takes off, the crew retrenches on a rock in the middle of a frozen lake, with silent, menacing wights hemming them in on all sides.


Daenerys gets the S.O.S. and springs into action, ignoring Tyrion’s pleas to hang back and preserve her own safety. She puts on a museum-quality coat dress (many ermines died to bring us this fabulous coat) and takes off on Drogon. This time, however, Viserion and Rhaegar fly alongside her. Oh, it’s going down.

The zombies begin their assault, our heroes beating back wave after wave of the undead horde. But the Night King’s army is relentless, and things start to look dire...until, at the very last moment, Daenerys rides in in all her glory and starts torching huge swaths of the dead, clearing space for everyone to hop aboard Drogon.


The tide appears to have turned, but remember—this is Game of Thrones. The Mother of Dragons is so concerned with getting Jon to safety that she doesn’t notice the Night King hurl a deadly ice spear with uncanny, dark-magic accuracy at Viserion.

The smallest dragon goes down, bleeding and screeching, and our hearts break with Daenerys’ as her baby sinks below the ice. But there’s no time to mourn now, and Jon urges her to take off without him, so as not to risk the others and their mission. Reluctantly, Daenerys and the rest of the crew fly away, leaving Jon to fend off the wights (and hypothermia) alone.


Well, not quite alone: Remember Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother who disappeared beyond the Wall and reemerged as a mysterious agent of the Three-Eyed Raven? He saved Bran last season, and here buys Jon just enough time to escape, sacrificing himself in the process.

On a tower above Eastwatch, Daenerys stands mourning her lost child, and perhaps Jon as well. Just as Jorah convinces her to pack it in and go home, a lone figure emerges from the treeline below. Could it be...yes, of course it’s Jon, in the mostly-frozen flesh. Sorry, Jorah.

The survivors board the Targaryen vessel headed for Dragonstone, and Daenerys gets a good look at Jon’s scars (and abs) as she “supervises” his recovery. In a scene charged with equal amounts of tenderness, sincerity, and sexual tension, she pledges to fight the Night King alongside Jon. “You have to see it to know,” she says, describing both the undead enemy and the dashing king who came back from death only to risk his life again to save all of humanity and win The Bachelor: Westeros.

Jon really seals the deal by calling her “Dany,” which is just adorable, and the two rulers finally do what we’ve been waiting for them to do the entire episode...hold hands. Yes, theirs is a fairy tale romance, the inevitable coupling of ice and fire. But their chemistry is better than fantasy: it’s real, borne of being the only people alive who can truly understand, support, and love each other.

No living being sees what happens next: the wights haul Viserion’s corpse out of the lake (uh, where did they get four monstrous chains?), and the Night King resurrects the dragon as a monstrous blue-eyed wight, bound to do his bidding. Uh oh.

“Beyond The Wall” is not a classic penultimate episode in the drama-filled vein of “The Rains of Castamere” or “Baelor.” But there’s plenty more to get to this season, including all the storylines in King’s Landing, Oldtown, the Iron Islands, and more. Most importantly, will #Jonerys move beyond holding hands?


Find out on the season finale of Game of Thrones, only on HBO.

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