Game of Thrones apparently isn’t killing people you care about anymore, which is a disappointingly conventional trend from the show that made its bones by offing its star before the end of its first season. But it’s not the end of the world: We’re in the stretch run, and many of the survivors from the cast of hundreds are simply too important to kill; if you absolutely must turn on your TV every Sunday to watch someone die, Christian Hackenberg and the Jets offensive line can satisfy your bloodlust.
But sending a bunch of beloved characters on a suicide mission, then bringing everyone back whole except the least beloved character, an animal, and a few redshirts—well, I can think of at least two episodes of Shining Time Station where the peril felt more real than in “Beyond the Wall.” All the more so when the second half of the episode is an unending chain of narrow escapes from certain death.
So let’s rank them, from least to most outrageous.
Thoros of Myr survives Being Eaten by a Gigantic Undead Bear when Jorah Stabs It in the Head
This isn’t that outrageous, because Thoros cheats death only long enough to deliver a few quips before dying of exposure the next day. Living long enough to banter is a proud tradition not only for the Brotherhood Without Banners, but for television in general, so it’s fine. Even so, that bear had Thoros’s entire rib cage in its mouth and was flinging him around for a while; Beric cauterizes the wound, gives Thoros a swig of liquor, and all of a sudden he’s ambulatory—it’s a bit much.
Jon Snow survives Drowning and/or Freezing to Death when He Climbs Out of the Icy Lake
I was going to rank this one a lot higher, but after watching Jaime swim the length of the Mississippi while wearing a full suit of armor, I’ve determined that the Andals must have gills or something, because human swimming rules don’t apply to them. Not only that, it turns out that freezing to death after falling through the ice takes longer than you’d think—up to 10 minutes before you get so cold you can’t move.
Everyone survives Being Hacked to Bits by the Army of the Dead when Deus Ex Dragona
Jon’s call for help required several moving parts—Gendry making like Pheidippides and hauling ass back to Eastwatch for help, dispatching a raven to Dragonstone, and Daenerys and the air force finding Jon and his men just as they’re about to be overrun. The timing is a little slick, but this is the third time in seven seasons where the penultimate episode (“Blackwater” and “Battle of the Bastards”) has featured a battle decided by an outside force arriving not a moment too soon.
Besides, all of this—Daenerys seeing the army of the dead in person, Daenerys and Jon making googly eyes at each other and returning the captured wight to the land of the living, Viserion dying and being resurrected as a zombie ice dragon—was at the very least useful in moving the plot along. It’s predictable, but it works.
Everyone survives Being Hacked to Bits by the Army of the Dead when The Ice Breaks Conveniently Around That Little Rock on the Frozen Lake
Yes, we need a moment for our heroes to catch their breath, and for Thoros to freeze to death, and for Gendry to call in an airstrike. But in a place that’s been frozen since the dawn of time, no way is the ice thin enough to crack when one guy steps on it. And wow, isn’t it convenient that in this lake that can’t be more than a couple of acres, there’s not only a rocky island just big enough for a few guys to stand on right in the middle, but also the water is deep enough to submerge not only wights but a dragon the size of a commercial airliner.
Jorah survives Almost Falling Off Drogon when Tormund Grabs His Hand and Pulls Him Back Onboard
Whatever. I don’t even know why they bothered spending part of the CGI budget on this.
Tormund survives Drowning/Freezing/Being Hacked to Bits by the Army of the Dead when The Hound Kills a Bunch of Wights
Tormund’s speech to the Hound about how he was in love with Brienne should’ve marked him for death, because the first rule of surviving a cinematic suicide mission is not talking about whatever it is you have to live for. Not that I was rooting for him to die—Tormund’s crush on Brienne becoming canon is so fan servicey it opened its own HVAC company, but I’m a mark, so I want it to happen anyway—but the old Game of Thrones would’ve killed Thoros early on to show that this episode was serious, then killed Tormund to make this mission cost something.
Tormund gets beaten, slashed, tripped, dragged, swarmed, and choked for 47 seconds before the Hound pulls him to his feet—we spend 1.2 percent of this entire episode watching a beloved character die horribly, and then there aren’t any consequences. Not that Tormund needed to die for any storytelling reason, but this drew attention to the fact that the show won’t go there anymore if it’ll make the internet unhappy.
Jon survives Being Hacked to Bits by the Army of the Dead when Uncle Benjen Shows Up With a Horse and His Incense Burner of Death
“Here, take my horse. I’ll hold them off.”
“Where did you come from? I haven’t seen you in six years!”
“Oh, I’ve been around. I saved Bran last year.”
“No time to talk. You’ve got to go.”
“Come with me.”
“I can’t. You’re more important than I am, and they didn’t burn the reveal that you can ride dragons this early. See ya!”
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.