Game of Thrones season 7 episode 6: What's missing in 'Beyond the Wall' (and most of the series)
(This post discusses developments from Game of Thrones season 7 episode 6, 'Beyond The Wall'. Several spoilers ahead.)
Game of Thrones' season 7 episode 6 — Beyond the Wall — had two very significant moments. First, the Night King killed and later revived one of Dany's dragons, Viserion. Then, Dany swore to help Jon fight the Night King, and he in turn (figuratively) gave her what she wanted, and bent the knee. There was also some über romantic hand-holding that we may not be done swooning over yet.
While those were the big moments of the episode, there was an extended sequence at its very start, featuring conversations between the members of the Fellowship of the King™ who had set out beyond the Wall
so the Night King would have the opportunity to create an ice dragon to capture a wight/White Walker.
First, Jon and Jorah had an emotional moment where they discussed each other's fathers and the terrible way in which both met their ends. Jon also tried to hand over Longclaw to Jorah, telling him that as Jeor Mormont's son, it was he who had the right to carry it. Jorah promptly returned the sword, adding (with a twinkle in his eye) that it was Jon's to keep and pass on to his children.
Then, Thoros (now dead, Lord of Light bless his soul), Ser Beric and the Hound ganged up on Gendry, ribbing him about still being stuck on the Brotherhood selling him off to Melisandre.
Gendry: "You sold me to a witch!"
Thoros: "A priestess; there's a fine distinction."
Gendry: "Do you know what she did to me? She stripped me naked, tied me to a bed —
The Hound (cutting in): "Doesn't sound bad to me so far."
Gendry (continuing): "And then she put leeches on me!"
Thoros: "She wanted your blood."
Gendry: "I know that! She would have killed me if Ser Davos hadn't —"
The Hound (cutting in again): "Well you're alive aren't you? Then what are you whinging about?"
Gendry (furious): "I'm NOT whinging!"
The Hound: "Your lips are moving and you're complaining about something. (Pointing to Ser Beric) He's been killed six times. You don't hear him complaining about it do ya?"
Tormund, meanwhile, took it upon himself to keep the lads entertained during their slog through the snow.
Exhibit A: A conversation between Gendry, Tormund and Jon
Tormund: Ah, the North. I can finally breathe again! The air in the south smells like pig shit.
Jon: You haven't been to the south.
Tormund: I've been to Winterfell.
Jon: That's the north.
Tormund: (grunts dismissively)
Gendry: How do you keep your balls from freezing off in this cold?
Tormund: You keep moving. Fighting is good, fu**ing's better.
Jon: There isn't a living woman within 1000 miles of here
Tormund: (looking at Gendry) You make do with what you got.
If that didn't crack you up, there was his whole exchange with the Hound, where he discussed with great glee his feelings for Brienne, all the giant babies they would have together, and also summed up the Hound's personality in a line: "You're not mean, you have sad eyes". Hear, hear. We have a feeling Tormund would be great at Twitter.
To take a leaf out of Tormund's book, we'll sum up the above interactions with: some great buddy bonding between a disparate set of male characters.
Let's take a moment and contrast that with what the conversations between female characters were like in the same episode. There were just two (since Dany spoke only with Tyrion, Jorah and Jon, with Missandei mysteriously missing): 1. the Sansa-Arya squabble. No bonhomie there, with one sister accusing the other of basically being a sellout, and the other turning around and pretty much labelling her a psychopath. 2. Sansa ordering Brienne to ride to King's Landing.
In short: No friendly, sparkling banter or bonding for the ladies of Westeros.
If we go back over all the conversations between females characters in Game of Thrones season 7, you'll find more of the same. The only friendly chat that can even begin to compare to the bonding the men enjoyed in Beyond The Wall, was when Dany asked Missandei about what happened between her and Grey Worm before he left for Casterly Rock, only to have Missandei smile meaningfully and reply, "Many things". Things between Arya and Sansa (who we'd imagine have tons of sisterly catching up to do and might have evolved enough to set their childish resentments aside) have only gotten worse after that awkward reunion down in the Winterfell crypts. Other woman-to-woman chats we can recollect at this point: Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand's ill-fated 'foreign invasion', Melisandre's counsel to Dany that led to her meeting Jon, and Lady Olenna's reminder to Dany to 'act like a dragon' at the end of the historic all-women war council.
Even if we were to go back over the series itself as a whole, there are few female friendships that really stand out — certainly not in the way the Bronn-Jaime, Bronn-Tyrion, Jon-Sam or other male friendships do. Margaery was Sansa's confidante for a short while (but had her own reasons for insinuating herself into the Stark girl's good books). Dany had a somewhat close equation with her handmaidens — Jhiqui, Irri and Doreah (until her betrayal in Qarth) and later, with Missandei. Which isn't to say there aren't any meaningful relationships between females in Westeros: Lady Olenna was close to Margaery, as was Sansa to Catelyn Stark before she left for King's Landing.
Game of Thrones has been criticised and lauded in equal measure for its treatment of female characters. The brickbats over the nudity and rape of female characters can be countered with the argument that the men shed their clothes too, and often suffer terrible torture (Theon, for instance). The glaring absence of female directors from the series — Michelle MacLaren remains the only woman to have ever helmed any episodes of the show — is harder to overlook.
In its defense, Game of Thrones has passed the Bechdel Test time and again. Women often swoop in and save the day when the men in their lives aren't able to (Battle of the Bastards and Beyond the Wall are only the most recent examples). The show also has — thanks to its source material — compelling female characters. From protagonists like Dany, Cersei, Catelyn Stark, Arya and Sansa, to secondary characters like Margaery, Brienne, Osha, Yara Greyjoy, Melisandre, Ygritte, Lady Olenna — there is no dearth of strong women in Westeros.
Now if only some of them would bond, and give us a little of that camaraderie on display between the men in Beyond The Wall.