Traditionally, penultimate episodes of a typical "Game of Thrones" season is an epic battle of some kind, and this was no exception. In seasons past, though, we've stayed exclusively with that battle. This time around, we also got to enjoy some intrigue at Winterfell, but nothing that particularly progressed anyone's intentions. Littlefinger is scheming, but for what purpose, and Arya is threatening Sansa, but again for what purpose?
So all of that was really kind of annoying. Luckily, the rest of the episode dealt with the quest beyond the wall to bring back an undead soldier to convince Cersei to lay down arms and unite with Daenerys and the North to deal with the real threat to Westeros: the Night King.
The first half of the night dealt with a lot of bonding between the small troupe of men who ventured into the snow. There were a few "red shirts" along to die at the hands of the dead, and they served that role admirably. And yet, despite being outnumbered and almost completely unprepared, the party was tragically successful.
It was more challenging than I expected to select a Player of the Week for this episode. Jon made a very intelligent move sending Gendry back to get a raven to Daenerys, and Gendry made the run of his life to pass this message, but it really came down to two players, and one of them doesn't care at all about the Iron Throne.
Ignoring Tyrion's counsel, Daenerys heeded the dire warning of the raven from Eastwatch and took all three dragons north to save Jon's party. Unfortunately, this would be a deadly decision for her, but also a very powerful one.
From the start, it looked like Dany and her dragons had things well in hand, raining flame down upon the dead on the frozen lake, submerging many of them and incinerating many others. But her tactical error was in not doing considerably more damage before landing, and underestimating the Night King.
It's easy to forget that the White Walkers are a threat from ages ago, and so dragons in flight doesn't elicit the same response from them as it does from the people of Essos and Westeros. In fact, the Night King had no concerns at all about what he saw, despite the losses to his forces.
Daenerys almost walked away with the title this week because her bravery and fortitude in coming north to rescue the party convinced Jon that she was worthy. Tormund might have helped with some timely words of caution about how Mance Rayder refused to bend the knee and all it cost him was his life and the lives of many of his people. But ultimately, it was Dany herself that convinced Jon to bend the knee. And just like that, the North is hers … assuming it is still Jon's to give when it comes to it.
But no, the final moments cemented who the real winner of the episode was, and it's not good news for any of our friends. The Night King was very calm when Daenerys and her dragons showed up -- calm is kind of his thing -- but unbeknownst to everyone, he had a weapon that Cersei would kill to have. While her dragon spear wounded Drogon, that was about it, and he was in fine form this week.
The Night King, on the other hand, wielded an ice spear that was far more deadly than it looked. On top of that, he was able to hurl it by hand through the air and into the hide of Viserion, one of Daenerys' dragons. The result was devastating, with the dragon hemorrhaging blood, crashing into the lake and falling beneath the ice.
It should come as no real surprise that the White Walkers have an answer to dragons, considering this is "A Song of Ice and Fire." The sides should be evenly matched. Nevertheless, it is a huge blow for the forces of good. But the real game changer came in the final moments.
After having his forces drag the carcass of Viserion from the depths of the lake, the Night King rested his hand on the mighty beast's head and turned his eyes blue. That, my friends, is absolutely terrifying. We knew the Night King could revive the dead, and yet hadn't really considered him bringing back to life one of the deadliest creatures in the world.
Even worse, this will set Dany up to have to kill one of her children, and perhaps completely confuse Drogon and Rhaegal when they see their sibling fighting against them. For the Night King, it gives him a mount to rival Daenerys', and a fiery weapon of his own, though I suspect Viserion will breathe something more cold-related.
The sides have squared off and war is coming. The season finale of "Game of Thrones" seeks to unite humanity against the ice. Will it succeed?
The season finale of "Game of Thrones" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.