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The stories that weren't

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John and Davos come to Dragonstone with one message: the war of the living against the dead is the only war that matters. Oh yes, it matters and I wished this message would have also reached the script writers of Season 7. I feel the silly story of catching a wight as proof of existence of the army of the dead to forge an alliance with Cersei is quite a letdown. I understand, the goal was to set up a doomed mission beyond the wall, causing Dany to fly north, lose a dragon and meet Cersei in King’s Landing. But aren’t there storylines to achieve this which take the war of the living against the dead more serious? If you also feel frustrated by the lazy storytelling in Season 7, what about a therapeutic exercise to overcome this by telling the stories that could have been but weren’t? The goal is to propose storylines that take the war of the living against the dead serious (respecting timelines, strategy and individual story arcs) and end at a similar place as Episode 6 of the season. Here is one. 

Still in Winterfell, John expects the walkers and their army of wights to show up at the wall within weeks. He sends a raven to the Night’s Watch asking them to take up the ranging again to gather intelligence on the movements of the army of the dead. This would make for a nice scene in Castle Black, with the man of the Watch trying to muster the courage to face the new and ultimate enemy beyond the wall. It is hard to fathom to see almost nothing of the Night’s Watch in Season 7, although they are the first line of defense at the wall. Also, John will want to move some of his troops to the wall to help defend it. What sense does it make to dig in in Winterfell and wait for the Night’s Watch and the wildlings to defend the wall? When John takes off to Dragonstone, he does so with the utmost sense of urgency. The fighting at the wall may start within weeks, so he wants to be back asap.

Beyond the wall, the Night King may also want to do a bit more strategizing than just staring down the backs of his army of wights marching – so ever slowly – towards the wall. He will need to find a way to shatter the wall to get past it. This is the perfect time to bring in the Horn of Winter aka Joruman’s Horn mentioned in the books. Blowing this legendary magical horn is said to bring down the wall. So the Night King and a small group of walkers and wights depart from the rest of the army in search for the horn. This move does not go unnoticed by three-eyed raven Bran; and by Benjen who is trailing the army of the dead to see what they are up to (Benjen as a character was totally underused in Season 7). Benjen decides to follow the Night King’s troop, while Bran feverishly tries to find out what the Night King is up to. In a vision of the future, he sees the Night King retrieving  Joruman’s Horn and sends a raven to Dragonstone to warn John (I think the vision will need to be around 3-4 weeks into the future to get the timeline right. A raven from WF to Dragonstone may take 2-3 days, John leaving and travelling to Eastwatch 1.5 weeks, and then preparing the expedition beyond the wall and reaching the Night King another 1-2 weeks). This causes John to leave Dragonstone for Eastwatch and put together a small contingent of wildlings, maybe a few men of the Night’s Watch and the „magnificient six“ (minus Gendry, see below) to ride (not walk, as they do in Season 7) against the Night King beyond the wall. Joruman’s horn forces John’s hand to go beyond the wall rather than waiting out the Night King at the wall, no silly mission to capture a wight to forge a futile alliance with Cersei is needed for this. Before going beyond the wall, John takes care to pack enough dragonglass and send the rest of it to the castles of the Watch and the North (after all, he is bringing back a shipload). He also informs Winterfell about his mission and the imminent danger asking them to move more troops to the wall. And as the old Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont, did on his expedition beyond the wall, John makes sure to bring a few ravens with him for instant messaging should they get in trouble.

When approaching the Night King’s party, John and his group meet Benjen who by now has realized what the Night King is looking for. He helps them to rush in and wrestle the horn from the Night  King’s claws (who - for once - did not see it coming) setting the scene for a mighty battle between the magnificient six (minus Gendry) and Benjen vs. the Night King and his guard of walkers (in which they will have to make good use of dragonglass and Valyrian steel). The Night King with his super-natural powers prevails, they lose Benjen and maybe a few more, but they manage to hold on to the horn and escape southwards. John sends out ravens to Eastwatch, Winterfell and Dragonstone to tell them about their retreat. The Night King, rather than trying to hunt them down himself, calls in his army of whights on its way to Eastwatch (by „ice telegraphy“ or some other spooky means) to block their way back to the Wall. And so they end up in the desperate situation of Episode 6 of being surrounded by the army of wights in the middle of an ice lake.

In the meantime, right after John left Dragonstone, Dany has nightmares with a recurring vision of her walking beyond the wall and standing in the shattered and snow-covered throne room in King’s Landing (she had this vision back in Season 1, now is a good time to bring it back), with more visions hinting at John and his party getting trapped beyond the wall. Possibly, Bran has a hand in these visions, trying to connect with her in this way to get her up north to rescue John and the horn. She finally becomes convinced that the threat is real and that she needs to summon her dragons to fly north and save the day. She argues with Tyrion who wants her to stay put, but Tyrion is not having much success in making her listen to him. She orders him to arrange for a ceasefire with Cersei and a meeting in King’s Landing after her return to help focus all minds and troops on the threat in the North. Then she flies off to the wall (maybe around the same time as John confronts the Night King at the site of the horn) and appears on the scene of the ice lake right before John’s party is overwhelmed (if dragons are superfast she might still receive John’s raven in Dragonstone before flying off, but that raven would come at least several days after John clashes with the Night King, so realistically it would then be almost a week between that clash and Dany’s appearance at the ice lake. Not totally implausible, but it would be a long retreat of John’s party until the wights manage to trap them on the ice lake). The rest of the events at the ice lake could play out as in the show, only that John would be on board the dragon taxi back south.

Back at Eastwatch they destroy the horn with dragonfire and Dany asks John to come back with her to the meeting in King’s Landing.  John initially refuses as he wants to lead the defense of the wall (with the Night King and his army regrouping after the battle of the ice lake just a few marching days away). But some Northern Lords have now arrived at Eastwatch and Dany has won their hearts and minds with her dragons and her rescue mission that saved them all. They encourage John to go with Dany, as they believe that his participation in the meeting is essential for its success (after all, he is the one who fought the Night King first hand). they can now hold the wall themselves with the walkers and their army of wights diminished in the battles of the horn and the ice lake (not knowing that the Night King has lost the horn, but won an ice dragon, which may also have a quite shattering impact on the wall). They are also supportive of John bending the knee to Dany.

Meanwhile in Dragonstone, Tyrion arranges a meeting with Jaime with the help of Davos and Bronn. Davos had to be left behind by John on request by Dany, who wanted to keep at least one bargaining chip against the North. John initially objected, but Davos convinced him that he would be of no use beyond the wall anyway, and could play a better role in staying around Dany‘s court as his ambassador (maybe with an eye on Missandei as well). So Davos and Tyrion set out to King’s Landing as in Episode 4, and Davos meets Gendry and brings him back to Dragonstone. In this course of events, Gendry would meet John for the first time upon his return from Eastwatch, but this deviation from the season’s storyline would be no problem. He really is not missed by John‘s expedition beyond the wall. Nobody who has packed ravens needs his silly marathon back to the wall.

In Winterfell, a few Northern Lords start moving their troops to the wall on John’s command as he departs for Dragonstone, leaving behind those lords in Winterfell that may be (silently) more skeptical about this entire „army of the dead“ thing (such as the knights of the Vale). When word comes from Eastwatch that John is planning to go beyond the wall to deny the Night King Joruman’s horn, some of the Northern Lords and the knights of the Vale openly question the sanity of their king. Sansa is caught in the middle of it, harbouring her own increasing doubts about John’s moves. This is Littlefinger’s moment. As some of the lords openly rebel John’s order to move more troops to the wall, Littlefinger asks Sansa to deny her brother and allow them to stay put. The North may fall into two camps: the Lords already at the Wall that are fully behind John and the Lords in Winterfell urging Sansa to take the reigns - particularly after a raven brought the news that John has bent the knee to Danerys and apparently abdicated as king of the North. This will increase the tensions between Sansa and Arya, and much will depend on whether or not Sansa stays loyal to John. In this situation, John would urgently need to do a flyby with Dany and her dragons to Winterfell. This would resolve the matter quickly and also allow Bran to talk to them. They then might re-think the „bend-the-knee“ thing and would turn back to face the ice dragon (maybe John trying to scale Rhaegal), but GoT would not be GoT if things worked out that easily. John and Dany are going south, so they will have to sort it out in Winterfell themselves.

So here we are, right at the place where the Season 7 finale takes off. And no mission beyond the wall to capture a wight and teleportation of characters, ravens and dragons was needed to bring us here. I am sure, there will be other and better storylines to reach this point, so what are your proposals?

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