It looks like that ol' Melisandre was right and death really does march on the Wall in HBO's Game of Thrones. After seven seasons of slow-moving White Walkers and snowy segues, the latest episode of the ice and fire saga plonked us right in the action at the start of the winter war to end all winter wars.
"Beyond the Wall" was this season's penultimate episode and the show suffered some major losses for Team Dany and #JonSnow's 'Snow Men.' A few favorite characters breathed their last breath beyond the Wall, but among the action and the adventure, did #GameofThrones just toss away one of its greatest characters through the proverbial Moon Door?
Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones "Beyond the Wall" below!
The Forgotten Stark
Forget that top knot bro Thoros of Myr, or even the dramatic death of Dany's precious Viserion, let's take a moment to mourn "Uncle" Benjen Stark — possibly the worst-treated Stark character since Rickon forgot to zigzag.
Annoyingly, the potential of Ned's brother Benjen was unlimited, but showrunners #DavidBenioff and #DBWeiss went and abandoned him on that frozen tundra. Admittedly, Benjen made a heroic sacrifice to save Jon from certain death, but just like Jack and Rose with the Titanic door, there was more than enough room on that horse for two men to ride to safety. For a show that is normally so brilliant at crafting meaningful death scenes — Catelyn, Ramsay, Olenna, to name just a few — fans will likely feel a bit cheated by Benjen's return. If that weren't bad enough, the episode had to physically remind us who he was by Jon uttering "Uncle Benjen" like some confused schoolchild (though, to be fair, I'd have been confused by the deus ex machina nature of his appearance, too). Even now, there will undoubtedly be a stream of people currently googling who Benjen Stark actually is...or was.
However, perhaps the biggest waste is when we look at Benjen from the books. Going by the alias of Coldhands, a half-dead Benjen was reintroduced in A Storm of Swords as a murderous stranger, shrouded in mystery and commanding a flock of ravens by his side. Coldhands sounds pretty cool, right? However, the Benjen Stark that galloped back into the show in Season 6 was just a frostbitten beardy weirdy who turned up on a horse to whirl his incense thurible.
Whereas the books describe Coldhands as the closest thing you can imagine to a humanized zombie, the show went with a more PG-13 version of the character. Gone were the hands covered in congealed blood and his haunting black eyes, instead replaced with actor Joseph Mawle under a bit of white face paint.
Who Are Ya?
A fair few actors have drawn the short end of the straw on Thrones, but let's bow our heads for a moment and remember what a shit time Mawle actually had in the role. Given that we have only seen Benjen twice since he vanished way back in the third episode of Season 1, his demise in "Beyond the Wall" isn't actually that sad an event. To be honest, I was probably more upset by the passing of Thoros — who will be the resident drunk now?
Of course, there is a slim chance that Benjen could've survived his wight attack to fight another day, but being brutally honest, what would be the point? As the show winds toward Season 8 and a final run of just six episodes, there are simply too many characters out there to fully address or even care about. We have already seen Ellaria Sand cast out with an off-screen death and it looks like Benjen will follow suit.
I fully expect for the finale to see the Wall fall and the Night King to take his army down to King's Landing, so there would legitimately be no point in returning to the scene of the Arrow Mountain battle. Admittedly, Benjen the wight may have joined the ranks of the undead, but I say leave him gone. Ignore that Greyjoy motto of "What is dead may never die" — for Benjen's sake, I hope he is dead.
Sadly, with Benjen's presumed parting in the episode it must mean that Coldhands will follow suit in the books. The frustrating thing about #GeorgeRRMartin's snail-pace writing, coupled with the speed that the show has moved at, it means that the books are ruined years before they even hit the shops. Just think, Stannis Baratheon is still parading around the Seven Kingdoms in book six, while the show waved him off with a pointy end some two seasons ago. Coldhands's fate was left unknown at the end of book five, but we might as well get the body bag ready now.
While we never expected Benjen to be sat on the Iron Throne at the end of Martin's saga, it would've been loyal fan service to at least see a little more of the Stark uncle before his frosty farewell. Alas, RIP Uncle Benjen, we hardly knew ye!