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Game of Thrones: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

April 23rd, 2019

I thought this second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season was magnificent, a high water mark in the series.  I know of some people who have complained that these first two episodes have been boring, and I truly don’t know what to say about that.  The character moments in these episodes have been amazing.  This is why I watch and love this show, because of the characters, not because of the zombie action.  (That’s just the gravy!)  I was nervous going into this final season about how the show could possibly be brought to a satisfying end in only six episodes, and I am still nervous about that, but after these first two episodes I am as excited for this show as I have ever been, and I am all-in on the journey on which we’re being brought in this final stretch.

This episode was filled with some of the series’ all-time greatest moments.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anything better than the spectacle of Tormund Giantsbane’s smitten attempt to impress Brienne of Tarth by retelling the story of how he suckled at a giantess’ breast for three months, prompted by his guzzling of that horn of booze (or giants’ milk??) that he’d brought with him.  But then we got to the scene that gave this episode its title.  I was heartbroken that, even on the eve of death and sitting in the company of this group of men who all accept and respect her, Brienne still felt that she had to lie and say that she never wanted to be a knight, when that was so obviously her heart’s desire.  And then my heart broke again, but this time out of happiness, when Jamie finally realized how he could repay the debt he owed her for setting him on the path to redemption.  Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s gentle delivery of the oath was beautiful, and then when Gwendoline Christie rose, and gave that beautiful smile (was that the first time in the entire series we’d ever seen Brienne truly smile?), my heart just sang.  Amazing.

And by the way, there were several other great Jamie and Brienne moments.  I loved seeing her stand up and vouch for him in front of the assembled Lords of the North, and it was beautiful to see how much weight her words carried, particularly with Sansa.  And then, later, when Jamie humbly asked to fight under Brienne’s command — wow!  Who could ever have imagined that Jamie Lannister would ever be willing to serve under ANYONE else??  What a beautiful payoff to their relationship, which has been one of my very favorite character arcs in the entire series.

That opening scene, in which Jamie presented himself before Dany, Sansa, Jon, and everyone else was great.  Such a long-in-coming moment for Jamie to have to face up to all of his crimes.  It’s hard to remember now, because I’ve become so invested in Jamie’s journey, but in those early years I thought he was one of the show’s greatest villains, and I badly wanted him to pay dearly for pushing Bran so cavalierly out that window.  But slowly my feelings for Jamie transformed, and here now I was fully rooting for him.  Still, it was satisfying to be reminded of all of his sins, including the murder of Dany’s father (which, while justified, was one of the key catalyzing events that set so much of this show’s story into motion) and when he fought Ned Stark back in season one.  And when Bran threw that “the things you do for love” line back in his face?  Magnificent.  (I also liked the moment in which Tyrion didn’t let Jamie off the hook for his love of Cersei, stating unequivocally that Jamie knew exactly what she was, and loved her anyway.  This is important: neither Tyrion nor Jamie himself are claiming that Jamie was ignorant of what he’d done in the past.  But he is — we think, you never know with this show — a different man now.)

This episode had so many other pleasures:

The Night’s Watch reunion — I was so happy to see Jon’s reunion with Edd… and then Tormund tackled Jon and the scene became even more amazing.  I love the unlikely bond between these men.  I loved hearing Tormund call Jon “my little crow,” and then getting to see Sam, Jon and Edd all back together was so special.  I loved Edd’s disbelief that Sam has not only killed a White Walker but also found a woman, and I loved when they recalled their fallen friends.  (R.I.P. Grenn, who saved the day by killing that giant at the Battle at the Wall.)  Also, I was happy to see Ghost, one of the few surviving direwolves in the background of that scene!  I’m hoping the wolf gets some good moments in the action next week.

I mentioned Brienne’s knighting, but truly, every second of that wildly unlikely gathering of amazing characters around the fire — Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund — made me so incredibly happy.  I loved Tyrion and Jamie’s shared disbelief that they’re both probably about to die defending Winterfell, the home of their family’s enemies.  It was great getting to see Tyrion’s happiness at seeing Pod again, and I absolutely loved how he disregarded Brienne’s instructions that Pod only be served a half-cup of wine by pouring him a goblet that was sloshingly over-full.  I knew it would be Pod who’d wind up gracing them with a song in the end, and I was not disappointed.  Sure, the moment was a bit of a rip-off of the scene in which Pippin sings “Home is Behind…” for King Denethor in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but that didn’t mean it was any less powerful here.

Arya and Gendry — Wow, that was fast!  I’d been rooting for these two cute kids to get together; their flirting scene last week was great.  But I wasn’t expecting them to get together so quickly!  This scene had a slightly uncomfortable feeling to it.  It was a bit icky seeing that partially nude shot of Arya, and she had a coldness in the way she spoke and acted that was different from the gentle sweetness we’d seen in her scene with Gendry in the previous episode.  On the one hand, this is in character.  Arya has in some ways moved beyond being a normal human being.  But I very much want her to hold onto her humanity and to find happiness in the end, so the mechanical nature of her interactions with Gendry here, and that ambiguous look in her eyes afterwards, made me sad.  I am eager to see where her story goes in these final episodes.

Arya and the Hound — I loved seeing Arya share a drink with the Hound… and the Hound’s banter with Beric Dondarrion was fun too.  I wish the show had better fleshed out Berric before now, but at this point I will take what I can get.  When the Hound mutters that he fought for Arya, we’re reminded that he’s actually been on the path away from being a self-centered monster for quite some time.  I love that this is a show in which Arya can call the two men “miserable old shits” and it’s actually a sweet moment!

Sansa and Theon — I was very moved by Sansa’s emotional hug of Theon.  These two were raised together, remember, and they both were put through hell by Ramsay Bolton.  I loved seeing how completely Sansa has forgiven Theon, and that they’ve been able to reconnect.  (Particularly since I highly doubt Theon will survive his mission of protecting Bran next week…)

Dany and Jorah — Oh boy did I love this scene.  These two have been through a lot, and I love how comfortable they both are, now, with the other.  It was great to see that Dany seems to understand Jorah so completely — she knows that he loves her, and she knows that he was initially unhappy that she’d made Tyrion her Hand, rather than him.  (It was great to actually hear Dany explain her actions to Jorah — she treats him like a friend in that moment, as we see that it’s important to her that he understand why she did what she did.)  And I love that Jorah knows how to give advice to Dany, and that she takes that advice.  Which leads me to…

Dany and Sansa — This was great.  These recent episodes have been designed to make the audience unsure who we should be rooting for to ultimately sit on the Iron Throne, and to question whether Dany truly would be the best choice to rule Westeros.  But this scene shows us some of Dany’s best qualities, as she reaches out to Sansa in a human way.  It’s delightful to see Sansa respond to that… and then it is painful when both woman withdraw after hitting the wall of their most core difference: Dany intends to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and Sansa intends to see that the North is never ruled by an outsider ever again.  (As I wrote last week, my hope and prediction is that Dany will ultimately “break the wheel,” as she once promised to do, and perhaps see the wisdom in NOT having one central ruler of the seven kingdoms.  We’ll see…)  I loved how succinctly Sansa summarizes her worries about Jon and Dany’s relationship (“men do stupid things for women”) and how beautifully Dany corrects her that, if anyone is being manipulated out of love, it’s she by Jon, as why else would she be here in the North ready to fight Jon’s battle, rather than razing King’s Landing with her dragons and the Unsullied?  (While I’m sad the scene ended with Dany and Sansa at odds again, I am glad that they are at odds for a legitimate political difference of opinion, rather than a silly personal issue or a misunderstanding about Jon or their own intentions.)

Dany and Jon — Boy, the episode made us wait for it.  I was annoyed to see Jon ducking Dany for most of the episode, though I understand his reasons for doing so.  But when the two did finally talk, I am glad that Jon didn’t beat around the bush, but instead was honest with her.  Will one of these two give up their claim to the throne out of love for the other?  (By the way, the episode made a point of reminding us that Gendry also has a claim to the throne.)  I was a little annoyed by the timing of the interruption of the White Walkers’ arrival, but I didn’t expect the show to actually resolve this issue in this episode, so I can forgive that writerly device.

Davos and Gilly and the little girl — I love that the episode took the time to give us this short, sad scene, in which Davos is reminded of the dead Shireen.

The Mormont reunion — I loved seeing Ser Jorah’s short scene with the young Lyanna Mormont!  I was also moved by Sam’s choice to give Ser Jorah his family’s Valyrian steel sword.

I continue to love the new opening credits, and I like how they were adjusted this week to show the White Walkers’ approach to Winterfell.  It feels right that the opening credits have now basically been boiled down to two locations — Kings’ Landing and Winterfell — as those are really the only two locations that matter at this point in the show.  (And I didn’t even realize until the end of the episode that we never cut back to Kings’ Landing this week!  This episode took place entirely at Winterfell.  This was a great choice, and is a big reason why this episode worked as well as it did.  I loved that they took the time to dig so deeply into all of the characters gathered at Winterfell, without cutting away.)

It looks like next week will be crazy action.  I really like the choice to resolve things with the Night King and the White Walkers first, and then having the final showdown with Cersei in the episodes that follow.  I’m excited to see an epic battle next week, but I’ve never really cared that much about the White Walkers as villains.  It’s Cersei who’s the real monster at this point.  (And Euron Greyjoy as well.)  So I think it’s a very smart choice to be resolving the storyline with the White Walkers first.

Back in the early years, I was desperate for the show to show us some epic-scale battles.  But it’s a mark of how successful the show’s storytelling is that now, here at the end, I am absolutely dreading the battle next week.  I don’t want ANY of these characters to die; I want them all to get the happy endings they deserve.  But I know that’s just not going to happen, and it is absolutely brutal.  Even if the show isn’t quite as vicious at killing off main characters as it was in the beginning (I don’t expect Jon or Dany or Sansa or Arya to die… although I guess you never know!), I am sure that some of the more peripheral characters aren’t going to make it.  (It’s hard to imagine young Podrick seeing another day… Ser Brienne appears poised to go out in glorious sacrifice… three sweet Ser Jorah scenes this week (with Dany, with Lady Mormont, and with Sam) make me assume he’s a goner next week… and now that Grey Worm and Missandei have made plans to retire to the beach together, that’s surely not going to happen, right?)  And I truly don’t want to see any of that!  I wish the show could end right here, with this night of fellowship in Winterfell.

What an episode.  Only four more to go.  “And now our watch begins…”

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