When’s the last time in the history of Game of Thrones that we had two episodes in a row that were, I don’t want to say uneventful, but maybe the word is quiet? Relaxed? Sort of, chill? Just as in the season premiere “Winterfell,” “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” continued to slow down our story, this time to near standstill. It further tightening our focus by only spending time in Winterfell.
I’ve been vocal about how season seven’s pacing was a huge issue, and I feared that with an even shorter episode count, season eight would fall into the same trap. Much to my delight, the opposite has happened. And if anything, the slower pace is doing a much better job of setting up storylines to actually come to fruition.
Although it’s obvious “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” has lots of beats that frame it as a farewell episode, it was also basically the closest we could get to a hang-out sitcom version of Game of Thrones. There’s a lot of sitting around, drinking, making jokes, and even a hook-up. In a way, it feels like we’re making up for all the character moments we missed out on last season. It has an early series vibe, where nothing obviously significant happens (though we got plenty of set up for future significant events), but it’s certainly not filler either.
The writers (GOT veterans Dave Hill and Bryan Cogman wrote “Winterfell” and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” respectively) have managed to artfully slow down the pace without grating on our patience. I’m not waiting for something crazy to happen or for more narrative forward momentum because we all know what’s coming (hint: Miguel Sapochnik the director behind “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards” is directing episode three).
Just as the characters wander around Winterfell, getting drunk, sitting around fires, telling stories of the past, all as a way to both cope with the impending end and delay it, we’re doing the same. I’m fairly content watching these characters just hang out, if it means putting off their deaths (and of course, the death of this show).
In “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” we’re starting to see the pay off for a number of series-long character arcs. Of course, Brienne, the eponymous Knight of the Seven Kingdoms gets her due in a pretty emotionally affecting scene where Jaime knights her. Shout out to Gwendoline Christie for playing Brienne as both insufferably obsessed with honor and loyalty, but still vulnerable, awkward, and ultimately, someone to root for.
Jaime and Brienne’s bond is frequently highlighted this episode, with the way Brienne vouches for Jaime’s honor, and with Jaime essentially saying the only reason he came all the way to Winterfell was to fight under Brienne.
Seeing Jaime in Winterfell does an excellent job in highlighting just how different he is from the man he was at the beginning of the series. His attempt to apologize to Bran, his attempts to convince Tyrion that he had been played a fool by Cersei, it all shows that he’s ashamed of who he was, even as he says he did everything for love. Jaime can’t be the golden lion anymore. And the decision to leave Cersei and head north is as telling as anything. He truly a man of honor now (nice callback to season two’s “A Man Without Honor,” which is literally about Catelyn saying Jaime had no honor because he killed another Lannister so he could escape).
Embarrassingly enough, I will admit I was sort of blindsided by Jaime being public enemy number one to Daenerys, and didn’t even consider the repercussions to him showing up in Winterfell at the end of the last episode. If anything, it highlights just how isolated Daenerys was so much of the series and how jarring it still is to see her with the Westeros-based cast.
Daenerys is a character I’ve frequently had a hard time figuring out, I’m still constantly working on figuring out her motivations. On one hand, she is a crusader for justice, but on the other she full of vengeance, convinced of her destiny to rule over the Seven Kingdoms. Her devotion to this idea is so acute that Jon’s reveal of his parentage causes her to accuse Jon’s friends and family of sabotage, and then to immediately show concern over who is the rightful heir. It’s not that her reactions are unexpected, but it’s obvious that the throne is at the forefront of her mind, regardless of what she tells Sansa about how she in the North fighting because of Jon. Her harsh treatment of Tyrion, and her tense conversation with Sansa is giving me the feeling that we’ll be seeing more and more of the power-hungry side Daenerys.
That conversation between Sansa and Daenerys is the perfect encapsulation of why these two will likely continue to be at odds at each other. They’re at an impasse and I don’t see either of them budging, partially because they are actually quite similar when it comes to their dedication to protecting their house and the people they care about. And I complain about Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke’s lack of chemistry, but Sophie Turner and Emilia Clarke are absolutely electric onscreen. I don’t care if they keep feuding or end up on the same side, I want more scenes with them together.
Although Sansa and Daenerys are busy with what will happen after the war is over, most everyone else is making the most of the short time they have left. Of course, I’m mostly talking about Arya and Gendry. In season one, Robert and Ned talk about their kids getting getting together, with Robert saying, “I have a son. You have a daughter. We’ll join houses.” And here we are! To be serious, Arya has the tendency to border on being an overpowered weirdo (like Bran), and her very simple desire to know what sex feels like before she dies was actually wildly humanizing. She’s what, 17 or 18 years old? It’s just completely reasonable.
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdom” closed with the battle against the dead imminent, with Podrick’s melancholy singing of Jenny’s Song playing us out. And it does feel like this is the last bit of happiness we’ll get for a while. This first third of the season has kept us warm and snug, showering us with kind of content that should lull us into comfort. But this is Game of Thrones, and this isn’t our first time around the block. I think the only safe thing to say is that nothing good is coming our way.
-Bran’s “How do you know there is an afterwards?” is basically what I’ve been saying since the end of last season. Like, maybe everyone dies?
-Davos interacting with the little girl with the scarred face legitimately had me tearing up, Shireen was done dirty and Davos is too pure for this world.
-There was a moment when Dany went to talk to Sansa that I thought she was going to ask her to be the hand of the queen.
-Two laugh-out-loud bits this episode: Tormund charging Jon from off screen and Tyrion talking about going south to kill Cersei after he turns into a wight. Tormund saying “suckled me at her teet for three months” only got a look of grave discomfort out of me.
-My absolute favorite GOT couple Greyworm and Missandei making plans to go to Naath means they are definitely never going to make it there.
-I really like how Tyrion is the one keeping everyone in good spirits, saying that they’ll survive, overfilling wine cups, and asking for someone to sing (Pod’s got a nice voice.)
-I’m so glad Bran explained the Night King’s motives a little bit more this episode, and that he’s so integral to the battle strategy. Also, so the Night King wants to make an eternal night…but real talk, won’t it just naturally be spring again eventually?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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