Warning: This recap contains major spoilers for Episode 2 of the final season of Game of Thrones, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."
Last week’s season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones, titled “Winterfell,” set the mood: Shit’s going down, and everybody holding onto petty grudges needs to get with the program and start thinking about the horde of invading White Walkers. So no, Cersei, you don’t get elephants. And sorry Daenerys, no one in the North is down to pal around with a dragon lady. Jon? You are officially Top Targaryen. But that won’t matter very much if the Night King comes to steal your crown. No one wants a dead popsicle monarch — even if he does have perfect curls.
Episode 2, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," shows Winterfell preparing for war — there’s even a Jon-narrated getting-ready-for-battle montage that’s straight out of Lord of the Rings. But don’t let all that armour clanking fool you. The episode is rife with… more personal drama. Look, I get it. A lot of these people are presumably going to die next week, and we all love an unlikely conversation pairing — but am I the only one who felt like this had the vibe of a bad Cheers spinoff? Winterfell! The place where everybody knows your name because they’ve probably fought against you at some point in this long saga.
Still, there were some highlights, starting with the (kind of) trial of Jaime Lannister, who arrived at Winterfell in the final moments of the premiere. For a second, it looks as if Daenerys and Sansa’s (who somehow found time to nail her eyeliner — wow, girl) hatred for him might be his downfall. (This episode shows them trying to find common ground, even if they’re not quite there yet.) Tyrion, on his second major fuckup (he foolishly believed Cersei when she said she was sending troops), tries to speak up for him and fails. But it’s Brienne who saves the day, convincing Sansa that Jaime is in fact honourable and wants to do the right thing. This is pretty much the highest compliment Jaime can receive, and probably explains why he spends the rest of the episode acting majorly weird around Brienne. (That jump up when she enters the room — who are you?)
The interesting fallout of this incident is that it puts Daenerys’ volatile dictator-like tendencies on full-display. Displeased with the outcome and Sansa’s lack of respect, she threatens to replace Tyrion as hand, until Jorah talks her out of it. He also suggests she might want to put the only other powerful woman in Winterfell in her corner. But sadly, Daenerys isn’t that skilled a negotiator. I appreciate Game of Thrones acknowledging all that these women have in common, even as it continues to put them at odds. Dany and Sansa's real-talk conversation feels less like a catfight and more like a battle of wits between two women at the height of their individual fields, who can’t agree on a common outcome. Which, really, is something we see men fight over all the time.
But rivalry aside, their conversation is one of most interesting of the episode, mostly because it addresses the great unsaid subtext of the battle ahead: What comes next? Sansa and Daenerys are allies of convenience, happy to set aside their differences while the dead are coming. But what about after? When Daenerys has taken up her crown and wants to use the North as a vassal state. Sansa’s not content with leaving that up in the air. (Personally, I would like a one-way ticket to Greyworm and Missandei’s beach vacation.) It’s an issue that comes up during Jaime’s conversation with Bran in the godswood, as well. For all their talk of dying tomorrow, everyone is still convinced that the realms of men will outlast this fight. But what if they don’t?
Speaking of the Night King, it looks like there’s finally a plan to deal with him, courtesy of Bran The Three-Eyed Raven. (Coincidentally, it’s funny how everyone is just on board with him being that now. He’s the socially awkward cousin who says strange things and everyone is like, ‘Yeah okay,’ and moves on.) Since killing a White Walker means death to all the wights he created, Jon has a brainwave that someone should probably kill the Night King. Bran volunteers to act as bait, seeing as the Night King is coming for him anyway. And Theon, who has come to fight for Winterfell (an admission that made Sansa far too weepy — please, Game of Thrones, don’t make them fall in love), promises to guard him in an attempt to redeem himself for his treatment of the Starks all those years ago.
That heartwarming sentiment is a perfect lead-in to talk about all these reunions. So many! Arya and the Hound; Arya and Beric Dondarrion; Jaime, Brienne and Tormund; Jorah and Lyanna Mormont (whose scathing "we're done here" made me cheer out loud); Sam, Jon and Dolorous Edd; Pod and Tyrion; Tyrion and Jaime; Jaime and Bran (who repeats the infamous “the things I do for love” back to him in the most hilariously deadpan way).
And if this all feels like we’re still hashing out the drama from last week, well that’s because we are. I lost track of the amount of times someone (mainly Tyrion) started a sentence with “Remember when?” Like yes, we get it. It’s the final season. It’s insane that you are all fighting together. It's obviously amusing to see everyone interact. But to keep repeating it over and over feels like a cheap play on nostalgia rather than something that’s actually moving the story forward. The one big emotional payoff was Jaime knighting Brienne, a moment that denotes a much more powerful connection between the two that Tormund and his jokes can ever hope to achieve. (But man was it delightful to watch him clap for her — an ally!)
Still, it’s all fun. In fact, between Sam, Edd and Jon’s Night’s Watch virginity jokes, Daenerys making fun of Jon’s height, and Tormund’s insane giant story, this episode definitely appeared to be playing up levity, knowing full well that next week will probably find us weeping. And so, while it did feel like a 58-minute bottleneck set-up, I’m sure it’s one we’ll probably be rewatching to soothe our pain after next week’s big battle.
And it looks like that’s a pretty done deal. The episode ends with Jon choosing the worst possible time to confess his true identity to Daenerys, ending his tale just as the horn blows. The White Walkers are here — and the the expression on Tyrion’s face as he stares out from the ramparts seems a pretty good sign that a lot of the people we had fun mocking this week may not survive the day.
And now — you didn’t think we were going to end this without talking about Arya and Gendry, now did you? I just want it on the record that I have been talking about this pairing non-stop for the last two years, and I feel vindicated!!!
Their hookup was clearly signalled from the very beginning of the season, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe that it would actually happen. But man, from that early hiss of his dragonglass hitting water as she stared at him from the shadows, I lost the ability to speak coherently. And the event itself was just perfect. She remained Arya, in control, asking for what she wanted. And he, well, was Gendry: hot, kind of dumbstruck, and ready to take his pants off at the request of a domineering lady.
So, tune in next week, as we watch a lot of men wield heavy swords even as Arya, that little girl with greyscale, and Lyanna Mormont obviously steal the day. Women get shit done!
PS — Pod's beautiful singing voice! What a delight he continues to be.