Characters reconcile, wrap up backstories and prep for the long, bloody night of Game of Thrones' final episodes.
One of the reasons Game of Thrones' revamped title sequence for its final season is so startling is its dearth of locations - where once the camera zoomed from place to place, spanning the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, here the camera peers in close to the literal and metaphorical mechanics of just a few places. King's Landing. Last Hearth. Winterfell. In the face of existential evil, the world of the show has compressed to these remaining locations, and so have our considerable cast of characters.
Tonight's episode, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", spent its entire hour in Winterfell - a rare feat for this show - cementing just how small this world feels now. The best thing to do when the night is dark and full of terrors is to gather around the fire and defend each other, and this episode was about doing just that - well, at least preparing to do just that. The real battle comes next week. In the meantime, the show is content to give us one precious final hour of downtime with the characters we've spent nearly a decade following, the calm before the storm. It's fanservice-y and more than a bit repetitive, but it's probably the perfect way to send these characters off before we spend nearly six more hours watching them slowly killed off one by one.
Coming straight off last week's reveal that a bearded Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has made it to Winterfell, "The Rightful Queen" begins with the only person Jaime was least looking forward to seeing besides Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright): Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Understandably pissed at seeing the Kingslayer before her eyes, Dany is nonetheless convinced to spare his life thanks to vouchers from everyone from Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to Jaime's brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) - even Sansa (Sophie Turner) backs him up. However, Jaime comes with bad tidings: Cersei's promise to provide an army was a lie, despite Tyrion's promises - a move which loses him favor with her. Even so, the Night King and his armies are coming, so that little dispute is set aside while the rest of Winterfell prepares for the siege.
The plan? To use Bran, whose eternal knowledge of human history as the Three-Eyed Raven the Night King seeks to destroy, as bait for the attack, while the non-fighters hide it out in the crypt. The recently-arrived Theon (Alfie Allen) vows to stand with Bran and protect him, bringing his character full circle from the ambitious traitor of season two: "I took this castle from you. Let me defend you now."
So much of "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms " is about tying up these loose ends, wrapping up seasons' worth of character arcs over the course of an hour in a way that feels rushed, but the kind of rush that's borne of both practical and narrative sincerity. Arya (Maisie Williams) reconciles with the Hound (Rory McCann), then (assertively) loses her virginity to Gendry (Joe Dempsie); Jon, Samwell (John Bradley) and Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) stand watch like in the old days of the Wall (Ghost is there too!); Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) discuss their future together after helping Daenaerys become queen. Even Jorah (Iain Glen) manages to get closure with his family thanks to a discussion with young Mormont ruler Lyanna (Bella Ramsey) and the passing of a Valyrian steel sword from Sam as a way of honoring his late father. There are a lot of players to juggle, and it's admirable that this episode gives everyone at least a little moment to shine.
At the core of it all is Jaime, a man who's undergone maybe some of the most dramatic growth of the show's history. When we first saw him, he looked like a clean-cut, flaxen-haired knight straight out of a fantasy novel, with an ego and a mean streak to boot; now, he's broken down, bearded, one-handed and humbled. It's still a surprise to many, particularly Brienne, who herself motivated so much of his personal growth. It's no wonder he wants to face the army of the dead by her side - not leading, as he once would, but as a humble soldier in a greater warrior's command.
And of course, there's the scene around the fire, where so many of GOT's fan favorite characters end up gathering for a quiet night of drinking, song, and an unexpected knighting before their darkest hour begins. While some of the character wrapups felt somewhat mechanical (you can pretty much guess who's going to die based on who's made the most heartfelt speeches about their importance to the grander scheme of things, their futures together, etc.)., the Lannister boys' shindig around the fire is maybe one of the best scenes in the show's history. Everyone gets a moment to shine - Podrick (Daniel Portman)'s golden voice, Tormund (Kristofer Hivju)'s incredible story of how he got so strong (turns out giant's milk does a body good, especially straight from the teat), etc. But nothing beats Jaime's knighting of Brienne; as messy as GOT's gender dynamics have been, Brienne's steadfast adherence to knightly principles in a world that wasn't made for her makes her one of the greatest examples of humanity Westeros has to offer, and it's hard not to punch the air when Brienne becomes Ser Brienne, and her newfound friends applaud with glee. All that's left is for her and Tormund to get together; come on, Brienne - like he said, he'd "knight you ten times over"!
On top of this sentimentality, however, the show is still laying seeds for some conflict between Dany and the Starks, feeding the idea that Dany may be more like the Mad King than anyone anticipated. In one-on-ones with both Sansa and Jon, Dany makes her priorities clear - she wants to work together to defeat the Army of the Dead, but at the end of the day, she still expects the Iron Throne. She almost manages to put aside her differences with Sansa as they bond over the challenges of being a woman in power until Sansa asks her "what about the North?" Dany's not ready to answer that question: she wants to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and the North's desire to be independent isn't part of her business plan. That same sense of threat comes when Jon stops to confront her about his true parentage (c'mon, man, you had to do it right before the big battle?!), to which her only response is, "now you have a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne." After the dust has settled and the dead have been defeated, Cersei may not be the only queen our heroes have to contend with.
And of course, in "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms "'s closing minutes, we see the Night King and the army of the dead marching up to the gates of Winterfell, come to wipe out and render moot the previous hours' worth of deeply human moments of sentimentality and resolve. As Sam says of the importance of Bran's ancestral memory, "that's what death is... being forgotten." It was a smart move to spend an entire hour with our cast of characters just sitting around and being human with each other - a reminder of just what might be lost if the dead win.
- I loved the little moment with Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) and the scarred girl who wanted to fight, and I love that his main contribution was just cooking up a big ol' pot of soup for everybody. I hope it was onion soup. That's all.
- "I've seen Death. He has many faces. I look forward to seeing this one." Man, Arya is a straight-up badass.
- Apparently, the Army of the Dead work the same way as the Chitauri in The Avengers or the droid army from The Phantom Menace - if you take out the leader, everyone else will just flop dead.
- If he lives, I hope Sam's known forever as "Samwell Tarly, Slayer of White Walkers, Love of Ladies."
- My predictions of who dies based on How Much Closure They Got This Episode: Bran, Theon, Jorah, Jaime, Gendry, Edd, Grey Worm (maybe Missandei too?), Podrick.