After an opening episode that served to reorient viewers to the major players for Game of Thrones‘ final season, our second installment was a rich, textured example of excellent storytelling that allowed viewers to soak up emotional moments with character they’ve grown to love.
And characters they’ll likely have to say goodbye to soon.
Yes, ahead of next week’s sure-to-be-spectacular Battle of Winterfell, all around the North, reunions and respect were shared among the major players. Instead of the breakneck trips around Westeros we’re used to, the story stayed put in Winterfell, and the result was one of the most understated and ultimately successful episodes of the series.
Let’s dig in.
Meanwhile, in Winterfell …
You are about to enter the courtroom of Queen Daenerys Targaryen. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. This is her courtroom. This is Judge Dany.
Jaime Lannister is on trial for being, well, a jerk. Dany has reason enough want to give Jaime the ol’ Ned Stark haircut for killing her father, the Mad King. Then we had seasons and seasons of Jaime running afoul of the Starks, starting with shoving lil’ Bran out the window.
Jaime being a jerk seems to be the one thing Sansa and Dany agree on, even with Bran keeping mum about the whole window shoving thing. (The Three-Eyed Raven felt more like a different Raven when he threw some subtle shade at Jaime, calling back to the words Lannister said before giving him the shove: “the things we do for love.”)
Tyrion tries his best to advocate for his brother, but having already fallen for Cersei’s lie about sending troops to help fight the Night King, he doesn’t have a ton of credibility with the council. It’ not until Brienne steps up that the vibe shifts. She fully vouches for Jaime, which is enough to convince Sansa to spare him. Dany reluctantly follows suit.
Despite the pardon, Dany isn’t feeling nearly as generous toward Tyrion. He had assured her that Cersei would send her soldiers, which makes him either a traitor or a fool. Either way, Dany warns him that she may need a new Hand soon. Jorah will later try to convince Dany to trust Tyrion, which is true, but also a little weird coming from Jorah, a guy who would be a shoe in for the next Hand …
Speaking of people who would make a great Hand to Daenerys … Sansa. Dany does her best to butter up Sansa, trying to make the peace. There’s even some light hand holding. Sansa concedes she should have thanked Daenerys for coming to their aide, and Dany reveals her love for Jon Snow is what diverted her attention to the Iron Throne, so it’s not Jon Sansa should worry about being manipulated, it’s her. The cute little moment of girl talk turns sour once Sansa flatly asks Daenerys for her plans for the North once the war is over. They’ve fought too hard to bend the knee once again.
Before they can hash it out, they’re interrupted by Theon who has returned to fight for Winterfell. It’s a wonderful gesture, welcomed by Sansa with a powerful hug … and it all but guarantees Theon doesn’t make it out of Winterfell alive. (Also, Missandei and Grey Worm’s little fantasy about the future feels like a surefire way to ensure one or both won’t survive the upcoming battle.)
Elsewhere, Jaime wonders why Bran wasn’t so chatty about the whole pushy-pushy window incident, but Bran isn’t “Bran” anymore, and they’ll need him when the Night King comes.
They’re going to need all the help they can get. One of my favorite GoT tropes is when they gather around a map to strategize. This time, they’ve got a supernatural enemy with an army that does not stop fighting. Bran volunteers to essentially serve as bait by the ol’ Weirwood tree. Bran claims the Night King is after him because he wants “endless night” and the Three-Eyed Raven holds all the memories.
Hmmm … something isn’t right here. My personal feeling is that Bran is withholding some crucial pieces of information. This show has crafted so many villains with complex motivations and histories. You’re telling me the biggest big bad is one of those villains that just wants to kill everyone? Seems too straightforward. My theory is that Bran has a personal connection to the Night King. I feel like Bran has been warging around for a long time, meddling in history. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence Bran shares a name with BRANdon the Builder who created the wall.) Perhaps in trying to stop the Night King, Bran had a hand in creating him. Just like how Jaime’s push put Bran on the path he’s on now, maybe Bran put the Night King on the path he’s on now.
Then it’s time for everyone to spend their last few moments prepping for the Night King’s arrival. Most the women, children, elderly are going to ride out the night in the crypt, which we’re told repeatedly is the “safest place in Winterfell.” Now, hold up. The safest place to hide from the guy who can reanimate the dead is in the part of the fortress that’s full up of dead people? Cool cool cool.
Arya gets her custom weapon, and, being this could be her last night alive, decides to cash in her V-card with Gendry. First off, get it, gurl, Gentry’s a snacc. Second, as weird it is to see Arya, a character we’ve known since she was wee lil’ lady, go to the Bone Zone, it’s an important moment. All this time, she’s been tempering her humanity and hardening her heart. Here she is being vulnerable and acting like, well, a teenager.
One of my favorite scenes of all time takes place by the fire. It’s Tyrion drinking with Davos, soon to be joined by Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos and Tormund. Tyrion wonders if maybe, I don’t know, what if they SURVIVE? That would be a novel idea. Tormund shares his origin story as “Giantsbane,” which involves slaying a giant and then suckling at the teet of his wife. (Giant’s milk: It does a body good.) Tyrion accidentally calls Brienne “Ser,” a title reserved for knights. She corrects him that only a man can be a knight. Except! Turns out! Any knight can make someone else a knight.
And with that, Jaime makes Brienne a knight, and it is one of the most joyful, beautiful moments in the entire series.
Down in the totally safe crypt, Jon shares his little 23andMe result with Daenerys, and she is not thrilled to hear the news. She seems less concerned with how it impacts their sexytimes (it’s not like incest is unheard of in these parts), but she is very upset that there might be another Targaryen with a more valid claim to the throne. Before they can rock-paper-scissor for the Iron Throne, the battle horns blow signaling the Night King’s arrival.
Next week is the Battle of Winterfell, and it will be EPIC. It’s the biggest production the show has ever attempted, and it rivals the greatest battle scenes in any television or film production. It was shot over 11 weeks. It’s going to be unforgettable.
With all these major players in place, it’s time for a little wagering. I’m going to put my list of characters I think will live, won’t live and undecided below. Leave yours in the comments.
Jon Snow (his heroic sacrifice will come later)
Sansa (my pick to survive the whole series)
Jaime (his story must end with Cersei)
The Hound (he has to face the Mountain at some point … unless it’s a reanimated zombie v. zombie Clegane Bowl)
Brienne (Rest in power, Ser Brienne)
Could go either way: