GAME OF THRONES 8×02: "A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS"

In the final scene of 1969's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—spoiler alert for a 50-year-old movie—the outlaws Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) are pinned down in a tiny building by what seems to be the entire Bolivian army. They are exhausted, they are wounded, they can barely hold their pistols, and they are outnumbered about a hundred to one. Their odds of surviving the next two minutes, let alone of somehow getting out of this situation alive, are not approaching zero: They are exactly zero. The two men—as they both know damn well—are doomed.

And so, naturally, they are talking about the future. "I got a great idea where we should go next," Butch says cheerily. Sundance doesn't want to hear any more of Butch's great ideas—his last great idea was to come to Bolivia, after all—but Butch tells him anyway: "Australia." And he paints such a rosy picture of the land down under—with its wide-open spaces, beautiful beaches, and easy-to-rob banks—that Sundance begrudgingly agrees to entertain the idea.

Then, staggering to their feet, guns in hand, they rush through the doorway, together, and towards their future.

I thought about that scene throughout "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," written by Bryan Cogman and directed by David Nutter. The second episode of Game of Thrones' final season is basically that scene, over and over again, for 58 minutes: people who know they are probably doomed, huddled together in their last moments of safety and friendship, and daring to imagine that there might, actually, be a tomorrow.

Butch and Sundance wasn't the only classic film this episode evoked for me, however. Less explicitly, but more powerfully, it also made me think of Why We Fight, a series of seven documentary films legendary director Frank Capra made for the U.S. War Department between 1942 and 1945, to help convince America that the Second World War was worth fighting. When General George S. Marshall enlisted Capra to make the films, he said he wanted something that would not only explain why American soldiers were fighting, but stand as a statement of the principles and values that they were fighting for. 

This, to me, is what "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" accomplishes, on the very eve of destruction. I think it is safe to assume that the final four episodes of Game of Thrones will be largely preoccupied with warfare: war against the Night King and his army of the dead, certainly; and perhaps war with Cersei Lannister, the Iron Fleet, and the Golden Company. (Director Miguel Sapochnik has promised that one of the upcoming episodes—and it may very well be the next one—contains what he believes to be the longest consecutive battle sequence in cinematic history.) And no one who has watched this show for seven seasons and counting can have any illusions about the fact that many—if not most—of the characters we have come to know and love are going to die fighting.

"A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" reminds us what they're fighting—and, inevitably, dying—for. And, just as importantly, it reminds us what George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss have been fighting for the entire time they have been painstakingly telling this long and complicated story. I have heard grumbling about the fact that this final season began with not one but two talky episodes in which little actually happens, but there is good talky, and there is bad talky. Last week, I found most of the conversations happening around Winterfell redundant and irritating, but they may have been necessary to set up  "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," which is Game of Thrones at its absolute best. It is a last chance to remember—before all hell breaks loose—that this was never, at its heart, an action-adventure fantasy series. It was never about the budget, it was never about the special effects, it was never about the fighting. It was a show about people: their complexities, their foibles and mistakes, their triumphs and tragedies, their capacity for cruelty, and their potential for change. What's at stake in Game of Thrones, as I've said many times before, has nothing to do with wars and thrones: The real battlefields and prizes are the hearts and souls of the characters, and whether they can endure—as Tyrion says here—"the perils of self-betterment."

That, more than anything, is what will determine whether there is a future, whether there is or even should be (in the words of Bran) "an afterwards." We know there are four episodes of fighting to come, but "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"—with all of our longest surviving characters together for what is almost certainly the last time—may be the real, spiritual finale of Game of Thrones. 

"The things we do for love."

Jaime Lannister in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Part of my issue with last week's "Winterfell" was that it kept bringing up old arguments and grudges, and locked too many people into their own self-centered viewpoints. (Sansa, for example, wanted everyone to recognize how much she has changed, but was reluctant to acknowledge changes in anyone else.) Now, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is the corrective to that slightly misjudged episode, for it is infused with an incredible spirit of generosity, atonement, and forgiveness.

Completing the callbacks to "Winter is Coming" that ran throughout last week's episode, Jaime Lannister has come to Winterfell to face the daughter of the king he stabbed in the back, the family he warred with for seven seasons, and the boy he once attempted to murder. To add insult to all the previous injuries he inflicted on these people, he has come alone, and not, as was promised, at the head of the Lannister army. When he arrived at the gates last week, and saw Brandon Stark, he probably should have turned around and left, for he had no reasonable expectation that any one of these people wouldn't execute him on the spot.

But he doesn't leave: He walks into the Great Hall, and he stands his ground, and he hears their accusations without even offering a defense. (He could explain here why he killed the Mad King, but he doesn't; nor does he offer any apology for being at war with the Starks.) He simply offers his services, for what little they're worth. "I promised to fight for the living," he says. "I intend to keep that promise."

Throughout Game of Thrones we have seen, again and again, the spiraling consequences of evil and thoughtless actions. But we have also seen—more rarely, and more preciously—the spiraling consequences of good and caring actions. The hero in Jaime Lannister has been peeking out from behind his smug, callous facade almost since the beginning, but we first glimpsed it properly during Season Three, when he and Brienne of Tarth traveled together from the Westerlands to King's Landing. He prevented Brienne from being raped in "Walk of Punishment," and he saved her from being fed to a bear in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," and he had no particular reason to do either of those things except that Brienne—by her very example—had reawakened the hero in him. In between, he told her the true story of why he killed Aerys II, and even she—the most honorable woman in Westeros—was forced to reconsider her assessment of the man she'd contemptuously called "Kingslayer."

Last week I said that all the conflicts and resentments stemmed from the fact that nobody necessarily knows how much anyone else has changed and evolved. But Brienne may know the real Jaime Lannister better than even his brother and sister, and she stands up for him now, essentially saving his life by testifying on his behalf. His kindness to her has earned her kindness in return, and her kindness—her proven decency and loyalty—has earned the trust of Sansa Stark (who, let's face it, has not had reason to be the most trusting of people). And just like that the issue is settled: Brienne trusts Jaime, and Sansa trusts Brienne, and Jon and Dany defer to Sansa.

Bran and Jamie in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

But there is still Jaime's original sin to contend with: the attempted murder of Brandon Stark, which set all of the conflicts in Game of Thrones spiraling into motion. Jaime goes to find Bran in the Godswood, and does something we have rarely heard anyone on this show do: He apologizes. Certainly, we can read Bran's easy acceptance of this apology as a practical consideration. ("You won't be able to help us in this fight if I let them murder you first," he says.) Or we can read it as a side-effect of how distant, emotionless, and generally fucking creepy Bran is now. (He admits he's not really Brandon Stark anymore, so why should he hold Brandon Stark's grudges?)

But I prefer to focus on this exchange between Bran and Jaime as not merely genuine, but as one of those mission-statement scenes in Game of Thrones. "The things we do for love," Bran said in the Great Hall, quoting the words Jaime said when he pushed him from the window. This is not the first time Bran has thrown a "villain's" words back at them—he did it with Littlefinger, too—but it's also worth remembering that Bran has absolutely no sense of humor anymore. He generally means what he says, and he means this: He understands that what Jaime did, he did for love. "You weren't sorry then," he says. "You were protecting your family." And this is true: Jaime didn't try to kill Bran to protect his reputation, but to protect his children's lives. (Robert would have killed them all, just as he would have killed the infant Jon Snow if he had known who he was.) That doesn't make what Jaime did right, but it does make Jaime an actual, relatable human being, capable of emotion, capable of empathy, capable of change. (There would be no such forgiveness for someone like Ramsey Snow, for example.)

And something else Bran says here is equally important to Game of Thrones' overall mission. "I'm not that person anymore," Jaime says. "You still would be, if you hadn't pushed me out that window," Bran points out. At the end of last season, I said that Game of Thrones was a school, a long, punishing curriculum designed to produce better people. All of the horrors these people have lived through, and all of the choices they've made, are absolutely inextricable from who and what they have become. Everything they have done, and everything they have endured, has led them here, to this final fight for the fate of all humanity.

"But you did forgive, despite my failures."

Jorah and Daenerys in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Queen Daenerys has been both irritated and irritating since she arrived at Winterfell. Despite the fact that she is one of the few people who has seen the Army of the Dead, she still seems more interested in fighting the silly game of thrones, squabbling over rights and fealties and the deference due her as Queen. Now, upon discovering that Cersei lied to them all, she is furious with Tyrion, and she's angry for the wrong reasons. She's not upset because, without the Lannister army, the Night King might kill them all: She's upset because she's lost faith in her chief political strategist. "Cersei still sits on the throne," she snarls at Tyrion. "If you can't help me take it back, I'll find another Hand who can."

It's this kind of entitled, self-centered crap that is rapidly making me—and some of the characters—lose confidence in her, as we discussed last week. She desperately needs someone to check her on her shit, and this week her oldest friend and advisor steps forward to do just that. In an episode that celebrates forgiveness, kindness, and the complex humanity of its characters, Jorah Mormont is Dany's conscience.

"Forgive me, Khaleesi," he says, as he enters. (And how much do I love that he still calls her "Khaleesi?" So, so much.) She asks if he has done something to offend her, and he reminds her that he has done many, many things: He once, in fact, spied on her for her enemies, and conspired with them to have her and her unborn baby killed, and then he hid those facts and lied about them for years. (And he made many other mistakes: If Dany had listened to him, she would not have her dragons, and she would not have her Unsullied, and she would not have the Dothraki.)

"Long ago, and long forgiven," she says of these mistakes—and that's just his point. "But you did forgive," he says. "Despite my failures." Yes, he points out, Tyrion has made mistakes, but he owns them, and he learns from them. That, as much as anything, is what Game of Thrones asks of its characters. Jorah is too kind to point out that Dany has made plenty of mistakes as well, but he is essentially making the same argument for Tyrion that Tyrion made for her with Cersei. ("She knows herself," Tyrion said of Dany. "She chose an advisor who would check her worst impulses instead of feeding them.") We all need to know ourselves; we all need to learn from our mistakes; and we all need advisors—friends—who can forgive us, check us, and see the best in us when we can't see it in ourselves.

Jorah Mormont in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

The spirit of generosity that infuses "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is really quite touching. Jorah doesn't even like Tyrion, and he admits here that it broke his heart when he learned Dany had made Tyrion the Hand of the Queen—the role Jorah had served, in all but name, for many years. Tyrion has even suggested, earlier in the episode, that Jorah could probably have that role now, if he wanted it. ("I expect one of you will be wearing this, before it's all over," he told Jorah and Varys, referring to his badge of office.) But Jorah isn't thinking selfishly: He is doing what's best for Dany, what's best for Tyrion, what's best for the future. And he is doing it by appealing to Dany's humanity, by encouraging her to check her worst impulses instead of feeding them. In that moment, he is her Hand.

Later in the episode, the general spirit of goodwill will spiral back around to reward Jorah as well, as Sam entrusts him with his father's sword, Heartsbane. "Your father taught me how to be a man," Sam says. "How to do what's right." And he pays that kindness forward now: Jorah surrendered the right to his family's Valyrian-steel sword years ago, when he dishonored himself. Now, Sam effectively restores that honor. In a quieter, slightly more subtle way, it mirrors what Jaime does for Brienne: Sam is naming Jorah Mormont, too, a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

Jorah's good advice to Dany—his appeal to her humanity—includes the recommendation that she needs to make peace with Sansa. I don't know if he specifically told her to approach Sansa as an actual person, not a queen, but that's more or less what Dany does, and again it seems like a corrective to the stupid resentments that were boiling between them last episode. Dany sits with Sansa as an equal, and they talk not like queen and subject, but almost as sisters. Sansa admits her fear that Jon is being manipulated through his love for Dany, and Dany—for the first time—admits that she loves Jon. "All my life, I've known one goal: the Iron Throne," she says. "Until I met Jon. Now I'm here, half a world away, fighting Jon's war alongside him. Tell me, who manipulated whom?" It's a sweet scene, a necessary scene between these two women—and it's all the better because Sansa still shows that she is a formidable woman, one who can't be charmed out of caring about what's important to her. "What about the North?" she asks, which puts an end to the tender, sisterly confidences—but how could Dany respect a sister who wouldn't fight for her rights?

One final point I'll make about all of this—because I think it's central to the theme—is that Tyrion's mistake with Cersei was exactly the sort of mistake we want people to make on Game of Thrones. "I made a mistake common to clever people," he says. "I underestimated my opponent." But that's not really what he did: He has never for a second underestimated Cersei's power, or even her ruthlessness. What he did was overestimate her humanity, as he admits to his brother. "Cersei told me the pregnancy had changed her," he says. "And I believed her." Tyrion gave Cersei the benefit of the doubt that, for all her faults, and all her crimes, there was still something human in her, something relatable, something redeemable. He was wrong, but that's the same benefit of the doubt Brienne asks for on Jaime's behalf, and Jorah asks for on Tyrion's behalf. It's the benefit of the doubt without which none of us are salvageable in the end, and—as mistakes go—it's a pretty good mistake to make.

"We're probably going to die soon. I ought to know what it's like before that happens."

Arya and Gendry in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Because humanity is what it's all about. Without it, no one can be saved, and nothing is worth saving. But, with it, no one is ever truly lost.

Last week I said that I hoped the show would, in these final episodes, come to terms with what Arya Stark has become, and it seems clear to me now that I, the showrunners, and Arya herself are all on the same page.

There is not time—thankfully—for this to really be a love story between Arya and Gendry. I don't think that's what this storyline is about, and I don't even think that's what Arya is feeling or wants. But Arya has known no real connection, no real affection, since her father died at the Sept of Baelor. In the intervening years, she has hung out with a lot of people: Yoren, and Gendry, and Hot Pie, and Lommy, and Tywin, and the Brotherhood, and the Hound, and Jaqen H'ghar, and the Waif, and Lady Crane, and others. (And, in the process, she has been as many people, absorbing their lessons and adapting herself accordingly.)

But she has also been painfully alone, no matter who she was with, becoming less and less trusting, less and less emotional, more and more self-reliant. She had become—through all the people she has known, and all the people she has been—No One: a faceless, soulless angel of death. She made the decision at the end of Season Six that she didn't want to be No One, stating her intention to reclaim her identity.  ("A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I am going home," she declared.) But even then we weren't really sure she could come back from that. She murdered Walder Frey and his sons, and she slaughtered the entire Frey family, and even after she reunited with her sister and brother it seemed possible—the show teased us with the possibility—that she was still a monster.

Because that's what being "No One" is: a monster. With no family, no friends, no connections, no past, no identity, you have no one to care about, and no one to remind you who you are, to reinforce—as people do for each other throughout "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"—that you can choose to be your best self. You have, literally, no humanity.

I think Arya knows that. I think she herself craves that connection, that humanity. She goes looking for it here, in a mini-tour of her past experiences and identities. She makes a sort of awkward peace with both the Hound and Beric Dondarrion, two of her flawed, failed father figures. ("When was the last time you fought for anyone besides yourself?" she asks the Hound, and he answers her honestly in as close to a declaration of love as these two can or will ever come: "I fought for you, didn't I?") But they don't have what she needs: They are both too old, too damaged, too complexly dark and distant. "I'm not spending my final hours with you two miserable old shits," she says.

Gendry was, arguably, the last person with whom Arya tried to make a real connection, back when she was still Arya, back when she still had emotions. ("I can be your family," she pleaded to him once, tearfully. And he reminds her of that now: "Last time you saw me, you wanted me to come to Winterfell," he says. "Took the long road, but…") And in their interactions together this week and last, he serves the purpose that people are serving for each other throughout this episode: Teasing her, flirting with her, he relates to her as a person, not as a scary warrior, and thus reminds her that she is human. (You can see this long suppressed part of Arya awakening from their first scene together last week. When she first enters his forge she is the warrior, cold and distant. He calls her "Milady," and she snaps at him not to—but then, after a moment, you can see her remembering the old joke between them, remembering when she was once just a girl who could joke and flirt with a boy.)

Gendry and Arya in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

I am not saying that there is not real affection between them, or that there is not real desire: There is both, I think. But that's just the point: Arya has denied herself all of that, for half her life. She went from childhood to young adulthood without ever having so much as a kiss. She traveled all over the world, with a lot of very different people, without ever really daring to let herself care for anyone, or need anyone, or want anyone. "We're probably going to die soon," she says now. "I ought to know what it's like before that happens." She means sex, of course, but I think she means—whether she knows it or not—so much more than that. She means what Jaime found with Brienne, and what Jorah found with Dany, and Jon found not just with Ygritte and Dany, but with Sam and Ed as well. She means connection, and intimacy, and a lowering of her guard. She means allowing herself to care about someone else. She means allowing herself to be human. She ought to know what that's like, before she dies.

I have seen that final shot of Arya and Gendry in bed turned into a meme on social media, as though the haunted look on her face somehow indicates that the experience was unsatisfying or disappointing. That's fine—I'm all for a good, funny meme—but I don't think that's what's going on here. She is a young, vibrant woman who has just let herself connect with someone, and feel something, for the first time in forever, right at the moment when the world is coming to an end. She's just discovered one of the terrible truths at the heart of Game of Thrones: It's easy to be a monster, but it's so much harder and more complicated and more rewarding to be a person. She's just realized—on the day before she expects to die—that maybe she wants to live after all.

"Any knight can make another knight."

The Knighting of Ser Brienne in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Finally, to the people who were somehow bored with this episode—perhaps because they were impatient about getting to the storm of swords and the dance of dragons—I will say this: I honestly don't know why you're even watching this show.

Because the entire sequence around the hearth of Winterfell—from the moment Tyrion and Jaime sit down, through the knighting of Brienne of Tarth, all the way to Podrick's haunting rendition of "Jenny of Oldstones"—is everything: everything. It's as good as Game of Thrones gets, and as insanely perfect an encapsulation of its themes as I can imagine.

I want to come a little prematurely to the song itself. There have been several articles online—here, for example—explaining the significance of the song in George R. R. Martin's novels, and how it makes reference to Rhaegar Targaryen (who may have written it) and the prophecy about the Prince (or Princess) Who Was Promised. As the montage of the song ends on the Winterfell crypt, where Jon will confess his true lineage to Dany, I think it's safe to say that the show is aware of the song's importance and included it as an easter egg for hardcore fans.

But I don't care so much about that. (I've never had any patience for prophecies.) Rather, the lyrics of the song are evocative and hauntingly fitting to this episode.

High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most
The ones who'd been gone for so very long
She couldn't remember their names
They spun her around on the damp old stones
Spun away all her sorrow and pain
And she never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave

Throughout "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," everyone is dancing with ghosts. There is no one here who has not lost someone over the course of Game of Thrones, and many of the dead get mentioned, or referenced, throughout the episode. Dany remembers Drogo. ("Someone taller.") Sam remembers both his own father and Jorah's father, Jeor Mormont. Jon, Sam, and Ed remember their fallen brothers in the Night's Watch, especially Pyp and Grenn. Beric and the Hound remember Thoros of Myr. Jaime and Tyrion remember Tywin, and Tyrion—in referencing how his "whoremongering" days are over—indirectly references Shae, the last woman he slept with. We hear how Davos survived the Blackwater, and we remember how his son Matthos did not. Davos and Gilly encounter a little girl with a burned face who reminds them both of poor Shireen Baratheon. Jaime mentions how he lost the Battle of Whispering Wood, and we remember that this was Robb Stark's first victory. And, of course, important conversations continue to take place in the Winterfell crypts, where statues of Ned and Lyanna Stark stand, and where all the women and children—and Tyrion—will huddle for survival next week.

Earlier in the episode, while everyone gathered around the war map for a strategy session, Sam has said something important: "That's what death is, isn't it?" he asks. "Forgetting. Being forgotten. If we forget where we've been and what we've done, we're not men anymore." This remembering is important: Just like pushing Bran from a window formed who both men are today, every action, and every mistake, and every loss, and every person loved and hated, informs who these people are now. Forgetting the people we have known, and the people we have been, is to be No One, to be a monster. Remembering is what makes us human.

Tyrion in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Obviously, this scene is also the season—and the series—writ small. I've long argued that Game of Thrones has been about the evolution away from strict, segregated clan mentality towards something more inclusive: When it began it was about blood families, and now it is about found or chosen families. Here, in the home of what was once the only happy family in Westeros, gathered around the hearth, is a new family. They come from radically different backgrounds, were born with dramatically different fates prescribed to them, and at one point nearly all were at war, not just with the Starks—as Tyrion points out—but with each other. (Tyrion, let's remember, killed Davos's son at the Blackwater; Brienne killed Davos's king at the (first) Battle of Winterfell; Tormund, a Wildling, was once an enemy of everyone in Westeros.) And now they are here, a patchwork army preparing for to go into battle together, a makeshift family, composed of all these cripples, bastards, and broken things.

And breaking down that strict clan mentality meant saying—as Tormund says here—"Fuck tradition." This, too, is what Game of Thrones has been about: dismantling the old rules, disregarding the narrow definitions of roles, and making room for individuals to determine their values and identities for themselves. (Again, none of these people—nor Dany, nor Jon, nor Arya, nor Sansa, nor Sam, nor Theon, nor even Cersei—became the people their society told them they were supposed to be.) And here we have a glorious celebration of the breakdown of the old order, and the triumph of the new, as a woman, Brienne of Tarth, is dubbed a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

Gwendoline Christie is just heartbreakingly good in this scene. She begins by scoffing at the one thing she has wanted all of her life. ("I don't want to be a knight," she says, and then looks at Podrick, who tells her with a loving look that he knows that's a lie.) And then, when she realizes what Jaime is offering her, we can see a split second when she fears he's making fun of her—for people have been making fun of Brienne of Tarth as long as she can remember.

Think about what her life must have been like—we heard a little of her humiliation in Season Five, when she told Podrick about "Brienne the Beauty"—and realize what unbelievable courage it must have taken to become the person she became anyway. It is not hard to imagine why she loved Renly Baratheon, who gave her a place in his short-lived Kingsguard. It is not hard to imagine why she felt such loyalty first to Catelyn Stark, and then to her daughter Sansa, who both promised her that she would always have a place at their hearths, and at their tables. And it is not hard to imagine what this means to her now. We have seen Brienne smile before—very rarely, and very slightly—but we have never before seen her beam like she does now.

Ser Brienne of Tarth in GoT 8x02 - A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Now, does this mean Ser Brienne will probably fall in battle next week? Almost certainly. But she will die a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. She will die, as she says, with honor, fighting for a just cause. She will die, most importantly, as herself, as the person she was always meant to be. That, on this show, may be what winning looks like.

I want to come back, here at the end of this long discussion, to that idea I mentioned earlier about the spiraling consequences of kindness. Everyone in this room—every character left alive at Winterfell, really—is who and where they are because they both benefited from, and spread, the values for which they are about to fight. I could list the acts of kindness and mercy that brought them all here—remember, for example, how Davos set Gendry free?—but it would amount to a recounting of all of Game of Thrones. And I could enumerate the values they have all come to share, but I don't need to: Jaime summarizes them for us, when he invokes the oath of knighthood: "In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the Mother, I charge you to protect the innocent."

That's it: bravery, justice, and compassion. That's what it's all about. That's "why we fight." Anyone who upholds those values is a knight—whether they've been officially named as such or not—and any knight can make another knight by exhibiting and spreading those values. Jaime had the title, but it was Brienne who made him a knight; Brienne was a knight, and it is Jaime who gives her the title. Ser Jorah Mormont had the title once, but it is Samwell Tarly—an unlikely, but undeniable knight, by our definition—who symbolically restores it to him now. Throughout Game of Thrones, time and time again, we have seen bravery, and fairness, and compassion spread from person to person, spiraling outward, from decent actions large and small, to make these characters better people

"I think we might live," Tyrion says, drinking with his new family by the hearth, and daring to hope that there might, somehow, be a tomorrow for all of them. I'd like to believe that too, because they all deserve it. They've all become Knights of the Seven Kingdoms. This episode takes a moment to acknowledge that, and celebrate it, and remind us that that's what Game of Thrones has been about from the start. For 69 episodes we've been watching these flawed, fallible, painfully human people—the ones we have lost, and the ones we have found—endure the perils of betterment, to become, finally, heroes.

And we never wanted to leave.

Additional Thoughts and Favorite Bits

  • Shameless plug here at the top, where you can't possible avoid it: If you like my reviews, I'd love it if you'd buy my book. It has all of my reviews of the first three seasons (which were shorter back then), and three new, exclusive reviews of the first three episodes (which are just as long as this one).
  • There was too much goodness in this episode to discuss it all thoroughly, but it's all on point, and all in that same spirit of generosity, forgiveness, and implausible hope. (We do not see Cersei or Euron this episode, and that is deliberate for reasons that go beyond the decision to set the entire episode at Winterfell. This episode was all about celebrating our heroes.)
  • Speaking of un-knighted knights, little Lyanna Mormont is another woman who is a fierce and admirable hero just by merit of being—determinedly, unapologetically, indomitably—exactly who she is. (It wouldn't entirely surprise me to see her be the last person standing when all of this is over. The Night King has no idea what he's getting into.)
  • Theon returns to fight for Winterfell. Like Jaime, this is the site of his greatest crimes, his most terrible sins, but he is one of the most broken of the broken things, and he has endured the perils of betterment more perilously than most. It is worth remembering too that his one kind act—rescuing Sansa from Ramsey Bolton—not only earned him forgiveness, but actually made all of this possible. I have been very hard on Theon over the years, and I didn't really expect him to come back from rescuing Yara, but it was surprisingly touching to see Sansa embrace him like the brother he is.
  • Grey Worm and Missandei, like Butch and Sundance, dare to dream of a better life on a beach somewhere. It is rare for this show to acknowledge its overwhelming whiteness, but someone seems to have finally noticed this season. Last week they exchanged a look, riding into Winterfell, that was the universal signal of "We're the only black people here." And, this week, Missandei tries to speak to some Winterfell children, only to have them walk away from her. Grey Worm is right: They don't belong here, and I really hope they get to retire to a peaceful life in Narth. (I don't bet on it, but I hope for it.)
  • Tyrion asking everyone to stay up longer and drink with him reminded me of what a lonely man he has always been, and how much he has longed for friends, for a family like this. (Jaime even mentions that, when all of this began, Tyrion was "a drunken whoremonger" with "one friend in the world.") We saw it first in "Baelor," playing his drinking games with Bronn and Shae that were really a thinly veiled ploy for intimacy. Then we saw it again, in "No One," when he pressured Missandei and Grey Worm into drinking and telling jokes with him.
  • Hey, Ghost is alive!
  • I only mentioned in passing the scene where Davos and Gilly meet the brave little girl. That's because I loved Shireen Baratheon almost as much as they did, and I can't even talk about it. (Fuckin' Stannis. Fuckin' Melisandre.)
  • Things I skipped over because I don't care about them: Jon and Dany's drama, and (for eight seasons now) whatever vaguely mystical nonsense is going on with Bran. And yes, I realize that both of these things are vitally important to the endgame that Martin, Benioff, and Weiss have been building towards all this time. Maybe that's why I said I'm inclined to view this—probably the last small-scale, human episode—as the true, spiritual finale of Game of Thrones. All that crap is just plot: This stuff is what made this show worth watching for me.

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3 thoughts on “GAME OF THRONES 8×02: "A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS"”

  1. It looks like I don't agree with The Unaffiliated Critic's assessment of this final season at all – and in doing so I have to critique his work as well. The main reason for me these two episodes felt unsatisfying is just because everything is closing so nicely, look at all these character and story arcs getting a tidy end (?) or some kind of conclusion. How convenient… The GoT I know had a more realistic edge to it, people died suddenly, unexpectedly, BEFORE their arc was complete – just like it happens in real life… Or to quote Final Destination: "We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast. But when we say this, we imagine that the hour is placed in an obscure and distant future. It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun, or that death could arrive this same afternoon — this afternoon which is so certain, and which has every hour filled in advance."

    I understand that this is a special situation because the know about the army approaching but that's another illogical plot point: How do they know about it? From a group of people where some of them like Tormund were on top of the wall WHILE it was already falling down and still survived… HOW?!? And after that they missed the whitewalkers at Last Hearth but were fast enough to go around them without being detected and bring these news to Winterfell. Sorry, but GoT has pulled these mind-numbingly stupid moves too many times in the last few seasons to just ignore them…

    Since the show has overtaken the books GoT has just turned into fairy tale 101, just like the real Aegon Targaryen died in s05e10 which is were his story should have ended. The reanimated corpse of Jon Snow is just a plot device filled to the brim with fairy tale tropes. And that's the reason why his love story with Dany felt hollow and artificial (apart from the two actors having absolutely zero chemistry): Because it felt unnatural and forced (in contrast to his love to Ygritte that progressed naturally or the relationship between Jaime and Cersei which is probably the best told love story in the entire series). And the show itself confirmed that this love story is absolutely hollow with the final scene in the crypt. Just hours before that Dany confessed to Sansa how deep her love to Jon is (while still thinking about Drogo…) but after he said he could have a claim to "her" throne she looked like she wanted to kill him. My impression of that look on her face was: "I should just fly away with my dragons and leave you here to die so no one will ever know about your claim to my throne."
    That just confirmed that her character hasn't changed one bit through all the seasons. Her supposed change and growth was just lip service, she is still a ruthless, selfish, entitled tyrant just like Cersei – and the show has confirmed that at various points throughout the series where she showed absolutely no regard for human life. The only creatures Dany cares about are herself and her children/dragons – again just like Cersei…

    And this is the point where I have to critique the author of this article – because this main character arc doesn't fit his narratives he just ignores it although it's the main interaction of the episode between two of the main protagonists. By saying he doesn't care he more or less confirms my impression that the main story of GoT is limping along to the finish line – and it has been limping along for quite some time now.
    Unfortunately, I fully expect them to copy the Battle of Helms Deep in the next episode and pull another deus ex machina saved just in the nick of time out of their fairy tale hat just like they already did in season 6 (Sansa and Littlefinger arriving with the knights just at the right time at the Battle of the Bastards) and in season 7 (Dany arriving with the dragons just at the right moment), this time probably with Melisandra doing her best/worst Gandalf impression.
    Let's face it: GoT is just like any other fantasy series ever by now and it may hurt some more than others. Some may have more goodwill built up because of the great early seasons, others may find solace in the stories of minor/side characters but the main story is collapsing just like the wall. If the army of the dead is defeated in episode 3 and we have to look forward to more than half of the season still left just of high-school romance and drama as well as stupid arguments, backstabbing and nonsensical talk between the remaining human protagonists on a level of series like 90210, Melrose Place, Gossip Girl, Bold and Beautiful etc. I won't be watching.

    I fully expect the GoT white knights to arrive just in the nick of time to call me random labels like "narrow-minded" etc again but I don't care. I won't apologize for my opinions about this (once great) series and I even admit and understand that my impressions may be influenced by how I feel the series should end: With the Night King overrunning Westeros. Not because I'm nihilistic or miserable but because it would be the logical lesson and conclusion to a story that shows (primarily) the weaknesses of humans. And that's why the final scene in the crypt – unfortunately ignored by the Unaffiliated critic – was the most important of them all.

    Even now, despite knowing about the danger and with the army of the dead approaching, Dany is more worried about the Iron Throne and her selfish needs than anything else. Her "love" to Jon Snow seemed to evaporate in a single second. And with leaders like that and Cersei it should come as no surprise that the struggling and infighting humans should get decimated. Moreover, if even the children of the forest and the first men working together couldn't kill the Night King but just push him back and lock him out with the help of a magic wall why should it happen now? He should be immune to dragon glass as he has had a large junk inside of him since his creation and the show itself showed him to be immune to (dragon) fire in s07e06 when he walked right through it before throwing the spear. He shouldn't be killed because death can only be avoided for so long, not forever… And Westeros' time has come…

    1. Why you traitorous, narrow-minded, random fool-EGON! Take that to your disloyal gizzard! Touche!

      With that out of the way, I thank you for your entirely valid, and well argued points. I especially like the one about Tormund's unexplained survival and arrival at Winterfell. And it would truly be interesting to see the Night King wipe out Westeros.

      But you know what Mark Twain said about fiction? "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." Ironically, this is doubly true of fantasy fiction.

      It was quite refreshing to have a fantasy series that seemed so real with so many major characters meeting early ends (and it would be a nice, consistent touch for the Night King to wipe out all the rest). But Egon, you must have known that that could not continue indefinitely in GOT, at least not without alienating most of its audience. Because in the end, most people don't want their fiction, especially their fantasy, to be too realistic. We want it to be mythic and archetypal, fair and balanced.

      Do you think our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors told and retold strictly factual, realistic tales, around their camp fires? I think not. Like them we dislike too much meaningless randomness. But unlike them we also want to escape from a real civilization where inequality, wealth, power and unfairness always seem to prevail. We want to experience a world as it *should* be, not as our "civilized" and random world actually is. We want a respite from the "real" world, and we desperately hope GOT will provide that respite, that ending, however "unrealistic" the ending turns out to be. (But it does have to be a close call, with some random surprises thrown in. Otherwise just wake us up when it's finally over.)

      In summary, you are right with your criticisms, but so is the Unaffiliated Critic with his praises. And thanks again for your delightful comment.

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