S8 ep 2: a knight of the seven kingdoms

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Game of Thrones returns to form with a bittersweet beauty of an episode that acts as a deep breath (and a drink) before the war.

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More satisfying was how the others rallied for each other now that politics are moot. The best moment of the night is the one where “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” received its title. Faced with imminent death, Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund Giantsbane all stumble into the Great Hall looking for hearth and fellowship. Not unlike their nobler counterparts in J.R.R. Tolkien’s grander alternative to Westeros, they have found community and now communion in an unlikely place.

Yet it is stranger still for a show as cynical as Game of Thrones that so many smiling faces can be found amongst former enemies. As Tyrion is the one to vocalize, as is his gift, they’ve all at one point or another stood against House Stark—obviously Tyrion and Jaime as Lannisters, Davos as Stannis’ Hand, Brienne as Renly’s knight in all but name, and even Tormund who once upon a time might’ve greeted Jon Snow and all “Northerners” with an axe instead of a hug. Now they’re here to defend it to their last breath. Tyrion is right to smirk at the thought of their father seeing his two sons reunited after a patricide as allies to the Starks.

Still, Tyrion speaks too optimistically when he says he thinks they can all survive. Come this time next week, many or all of the characters we’re watching laugh and share suspicious looks as Tormund pours beer down his gullet and speaks of suckling from the teats of widowed giants will be dead. Mayhaps all of them. That makes it all better that each can share a wry glance when Tormund revealed himself to be the Homebrewing hipster of the Seven Kingdoms. Seeing Tyrion, meanwhile, pour wine for his former squire until his glass overflows is worth a thousand speeches about “family” and “the team” on a thousand other shows. These two haven’t even had more than a scene together since 2014, but the unspoken joy of being reunited within their shared passion for drink is infectious.

This is realized even more by the contrast of how much they’ve changed. I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons Tyrion has lost his gift for scathing wit is because most of his best lines were authored by George R.R. Martin. But maybe this is too glib considering he is no longer the same man he once was. As much as Jaime Lannister has gone through startling transformation over eight seasons, Tyrion is long past his whore-mongering “impish” days when he too first set foot in Winterfell. “The perils of self-betterment,” Tyrion bemoans with fair insight. A man weighted by the constraints of power and a Hand’s pin he barely can keep stuck to his chest cannot be the smartass who always gets the last word. After all, it’s Tyrion who gives a look of caution to Jaime before the Kingslayer insult a gingerhaired ally sitting across from him, just as it is Jaime, who once mocked the very idea of nobility, that now celebrates it in Brienne.

For too long the “lady knight” or “large woman” of Game of Thrones has gone by monikers unbefitting her honor and worth. The noblest person on the show by far, she has long run from her heart’s desire. She refused to ever let Podrick call her a knight, and dared not ask it of Renly or Jaime, two men she loved enough to serve but always at a distance and a glance away from eye-contact. When Jaime offers his hand to the better person—the truer knight—by requesting to serve beneath her command, she flinches. Unlike Tyrion she has never been able to vocalize her wants, desires, or even awareness of the situations around her. Situations like the plain injustice of a woman of unparalleled talent and skill not being anointed a “knight” because of tradition.

In the shadow of death, we can say fuck tradition, and that world becomes a little more perfect when Brienne kneels a lady and rises the truest knight. As the happiest face in Winterfell, it is a poor omen about what will come for Ser Brienne next week, but tonight it is worth all the gold in Casterly Rock. It is something to be savored, like Podrick’s singing, a reunion of the Brothers in Black standing atop a wall, Grey Worm’s promise to Missandei for a future that will never be, or a rekindling of old flames.

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Indeed, probably the moment to be most written about and agonized over is Arya Stark and Gendry of House Baratheon (fuck tradition) finally uniting the Wolf and the Stag. It’s been a relationship that’s always been there, at least since they met in the season 1 finale. Arya eyed Gendry as more than just a friend throughout seasons 2 and 3, albeit he knew her only as his little sister then. But the glances she stole of him above a forger’s flame were not of sisterly affection. Nonetheless, I never fully expected Game of Thrones to go there, particularly before the real endgame will be settled. But therein lies the point.

Whether Arya is a teenager or in her 20s now (the timeline is intentionally left fuzzy in the series), she had the ability to study Gendry’s physique in season 2 and feel the sting of betrayal when he chose to leave her in season 3. Since that breakup, she has become a woman who defies all conventions of her age and even some of our own. She takes what she wants from the Freys, in pies and blood, and she gives what she needs to in equal measure from the likes of Petyr Baelish and Meryn Trant. Ever since she told Jaqen H’ghar that “a girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home,” Arya has known exactly who she is and what she wants. That she would wish to experience sex, particularly on the precipice of death, with the only torch she’s ever carried is entirely natural and true to the most iconoclastic Stark. So she takes Gendry with as much force as she took Walder Frey, doing in her young adulthood what she dreamed of in her childhood.

Their foreplay before this moment also allowed for several of the subtler joys of the night. Little things like Arya dismissing the cryptic shorthand with which Gendry and a thousand movie/TV characters speak of foreboding things as “really bad.” It also saw Arya, once stealing a perfect bullseye away from Bran, now firing openly and proudly before an archery target. And never missing. Her ability to also land her shot on Gendry and his initial false modesty is true, yet speaks ill of his chances. Tonight she waits alert and troubled by the side of her slumbering lover. I have a hunch that by this time next week, she’ll be forced to stare into that face again with its much bluer eyes.

This really is the end of things. Which is why we’re more or less beginning where we started. Once more Jaime has a word in private with Bran Stark, although now in shameful regret as opposed to snide indifference to the little boy he was pushing out a window. Unfortunately the scene is robbed of its full emotional potency since Bran Stark has completely uploaded his soul to the Westerosi cloud and cannot be bothered with heart-to-heart apologies, even in the presence of the Heart Tree. Still, he sums up the beauty and poignancy of this night. When Jaime attempts to explain he is no longer the man he was, Bran remarks, “You still would be if you hadn’t pushed me out of that window. And I would still be Brandon Stark.” These two people, a boy and the humbled man who wronged him, are genuinely different souls eight seasons later.

If you think back to every character from those early seasons who still breathes, even perma-brooder Jon Snow, you’ll see the shades of their past etched into the dramatically different, and much more so dramatically satisfying, persons they are today. Daenerys is not a passive pawn in men’s games but a queen who has shattered their game board; Arya is not a young girl who grieves the adventures she’ll never allowed to go on, but a woman who’s seen too many grim adventures to waste time on grief for the road not taken; Sansa, once the girl who naively dreamed of marrying a king, will now be able to refuse fully bending before a queen more than necessary while defending the rights of her people; and Jaime and Bran are now allies surrounded by former enemies, be they Greyjoy or Targaryen, wildlings and crows.

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That is the true terror of the Night King: not only will he kill these characters you love, but he’ll kill the culmination of all their pain, all their growth, and all their transformations. It will come to mean nothing. They’ll be forgotten in a way Ned, Catelyn, Tywin, and even Ramsay’s ghosts were not tonight. There will be no ghosts if only the dead inherit the earth. It is the threat to their shared history—the ties that keep them apart yet bind them together as the living inhabitants of Westeros—that has made this brief, better world possible. “He wants to erase this world and its memory,” warns Three-Eyed Bran while speaking of the Night King. The threat of losing this world, or its purpose for being after eight seasons, should scare viewers. More than any theory, this admission by Bran of White Walker motive should dispel the prospect of the Night King ascending the Iron Throne.


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For the show to have a purpose, this world must have a future—someone must be left to remember those who have died and those still yet to meet the Many-Faced God. That dread of meetings yet to come is what brought serenity and joy to tonight’s episode. Nothing but a deep breath, it was one full of reflection and a bittersweet flavor that’ll last long in our own collective memory. More so than last week’s premiere, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” reminded us why we love these characters, and why it’ll hurt so much when we say to the Many-Faced God next week, “So it is today, old friend.”


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