Episode two of the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ held all the tension and potential of a drawn bow and arrow, waiting to be let loose on the waiting target that is its loyal audience’s heart. And while we’ll have to wait for one more episode for that arrow to find its target, we have to be content with another table-setting episode, one we can safely say is far superior than the episode that came before it.
Because so much of ‘Winterfell’ (episode one) was about reunions and getting the audience and the characters up to speed about the goings on of the Seven Kingdoms (yes, the Night King has breached the Wall; yes, Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen; yes, Sansa is now a certified badass; and yes, Dany and Jon still have the hots for each other, even if the chemistry between Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke has all the heat of a damp cloth), it felt like we were just checking off boxes, never truly getting to the heart of anything.
‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ (episode two) follows the same beats, bending to fan service again and again (we’re looking at you Gendry and Arya), and you could be forgiven for sometimes thinking you’re watching a terribly emo teen romance (cue Dany throwing longing looks at a forlorn Jon); but what makes it click is its brave decision to spend more time with its main players, focusing on the emotional threads that keep them together and have helped them survive thus far. It would be far too easy to be disappointed with this episode because the conflict is at a minimum and there’s not a single dragon, pyromaniac priest/priestess or battle in sight. But when you consider the fact that is probably the last chance we as an audience have to spend the night, as it were, with these characters, the episode takes on a new glow.
All the action of ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ takes place in Winterfell; everyone’s preparing for the battle to come against the Night King. Come dawn, the army of the dead will be at their gates, and just for this one night, this sprawling, motley cast is stuck together in an icy fortress and it’s a gorgeous reminder of how far they’ve all come. Never again will we see the likes of Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Tormund Giantsbane, Ser Davos Seaworth and Podrick sit around a cosy fire and swap battle tales and ‘origin stories’. Never again will Arya and the Hound share a drink. And never again will Sam, Jon and Edd indulge in some Night’s Watch-tinged gallows humour.
Like last week was about setting up Sansa Stark and following her arc from being a young and stupid girl to a wise and capable leader, this week focuses on Jaime Lannister’s journey of redemption. Look, he crippled Bran in season one, episode one, but now he’s fighting for the living and has cast Cersei aside. Look, he once belittled Brienne of Tarth, but here he is anointing her as the first ever lady knight in all of the Seven Kingdoms. The scenes between Jaime and Brienne are some of the most tender moments we have to yet to come across on the show, scenes that are elevated because of actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie and their spirited performances.
Another warmhearted reunion came when Theon arrived at Winterfell to pledge his allegiance to Sansa and fight alongside the Starks once again. As the two characters embraced, however, we see another chink appear in dear Dany’s armour. She may have the dragons and the armies, but she knows nothing (nudge, nudge Jon Snow) about the Westerosis and if she does make it to the Iron Throne, ruling these people will not be a party.
Like ‘Winterfell’, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ also ends with someone finding out about Jon Snow’s parentage: This time, it’s his girlfriend/aunt/queen Dany, who, as predicted, didn’t take it too well. While she was quick to jump on the fact that this bit of news makes him the last male heir to the Iron Throne, she also gladly skimmed over the fact that her boyfriend is her nephew. Odd but on point. Much conflict, we foresee.
We know that episode three, the ‘Battle of Winterfell’, will feature the longest battle sequence ever in film and TV history, longer than the Helm’s Deep scene in ‘Lord of the Rings’, and also boasts the most number of characters coming together since the show pilot. So before the chaos and the many, many deaths arrive, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ takes its time to look back, take stock and say goodbye. And so should we.