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Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode Two: Winterfell Pauses in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is to Game of Thrones what “The Ember Island Players” was to Avatar: The Last Airbender, an episode of reflection where the show’s characters – and narrative – can slow down and collect their respective breath before heading into the final stretch. What were once mere plot points and climactic action sequences have become legends of Westeros, and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” looks back at the many difficult, paths taken to fight in Winterfell’s last stand – and more importantly, quietly examine how they’ve come to define the show’s collection of misfits, castoffs, bastards, and murderers. And although it relies heavily on a couple of key sequences to fuel the entire 58-minute running time (and doesn’t have an adorable stage play a la the aforementioned Avatar episode), “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is an effective, if somewhat inelegant, calm before the White Walker storm.

Equal parts sentimental and foreboding, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a strange, evocative mix of reunions, recaps, and ruminations, the visual equivalent of a Westerosi yearbook.

Ostensibly, 85% of the story in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is contained in the first ten minutes; Dany’s reluctant forgiveness of Jaime’s perceived crimes is one of a few consequential developments of the hour (the others being Arya losing her virginity, and Jorah getting Heartsbane to fight within the Battle for Winterfell). The resolution of this, Jaime being set free to serve the Queen’s army, is most certainly a rushed conclusion to this particular subplot, a dynamic conflict only given a moment’s glance because of the episode’s deeper priorities.

It’s not a particularly exciting scene, especially considering how other trials in Game of Thrones have gone in the past, it establishes an important tone for the episode to follow. It’s also where the Avatar comparison becomes most apt; in front of the Winterfell council, Jaime’s actions over the course of the series are laid bare, from his terrible actions in early seasons, to his more recent, semi-failed attempts at redemption in recent years (after all, this is still the same man who sexually assaulted his sister on the grave of their father – boy, season five feels like ages ago). Jaime’s complicated nature isn’t easily defined in broad terms by Westerosi legends or the audience alike; he’s a traditional antagonist, but it’s hard not to feel empathetic when Brienne stands up for him, and saves his life.

Though the notion that Brienne is madly in love with Jaime makes me cringe a bit (can’t people just be friends sometimes?), her defense of him during his extremely brief “trial” is a thematic bedrock of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, and Game of Thrones as a whole. Be it Sansa, Arya, Dany, Davos, or Tyrion, the path everyone has taken to this very moment in Winterfell has most assuredly not been the expected path; each and every arc of major characters in the series is about bucking tradition, about the misleading nature of assumptions, and how everyone is more complicated and compromised than their legends might suggest. It’s about remembering the humans behind the icons of Westeros, and just how unlikely their paths to this point were; as everyone prepares to meet their death the next day, it forces a moment of contemplation, and reckoning, for every entity in Winterfell.

It would be easy to chalk up a lot of these moments as low hanging fruit for the show, a Call Back Bingo for Game of Thrones. However, the episode’s convenient, fan-friendly character pairings throughout the hour serve a much more important role together; Arya and The Hound, Jaime and Brienne, Jorah and Dany… every interaction of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is constructed to give perspective and scope to everyone’s personal journey, by way of an unabashedly nostalgic recollection of moments by the characters who’ve come to know them best through the series. By leaning into familiar relationships we haven’t seen in a while, Game of Thrones effectively communicates the emotional scope of the series, pinpoint observations about just how much these characters have grown out of their archetypes over the years, shifting the culture of their world along with them.

This approach is a double-edged sword for “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”; it doesn’t really try to hide itself as a narrative hamster wheel at any point, and it often undercuts its emotional potential with its repetitive approach to each interaction (exchange hellos, recap arcs for the series, get emotional,  rinse and repeat) – but it’s still a goddamn pleasure to watch, a final chance to just hang out with the characters we’ve come to know so well over the years. It does come with a tinge of disappointment, as each scene reinforces how much plot has overtaken character development in the past two seasons – but this is the first and last time all these people will be in the place at the same time, and Game of Thrones soaks up every last emotional drop of that opportunity, offering a number of touching reunions before the Big Battle begins.

The best of these scenes, of course, is set in the heart of Winterfell, where some of the show’s most momentous characters sit and share a drink around a fire. They reminisce about old times, make room for a little bit of legend-making (oh Tormund… never change, dear friend) – and most importantly, give Brienne and Jaime one of the show’s most beautiful moments, when Jaime bucks tradition and makes her the first female knight of Westeros.

The sequence is so powerful, a perfect distillation of Game of Thrones and how it has challenged the characters over the years. Like everyone else in Winterfell, Brienne was resigned to who she was, an identity forged, and limited, by the opinions of others – she was always dismissed and underestimated, something Jaime himself was familiar with after being dubbed Kingslayer. Their friendship was the beginning of their journey to self-acceptance; seeing that arc close during one of Westeros’ oldest (and most royal) traditions is a wonderful inverse of expectations, the perfect encapsulation of so many other characters’ arcs through the series.

This template is repeated time and time again through “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”; and although the beginning of each scene is overwhelmingly redundant, it serves as an effective catalyst for the episode’s nostalgic undercurrent. There really isn’t anything new happening in this hour – save for Arya banging Gendry, perhaps the strangest moment of the episode – and that’s actually ok; after two seasons of plot-related whiplash, taking a moment to breathe and just kick it with the warriors, assassins, and nobleman we’ve come to know and love is necessary, reinforcing the emotional bonds between characters (and the audience) before the arrival of The Night King changes everything. This is the last time all these people will be alive, and given that, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” smartly takes the time to sit back and reflect on the journey to this point.

The people of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, however, are looking towards the future, a few holding out hope for what the world might look like, should any of them survive this war. Everyone in Winterfell has faced their own mortality at one point or another in this series, and that perspective gives great weight to the curiosity of what will happen after – or the uncertainty, the conveniently-cut-short conversation between Dany and Sansa serving as a reminder that while wars begin and end, history never pauses, and the conflicts between their political factions will not come to a conclusion based on the results of a single battle, no matter how unified their fronts are. Again, tradition’s patterns are mistaken: these armies may be fighting together, but their loyalty is as amorphous and undefined as the goals of the Night King.

Equal parts sentimental and foreboding, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a strange, evocative mix of reunions, recaps, and ruminations, the visual equivalent of a Westerosi yearbook, right down to the promises made in the margins for the future. Pod’s performance of “Jenny’s Song” may contain important hints of Jon and Dany’s complicated claims to the Throne – but it is also an important bit of foreshadowing, a reminder that so many of the people contained within the walls of Winterfell will be ghosts by the next nightfall, their memories and legacies forever entwined in the battle to come, but never forgotten by the people lucky enough to dance with them down the road to Valhalla (or whatever the Westeros equivalent is). As narratively stunted as it is emotionally manipulative, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is still a worthy entry in the series – a necessary and welcome one, a final moment to chill out with the best characters of the series before the shit hits the fan, one last time.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • I’m sure there will be a dozen 4,000-word think pieces on the importance of “Jenny’s Song”, but it’s really quite simple – and almost unnecessary. It details the story of Targaryen ancestry, and specifically, the rightful heir giving up his claim to the Throne… did we ever think Jon actually wanted to be king? I feel like him and Dany could’ve finished their conversation because the conclusion is blindingly obvious.
  • The Arya/Gendry sequence is a lot to unpack, a strange right turn for Arya’s character, after years of avoiding her emotional and sexual development. However, it is nice to see a female exercise some sexual agency on Game of Thrones, as it has been relatively rare over the years.
  • goddamnit, that knighting sequence… Brienne and Jaime’s friendship remains one of the most interesting dynamics of the series, despite the increasingly romantic undercurrent it most certainly does not need to have.
  • “What about the North?” Sansa ain’t taking no shit, not even from a dragon queen.
  • Arya, to Beric and The Hound: “I”m not spending my final hours with you miserable old shits.”
  • Jorah and Lyanna arguing is a great reminder that those two are related, something that I forget time and time again.
  • Game of Thrones casually dropping Ghost in the background of a shot is a deep betrayal of the Winterfell direwolves, and how much we should be basking in their furry glory whenever we have the chance.
  • oh my god Bran, shut the fuck uppppp.
  • Davos sees the ghost of Stannis’ daughter with the girl who swears to defend the Winterfell crypt; it is one of many eye-watering moments in this episode, a subtle moment that is only second to the emotional knighting of Ser Brienne.
  • I don’t really get why Sansa’s so happy and forgiving of Theon, but hey, whatever – it’s the Stark Family Reunion Hour, and I’m here for all of it
  • Who was the first person Dany loved and trusted? “Someone taller,” she tells Sansa.
  •  The Lannister brothers, re: Cersei: “she’s always been good at using the truth to tell lies.”
  • “How do you know there’s an afterwards?” OK BRAN WE GET IT.
  • I’m sorry,  but Greyworm and Missandei’s background romance is a lame way to get the audience invested in either character, and gets a disappointing amount of coverage here.
  • Also disappointing: Game of Thrones is subtly portraying the people of the North as racist towards Missandei and Greyworm, superficial signals that the progressive policies of this new faction aren’t exactly as warm and most welcoming as some might suggest. I just wish it was given more traction in these last two episodes, rather than treated as an afterthought only two characters are concerned about.
Written By

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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