If last week’s episode was necessary (to remind us of where everyone is and set up the final season), then last night’s episode was… not. It was literally just a “last night on Earth” scenario, showing us how the characters gathered at Winterfell chose to spend their final hours before the coming battle with the army of the White Walkers — a battle in which many of them will likely die (and then be resurrected as wights? Who knows!). In the grand scheme of things, there were probably only one or two scenes that mattered in an overarching plot sense: Bran revealing that the Night King will surely come for him, and Jon revealing his true name and parentage to Daenerys. The rest was pure fan service as the characters (and the audience) reminisced about how far they’d come to get to this point.
And yet I have a feeling, when we reach the end of this season of Game of Thrones and look back on the journey we took with this amazing, infuriating and confounding show, many of the moments we remember will come from this episode right here. No, none of this was strictly “necessary” to the story. But emotionally? These moments were irreplaceable.
Let’s start with the one that gave the episode its name: Lady Brienne of Tarth finally getting her knighthood and becoming Ser Brienne. It was the culmination of her reunion with Jaime Lannister — a reunion in which she argued in front of Sansa, Dany, and Jon that he should be spared, and he in turn asked to fight under her command in the upcoming battle. That evening, as the pair whiled away the hours drinking wine with Tyrion, Podrick, Davos, and (of course!) Tormund, the issue of her not technically being a knight comes up. And Tormund is APPALLED. “Fuck tradition,” he says. And apparently Jaime agreed, because he turned around and pointed out that it isn’t necessary for a king to bestow knighthood on a soldier — any knight can do it. And he is a knight.
I’ll be honest — I’ve felt a lot of emotions as I’ve watched this show over the years, but it has never made me cry before. This scene, though? This got me. It would have been enough to see Brienne’s reaction, from disbelief to swelling pride, as Jaime told her to kneel before him. It would have been enough to know that, no matter what the morning brings, in this moment Brienne of Tarth’s journey of acceptance had reached its peak. But the reaction of her fellows around that fire — Pod’s own quiet pride and subtle nod, Tormund’s overjoyed standing ovation, Tyrion raising a toast, and the solemnity with which Jaime performs the oath — made the moment even sweeter.
But Brienne wasn’t the only woman to get her due this week. Arya, in a surprising and satisfying turn of events, got her freak on with Gendry. But that’s putting it too mildly. What really happened is that she kind of leered at him for two episodes, showed off her weapons skills as a way of flirting, and then demanded to know how many women he’d slept with (3!) before propositioning him. Because frankly, if she’s going to die tomorrow, she wants to know what it feels like to have sex. It’s as simple as that. Now, it’s not unusual for characters to bone down before a big fight — but it IS unusual for a young woman on this show to get to lose her virginity on her own terms. And in an episode where we are all reflecting on how far these characters have come, it was a powerful reminder that even though Arya has SEEN SOME SH*T (earlier she told Gendry, “I know Death. He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one”), this is one area in which she remained unscathed. After eight seasons, the fact that she got to choose where, when, how, and with whom she had her first sexual experience felt like something of a victory. It wasn’t taken from her, and it wasn’t something she gave either. She didn’t lose her innocence. She took an experience she wanted. And she did it with Robert’s bastard son! Not that she seemed to care about that revelation in the slightest.
Though she did wait to bang him until after he delivered her weapon, because duh. She’s still got her priorities.
Sansa and Dany also spent some quality time together, in a scene that I’m more impressed with the longer I think about it. Basically, Dany goes to Sansa to try and find common ground with her, and figure out why they have seemingly been at odds since the moment Dany arrived at Winterfell. Which in and of itself is a relief: They are both impressive leaders, and it would be great if they were on the same page — because bickering women is a tired cliché, honestly. But of course, the cause of their tension is a man — though not quite the way you might think. Dany correctly guesses that Sansa’s reticence may be about Jon. But Sansa isn’t just being protective of her brother, or jealous that he’s taken the side of another woman. As she explains, “Men do stupid things for women. They are easily manipulated.” Her concern isn’t even about Jon — it’s about what he’ll do as a leader when he’s influenced by someone else. Her concern is for her people. And for her part, Dany rightly points out that the only reason she’s up here fighting Jon’s war against the White Walkers instead of her own for the Iron Throne is because she loves him. So really, who is manipulating whom?
Finally, it seems like these two women are getting somewhere. Sansa thanks Dany for coming to aid in the war, and Dany reiterates how much she loves and trusts Jon — and they even hold hands! But before these two become total BFFs, Sansa cuts to the chase and asks Dany what her plans are for the future. Once the army of the dead AND Cersei have been defeated, and Dany has claimed the Iron Throne… what happens to the North? Because Sansa, more than caring about Jon, cares about the realm that took back their independence and named him King. As far as she is concerned, the North has nothing to do with the Iron Throne anymore. And just like that, Dany takes her hand away from Sansa again. This is the shape of the chasm between these two women. Jon bent the knee to Dany and gave her the North — for good reason! to save lives! — but being ruled by an outsider is not what the North wants. And it is in Dany’s power, as Queen and as the woman who loves Jon, to set the North free again. But Dany can’t promise that, because her entire purpose, as the last remaining Targaryen heir, has been to reclaim the Iron Throne AND the Seven Kingdoms. Neither woman is wrong, here — but in remaining true to their own goals and values, they may never see eye to eye, either.
Look, I could spend all day dissecting all the little moments where women came out on top this week (Lyanna Mormont telling Jorah she WILL be fighting, thank you very much!), but let’s skip to the moments of actual import — like Dany discovering that she isn’t the last remaining Targaryen heir. Jon confesses that he is Rhaegar’s son in front of Lyanna’s statue in the crypt. And after so recently confirming her love of him to Sansa, it’s impressive how quickly her mind jumps straight to his claim on what she has always believed was her birthright. She’s not worried about how she’s in love with her nephew — she’s worried about how convenient it is that the people who confirmed this “secret” happened to be his brother and his best friend. But again, that’s just Dany staying true to her character and her aspirations. Love has always been secondary to her pursuit of the Throne, so I’m not surprised she’d react this way. It was one thing when Jon was just a very good man who could give her one of the Seven Kingdoms, but it’s another thing entirely if he’s a very good man who might be her competition. So I’m looking forward to how this new wrinkle in their relationship plays out… after they deal with the enemy outside their walls, of course.
Probably the most important scene, in terms of the plot, was the war council. Jon explains that, for all their manpower (or dragon power), they have no hope of defeating the Night King’s forces in a straight fight. Instead, their best hope for success is to take down the Night King directly — and to do that, Bran reveals that they should use him as bait. The Night King’s ultimate goal is to erase the world, and as the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran is its memory — which is why he is a particular target. And since he bears the mark of the Night King on his arm, their enemy always knows where to find him. So he says he’ll wait in the godswood, and Theon volunteers to protect him there, to make up for taking Winterfell from him back in Season 2.
That scene finally made explicit what this war is really all about, but we’ll have to wait until next week to see how it all plays out. By contrast, this week was all about spending time with our characters before we lose them, and in that spirit I’d like to end with the funniest scene of the night — Tormund bragging about why he’s called “Giantsbane,” to impress Brienne and to show that Jaime isn’t the only one to earn a nickname the hard way. Turns out Tormund killed a giant when he was ten! Then he crawled into bed with the giant’s wife and suckled at her teat for 3 months! And the secret of his strength is all that giant’s milk he drank! And then he… chugs his horn and spills the drink all over himself, to the disgust of everyone else around the fireplace.
I’ll be honest, this episode made me cry twice — only this instance it was tears of laughter.
Header Image Source: HBO