The beauty. The beauty.
This week’s episode was really about beauty. The multiplicative beauty of a well formed arc. The exponential beauty of all of those arcs closing at once.
There is fanservice and then there is something else, something so in the pocket that once you see it, it feels like it was always meant to be. I expected episode one to reflect the last moments of joy before the fall, but it ended up being a prelude to this week, where long open arcs were closed with grace and solemnity. It’s one thing to throw your fans a bone. It’s entirely something else to tie a ribbon around plot elements that have remained untied for nearly a decade - and for book readers, significantly longer.
This episode, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ was like none before it. Utterly unique in its resolve, intelligence and humanity. For every knock the writers have endured, they can always point back to this episode as an example of the opposite. This episode’s scribe, Bryan Cogman, and director David Nutter, rewarded millions of fans for years of support, in a way that was on point and loyal to the story. It wasn’t forced. It didn’t take easy options for the sake of cheap entertainment. Characters were who they should be. Scenes went the way they should go. It was a tour de force.
Inside of that, it was a held breath, a moment in time where we were able to take stock of our favorite characters and realize a plain truth: they’re all so much better.
You look at Jaime Lannister, for example. The original Jaime Lannister we all remember is the Kingslayer. The arrogant, entitled, narcissist who stabbed Ned Stark’s aide-de-camp Jory Cassel in the eye and then looked over at Ned before he withdrew his blade.
Then we got this Jaime Lannister.
And this Jaime Lannister.
And then we got this Jaime Lannister, who, after being paired with a woman of absolute integrity, something he had never known existed, he became this Jaime Lannister.
And from there he became this Jaime Lannister.
And then he became this Jaime Lannister. Who was gifted a Valyrian steel sword by his father, and immediately gave it to Brienne of Tarth.
And the Jaime Lannister who gave his enemy poison to drink instead of peeling them in front of the Red Keep.
Credit the modeling of proper behavior, of honorable behavior by Brienne of Tarth as the very reason why Olenna Tyrell wasn’t beheaded or hung or otherwise debased.
Sometimes, that walk of shame, that journey into humility can only be effective with an escort. Jaime’s twin was similarly humbled, and yet she returned to her old ways with even more spite and vitriol than before.
But for Jaime, the veil had been pulled back. Before he was captured by the Starks, Jaime Lannister knew only the teachings of Tywin Lannister, possibly the most Machiavellian character ever to trod The Rock.
But once Jaime was out on the road, away from Lannister gold, away from the expectations connected to his status as the heir of Casterly Rock, he changed. Gone was that noxious, casual malaise of being a superior fighter to everyone else. Gone was the premise of safety or control, merely because of his surname. And most importantly, gone was the duplicity and doublespeak that rules every frame of celluloid in the South. Jaime was able to actually take stock of who he was. Of who he had become.
He was able to see, there in that cage, there in that bath, the man his father had designed him to be. He never had a choice in the matter. He never had a moment to breathe. On one side, a man who used him as a prop and a weapon. On the other a sister who did exactly the same. Both sides willful, both sides sociopathic. And him, always and forever, in the middle.
But out on the road, sleeping in the moss next to this grand, principled woman, he was able to breathe. And he caught a bug there, there in the dark woods, off the beaten path. It was the tiniest sort of infection. Almost difficult to say when exactly he caught it. Was it after he stole Brienne’s sword on the bridge? Was it the moment when he saw his golden, gifted hand cleaved from his body and with it his identity? Was it there in Roose Bolton’s bath, exhausted and broken, when he finally begged someone to call him anything but the moniker that everyone in the Seven Kingdoms knew him by: Kingslayer.
The infection was honor.
Which is why everything seemed to look differently to Jaime Lannister after his Steinbeckian Travels with Brienne.
Which is why, when his father presented him with half of Ned Stark’s Ice, a priceless treasure of Valyrian Steel, he immediately gave it to Brienne.
Which is why, when he took back the Riverlands, his repulsion and contempt for Walder Frey was obvious.
That was the man he used to be, not the man he had become.
Which is further why he demonstrated kindness to The Queen of Thorns, til the very end, even as she confessed gleefully to having murdered Jaime’s own son. He didn’t strike her. He didn’t stab her. He didn’t knock the table over and beat her to death with his fists like Jon over Ramsey.
He had become infected with honor. And once you do, dishonor is an unthinkable salve.
Ultimately it was what cost him the love of his life.
Remember how Jaime looked when he returned from Highgarden to find a smoking sept? And he rushed into the the coronation of his sister and met her eye? From that moment, things were never going to be the same.
So vast had the chasm grown that when she later asked him if he was scared of her, he wondered “should I be?”
Of course not! They only had each other. They were a team. Surely even she recognized this.
He had pledged himself to her in a complete way, years ago, before anyone knows anything, when youth and confidence and inexperience spin a tale too enticing to disbelieve. He had given of himself fully. And despite that gnawing feeling in his belly, despite the very clear signs that Cersei was off the map, he continued to do his duty.
Even as she promised herself to another, right in front of him.
Even as she held him out of secret meetings.
Even as she coiled to strike at targets he wasn’t privy to. He held the door. He stood fast against the tide. There was only the two of them. Everyone else was gone. This was his place. Even though something felt irreparably wrong.
Then, there was a final moment of respite.
When the Northern enemies and the Targaryen usurper presented their evidence. An unholy demon that changed everything in the blink of an eye. From that moment forward, only one path became available. And thankfully, his queen was in complete agreement.
One imagines Jaime Lannister that final night in King’s Landing, full of a renewed purpose. Cersei had summoned every banner. She had recalled every army. Tomorrow, he would bring his officer staff into the map room and walk them through the paces. Here’s how we do it. Here’s how we move the remaining might of Westeros north to join the Starks and the Targaryens. He must have been giddy at the prospect. Imagine, a Lannister army fighting for a noble cause. Never before in his lifetime would he have experienced that. Power, yes. Money, of course. But honor? A shared human mission, exempt from the dubious reins of banner or region or sigil?
My god, he must have been ecstatic.
I think, probably more than I should, about the resentment in Jaime’s voice when he mentioned Eddard Stark. When he was telling Brienne about what happened with the Mad King, he recalls that it was Ned Stark who found him there, sitting on the Iron Throne, a dead sovereign bleeding out at his feet. And his memory of Ned Stark is so fraught with resentment and bitterness. The corkscrew resents the dirk. What an insufferable hypocrite he imagines Ned Stark must be. They’re both killers, but somehow the oh-so-noble Ned Stark comes away with an unscathed reputation. Somehow Ned Stark — a grunting, uncomplicated, mealy mouthed, Northern buffoon — is widely viewed as a better man than he. He remembers that moment, imagining how the choir boy Ned Stark will judge him. It’s appalling. That phony. That lying prick, Ned Stark. They are both killers. They are both the same thing. Who is Ned Stark to judge him? All killers are the same. It is known.
But since then, Jaime has realized that all killers are decidedly not the same. And that it is less about the tool than the hand that wields it. That the reason you pull your blade and swing it feels different when you understand why you pull your blade and swing it.
And maybe sometimes, Jamie thinks about that confrontation on the streets of King’s Landing. Maybe he thinks about when Ned Stark first arrived as Robert’s Hand, and refused to duel with him for sport, saying he didn’t duel because he didn’t want anyone to know his moves if the time came for a real fight. Fighting for necessity rather than praise or acclaim. I wonder if that ever landed with him before he lost his sword hand.
It certainly did afterwards.
When we first met Jaime in the pilot, in Winterfell, he was the picture of entitlement. He casually pushed a child to his death, or intended to. But the man lying in his bed that evening, planning to take the Lannisters north to engage the Dead could not have done that. The man lying in his bed that evening was grasping for the type of honor and purpose that the Ned Starks of the world always had. Could the corkscrew ever become the dirk? Could he have known that the one thing Ned Stark might have fundamentally understood was the duty that compelled Jaime to drive his blade into the Mad King? Could he have known that Ned Stark might have completely understood the three tenets of knighthood? Justice, bravery and defense of the innocent? Jaime had been in an impossible situation when he had murdered Aerys Targaryen. In that moment, it could be argued, that he never upheld — or simultaneously broke — the oaths of Knighthood so clearly.
But despite all the hard lessons and the suffering and the self doubt, we can imagine him that next morning, donning his armor with a purpose like never before. Dare he think: nearly Stark-like in his resolve. That day, for the first time ever, he would get to be a Lannister and be honorable at the same time. The Golden Lions roaring for a purpose. The Golden Lions fighting for life itself! What a day! What a fateful, magical day.
Until, of course, it wasn’t.
Until he was stopped in the middle of his plans, like a schoolboy, like a foolish child, and scolded in front of his commanders.
No, idiot. We’re not doing that.
Then he finds out that the Euron Greyjoy departure was a feint. A sham. Cersei had dreamed this eventuality up. At some point before, while he was doing something else, she had been alone in a room with the King of the Iron Isles, a pungent vermin of spectacular immorality. What else was discussed in that room? What else was intimated or promised?
Most importantly: at what point were they not a team anymore?
Did he know? Could he have felt it? Was it while he was away at Highgarden? Was it earlier, when he had refused to draw and quarter Olenna? Was it when he had met with Tyrion? Was it when she had decided to blow up the landed gentry of the Waterlands with Wyldfire? Was it when she seized the throne, rather than put him on it? Or was it much longer ago, when he failed to extricate her from the clutches of the Faith Militant and the High Sparrow? Or before that, when Myrcella was murdered? Had he, in fact, been the one to breach their unspoken arrangement? He the sword for both of them, she the brains? Had she replaced him all the way back then with Qyburn’s odious thing? Had he not been her protector since then? What was he to her if he could not be a sword? Is that when the paths, unbeknownst to him, diverged?
It was probably too much for him to swallow, that the schism had occurred that long ago. That he had been fighting a two man war for a one woman team. All they have is each other. That was a simple fact. Of course she must see that, too. Right? Right?
Which is why you can see the shock and pain in his eyes as his life is laid bare in front of him in Cersei’s office chambers. When she truly considers halving him rather than letting him follow his conscience. Nobody walks away from her. This is about her. Not ‘them’. It always has been.
But he doesn’t have a choice: this must be done. Honor demands it.
Perhaps Cersei didn’t mean it when she gave her word, but he did. And the days where that meant nothing are far in the past. He is a different man. A man of purpose. A man of simple, straight lines. He is no longer her sword. She is no longer the brains for both of them.
We see him, then, as he was when we closed last season. Alone.
We see him slipping that glove over his golden appendage. Fuck the pageantry. Fuck the golden lions and the sideshows. Fuck the duplicity and the doubletalk.
We see him there, in black, no Lannister armor on him, a man whose only worldly possessions are a black outfit, a Valyrian sword and a purpose. A man who, finally, blissfully, thankfully, makes his own decisions and knows the difference between right and wrong.
And so we finally see him again, as Season 8, Episode 2 opens, in Winterfell, standing in the moot hall, facing the daughter of the slain.
And this is where we begin. Faced off against the one character who maaaaay not have evolved in the same way everyone else has. The jury’s still out on that. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I think she has. I love Dany. I think it’s easy to poke fun at her and suggest that she’s the peak Galadriel meme of ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR.
But I love her.
I keep seeing examples of her being the leader she knows she can be. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if she goes full Mad Queen. You can never take away from her the fact that she rode to save Jon. That in the darkest hour, she and she alone was the light. I repeat: NO ONE CAN EVER TAKE THAT FROM HER. That is not sending a bunch of illiterate, shirtless crazies on horseback to do your dirty work. She plunged headlong into the fray and lost a child to do it. It may be irritating for me to beat this gong, but it’s a gong that must be beateth.
And Daenerys is great for other reasons, which we’ll get to.
But we start with angry Daenerys. She’s remembering her childhood, and the bedtime stories Viserys would tell her about the man who Took It All Away and what they would do to him.
Ahhhhh. There’s nothing more delightful than children’s books, is there? Look at that naughty little scamp!
So now he’s here, in the bright light of day, Dany. And you seem to be over-annunciating like you do when you’re about to fricassee a bitch.
But she somehow doesn’t dwell on the killing of her father. I thought that would stand front and center in her mind.
Instead, she’s more concerned with Cersei’s betrayal.
“She lied to me, too.” Jaime says.
Oh BOO FUCKING HOO. Unfortunately, you weren’t promised an army. I was promised one army and instead I get a one handed man who looks like he could be the groundskeeper at Hogwarts.
And she stares daggers into Tyrion.
“Your grace, I know my brother…”
Right! Like you knew your sister? GET FUCKED IMP. I’ve been square dancing to your supa fresh rhythms for months now and all it’s cost me is like four of the seven kingdoms.
“He knew the reception he’d get and he came anyway.”
Yeah, I’ve also been to shitty parties before, Tyrion. Maybe you’ll cover for him until he slits my throat.
Because that’s what he did to her father after - well, you get it.
I thought that throat slitting line would kick her back to the death of her father. But nope! As I watched, I found it fascinating how out of place Daenerys is in the North, and especially in that room. You can imagine Ned saying, “right, up until the point he slits my throat.” And the Northern Lords nodding and agreeing. But he’d say it casually, with no emotion behind it. More like “and one option is this.”
But Daenerys is fire, baby! When she says “slit my throat” it’s like she’s imagining it. Imagining the blade breaking skin. Imagining the heat of her blood as it pours out. She’s staring at Tyrion like he just slit her throat.
And it’s so sad. Because this, right here, is the knock against her. This type of rage in the present is what likens her to the Mad King. It’s what makes her a great conqueror and a questionable ruler. But she had to be this way. She was a girl - just a young girl - naked and alone in a world that did everything to destroy her.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
And she made it here, presiding over a tribunal in a room full of people — now her subjects — who would just as soon see her dead as well. That aloneness may never leave her. That lone wolf mentality. And much of her aggression was likely wrapped up in the very real concept that she had made Tyrion her Hand, her most trusted advisor, and in thanks he’d stitched together a long series of back to back blunders that cost her an armada, all the food in Westeros, and whatever the heck Dorne is.
I get her annoyance, if not quite her malevolence.
Tyrion is shitting a chocolate potato into his Targaryen underoos when Sansa pipes up to agree with her queen.
I agree, dude’s a shit. He attacked my father on the streets of King’s Landing.
And Jaime is like WE WERE AT WAR LADY.
Sansa’s face is priceless there. She’s like huh? She never expected him to clap back on that score.
I won’t apologize. Jaime says. I’d do it all again.
Damn, booooyyyyyyyy! Somebody wanna get kilt up in this mamma jamma!
“The things we do for love.” Says the meatbag that used to be Bran.
And now Jaime’s goose is cooked. It’s so cooked that he doesn’t even have to look at it to see if the little popper thing has popped.
DEAD MAN WALKIN! WHO’S GOT SOME GUD, STRONG NARTHURN ROPE TO HANG THIS FOOKER?
“Sir Jaime actually pushed me out of a window, when I was a child.” Bran says. “You see, I was into climbing back then, the way many a boy are. And I was up on the ledges, feeding my favorite birds when I heard a strange noise in the tower, like someone grunting in pain. Well, I wasn’t going to just sit there on my thumb! I was Ned Stark’s boy after all! So took the most expeditious route to the top, which as you can imagine for me was the outside. Up up up I went, and that’s where I saw the Kingslayer mashing his dong into his sister. Just plowing away, you know, with like a big goofy grin on his face. You can imagine my surprise! I was about to go WHO NEEDS HELP and come to someone’s rescue but I just stood there in shock. They were doing it goat style, you know? Where the man is behind the woman and she’s on all fours? Anyhoo…it was pretty shocking. Because y’know, they were brother and sister. And they were doing it. So I was like DAMN SON THAT’S FUUUUUUCKED UP. And then Ser Jaime over there sees me and pushes me out the window. To kill me. And I was in a coma and y’know, broke my back and never walked again n shit. You guys know the rest of the story I think. But the point is, that’s him right there. He whodunnit. It was Ser Jaime, in the Tower, with the…um hand I guess.”
Jaime knows it’s coming. He’s always known. Like The Mountain and whoever the hell it is that’s coming for him.
Jaime winces. Getting ready for the other shoe to drop. But it doesn’t.
Instead there’s just a weird energy in the room. No one is comfortable with whatever Bran is now. And he just spoke out loud in a tribunal, saying basically some gibberish. All around the room, unpolished warriors like Yohn Royce shift uncomfortably in their seats. The things we do for love? Is that what he just said? Is he quoting a poem or something? Is he defending the Kingslayer? What’s happening? Jesus, what a shitshow!
You think anyone has any idea what in seven hells Wheelchair Bran Stark is talking about? Alys Karstark is like 14. You think she’s unwinding the hidden codex on that? Nah.
So there’s a momentary beat where Jaime unclenches his buttocks.
It’s not looking good for Jaime until a woman stands. An imposing woman: tall as a Weirwood and just as strong, in a suit of burnished armor. She strides to the side of the Kingslayer and stands a full pace in front of him, overlapping his silhouette ever so slightly, as if to protect him from the women on the tribunal.
I know you don’t know me, your grace, says Lady Brienne of Tarth, but I know Ser Jaime, she says. He gud.
Sansa looks shocked.
My lady, you’d be dead now if Ser Jaime hadn’t armed me, armored me, adored me and sent me back. He lost that golden hand of his because he stopped me from being violated by filthy Northern scum. No offense to anyone here. Ahem. He made a promise to your mother and kept it.
And side note: IT STILL AMAZES ME. Because even then, Jaime was back in King’s Landing. He was back to being a Lannister and yet he kept his word. Less to Catelyn, I think, than to the memory of what he and Brienne endured on the road. But it’s nonetheless staggering. And that choice, those choices back then, the very opposite of every choice he had made before that, might just save his life now.
Also, I keep wondering if Daenerys will remember that like a few weeks ago, Jaime was the person who charged her and tried to kill her before Drogon blasted him and Bronn saved his life.
Buuuut I guess not!
You vouch for him?
You’d fight beside him?
Hell fucking yes.
Sansa claps her hands. Okay! I trust you more than anyone. If you’re good with him I’m good with him. Now I have to go bark at some smiths for making plate mail without leather on it-
Dany glares at Sansa. Um, it’s not your call, Sis. Judge Judy still has to rule here! The right side has found in favor of the white man. What a shocker! Maybe there’s some play on her left side.
Dany looks at Jon. Her nephew and one time hot hot sexytime squeeze toy who for some reason hasn’t talked to her in a day. What’s up his butt? She decides to be formal.
“And what does the Warden of the North say about it?”
It’s all Lyanna Mormont can do to not jump out of her seat and start bagpiping. KING IN THE NORTH. NOT BLOODY WARDEN OF THE FOOKIN NORTH. KING! I DON’T CARE IF HE’S A BASTARD! NED STARK’S BLOOD RUNS IN HIS VEINS! WE NAMED HIM KING AND LOOK AT HIM NOW! I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT HE IS NOW. A LORD? NOOTHIN? LOOK AT HIM! HE’S NOT EVEN PAYING ATTENTION! IS HE PLAYING TETRIS UNDER THE TABLE? HE’S A SHITE. A SHITE I TELL YOU! WE GAVE HIM A CROWN AND HE THREW IT AWAY FOR A LITTLE SOUTHERN ASS. IT’S A CRYING SHAME! FOOKIN HELL!
But she controls herself. Because Lyanna Mormont may be pissssssssed as hell, but she’s no Targaryen. Composure counts.
Jon looks up from his seat like a kid in geometry class who was desperate not to be called on. He clearly didn’t do the homework.
How will he react? Dany needs help. The de facto warden, Sansa, has already pee wee hermoned this tribunal. I say we let him go!
Her Hand, that loquacious, snivelling little shit, is clearly compromised and has a soft spot for his brother.
So now she needs her true love. Yes, she uses his formal title, to make this look sort of official, but they are joined by the bonds of love. They are the alpha and the omega. Yin and Yang. He knows her of old. And because of that, he will know that it is sacrilege to even consider letting her father’s murderer go. This has to end one way, like it or not. He is her love. Her dragonrider. He alone will come through.
“Eh, we can use all the men we can get,” he grunts. He might as well be eating a taco when he says it.
Daenerys looks at him, shocked, the offspring of millions upon millions of falsely woo’d women who marry an evolved, urbane chevalier only to find out that he loves to watch football on Sundays. And sometimes, he farts.
“Um…okay then, that’s that, I guess.”
WHERE AM I?
She nods to Grey Worm, who carries Widow’s Wail back to Jaime. He’s going to live. Today, at least. The same song that played when he was in the baths with Brienne, jaime’s theme song, kicks in. Torgo Nudho pushes it into Jaime with some attitude like “here you go, but watch yourself, homes.” Jaime takes the weapon and bows deeply to Daenerys.
“Thank you, Your Grace.” He says.
He’s actually addressing another woman as queen. Not Cersei. That was so hot for me.
And with that, everyone departs. Dany turns to talk to Jon Snoo but he’s off in a New York second, racing to get back to the crypts. I made a joke about it last week, but I’m telling you, if someone approached Jon and was like “you don’t have to lead anymore, ever again. You never have to make a single decision. Instead, we got you this bobby uniform and we want you to just police the crypts, y’know? Keep em safe. Keep the candles lit. Pick up any Burger King wrappers that blow down there. The basics. You cool with that?” I think he’d JUMP at the offer. I think he’d whistle at work all day long and have a permanent smile on his face. I think he’d talk to the statues and say the same jokes every day and be happy as a clam.
But alas, that’s not likely to be his fate. On this show at least.
People see the snub. People like Varys who have built entire careers off of steering shifting interpersonal dynamics to their favor. So do any Northern Lords paying attention. Thanks, dude! The one thing keeping the North in line is that Jon Snoo has her back. And now, in front of all, he’s clearly miffed with her or something. I mean, we know why he’s avoiding her, but she doesn’t. And the Northern Lords for sure don’t.
WAIT ARE YOU MAKING EXCUSES FOR JON SNOO? THERE’S A PERFECTLY GOOD EXPLANATION FOR THIS BEHAVIOR?
OH MY GOD WHERE’S YOUR OUTRAGE NOW, LORD CASTLETON, IF THAT EVEN IS YOUR FUCKING NAME? You’d eviscerate Sans if she pulled that snub in pubic. But somehow your fuckboi Kit Harrington does it and it’s okay? Was ‘Seven Days in Hell’ really that good?
Goddamnit, Greek chorus, you’re right. Dash it all. It’s true that we shit on Sansa when she pulls divisive moves like this, so Jon can’t get off scot free. It was a bullshit choice.
OH TO BE A MAN IN WESTEROS! OR, Y’KNOW, ANYWHERE!
Thanks, Greek chorus. That’s enough for now.
YOU’RE A SHILL FOR THE OPPRESSOR, CASTLETON. YOU WHORE.
M’kay now! Let’s get back to it. Jon was walking out…everyone sees it…
This further angers Dany. On the way out, in front of Varys and Jorah, she decided that her Hand is either a traitor or a fool and she threatens Tyrion’s J.O.B.
The Queen huffs away, for the first time wondering if it might not be easier to decide to be the queen of the six fucking kingdoms. These Northerners are a bunch of cement heads.
Tyrion looks back at them, sheepishly.
“I guess one of you dicks will be wearing this brooch soon. The brooch she had custom made for me and everything. Remember when she pinned it on me in Meereen? It was so awesome. And now the Sand Snakes are dead because of me. They were truly awful fighters, weren’t they, when all was said and done? Anyway, good luck with this job when you get it. Daenerys is a really understanding bauce.”
And now we cut to the forges, where a brawny sexpot is cooking up a feast of dragonglass.
“Yeah baby!” Lady C says. I laugh out loud because so many of you seem to share her perspective and she is emboldened by it.
“Oh boy, here we go.” I say.
“Mmmmmm.” She says.
“Nothing is going to happen!” I say. “They’re going to flirt and then Arya is going to say where the hell is the secret weapon I asked you for, dude?”
“Okay.” She says. She has always been confident that she knows better than me, just as I am certain I know better than her. But now she has all of you, and her smile is iron.
Gendry is forging up a storm when Arya comes in. There are still literal PILES of unshaped dragonglass everywhere. BETTER PICK UP THE PACE, GENTS. Unlike the first seven seasons, the dead are actually on the move this time.
The Faceless Man, or Woman…I don’t know the correct nomenclature…I think it might be Man. (hell of a time for this quandary with that Greek Chorus ready to charge me)
The Faceless Man Arya Stark appears in the doorway. Lucky for him, and her, I suppose, she catches Gendry doing the hottest thing a blackie can do, which is hammer a fiery something with your shirt open, a sheen of sweat and iron filament glistening on your strong, firm pectoral muscles, and then dousing said weapon into the water to make a steam aura around your leathery hotness.
“Yum.” Lady C says.
Arya doesn’t miss a nanosecond of it. I imagine neither do any warm blooded humans watching it. It’s more or less the sexiest thing ever seen on television. Gendry looks up.
ARYA RAISES AN EYEBROW.
Aw yeah baby! RAWR! GET SOME!
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” Gendry asks her.
Better than…what…mentally masturbating over a lightning strike of perfect male hotness? Um, no, I think I’m okay.
“Where my weapon at?” She asks.
I have to make everyone else’s weapon first, he says.
Um, mine should be first. Arya says, taking a hand axe from his hand and studying it. “And make it stronger than this.”
Gendry is insulted. He snatches the hand axe from her and buries it two inches into a cheese wheel of oak. “It’s strong enough.”
He’s cute when he’s mad, Arya thinks. She smirks.
And now we see why he hasn’t prioritized her thing: he’s hoping if he doesn’t, she’ll make it through here. He tells her that it’s going to be safer in the crypts. To him, she’s still little Arry. An adorable thing who might not make it in the big bad world. He has no idea who she is.
And neither do I, honestly.
Because I think I’m a little late to the party on Arya, specifically her skill set. At this point, and I can’t believe I’m saying this about little Arry who was so adorable, but I think she’s the #1 killer on the good team.
Is that right? That’s how I’m operating. That she could beat anyone one on one. Jon, The Hound, Beric, Jorah, Tormund, Brienne — any of them.
Are we all together on that?
It goes back to her original sparring with Brienne, where she won the first few bouts easily. Then Brienne got fired up and kicked her and won the third. And then she was disarmed but came back with a knife to Brienne’s throat - but Brienne had her, too. A draw.
So at that point, I’m like, okay she’s amazing. I knew she was really good, but I didn’t know she was like superhero good.
Here’s the reason I didn’t know: because WE NEVER SAW IT.
We never saw any knife training. No knife throwing, no swordfighting, no bladework of any kind.
We never saw any archery lessons.
We never saw any weapon training of any kind except for a wooden staff.
We never saw that episode with guest lecturer Alton Brown where he teaches Arya how to carve up Freys into a delectable meat pie with an oh so flaky crust.
THEY’RE HERE MILORD! (TOE)
We never saw the elocution lessons where she learns to throw her voice like Walder Frey.
I chalk up the various magical oddities to Faceless Man magic. Whatever.
But the weapons? Becoming the ultimate killing machine? I guess I never realized that she was our straight up first overall draft pick. I mean, she’s the only one getting a custom weapon. That’s not to hang her laundry on. She’s getting a ‘showstopper’ to be a showstopper.
Anyway Gendry offers her the crypt. She offers it back. Oh no? She asks. Because you’re a fighter?
He’s fought a man or two. And a few dead guys. A very few, but enough to know they’re bad. Really bad.
“Really bad?” Arya mocks. “Even a smith’s apprentice can do better than really bad.”
And here’s where we’re seeing the showstopper:
What do they look like?
What do they smell like?
How do they move?
How hard are they to kill?
See, everyone else in Winterfell is in a state of apoplectic shock except for Arya Stark, who is doing her due diligence. She is not afraid, as we’ll see. She is excited to fight them. She’s excited for a real challenge.
And not for nothing, but that Valyrian dagger on her hip? The one that started the War between the Starks and Lannisters? Remember when Bran was holding it and said “you know who this belonged to?” We never got an answer, but I swear to god it was the Night King. Or the original Azor Ahai. More on that later.
Gendry still doesn’t know who he’s talking to. He says he knows she wants to fight, and she’s not afraid of murderers or rapers or whatever. But this is death. Just death.
“I know Death.” She says, lifting a dragonglass dagger and zinging it perfectly into a wooden post. She picks up another.
“He’s got many faces.” Zing! Another hit. Barely an inch from the first. She picks up another. This is child’s play.
“I look forward to seeing this one.” She whips the final one, again, nailing the spot.
She walks past Gendry, this time with attitude. “My weapon?”
“I’ll get right on it.” He says. Chagrined. Shocked. Jesus, she’s little Arry no more. Wow.
Lady C has a smile from ear to ear. We both love Arya, like anyone with a soul, but it’s amazing to see her command. Her personal agency. All across the face of the episode, we have people growing up in front of our very eyes.
I also have a smile on my face, but it’s because of the hillbilly who was sitting by the post when Arya’s first dagger landed and then ran away after the second dagger. Oh, hillbilly. Baby, we got skellington’s coming. You gotta be in a first knife dodging kind of mindset. If you wait for knife #2, you’re already a wight.
But we don’t have time to ruminate on the battle readiness of mountain dwellers because we’re now in the Godswood, where Jaime Lannister approaches the snatched body of Brandon Stark.
He looks around, is there a guard? No? Weird.
On any other day, in any other episode, we might be worried that an armed Lannister in the Godswood might be up to something nefarious. But this is no regular Lannister. Jaime 2.0 would never dream of doing anything like that. He’s here because honor demands it.
I’m still shocked when I type that. Jaime Lannister. My god.
But it’s the truth. He walks right up to Bran, trying to figure out how to say what he has to say, and then comes out with it.
“I’m sorry for what I did to you.” He says.
“You weren’t then.” The Three Eyed Raven says. “You were protecting your family.”
“I’m not that person anymore.” Jaime insists.
“You still would be, if you hadn’t pushed me out of that window, and I would still be Brandon Stark.”
“You’re not?” Jaime asks.
“No. I’m something else now…”
What a concept: that committing attempted murder actually paved the way for his salvation. And had Bran not fallen and what? Gone into a coma? Then he wouldn’t have become the Three Eyed Raven? How does that work now?
“You’re not angry at me.” Jamie says. That’s clearly what he was bracing for. Cersei has killed men for less of a reason than INSOLENCE. So the calm from this…person is disconcerting.
“I’m not angry at anyone.”
“Why didn’t you tell them?”
“You wouldn’t be able to help us in this fight if I let them murder you first.”
“What about afterwards?” Jaime wonders.
“How do you know there is an afterwards?” The Three Eyed Raven asks.
Fresh off that upbeat concept, Jaime meets a walking Tyrion in the Winterfell courtyard. Everyone looks like they want to bury a hatchet in him.
They exchange some conversation. Tyrion assures Jaime of his faith in the queen. Jaime says that she didn’t look as confident in him as her Hand.
Tyrion admits he underestimated his foe. A mistake common to clever people. He thought the baby, and Cersei’s accompanying sentiment, was real.
Jaime assures him that the baby is real. That much he somehow knows. Or thinks he knows.
He tells Tyrion not to feel badly, that Cersei fooled him the most.
Tyrion stops and looks him in the eye. “She never fooled you. You knew exactly what she was and loved her anyway.”
Oof. True, though. Very true.
Now they’re walking the battlements. Tyrion grumbles that they’re going to die in Winterfell. Not how he would have hoped. But, he thinks, at least Cersei won’t get to kill him. She almost had the Mountain cleave him in two the last time they were face to face.
Jaime notices something and walks to the other side of the rampart. Tyrion then says something interesting.
“I’m sure I’ll feel some satisfaction denying her that pleasure while I’m being ripped apart by dead men.”
Loovely. What a loovely image.
But here’s the interesting part:
“Maybe after I’m dead I’ll march down to King’s Landing and rip her apart.”
He said this in a solo frame. A one shot on his face, tight, a closeup. Is this some horrid, macabre foreshadowing of a reanimated Tyrion corpse being part of the army of the dead? Oh god I hope not. But why hit the gong that hard? Why single him up in that shot if we’re not going to revisit it for years and years?
One sec, vomiting.
Aaaaaaaand we’re back.
Tyrion isn’t going to die. HAHAHAHAHAHAahaha ahahah ahahahha ahhh. Hold me.
Tyrion looks to see what Jaime is focused on. It’s Brienne of Tarth, among her troops, training them up. I mean, we rave about the casting on the show all the time, but Gwendoline Christie, my god. What a performance.
Jaime joins her. As he approaches, we see a small smirk of pride pass over her face as Podrick is housing some recruit. Total mistake to give the recruit Jon Snoo hair from behind because it threw me for a second. But Pod has come a looooooong way.
“He’s come a long way.” Jaime says.
Brienne wipes away her grin in a flash. “He’s alright. Still has a lot to learn.”
They make polite conversation for about a half a minute. Good ground. The left flank that she’s commanding. The rise. Then she turns and snaps at him.
“What are you doing?” She barks.
“What?” He asks, genuinely.
“I think you know.” She insists.
“I truly don’t.” He says. For real. He’s lost.
“We have never had a conversation last this long without you insulting me. Not once.”
“You want me to insult you?”
Then there’s this moment. They have to reinvent this. They have to sculpt their relationship anew. He’s not that fop that called her names anymore. Because of her, almost solely because of her, he is different.
She looks away from him. He looks down, searching for the right words. Is this romantic love? I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re supposed to know. I do know that Jaime and Brienne is the most satisfying long term relationship on Game of Thrones, even if it’s just platonic. They have changed each other. She has made him a better man in every way, and he has opened her up to something new. To love, possibly. To something larger than herself, but where ‘herself’ has a role.
Jaime finds the words. “I came to Winterfell because…”
She looks at him, waiting.
“I’m not the fighter I used to be.” He admits. “But I’d be honored to serve under your command, if you’ll have me.”
She nods solemnly. “I’d better get back” she says.
He watches her go.
Now we cut to Daenerys, alone in the grim indoor darkness of her Winterfell quarters. Her door opens behind her and she closes her eyes. There’s not a single person who could walk through that door right now that she’d actually want to see.
“Forgive me, Khaleesi.” Says Jorah.
Dany smiles and turns. “Have you done something to offend me?” She asks playfully.
“Many things.” He admits.
“Long ago and long forgiven.” She says. Water under the bridge.
“But you did forgive, despite my failures.” He says, driving at something.
Then he relays how he felt when, even after being parked in the Friendzone, he also didn’t get the gig as Hand.
“You weren’t here!” Daenerys screes.
“You made the right choice.” He says.
And she’s like “I didn’t know you liked him.”
“I didn’t.” Jorah admits. And he recalls how Tyrion never shuts up and how he wanted to cure the blathering using the power of seawater. But he didn’t. Because, he says, “the mind behind those words…” And he gestures to mean, it’s unique.
“He’s made mistakes.” Daenerys says, getting her Khaleesi on. “Serious mistakes.”
“As have we all. He owns his. He learns from them.”
Daenerys is in disbelief. “You’re advising me to forgive the man who stole your position?”
“I am.” he admits. “And one other suggestion, if you’ll allow me.”
Not to be a Mormont fanboy here or anything, as my admiration for Lyanna Mormont and Jeor Mormont is well documented in this online tome, but in about sixteen seconds Jorah has given Dany better advice than anyone else has in like two seasons. Especially the suggestion behind door number two, which is…
Dany approaches Sansa Stark, who is conferring with Yohn Royce and asks for some girl time. Goddamn Yohn Royce man! Dude is the token talker in every scene I have to write about. If there’s anything good about Game of Thrones ending, and there isn’t obviously, it’s that I won’t have to type the name Yohn fucking Royce ever again. Anyway, he departs, ostensibly to sidle up to whomever I have to write about next, and that leaves the two most powerful women in the North in a room all by themselves.
I literally begged for exactly this last deep dive. I’m giddy watching it. YAS QUEENS! GIRL POWER SQUARED! BUILD SOME COMMON GROUND AND THERE’S NOTHING THE TWO OF YOU CAN’T DO!!!
It was not, “it’s seriously mind boggling how amazing you look in that black and circle chain getup because no one should shine like that in black. You are radiant. Are you an alien? Why are you so naturally majestic? You’re like if the Matterhorn could talk. I’m your queen but I worship your look, gurl. You fine.”
Actually she starts by saying “we almost were on the same side of that Jaime Lannister thing!”
And Sansa, who is a wolf, is prepared for anything. Hot damn she kicks ass. I’m a huge fan of both of these characters. I love this scene because Sansa is so shrewd and Daenerys is so earnest.
Sansa replies that she trusts Brienne more than anyone, so she had to go with her.
Daenerys smiles, “I wish I could have that kind of faith in my advisors.” Not a lie. She does wish that. No matter what, even with Jorah, there’s always a wall up. It’s not like Daenerys is playing Settlers of Catan with Missandei in her free time. She keeps everyone at arm’s length.
Sansa doesn’t take the bait, and moreover, she has personal knowledge of the Queen’s top advisor.
“Tyrion is a good man. He was never anything but decent towards me.”
Sansa is so on guard at this point. She’s no dummy.
“I didn’t ask him to be my Hand simply because he was good. I asked him to be my Hand because he was good and intelligent and ruthless when he had to be.”
Sansa allows a small smile.
“He never should have trusted Cersei.”
“You never should have either.” Sansa says matter of factly.
That comment rattles Daenerys. She’s not used to straight talk, especially from other women. For a split second she’s about to go full Dracarys, but then she remembers her goal and recovers. She smiles broadly. You can almost hear dragon scales flexing somewhere.
“I thought he knew his sister.” She says.
Sansa takes that in and thinks of her own sister. “Families are…complicated.”
Dany smiles and motions to a chair “Ours certainly have been.”
“A sad thing to have in common.” Sansa says.
Sansa waits for her queen to be seated first, and then sits herself. Come on girls! You can do it! Patch this shit up! The fate of Westeros is in your hands! SOMEONE GET ME A VHS COPY OF STEEL MAGNOLIAS UP IN THIS HIZZY STAT! LET’S ALL MAKE FUN OF WEEZER!
“We have other things in common,” Dany offers. We’ve both subjugated idiots who think Wonder Woman’s third act was iffy and we’ve both done a damn good job of it!
Okay. Okay. Good, Dany. I mean, it’s a humblebrag, but it’s a compliment, too. Let’s keep it going.
“And yet I can’t help but feel we’re at odds with one another. Why is that?”
Hmm. Okay. Call it out. Put that elephant on the table.
Sansa searches for the words to articulate why they aren’t exactly sympatico and Dany helps her. “Your brother.”
“He loves you, you know that.”
“That bothers you?”
“Men do stupid things for women. They’re easily manipulated.” LIKE MY BROTHER ROBB.
True true true. Can’t argue with that. Cool cool cool cool cool cool. Do I have to be here for this scene, orrrrr?
“Be quiet.” Lady C warns.
“Yes dear.” I say.
Dany’s eyes get that hard look. “All my life I’ve known one goal. The Iron Throne. Taking it back from the people who destroyed my family and almost destroyed yours. My war was against them.”
Dany’s eyes soften.
“Until I met Jon. Now, I’m here — half a world away fighting Jon’s war alongside him. Tell me: who manipulated whom.”
You can try to pick on Dany all you want, but she’s so winning when she needs to be. And when she’s honest like that - my god it’s compelling. And the fact that that she finished with whom? AND MY AXE!
Sansa laughs, despite herself, allowing the tiniest humanity to break through her Northern composure. She leans in. “I should have thanked you the moment you arrived. That was a mistake.”
Dany sees the lean, and a hand on the table as an invitation. She places her hand on Sansa’s who looks down at it in surprise. Touchy feely isn’t a Northern game.
“I’m here because I love your brother. And I trust him. And I know he’s true to his word.”
Whooooooo weeeee do I know it!!! Because I saw him blow up a huge business deal in King’s Landing for his stupid word and I remember thinking at the time “is he a dunce? Like a real dunce? Is there some malady that he was born with that makes him this way? But no. Now that I’m here in the North I see you’re all like this. Pigheaded. Self important. It’s like thousands of the most stubborn bastards all in one miserable, cold place. Kudos. I can’t wait to Priceline my ass out of here forever.
“He’s only the second man in my life I can say that about.”
“Who was the first?”
“Someone taller.” Dany says.
YOU KNOW WHAT? I’M GETTING A LITTLE TIRED OF THE SHORT JOKES LADY! YOU’RE NOT EXACTLY A GODDAMN ENT YOURSELF. YOU THINK JON WOULDN’T HAVE CHOSEN TO BE AS BIG AS KHAL DROGO, WITH ALL THOSE MUSCLES AND A TWENTY TWO GALLON SCHLONG? YOU THINK TYRION WAKES UP EVERY DAY AND DOESN’T WISH HE COULD REACH THE TOP SHELF AT THE FUCKING GROCERY STORE? SHORT MEN ARE PEOPLE TOO FOR FUCKS SAKE. JON HAD GIANTS FIGHTING FOR HIM. AND TYRION IS SMART BECAUSE OF ONE THING: TWO WORDS: LIE BRARY. MAYBE IF TYRION WAS AVERAGE HEIGHT HE WOULD HAVE TRIED TO HAVE BEEN A PROFESSIONAL LACROSSE PLAYER OR SOMETHING INSTEAD OF READING THE COMBINED HISTORIES OF BRAVOSII ORE MERCHANTS. MAYBE THERE’S A REASON THE TWO CLOSEST MEN TO YOU AREN’T A COUPLE OF TORMUND GIANTSBANES. SO MAYBE COOL IT WITH THE HEIGHTIST BULLSHIT.
“And what happens after?” Sansa asks. “We beat the dead, we destroy Cersei, what then?”
Dany starts to get wildeye again. “I TAKE THE IRON THRONE.”
“What about the North?” Sansa asks. And this is interesting, because she explains that it was taken from them and they took it back and they swore never to kneel for anyone ever again. But part of me is wondering if she missed a memo somewhere. That shit has already been broughten! The dude bent the knee. North gone bye bye. I’m not sure we’re all looking at the same arithmetic here…
Dany pulls back her hand like she’s been burned. Maybe they don’t have as much in common as she thought.
Luckily, they’re saved by the bell as Maester Wolkan interrupts. Someone is here to see them.
They march into the moot hall, all business. And then a filthy, disgusting ravager from the sea pushes to the front of a cadre of disgusting Ironborn. The lifelong, eternal enemies of the Starks, and there at the front, yet another of Ned Stark’s boys has come home. The right way, this time.
Sansa is instantly emotional at seeing Theon.
So am I. Why the hell am I crying? DAMN YOU ALFIE ALLEN! DAMN YOU TO HELL, SIR! THERE IS NO WORLD WHERE I SHOULD LOVE YOU THIS MUCH. DAMN YOU.
Lady C pats my leg. She was born without emotions. I was born with too many.
Theon kneels in front of Daenerys and rises. “My queen.”
“Your sister?” Remember when Yara was ‘up for anything’ with Daenerys? Mmmmmm mmmmm. God I love Yara. WAIT, ANOTHER IRONBORN! AAAAAAGHHHHH. KILL ME.
Theon tells her that she only has three ships, but she’s headed to the Iron Isles to take them back in Daenerys’ name. That’s a wonderful sentiment. It feels like it’s been so long since anyone did anything for Daenerys without her asking.
“But why aren’t you with her?” Daenerys asks. YOO KNOW NOOTHING DAENERYS STORMBORN! Where’s Ygritte’s ghost when you need it?
Theon is staring at Sansa. She’s huffing. You can actually see it. Her chest is heaving with emotion and her eyes are wet with tears. You don’t ever ever ever see Sansa like this. Ever.
Theon addresses the Lady of Winterfell directly.
“I want to fight for Winterfell Lady Sansa, if you’ll have me.”
I am a fucking mess. Right there in my living room I have devolved into a blubbering mess.
Sansa rushes into his arms, her answer obvious. The camera pans around them, first registering Dany’s shock, and then Theon’s gratitude as he holds Sansa as she cries onto his shoulder.
Holy shitballs that was powerful. Jeeeeesus. My god.
Is Theon Sansa’s Jorah? Or is he somehow more, now?
We cut to the soup lines in the courtyard. Ser Davos is ladling soup into bowls. A local man raises his bowl and it’s filled.
“My Lord,” he says, “we’re not soldiers.”
“You are now.” The Onion Knight says.
Let me say this: First, I love the face of that actor who said we’re not soldiers. Perfect casting. Perfect. And great acting. THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS PEOPLE! ONLY SMALL ACTORS. I was moved immediately by his honesty and his vulnerability. And he just stood there, looking at Ser Davos, lost. Just lost. We are not soldiers. My god, eons upon eons of horror in this world and every world when farmers and tanners and fishermen and coopers and cooks have to be soldiers. The abject horror of that moment. It moved me.
And Davos, because he is wonderful and wise and everything that’s good in the world.
He sees the man hoping for more.
“Look,” he says, “I made it through most of my years without ever getting near a fight. Then I survived the Battle of the Bastards, right outside these walls. If I can live through that, you can live through this. They will outfit you with weapons at the forge, right that way.”
The man nods thanks and heads for the mission hub to get a gun and kill some zombies. Hopefully there won’t be much drama between Damien and Ethan.
Remember how, once upon a time, Ser Davos was just the yes man to Stannis? How he had to go along with a hundred bad ideas? And now he’s Jon’s most trusted advisor. His arc hasn’t been as deep, but it’s just as moving. He has endured horrors. He has lost children.
That was surprisingly moving to me, and I love Ser Davos. Liam Cunningham, I mean, my god. My god how you’ve killed it on this show. Jesus christ. You’re the world’s uncle. From now on, forever and ever, amen.
But that’s a lot of emotion in back to back scenes. I need a little break and so does the Onion Knight.
I don’t get it as Shireen Baratheon steps up to the plate. Gilly is directing newcomers around the square. Remember when Gilly was just this inbred Wildling? Confused? Lost? Vulnerable? Now she’s an authority. She’s read texts from the Citadel itself. People look to her for guidance. She’s a mother and a leader. It’s wonderful to see. Now one of the newcomer children walks up to Davos and asks, “which way should I go?”
Again, casting win. A+. She is adorable.
And half her face is scarred, like Shireen’s was. It’s not grayscale, but it has that effect. Davos is momentarily stopped in his tracks, but he recovers. He asks her where she wants to go and she says that all the kids are going to the crypt but her brothers were fighters and she wants to be like them. Gilly walks up and says she’s feel so much better if the little girl would protect her in the crypt.
“I’m sure a lot of people would.” Davos agrees. He’s having a hard time taking his eyes off of her.
I’m fighting back tears again. I’m actually welling up typing this days later. Goddamn the relationship Shireen and Davos had rivalled any other on this godforsaken and cursed show. My god. And then they burned her. A little girl. Whewwwwwwwwww. Deep breath.
Again, no small actors. What an amazing role. What a testament to the enduring courage of the human spirit that this little girl has that kind of fortitude and bravery in her. Goddamn it’s gorgeous to behold. It’s so moving. Long live every little girl in the world. Long live the timeless, life affirming bravery of little girls everywhere. My god.
She gets her soup and smiles up at Ser Davos. “Alright. I’ll defend the crypt then.”
This episode is going to kill me. No shit. I even have to take a break while writing this — on Wednesday! It’s so powerful.
As Gilly and Davos share a look, a horn blares. RIDERS COMING IN!
Jon Snoo comes around the corner. Thank goodness. The constable of the crypts. Jesus, save me from these tears.
We see him react as the crew from the Last Hearth rides in. Jon rushes in joy to meet Dolorous Edd and I get a jump scare as he’s intercepted by Tormund.
Good god. Tormund Giantsbane. I remember when he was just a mean ass lieutenant of Mance Rayder. I remember him saying to Jon “I like you, boy, but if you lie to me I’ll pull your guts out through your mouth.”
Then he scaled the Wall itself. I remember that episode so vividly because as Jon was dangling there and holding Ygritte by one hand I said aloud “If she falls I’m done with this show.” I’ve never said that for anyone else. I had no idea I loved her character so much until then. I still have trouble seeing Jon with anyone else.
Then Tormund freed Jon. Then Tormund became the Night’s Watch himself, manning Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Now he’s back and he tackles the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch with a bear hug. My god how far he’s come. Remember when he was on the wight mission and the dead almost got him and he was yelling HELP ME!? Yikes. I thought he was a goner. But here he is, yet again. And what’s his principle, driving thought?
“Is the big woman still here?”
And how about Dolorous Edd? In the beginning he was a real shithead to Sam. He and Grenn rode Sam mercilessly. Mocked him for liking Gilly. But he survived and endured. And when he rides into Winterfell, having most recently been Lord Commander at Castle Black, his first hug is for Samwell Tarly.
Everyone is better. Everyone has improved. It’s crazy. I don’t even have to go into how far Sam has come. He’s a show favorite now.
Anyway, the newcomers report that the dead will be arriving soon, before the next sunrise. That’s like hours away.
Now we cut to a preparation montage. Weapons being handed out. Troops mustering. Jon’s voice in V.O. over the top. He’s with his commanders with a map of the battlefield.
“They’re coming,” he says. “We have dragon glass and Valyrian steel. But there are too many of them — far too many.”
And now we see that man who wasn’t a soldier, and he’s outfitted with a head of chainmail and he’s nocking a bow. Okay. Good.
“Our enemy doesn’t tire, doesn’t stop, doesn’t feel. We can’t beat them in a straight fight.”
“So what do we do?”
And Jon explains that the Night King made them all. They follow his command. If they kill him, every wight dies.
A good plan. If they can get him.
Assuming there is a him.
Now I’m not reinventing the wheel but book readers will have to help me with this one. Where does it say there’s only ONE Night King? Is that just a trick of the language? Always referring to him in the singular to throw us off the scent? Just because we saw the creation of ONE white walker, whom we assume to be the Night King because the same actor theoretically plays him, does that mean he’s the only one?
I feel like I’ve heard, anecdotally, that the Children of the Forest made a Night King to fight the first men. And then they made another to fight the Andals. Is that wrong? Where’d those fuckers git to?
And I feel like we may have missed another clue hiding in plain sight.
Remember the images on the Dragonstone cave walls where Jon brought Daenerys? Could we have missed something so obvious that it was written in chalk right in front of our faces? Hidden in plain sight?
Look at the imagery.
How many distinct images do you see?
There’s the spiral, the one that looks like the greek letter Φ and there’s circles.
We see these images from time to time, written in human and animal meat shanks by the white walkers.
In the pilot, within the first ten minutes, we saw the Φ. Here it is:
When, in Season 6 Episode 5, Bran is brought by The Three Eyed Raven to witness the Children of the Forest creating the first White Walker, the stones were shaped in a spiral. Here they are, from above:
We also saw the spiral written in dead horses, here:
And around lil peanut Ned Umber here:
We haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, seen the circle image written in stone and bone like the other two, but we did see it in fire, I think, at Khal Drogo’s funeral.
And maybe here?
With me so far? Okay. I’m not sure we’re learned anything at this point except there’s three distinct symbols.
When we’re in the cave, Jon leads Dany to the image of the White Walkers seen here.
That’s pretty clearly a bearded lieutenant dude and his thralls. White Walker in front, undead zombie puppet horde in the back.
Right before that, Jon explained that the Children of the Forest and the First Men were together in the cave.
Here are the children of the forest, up top there:
And here are the first men:
What’s interesting about the symbols around the first men?
Yep, all three symbols. One spiral for the left dude. One Φ for the middle dude and one circle for the right dude. But his is up top, for some reason. Is he different?
So these are the first men, we’re supposed to believe. Because Jon said so? Okay. Let’s assume they are.
And let’s start to think of the symbols as sigils. Ancient Sigils. The spiral, the Φ and the circle.
Now let’s imagine that each “First Man” was turned into a white walker by the Children of the Forest.
So we have one First Man leader for each sigil.
And now let’s imagine that each First Man became the Night King.
So all this time, there isn’t one Night’s King.
There are three of them. Leaving their marks all over the North.
The very first one we meet is Phi. He’s the one who attacked Hardhome. He looks like this.
Then, magically, the producers recast the Night’s King. Except maybe they didn’t? We’re just seeing Spiral for the first time when he lures Dany’s dragons north. They didn’t recast the role. It’s a second Night’s King.
Look at their outfits. They aren’t even the same.
They’re similar enough that no one really noticed. But that’s a different dude.
Spiral is probably a Targaryen ancestor. Which is why his sigil looks like the Targ sigil and how he can ride a dragon. And they’re coming to get The Three Eyed Raven, who is somehow the third side of the triangle?
GRRM is fascinated by threes. (And book readers jump in here if I’ve misappropriated any of these ideas. I’m basically operating on just what I know anecdotally and what I found in google searches.)
Three children Cersei has and loses.
Three betrayals of Daenerys.
There are islands called the Three Sisters.
There are three dragon eggs and three dragons.
Tywin has three children.
Three mothers died while giving birth to Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion.
Rickon Stark had three sons.
Eddard Stark had three sons.
The Mad King has 3 children.
Rhaegal was supposedly fascinated with the three heads of the dragon.
There are three kingsguard defending the Tower of Joy.
Jon tells Tormund and Odell that only three Wall castles are manned (Castle Black, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and The Shadow Tower)
And of course, the Three Eyed Raven.
And there are plenty more threes apparently. I haven’t read the books but another google search found all the sigils with threes in them.
House Wull, 3 buckets.
House Tallhart, 3 sentinel trees.
House Oakhart, 3 oak leaves.
House Leygood, 3 lightning bolts.
House Clegane, 3 black dogs.
House Hollard, 3 gold crowns.
House Horpe, 3 death’s head moths.
House Corbray, 3 ravens holding 3 hearts.
House Moore, 3 spear heads.
House Bywater, 3 silver fish.
House Guant, 3 lances.
House Charlton, 3 sprigs of mistletoe.
House Grell, 3 red birds.
House Lolliston, 3 Barrels.
House Wode, 3 hedgehogs.
House Buckler, 3 buckles.
House Selmy of Harvest hall, 3 stalks of yellow wheat.
House Qorgyle, 3 scorpions.
House Vaith, 3 black leopards.
House Waxley, 3 burning candles.
House Liddle, 3 pinecones.
House Fenn, 3 black water lilies.
House Beesbury, 3 bee hives.
House Peake, 3 castles.
House Ball, 3 balls.
House Orne, 3 harps.
House Plumm, 3 plumms.
House Spicer, 3 pepper pots.
House Lorch 3 gold coins.
House Kenning, 3 lightning bolts.
Might there be three Night Kings? Two undead, blue eyed ones, marked with low sigils, and one high one? Someone who can live a thousand years and never die? Someone who knows everything? Someone symbolized by the rings of a tree where he gets his power? Might the third Night King be The Three Eyed Raven? Each eye represents a Night King?
Probably not. Probably not. I just felt like what happens if we see someone, let’s say Jon, Kill the Night King and the Army of the Dead keeps coming?
And what if this is a Robb Stark maneuver? Send a smaller part of your force to attack Winterfell while the main body of your force turns south to add more bodies to your ranks where it’s utterly undefended.
The thing that shook me about the previews for this Sunday was the lineup of Craster’s children overlooking Winterfell in the distance.
But the Night King and Reanimated Viserion are nowhere to be found.
Forgive the digression. I’ve noticed these clues before, but this is the last week I’ll have to actually mention it before…well, before we know.
So we’re in the planning session. The first time all the Stark children have been seen in the same room together since the old days, I think.
Jaime says that if getting to the Night King is the best chance at winning, he’ll never expose himself.
“Yes he will” says the Three Eyed Raven. “He’ll come for me. He’s tried before. Many times with many Three-Eyed Ravens.”
“Why?” Sam asks. “What does he want?”
And Sam agrees, he is the memory of man, and if he wanted to erase the world, he’d start by erasing the Three Eyed Raven.
Tyrion asks how he will find him and Former Bran says “his mark is on me. He knows where I am at all times.”
“We’ll put you in the crypt where it’s safest.” Jon says.
“NO,” Not Bran says. “I mean…uh…no. How about in the Godswood? Where there are no dead people buried, m’kay?”
The crypts are not safe, friends. I’m telling you. The NK is going to raise Dead Starks down there. I just hope something about them makes them fight against the dead instead of for them.
“Uh, you want us to use you as bait?” Sansa asks.
“He can’t be alone.” Arya says.
“He won’t be.” Theon declares. “I’ll be there, with the Ironborn.” All seven of them. And he talks to the Three Eyed Raven as if he’s still Bran. Man, do people even check their email anymore? NOT BRAN. “I took this castle from you, let me defend you now.”
Not Bran nods.
YES! THAT’S A STELLAR PLAN EVERYONE! Let’s get a bunch of sailors with like rope and whittled mermaids to defend our main guy. Nice plan! The last time Theon was in a real pressure cooker he did a triple lindy into the ocean to get away. From a man. Who was laughing. I’m sure he’ll be impervious to fear once an UNDEAD DRAGON WHO BELLOWS BLUE FIRE is bearing down on him! Okay anything else? I think we’re done here! Meet me in the mess hall for Doritos and Grape soda! This is gonna be fun you guys! I feel like we already won!
A few more key points:
— Davos thinks the dragons should be in the field.
— The Warden of the North says no. Because then they can’t protect “Brahn”
— Um, Bran isn’t Bran. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. You don’t even know the dude who Bran isn’t. He’s just some weirdo.
— Arya asks if Dragonfire kills the Night King.
— Not Bran doesn’t know: no one has ever tried.
— Uh…that’s a no then.
— Remember when the Night King killed the last Three Eyed Raven? The children of the forest threw out magic missile hand grenade things that lit a semicircle fire and the Night King walked right up to it. At his approach it dimmed and he walked through.
— Soooooooo yeahhhhhhhh. I wouldn’t go betting the farm on that one.
— Also, we’re talking like 8 or 10 thousand years of history in Not Bran’s head, right? And dragonfire has NEVER been tried? Is it because he has a way to kill dragons? With like homing ice javelins that he hucks on a frozen rope? Maybe?
Not the best planning session. Especially considering the Bran Stark Almanac is right there. Like, you can reach out and touch him. He’s like a sentient 2XL. But nope, as much as I begged for anyone to just prod him for answers last week, we don’t have a smart person north of the Twins. AWESOME.
“We’re all going to die.” Says Tormund. “But at least we die together!” And he smiles at Brienne, who isn’t having it.
Jon suggests they all get rest. As the room clears he nods to his queen and vamooses. She’s like SERIOUSLY WTF?
She leaves. Confused. It’s super shitty but Jon is Jon.
FUCK YOUR MANSPLAINING LORD CASTLETON.
I’m obviously kidding. It sucks out loud. JEEZ DUDE, DIN’T WE JUST TALK ABOUT THIS? Pull her aside! Give her a look that says “we’ll talk later.” Do anything but that. Goddamnit! Be a Warden! Be a king!
The room clears and the only people left are the Three Eyed Cypher and…oooh boy. Tyrion Lannister.
“Do you need help?”
“You’ve had a strange journey.”
“Stranger than most.”
Tyrion looks for a chair. DOTH MY EYES DECEIVE ME OR IS HE GOING TO ACTUALLY PRESS THE MOTHERFUCKING RAVEN FOR SOME INFO???!!
“I’d like to hear about it.” Tyrion says, dragging a chair over. Yes, Tyrion! Remember who you are! Remember when Olenna told Daenerys BE A DRAGON? You’re an information addict. You’re a history sponge. It’s always been your bailiwick! BE A SPONGE TYRION. LEAN INTO IT.
“It’s a long story.”
“If only we were trapped in a castle in the middle of winter with nowhere to go.”
Finally! Oh my god! How hard is it to pull up a chair? Remember in Season 1 Episode 2 when Tyrion says something like “I hope Bran wakes up. I’d love to hear what stories he has to tell.” Or something like that? Now we’re finally going to get to hear them!
DIS GON BE GUD!
I can’t wait to hear the whole-
And now we’re outside where an unknown Unsullied tapes his spear like a pregame Sergei Fedorov,
WAIT! STOP! GO BACK! I WANT TO HEAR WHAT TYRION AND THE THREE EYED RAVEN ARE TALKING ABOUT. I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE UNSULLIED!
I’m sorry but we’re now with the Unsullied.
WHY IS IT THAT EVERY TIME TYRION HAS AN IMPORTANT MEETING WE CUT AWAY?? REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED WHEN WE KEPT GUESSING ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED WITH CERSEI?
NOT GOOD THINGS, OKAY?
Nevertheless, we are now watching Torgo Nudho as he walks like Churchill, hands behind his back, inspecting the readiness of his troops.
In another part of Winterfell, we see a filthy old man walk past Missandei, check her out, and turn away disgusted. Stupid hayseed. Missandei walks into a courtyard where she greets two little girls who scowl at her and run away when she greets them. Oh you adorable little bigots! Never vote! Thanks!
Grey Worm appears and sees the nastiness from the two little shits and stops Missandei from walking any further into what appears to be Wyoming. After this is over, we OUT, baby. I’m not saying we won’t help Daenerys Queen get to the top, but once she’s there, we gone. There’s no place in Westeros for people with dark skin. Remember what they did to my boy Areo Hotah?
I’m not standing around here so one of those little rednecks can grow up and poke me in the liver with a poison ponyard. Where do you want to go?
“Naath.” Missandei says.
“Not Taarth?” Grey Worm checks.
“No. Naath.” Missandei confirms.
“Okay, just checking. Sometimes the names are confusing. Like the ruling family in Dorne was the Martels and the ruling family in the Reach was the Tyrells and it just gets so confusing. It’s like, why can’t one of them be the Koniecznys or the Pompadours or the Joneses? Anything that sounds less similar, you know? I was trained to kill people with spears, not distinguish between Noble Houses that sound similar or archipelagos that sound exactly alike.”
“I know, Torgo Nudho.” Missandei says, touching his face.
“Girl I want you so bad.” He says.
“I want you too.” She says. “But it’s ass cold in this backwater shithole and I fear if I remove one stitch of my clothing I will freeze to death like an Ore-Ida fish cake.”
“I feel the same way.” Torgo Nudho agrees. “If I had stems and stones they would have already crawled back inside my body for warmth.”
Missandei laughs. Grey Worm smiles.
“Let us imagine the beaches of Naath. I will take you there when this is finished. It will be like Ibiza, but thirstier.”
“My people are peaceful.” Missandei says. “We cannot protect ourselves.”
“Luckily, I have many spears, which I will shove up the ass of anyone that steps to you, or your people.”
Missandei smiles. Grey Worm smiles. I smile at the personal discipline of recounting the scene verbatim, with no additions of my own, and we are off…
Up to the parapet, where Jon is standing with Sam and-
HOW IN THE BLOODY HELL-
GHOST, WHERE YOU BEEN BOY? COME AND GIVE US A HUG! FOR FUCK’S SAKE WE’VE BEEN WORRIED SICK! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR, LIKE THE ENTIRE RUN OF THE SHOW GAME OF THRONES ON HBO?
Forget talking to the stupid Three Eyed Raven! Let’s hear from Ghost! No doubt when we hear what Sam and Jon are chatting about it will invariably cover the whereabouts of Ghost, his recent adventures chronicled in Jack London fashion, and perhaps a list of various plaid wolf sweaters that were purchased online to sort of gussy him up for Winter?
Okay so I’m listening and no mention of Ghost whatsoever. Of the DIRE WOLF THAT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU GUYS. No?
Instead the boys are gossiping about a girl. I mean, sure. I like girls too. But WOLF.
WOLF YOU FUCKERRRSSSSSSS. WOLF!!!!!
“Have you told her yet?” Sam asks.
“No.” Jon Snoo groans.
Dolorous Edd walks up and stands between them.
“Hey boys! Sick Dire Wolf! Where’s he been this whole time?” Edd will likely ask.
“And now our watch begins.” Edd says.
OH YOU BLIND SONOFOA-
YOU DON’T SEE THE DIRE WOLF EITHER?
Jesus christ, I see a goddamn Pomeranian and I turn to jelly and lie down and pet it for three hours and here’s a white wolf. Remember when asshole Lord Gloover said JON SNOW IS THE WHITE WOLF?
He was alluding to Ghost! The kick ass dire wolf right behind you! Fine, don’t talk to him but someone give him a treat or something! He looks freshly blow dried, too. Someone run their fingers through that gorgeous mane. What is even happening? Why not just join the army of the dead if you’re not going to automatically pet any dog or wolf that hangs with you? What’s the point? Just give up already!
I hate the now our watch begins line. It’s like Dolorous Edd only knows one thing. Totally takes the air out of the moment. There’s like no good response to it, so they just nod.
“Gilly? Little Sam?” Jon asks.
“They’ll be safe down in the crypt.”
NO THEY WON’T DUDE. I’M TELLING YOU. THAT SHIT’S GONNA BE GROUND ZERO WHEN THE ZOMBIES HIT. HOPEFULLY BUDGET SHIREEN KNOWS HOW TO END SOME FOOLS.
Jon speaks gingerly. “If you want to join them….to protect them…”
Sam is offended. Jon is using the exact same tactic that Davos and Gilly used on the adorable little cryptmaiden.
“Everyone seems to forget that I was the first person to kill a White Walker!” Sam says. “I’ve killed Thenns-“
“Thenn.” Edd corrects.
And then they reflect on where they’ve come from. How they’ve lost Grenn and Pip.
“Last man left, burn the rest of us.” Edd says.
A dark feeling comes over me. I can stand to lose Edd. I can’t stand to lose either of the other two, even though I’m sure the show will take my precious away. Hard to imagine Sam not making it as he’s the GRRM character. That means we’ll likely have a scene where Sam burns-
Nope. I can’t even say it.
The camera rises up and over the back of them and we see them looking out over the battlements at the far rise, where the dead have not yet arrived.
We cut to the moot hall, where Tyrion and Jaime are wisely filling themselves with wine next to a roaring fire. Tyrion must be done with the BSA and we are none the wiser.
What did he learn? Can we infer anything from the fact that after his chat with the greenseer his first move is to get schlickered? Is that a good thing? Or a bad?
He sits with his brother and they chuckle at the idea of their father seeing his only sons dying in defense of Winterfell. I’m a sucker for brother things. This is great. Our very own Legends of the Fall in Winterfell.
They reminisce about the old Golden Lion days, and Tyrion’s whoremongering and they reflect on where they are now. They’re about to toast to the perils of self betterment when some people enter the room.
Brienne and Podrick Payne.
Jaime stands up. “My lady.”
It’s like the best two people to walk in anywhere. Jaime loves Brienne. Tyrion loves Pod. He offers them both a drink and Pod is like HELL YES!
But Brienne is like “I DON’T THINK THAT’S A GOOD IDEA. The battle could start at any moment.”
Pod stops. He looks back at her.
She sighs. “Half cup” She says.
Pod walks to Tyrion, who pours him such a full cup that the wine actually overflows over the top. I laugh out loud. Goddamn boys. We’re such simpletons. My god. Regardless of the quality, which Tyrion pegged as average, the top half of that cup — the forbidden half — will be the sweetest that Pod ever drinks.
Jaime pulls up a chair for Brienne. “Join us.”
She smiles and accepts. “Just for a bit.”
Then Davos comes in, also looking for fire. Tyrion offers him wine, but he just wants heat. Behind him, Tormund pimp walks in, drawn ostensibly by the scent of the woman he wants to make giant babies with.
“They call you Kingkiller.” Tormund says to Jaime.
“I’m sure someone does.”
“They call me Giantsbane. Want to know why?” And then he drags a chair over the stone floor and takes a seat.
I have to say, the chair dragging in this episode was the best I’ve ever seen. You give me a beautiful oaken chair with worn leather, studded along the edge, and you drag that puppy over a stone floor, catching every pock and seam on the way? Oh yeah. Now you’re talking. That’s music.
Tormund settles in, horn full of goats milk, and recounts the tale of how he killed a giant when he was ten and was then suckled by its wife. With Giant’s milk. That’s why he’s so strong.
This is all an elaborate courting dance for Brienne’s benefit. Because in the Wildling north, her priority would likely be making strong babies that could endure the cold. You can’t blame Tormund for taking his best shot, but Brienne is decidedly not having it. She and Jaime share several looks throughout his tale, and then they stare at him as he tips the horn to his face, and starts to guzzle, an obscene amount of sour goat’s milk pouring down the sides of his beard and onto his wildling garb as he does. Everyone stares at him. He grunts into the horn.
“Maybe I will have that drink.” Davos says.
We cut up to the battlements again. This time it’s Sandor Clegane sitting alone, drinking wine as he waits to die. Arya approaches. I get giddy again. Seriously, this is like checking off my wish list for last week. Every single thing I groaned about not getting, we’re getting in this episode. GET OOT OF ME HEAD BRYAN COGMAN.
Arya sits next to the Hound. She says nothing.
He doesn’t even look at her as he hands her his wineskin. She drinks. They say nothing.
“You never used to shut up. Now you’re just sitting there like a mute.” he says.
“Guess I’ve changed.” She says.
Then they go back to silence. He’s such a broken man. We’re staring into that big ugly mug of his and he’s just suffering through every minute of his wretched existence. He just sits there, unloved and unlovable, as his favorite person in the Known World drinks wine next to him. There are some men you just can’t reach.
Arya asks what his deal is. Why is he up here? Why did he go with Jon north of the Wall, why now? Why all of it for a man who has never fought for anyone but himself?
“I fought for you, didn’t I?” he asks, looking at her.
I can feel my stupid eyes welling up again.
That’s it, right there. That’s the closest you’ll ever see to real emotion from The Hound. He really is a beaten dog. But he loves her and that’s the closest he’ll ever get to saying it. Whew. That’s a biggun. Man.
Someone walks through frame, approaching them.
Shit! No! I want more. I want more of them together. Forever and ever. But that’s just nostalgia talking. He is different. He’s not the man who took her from the Brotherhood (technically captured her when she fled) for ransom. He’s not that miserable bastard who stole the silver from the man and his daughter. He’s the one who buried them now. He’s vastly improved as a human and so is she. Their old dynamic of him as the sensei and her as the grasshopper is gone forever and all that remains is a dusty old memory of that time. She is vastly more than she was, like everyone else on this show. Everyone is better. Everyone is more. And as they sit there in silence as the person approaches I realize that his line to her, his woeful, beaten declaration of love is as much as we ever could really hope for. A confirmation that he knows it was important between them. She sought him out to make sure he knew. And now she knows, too.
It’s a lot.
The person approaching them is Beric. Even though he has the loveliest Billy Dee Williams voice in middle earth and all of outer space, Arya is out.
“I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable old shits.” She says.
I laugh out loud again. God she’s great. They look at each other and can’t really blame her.
She heads down to what appears to be a storage room of sorts, where we find her doing her best Robin of Locksley impersonation. Her arrows hit the mark every time. #1 draft pick, folks.
Someone approaches from behind as she shoots.
“Here we go!” Lady C says.
“Oh boy.” I agree. Secluded storage bunker? Check. End of the world coming? Check.
If that’s Gendry, somebody better pour some Courvoisier and spin some Ravel in a hurry.
Lady C claps. I start laughing again.
He delivers her weapon. She takes it and spins it effortlessly, smiling.
“This’ll work” she says.
Gendry then comments that the last time they were together she wanted him to come to Winterfell, and that though his route was circuitous, here he is. Arya asks why the Red Woman wanted him and he relays to her what happened, and that he’s pretty much the heir to the Iron Throne or whatever. (Yes, he’s a bastard, but wasn’t Robert the last rightful king? If he didn’t have a claim, why would the goldcloaks have gone around killing all Robert’s bastards?)
Arya takes this in. It stops her for a second, but what she most reacts to is that he was naked with the Red Woman.
“I wasn’t with her.” He protests.
But Arya is already down the rabbit hole. She’s interrogating him about his sexual experience, and then she starts to gently, calmly remove her gloves.
HERE WE GO!
“We’re probably going to die soon. I want to know what it’s like before that happens.” She says, and takes a step toward him.
But before he can get out another word, she’s on him, kissing him passionately. It’s awesome. And then they have sex.
So many people had trouble with this scene. They averted their eyes or felt some discomfort at seeing Arya in a sexual situation.
We had the opposite reaction, Lady C and I. We were just so happy for her and for him. Maybe it’s because we’re more European minded than our Puritanical Massachusetts neighbors, but we got to watch Arya take agency over her own sexuality. We got to see her decide whom and where and when and as far as we can tell they’re all the right choices. Unlike so many sexual encounters in this show, this was wholesome and good and built on comfort and desire. It was wonderful to see this arc closed. It was wonderful to watch a human being of any gender embrace the sexual experience that they chose on their own terms. Sex is awesome. Too often it gets sullied and painted as something dirty in an effort to demonize it, usually because of some manufactured religious dictum. But it’s not dirty. It’s clean and universal and empowering and life affirming. Consensual sex on Game of Thrones is not an oddity, though people like to paint it as such. There were plenty of examples of it. Robb and Talisa. Oberyn and Ellaria. Loras and Renly. The list goes on. But this was the best of all of them, because of Arya’s agency, and Gendry’s general affect and the young, innocent beauty of them both.
It was great. And powerful.
So many checkboxes ticked off in this episode! It’s like we’re getting a wish list fulfilled so that characters can…
We’re now back in the moot hall where the gang is a little more relaxed from the wine and just sitting around the fire with a silent, pleasant buzz on. Of course it’s Tyrion who speaks, he who might have been throwneth in yon ocean by Jorah for that predilection had his mind not been too keen to waste.
“It’s strange” he says, staring absently into his mug “almost everyone here has fought the Starks at one time or another, and here we are, in their castle, ready to defend it.”
Man, could we have ever imagined this, once upon a time? Years ago, would we have ever put all these people in Winterfell for a decisive battle? Nuts.
I’m watching the camera pan around this collection of warriors, and Tyrion, and something inside of me is so thrilled that Jaime gets to experience this moment. That he can just sit and relax in the calm before the storm with the right bunch of killers. If that even is a thing. But he’s spent his life as a Lannister heir and Cersei’s pet and I doubt he ever got to just be whatever he is now. A man with a mug. Hanging out with other warriors before the battle. Even if he had, in the past, everyone would have been aware of his name or rank or reputation. But here all that extraneous shit is washed away. They’re all gonna die. Heirs of Casterly Rock and pig farmers alike. So it’s nice for Jaime to be one of the gang, if only for a minute.
Likewise for Brienne, whom you imagine also never really did this before. She’s so careful about appearance, so formed by her personal code and compass. You imagine she would never let herself sniff wine before a battle, much less drink it. But here she is, bonding like a warrior. A lone valkyrie, sitting with other sons of Valhalla where she belongs.
“At least we’ll die with honor,” she says.
They all listen, saying nothing. Some nod.
“I think we might live.” Tyrion offers. And then he makes a compelling case, naming Ser Davos and Ser Jaime and the notable named battles they survived. Jaime pokes fun at himself as the famous loser of the Battle of Whispering Wood. Goddamn I love this Jaime. Why couldn’t you always be this Jaime you stupid fucking Baywatch Ken Doll David Chokachi? You are awesome now, at the end. I could weep.
Tyrion then moves to Brienne.
“Ser Brienne of Tarth, defeated The Hound in single-“
And then he realizes his mistake. She is not a Ser.
“Pardon me. Lady Brienne.”
“SHE’S NOT A SER?” Tormund asks in shock. He looks at Brienne. “YOU’RE NOT A KNIGHT?”
Brienne tips her head toward him the way she must have done a thousand times to answer this same question.
“Women can’t be knights.” She says.
“Why not?” Tormund asks.
“Tradition.” She says, matter of factly.
“Fuck tradition.” The strongest member of the Freefolk says. WHOOOOOO HOOOOOO. YEAH TORMUND.
“I don’t even want to be a knight.” Brienne spits bitterly. Jaime watches from the table where he’s pouring his wine. Brienne looks at Podrick, her squire but somehow I guess not official squire because she’s not a knight? And he looks at her with affection and pity. He knows the truth.
“I’m not a king,” Tormund says, “but if I were I’d knight you ten times over.”
Davos smiles broadly.
“You don’t need a king.” Jaime says, an idea dawning on him. “Any knight can make another knight.”
I feel a chill, an actual electric chill go down my spine. I reach for Lady C’s hand.
Jaime smiles, that perfect, unassailable smile of pure handsome and says, “I’ll prove it.” With that he turns with a purpose and draws Widow’s Wail from its scabbard.
“Kneel, Lady Brienne.” He says.
I’m typing this at my computer at 5:43am on Thursday, April 25th and tears are dotting my desk as I type. That’s how fucking powerful this scene is.
Brienne laughs off his suggestion. It’s the wine talking. She’s never going to be a knight. She was always NEVER going to be a knight. Any idea to the contrary is obviously a joke…
“Do you want to be a knight or not?” Jaime asks, seriousness in his voice. His sword is at the ready. His voice softens. “Kneel.”
Can this possibly be real? Brienne has made a life of never doing the wrong thing. Of perfect balance and decorum and grace. She is the human manifestation of what we imagine the highest ideals of the ultimate knight to be. She exemplifies every one. But she can never be a knight and that’s always been that.
She’s uncertain. Her body doesn’t move an inch except to swing her gaze over to Podrick, who gives her the tiniest of nods. Do it. He says. Go.
She looks back at Jaime and his nod is bigger. This is real. Kneel.
My chest is heaving as she arises from her oaken chair. Lady C is squeezing my hand for strength because this show is 100% trying to kill me.
In a moment of extreme beauty, everyone else in the hall turns and readjusts to witness the event. They are solemn and dignified. Something important is happening.
Brienne walks cautiously to Jaime. Slowly. Still not fully believing.
She stands opposite him for a moment that feels like forever, and then she kneels. My body is going to break in half from the sobs. She puts her right arm behind her and rests her left elbow on her knee, her head bowed, as if she has secretly imagined this moment and practiced this position a thousand times.
We are close on her face as she looks up at Jaime expectantly. He steadies his grip on the Valyrian blade and then raises it, resting it on her right shoulder. He begins the ceremony.
“In the name of the warrior, I charge you to be brave.”
He moves the blade to her left shoulder, laying it there.
“In the name of the father, I charge you to be just.”
He moves the blade back again to the right shoulder. We get a wide shot of everyone watching the ceremony intently.
“In the name of the mother, I charge you to defend the innocent.”
Then Jaime moves the sword off of her shoulder and lets his arm hand at his side. Brienne looks up at him with huge eyes.
“Arise, Brienne of Tarth. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
I don’t know if this is the hardest I’ve ever cried at a show, but I can’t remember another time when I was so spontaneously destroyed by a scene. It was something I never knew I needed but ended up feeling so unforgettable and necessary.
Tormund loses his shit. Clapping wildly in joy. The rest join in. Tyrion yells a toast.
“Ser Brienne of Tarth, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms!”
And for as long as I live, I’ll never forget the smile on the face of that amazing character as she realizes that she’s a Knight for the first time. My god. My god.
Jesus Christ I’m not going to make it through this season. My tear ducts are going to run out and I’m going to start crying dust.
I need a minute but we don’t have it because we cut immediately to Sam coming down a set of stairs where another box is being checked.
Ser Jorah is beseeching Lyanna Mormont to stay out of the battle and she’s refusing. He begs her, as the future of their house, to stay back, in the crypts one assumes.
But she’s not having it. She’s fought before. She’s trained all her people on Bear Island. She’ll fight again.
She looks at Sam, who apologizes for interrupting. It’s okay, she says, we’re done here.
Before she departs, she turns to Jorah. She is principled and severe, like his father was.
“I wish you good fortune, Cousin.”
He bows deeply to her. “Thank you, my lady.” And with that she leaves, her men parting as she walks away with purpose.
Now Sam approaches Jorah. He’s holding a sword. His family’s sword, Heartsbane.
He says to Jorah that he can’t really heft the weight of a beast like that and that Jorah’s father was the one who taught him to be a man and do what’s right.
“This is right.” Sam says. “It’s Valyrian steel. I’d be honored if you take it.”
I mean. For the love of everything in the seven kingdoms my heart cannot take this. How in the everliving fuck did George R. R. Martin make this many astounding, complex characters? You think of all the legendary twosomes on this show and in this book series and this one isn’t probably even in the top twenty! But yet, there’s something so strong between them. I remember that shot of Jorah with a stick in his teeth, looking up at the camera when Sam literally flayed him. I remember Jorah’s face when he stood next to Daenerys last week, realizing that she had executed the family of the man who saved his life. And now Sam is offering his family’s sword, the most important thing his family has ever had for hundreds of years, to Jorah. Because Sam respects him and wants to honor Jorah’s father.
Jorah takes the sword and pulls the hilt out to study the blade.
“I’ll wield it in his memory, to guard the realms of men.”
“I’ll see you when it’s through.” Sam says.
Jorah nods and Sam walks away. There’s something in Jorah’s face that worries me. Like he knows he’s not gonna make it.
Sam turns back to him one last time.
“I hope we win.” He says.
And as he leaves, we cut back to the moot hall, where the wine casks are tapped and the mood has hollowed out.
Jaime is like - we better get some rest. And Tyrion begs them for a little longer.
What does he know? Does he know anything?
“How about a song?” He asks. “One of you must know one.”
He looks around the room and I’m overcome with nostalgia and start to get misty again. The episode is drawing to a close. Tyrion is not just begging for himself, he is begging for all of us. Stay, dear people, stay. Stay beautiful characters whom we watch go to your doom. Do not go quietly into that dark night!
Tyrion scans the room. Davos jokes that he can’t sing. Ser Brienne doesn’t have a song. Tormund growls away the suggestion.
It is quiet in the room as we take stock of the faces. So many memories. So much hope.
And then a voice rings out clear and true. Like a bell in the night. Podrick Payne, with no further provocation, starts to sing. A song pulled directly from the books, ‘Jenny of Oldstones.’
It is perfect. Perfect. It harkens back to bygone days and sings of dancing with ghosts. It encompasses all of our love and all of our dreams and everything of ourselves that we’ve tied to this land and this story and these characters.
And we move around the room, and away, until we are above Sam and Gilly, with little Sam asleep between them, away to Sansa and Theon, eating together in silence, but sharing looks that I’m not sure we’ve seen either of them give before.
“…And she never wanted to leave…”
We are with Arya, in bed, with Gendry asleep next to her. She knows what it’s like now.
We are with Missandei as she walks Grey Worm out to his troops. They kiss passionately, maybe for the last time, before he strides away.
“…never wanted to leave…”
Ser Jorah Mormont, ever alone, rides into frame on horseback, in full armor. He scans the distance where no dead can yet be seen, and turns his steed away.
“…never wanted to leave…”
Podrick’s magical, haunting voice fades out as now we are back in the crypts, where the one time King of the North is continuing his solitary vigil. But another person enters frame. His queen and love.
She approaches him then stops, waiting for his approval to approach. She has no idea what’s going on, but she’s being considerate. She loves this man dearly. Jon turns and he smiles at her, a smile full of pain.
He is lost in thought in front of a statue. We’re not sure which one. In the old days it would most certainly be Ned Stark. But now we can’t be sure.
She comes up to him and wraps herself around his arm, putting her head on him.
“Who’s that?” She asks.
He sighs. Here we go. The moment he’s been dreading.
“Lyanna Stark” he says.
Daenerys knows that name, we can see it in her expression. She tries to piece it together. Why would Jon be looking at Lyanna Stark of all people? She was widely known to have been among the final victims of Targaryen rule. She thinks for a moment.
“My brother Rhaegar,” she says, “everyone told me he was decent and kind — he liked to sing, gave money to poor children….and he raped her.”
“He didn’t” Jon says, not taking his eyes off the statue of his mother. It’s barely a whisper. “He loved her.”
He turns to Dany and takes her hands, facing her. He can’t put off this moment any longer.
“They were married in secret. After Rhaegar fell on The Trident, she had a son. Robert would have murdered the baby if he ever found out and Lyanna knew it, so the last thing she did as she bled to death on her birthing bed, was give the boy to her brother, Ned Stark, to raise as his bastard.”
We are only on Daenerys as she takes this in.
“My name, my real name, is Aegon Targaryen.”
Dany pulls away and turns, as if she’d been slapped.
“I wish it were.”
“Who told you this?”
“Bran. He saw it.”
“He saw it?”
“And Samwell confirmed it. He read about their marriage at the Citadel without even knowing what it meant.”
“A secret no one in the world knew except your brother and your best friend.” She says. “Doesn’t that seem strange to you?”
Jon steps closer and looks at her directly. “It’s true Dany. I know it is.”
Dany talks slowly, in that toothy way before someone gets dracrysed. “If it were true, it would make you the last male heir of House Targaryen.”
John looks like he hadn’t even thought of that.
“You’d have a claim to the Iron Throne.”
But before he can react, a horn rings out. Trouble is coming.
They rush up to the battlements and to either side of Tyrion. WHO I’M TELLING YOU IS A FUCKING TARGARYEN AND THE TRUE HEIR TO THE THRONE BECAUSE HE’S AERYS’ BASTARD.
There is no other reason in the world to have them flank him for that group photo before the final battle. Yes, they have unfinished business, but the dead now come.
Jon nods to Dany. She nods back.
TO THE DRAGONS!
We pull back from Tyrion, slowly…slowly…until only his face is visible on the parapet. The imagery almost makes it appear that he’s riding a dragon himself…
And then we are in the distance where the rotting hoof of a dead horse enters frame. We pan up to the White Walker on its back. One of Craster’s nightmare incest brood. More lieutenants fill the screen. But no Night King.
And with that we smash to black. Jenny of Oldstones plays again, this time over credits and sung by Florence and the Machine.
It is over. One of the greatest episodes of television we’re ever likely to see. Every single character we saw: Tormund, Pod, Gendry, Jorah, Theon, Missandei, Daenerys, Arya, Jon, Sam, Gilly, Davos, Edd, Sandor, Grey Worm, Jaime, Brienne, Sansa, Tyrion. They’re all better than they were. More than they used to be. And for one blessed week, we saw zero King’s Landing. It’s official. We have all won the Game of Thrones championship, and next week it is ours to lose in devastating fashion.
But some hope remains.
If you believe in the old gods and the new, and by that I mean you’ve read the books, we still might yet get the Prince who was Promised, Azor Ahai.
To get him, or her, we’ll have to see them sacrifice their most loved one, Nissa Nissa.
The prophecy, if you believe it, hinges upon these things:
1. He or she must be ‘born of smoke and salt’. Not sure what that means.
2. He or she must ‘wake dragons out of stone’. Okey doke.
3. He or she must be ‘born under a bleeding red star’. No prob.
4. He or she must ‘make a sacrifice’. Piece of cake.
5. Aaaaaaaaand ‘Darkness must fall upon the earth’. Who’s got solar eclipse? Anyone?
In order to wield the weapon which can end The Long Night, Azor Ahai must wield ‘Lightbringer’, which can only happen with a sacrifice. And I’m pretty sure it can only take place with Valyrian steel.
So who has Valyrian steel?
Jaime: Widow’s Wail
Arya: Unnamed Dagger that belonged to someone. The original Azor Ahai, perhaps?
Or will it be Daenerys? Snatching up Longclaw from a downed Jon?
Or might it somehow be Tyrion?
How many of our favorite characters will we say goodbye to after this weekend? What sort of influx of talent will Hannah get for her Ghosts of Thrones series?
It’s anyone’s guess.
But we have witnessed magic in our time, friends. We have witnessed greatness and love and beauty.
And like all the brave souls in Winterfell, we now wait for the doom.
Four episodes left.
May we all survive until Monday.
Long live the Heroes of Winterfell! Long live the North!
(Special thanks to Pajiban Charles Andrew Bates for his illustration skills. You can find him on Twitter @batesian)
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO, Charles Andrew Bates