Book-Reader’s Recap—Game of Thrones Episode 802—”A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

"High in the halls of the kings who are goneJenny would dance with her ghostsThe ones she had lostAnd the ones she had foundAnd the ones who had loved her the mostThe ones who’d been gone for so very longShe couldn’t remember their namesThey spun her around on the damp old stonesSpun away all her sorrow and painAnd she never wanted to leaveNever wanted to leave"

So sings Podrick Payne, the musical MVP of the episode and maybe the series, towards the end of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Game of Thrones covers a lot of ground with this song. It’s a nod to book-readers, who might remember the ghost of High Heart requesting this song in A Storm of Swords in exchange for telling the Brotherhood Without Banners about her prophetic dreams. As sung over a montage on the show, it reminded me of the song Pippin sings to King Denethor in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which is a wonderful moment in its own right:

But Pod’s performance is also representative of how showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss — and writer longtime Thrones Bryan Cogman — want to linger with characters they’ve spent the better part of a decade with. Over the last couple of seasons, critics have come down on Game of Thrones for its quickened pace, but that’s not an accusation anyone can make here. This episode is practically a stage play, full of slowly paced scenes about characters talking and feeling and connecting. Some of it’s a little predictable, but a lot of it is wonderful, and all of it sad.

Jenny never wanted to leave. Neither do the people who make this show. Neither do we. So let’s spend an hour with characters we’ve grown to love before they’re thrust into the mouth of death.


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But not quite yet. The first part of the episode continues the politicking that dominated the premiere, with Jaime standing before Queen Daenerys and pleading his case. He tells them that Cersei lied to everyone about helping to fight the dead (Daenerys gives some terrific side-eye at a chagrinned Tyrion here), but even with this helpful information, Dany and Sansa agree that Jaime can’t be trusted. After all, he killed Daenerys’ father and fought Ned Stark in the streets of King’s Landing, and this is without Bran mentioning anything about that time with the shoving.

Jaime, interestingly, defends himself to the hilt, saying that they were at war and that he’d do it all again if he had to. It’s not an indefensible position, but maybe not one you should take when you have this little power; Bran gives Jaime a little “The things we do for love” to keep him docile. Still, I don’t think Jaime was ever in any real danger, not with paragon of honor and goodness Brienne of Tarth around to tell the room about all the noble things Jaime did on their trip south to King’s Landing. Brienne’s word is enough for Sansa. For his part, Jon doesn’t think that they can’t afford to turn away any fighting men, which seals it for Daenerys. Jaime stays.

But Tyrion might not. It’s not just the fans who have noticed Tyrion’s terrible batting average lately. Dany is fuming that on top of his strategies resulting in the loss of Dorne and the Iron Islands, he failed see Cersei’s betrayal coming. “I suspect one of you will be wearing this before long,” Tyrion tells Jorah and Varys.

At one time, Jorah would have jumped at that opportunity. But after Daenerys exiled him, and he kidnapped Tyrion, and she exiled him again, and then finally she accepted him back into her service, his opinion has changed. He argues that Daenerys should forgive Tyrion his many mistakes, and she appears to take him up on it later, recommending that he remain in the crypts with the women and children during the battle because he’s too valuable to lose. Do these two have more making up to do, or are they square?

Also on Daenerys’ goodwill tour: Sansa Stark. The Dragon Queen tries to bury the hatchet with the Lady of Winterfell in a gentle one-on-one. They seem to be making good progress — Sansa seems to believe Daenerys when she says she truly loves Jon and that her affection for him is part of the reason she’s up here “fighting Jon’s war,” plus they bond a little over their duel journeys from powerless women to leaders of men — but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. After everything she’s gone through, Sansa still has problems with bowing to anyone, particularly after so many died fighting to take back an independent North from the Boltons. When the war is done and Dany is on the Iron Throne, Sansa asks, who will rule the North? Dany, who assumes it will be her, is not pleased by this, but Maester Wolkan interrupts the discussion before it can go any further.

I was afraid the show would resolve the Sansa-Daenerys tension too quickly, so I was glad to see that it deepened the relationship between the characters without getting rid of the conflict. Good show, show.

“Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” does something similar after Jon finally reveals the secret of his parentage to Daenerys, in the crypts in front of the statue of Lyanna Stark. Sure, he may have wanted to wait until after the battle for this conversation, but Jon is ever his


uncle’s honest son, and the moment may have just been too perfect, what with Daenerys parroting the line about Rhaegar raping Lyanna. It’s only polite for Jon to finish that sentence.

We’re all here for Daenerys’ reaction, right? Is she going to take this as a threat and see Jon as a rival for the Iron Throne, or take it in stride and see them merely as the latest in a long line of Targaryen relatives getting busy with each other? We don’t really get to find out, because the White Walkers arrive at Winterfell before she can fully absorb what Jon is telling her. But in the few seconds before those three horn blasts, she’s resistant, questioning whether Bran and Sam have good information and looking stricken, and maybe even a little afraid. “If it were true, it would make you the last male heir of House Targaryen,” she tells him. “You’d have a claim to the Iron Throne.” Is she starting to give Jon her patented stone-faced-stare-into-the-middle-distance Daenerys glare? If so, it could mean trouble for the characters and good watching for us. But again, more on that next week.

I’ve been writing about Jon and Daenerys, but this episode is very good at spreading the wealth around. There’s a fun scene with Arya and Gendry where she pesters him about the weapon she asked him to make last week. He’s not taking her terribly seriously — remember, the last time he saw her, she was just learning to shoot a bow and arrow — but she proves her battle acumen by chucking a few dragonglass daggers at a post, takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and he realizes she’s the coolest girl in school.

I kid, but there are seriously flirty vibes here, all of it undercut by Arya’s characteristically terrifying posturing about how well she knows death. It’s a very Game of Thrones kind of romance, brought home later when Gendry finds Arya practicing her archery the night before the battle. Arya doesn’t want to die before acting on her feelings, and soon she and Gendry have disrobed and are having sex in the cool night air. It’s hard to believe that the young tomboyish Arya we met in the first season has grown up into a woman of such confidence, but it’s happened. And after so many seasons spent murdering and training, it’s affirming to see Arya engage in something as human and normal as sex with a boy she likes, even if it is on the edge of the apocalypse.

That said, I enjoyed the shot of Arya lying next to Gendry with her eyes wide open; she’s rediscovering her humanity, but she’s still an elite assassin ready for anything.

Arya, to understate it, is not the same girl she was the last time she was at Winterfell. That’s a major theme for this episode: change. Characters bring it up a lot. When Bran explains to Jaime why he didn’t speak out about Jaime’s attempted child homicide, Jaime says that he’s “not that person anymore.”  And indeed, he’s not. Bran has changed, too, going from a precocious boy who wanted to be a knight to “something else,” someone who’s above being angry at Jaime for what he did, because there are other things to worry about. After all, Jaime can’t help in the fight against the Night King if he’s dead.

We watch Podrick ably train a swordsman outside Winterfell. “He’s come a long way,” Brienne says. Like Arya, Podrick has changed. Grey Worm, who began the series as an unfeeling Unsullied soldier who lived to obey, begins planning for a post-war life with Missandei, proving how much he’s changed and confirming to me that at least one of them is going to die next week. Dolorous Edd points out how Samwell Tarly, once the biggest coward at Castle Black, is now “slayer of White Walkers, lover of ladies.” (Seeing Sam, Jon and Edd together again was one of many powerful moments that hit me out of nowhere — the Night’s Watch has shrunk, but it’s not gone.) Tyrion and Jaime explicitly talk about how things were “simpler” years ago, “in relative terms.” Everybody is talking about how much things have changed.

And then there’s Jaime and Brienne. Like all good odd couples, these two begin their acquaintance hating each other. Jaime was Brienne’s prisoner, but he clearly considered himself her superior, in rank, combat ability, and gender. As Brienne points out, he rarely missed an opportunity to insult her back then. Now, he returns to Winterfell intending to serve under her because he respects her, maybe more than he’s ever respected anyone in his life. And he proves it when he breaks with tradition and knights Brienne during an epic pregame in one of Winterfell’s many drafty halls, where Jaime, Tyrion, Brienne, Podrick, Davos and Tormund have gathered to kick back a few drinks before the end of the world. Gwendoline Christie has always been one of the show’s most consistently compelling characters, a raw nerve of vulnerability you can’t help but root for. After Jaime knights her, the room erupts in applause and her face breaks into a wide smile. There’s no way not to feel happy for her. I loved this scene.

So Jaime and Brienne have flipped roles. All these characters have transformed in a way that very rarely happens on TV, where the status quo must always be preserved. And that’s what at risk if the Night King wins, as Bran and Sam point out during the most jam-packed strategy session in the history of this show, and there have been a ton of them — seriously, half the cast was standing around that map. “He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory,” Bran says. Cue Sam:

"That’s what death is, isn’t it? Forgetting? Being forgotten? If we forget where we’ve been and what we’ve done, we’re not men anymore. We’re just animals."

Okay, so that kinda sounds like something a little philosophy PhD student would say, but thematically this is big. This episode exists to remind us how much these characters have changed, how much they’ve suffered, how much they’ve loved, and how much they’ve lost. It reminds us how much we love them. And we need to be reminded of that before the army of the dead swoops in and kills a bunch of them, as will surely happen. Honest to god, I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from the show of late, but this episode pulled me back in, because I do love these characters, and I don’t want them to be lost.

Also it made be certain we’ll see at least a few characters die and come back as wights, their memories obliterated, because the show is twisted like that.

There’s a plot element here, too: the Night King can find Bran because of the mark he put on him back in season 6. Bran will wait in the godswood and try to lure the Night’s King into the open, where someone can kill him and thereby knock out a huge chunk of the undead army. (I’m sure it’ll go just fine, you guys.) But because this episode always brings it back to character, the scene ends with Tyrion pulling up a chair and asking to hear Bran’s “strange journey.” Make all the mistakes you want, Tyrion, I still love you.

So “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” moves the plot along, but mostly it’s about the smaller moments. The heart of the episode is the group sitting around drinking, reminiscing about battles they’ve survived, Tormund telling a story about suckling at a giant’s breast I NEVER thought would be adapted from the books, and Tyrion wondering if maybe, just MAYBE, they might live through this. It’s wonderful, vital stuff. We at home get to relax into a story that will soon be over. It’s the perfect primer for the rest of what I’m sure will be an action-packed season.

And the action should start next week. It’s gonna get wild.

Next. Build your own Small Council!. dark

Game of Bullet Points

  • Watching Arya and Gendry disrobe was kind of funny given how many layers they’re wearing. It’s winter, after all. Kudos to the production team for misting their breath.
  • Tyrion asks Jaime if Cersei is lying about her pregnancy. Jaime claims it’s real, but after last week’s episode, I’m not entirely convinced. At the least, they’re trying to draw our attention to this point.
  • Tyrion doesn’t crack as many jokes as he used to, but I chuckled when he wistfully imagined tearing his sister apart as a wight. Also when he poured Podrick a full cup of wine despite Brienne’s strict instructions. This was the funniest Tyrion’s been in a while.
  • Jaime names Brienne “a knight of the seven kingdoms,” which is the name of a collection of novellas written by George R.R. Martin set in Westeros a hundred or so years before the events of Game of Thrones. It’s doubly meaningful because those novellas are about a character named Ser Duncan the Tall, widely believed to be Brienne’s ancestor.
  • “Men do stupid things for women,” Sansa tells Daenerys. “They’re easily manipulated.” I’m guessing she’s thinking of how she manipulated Littlefinger into an early grave.
  • You’d think I’d have gotten tired of long-separated characters hugging, but there’s no arguing with Alfie Allen and Sophie Turner’s performances when Sansa and Theon saw each other again. That got to me. And then there was that sweet moment in the courtyard when they were looking at each other and eating soup. A new ship sets sail?
  • I liked the bit where the little girl with facial scarring — clearly meant to remind us of Shireen — asks Davos if she can fight in the battle. Thank goodness Gilly came along and sweet-talked her into hiding in the crypts with the rest of the women and children and Sam, cause I’m not sure Davos could have handled it. I feel bad relegating moments like to this to the bullet point section but there were just so many good ones!
  • Also great: Tormund bursting into frame and bear-hugging Jon Snow when he, Edd, and Beric Dondarrion got back to Winterfell. Tormund was on tonight.
    Also ALSO great: Arya and the Hound bonding over a wineskin. “You never used to shut up, now you’re just sitting there like a mute,” the Hound says. Of course, Arya’s response is, “Guess I’ve changed.” Because themes. The crackling chemistry is still there, though.
  • Funniest line of the night, from the Hound to Beric: “If [you’re about to give a sermon], the Lord of Light’s gonna wonder why he brought you back 19 times just to watch you die when I chuck you over this fucking wall.”
  • Also also ALSO great: Jorah and Lyanna Mormont arguing about whether she should be on the front lines, and Sam gifting Jorah with Heartsbane. Jorah may not have gotten his father’s Valyrian steel sword, but he did get a Valyrian steel sword, given to him by one of his father’s many surrogate sons in the Night’s Watch. “Your father, he taught me how to be a man, how to do what’s right. This is right.” Good line, good reading.
  • Gendry told Arya that he’s Robert Baratheon’s bastard. I still don’t know if that’s going to matter to the plot, but it’s nice to know the show hasn’t forgotten it.
  • Brienne: “I don’t even want to be a knight.” Podrick, with his eyes: “Bitch, please.”

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