Winterfell prepares for battle...
This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8 episode 2, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’
It’s surprising that Game of Thrones has chosen to spend the first two of its final six episodes essentially hyping a battle in its third. Were this any other show I’d be frustrated, but it’s hard to begrudge given the show’s track record for so emphatically delivering in its action scenes.
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Yes, the army of the dead have almost reached Winterfell, and given that no-one has thought to build a moat to repel the non-swimmers (come on guys, even a paddling pool would do, hand Davos a pump already) it looks like we’re about to get one hell of a showdown.
We usually break down these episodes reviews by region, but given that episode 2 took place entirely in Winterfell, a new categorisation is required: degree to which characters have sealed their deaths by resolving their story arcs the night before battle.
Missandei and Grey Worm
There were a series of romantic pairings – mead-cutes, if you will – in Winterfell tonight. Monopolising the ‘couldn’t care less about them’ end of the spectrum were Missandei and Grey Worm, who kissed goodbye and made vague plans to hit up a beach once the wars are over. I dearly hope that one of the fake endings that Game of Thrones reportedly shot is Grey Worm sipping a piña colada during a package holiday in Naath, but I can’t see it getting used. Expect Grey Worm to die valiantly leading the Unsullied into battle in episode 3, though Missandei could live to make robotic pronouncements another day (more on that later).
Ser Brienne of Tarth
Jaime’s wine-fuelled knighting of Brienne was one of the more satisfying character resolutions tonight – a noble ending for perhaps the show’s most noble character. Now a respected Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, she is fated to die as she lived: unwaveringly defending the Starks. Some will criticise this week’s Brienne scenes as fan service, but I was happy to indulge them given the writers resisted a tryst with Tormund. There were a lot of aching hearts in that room, Tormund lusting after Brienne, Brienne silently pining for Jaime and, to my mind, Jaime somewhat reciprocating Brienne’s feelings in a ‘would be nice if I wasn’t hot for despotic sisters’ way.
Theon is the most certified dead character currently wandering Winterfell right now, having previously pledged to fight for the Starks and tonight volunteering for the suicide mission of defending Bran from The Night King. I can’t help but think there are soldiers better suited to the role, but he should at least serve as some fleshy chaff for the undead to have to carve through, holding them off for precious extra seconds. Theon got all he wanted in episode 2 anyway: the tacit forgiveness of a misty-eyed Stark (Sansa).
Beric Dondarrion, Gendry, Tormund Giantsbane, The Hound, Ser Jorah Mormont
The surviving members of that foolhardy mission beyond the Wall’s days are numbered. Ser Jorah, in particular, who got one of the more unexpected send-offs tonight as he saved Tyrion from being fired as Hand of the Queen. First Mormont yielded to Jon Snow’s superior looks, now he’s deferred to Tyrion’s superior intellect. You’re one of the good ones, Jorah, and I’ll weep for you as you’re devoured by wights in episode 3, Heartsbane cutting through the sky.
The fate of Beric and The Hound (aka “you two miserable old shits” – Arya Stark) is less clear. I’d still like some kind of resounding purpose for Dondarrion’s incessant resurrections, while Sandor “The Hound” Clegane is still due a final face-off with his brother, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Game of Thrones enjoys cruel injustices though, so perhaps we’ll be intentionally deprived of closure on either or both.
I still like the theory that Gendry will be pragmatically installed on the Iron Throne by Jon/Dany, but the chances of this took a hit over the last couple of episodes as Gendry became simply the willing instrument in Arya losing her virginity. The sex scene made sense (formerly blind assassins need love too!) but my god was it awkwardly staged.
Let me start by saying that the logic of the Night King wanting to kill Bran over everyone else because he represents the history and memories of men, – or something – is incredibly unconvincing. That war room strategy scene was kind of embarrassing tonight; I was looking forward to a trading of detailed plans around the map, but instead we got the vague notion from Jon of using Bran as bait and then we swiftly moved on. Hopefully, we were simply not privy to more thorough plans of attack which will unfold next week.
But why is Bran going to die? Simple, that curious scene in which Tyrion pulled up a chair and asked Bran to tell him his whole life Three-Eyed Raven, the unsaid subtext to which can only be ‘so someone can tell your life story after you die and after this mess is over, because Meera is narratively M.I.A.’
Because no-one can finish a conversation in Winterfell, we didn’t hear Jon’s response to Daenerys realising he has a better claim to the Iron Throne than her this week, but I can only imagine it was essentially a “take it, I don’t want it.” This will likely be a moot point however, as Jon feels destined to die defeating the White Walkers. His name may be Aegon Targaryen, but he’s Jon Snow through-and-through and should die on Northern soil.
Could make it out alive
I like Tyrion’s chances of surviving next week, if just because he spent so much time tonight predicting his death.
Similarly, I think Tyrion’s brother might escape Winterfell too. Jaime’s probably a goner in the long run, but the Lannister siblings are really the most compelling aspect to the show, and will carry it toward its conclusion – especially if Jon Snow isn’t around as de facto protagonist.
Who will sit on the Iron Throne is a matter for episodes 5 and 6, and it’s hard to see Daenerys not making it that far, unless the show decides to really pull the rug from under us (which in fairness, would be quite welcome).
Dislikable though she is, Sansa might be the only character in the show whose judgment isn’t clouded by love nor loyalty. As such, it makes sense for her to manage to stay alive until the show’s conclusion – perhaps more so than anyone else.
Anyone who can’t swing a sword
Gilly, Missandei et al will remain below ground during the White Walker attack, we learned tonight. Are we about to see the mass slaughter of women and children at the hands of reanimated corpses? I wouldn’t put such a brutal scene past this show by any means, but I just can’t see it somehow.
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Non-death related but nonetheless notable elements in episode 2:
“Here we are, together again” (Tyrion, to Jaime) was the most phoned-in reunion dialogue yet.
“You always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway” (Tyrion, to Jaime, about Cersei) however, really stung – a great exchange and you know Jaime felt it.
Winterfell’s maester should be executed for interrupting that absolutely pivotal conversation between Sansa and Daenerys.
The Hound and Arya have become really quite similar by this point – two lethal forces, only really loyal to themselves, and loners who don’t particularly care for other humans.
Sam’s “I have stolen a considerable number of books!” was the funniest line so far this season.
Podrick’s got pipes! I’m glad he used them. What better and more traditional a way for a band of fighters to wile away the remaining few hours before a possibly fatal battle than with wine, a fire and a song?
In conclusion, episode 2 – much like the season opener – felt a bit like it was going through the motions. There were some poignant and moving pre-battle farewells, but just as many that felt a little clunky. This was always going to be the way though, when you have so many characters and so few episodes in which to pay them off. Two whole episodes seems a lot for simply setting the stage, but the scenes they are preparing us for are sure to be the stuff of television history.