Hello again friends, and welcome to the Chris & Nikki Game of Thrones co-blog. Well, we’re now two episodes into the final six of the series, and, I have to say, this week’s episode was all about the emotional payoffs of seven seasons’ worth of incredible storytelling, acting, and directing. It also set the table for what promises to be one of the most epic fantasy battles ever filmed. And while on occasion the setup episode in such a series proves less than whelming, I would hazard to say this this one does not disappoint. Anyone who found this episode boring seriously needs to do some soul-searching—by which I mean, you need to make certain you have one.
Christopher: If last week was all about placing the pieces on the board, this week was the (relative) calm before the storm. And if last week was about reunions, this week was about—what? Reconciliations? Not quite the word I want, but close enough: Jaime facing the daughter of the king he killed, Jaime’s apology to Bran, Theon returning to fight for Sansa and Winterfell, Jaime putting himself under Brienne’s command, Arya and the Hound, Jaime knighting Brienne, Daenerys being reminded of Tyrion’s value and acting accordingly, among various others. There was a sentimental quality to this week’s episode that every so often was a wee bit trite, but was (to my mind at least) rather welcome. In our last post I observed that “still alive” counts for rather a lot after seven seasons of one of the most murderous television series ever produced; we were treated to an hour of survivors commiserating and all of them assuming they’ll be dead by the time the sun rises.
But we begin with the trial (loosely speaking) of Jaime Lannister. Daenerys seems quite ready to feed him to her dragons with all dispatch, telling him about how her brother used to tell her the story of how Jaime murdered the Mad King, and the various revenges they imagined they would exercise. Now, I do understand how finally looking at the man who killed your father might excite certain vengeful tendencies, but as I watched this scene, at least two thoughts occurred to me: (1) you mean that sociopathic, creepy brother who sold you into something resembling slavery, and whom your ex-hubbie killed by pouring molten gold on his head? … and, (2) that father who you’ve acknowledged was a raving lunatic who has come to be the embodiment of everything you don’t want to be?
But then, I suppose family is family. And it’s significant that Jaime doesn’t say anything in his defense with regards to his legendary king-slaying—probably a good read of his current audience. So it’s a poignant moment when Brienne stands to defend his honour: Brienne, who as far as we’ve seen is the only person Jaime has told the actual story of that fateful day when he spilled royal blood.
Brienne’s defense of Jaime is, I would argue, somewhat less significant than Sansa’s unhesitating acceptance of her word. Brienne is one of the handful of characters in this show afflicted with the curse of unwavering honour; Sansa, as we’ve been observing lo these last few seasons, has matured from someone who lives for fantasies to someone with a clear and unerring eye for reality. If Brienne is willing to stand for Jaime, Sansa will take her at her word, which in the moment is a stark (heh) contrast with Daenerys’ dismissal of Tyrion’s defense of his brother. “I know my brother,” he starts to say, only to be cut of when she says, “Like you knew your sister?” Moments later she will upbraid him for misreading Cersei, and his tenure as Hand of the Queen seems tenuous. “I suspect one of you will be wearing this,” he says to Jorah and Varys, indicating his badge of office, “before it’s all over.”
Jaime is such an interesting character, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has done an extraordinary job in the role. While he does not defend himself against Daenerys’ words, he is defiant when Sansa charges that he attacked Ned Stark in the streets and waged war against the Starks, saying that those were actions taken in a time of war, and he would do that all again. But when Bran says, sardonically, “The things we do for love,” a haunted look settles on Jaime’s face, the ghosts of the man he was coming to torment the man he’d become.
And then we’re back in the forge, with Gendry doing the Gendry thing, which is to say looking fetchingly begrimed and muscular as he hammers on red-hot metal and dragonglass. The main product they seem to be churning out seems to be spearheads, which makes practical sense—if dragonglass is a reliable way of killing wights and white walkers, I know I’d prefer to have it at the end of a long stick when the time came. Of course, Arya shows up, presumably to ask about her weapon request, but spends a few long moments regarding Gendry as he does the Gendry thing, a tiny smile tugging at her lips as she watches him bang his hammer and sink the red-hot metal in water so he can be wreathed in steam. “You make my weapon yet?” she demands when he notices her standing there. “Just as soon as I’m done making a few thousand of these,” he retorts, handing her an obsidian axe. Arya is not impressed, suggesting that her weapon should be stronger. “It’s strong enough!” he declares, and to demonstrate his point slams it into a piece of wood.
And Arya’s expression on seeing him do that … OK, I won’t say exactly what I wrote in my notes at that moment, as it’s somewhat NSFW, but the anodyne version would be along the lines of “well, someone’s getting somethin’.”
But in the meantime, for all Arya’s admiration of Gendry’s Gendryness, she’s actually more interested in getting some intel on the Enemy. Because here’s something where his experience trumps hers: he’s actually fought the White Walkers and their army; Arya, keen to know what she can look forward to, asks him extremely pointed questions. “What do they look like? What do they smell like? How do they move? How hard are they to kill?” All of which (I assume) are the kind of questions a trained assassin asks upon getting a new assignment. But Gendry is at a loss: the Enemy, he tries to tell her, is a force of nature and an existential crisis: “This is Death. You want to know what they’re like? Death. That’s what they’re like.”
Which is something that might daunt your average bear, but Arya has endured her own crucible. “I know Death,” she says, flinging spearheads into a post, and presumably freaking out the dude who was working next to it. “He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.” (In my notes, apropos of the thrown spearheads, I wrote “nice grouping”).
All of which totally encourages Gendry to move Arya’s weapon up in the queue.
And then we’re in the Godswood, where Jaime is about to have one of the more awkward conversations of his life. What did you think of their, um, reunion, Nikki?
Nikki: I loooooved this episode, because it brought us back to what Game of Thrones has always been: about the people. The first episode debuted on April 17, 2011, meaning as of this week we’ve been obsessed with the television version of this world for eight years. And that’s a very long time in television terms. We’ve lost so many, we’ve gained so many new ones, and we’ve watched these characters evolve in ways we couldn’t have possibly imagined. The character development has been astounding as children were forced to grow up quickly, adults were forced to choose sides, people made sacrifices for their loved ones, or turned against the ones they should have been protecting. This episode was an extraordinary one where the preparations for the White Walkers continue in the background (more on that in a moment) but in the foreground we see these quiet tableaux of all the characters we love having one last moment with the ones who have been by their sides throughout the series. We know that in the next episode, Thanos is going to snap his fingers and we’re going to lose a ton of these characters in one go, but this beautiful episode reminded us of the many relationships along the way, what they once were and what they are now: Brienne and Jaime, Arya and Gendry, Jorah and Daenerys, Theon and Sansa, Bran and Jaime, Podrick and Brienne, Tyrion and Jaime, Sam and Gilly, Tormund and Brienne, who’s left of the Night’s Watch (of all those men, we’re down to Jon, Sam, and Tollett), Beric and the Hound, Lyanna and Jorah, Daenerys and Khal Drogo, Ser Davos and Shireen, Sansa/Theon and Ramsay, Missandei and Grey Worm, Jon and Tormund, Jon and Ghost (!! FINALLY!!), Arya and the Hound… the fact they packed all of this massive personal history into one single-hour episode is nothing short of astonishing.
But now to Jaime and his brief Reunion Tour of Winterfell. I first want to mention how gorgeous a setting the Godswood always is. The white, white ground surrounded by the snow-laden coniferous trees starkly (ha) contrasts the blood-red leaves that hang from the sad-faced weirwood trees and lie on the fallen snow. Since season 1, it’s been considered a place of quiet and contemplation, where people go to pray or meditate or think of their ancestors, but it’s also been a setting for escape and spying. And now, as of later in this episode, we know that its next use will be something far more sinister.
But for now, it’s where good ol’ Creepy Bran sits in his wheelchair, and Jaime, doing the honorable thing, approaches him to say he’s sorry. It sounds so… empty considering what he’s apologizing for. “Sorry I pushed a seven-year-old boy out of a window and crippled him for life. Oh and all that other stuff I’ve done to your family over the years.” But Bran—whom someone said last week looks like a perfect combination of every Beatle, and now I can’t unsee it—isn’t that seven-year-old boy anymore. And a girl can’t help but wonder, if he has everything that’s ever happened and everything that will happen up in his head all the time, does the memory of being pushed out of a window even feature in the Top 100 anymore? But clearly it still does, because it happened to him. And it was the incident that started everything else in his life.
And yet, while Bran clearly looks at Jaime and sees only that incident (remember: he hasn’t seen him since that moment), he’s far too stoic and zen and removed from himself to care much anymore. He forces Jaime to look at himself and who he is, as you mentioned, Chris, because he knows it will be important in the battle if Jaime goes in with eyes wide open. The strange thing about Bran is, he knows what will happen in this coming war, and he’s already seen who will live and who will die. If you want a perfect war strategy, maybe ask the guy in the chair who already knows how it ends? But… I think everyone is so creeped out by him they’re like, “Nah, I’m good.” And, as he’s explained, he can see possible futures—he doesn’t know which one will be the actual one. So instead, we get bits of his cryptic knowledge, and this scene ends with Jaime asking him why he didn’t tell the room what Jaime had done to him. Bran had been pragmatic, he explains, knowing if he’d have done so, Jon would have run Jaime through with a sword, if Sansa hadn’t gotten to him first, and it’s far more important that Jaime fight in this war. He’s one of the most formidable champions this show has ever seen, and even though he’s down to one hand, we know that hand can fight better than just about any other in this battle. But Jaime wonders about what happens beyond that pragmatism: what about in the aftermath? Will Bran tell his family the truth then? “How do you know there IS an aftermath?” creepy Miss Cleo asks. And… well, shit.
Next we shift to Tyrion meeting his brother face-to-face, alone for the first time since Jaime’s arrival. I want to pause again for a moment to commend the extraordinary actions that have gone into constructing each of these scenes in the courtyard. Imagine how many actors have been wrangled here, how many props built, how much choreography has gone into every single moment as Tyrion walks across the courtyard to meet Jaime. All we care about is seeing the two brothers reunited, but I recommend readers go back just to look at this scene again and watch just how much activity is happening around them, and to know that every single beat was scripted. Every dragonglass sword, spear, and hatchet. Every grimy blacksmith or lord or soldier. Every wooden crate. Every catapult under construction. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to imagine how much planning and effort went into constructing this incredible image of all these Houses coming together to prepare to face their deaths.
But back to the Brothers Lannister. “Well, here we are,” says Tyrion, as he glances up to see some pretty pissed-off soldiers whose families were no doubt slaughtered by some aspect of the Lannister army, and one spits angrily into the courtyard while glaring at them. “And the masses rejoice.”
I couldn’t help but think, maybe a more private spot would have been better here, guys?
The brothers discuss their sister, who has been nothing but a thorn in the side of one of them, and who has been a lover to the other one. Yet now they stand as equals, both betrayed and threatened by this sister (neither one knows of the price on their heads yet, but that’s coming). Tyrion says he fell for Cersei’s bullshit once again, that he believed her when she said the pregnancy had changed her. Jaime reassures Tyrion that the pregnancy, at least, was true, but that news only seems to make Tyrion look even more pained. I mean, a nephew or a niece would be nice, but… you know… Joffrey. Jaime stupidly says that Cersei has tricked him just as often as she’s tricked Tyrion, and as Tyrion is walking up a flight of steps he turns, for once the same height as his brother, and looks Jaime right in the eye: “She never fooled you,” he says. “You always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway.” And he continues up the stairs.
Up on the parapet—note they’ve somehow embedded dragonglass spikes into the sides of the walls, which is a brilliant little touch here—Tyrion talks about his impending death, that he always assumed it would be at age 80 with a bellyful of a wine and a woman’s mouth around his cock… a sentiment that makes Jaime not only smirk, but finish the sentence word for word. This moment not only is a quiet nod that the brothers know each other better than they think, but also shows just how far Tyrion has come. He says he always assumed that would be his death, but that hasn’t been a scenario for Tyrion for several years now; that’s the Tyrion of old. And that’s also the Tyrion Jaime knows best, unfortunately. But Tyrion then adds that at least Cersei won’t get to murder him. Could this be foreshadowing? Will he survive the White Walkers only to find his death at Cersei’s hand in King’s Landing?
And for Jaime Reunion #3, he meets up with Brienne, who is admiring Podrick as he fights with aplomb. Amazing to think this is the same Pod who could barely wield a dagger in the early days. Jaime and Brienne exchange some soldier small talk for a short while before she loses it on him, wondering what game he’s playing by talking to her without insulting her. If he’s not smack-talking her, she doesn’t know how to handle him. But Jaime becomes contrite, and tells her he’s no longer the fighter he once was, but he’d be honoured to fight under her command. This is the first of two amazing moments for Brienne in this episode; in this one, a lifetime of being an outcast culminates in the admiration and acceptance of the greatest swordsman Westeros has ever known. I wanted to stand up and cheer, because Brienne is one of the greatest of GRRM’s creations, and I’ve always wanted her to have this recognition. All Brienne manages in this moment is a brief nod, before she excuses herself quickly and leaves him standing there. So we’ll all do the cheering for her.
And next, Daenerys meets up with her former Hand of the Queen …
Christopher: …who has some wise advice for her. To wit: “Your Grace, we’ve been emphasizing Tyrion’s mistakes an awful lot over the last few episodes, which means that, according to the laws of narrative, he’s due for a massive eureka moment that will probably save us all.” Jorah’s defense of Tyrion is consonant with the tone of both this episode and the last one, which is to say, unlikely people stepping up to have the backs of former rivals—Arya telling Jon that Sansa is the smartest person she knows, Brienne vouching for Jaime, and in the scene that follows, Sansa also defending Tyrion. Much of this episode is like a long, nervous inhalation, and the survivors of seven seasons of blood and grief find camaraderie with people that, once upon a time, they were trying to kill.
Case in point: the lovely scene that follows in which Daenerys attempts a rapprochement with Sansa. The tension simmering between the Northerners and Daenerys’ people finds politely subtle expression in the look Bronze Yohn Royce gives Daenerys as he exits, but the conversation between Daenerys and Sansa seems to promise that the two women might just be able to find common ground—if nothing else than their shared loathing of Cersei Lannister, but Daenerys also points out that “We both know what it’s like to lead people who aren’t inclined to accept a woman’s rule.” This, and her observation that they’re both damned good at it makes some headway with Sansa—at any rate, a smile ghosts across her otherwise imperturbable face (SO MUCH good face acting in this episode, but Sophie Turner takes them all to school).
Daenerys is smart enough to intuit that at least part of Sansa’s worry is about Jon; Sansa points out that men can do impulsive and irrational things for love, which if she were talking about anyone else might seem uncharitable; but Sansa knows all too well Jon’s impulsivity and willful blindness is a fundamental element of his character. Blinded by his hatred of Ramsay Bolton, he ignored her advice before the Battle of the Bastards; she then watched him as he broke ranks and charged the enemy alone (without a helmet on, no less), precipitating precisely what their outmanned forces could not afford, which was to charge the enemy’s greater numbers. Were it not for the deus ex machina of the Knights of the Vale, Jon’s reign as King in the North would have ended almost as soon as it started.
Sansa knows this all too well, and thus is not wrong to worry that her brother might be acting according to the directives of something other than his brain. But Daenerys makes a good point: she has put her lifelong quest for the Iron Throne on hold for the time being, brought her armies to the North while the hated Cersei sits unmolested (except perhaps by Euron) in King’s Landing, and indeed lost one of her dragons because she was convinced of the virtue and necessity of fighting Jon’s war. And yes, she loves him, but she makes clear that the reasons are more than merely hormonal. “I trust him. And I know he’s true to his word. He’s only the second man in my life I can say that about.”
And a moment of levity: “Who was the first?” Sansa asks. “Someone taller,” Daenerys replies. I kind of wish she had continued: “And broader. You know, through the shoulders. And chest. Just, you know, generally bigger. Really, you could fit two Jon Snows in one Drogo thigh.” “What happened to him?” “Oh, king of the oceans now, or something. I didn’t really follow. More of a Marvel person, myself.” At which Sansa nods. “Damn straight.”
Of course, it always comes back around to the question of Daenerys’ intentions. Assuming everything goes well for our heroes—a big assumption—Sansa wants to know whether the North will have its freedom. “What about the North?” she demands, and the nice moment they’d been having is broken as Daenerys snatches away the sisterly hand she’d been resting on Sansa’s. It seems that bending the knee remains her deal breaker.
Fortunately, she doesn’t have to answer, as they’re interrupted with the news of a new arrival: Theon, whose presence surprises Daenerys and delights Sansa. He delivers the news that his sister will be retaking the Iron Islands for the Queen, but as far as he is concerned, “I want to fight for Winterfell, Lady Sansa. If you’ll have me.” Which, well, of course she will. More great face-acting from Sophie Turner here—more emotion that she’s shown, really, since the last time Theon pledged his loyalty to her. In an episode with many emotional moments, this was a big one.
Cut from there to Davos ladling out soup … which seems a bit odd. I know Davos is a salt-of-the-earth person, a commoner elevated for his service, but he’s one of Jon Snow’s principal advisors. Doesn’t he have more important things to do than play lunch-lady? Perhaps this is just the sort of thing he does to take his mind of affairs of state? One way or another, it gives him a chance to also ladle out encouragement to nervous men and to reassure a little girl—with an assist from Gilly—that she can be just as brave protecting the people hiding out in the crypts.
OK … so you know that old saying about how a gun on the wall in act one must be fired by the end of the play? I’ve already mentioned that Tyrion will probably use his big brain to do something brilliant sooner rather than later, which is a good bet because so much was made about his mistakes. Now I’m starting to get a little worried about the crypts. In every other scene, it seems, we’re told, promised, and reassured that the crypts are the safest place in Winterfell. Have anyone else’s alarm bells been ringing? Because it occurs to me that when your enemy’s big party trick is RAISING THE DEAD, possibly the best place to seek refuge is not somewhere FILLED WITH DEAD BODIES.
“All right,” says the brave little moppet, “I’ll defend the crypt, then.” I have a really bad feeling that kid’s eyes are going to be a somewhat brighter shade of blue before all this is over.
Davos and Gilly however, blind to the alarm bells, exchange smiles, and then are distracted by the sound of a horn. New arrivals!
Nikki: Speaking of face acting, I think Liam Cunningham is absolutely superb in this scene. Like you, I thought, why is he managing the soup kitchen?? Though, in an episode of reminders of each character’s fealty to their families, perhaps he’s paying homage to the Seaworths in this moment. I have no doubt there are onions in that soup.
But that little girl. What a punch in the gut to have a little girl walk up who has half her face scarred by a trauma from her past. The way he looks at her, his eyes speaking volumes but his face betraying nothing to her… it was nothing short of a tour de force performance in this moment. A lesser show would immediately flash to Shireen sitting by him in her dark room at Dragonstone, teaching Ser Davos how to read. Back to the little Oliver Twist girl holding out her bowl of soup, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Another flash to Shireen burning at the stake, screaming for mercy as her father looks on, a scene that Ser Davos could only imagine these past few years, seeing as he was off with Jon Snow at the time. But this isn’t a lesser show, and they don’t need these flashbacks, because they have actors like Liam Cunningham who show us the flashbacks just through their eyes. This little girl, the mirror image of Shireen—whose scars are on the right side of her face to Shireen’s left—gutted me.
But then we get to the return of the wildlings and the Night’s Watch (which consists of Tollett as the [funk] sole remaining brother), and Tormund tackling Jon with all the gusto Tormund usually has. They update him on the state of the Umber house, mercifully leaving out the gory Wheel of Limbs details (though I’m sure those will come later) and explain that “whoever’s not here is now with them.” Meaning a TON of people have joined the Army of the Dead.
And then, to the delight of every fan, Tormund says quickly, “The big woman still here?”
We then cut to Jon giving his Churchill “we will fight them on the battlefields” speech, standing before a map that’s curiously like the opening credits, right down to the little blue rectangles that represent the icy demons of the dead that are descending upon them from the North, and I couldn’t help but think, “Who had time to put this together?! Like, shouldn’t that person have been fashioning dragonglass spears or something??”
They know they have until sun-up to prepare for the impending doom: in other words, for most of them, this will be their last night. As Jon outlines their advantages and disadvantages, from out of nowhere Bran begins talking. “When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide then I stop and I turn and I go for a ride, then I get to the bottom and I see you again.” :::crickets::: “Pinky ponky pogo.” :::confused looks::: “Where I come from, the birds sing a pretty song and there’s always music in the air.” :::jazz music begins playing, Tyrion fights the urge to dance:::
“He’ll come for me,” he says, silencing the room as Bran is wont to do. “He’s tried before, many times with many three-eyed ravens.” Cut to “da fuck?!” faces throughout the room. Quick reminder: Bran has had visions of the Three-Eyed Raven, an old man, many times since his fall. We had that whole bit where Bran discovered the children of the forest, who were involved in a war thousands of years ago with the First Men, who were slaughtering them. The children created the White Walkers to vanquish the men. When Bran wargs to a scene involving the Night King, Blue Eyes can actually see Bran and grabs him, forcing Bran to wake up and remove himself from the vision. This is very different from the other moments where he would watch a scene involving his father, for example, and Ned couldn’t see him. The White Walkers kill the Three-Eyed Raven while Hodor protects Bran by holding the door (waaaahhhhh), and Benjen Stark appears, taking Bran out of there and saying the Three-Eyed Raven lives again, presumably through Bran.
Interestingly, in one vision quest with the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran asks if he’ll ever walk again. No, says TER, but you’ll fly. Could we see the result of that prediction next week? Will Bran be on a dragon? Will he fly on his own? Was it just meant to refer to the flights in his visions?
But back to the scene at hand: Bran basically tells them to use him as bait, putting him in the Godswood to draw the Night King to him. “He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory.” Sam is the only one who truly understands in a beautifully epic speech that sums up so much of the purpose of this episode: “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, just animals.” He looks at Bran. “Your memories don’t come from books, your stories aren’t just stories. If I wanted to erase the world of men I’d start with you.”
The rest of the Stark siblings will have none of it. Jon wants him in the crypts, Sansa and Arya say no way Jose, but Bran insists he must stay in the Godswood. And that’s when Theon pipes up, saying he’ll stand with Bran and defend him. Theon. THEON. The guy I’ve pretty much despised from the beginning, played delightfully despicably by Alfie Allen for all these seasons, so sneering and entitled in the beginning, so dark and evil when he kills two innocent farmer’s boys to hang them from Winterfell and make everyone think he’s killed the two youngest Starks. So inept as he’s tricked by Ramsay Bolton. So victimized by Ramsay that the Theon of old dies a horrible, torturous death to be replaced by the servile and pathetic Reek, and like a phoenix, out of the ashes of Reek rises Theon, a man missing the symbol of masculinity, but a man who is more of a man than many of the others in that room, who is still weak, but saves Yara, saves Sansa, and tries to redeem himself over and over. I fear this will be the final redemption for Theon, but it’s the one the truly counts: it’s the one where he finally stops being Ned’s ward and becomes a member of the Stark family.
Next is Tyrion and Ser Davos talking about how they will signal the arrival of the dead, and Daenerys begins to parrot what Ser Jorah tells her, explaining she needs Tyrion for his mind and that he must stay down in the crypts. Of course, now that you’ve espoused your theory, Chris, I’m TERRIFIED about Tyrion being down there. But perhaps that might be the moment you mentioned, where he comes up with a strategy that saves the innocents who have been sent there? Gods willing.
After discussing the dragon placement, Jon Snow awkwardly leaves the room rather than confront his auntie, and everyone else follows suit, leaving Tyrion and Bran in a room together. As night descends, everyone begins to pair up with others as they wait out their final hours, and Tyrion decides the story of Bran might be an interesting one. Methinks he’s going to learn something through this conversation that he’ll use later in the crypts.
And then #WinterfellSoWhite (your awesome hashtag from last week) reacts to Grey Worm and Missandei, while Sam wonders why Jon hasn’t told his auntie the truth yet.
Christopher: There’s recently posted YouTube video of George R.R. Martin in conversation with Marlon James, the Jamaican novelist who won the Man-Booker prize in 2015 for A Brief History of Seven Killings, which is about (in part) the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. James recently published Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first novel in a fantasy trilogy that eschews the standard neo-medieval European setting and mythos to which the genre has traditionally hewn; James’ novel (which I only recently started reading—it is, so far, amazing) is instead African and Afro-Caribbean in its sensibilities, themes, and tropes. He wrote it, as he says in his discussion with GRRM and countless other interviews, because he has always loved fantasy, but never saw people like himself as characters.
I bring this up in part because even in the eight years Game of Thrones has been aired and taken the television world by storm, we’ve also seen significant—not huge, but significant—changes in SF/F in terms of an increasing number of female, queer, and PoC voices finding prominence. Case in point: African-American fantasist N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo award for best novel three years in a row, each win by a novel in her Broken Earth trilogy, the first time in the history of the Hugos that has happened. (I honestly cannot recommend her work enough).
I bring this up because I want to both laud GRRM’s innovations in the genre and acknowledge the series’ limitations. I won’t get into it here, because these posts already run somewhat long, but the TL;DR is that GRRM has had a seismic effect on fantasy comparable to Tolkien, which, I would argue, has facilitated a much greater diversification of voices. At the same time … well, #WinterfellSoWhite, and the same can be said for Westeros more generally. GRRM has changed the rules of the game, but without changing the generic tendencies of his own storytelling—which is why what racial politics we have in the show are reduced to Missandei being dissed by a pair of ignorant kids, whose behaviour we can deplore without being required to interrogate it in any depth.
(Again, not getting into the weeds on this, but I’m happy to discuss it if you want to hit me up in the comments).
All that being said, that moment of provincial racism sets up a touching and poignant moment between Missandei and Grey Worm that also functions as a recognition that this is not our home. Missandei wants to return to her home on the island of Naath; Grey Worm wants to take her there, and says that once Daenerys has taken her rightful throne, he feels no more compunction to stay with her.
It’s a small scene and a touching one—honestly, if anyone deserves a tropical vacation, it’s these two—but I found it nagging at me a little on rewatching. Daenerys has the power she does because of the Unsullied and the Dothraki, both of which pledged loyalty and crossed the Narrow Sea with her. It is obvious they inspire fear and suspicion among the Westerosians, ameliorated in the present moment because of the more dangerous enemy on their doorstep. But what happens when/if Daenerys takes the throne? Do her subjects from Essos stay and take up residence in the Seven Kingdoms? Do they go home, as Missandei and Grey Worm plan? Or do they remain a standing army to threaten dissidents?
Or perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. I should ask these questions again after the big battle, I suppose. Who knows whether anyone’s going to survive.
We then shift to Sam and Jon on the battlements, staring into the dark, with Sam—as you say, Nikki—asking Jon whether he’s given Daenerys the news yet. When Jon says no, Sam nods, saying “Biding your time. Being careful. Waiting for the perfect—” at which point he’s cut off by a look from Jon. Because, really Sam? What precisely would be the perfect moment to tell your lover that she’s actually your aunt and, oh, yeah, you have the better claim to the throne she’s been through hell to claim?
Sam at least has the good grace to look abashed.
The best part of this scene is the return of Ghost, who stands behind them quite cheerfully, looking at Jon as if to say, “OMG, there’s my hooman! I missed him so much!” No explanation for his absence … he’s just there. And you know what? I’ll take it. I just hope the writers give him some badass moments in the battle to make up for neglecting him.
Then we get the appearance of Dolorous Edd Tollett, and a callback to when he and Jon and Sam—and Grenn and Pyp—bonded in their early days of the Night Watch. “And now our watch begins,” Edd says, which for some reason makes Jon inquire about Gilly and Little Sam. “They’ll be safe,” he says, “down in the crypt.” FUCK. Stop saying that, people!
Again, a good chunk of this episode seems to be about people sharing their bona fides, stripping their sleeves, as it were, to show their scars (which Bran literally does). When Jon suggests to Sam he might want to join Gilly and Little Sam in the crypt—because, y’know, it’s so damned safe down there—Sam takes that moment to remind his friends that he is not without feats of his own to brag about … and I kind of love the fact that, in Sam’s mind, being the first to kill a White Walker is more or less on par with stealing books from the Citadel. That’s a frood who knows where his librarian’s at.
Then we’re in the Great Hall, empty but for a roaring fire and the Lannister brothers having some wine and reminiscing about the days when they weren’t quite so fucked by fate. Jaime the Lion, Tyrion the whoremonger … neither role either of them can ever return to. As they sit there, they’re joined by more and more people seeking out the warmth of the fire, and it turns into something of an old home week celebration. It’s appropriate that the first arrivals are Brienne and Pod—Jaime’s former antagonist, and Tyrion’s former lackey, who have, through the coincidence of their former associations, become one of the more endearing character pairings in the series.
What did you think of this episode’s fireside chat, Nikki?
Nikki: You’re right, the people who end up at the fireside chat have been enemies and outcasts, and here they all are, together in the final hours of humanity. Brienne has taken on a mentor/mother role with Podrick, at first telling him he can’t drink at all and then relenting that he can have half a cup (which Tyrion then pours until it overflows, hiding it from Brienne as they both smirk like naughty boys). They’re immediately joined by Ser Davos, who’s come for the warmth of the fire and rejects the offer of a drink, and Tormund, whose reunion with Brienne we’ve been waiting for this whole time—and Gwendolyn Christie’s facial expressions do NOT disappoint.
Tormund wastes no time reminding Brienne that this could be their last night in this world, while Jaime looks on partly confused, partly amused. Brienne stammers that she’s happy he’s alive, and Tyrion offers him a drink, whereupon Tormund holds up his giant wildling horn and says, “Brought my own.” And then he asks if anyone wants to hear why he’s called Giantsbane.
Tormund: Let me sit right down and tell you.
And then he proceeds to tell one of the funniest stories ever recounted on the series, where he’d killed a giant when he was 10, then crawled into bed with the giant’s wife, who suckled him at her teat for three months thinking he was a baby. The story is outrageous and makes zero sense, but the way he tells it—followed by the looks everyone gives each other, and then Tormund chugging back some sort of milky beer substance and letting it slop down his front as if giving a demonstration of what it was like in that woman’s bed for three months—raises it to the level of absolute comic beauty. But it’s Ser Davos who gets the punchline: “Maybe I will have that drink.”
Arya and the Hound were together for a long time, and when he last saw her she was a little girl who talked tough and could fight, but wasn’t the warrior she is now. Now she’s an adult, and he has this grudging respect—almost affection—for her. “When’s the last time you fought for anyone but yourself?” she asks, and he answers, “I fought for you, didn’t I?” And you realize what a special place she actually holds for him.
When Beric shows up with his velvety smoker’s voice, he begins talking about the Lord of Light. He doesn’t get far when the Hound cuts him off mid-sentence. “Thoros isn’t here anymore so I hope you’re not about to give a sermon. ’Cause if you are, the Lord of Light is going to wonder why he brought you back 19 times just to watch you die when I chuck you over this fucking wall.” Beric holds out his hand for a drink, and Arya sees that as her moment to leave. “I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable old shits,” she says.
Arya has other plans. Gendry has made her the spear she wanted (which looks amazing) and he’s looking at her in a different light now—he’d just seen her display with the dragonglass daggers, and he knows she’s not the little kid pretending to be a boy that he met back in season 2. He quickly admits that he’s Robert Baratheon’s bastard, stopping her in her tracks, and things escalate quickly from there. I’ll admit it; I was a little creeped out at first. She’s still little Arya to me, as she is to so many people, the young girl who watched her father Ned die what feels like a lifetime ago, but also feels like it was last week. And yet here we are, with Maisie Williams all grown up and in a nude scene. And frankly, we should rejoice, because as much as we’re looking at this like it’s our daughter or a niece or a kid who seems too young to be doing this (she’s not), it also has to be one of the healthiest sex scenes we’ve seen on the show yet: Arya instigates it, she undresses herself. She’s not taken by force, nor is he. These are two people who’ve known each other a long time, whose fathers were best friends. They’re reuniting and trying to relearn things about each other, but Arya is in as much control of the situation as Gendry, and it’s a rather beautiful moment. Sex really can be a healthy, beautiful thing in Westeros.
And speaking of women in control, we now move back to the ongoing fireside chat with our lovely band of misfits. After Tyrion talks about how they might all live through this battle (meaning they most definitely will NOT), Tormund says he can’t believe Brienne isn’t a knight. She’s pretty blasé about it, shaking her head and saying women can’t be knights, and she’s never wanted to be one anyway (her face says the exact opposite). Tormund says he’d make her a knight many times over if he’d been a king. And that’s when Jaime suddenly announces any knight can make another knight. Tormund has a look on his face like it’s Christmas morning, and Brienne just scoffs. Earlier in this episode she said she was uncomfortable with Jaime being so nice to her for so long, and watch her body language in this scene, the way she continues to scoff and pretend she doesn’t care about this because she knows she’s about to be the butt of an enormous prank. Jaime’s going to get her to swing her leg back and then he’s going to pull that football out of the way.
But he doesn’t. As her face begins to register that oh my god, maybe he’s not joking, and she slowly kneels before him, the others stand in awe, watching the Kingslayer knight a woman who might be the greatest fighter of the realm, and they have the honour of bearing witness to such an event. Brienne’s face shines as her eyes well up, and I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t watch this with a dry eye. In this moment, Jaime realizes they live in a new world, where “tradition” doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be. One of the most dangerous sentences in our modern language is, “Because that’s how we’ve always done it.” And Jaime says fuck that, we’re doing it another way now.
This moment might be my favourite one in the entire series. Ser Brienne of Tarth, a champion from the moment we laid eyes on her, gets one of the best episodes of the series named for her. God, I hope this doesn’t mean she won’t make it past the next episode.
Were you blubbering through this scene like I was, Chris?
Christopher: Pretty much. Even just reading your description of the scene is making me a little verklempt. What makes the scene particularly powerful, once again, is some fantastic face-acting … Gwendolyn Christie here gives Sophie Turner a run for her money. It is completely understated: her lip just quivers, her eyes go moist but don’t actually well up. The payoff is the incredulous little grin she gives at the end, which is basically when the waterworks started for me.
It is also a hugely powerful scene simply because of these two characters’ history. As you point out, Nikki, Brienne is obviously inclined to see this as a likely prank. When it proves otherwise, it is as much a statement on Jaime’s redemption as on Brienne’s virtues. My read is that, in knighting Brienne, Jaime is expressing gratitude: his redemption began with his association with her, first as her prisoner, then as her rescuer, and now it culminates with him as her comrade-in-arms. The story he might have told Daenerys about how he came to kill the Mad King he’d told Brienne back at Harrenhal in season three, and it was our first glimpse into the greater complexity of Jaime Lannister—the necessary act that saved King’s Landing, for which everyone was secretly grateful but did not hesitate to label him the morally bankrupt “Kingslayer.” The louche, amoral Jaime we met at the beginning of the series was a mask, scar tissue built up over years of feigned indifference to people’s contempt. Given that it was Brienne that was a major factor in him sloughing off that persona, it is eminently appropriate that Jaime should be the one to validate her own long saga of being a figure of ridicule and contempt (and the fact that it is Tormund who makes the suggestion to start with—and the most enthusiastic applauder—is the icing).
So, yeah. As you say, hopefully this doesn’t mean she’s now marked for death.
From there, we finally get a moment addressing an irksome point I raised in our last post, i.e. the seeming indifference of the northerners to the presence of Jorah Mormont. Sam makes his way down into the courtyard to where Jorah is having words with Lyanna (who, I should correct my previous error, is his cousin and not his niece). His avuncular concern for her and suggestion that she should hole up in the crypts where she’ll be “safe” (stop saying that!) has, not unpredictably, gone over like a lead balloon. Kitted out in full armour, she declares that she will not hide, and that she will fight for her people. Which surprises precisely no one. Still, she seems to accord Jorah a certain respect, so one assumes the past crime for which he went into exile has been, if not forgiven, then at least forgotten.
As she leaves, Sam approaches, his family sword in hand. “You still have a family,” Jorah says gently, referring to Gilly and Little Sam; and yes, Sam would love to use the sword to defend them, but “I can’t hold it upright.” More importantly though, Sam feels keenly the debt he owes to Jorah’s late father Jeor, formerly Lord Commander of the Night Watch. “Your father,” says Sam, “taught me how to be a man. How to do what’s right. This is right.” And he hands Jorah the sword. “I’ll wield it in his memory,” says Jorah, obviously somewhat overwhelmed. “To guard the realms of men.”
I love the symmetry of this moment. The first time I watched this scene, I thought whoa … isn’t that a little excessive? Valyrian steel is one of the most precious commodities in, well, the world, making a sword like Heartsbane literally priceless. In one of the novels (A Storm of Swords, I think) it is revealed that in spite of being the wealthiest of the major houses, the Lannisters never possessed a Valyrian steel sword, and Tywin went to great lengths to try and acquire one—but so precious are they that even impoverished houses preferred to hold onto their heirlooms rather than sell them. Then after the execution of Ned Stark with the Stark sword Ice, Tywin had Ice melted down and forged into two new swords, one for Joffrey as a wedding gift, and one for Jaime. Jaime gave his to Brienne and charged her to fulfill her promise to Catelyn Stark. Jon Snow’s Valyrian sword Longclaw was originally House Mormont’s, but since Jorah’s ignominy and exile left Bear Island without a male heir, Jeor gave the sword to Jon (though I think Lyanna might be annoyed with that now).
And now, something resembling full circle: Sam, expressing his gratitude to Jeor Mormont, giving his own family sword to the redeemed and deserving Jorah. It’s not Hand of the Queen, but it’s a pretty decent compensation.
“I’ll see you when it’s through,” says Sam with an optimism belied by his next words, “I hope we win.”
And then we’re back to the fireside, with Tyrion determined to keep the party going. “No, let’s stay a bit longer!” he protests when Jaime suggests getting some rest. (Which is easy for Tyrion to say, as he’ll be holed up in the crypts—you know, where it’s safe). “We’re out of wine,” says Davos, as sure an indication that the party is about to break up as any. Unless … “How about a song?” suggests Tyrion, and goes around the circle, meeting with many shaken heads, until we learn that Podrick has been hiding his star under a bushel. Singing in a mellifluous tenor, he shows us that Westeros has more music on offer than just “The Rains of Castemere” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The song he sings is “Jenny’s Song,” and while this is the first we’ve heard of it in the show, it has rather a deeper significance in the novels. Pod sings:
High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts.
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most.
The ones who’d been gone for so very long
She couldn’t remember their names
They spun her around on the damp cold stone
Spun away all her sorrow and pain
And she never wanted to leave
Never wanted to leave.
Never wanted to leave.
Never wanted to leave.
Never wanted to leave.
Never wanted to leave.
Very quickly: the song appears in the novels when a wood witch called the Ghost of High Heart demands it be sung in payment for a prophecy. The suggestion is that it is about a friend of hers from her youth, Jenny Oldstones, who had an ill-fated affair with Prince Duncan Targaryen, who abdicated his throne for her—which is how Aerys II, aka the Mad King, ended up being crowned.
There is also a fan theory that the song itself was written by none other than Rhaegar Targaryen, and that he sang it to Lyanna Stark. Certainly we get a hint at that when Daenerys comes up to Jon in the crypts (you know, the safe place) and mentions that her brother Rhaegar was known for his love of singing.
But as Pod sings the mournful song, we get a montage of people waiting for the inevitable—notably, pairs of people with powerful connections: Sam and Gilly, Arya and Gendry, Sansa and Theon, and, perhaps most poignantly, Missandei and Grey Worm. The only person pictured alone in this sequence is Jorah, astride his horse and staring into the darkness … his solitude, juxtaposed with the companionship just depicted, is heartbreaking and reflects on the solitude he has carried throughout the series.
And the song ends with Daenerys entering the crypts to find Jon. And … well, you tell it, Nikki.
Nikki: First of all, thank you for the sword recap. When Sam handed the sword to Jorah I was so thrilled to have this moment, but simultaneously thought, “I’m really losing track of which sword is which.” And if I’d been Brienne in that Podrick scene I’d have been like, “ALL THOSE DAYS we were on horseback together, riding silently through boring countrysides, and you never once let me know you could sing like this?!” Loved that scene.
But yes, earlier in this episode Sam asked Jon Snow if he was waiting for the perfect time to tell Dany the truth, and only upon hearing his own words he realized how ridiculous they sounded. So, instead, Jon chooses the worst possible time ever to tell this woman about to go into battle that, oh, by the way, he actually has a claim to the Iron Throne, too, but don’t worry, hon, we can discuss all this when we both make it through this battle alive.
GULP. Just a sec, there, Jon, I need to touch up the paint here on this target you’ve just drawn on your back…
This is a beautifully shot scene in what I’m now convinced is the ill-fated crypt (that is, mysteriously, completely empty, like wouldn’t they have begun ushering all those people down here by now?!) When Daenerys approaches Jon, he’s staring at the statue of Lyanna. He gives her the weakest smile ever, like one your kid would do on picture day when they remember you saying they need to smile in this one. She asks who the statue is, and he tells her. And to her credit, she shows nothing but sympathy to this woman, even though by doing so she’s betraying the memory of her brother Rhaegar. She says that everyone told him he was so decent and kind, that he was charitable and brought happiness to people, and yet he raped this woman. Even though we all know Jon’s about the deliver the ultimate, “So about that…” it’s still worth pausing to note that she’s grown up with this contradiction about her brother her whole life, and how difficult that must have been to grapple with. She’s told that he was kind and good, and yet he raped a woman. She believes this because as horrible as Viserys could be, he had moments of caring for her as a child, but then could turn hostile, as we’ve seen.
But Jon begins telling a different story—about the secret marriage, her son, Ned taking the baby… that that baby, Aegon Targaryen, is standing before her right now. Daenerys’s face is the perfect picture of bafflement. In one minute he has changed her entire world view. Since her brother Viserys died, she has been the last living heir of the House Targaryen. She’s travelled the countryside, building up loyalty and trust wherever she goes in a bid to be queen, and here comes this upstart at the last minute going, “Oh hey, my dad’s CEO, so…”
She immediately states the obvious, how convenient it is that the only people with this information were Jon’s brother and best friend, but he insists it’s true. He doesn’t absolve her worry—“You have a claim to the Iron Throne”—because the horn is blown that the White Walkers have arrived. Noticeably, Jon turns to the sound of the horn, but Dany doesn’t take her stricken eyes off his face. Maybe it’s in that moment she realized “oh my god you’re also my nephew.”
Outside on the wall, Tyrion stands at the parapet while Jon and Dany join him. Jon nods to Daenerys, who simply walks away. Well this is GREAT.
And then the music swells and we cut to the massive, massive army of White Walkers standing about a mile from the castle before we cut to the end credits, and Florence + the Machine singing “Jenny’s Song.” I couldn’t help but think when we have that quick cut of the dead, though, that the two men with long white hair on horses could easily be the Mad King and Viserys. Of course, they all have white hair, so… there goes that theory.
And that’s it until next week, where the showrunners have announced next week’s battle episode will be the longest battle sequence in television history, and will be the longest episode of Game of Thrones ever, at 82 minutes. It took EIGHT WEEKS to film this over 55 nights. So, first of all, how lucky are we to be here to experience such an extraordinary thing (most movies don’t take that long to film, I would think) but secondly, let’s take our last remaining days to think about this episode some more and be thankful that, for these final days at least, everyone alive in this episode is still alive.
Until next week’s slaughter, thank you, as always, for reading this far. We’ll see you next week!