If it were your last living night in Westeros, how would you spend it? Moaning and drinking up on a castle wall with the Hound and Beric? Curled up with Gilly and a good book? (We don’t see Sam reading, but come on, we know he is.) Sitting around a warm fire with a veritable who’s who of your favorites, including Pod, bearer of a magical penis AND a completely lovely singing voice? This second episode, the last before the big hourlong Battle of Winterfell kicks off, is a smartly stitched-together Waiting for Godot (except, you know, the Night King is actually going to show up at the end of all this) that flips through a bucket list of what we want for some of our most beloved Westerosi. It’s nostalgic, it’s heartwarming, AND it features a sex scene more truly sexy than the 10,000 sets of tits that have come before it on Game of Thrones. We laughed, we cried (along with Brienne), and this episode became a part of us.
But first, before the White Walkers ascend that distant hill that Ser Brienne will defend from the left flank, a few things are left hanging in the balance.
It was inevitable that Jaime wouldn’t be ripped limb from limb or dragged naked behind a horse for ten miles or any of the other torturous deaths that Viserys and Daenerys must have imagined for him as children growing up exiled in Essos. I mean, we’ve all seen him in the season-eight trailer, standing ready to fight in the Battle of Winterfell.
Jaime’s presence was always going to be, oh, a wee bit bothersome, especially for the woman whose father he murdered and the family whose brother he pushed out a window with a nasty, sexy little “The things we do for love.” (Did you catch that whizbanger from the Three-Eyed Raven?) But like the Grinch, Jaime’s heart has grown three sizes since he nearly murdered a tween who peeped on him screwing his twin sister. In fact, he now, suddenly, even realizes that screwing said sister was wrong, and manages to joke about it. And oddly enough, him and Daenerys have almost entirely switched roles over the years. She started as a timid child in a see-through dress being sold off to a barbarian king and now she can’t seem to stop herself from roasting alive the people who piss her off. Jaime was once “the golden lion” who stabbed Ned Stark’s righthand man Jory in the eye and raped Cersei on the stone cold ground next to their dead child. Now he’s off knighting women and signing up as an enlisted man in the Stark army.
All of which only highlights the fact that Daenerys is losing her grip on ruling. First she’s forced to admit Jaime to Winterfell despite her own desires, then she belittles Tyrion despite the fact that his mistake in trusting Cersei was her mistake, too. Tyrion defends her to Jaime, saying she’s different from other Targaryens, but the evidence for such a claim is slowly disintegrating.
As for that heart-to-heart between Sansa and Daenerys in the war room we had literally never seen until this season, theorists have been predicting that they’d be at each other’s throats this season, as if any time two women in power come together they can’t help but tear each other to pieces more thoroughly than Ramsay’s dogs. (Speaking of, will those dogs be used in the upcoming battle? Hope nobody has been feeding them!) It unfortunately turns out that the theorists were right, and Daenerys and Sansa — who is wearing the sickest black leather jerkin in existence — can’t reconcile their irreconcilable difference that, according to Sansa, the North should remain free of the Seven Kingdoms. But this exquisitely done scene had layer upon layer of artifice and struggle, with each woman at times faking support for the other (Sansa: “I should have thanked you.”), dodging in and out of each other’s blind spots with smiles more pointed than any daggers. (Have you ever seen Daenerys smile that wide?) But you have to hand it to Sansa, she not only maintains her hold on exactly what she wants out of the conversation, but she is also one of the few people who tells Daenerys exactly what she thinks of her and points out the Khaleesi’s biggest mistake so far: trusting Cersei.
The War Council goes almost exactly as expected. The plan is to kill the Night King — although they, WHOOPS, don’t exactly know how — and shut down his motherboard so the rest of the walkers fall. Apparently he’ll come for Bran, who bears his mark. “He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory,” Bran says. Is this really proper motivation for the leader of a Dead Army to plow through a castle that’s booby-trapped better than Kevin McAllister’s house? No, but let’s roll with it. In a spirit of honor, Theon volunteers to protect Bran and nobody argues But Theon, you lose every battle you fight! which has me questioning Jon’s skill as a commander. Regardless, the board is set, the pieces are moving, we come to it at last.
And then the long night before the Long Night begins.
Game of Thrones seems a bit desperate to tie up all the loose ends of its unmarried women, like Jane Austen weaseled her way into the writers’ room this season and insisted that everyone make a proper match. Daenerys has buddied up with her nephew Jon, Tormund is swinging for the fences with Brienne, poor Cersei is off entertaining Euron somewhere. It’s almost irritating how badly they think these women need partners. But the scenes with Arya and Gendry are my new steamy, forged-in-fire religion. She whips that boy into shape. Yes, it’s a little weird that he knew her as a child (remember people, we can estimate that at least six years have gone by, and since Arya was 11 in season one, she’s now at least 17, which is a perfectly acceptable age for sexual conquest in the Seven Kingdoms) but this isn’t the writers selling Arya off so she can have a man.
It’s a reclaiming of femininity in the way Arya wants to display it. It’s no accident that this episode flashes between Brienne obtaining professional fulfillment against all odds at the same time Arya is literally rolling in the hay with Gendry. Arya is an assassin, sure, and she breaks every conceivable gender norm. But just because she protested as a child that she never wanted to be a lady doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to screw a man — she can dress in men’s clothes and still want to rip Gendry’s pants off.
And this scene was fire. And smoke. (Literally, every time she walked in the foundry there was actual smoke exploding off metal.) Maisie Williams practically smolders she puts off so much heat. With her perfect bullseyes and her blazing dragonglass-throwing, it calls back season one, when the only way she could pick up a bow was to best Bran during his lesson. In the sexiest move imaginable, she asks Gendry to make a weapon for her and then demonstrates how goddam capable she is of twirling that thing around him in circles. Which has us wondering: The double-dragonglass-ended stick Gendry builds for Arya is essentially a souped-up version of the stick the Waif wielded so ably and then taught blind Arya to use. Needle will be no use to her against walkers, so it makes sense she’d want a different weapon. But isn’t it … interesting that we never truly saw Arya kill the Waif, and now Arya (or the person wearing her face) wants the kind of stick the Waif was most comfortable with?
As for comfort, the episode’s best moments, hands down, took place around that one roaring fire that attracted Tyrion and Jaime, and then Brienne, Pod, Tormund, and Davos. It’s every great ’80s party movie rolled into one, with too much booze, some unexpected singing, and a glorious act of redemption. Oh, and a lot of tears.
Jaime and Brienne are the show’s best duo for a reason. I want to go on and on about how fulfilling it was to see them drop the banter (“We have never had a conversation last this long without you insulting me!”), but anybody’s words will ruin what might be the show’s most sacred moment, when a man honors his vows and a woman finally earns her due. Brienne’s knighthood was a gorgeous sight. Brienne the Beauty, indeed.
The thing I couldn’t help but notice about this scene — and perhaps the entire episode — is that it acted like a last hurrah for the viewers, too. A chance to sit around the fire with some people we love and see them in all their glory. Gentle Pod sings a gentle song. Tyrion cracks jokes and drinks bad wine. Tormund offers a truly brainfucking anecdote about once suckling a woman’s breast at 10 years old and thinks that this story shows him in a great light. Brienne and Jaime reach the highest potential their relationship offers, and bestow on one another the life-changing magic of complete and total trust. We’re being set up to say good-bye.
As for our two principals, is it possible this episode was so enjoyable because it lacked the looming presence of a certain Sad Boi and his fiery dragon queen? Daenerys, who I’d like you all to admit is a terrible queen, thank you very much, shows herself a few times, but Jon is almost nowhere to be seen, punting on the question of whether to admit Jaime into their ranks and then sliding away from Dany every chance he gets, until she literally corners him in front of his mother’s grave. He could not have tried harder to ghost her and she could not have more doggedly pushed for that second date.
Of course, Jon has to tell her the truth about his identity. “My name, my real name, is Aegon Targaryen” he confesses after offering an abridged version of the plot secret we’ve been obsessing over since we had a different president. Daenerys makes a good point about the gaping plot hole with a line that one of the writers must have knowingly inserted to set our minds at ease about how QAnon this whole thing is: “A secret no one in the world knew, except your brother and your best friend. Doesn’t it seem strange to you?” But she knows it in her heart, you can see it on her face. As a dude, Jon trumps her claim. He’s the king. She’s just a vigilante with a dragon.
From the Ravens …
• When Jon learned his true identity, he never once pointed out that not only was he the true king, but he was also diddling his aunt. Now said aunt has learned the news and yet again, nobody mentions the family connection. Yes there is an army of dead people near the castle gates, but people, I’m increasingly alarmed by your nonchalance about this matter.
• I’m sure you noticed Ser Davos Seaworth, an anointed knight and The Only Truly Good Man in Westeros, serving up some chow in the hot food line. That’s right, every man, woman, and child who sought solace inside the gates of Winterfell gets at least one Oliver Twistian meal before the army of the dead come wandering down the snowy hills. Which means … did someone sort of out the massive food-shortage issue? Did Sansa have to do it?
• Did you notice that the little girl who so bravely vows to Davos that she’ll defend the crypt has a half-scarred face, just like his beloved Princess Shireen? If there is a Lord of Light, he’ll give Davos the chance to save this little one from a fire so the universe can hang in balance again.
• Ghost was behind Jon when he stood on the Wall with Dolorous Edd and Sam. Glad the higher-ups at HBO could pinch enough pennies to bring him back this season. Which reminds me, will the long-wandering Nymeria make another appearance?
• When the war is over Greyworm wants to take Miissandei on one of those around-the-world cruises.
• Daenerys welcomes Jorah into her chambers with a big old smile on her face and a whole load of b.s. about how bummed he must have been that she chose Tyrion as her hand while he was away having every scrap of his skin peeled off his body by a newbie maester-in-training with zero medical experience. Is she entirely forgetting that she exiled him not once, but twice, and emotionally tied a rock to his leg and threw him in the ocean?
• Lyanna Mormont, Feminist Hero of Our Age But Not an Actual Character in the Book, will fight alongside her men in battle. Except … how many men does she have left? She only started with 62.
• That joke about Kit Harington’s height was uncalled for. Rude.
• I told you Theon would redeem himself and although I am slightly creeped by him and Sansa’s oddly lovey-dovey relationship now (remember when he watched her forced husband rape her?), it’s still worth saying I told you so.
• Tyrion’s zombie hope is that he marches down to King’s Landing and essentially disembowels Cersei himself, which I respect.
• “I’ve stolen a considerable number of books from the Citadel!”
• Please, old gods and new, don’t let Pod die in battle because he had too much to drink.
• Bran, who is now so mystical I’m surprised he doesn’t hover three feet above the ground in a magical cloud made of rose quartz and tarot cards, gives Jaime a pretty lame reason that he didn’t tattle about who exactly pushed him out of that Winterfell tower. But one of his (many) cryptic lines is rather tantalizing. He explains that if Jaime were executed for his crimes, he wouldn’t be there to fight. Except by his own admission, Jaime is no longer the warrior he once was. His presence on the battlefield isn’t a decisive factor. Unless there is something Bran knows about what’s about to go down that the rest of us don’t …