TV Review: Game of Thrones - "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms"
Season 8, Episode 2 “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
Welcome to the Strange Harbors review of the final season of Game of Thrones. Typically, I tend to avoid posting recaps/reviews of single, individual episodes, but Game of Thrones is a cultural behemoth that deserves a more in-depth look at each installment, especially in its last six episodes. Each recap/review of the final season will be written from my perspective as A Song of Ice and Fire book-reader and a fan of the show. Today, we will be covering the second episode of Season 8, titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Spoilers ahead…
With only four episodes left in this final season of Game of Thrones, it’s easy to say, “get to the action already.” With the Night King marching on Winterfell and Cersei waiting in the wings with the Golden Company, there are plenty of bloody and final confrontations to be had and not much time to have them. Last week’s premiere of “Winterfell” and this week’s episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” however, have been exercises in restraint and patience looking to pay big dividends by the series’ end. Like I conveyed last week, we are never getting the old Game of Thrones back, but it’s perhaps time to let the past go and embrace what’s to come - a task made much easier in the presence of these two quieter, but stellar, episodes. If “Winterfell” was a reunion-filled table-setter, then “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a melancholic elegy, a somber yet beautiful calm before the storm.
In Season 8’s sophomore entry, fear of death comes home to roost. One after another, our characters grapple with mortality in the face of the undead threat, many of whom have only experienced the terror of the Night King through fairy tales and hearsay. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” opens shortly after the close of the season premiere, as Jaime contends with his possible execution in Daenerys’ court. Threatening the wayward Lannister with an anecdote about her family’s fantasies of what they would do to the man that murdered their patriarch, Daenerys is cold and unforgiving, conveniently brushing aside the fact that King Aerys was a madman. Jaime’s concerns are compounded with the presence of the wheelchair-bound Bran - whom he pushed out the window in the pilot episode - but the new Three-Eyed Raven says nothing with his robotic demeanor. Later, when confronted of his silence at the Godswood, Bran simply and pragmatically reasons, “You wouldn’t be able to help us in this fight if I let them murder you first.” Jaime’s makeshift trial at Winterfell ends with passionate testimony from Brienne of Tarth, aided by Sansa’s implicit trust in her. Like many instances in these first two episodes, it’s a character moment that works - a play on our nostalgia that reminds us how far these people have come. Whether it’s Brienne’s resolute oath to Catelyn all the way back in Season 2 or Jaime losing his hand defending Brienne in Season 3, this final season has gotten considerable mileage out of small moments that mine the storied past of our favorite characters.
Starting with Jaime, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” takes its time, crescendoing from a whisper into a touching meditation on death and mortality. The general unease in Winterfell sown by the arrival of Daenerys and the looming threat of the Night King solidifies into horror as the final stragglers take their place - when Dolorous Edd and Tormund Giantsbane stumble through the northern gates, they warn that the undead army is mere hours away from reaching Winterfell, giving the last bastion of humanity a sense of urgency not felt before. But where you would expect a mad scramble to prepare for battle, the episode instead veers the other way. Sure, there is much strategizing and a glimpse of our heroes’ dragonglass battlements, but most of the episode is focused on characters grappling with the fact that not everyone will see the morning. One could easily describe “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” as an overabundance of “fan-service,” but it’s a testament to the abilities of director David Nutter and writer Bryan Cogman that none of the showcased moments ring false.
“If ‘Winterfell’ was a reunion-filled table-setter, then ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ is a melancholic elegy, a somber yet beautiful calm before the storm.”
Jaime and Tyrion wax poetic about days long past. “You were a golden lion, and I was a drunken whoremonger,” reminsces Tyrion. Jon, Edd, and Sam, the last remaining members of the Night’s Watch, marvel at the sequence of harrowing events that have brought them together once again; and Edd, in all sincerity and perhaps for the final time, invokes the famed words of their brotherhood: “And now our watch begins.” Theon, who began his redemption arc by helping Sansa escape the Dreadfort in Season 5, finally returns to Winterfell to pledge his sword as well. And Ser Davos Seaworth, along with Gilly, bond with a stubborn little girl that bears more than a passing resemblance to Shireen.
The biggest moment of the episode, however, and the moment that “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” derives its title from, belongs to Brienne of Tarth. The scene itself begins in drunken revelry with Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund gathered around the hearth. Tormund humorously reveals the origin of his “Giantsbane” moniker, while Tyrion pours the drinks. Then, a slip of the tongue where Brienne is accidentally called “Ser” begins a lengthy treatise on tradition and how women can’t be knights. “Fuck tradition,” grumbles Tormund. And the group agrees: if a woman can sit on the Iron Throne, then a woman can certainly be knighted. Then Jaime, in his armored swagger, unsheathes his blade, Oathkeeper. “Any knight can make another knight.” The scene’s joke-laden air suddenly turns wistfully solemn as Brienne kneels before Jaime to be properly knighted. Gwendolyn Christie, who has always been a revelation on Game of Thrones, embodies the spirit Brienne so perfectly I must imagine that George R. R. Martin must have been ecstatic with her casting. With tears in her eyes, the scene is a 100%-earned callback to Brienne’s honor, sense of duty, and dedication to justice throughout her seven seasons. It’s one of the most memorable moments of not just the season, but the entire show, and one of the few showstoppers that doubles as a joyous occasion.
The episode’s other well-earned moment goes to Arya Stark, who has sex with Gendry. Uncomfortable as the scene is (“[Arya’s] pretty young, we try not to sexualize her.”), it’s a development that means something. Game of Thrones has long been criticized for its “sexploitation,” or sex scenes manufactured purely for titillation and not much else, but Arya’s night with Gendry is the culmination of her journey, a journey that saw her thrust from child to adulthood (or “assassin-hood”) without much room in between - it only makes sense that she would want this experience on the potential eve of her last day alive. The scene makes it clear that there’s no love connection or an abundance of emotion; David Nutter’s camerawork lingers on Arya’s scars, a reminder of her painful and harrowing quest, and the workmanlike nature of the scene conveys its meaning perfectly. Maisie Williams, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, says, “It was really interesting because it’s a very human relationship for Arya. This is something she’s stayed away from, an emotion we’ve never really seen her engage with. So it was that moment where she says, ‘We’re probably going to die tomorrow, I want to know what this feels like before that happens.’ It’s interesting to see Arya be a bit more human, speak more normally about things people are scared of.”
While “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is mostly a character piece, it doesn’t mean that there’s no development on the plot-side of things. The Night King gets the closest thing to a motivation; when Sam asks Bran what the leader of the army of the dead wants, he replies: “An endless night. He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory.” As our heroes gather around the table, they formulate a plan. Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, will act as bait in the Godswood while Theon and his men protect him - and when the Night King comes for Bran, they will kill him and turn his army to dust. Between Jon, Tyrion, and plenty of other master strategists in the room, it’s a pretty awful gameplan, and one that has almost zero chance of succeeding next week. And while Daenerys is still committed to the upcoming battle with her dragons and armies, her singular obsession with the Iron Throne is pushing her closer and closer to antagonist territory. Sansa makes a strong case for an independent North after the Iron Throne is wrested from Cersei, but Daenerys bristles at the idea, turning a potentially warm moment between the two ice-cold. And Jon, who couldn’t possibly wait until after the battle with the dead, tells Daenerys of his secret lineage to her shock. Her one reply? “If that were true, it would make you the last male heir of House Targaryen. You have a claim to the Iron Throne.” It isn’t really Daenerys’ fault, as all she’s ever known is her quest to reclaim the Seven Kingdoms; everything she’s ever done, from marrying Drogo to freeing the slaves of Slaver’s Bay to her alliance with Jon Snow, it’s all been in service of restoring Targaryen rule. I’m not as convinced as others that we’re seeing shades of a “Mad Queen,” but having Daenerys be at odds with her shaky Westerosi alliance is far from the worst thing the show has done - in fact, I’m counting on it to be the one fascinating wrinkle in a final season dedicated to a traditional good vs. evil showdown.
Even with all of its epic moments, Game of Thrones is at its best with its politicking and palace intrigue, but “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” focuses on an element not often seen on this show that is full of death and violence: the human element. While the first two episodes of Season 8 may be quieter affairs, they’re the furthest thing from filler; after 595 days away from the world of Game of Thrones, these two contemplative entries have become critical in raising the stakes and setting up the fight to come. The battle for Winterfell is next week, and whatever the outcome is, it will be better because of “Winterfell” and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”