Season 8’s premiere, “Winterfell”, was a surprisingly disappointing and robotic brush of box-ticking. Reunions and moments of levity took up the most of it, appealing to the masses with schlocky CGI dragon-riding and destined-for-meme Bran stare-downs. The only thing remotely impressive about the episode was John Bradley’s acting.
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was a vast improvement.
I guess most important is that this episode felt organic. There was a flow to it that just wasn’t present in the montage-like “Winterfell”, which is a testament to the earnestness of the script, penned by one of the show’s most valued writers, Bryan Cogman whose best works include Season 4 highlights “Oathkeeper” and “The Laws of Gods and Men”.
Cogman was able to use the episode’s length economically, dictating perfect pacing by juggling all these scenes so that nothing felt overwrought and undercooked. Jumping straight into Jaime’s judgement and Brienne’s testimony was a great way to do it, playing on the tension between Jaime and Bran that was teased at the end of last week’s episode, while also validating the strong and very meaningful relationship the Kingslayer shares with Brienne.
That relationship would drive many of this week’s best moments, and it certainly helped with the episode’s flow having the bond between Jaime and Brienne touched upon in numerous scenes rather than just dealt with in one. It of course built up to one of the episode’s most emotional moments, that being Jaime knighting Brienne (and Brienne smiling *tears*) and making her an official knight, eschewing the patriarchal tradition and moving towards a “new way” in-line with the show’s core of tradition holding progress back.
It was a scene that followed from an exciting gathering of some of the show’s best mid-card characters. Jaime, Brienne, Davos, Tyrion, Tormund, Podrick – all huddled near a fire and reminiscing on the irony of once fighting against the starks and now preparing to defend Winterfell. It gave us a few of this week’s greatest hits, including the hilarious origin story of Tormund’s nickname, and Podrick’s beautiful rendition of “Jenny’s Song”, a number lifted straight from the books with its own loaded history, floating over a telling montage of women who are probably about to lose the men (Theon, Gendry, Grey Worm, Jorah) that care for them the most.
Reflection sat at the centre of this episode, which makes “Winterfell” seem like an even bigger waste than it already was. Tyrion and Jaime shared some heartfelt words about their family, Grey Worm got to further express his love for Missandei, Sam was able to honour the memory of Commander Mormont by presenting Jorah with Heartsbane. The only moment that didn’t really work was Arya’s cold goodbye to The Hound, interrupted by Beric who felt thrown into the scene for the sake of it – though at least it was better than the Arya/Hound reunion we got last week.
Speaking of Arya. HBO UK were smart to slyly remind the world that the youngest Stark girl was now 18 in the show before her (pre) sex scene with Gendry. Not that it should have been, but it was evidently uncomfortable viewing for some seeing Arya assert her sexuality as her own “night before we die” goodbye. Google would have seen a spike in “how old is Maisie Williams” searches.
Where the reunions felt forced and reeked of fan-service in “Winterfell” (excepting The Hound/Arya), this episode did surprise us with a strong, emotional scene between Sansa and Theon. The Greyjoy heir’s long-running redemptive arc has really won fans over these past few seasons, and watching him being so lovingly accepted by Sansa was a fantastic moment. As was his promise to protect Bran as part of Winterfell’s strategy against the Night King, even if it does spell out the obviousness of his imminent and heroic death (that goodbye scene between Theon and Yara last week felt final).
An unexpected stab of emotion also came with Ser Davos rationing out his onion soup to nameless Winterfell residents, one being a little girl who obviously reminded him of Shireen given her skin disease. And that whack of nostalgia was lifted by the score gently working in what was essentially Shireen’s theme song in the show. He sure did love her.
Also, it was mentioned numerous times that the crypts are the “safest” place to be. I think not.
In the episode’s closing minutes, Jon, who had been avoiding Dany throughout, finally revealed his true identity to the “Queen” in front of his mother’s statue. The show is obviously setting this up to be a juicy piece of contentious politics between the two after the battle, which means neither Jon or Dany will be perishing next week.
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” ends with the expected arrival of the White Walkers who are now approaching Winterfell, preceded by a quick song-driven montage of some of the battle’s biggest players getting into place.
So who completed their arc this week? This episode made some very substantial leaps for certain characters, which was part of its resounding strength in the overall series. Brienne and Theon have pretty much completed their arcs, so it’s safe to say that they will likely be two big deaths next week. Grey Worm was able to properly express his love and admiration of Missandei, which is as close to an arc or purpose he has beyond just being Dany’s most loyal fighter. Jorah’s arc is not complete, so it would be awful writing if he was to meet his end in this battle, and both Jaime and Tyrion should be safe given their full-circle would involve Cersei in some way.
One thing’s for sure though, we’re going to saying some painful goodbyes as fans when the longest consecutive battle sequence committed to screen is aired next week. Watch the trailer below and start preparing yourself now.
FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE
Feature image: Helen Sloan/HBO