Series Breakdown Rating:
Overall Plot: 7
Spoilers: Ya. Obviously.
Audience Assumptions: Some familiarity
Episode Two: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – ***
Part One: A Lot of Kissing in This Episode. A Lot of Kissing.
First things first, there are no dragons in this one.
I feel like that’s important to address because I am clearly a person entranced by the spectacle of the show, so when that spectacle is diminished, I am outside of my comfort zone. That could be why this episode didn’t strike me as much as the previous one.
I will stand by my assessment, though. This more than most episodes feels like it’s going through the motions, throwing characters together and making them interact on vague terms so that we’ll be sad when characters die in the next episode. It doesn’t really establish any new conflicts or raise the stakes higher than they already are. It does give the audience some satisfying moments, I suppose.
The same was true in some ways for the previous episode, which I heard many fans call a crowd pleaser because of the dragons and other predictable moments. I feel the crucial difference, though, is that while the previous episode didn’t really build on anything that the audience couldn’t have predicted, the crowd-pleasing moments still progressed the plot. They paid off seasons worth of buildup. Here, though, I’m not sure there’s really enough buildup to merit the entire episode ferrying the characters around. Especially after the previous episode, those moments feel repetitive or unnecessary. Where the first episode was packed and didn’t seem able to get as much content in as it wanted, with some scenes or even individual shots cut at odd moments, this one drags.
Tedium in the middle episodes is nothing new for Game of Thrones. It’s what the bulk of the series is based on in some ways, and sometimes the slower moments lead to hidden gems. Characters telling stories, or even just little expressions can be highly rewarding. But we’ve had plenty of time for characters dancing around their own words and enjoying each other’s company. Much of the last season and almost all of the last episode was devoted to just that. With only six episodes in this season, we’re a third of the way through already. I don’t hate this episode, but we don’t have time for it.
Part Two: You Just Had to Go and Make This About You, Didn’t You, Bran?
Okay, so what does constitute new material in this episode? The plot foci include Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys confronting Jaime after his defection. Together with the other strategists in the castle, they form a plan for the upcoming battle. Jon also tells Daenerys who his father is.
Let’s talk about that last development. For all the potential distress, mistrust, and chaos this revelation could wreak, Jon telling Daenerys that he’s next in line to inherit the throne adds basically nothing to the story. As with every other time this plot thread has been addressed, the conversation falls at the end of the episode, meaning there’s limited opportunity for it to have an impact on the surrounding events. Daenerys is upset, clearly, as is Jon, but the characters’ reluctance to emote works against the performances of the actors and the overall flow of the scene. The delivery results in clunky exposition which, I’ll remind you, the audience has already seen at least two separate times already.
In fact, there’s been a sort of strange game of Winterfell Crypts Telephone happening, with Bran relaying the information to Sam, Sam relaying it to Jon, and now Jon relaying it to Daenerys, all in superficially similar scenes. I almost hope the trend continues — not that it improves the story thread. Far from it, actually; that similarity in tone and reaction in all of the scenes is what makes it weak here. Jon and Daenerys are both heavily invested in Jon being a Targaryan, and on multiple levels. Addressing this buildup by calling back to Bran’s first-ever conversation with Sam — neither of whom have any connection than juicy gossip and vaguely fond feelings for Jon — is almost laughable. The scene needs at least a little bit of variation, perhaps omitting the conversation entirely and only showing Daenerys’ reaction.
But fans have been waiting for this conversation, so the show is obligated to play it out in its entirety.
And you know what? That’s fine. But you have to plan for it. If you’re going to build up to a spectacular finale, you can’t jump the gun on it for tension. This is one of the few areas film series tend to do better than television series because of their shorter run times. All the same, I’m holding out hope that the series can recover.
The other two foci are much less dramatic but somehow feel more substantial. They aren’t, really; Jaime is admitted to the Winterfell cast after a brief trial, and the war council scene merely establishes where Bran will be during the upcoming battle.
Bran, being Bran, declares himself the thing the night King wants. This comes as news to all of the other characters, as well as the audience; while the Night King has previously expressed a dislike of Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven, the show hasn’t laid much groundwork for their rivalry. Him explaining this by claiming to be the personal embodiment of humanity’s life and history has even less basis in the rest of the show. Bran, you disappeared for a whole season. You don’t get to be the main character all of the sudden. I would be kind of satisfied with the revelation that Bran is just lying because he’s clairvoyant now and everyone has to take him seriously. I wouldn’t put it past him.
The upshot of the council scene is that Bran is going to be in the Godswood while the battle rages, aiming to draw the Night King out into the open. Jon, Daenerys, and the dragons will wait nearby to spring the trap and to protect Bran. I’m sure it will work perfectly the first time with no problems.
The opening of the episode, Jaime’s confrontation with Sansa and Daenerys (and Jon too, but even he doesn’t think he should be there), is easily the better of the three main plots in this episode. It plays upon the grim histories of the characters, and rounds off Jaime’s arc (he, of course, is going to die with all of the rest of the characters in the next episode, according to the internet). Sansa blames him for the ills Cersei and Joffrey wrought on her family, and those injuries aren’t likely to heal anytime soon. She also points to more direct ills of his own, like him attacking her father and playing a role in his death. Daenerys has less history with the man, drawing on his assassination of her own father to question his trustworthiness. Of course, given the only time they’ve ever met before, he was trying to stab her with a lance, Daenerys has plenty of reason not to like Jaime.
But then Brienne comes to the rescue. More than any of the other characters, this is her episode. I’ll admit to only a lukewarm interest in her arc as a whole — yeah, Renly was fabulous, but aside from that and being one of the few female warriors in the series, I frequently found it difficult to relate to empathize with her. It might be that she embodies the stereotypical chivalrous knight traits — traits notably absent in much of the rest of the story. Brienne has always been at a disadvantage in this world because of her trusting and kind-hearted nature. In the second and third seasons, it got her into heaps of trouble and I have a feeling it will play into the next episode.
Here, though, we see a much-needed respite for Brienne in her nobility paying off. By this point, I’d mostly forgotten about Brienne escorting Jaime to King’s Landing so many episodes back. When she steps up to defend him, explaining that he lost his hand for her, it’s a natural culmination for both of their arcs and the series as a whole. A small culmination, to be sure, but a deeply satisfying one. The audience also likely remembers Jaime telling Brienne the reality of what it was like for him to slay Aerys, something no other characters know. It’s there on the tip of Jaime’s tongue when Daenerys accuses him of murdering her father. Brienne knows this, and in vouching for him, she shows not only a sense of reparation for the things he’s given her, but also compassion for Jaime as a person. They’re friends, and friends help each other, both physically and emotionally.
Continuing their back and forth of unremarked gifts, Jaime repays her by knighting her. This is the emotional crux of the episode, as as with Brienne’s words at the start, it’s effective. Admittedly, I didn’t rewatch the old episodes prior to starting this new season, so my memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I don’t believe Brienne has ever stated a particular interest in becoming a knight. If she has, it hasn’t been a defining characteristic of hers. She joins Renly’s rainbow guard and acts the part of a knight, explaining that she’s been this way since she was a child. For all intents and purposes, the name is meaningless. Perhaps that’s why it’s never come up before.
Yet, that’s also what works so beautifully about this scene. Brienne dismisses the mention of her being a knight without drama, but she holds on it just long enough to convey information to the audience. While her wanting to be a knight has never arisen explicitly, Brienne has always been defined in the story by her femininity — or her womanhood, more accurately. Everyone she meets remarks on her size and how she’s not ladylike enough. Often, she just ignores them. However, given her childhood backstory and propensity for knightly characteristics, you can imagine Brienne knows women can’t be knights because she was told it, perhaps repeatedly, when she was younger. Gwendoline Christie sells that idea with the line — that numb pain that comes from acceptance of something bitter. By this point, it would be silly for her to dream of being a knight. She is a knight, in everything but title.
Jaime picks up on that old resentment, though, and gives her the title. He might as well be pulling the rule that knights can hand off the title out of his ass, but it doesn’t matter. They’re going to die in the next episode anyway, and this is just his way of ensuring Brienne gets to live out a childhood dream before that happens. I quite like it. This is a decent episode for these two.
Part Three: SINGING FRIENDSHIP CIRCLE!
I could go on with my rants and praises. Mostly, my approval of the episode is a matter of elements I casually liked and elements I casually didn’t like.
I liked Podrick’s song. And his attempt at growing a mustache.
Tyrion’s attempts to liven the room were quite painful. His scenes work best when they’re primarily serious or primarily humorous, but something about these last few seasons in particular have made him a much better dramatic character than comedic one.
Lyanna Mormont is a beast, as usual. I honestly wouldn’t mind a spin-off series centered around her exclusively.
Sansa’s conversation with Daenerys is a prime example of why this episode feels so unnecessary. The scene opens with them both acting like they’ve been loaded with Botox, and once they drop the formality, it seems like it could be heading somewhere interesting, but then the scene just stops. Daenerys learns nothing new and says nothing new. Well, I’ll amend that — she says she really actually loves Jon. That’s great, but it doesn’t resolve the problem we had in the first place with her desire to subdue Sansa. Sansa also doesn’t learn or express anything new. I understand that the scene could be trying to establish that Daenerys is either unable or unwilling to learn how to communicate with Sansa effectively, but if that’s the case, it still goes on for far too long and accomplishes nothing the previous scenes haven’t already indicated.
Theon reuniting with Sansa is just as powerful as many of the Stark siblings reuniting. I don’t like the romantic subtext I’m seeing in how their few interactions are filmed; I realize they’re not blood relatives, but it still seems incestuous, and more importantly, the show doesn’t have time for that.
It also doesn’t have time for this limp little Arya wants to pork Gendri subplot, but that’s there too. I get that people who know each other can form romantic feelings for one another and that it’s in-character for Arya to hurl her virginity at him. In concept, I shouldn’t mind. I’m also liking the so-far bizarrely PG-13 season so far, mainly because it makes the sex scenes shorter. However, the execution is stilted and feels very much like an obligatory act. Arya’s the only character anyone cares about who hasn’t had sex yet. Audiences need all adult characters to want and have sex otherwise they can’t relate to them. What is this asexuality of which you speak?
Grey Worm and Missandei are adorable. Their dialogue is lovely, and I will be genuinely devastated when one of them dies. I wish they had bigger roles within the story.
I am disappointed by the lack of Cersei ranting about elephants. The next time she appears on-screen, she had better been marching through the halls screaming, “WHERE ARE MY ELEPHANTS?!”
Tormund is so weird and I love everything about it. He barges into a private little moment between Jaime, Brienne, Tyrion, Pod, and Davos and sits himself down in the friendship circle, clearly uninvited, flirts with Brienne by talking about giant tits, then spills half his drink on himself while not breaking eye contact with Jaime (which I will also count as flirting). Best character. I also love how you can tell he really wants to offer himself as a knight candidate when Brienne hesitates. He’s leaning forward in his seat and looks really excited about it, too. But then he’s happy and supportive of her. Aw.
He’s definitely going to die soon, too.