Spoilers follow for those yet to watch Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 2 — ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’.
For a global behemoth of a show which has left people waiting two years for its grand resolution, Game of Thrones sure is moving really slow towards its endgame. It’s hard being a fan waiting two years for a tv show and then having to wait just a little bit more for the clearly imminent end of the world.
Thrones only had six episodes to tell its remaining story this season. Yet after having watched the first two episodes of season 8, you would be forgiven for thinking they have the same ten episodes every single past season bar 7 had. Of course, episodes are going to be far longer this season (particularly from episode 3, most spanning well over an hour), but that has not stopped the season’s first two episodes feeling a bit like that of a normal ten episode season and not that of a truncated, six episode final season.
Season 8 Episode 2, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ ended up being an almost identical episode to last week’s ‘Winterfell‘, and it did little except show more reunions and advance the plot by a tad. Cinematically it was a carbon copy of episode 1, it’s saving grace being that thematically, they were like light and day.
I complained last week of the reunions in ‘Winterfell’ between long lost characters being a bit stilted. There was little time to catch up and people were rarely affectionate despite all that time lost and spent away from each other. It made most of the reunions awkward and perhaps a little disappointing for fans who had waited at least two years (at most 8, for Jon and Arya hadn’t met since Season 1 in 2011) for them.
Turns out the showrunners knew what they were doing all along. This episode fleshed out most of these reunions to an appreciable degree, giving us long overdue conversations (and even s*x sessions) amidst the overarching dread of the literal end of the world.
The stakes are higher in this episode after the Night’s Watch, Tormund Giantsbane and Beric returned with news that the Night’s King had taken Last Hearth and was on the march to Winterfell. Everyone suddenly felt that the end of their lives could be as soon as the next day and thus any item on every bucket list had to be crossed off immediately.
This urgency of living your last night on earth is what thematically differentiated ‘Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ from ‘Winterfell’, as the character reunions now took on a more urgent and affectionate if morbid tone. Arya, still a virgin despite metamorphosing into the world’s deadliest assassin, decided she’d rather not die with her hymen intact and went to bed with Gendry. Samwell decided to let go of his family heirloom to Ser Jorah, who he had come to respect as his father’s son. Jon decided it was time to tell Daenerys the big secret which could tear both their relationship and alliance apart, that his real name is Aegon Targaryen and he is the long lost son of her dead Crown Prince brother Rhaegar. Arya even decided to give the Hound a proper goodbye, until they were interrupted by ‘old sh*t’ Beric Dondarrion.
After helping save his brother’s life, Tyrion and Jaime had a real reunion warmer than any we saw last week. Jaime had a similar reunion of sorts with Brienne of Tarth, who was most responsible for helping him survive his ‘trial’ at Winterfell, which was both awkward and oddly fulfilling in its own way. Those two have come a long way since Catelyn Stark put the ‘Kingslayer’ in her charge to return to King’s Landing in exchange for her daughters, and despite everyone seeing Jaime as the evil kingslayer, Brienne was able to save his life by simply recounting the good deeds he had done in her presence.
The episode’s warmest scene, from which the title was clearly taken, was when Jaime bucked centuries of tradition to return Brienne the favour, knighting her as the first ever female knight in the History of the Seven Kingdoms. That came at the end of the episode’s best scene, when an assemblage of characters including Tyrion, Ser Davos, the aforementioned Brienne and Jaime, Tormund and Podrick Payne got together for one last night of drinking, swapping tales and singing, before they all die in battle fighting the dead.
The episode was filled with such end of the world scenes, and the intent to set the table for next week’s battle episode was clear. The problem was it was too similar to ‘Winterfell’, which presumably had that job but failed to do so. The takeaway is that showrunners David and Dan spread one episode over two weeks, which would be fine for most Throne seasons but which at the end of such a legendary show’s run feels stagnant and cheap.
The episode’s saving grace was that it wasn’t simply a bunch of reunions but also clearly set up both the conflict to come and what happens after. Daenerys made an attempt to reconcile with Sansa upon the advice of Jorah Mormont, but it ended awkwardly when she refused to commit to letting the North rule itself after the war. And Jon revealing his parentage to her immediately set off alarm bells in her head that he is coming for her throne, which sets up an explosive conflict between arguably the show’s two central characters. Daenerys has made it clear she would stop at nothing to get her throne and Jon might find himself in trouble if she conceivably sees him as threat, end of the world or not.
In the end, the two seemingly call a truce to face the impending danger. The Night’s King and his immense army of the dead has arrived at Winterfell, and after two hours of watching every major character not dead or in King’s Landing reunite and make their peace with each other, it’s now time to watch the zombie apocalypse we’ve all been waiting for.
After ‘Hardhome’, which is one of the best ‘Thrones’ episodes of all time, one can’t wait to see how this battle between humanity and the dead pans out once again. At least humanity has a plan this time.
Game of Thrones returns on April 28th on HBO.