Subtitle: this is a story about journeys
Game of Thrones is known for the sprawling landscapes of seven plus kingdoms and brutal, sudden deaths. This week’s episode took place entirely in Winterfell, and no one died. A brief reprieve before the slaughter to come, I’m sure, but the spotlight on character and relationship are how we remember why any of this story matters.
We start with the trial of Jaime Lannister, a noble figure, a tragic figure, and a disappointment. Jaime has done many terrible things but all in the name of protecting his family, he says with defiance, as part of warfare. Daenerys points out he’s now abandoned his family and Jaime glances at Brienne and I cry because Brienne is his family. He answers that the threat of the White Walkers is more important than House Pride and I appreciate that the ridiculous scheme to catch a zombie to prove that zombies exist worked on someone. And fwiw, the person closest to Cersei.
Jaime is pardoned because Brienne’s trust in him convinces Sansa and Jon believes they need all the help they can get. Daenerys is angry at everyone but Tyrion most of all. There’s a lot at play here. Cersei is not only sitting out the war in the North, she’s building up her army in the South, and while Daenerys is openly blaming Tyrion for their decision to trust her, she’s also just plain angry about it. The same way she’s angry that all the Northerners are glaring at her all the time. And now Jon is avoiding her for some reason. And at the very same time that Jon ‘Stark’ and Jaime and Tyrion Lannister are telling her the Throne isn’t important, Cersei Lannister is sitting on it and Sansa Stark is refusing to give it up. Daenerys is isolated and frustrated and it’s making her lash out.
Anyway, she storms off and Tyrion suggests to Jorah and Varys that one of them are likely to be made Hand soon enough but he can’t honestly believe that Daenerys would choose Varys right? Jorah, absolutely, she confirms it later, but Varys???? She’s straight up told him he’s lucky if she doesn’t kill him.
Arya finds Gendry in the Forge, banging out weapons because as much as they need every man they can get, without the dragonglass weapons they are just as likely to unwillingly join the enemy. Arya wants to know why he hasn’t made her weapon yet and Gendry basically says he doesn’t want her to fight. He’s seen what they are up against: Death. I fully expected Arya to answer we tell Death ‘not today’ but she threw three daggers to prove she’s perfectly capable of fighting and not afraid of death or Death and that works too. Also, they are both quite smitten and I love this healthy, sweet relationship blossoming in the middle of all this trauma.
Jaime approaches Bran in the Godswood and asks him why he didn’t tell everyone about that time he threw him out a window and crippled him for life. Bran’s like whatevs, I’m the Three Eyed Raven and as you said we have more important things to deal with. Jaime asks what happens after the threat of extinction has passed and Bran answers Lol, you think there’s an after.
Fully creeped out Jaime moves on to catch up with people who don’t hate him namely his little bro and his big crush. The brothers chat about their sweet sister and how weird it is to be back in Winterfell. They bring up Cersei’s pregnancy, which Jaime claims is real, and Tyrion says at least she won’t be the one to kill him, which is either foreshadowing or misdirection wrt Bronn. But by that point Jaime and the rest of us have stopped listening because Brienne training the troops on the battlefield is too distracting. Jaime heads down to the training ground and after a few awkwardly adorable exchanges – “Do you want me to insult you?” “No!” “Good!” – he pledges his sword (and heart) to her leadership.
This is a story about journeys.
Ser Jorah, Daenerys first and closest advisor, is able to accomplish three things in their short scene together. First, he gets her to smile, a rare sight mainly reserved for dragons these days. Second, he convinces her to forgive, trust, and retain Tyrion as her Hand. Daenerys confirms Jorah could have, would have, should have had the position, and is surprised he’d argue against the transfer, but Jorah is her most trusted advisor for a reason. He doesn’t want power for himself (and potentially has another destiny?), he wants her to succeed and he thinks Tyrion will help her – and replacing Tyrion will likely harm her. Finally, third, he gets her to reach out to Sansa.
Have you seen Enchanted? Disney movie about a cartoon princess who falls into New York City and finds her destiny? It’s a story about journeys, too. But toward the end the main characters all attend a ‘Kings and Queens Ball’ and dance to a mostly forgettable ballad ending with the lyrics “so close, and still so far”. That song played in my head throughout the Daenerys and Sansa scene.
At Jorah’s urging, Daenerys approaches Sansa and they have a candid if not entirely genuine conversation about Cersei, Tyrion, and Jon, family, war, and love. Daenerys is open and honest and answers Sansa’s every question until the last – the one that shuts down their tentative alliance before it begins: “What about the North?” Daenerys is not ready to bend on this issue, though it would be the best political move she could make. To be fair, Cersei has the South, and if Daenerys gives up the North she’s left incredibly vulnerable. But in the short term of this particular scene we are all left crying “so close and still so far.”
The stand off is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Theon Greyjoy. He gives Daenerys the news that his sister is free and on her way to win the Iron Islands in her name, but when asked why he came to Winterfell instead, he pledges himself to Sansa, not Daenerys. The scene parallels Jorah’s return to her last season in staging and speech, and I’ll note that Jaime also used the phrase “if you’ll have me” when he pledged himself to Brienne in the earlier scene. There are many potential reasons for this, but I like the simplest: in each case the couple’s journeys have brought them together at their lowest points, split them up with unresolved feelings, and brought them back together, back home, changed for the better.
Also every single scene between them makes me SO EMOTIONAL.
Speaking of emotional, Davos is serving soup and giving directions to the masses at Winterfell and is approached by a small girl, Teela (like He-Man??), with dragonscale who wants to fight. Gilly, also directing and serving, recruits her to protect them from the crypts. And here is where I have to ask who thinks it’s a good idea to hide all the non-soldiers from the zombie king capable of commanding dead bodies in an underground maze full of dead bodies??? Teela is clearly a stand-in for Princess Shireen, Davos is shook, and I am very concerned we are going to see her death twice, at the hands of a wight and then one of our heroes – Davos or Gilly or even Little Sam? – and I don’t want this!
Edd, Beric, and Tormund arrive with the news that Little Lord Umber and his entire castle are lost, anyone not already here is with the zombies (yikes) and the whole dead army will arrive before sunrise (YIKES). This leads to a War Council of Actually Everyone, which is a just SUCH a beautiful sight after all these years.
Jon remains in charge of their increasingly large but still rag tag group of heroes and lays down the bad news that they have a .000000001% chance of survival. Silver lining: in theory killing the Night King will knock out all his undead fighters and is thus their best chance. Bran tells them the Night King wants him specifically, as he’s wanted all the Three Eyed Ravens throughout history, and then Bran and Sam go super meta on us and explain that a record of events, history, story, is what matters most because if no one remembers it, it never happened.
I personally think this means Sam, as the scribe we’ve been following from the beginning (and self-insert of the author), is the most likely to survive. Bran is maybe second most, but then he explains how he’s going to wait in the Godswood as bait for the zombie King. Can the Raven or Bran survive the other’s death I wonder? Anyways, Theon volunteers to guard him as the last act of his redemption, Jon and Daenerys will be on dragonback ready to strike, and everyone else will keep the hoards away as long as possible. Except Tyrion, who Daenerys orders into the crypts for safety because if they survive she’ll need him alive, but I still don’t think it’s safe in there!! Finally, will dragonfire actually kill the Night King? No one knows, not even Bran, because no one’s ever tried it. This is maybe foreshadowing, definitely foreboding, and if the Night King is another secret Targaryen, well, I have a lot of concerns.
The crowd disperses except for Bran and Tyrion stays behind a moment to see if he needs anything. The Raven doesn’t and Bran isn’t around, but I like that Tyrion still looks after broken things.
Missandei and Grey Worm encounter some more blatant racism in the North, and I remain salty that their entire characterization is about being former slaves and hated for it. But they get a lovely scene in which they plan their lives in the after that Bran-the-all-seeing doesn’t believe in and it’s heartbreaking.
Jon, Edd, and Sam stand up on the wall for old time’s sake and are JOINED BY GHOST. Sorry to capslock but I’ve missed him so! Jon tells Sam to stay down in the crypts with Gilly and Little Sam and for real, why is no one worried about the dead Starks who are no joke buried in their armor??!! Sam says he’s perfectly capable of fighting, he was totally the first one to kill a wight and also stole some books that informed/ruined Jon’s life but he agrees to go to
slaughter safety. In any case, the trio are pretty sure they’re gonna die (a theme) and make a pact that the last one alive burns the rest.
Inside Tyrion and Jaime are brooding by the fire when Brienne and Podrick enter, followed by Tormund and Davos. Tyrion pours them all wine, but Brienne wants to stay sharp and Tormund’s brought his own. Tormund attempts to impress Brienne and intimidate Jaime by relating the story behind his surname ‘Giantsbane’: he killed a giant when he was ten and mistaking him for her son, the giant’s wife suckled him for a month after. Hence Tormund’s large size and horn full of milk. This story makes more sense if ten year old Tormund killed a giant baby and replaced him but it’s probably best not to try and make it make sense at all.
Arya finds the Hound on another watching wall. He’s not watching, he’s slumped down more broody and more drunk than even the fireside chat group. It’s a bit sad, he’s alone, and probably wouldn’t feel comfortable at the fireside though he’d fit in as much as any of them. Arya drives it home, asking him when’s the last time he fought for anyone but himself. He answers “I fought for you, didn’t I?” and I hear a lot in those six words. Sandor and Arya fit into the thematic scenario I suggested above with Jorah and Daenerys, Theon and Sansa, and Jaime and Brienne. That “didn’t I?” is his version of “if you’ll have me” and Arya’s silence is her version of acceptance.
Berric approaches and noticing Arya’s frosty reception, the Hounds asks if he’s on her list. She says he was, which suggests Arya really is in a much more healthy mindset than even last season. Like Jon and Bran she’s focusing on the bigger picture, and moving past revenge. Berric attempts to sermonize but Sandor shuts him down and Arya bounces for better company.
Gendry finds Arya (practicing her bow skills) with her completed request: a staff like the ones she trained with in Essos, but with dragon glass on the end. Arya is quite pleased, but it’s not all she wants of him. She wants his story (a theme!), what happened to him, what the Red Woman did and why, and learns the truth of his bloodline – which is a lot, but no, what she really wants is him. She wants to act on the attraction that’s been there from the beginning and given they may all die tomorrow, this could be her last chance. I am so proud of Arya in this moment. THIS is Arya telling Death ‘not today’. This is Arya choosing life over death, and life over survival. And Gendry welcomes it, welcomes her and accepts her. And okay, it’s a little weird because we watched her grow up, but it’s such a pure scene? It’s such a pure scene.
Followed by one just as pure and just as romantic. When Brienne explains she’s not a knight, because ladies aren’t knights, Tormund argues that shouldn’t matter and then Jamie makes it stick. Being a knight of the realm is all either of them has ever really wanted. Jamie has worn the title and armor since youth, but he didn’t embody it until Brienne showed him how. And now, when he is finally, fully, invested in protecting the kingdom he can give her the only part of knighthood she lacked. He can make her Ser Brienne the way she made him Ser Jaime. And her smile lights up the room.
Jorah and Little Lyanna Mormont, another lady determined to fight whatever men tell her, are interrupted by Sam who gifts him his family sword, Heartsbane. So now Jon, Arya, Brienne, Jaime, and Jorah are carrying Valyrian steel into the battle. Jorah tells Sam he will fight in his father’s name and that plus Lyanna’s “good fortune, cousin” tells me Jorah has achieved the ‘home’ he told Daenerys he dreamed of way back when. He’s going to do something amazing and then he’s probably going to die.
Back at the fire – which is absolutely imagery of holding off the dark and cold as long as possible – Tyrion asks for a song and Podrick provides one from the source material, which is lovely, and we get a montage of final moments before the storm culminating in Daenerys finding Jon in the crypts staring up at the statue of Lyanna Stark. Daenerys brings up the story of her brother Rhaegar, who everyone otherwise speaks highly of, raping this Lyanna. Jon seizes the opening to tell her his truth: Rhaegar loved Lyanna, married her in secret, and she birthed his son, Aegon, heir to the Iron Throne. Lyanna was his mother, Rhaegar was his father, and he is that baby. So far no one has said a word about Jon and Daenerys being related and in a sexual relationship – and she’s not the first, instead demanding to know how this was discovered and who knows about it. She is completely correct that his weirdo brother and nerdy best friend being the ones to uncover it is sketchy, but we are the omnipotent audience so we know it’s true anyway. If this is a test, to prove Daenerys will give up her throne to the true born heir, she’s failed, but immediate acquiescence is a really high bar. And at that point the conversation is interrupted by the arrival of an army of dead. But Jon and Daenerys are united as they walk towards the battle.
This episode is basically perfect. It is almost entirely character and relationship beats, the last looks of their journeys that have all lead to this moment. I loved it and I am so scared of what’s coming.
Dead: No one
Next Week: the longest battle ever filmed