“A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms” was, undoubtedly, the most sentimental episode in the series’ run. Next week won’t be the first time the show has devoted an entire episode to a giant battle; Blackwater, the siege of Castles Black and Battle Of the Bastards all warranted such tightened focus. A large part of what made those episodes series highlights was the time devoted to quiet moments of build-up, allowing our anxiety to grow with that of the characters on the eve of decisive combat. This is the first time that an entire episode has been devoted to that build-up, however, and joins “Blackwater” and “Watchers On The Wall” as the only entries of this sprawling show to remain in a single location from start to finish.
More precisely, the episode could be said to be split between the reactions to the arrival of Jaime Lannister, and all the fatalistic ruminations once Tormund arrives to confirm definitively that the big battle will not wait until the end of hte seasons. We get a few scraps of plotty or tactical information, enough to suggest that whatever bloodbath ensues next week, Dany, Jon and Sansa will survive to hash out the North’s place within/out of the Kingdoms, and to establish a rudimentary battle plan for our heroes to draw the Night King into the Godswood and torch him with dragonfire. But the majority of the episode is just about deepening emotional stakes for the battle to come by letting the characters let their hard-boiled hair down and be their sappiest selves for a night.
|I have a new Sister-By-Law, who has been providing single-.gif reviews of the episodes. |
Between this and last week's Ron Burgundy, she is 2 for 2.
Before the copious, by and large lovely, sap, I want to look at the battle planning scene which demarcates the two halves of the episode. In remarkably economic fashion, it establishes and deepens the stakes for next episode’s zombie apocalypse action spectacular. The comically oversized pile of white stones serves as a nice visual to more effectively convey how outmatched the living forces are than Jon Snow’s repeated vocal insistences that they don’t have enough men, don’t stand a chance, etc. Sure, I knew when I thought about it that the armies of the North had been depleted by fighting a civil war after losing another, but as other armies and especially dragons enlisted to help, it seemed overly pessimistic to be constantly lamenting the war as unwinnable before it starts. If nothing else, it seemed like it warranted some discussion how they now had these enormous X factors, that can literally fly over an army that is conspicuously lacking in long-range weaponry and spamtheir greatest weakness upon them from above. At least, the guy who had beaten back a wildling army that outnumbered his 1000 to 1 should have had some sense that numbers aren’t all when you have a fortified position, time to prepare, and an enemy content to throw themselves mindlessly into the breach.
Bran’s terse explanation of the Night King’s motives doesn’t completely address that, but it is a great touch that adds both thematic and tactical depth to the battle to come. On a practical, plot level, giving the baddie a specific, tangible goal to pursue in the coming fight makes things more complex and interesting. With so many well-developed characters gathered for this last stand, it would have remained plenty suspenseful just to put them all in Horde Mode and see who is still standing when the dust clears. But adding a particular mission objective, while not overcomplicating things, provides a reason to hold the dragons back for awhile, and creates different tasks and complications for individual characters to pursue and resolve once things are underway. The scale of the coming spectacle is sure to be grander than what we have seen before, but what made those prior battle episodes compelling was not just their size, but the tactics on display presenting a degree of surprise and back-and-forth of momentum. Before now, there had not been much indication that there would be a place for such wrinkles when it came to the Walkers, whose previous peak of strategic complexity had been to throw an icicle.
But also, Bran’s omniscient powers have mostly been a source of frustration for me. Their implications had to be consistently ignored or glossed over, because addressing them fully would risk tying off all the wonderfully messy conflicts that drive the show with a too-neat bow of magical bullshit. But a couple of lines clarify the metaphysical role of the Three-Eyed Raven, giving at least some degree of symbolic weight to the fight against a horde of one-dimensional monsters that are entirely speechless and almost entirely nameless and faceless swarm.
It’s not the deepest or most elaborate of subtexts to ever define a conflict, but when Sam muses on how being gone is not nearly as bad as being forgotten, it hearkens directly back to one of my favorite moments of last season. And the Big Bad seeking the erasure of memory means that the Walkers represent something more than just bodies we can cheer the heroes to hack at without reservation, which would be a positive step in itself, but it also that something could not be more appropriate for a show that has always been to such a large degree about history. Fictional history, sure, but by now we as the audience have invested so much time in learning about the fictional politics and fictional geography and fictional journeys of these fictional characters, that if we needed another reason to hate the Bid Bad, the fact that his goal is to render all that investment pointless is subtly but especially offensive.
|Really, I'm starting to think this guy is some kind of jerk...|
It’s also an appropriate idea to raise in an episode that focuses so much on the characters pondering how far they have come. Without memory of what they have been through to get here, the pseudo-redemption of Jaime Lannister would mean nothing. Tyrion’s saving grace, the ability to learn from his plentiful mistakes, would be useless. Sam’s unlikely resume as a slayer of mythical beast and lover of women would warrant no rueful chuckles. Theon’s determination to defend the family he once betrayed would have no weight. Brienne’s history of brave and loyal service would go unrewarded. The Hound and Arya would not be able to acknowledge each other’s growth, even in the gruff terms they prefer. I am less inclined to try to vivisect these warm and fuzzy moments, since they mostly speak for themselves, but the two most impactful are Arya getting her swerve on, and the knighting of Brienne.
There was some awkwardness in an Arya sex scene, first because most of us so obviously still see Maisie Williams as the child we “met” almost a decade ago. That, I was able to reconcile by a quick reminder that the actress is actually a 22 year-old woman, despite her preternaturally youthful appearance. It was also a bit jarring to have the character, who had previously been rather asexual in her focus on murder as a vocation, suddenly express active sex interest. But I found that to be a welcome humanizing note in a character that had been played as increasingly cold. All the women actors were great this week (Emilia Clark rarely impresses me, but she was doing so subtly complex work this week despite it definitely not being a "Dany episode), but Williams was especially good as she checks Gendry out during their first interaction at the forge, and especially when she replies that yes, he definitely did count the women he had been with. It would have been so easy to play that line with a smirk or a reprimand, but her nonjudgmental certainty went a long way toward convincing me that okay, maybe Arya was actually mature enough for this experience.
|Also, I'm sure that's not what they were going for, but this shot is kind of hilarious|
if you just take her look to mean that Gendry was really, really bad at it
On Brienne’s side of things, there is not much I could say that Gwendoline Christie’s big, unguarded smile didn't say better. Of course it is wonderful, but it also has me worried about her safety for the first time in a couple seasons. Ever since the idea occurred to me, I have been thinking that she had to live through the end to wind up on the Kingsguard, writing Jaime’s entry into the Book Of Brothers. It just seemed like too perfect an end to their arc not to use. But this week saw her stand up for him as the first person to publicly acknowledge that he was a more honorable man in deed than reputation, and him returning the favor by being the first to publicly recognize that she has always been a truer knight than any man we’ve seen bear the title. While I still prefer my own fanfiction, that is a strong enough capper to the relationship that it does feel like they can let her go now, if they want to really hurt us.
There is actually a ton of that type of “two days until retirement!” notes throughout the episode, so let’s skip random notes to see how my prophesies are faring:
Season Morghulis: Ned Umber.
Prophesies: Only one of my predictions came true this week, but none were specifically disproven. I'll roll with that. Grey Worm and Ghost are almost certainly toast next week, along with some smattering of Jorah, Theon, Davos, Pod, and possibly (now) Brienne. Bran's final sacrifice could be looming sooner than I thought.
Jon – Becomes king, dies defeating Night King, leaving Dany pregnant
Dany – Refuses to step down for Jon, thinks better of it after losing more dragons and advisors in the battle at Winterfell, but winds up back on the throne after he dies heroically, with a proper incestuous Targaryen heir on the way.
Cersei – Gets to little Robin Arryn and lays a trap at the Eyrie before the survivors of Winterfell can reach it, which is mostly foiled by wariness of Sansa/Arya/Tyrion. King Jon still feels compelled to offer her a pardon to fight with them for realsies this time. She can’t help but try to backstab them one last time and Jaime mercy-kills her before Queen Dany can burn her alive.
Bran – Dies/leaves human body warging into Drogon as a sacrifice play allowing the living to escape Winterfell.
Sansa/Tyrion – Renew their marriage to rule the North and Westerlands.
Arya – Provides assist to take out Mountain in Cleganebowl. Hooks up with Gendry but refuses to be tied down as his wife, last seen hitting the road for more merry adventures, but with an ominous note that a Faceless man is trailing her.
Gendry – High Lord of the Stormlands.
Sam – High Lord of The Reach.
Gilly – Lady Of the Reach.
Jaime – Appointed/Sentenced to reconstitute the Night’s Watch as new Lord Commander.
Brienne – Commander of the Queensguard.
Davos – Small Council, Master Of Ships.
Missandei – Small Council.
Jorah – killed by Walkers.
Tormund – Ruler of new Wildling nation in the Gift.
Yara – Ruler Of Iron Islands.
Theon – dies heroically.
Euron – dismembered by Mountain.
The Hound/Mountain – killed together in Cleganebowl.
Drogon/Rhaegal – die in battles with Night King.
Grey Worm – killed by Walkers.
Varys – killed in Cersei’s trap.
Melisandre – killed by Varys.
Robin Arryn – killed in Cersei’s trap.
Yohn Royce – Lord of the Vale.
Berric Dondarrion – killed by Walkers.
Edd – killed by Walkers.
Qyburn – killed by Mountain.
Bronn – refuses to kill Jaime/Tyrion, gets a castle.
Lyanna Mormont – Rules Bear Island.
Podrick – killed by Walkers.
Ghost – killed by Walkers.