One of Game of Thrones’ biggest strengths, which has waned in recent seasons, is simple conversation. Last night’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” made up for the lack, giving us conversation in spades. It was also a huge helping of something Game of Thrones has often denied us for the entirety of its run: good clean old-fashioned emotional catharsis. There was Sansa’s reunion with Theon, Brienne vouching for Jaime’s character, then Jaime offering to both fight under Brienne’s command and knighting her. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau spent this episode working that “face about to explode with repressed emotion” look for all it’s worth. And of course there was that multi-scene fireside chat between old friends and foes alike.
Not all of it worked. I thought Samwell’s speech about death as forgetting was a pale imitation of Beric Dondarrion’s musings to Jon late last season. I’m still not sure what to make of Arya and Gendry’s romantic tryst. It certainly makes sense; they’re both young and on the verge of a battle where they’ll probably all die, and it allowed Arya to stretch emotionally a bit. Still, the scene felt like the closest this episode came to abandoning George R.R. Martin’s ethos for out-and-out fan service. I guess we’ll see how this plays out.
Meanwhile, now that Cersei’s betrayal is out in the open, has the show ever properly reckoned with just how bad Tyrion’s judgment has been in recent seasons? I can’t tell if this is a planned evolution for his character, or just an awkward result of the showrunners forcing a particular path for the plot. Tyrion certainly acknowledged things last night, openly wondering about his possible replacement as Daenerys’ Hand, and explaining to Jamie that he fell for Cersei’s ruse because, “I made a mistake common to clever people. I underestimated my opponents.” It’s just he’s done that multiple times over now. As heartwarming as it was to see Jorah intervene with Daenerys on Tyrion’s behalf, I found myself wondering if it was really merited.
One more complaint before I move onto the good stuff: Tormund’s comic relief was just too much. Kristofer Hivju could play this sort of dialogue in his sleep at this point. And his speech about getting strong by suckling at a giantess’ breast was hilarious. It was just that combining it with Tormund guzzling the whole horn of ale and his endearing lechery over Brienne piled it on a bit thick. Again, a bit too fan-service-y. Though my impression from Twitter is that I may in the minority on this one.
For my money, the person who absolutely ran away with “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was Sophie Turner as Lady Sansa Stark. Watch her face as Brienne intervenes at the trial on Jaime’s behalf. After all she’s endured and come to know, Sansa does not give her trust easily. But Brienne has it, and here she was defending the honor of a man who helped rain death and ruin down on Sansa’s family. The Lady of Winterfell had to fit those competing narratives into her head in real time, and she was willing to consider the possibility that there’s more to Jaime than she knows.
Or take Sansa’s reaction to Theon’s arrival: Her face crumpled and she embraced him in the fiercest hug I’ve ever seen Sansa give. It was the capstone to Theon’s entire back-to-where-he-started redemptive arc, and Turner didn’t even have to say a word.
Finally there was Sansa’s poise, perception, and adaptability in dealing with Daenerys. As soon as she realized the Dragon Queen was attempting to build a bridge, Sansa made the right decision and admitting to making a mistake by not welcoming Daenerys the moment she arrived. Sansa doesn’t trust Daenerys’ influence over Jon, but she recognizes Daenerys as a rare equal and possible compatriot — not to mention a necessary ally in the war against the White Walkers.
I worried last week that there might be too much of Cersei and Littlefinger in Sansa now. I was wrong. Ned Stark is alive and well in his daughter.
If only Daenerys could’ve risen to meet the occasion. Her better instincts are still there, or she wouldn’t have taken the initiative and tried to mend fences with Sansa to start with. But as soon as it became clear Sansa was not prepared to just bend the knee, the bottom fell out of the conversation. Nor did Daenerys come off well when Jon dropped the truth bomb of his own parentage on her. Daenerys isn’t wrong that the news comes from Jon’s brother and best friend, who would have a vested interest in forging a claim for Jon to the Iron Throne. But the fact that her immediate reaction was suspicion in defense of her own claim — in the face of a man who, up until now, she placed so much trust in — does not bode well for the “liberator or tyrant” question hanging over Daenerys’ head.
Finally, let’s talk about that fireside chat.
Tyrion may not have lived up to his reputation for cleverness as of late. But his more touching strength has always been as a leader of conversation and communion — preferably over generous helpings of wine. (Dinklage’s face as he overfilled Podrick’s cup was priceless.) Remember him leading Shae and Bronn in a game of revealing their personal histories? Or Tyrion coaxing jokes out of Missandei and Grey Worm? Last night he was in fine form, encouraging old enemies to share a moment of warmth together, and roundly cheering Brienne’s new knighthood as Gwendoline Christie smiled the biggest smile Brienne’s ever had.
On that note, what are we to make of Jaime? Brienne defended him based on the times and trials they shared together, when something seemed to be breaking loose in the Kingslayer. But then he also returned to his old form after reuniting with Cersei. Was that, again, just an awkward result of the surgery the writers have performed on Martin’s bloated epic? Or was it the inevitable flailing of a man who knows he’s changed and can’t go back to what he was, but is trying nonetheless? When, several seasons ago, Jaime told Edmure Tully he would kill and destroy as much as necessary to get back to Cersei, was that the truth or just Jaime on autopilot? Or is this, as Jaime himself said at last night’s trial, all about survival against the Dead? I don’t know the answers to any of that yet. But when Jaime told Bran he was sorry for pushing him out that window, and that he isn’t the man he was before, I believed him. Without a doubt, pledging himself to fight under Brienne’s command, and then recognizing all she’s achieved by knighting her, were among the most generous things Jaime’s ever done. A butcher and man without honor, finding his soul by granting a title to a person whom the whole weight of tradition says should never get it, simply because she was born a woman, is exactly the kind of moral inversion Martin always cultivated in his books.
Honestly, those parts of last night’s episode were so moving and cathartic and satisfying that it made me a little suspicious. Like a lot people, I’m concerned Game of Thrones might lose the unique mix of narrative satisfaction and unpredictable vertigo that Martin achieved. It seems to keep teetering on the brink. But now that we’re nearing the endgame, perhaps the showrunners are actually relying more on material the author sketched out, compared to seasons six and seven. However bogged down the later books became, Martin did seem to have a pretty clear vision of the finale in mind. It would certainly make sense for all the threads to be drawn back together in a fashion like this — and for them all to circle back to Winterfell, no less.
If “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was just a final moment of respite before the leveling storm, the show has certainly earned it.