Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) makes a stand.
Photo: All images: Helen Sloan (HBO)

We didn’t need seven seasons of shocking character deaths to know that not all our favorite characters are going to survive the battle against the White Walkers. It turns out very few characters on the show have any illusions about staying alive either, so they have to choose how to spend their final day before the dead arrive on their doorstep. It makes for a very bleak episode, but a damned good one, too.

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After last week’s rocky season premiere, I am very happy to report that things are much, much improved. While last week’s episode often felt rushed to the point of incoherence, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” has nothing but time—time to stay with those gathered at Winterfell as they get ready to fight a war no one much expects to win…but are forced to wait for that war to arrive and reckon with their probable demises. All of those thoughtful character moments that have made the series so special and were almost completely lacking in the premiere? It turns out they were all here.

Compare anything from last week with the beginning of last night’s episode, in which everyone decides what the hell to do with Jaime. Just about all the main characters get a chance to weigh in and let us know how they feel about his arrival. Daenerys is ready to kill the traitor who murdered her father, Sansa is also ready to punish the man who attacked her father in season one, Brienne vouches for Jaime’s honor and tells of his good deeds when they were together, and Tyrion hopes to save his brother while being on Daenerys’ bad side for getting utterly duped by Cersei. Best of all are Jaime’s frequent, desperate looks at Bran, wondering if he’s going to mention how Jaime pushed him off that tower all those years ago, but only getting Bran’s uncomfortable Three-Eyed Raven stare in return. None of this needed to be seen—we all knew Jaime wasn’t going to be killed, because he’s obviously going to fight alongside the good guys—but it felt natural and real, in that way that makes Game of Thrones so special.

And that was just the first scene! Jaime then got time to talk to Bran alone, and discover Bran has no hard feelings (he has no feelings at all, really) and that by pushing a kid out that window Jaime accidentally set himself on a road to becoming a better person. Jaime and Tyrion also get to spend some alone time together, marveling at how two Lannisters have somehow both ended up fighting for the Starks in Winterfell. And then when Jaime and Brienne reunite, he tells her he’d be honored if he could serve under her when the fighting starts.

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Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) enjoys his fifth of 18 drinks.

Honestly, it’s almost a little obnoxious that so many characters get so much time to process Jaime’s arrival when so many major moments were jam-packed into the show last week, but it’s these scenes where the characters don’t have plot duties that really stand out.

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Sansa and Daenerys finally get to have a private conversation and it’s everything I wanted, from Daenerys’ too-friendly overtures to the two women bonding over the perils of the patriarchy to Sansa’s utter refusal to forget that when the war is over the fate of Winterfell and the North is still in the queen’s hands. Tyrion and Jaime, drinking and regretting the “perils of self-betterment” was outstanding. Sansa’s palpable happiness at seeing fellow Ramsay survivor Theon again was much briefer, but also satisfying. Even the mini-Night’s Watch reunion of Jon, Samwell, and Edd had a bit of emotional heft.

Not all of it worked, though. Sam giving Jorah his family’s Valyrian sword to fight with didn’t feel particularly earned. The scene where Davos is inexplicably serving food to raw recruits and meets the clichéd “small child who wants to be a soldier” was worthless. And I’m honestly not at all sure how I feel about Arya’s determination to have sex before most likely dying the next day (although to be fair I don’t think Gendry was sure how to feel either).

But the episode is going to be remembered for one scene and one scene alone, and it’s not the one where Jon reveals his true parentage to Daenerys (which conveniently occurs seconds before the White Walkers arrive). It’s when Tyrion and Jaime are drinking, and are slowly joined by Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund, and then…that’s it, basically. They drink and talk and think about how they’re probably going to die in the very, very near future. These different characters, who have had vastly different journeys, come together and quietly bond in their shared doom, and it’s just marvelous. It honestly didn’t need that cheesy but incredibly satisfying moment when Jaime knights Brienne, but Gwendoline Christie does such an excellent job of conveying Brienne’s emotions while she’s trying desperately to restrain them, and it’s a lovely reminder of how important these scenes are to Game of Thrones—or can be.

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Of course, given that the episode ends with the White Walkers staring at Winterfell, I sincerely doubt we’re in for any more simple, quiet scenes for…well, ever, maybe? The war will clearly begin next week, and I don’t know that there’s much reason to suspect it’ll end anytime before the final episode. That’s fine—it’s what we’ve all been waiting for, after all—and I feel very confident that the spectacles in store are going to blow our minds. But we all needed this episode, not just as the traditional calm before the storm, but as a reminder of what this show is and has been, and why we’re so damn invested in seeing who manages to live through what’s next—however few they may be.

Because right now, the big plan is “kill the Night King and hope they all die” like when they slew the Walker last season and his wights collapsed. Bran will hang out in the Godswood because the Night King hates Three-Eyed Ravens so much he’ll likely head there to attack—at which point Theon and his Iron Islanders will pop up, as, hopefully, will Dany with one of her dragons. It’s not the worst plan, but as Bran points out, no one actually knows if dragon fire can even destroy the Night King. Given that next week is only the third episode of six, I’m guessing…no. It won’t.

Which most likely means some the characters we saw thinking they may be about to die are going to be very, very right. Thank goodness we’ll have this last night to remember them by.

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Davos (Liam Cunningham) takes time out of his incredibly busy day to, uh, serve soup.

Assorted Musings:

  • Jon basically sprinting away from Daenerys every time they were done having a group meeting made me chuckle.
  • For defenses, Winterfell has catapults, plenty of spiked barricades, and a trench they can set on fire. Oh, and nine million dragonglass weapons. Could be worse!
  • Arya’s Gendry-made weapon was a spear with a dragonglass blade at each end. Should make for a pretty action scene.
  • Bran doesn’t care that Jaime threw him out a window and paralyzed him, but Bran also likes to say “The things we do for love” in front of Jaime constantly to make him feel like shit.
  • Holy crap, was that Ghost? (It was.)
  • Holy crap, was that “Jenny of Oldstones”? (It was.)
  • This show cannot make me care about Grey Worm and Missandei, but that didn’t make their decision to make travel plans for after the war any less trite. The only question now is which one of them will die—or will they both?
  • Hey, what the hell was up with Brienne looking to Pod when Jaime offered to knight her, and then Pod barely nodded his approval? Brienne doesn’t need shit from you, Podrick.
  • That was also some very good acting from Emilia Clarke when Jon is telling Dany his origin story. There are lots of conflicting emotions going on at once—and I like how Dany’s first thought is of the Iron Throne, and not the fact she has been having sex with her nephew.
  • That Winterfell war map was hilarious. There’s the keep, the various Winterfell forces, and then basically the entire top half of the board is the Night King’s army. Ha ha, they’re doomed!
  • Samwell, laying down some truth: “Everyone seems to forget I’m the first one to kill a White Walker.”

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