It’s calm-before-the-storm time on Game of Thrones this week. The war that’s been building for eight seasons is imminent, and that makes right now most characters’ last chance to get their personal affairs in order.
Unlike the season premiere, which jumped between Winterfell and King’s Landing, this week’s episode is set entirely in the North. Even without any screen time, Cersei’s presence remains felt.
I think the best way to organize this recap is by character group.
As expected, Jaime Lannister does not exactly receive a warm welcome at Winterfell. He’s brought before Daenerys, who’s less than pleased to meet the man who murdered her father. She’s also unimpressed that he appears to be the sum total of the army Cersei promised she’d send. Jaime acknowledges what everybody has already figured out, that Cersei had no intention of ever sending an army. This puts Daenerys in a foul mood with Tyrion for being duped by his sister.
Jaime stands defiant in the face of Daenerys’ questioning, but Bran gets in a pointed barb by reciting his quip, “The things we do for love.” However, Bran stops short of telling everyone that Jaime was the culprit who tossed him off the tower so many years ago.
Eventually, Brienne stands up for Jaime, calling him an honorable man. This is enough to overcome Sansa’s skepticism, because she trusts Brienne’s judgment. In turn, Jon Snow and then Daenerys agree to let Jaime stay in Winterfell and join their army. Grey Worm hands Jaime his sword back.
Jaime later meets Bran in front of a weirwood tree and apologizes for what he did to him. Bran can feel no emotion, not even anger. He says that he kept Jaime’s secret because he knew that every man will be needed for the war.
After his inquisition, Jaime finds Brienne training troops to fight and thanks her for speaking up for him. Brienne waits for an insult to follow, as she’s accustomed to hearing from him. Instead, she’s taken aback when Jaime says that he’d be honored to fight under her command if she’ll have him.
Now that he knows his true lineage, Jon can’t bring himself to face Daenerys. He avoids her gaze and spends a lot of time keeping busy in the company of others.
At a strategy meeting among the leaders, Jon explains his theory that all the White Walkers will fall if they can take out the Night King. Bran believes that the Night King will come for him, and volunteers to be used as bait to expose him. As the Three-Eyed Raven, he holds the memories of Westeros that the Night King wishes to erase. Sam in particular is chilled by the notion of their entire existence being eradicated and forgotten.
Tyrion spends most of the episode on the outs with Daenerys. Even Jorah has to defend him to her. When Tyrion insists that he should be on the field fighting with their men, Dany orders him to stay behind, sheltered in the crypts. She tells him that his mind is more valuable than his swordsmanship, but he nevertheless feels that he’s being sidelined.
Left alone with Bran, Tyrion pulls up a chair and asks to hear his story.
Daenerys meets with Sansa in the hopes of thawing the tension between them. They seem to bond for a moment over Jon, and Daenerys insists that she loves him. However, Sansa quickly turns cold when questioning what will happen to the North after the war is over and Daenerys becomes queen. The Northerners swore never to bow to another monarch.
Their meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Theon Greyjoy, bringing news that his sister Yara is sailing to take the Iron Islands in Daenerys’ name. When questioned why he came to Winterfell, Theon says that he intends to fight for Sansa. Though she once hated him, Sansa rushes to embrace the man who saved her from Ramsay Bolton.
Arya quizzes Gendry about his experience with White Walkers. He tries to scare her by describing them simply as “death.” Arya responds that she knows many faces of death and looks forward to seeing this one, then demonstrates some impressive knife-throwing skills. She pushes him to complete the weapon she commissioned from him.
Later, Arya sits to have a drink with the Hound on top of a castle battlement. They almost have a nice moment, until Beric Dondarrion arrives, and Arya has no interest hanging around with two old sods commiserating about their miserable lives.
Gendry finishes Arya’s weapon, which seems to be a spear with a detachable head made out of dragonglass. When she goes to pick it up, Arya aggressively questions Gendry about his sexual history with the girls in Fleabottom and with the Red Witch. He admits to her that he’s the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon, but that doesn’t seem to be what interests her. She says that she wants to experience sex, makes Gendry disrobe, and has her way with him.
Davos and Sam’s wife Gilly have a nice moment reassuring a young girl that they will need her help defending the other children in the crypts after the battle starts.
Jorah tries to convince his young cousin, Lady Lyanna Mormont, to stay behind in safety while her troops fight, but she won’t hear any of it. He respects her tenacity.
Despite having earlier stood up for himself to remind Jon Snow and Eddison Tollet that he was the first person to ever kill a White Walker and that he also felled a Thenn warg, Sam is candid with Jorah that he’s not much of a fighter. He gives Jorah his family’s Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane, to use in battle.
Grey Worm doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he and Missandei make plans for where they should go after the war. I have a bad feeling that their story won’t end happily.
The Fireside Chat
Tyrion and Jaime sit before a fireplace contemplating their strange fates. Little by little, they’re joined by Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund. Davos initially refuses to drink and insists that they should get some rest, but soon finds himself imbibing and getting a load off before the battle to come. Of them all, only Tyrion expresses any optimism about their chances of survival.
Tormund, who’d been searching for Brienne ever since arriving in Winterfell, peacocks for her in front of Jaime, telling the hilarious story of how he got the name “Giantsbane.” Brienne finds herself in the very unusual position of drawing the attention of two men. Jaime decidedly gets the upper hand in this contest at the emotional climax of the episode. Upon Brienne explaining to Tormund that women can’t become knights due to tradition, Jaime announces that any knight can name another knight, and calls Brienne over to officially bequeath the status upon her. Brienne can hardly contain herself when Jaime dubs her Ser Brienne of Tarth, and a round of applause breaks out from the group, loudest of all from Tormund.
As the night winds down, Tyrion calls for a song. One by one, everybody passes until the round gets to Podrick, who finds a fittingly melancholy tune that plays over a montage showing: Sam in bed with his wife and child, Sansa eating a meal with Theon, Arya in bed with Gendry, and Grey Worm kissing Missandei goodbye before marching out to war.
Jon & Daenerys
Puzzled at why he avoided her all day, Daenerys finds Jon Snow in the family crypt, standing before a statue of Lyanna Stark. Dany still believes the story that her older brother Rhaegar raped and murdered Lyanna. Jon blurts out that it’s a lie, that Rhaegar and Lynna were in love, secretly married, and had a child that Lyanna entrusted her brother Ned to raise. The truth spilling out of him in a flood he can’t contain, Jon announces that he is the child and his real name is Aegon Targaryen.
Daenerys seems less upset at the revelation that her lover is actually a blood relative than the fact that this could make him a challenger to her claim on the Iron Throne. Before she has time to process this information, however, watchmen’s horns blare, calling all forces to assemble. White Walkers stand on the horizon, leading the army of the dead to Winterfell.
Honestly, this may be one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. It’s a solid hour of some of the strongest character work the show has ever done. By turns, it’s foreboding, melancholy, sometimes quite funny, and empowering for most of the female characters. These interpersonal moments have always been some of the most interesting parts of the show for me, and I’m extremely grateful to get so many of them packed in right before what is very likely to be a four-episode marathon of battle after battle after battle.
That stuff is fun too, but I’m relieved the writers haven’t forgotten that we need to care about these characters before watching them get hacked to bits.
That said, it’s more than a little uncomfortable and disconcerting to see Maisie Williams, a young actress who’s been on this show since early puberty, do her first sex scene with nudity. Yes, Arya has grown up a lot in this story and the point is that she’s fully an adult now, but it still feels dirty.