Television Review -Game of Thrones 8.02 “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – a truly superb showcase of the strength of these special characters

“The things I do for love.”

That was the memorable line that ended episode one of the first series of Game of Thrones and it perfectly sums up so many motivations on display in this second episode of season 8. After last week’s opener provided most of the reunions and delivered the important information to Jon Snow about his parentage, the creators of the show chose to do something special and also rather brave in 8.02. We all know the battle is coming. The Army of the Dead are past Last Hearth, inching ever closer to the boundaries of Winterfell and yet the strength of Game of Thrones as a series means that taking 55 minutes out of the action to simply spend time with these incredible characters feels absolutely right.

As an audience, we’ve grown to love these people and their relationships and clearly not everyone will make it through next week alive. Therefore, this week provided our and their last chance to simply exist with one another; to be who they are, or who they’ve become and show us that ultimately for many of them at this point they are doing things for love and honour. As a theatre lover, it reminded me of an intimate play, split in to separate acts, focussing on the dialogue and connections forged over eight years and although I imagine some won’t have enjoyed it, I loved it. It also laid the emotional foundations by reminding you who you care about, who they care about and how awful it will be when the casualties of the battle start to mount up.

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, so let’s dive in.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – the beauty of Jaime & Brienne’s story

Full disclosure, Jaime Lannister is my favourite character. He is in the books and he is in the series and it’s mainly because he is such a complex man, who feels very human and authentic. He changes in ways that few others on the series do and the biggest reason he does is the influence of Brienne of Tarth. Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven is right when he says had Jaime not pushed him from that window that he’d perhaps be the same person. It certainly started his journey of judging his own choices and actions, but it was his time with Brienne that allowed him to be the decent man he’s likely always wanted to be. Let’s not forget, he killed the Mad King to save the people of King’s Landing. Seeing Jaime turn away from Cersei (which seems to have taken longer on screen than on the page) was such a pivotal moment and watching him stand before so many people who wish him dead and say he wants to keep his word and fight with them emphasised how much he’d changed.

Yet, the episode’s title doesn’t just refer to one knight, but two; the other being the woman who means so much to Jaime Lannister and to whom he can gift the thing she’s wanted most in life – to be a knight of the realm! Honestly, all of Jaime and Brienne’s scenes were a treat this week, with such lovely touches (like when Jaime, on trial says its not about loyalty to houses, while slightly glancing her way, seeing as she said this to him at the Dragon Pit and which results in her stepping forward to defend his honour), but nothing could beat the scene in which Ser Jaime knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth. It was simply beautiful, from the way it was shot in the firelit room, to the acting from Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to the emotional power of the words Jaime speaks as he shows her this is what she deserves and yes, I shed a few tears.

The unexpected affection for Theon Greyjoy

Let’s take a moment to salute Alfie Allen, who I feel has been underrated for his performance as Theon in the series. He’s been superb throughout, taking Theon from cocky, unpleasant ward of the Starks, to traitor, to hostage, to a broken victim of abuse who finds his way back to himself and goes on to save his sister and then choose to come back to the only home he knew and yet betrayed, to defend it and try to make amends for the wrongs he caused the Starks. I never expected to like Theon and yet his reunion with Sansa this week was one of the most moving moments of the series and another that caused me to shed a tear. The have both endured such pain and helped each other survive. It’s another example of Game of Thrones doing what it does best, eliciting emotion from you where you least expect it.

Arya Stark – Warrior, assassin & woman in control of her own choices

It’s interesting that I’ve already seen quite a lot of mixed reaction online to Arya’s choices in this episode. Many people seem appalled by it, which I admit, I’m quite surprised about. Hardly any of the female characters in this story have been in control of their bodies. We’ve had Dany raped on her wedding night. Sure she fell in love with Drogo, but not at first. Then there was Cersei being traded by Tywin and as recently as last week giving up herself to Euron in order to keep him on side. Brienne was only spared thanks to Jaime and we all saw the brutal horrors Sansa endured throughout. Yet here, we had a young woman, choosing to have sex with someone she had a connection with and cared for and who cared for her. Perhaps most people’s discomfort stems from the fact we’ve watched Maisie Williams grow up from a 13-year old to the young 22 year-old woman she now is, but as characters go, Arya’s choice to sleep with Gendry was one of the most natural sexual moments we’ve seen on this show! That scene aside, I also loved her highlighting to him her skill and confidence in the woman she is. My one complaint – can she please announce to the world that she obliterated House Frey?!

And now our watch begins………one last moment for the Night’s Watch?

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Those early days at The Wall seem an age ago, don’t they? And yet, three of our favourite Crows have made it to this final season and this episode saw Sam, Jon and Edd reunited, to stand beside each other, keeping watch for the arrival of the enemy. And with Ghost by their side too! It was another lovely nod to the relationships that have been formed in the show and provided a moment for humour, with Edd mocking Sam, only for Sam to give as good as he got, as Jon smirked beside his friends. This episode was filled with quiet, yet emotionally loaded moments and this was another lovely one.

Daenerys Targaryen – showing more glimpses of the Targaryen madness within?

As the series has made me love Jaime after disliking him and caused me to cry for Theon when I’ve spent years wanting to give him a slap, it’s also causing the opposite reaction when it comes to Dany. Having loved her for years, I’m starting to grow more and more concerned about where this story is going for the Mother of Dragons. Yes, her whole life has been about the Iron Throne and getting justice for her family, but her hostility to Sansa last week and crucially, her reaction to Jon Snow’s admission that he’s the son of her brother are worrying me. Her first response was anger over the fact he was now a threat to her claim. You could see the surprise and hurt pass through Jon Snow’s eyes (wonderfully played by Kit Harrington). Hopefully this is just a blip, as the idea of her going full-on Mad Queen does not appeal to me. Plus, she did try and make peace with Sansa following Jorah’s counsel (although I like that the show hasn’t wrapped up that tension with a neat bow just yet).

A song before the battle & a reminder of so many wonderful characters

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Another beautiful moment of this episode was when Pod offered the group a song as they awaited the battle around the fireside. Not only was it a song full of emotion, reflecting on love and loss (and whose origins can be found in the books), but the montage of scenes over which it played was perfect to round out an episode that had been filled with reminders to the audience that this group of characters are special and we’ve grown to care more than we even realised. Yes, it reminded me of the moment in The Return of the King, when Pippin sang a sorrowful song as men went out to die in that final Lord of the Rings film, but that’s not a bad thing. The emotional impact was needed to make next week all the more upsetting.

And then there were the brief, but heartfelt moments that added to the mood

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The above were the bigger story beats this week for me, but there were so many other smaller moments, that added to the emotional heart of 8.02, which I can’t leave out:

  • Sir Davos seeing Shireen in the little, scarred girl who wants to fight. I mean, it was just such a small, but hugely significant moment for him and I loved it.
  • The Hound showing affection in his own way, when he reminds Arya that he fought for her.
  • Tyrion filling Pod’s cup until it was overflowing after Brienne said he should only have half!
  • Tyrion calling out his brother on how he loved Cersei despite knowing who she was, followed by Jaime finding Brienne in the crowd below. Honestly all of Tyrion’s and Jaime’s moments were a joy this week.
  • Tormund’s bonkers telling of his backstory, prompting some fun reactions from the crowd and driving Sir Davos to drink!
  • Sam giving his family sword to Ser Jorah, the son of the man who taught him to be a man.
  • Greyworm promising Missandei a new, happier life after the war is over.

Looking ahead – next week is going to be emotional. Stock up on tissues folks!

Some readers may have already read my dead pool predictions post for this series, in which I set out my hopes, fears and thoughts on who will not reach the end of the series alive, but when we know that next week is the big battle, it seems only right to try and think about who will fall in 8.03. What do we know? The episode is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who is behind Hardhome and The Battle of the Bastards and who has directed an episode which is said to be the longest battle scene ever recorded for film or television, Running for 82 minutes and taking 55 nights to make! To put that in context, season six’s Battle of the Bastards took 25 days to film…….! This is going to be epic. In fact I think we’ll need a new word to describe this.

Will they defeat the Night King? I assume not. Surely that would be too easy and too early. So, who will fall in this first battle?

  • Sadly, I think Theon is a definite goner. He’s putting himself between the Night King and Bran and his story arc has reached a natural end. He’ll die protecting the Starks.
  • Sorry Missandei, but I think you’ll be alone on that beach in Narth, as I don’t see Greyworm surviving the week.
  • Edd – the last Crow we care about besides Jon and Sam is likely another casualty of the battle.
  • Beric Dondarrion – I just don’t see his story continuing much longer and honestly, I don’t really care.
  • Ser Jorah Mormont – I’m still 50/50 about this, but I could easily see him dying this week, if it means he saves Dany, or Jon, or heck, little Lyanna Mormont.
  • Tormund – he’s a character who belongs in the North. I don’t see him making his way down to King’s Landing.
  • Jaime….or Brienne……no, Jaime. This is the hardest for me, as I love these two, but one of them seems destined to die and it could be this week. Brienne has now been given everything she dreamt of, becoming a knight and earning the respect and in my view, love, of Jaime, the man she’d want to be with if this wasn’t Game of Thrones (sorry Tormund). Perhaps her story has reached the end, but Jaime has already told Bronn that he’d choose to die in the arms of the woman he loves. He may have meant Cersei then, but it’s more likely to be Brienne, who may well survive to complete the pages of the man she loved in the Kingsguard book.
  • Also – are the crypts really as safe as everyone kept saying this week?? We did see skeletons attack Bran and co before they found sanctuary in the tree…..and the crypt is full of buried Starks………

Blimey, just typing that makes me sad and there’s a week of anticipation to go (plus I’m still not totally certain about Arya’s fate either next week….). Good luck everyone and I’ll see you here next week to sift through the emotional wreckage…….

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO in the USA and on Sky Atlantic (or via NowTV) in the UK on Monday (live at 2 a.m. and 9 p.m. and available for streaming/download following the early morning airing). 

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/TdkS4Xazz7Q, the short behind the scenes featurette here: https://youtu.be/WoNRogjJn1Q  and the longer featurette here: https://youtu.be/dcqrNXKv628 

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

 

 

 

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