“Do you want me to apologise? I won’t. We were at war. Everything I did, I did for my house and my family. I’d do it all again.”
If you’re chafing for the first of this last season’s Big Battles, you may well have been disappointed this week. For the second week in a row, we were stuck at Winterfell as yet more characters came together in readiness for the Impending Doom of the White Walkers attack.
And yet for all that, it was an enthralling episode – dealing yet again with the characters that are the heart of the story, rather than rushing into frenetic action as it did so often last season. The show has done well in the past with these gloomy, introspective Eve of Battle stories – and with the stakes of the battle that’s about to start, it felt deserved that an entire episode should be dedicated to that growing feeling that not everyone’s going to survive this one.
While the sheer number of characters involved here meant that this was an ensemble piece, the heart of Bryan Cogman’s script revolved around the recently arrived Jaime Lannister. Jaime’s been one of the most interesting characters throughout the show’s run, a cynical, tarnished knight growing to live with his past sins and seeking redemption. This ep saw him reunited with so many people who’d have every right to want him dead, you had to admire his sheer chutzpah just for turning up.
And yet of course he had to, as part of his quest to regain his honour after so much betrayal. He was on trial from the first, brought before the putative queen whose father he had (quite sensibly) killed. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was electric as he portrayed Jaime’s inner conflict; his quite rational attempt at justification brought to a crashing halt as Bran quietly reminded him of six words: “The things we do for love”. The words he said just before throwing the boy from the top of a tower, way back in episode one.
As yet, that’s still a secret between these two. In one of a series of cathartic reunions, Bran explained to Jaime that he could hardly help in the oncoming battle if the others killed him first. Both ruminated on how they were no longer those people; in Bran’s case, he doesn’t even think of himself as a person at all any more. It brought home the journeys that all the characters have been on over the last eight years, and why they’re so well-drawn. They’ve all changed, dramatically, and we’ve been with them every step of the way.
As last week, the ep was full of callbacks to the show’s past. With the battle looming, all talk seemed to be of battles these characters have previously lived through – Blackwater, the Battle of the Bastards, Hardhome. All fondly remembered epic conflicts for fans, but the characters reminded us that for them, it was like living through hell.
No wonder then that a small group of some of the most beloved figures ended up having an impromptu drinking party before all hell broke loose. Tyrion, Jaime, Ser Davos, Tormund Giantsbane, Brienne, and even Podrick Payne gathered for one last hurrah, and it felt like a party the viewer was invited to. Even if it wasn’t very cheery.
Oh, there was some levity. Tyrion was uncharacteristically optimistic, opining that they might live through this; while Tormund gave us his unsurprisingly larger-than-life origin story while slurping what might have been giant’s milk from a huge horn.
But the centre of the ep, if it was anywhere, was here. And in particular the tear-worthy moment when Jaime finally, properly knighted Lady Brienne of Tarth, Gwendoline Christie’s wounded stoicism breaking for a moment as tears glistened in her eyes. I’d thought the title of the ep referred to Jaime; here it became clear that the Knight of the Seven Kingdoms was Brienne herself. In an ep full of gloom and portents, it was a heartwarming moment, and only the hardest of hearts could fail to be moved.
In a packed episode, there was plenty more to like. A reunion of the Night’s Watch, as Jon, Sam and Dolorous Edd stood together on Winterfell’s battlements. Ser Jorah trying in vain to convince the ever-fierce Lyanna Mormont to sit out the battle. And of course Arya and Gendry finally getting it on.
Well, who didn’t see that coming? Those guys have history after all, and it’s not like Joe Dempsie to keep his clothes on for long. It did feel a bit weird to see Arya in that light though, especially since Maisie Williams still looks very young – I wonder if that was a body double when she slipped off her clothes?
Jon was more in character though. After brooding in standard fashion throughout the ep, he chose the worst possible moment to reveal to Dany what he’d found out about his identity. I mean, really, the battle is only moments away, and he decides that’s a good time to reveal to his lover and ally that they’re actually close relatives and he has a better claim to the throne than she does? What better way to cement a relationship just before the forces of hell descend?
Sex and violence
Not much of either in a thoughtful, dialogue-driven ep. No violence at all, in fact, though I’m expecting that balance to be redressed next week.
A little sex though, and for once not exploitative. Arya and Gendry’s love scene has been a long time coming, and was sweetly and amusingly played as she ruthlessly quizzed him on his prior experience with girls: “I didn’t keep count! … well, three.” Plus as ever, it’s always nice when Joe Dempsie takes his clothes off 🙂
Choice dialogue this week
In a rather gloomy script, there was less humour than last time, but some profound utterances, particularly from the ever-defiant Arya.
Talking to Gendry about the Walker army: “I know death. He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.”
Stuck on the battlements with the brooding figures of the Hound and Beric Dondarrion: “I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable shits.”
And taking charge in her first love scene: “I’m not the Red Woman. Take your own bloody pants off.”
Jaime got in on the act, with a fatalistic, self-aware jab at Tyrion: “My golden lion days are over, but whoremongering is still an option for you.”
And in an ep steeped in anticipation of death, leave it to Sam Tarly to come up with the wistful and philosophic: “That’s what death is, isn’t it? Forgetting. Or being forgotten.”
So, still no Big Battle – but still no disappointment, at least for me. I can happily watch these characters bitch at each other, make up, and spout well-written dialogue for hour after hour. In that, the ep delivered in spades; both gloomy and heartwarming, ot felt like a satisfying stage play. I’m glad this final season has abandoned the constant breakneck pacing of last year for some contemplative eps in between the spectacle; but if it’s carage you’re looking for, I suspect you won’t have long to wait…