It would be remiss of me, as an enormous Game of Thrones fan, to let the final season go by without sharing some thoughts week on week.
I’m conscious, however, that full and in-depth critical analysis won’t truly be possible until the finale has aired, at which point I’ll be going back and starting to tackle Season 2 and working back toward the end. I have already deep dived Season 1, as you may remember, and they will probably get a polish once the entire show is completed.
My plan then, in the spirit of George R. R. Martin’s books, is to write up thoughts on each character journey and use them as a prism to explore each episode. With a show like this, built heavily on theory, escalation and payoff, this feels like one of the best ‘in the moment’ methods of reviewing the show – indeed I did just that for Season 6 in my days writing for Flickering Myth.
Right then! Pour yourself (half) a cup of wine and let’s do this…
It only seems right to start with who the episode is essentially named after – now Ser Brienne of Tarth. Brienne probably gets more to do in this episode than she has in *seasons*, with plenty of longing looks at Jaime, comical rebukes of Pod, slightly attracted yet afraid glances at Tormund, and crucially what feels like the ultimate unlocked achievement for perhaps the noblest warrior in Westeros – becoming the first female knight in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. This of course is very much in line with the empowerment of women across Game of Thrones and utterly feels earned for Brienne – when she smiles the broadest grin we’ve ever seen her give, we’re absolutely there with her. It’s no wonder this is Gwendoline Christie’s favourite moment for her character.
I just now fear Brienne may not be much longer for this world…
Alternatively, this week’s title can also be ascribed to Jaime, whose own nobility is writ large across an episode which front loads the theme of honour, especially in the face of absolute titanic adversity. Jaime doesn’t regret helping his family or doing (most of) what he did in years passed, and he’s brave enough to admit it, but he’s also brave enough to apologise to Bran, offer to serve under Brienne (will these two just admit they’re in love with each other yet?), and admit he finally appears to have seen through Cersei’s lies. Just having Jaime shooting the breeze for ages with Tyrion again is a joy.
If ever an episode proved Jaime is now resolutely one of the good guys, this is it. Him knighting Brienne with true pride was just a beautiful scene.
Bless him, he’s both supported and doubted in this episode. It’s looking less likely now that Tyrion has secretly betrayed Daenerys to Cersei (thank God, because I don’t know if I could have coped with that), and more that he just counselled Dany badly. Good. Much as Jorah later vouches for his intellect, and numerous people comment on how smart he is, you could easily make Tyrion *too* clever by half and thereby rob him of his very apparent flaws. GoT still reminds us that Tyrion may be smart, and he may also be noble and no longer the whore mongering rascal he was at the beginning, but he’s just as fallible as the rest of us.
It makes Tyrion much more human.
We increasingly begin to see just how detached and distant she is from the rest of the North here, and how her eye is still on the Iron Throne prize – she’s only fighting the dead, or “Jon’s war”, because of her feelings for him, in truth. In some ways, Dany is only marginally less problematic than Cersei when it comes to her motivations. She slimily charms Sansa (or tries to) in a way Cersei may have done, she is cold and dismissive and rash to judgment (she calls Jon the ‘Warden of the North’ in a pointedly withering manner), and you begin to realise that she only is as intelligent as the counsel she has around her. She probably would have killed Jaime if not for Brienne, and exiled Tyrion if not for Jorah. She isn’t showing the kind of inspiring leadership right now she may have promised people.
Then finally comes the bombshell, but more on that in a minute…
To my complete surprise, Sansa is really emerging as one of the smartest characters on the entire show. She appears to have learned from the pain and torment of men like Joffrey and Ramsay, or the manipulation of Littlefinger, and even the cunning of Cersei, and channelled it into a fierce protectionism and understanding of how the North works. Sansa knows Jon has been compromised by Dany, nor does she buy Dany’s attempt to convince her it’s the other way around (I’m not buying that either), and she has the North’s independent interests at heart. Sansa is acting like the Lady of Winterfell and a true Queen of the North – just look at how emotionally she greets Theon.
Right now she’s displaying what Daenerys just cannot.
Called it! We all knew she and Gendry would probably get it on at some point after last week’s clear flirtation, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. It makes sense that in the face of probable certain death she’d want to have a sexual experience, and Arya owns that encounter with such agency—and Gendry is ultimately a good, decent bloke—that it’s a logical and enjoyable moment for a girl who is becoming a woman, even if she’s probably now too emotionally damaged and wilful to become anyone’s wife.
She might booty call the future Lord of Storm’s End (as Gendry is bound to be if he survives) but as her enjoyable moment with the Hound & Dondarrion reminds us, she still has bigger fish to fry.
Who in many ways the episode pivots around, certainly in terms of him being revealed as the lynchpin to the reason the Night King is invading. This has long been a subject of huge debate and it was a real “oh!” moment to find out here, but it’s a fascinating motivation for the Night King to be invading – to destroy the last memory of mankind before he brings on an eternal night, presumably as revenge for how the Children of the Forest turned him into an undead immortal.
It makes you wonder about whether the Three-Eyed Raven played a similar role in the last Long Night, as a younger man, and hid for millennia from the dead – once Bran’s presence led him to be found and killed in The Door, Bran crossing the Wall finally kickstarted the Night King to take it down and invade (it explains why the White Walkers never did so before if they had spent eons looking for the original Three-Eyed Raven). Anyway, this is all supposition. At least we now know why this is all happening, and we get some great Bran interactions with various characters here – will him telling Tyrion some stories be of import?
Also the moment he reminds Jaime they may all die? Chilling stuff.
It feels fitting leaving the big man until last here because he doesn’t feature much in this one, as an episode designed more to allow many of the ensemble the chance to kick back and enjoy all kinds of character moments before the big battle, and aside from a nice moment with he, Edd and Sam recalling their Night’s Watch days, Jon’s main function here is to tell Dany the truth about his parentage – which he manages to do with neither of them remembering they’ve been hopping on the good foot and doing the bad thing as aunt & nephew. Dany’s reaction sums up her motivation – making the point Jon is the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms before, inevitably, the horn blows.
The dead are here. And this is probably a conversation they’ll be continuing in two weeks time…
If they get this right, and all the indications are that they have, then next week could end up being the single most epic, iconic episodes of Game of Thrones, and maybe one of the most amazing hours in television history. No pressure then! Oh, and if the title of this one is not ‘The Battle for the Dawn’, I’ll eat my shoes.
What a great little character piece though before the ultimate battle. Laugh out loud funny, moving, with so many character moments (Davos & Gilly serving the Northerners with a massive Shireen Baratheon reminder, Pod’s song, Sam giving Jorah his sword Heartsbane, the return of Ghost!) inside an episode designed to let our characters kick back and ponder their own impending doom while getting quietly pissed. It’s precisely the reason Game of Thrones is an epic story with characters you care enormously about.
It’s going to be a long seven days ahead…
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