SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you haven’t seen “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the second episode of “Game of Thrones” season 8.
What would you do if it were your last night on Earth?
That existentially stressful parlor game question — which Tyrion Lannister has had a cheeky answer for since we first met him — haunts “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” an episode as tense as it is intimate. With the Night King and his fearsome army lurking somewhere nearby in the frozen woods, everyone in Winterfell finds themselves steeling for the midnight battle ahead with dread, resignation, determination, and even some shrugging nonchalance. As Tyrion points out in one of the episode’s (too) many recaps of the road already traveled, most of the characters onscreen have escaped death so many times that facing a more literal embodiment of it in the White Walkers feels somewhat inevitable.
“Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a downright surprising episode, even if only because it bucks an otherwise solid trend for “Game of Thrones” overall. Typically, the show’s season premieres have been devoted to table-setting for the stretch ahead rather than pulling out all the stops; and lo, the season 8 premiere of “Winterfell” did exactly that. Whereas most seasons immediately ramped up the action in the second episode to compensate, though, “Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” does something rather extraordinary — or at the very least, pretty gutsy — by doing the opposite with just four more episodes until the end.
Those fans who love “Game of Thrones” for how much it can push the bounds of TV with its giant set pieces and enemies of mythic proportion may come away from this even-keeled episode disappointed. But it’s undeniably satisfying to spend this night with so many characters that we’ve come to hold dear, being the fly on the wall as they drink melancholy mugs of wine and reminisce about the dangerous and even bizarre paths they all took to get to this pivotal moment in history. Taking place entirely in Winterfell the night the Whitewalkers are set to descend upon them, this is the the kind of latter days episode that could only work on a show that invests in its characters enough for it to pay off. And with an increasingly stellar cast and a tight script from “Game of Thrones” vet Bryan Cogman, “Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” makes good on 7 seasons worth of intricate storytelling.
Take the potentially juicy “trial” of Jaime Lannister that the premiere teased. Yes, it gets resolved almost immediately thanks to Brienne coming forward to vouch for him and Sansa and Jon subsequently out-voting Daenerys to let him stay and fight. But that scene is nonetheless incredibly rich with history, subtext, and the kind of court politics that represent the show at its best.
There’s Jaime and Brienne, who don’t have to look each other in the eye to know that they’ve got each other’s back. There’s Tyrion, chastened from the revelation that he was, in fact, extremely wrong to ever take Cersei at her word. Meanwhile, to Dany, the choice to hold Jaime accountable for his crimes — especially the ruthless murder of her father — is easy. Jon, of course, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about politics when there’s a zombie army waiting to destroy them all (which, fine, is fair). But as Dany learns yet again in her later botched attempt to bond with Sansa over being Boss Ladies (and again when Theon declares his loyalty to the Starks and receives a grateful embrace from Sansa), she’s missed a whole lot while off on her own Dothraki adventures outside the mainland. Even if she did have the best claim to the throne — which, as Jon finally tells her at the episode’s end, she does not — Dany has no handle on the interlocking conflicts that would become her problems to solve should she actually sit on the Iron Throne.
But again: it says a lot about how well “Game of Thrones” has endeared us to certain characters that the best parts of this episode aren’t, in fact, the ever-shifting alliances that keep Westeros on its collective toes. It’s not even the all hands on deck strategizing session that culminates with Bran intoning that he basically has a tracker on him that lets the Night King know where he is at all times and proposing that he use it to lure the army into the open. (You’d think by now that the Winterfell brain trust might consider just asking Bran if he has any useful information for them instead of waiting for him to sporadically share it, but oh well.) No: the scenes that “Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” will likely be remembered for are the quiet ones. Scenes like Lyanna Mormont defying orders to hide in the crypt with the other young girls; Sam offering Jorah his father’s sword; a ragtag collection of favorites getting tipsy by a roaring fire and marveling at how far they’ve come.
Fans who have been following this story for years may never have imagined that they would see Jaime, Tyrion, Brienne, Tormund, Davos, and Podrick (Podrick!) swapping gallows humor jokes before the Night King showed his rotting, fluorescent face. But unlike some of the other moments of fan service sprinkled throughout the first two episodes of this season (here’s looking at you, Arya and Gendry), these unlikely scenes still feel entirely natural. The specificity of their characters and clear lines to their past make sure of it.
So, no, not much technically happened during “Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” The entire plot for this episode could probably be described as “people drink and talk about death; Arya and Gendry have sex.” But there’s still so much that’s said and left unsaid that trying to recount every long-awaited, poignant interaction would be an exhaustive list. (The Hound and Arya reunite! Sansa threatens to keep the North from Dany! Tyrion and Bran call out Jaime for being a generally selfish person before he suddenly wasn’t! Missandei and Grey Worm make an escape plan from the racist North! Etcetera and so on!) And no matter how bombastic the battle ahead, it’s hard to imagine that a pitch perfect moment like Jaime knighting Brienne (not to mention Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie’s gorgeous performances thereof) will fade from memory any time soon.