*Please note this post contains spoilers*
If last week’s final season premiere found Game of Thrones looking into the past, then last night’s second episode was the binary opposite. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” could easily lose the first K of its title, as the episode takes place across one long night, a final melancholic calm before the storm to end all storms arrives next week. As an episode, last week’s “Winterfell” didn’t fill me with confidence that Game of Thrones knew how to end its story. Luckily, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” leaves me feeling the opposite way – Game of Thrones knows exactly what it’s doing right now, and watching this play out is going to be a lot harder than I realised.
I won’t delay the inevitable, this was Game of Thrones’ strongest hour of television in a very long time. The fact that it achieved this accomplishment with no violence, no bloodshed, no physical tension of any kind – you know, what Game of Thrones is known for best – is testament to the strength of Bryan Cogman’s script here. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” had death looming large over it, a guillotine poised at the throat of every man, woman and child who walked it. The promise of death has never felt so sure, so sad, and so honest.
While the episode, like its predecessor, doesn’t cover much narrative ground, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is more confident in its dialogue, and more confident in its characters to deliver the thrills we usually find in its action – everything here was a lot more elegant than that of the season premiere. Opening with Jaime Lannister’s trial, we’re reminded of bonds and allegiances in ways that both come up in conversation naturally and work to test relationships between others moving forward. Dany wants to cast Jaime aside, Sansa agrees, Brienne stands up for Jaime, Sansa backs Brienne, Jon sides with Sansa, and Dany reluctantly stands with them. While “Winterfell” simply reminded us of the past in satisfying ways, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is more about using it to path the future.
This leads us into Dany and Sansa’s first isolated sequence, a dialogue piece to rival that of the show’s earliest, strongest days. Dany and Sansa’s conversation feels honest, with apologies and admissions coming from both sides as Sansa admits to her gratitude for Dany’s help and Dany discusses her love towards Sansa’s brother for the first real time. But then there’s the shift, as we realise that these women still aren’t on the same wavelength. Sansa knows the North will struggle to rally behind Daenerys, which causes friction on either side of the debate. It’s good to see that the show isn’t finished with the struggles these two characters share just yet, as both Emilia Clarke and Sophie Turner are nailing it this season.
Their talk was just one of many standout dialogue pieces this week though, as “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was comprised almost entirely of such pleasures. While there are the bigger set pieces we’ll discuss individually later on, it’s worth noting some of the smaller moments too, like Davos and Gilly’s independent but shared ability to convince a brave young girl that her best place for the fight is still in the crypts beneath the castle, or Missandei and Grey Worm’s brief courtyard encounter about their plans should the Great War be won and they both survive, or even the short but satisfying moment of Sam entrusting his family sword to Jorah, a man who can use it far better than he can. This is Game of Thrones looking into the future, both immediate and distant, and wondering whether its characters will be able to make it from the former to the latter.
Towards the middle of the episode, we find all our big players in a room, strategizing how they’ll take on the gargantuan battle headed their way. Bran is sure the Night King will come for him, as he has done with multiple Three Eyed Ravens before, which allows a plan to be formed to the backdrop of a stunning conversation about memory and how death is essentially the physical embodiment of the act of forgetting. Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, is the memory of the world, now. He is the story, the memory, the past and the present and the future, and losing him would be to lose the memory of the world itself.
The episode’s most touching moments, though, come in a big empty room, populated only with chairs, wine, a fire and the people who have come to share what could be their final night as part of this story. They discuss odds and chances, victories and losses, and the scene builds to a climax as Jaime knights Brienne, giving her the title she earned long ago and has waited for so long. Gwendoline Christie’s performance here is superlative, conveying pride, relief, elation, honour and love in a single look back to the people who have shared her moment with her.
And yet, there’s heartbreak in there too, as before long Podrick is singing a song that tales loss and our acceptance of it, set to a montage of brave faces preparing to lose all they know. Afterwards, Jon meets Daenerys in the crypts and reveals his truth to her, but before we can really gauge their reactions to the now shared knowledge, we’re interrupted by the blast of a horn. The dead are outside and the time of preparation is over. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is Game of Thrones at its best, an emotionally complex and gorgeously written hour of television that understands its strength is in its characters, not the swords in their hands. It’s only fitting that the episode should dedicate its strongest moments to a group of them, sitting in the dead of night in the glow of a warm fire, before everything gets very cold indeed.