SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s second episode of Game Of Thrones Season 8. BTW – we’ll be reviewing and recapping every episode of the final season of the HBO series right up to and including the May 19 finale.
If there truly is honor among thieves, then the “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” second episode of the final season of Game of Thrones made it clear that dishonorable and desperate men and women will make any and every alliance they have to when decimation is truly coming from an Army of the Dead.
Or in the words of a suddenly contrite Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau): “This goes beyond loyalty. This about survival.”
Opening with the interrogation teased last week, Lannister faces Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to quickly admit that Cersei (Lena Headey) lied when she promised in Season 7 to send troops to assist in the defense of the northern border against the oncoming hoards of the Night King.
On the greater design of the countdown to the end of the multiple Emmy winner, the second David Nutter-directed episode of this eighth season put swords, legacies and pacts new and old on the table set last week.
“You want me to apologize?” a seemingly remorseless Kingslayer declares to a room that includes the daughter of the former ruler of the Iron Throne, a vengeful Sansa (Sophie Turner), the one-time King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and more.
“We were at war,” Lannister adds as he is confronted with his murderous past to both the remaining members of the House Stark and the House Targaryen. “Everything I did, I did for my House and my family. I’d do it all again.”
That little stance of honor was immediately cut down with a simple “the things we do for love” from the prophetically enhanced Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Without ever revealing what actually happened in the early days of the HBO blockbuster based on George R.R. Martin’s writings, the now young man made his point to Lannister to back down, fast. Back in Season 1 of GoT, Jaime Lannister rendered Bran a cripple when he pushed the boy from a tower window after being caught in intimacies with his own sister, the ruthless Cersei.
Later, when Jaime approaches a contemplating Bran at a weirwood tree to actually apologize, he finds his sentiment dismissed by a young man looking over a far more exigent field – literally and figuratively.
While there is little trust among almost anyone in the chamber of Winterfell, especially Daenerys and her hand Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who fell into his sister’s trap, an assertion of Ser Jaime’s sense of true honor from Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) goes a long way to swaying the assembled to keeping Lannister in Winterfell and alive. A weak “we need every man we can get” from Snow seals the deal before the Ward of the North literally flees the room and the gaze of his Queen and lover.
Full of drinking sessions, candlelit war councils and the fear that bonds enemies, and a near deal between Sansa and Daenerys for the North, this just over one-hour episode had zero body count and a lot of looks and sharp lines. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” also proved a breviloquent pulling of a bow that has taken nearly eight years to be made manifest.
The emotional episode was a tense calm before the White Walkers storm that is now within eyesight of Westeros’ furthermost northern city. I say this as an obvious fan of GoT but an even greater fan of excellent storytelling: for pace and thunder, tonight’s episode was a superb and ready release into the chaos and fog of war to come, as the Episode 3 trailer makes clear.
In many ways, with the Army of the Dead now at Winterfell and the bloodshed coming, tonight’s Bryan Cogman-penned episode is existentially reminiscent of once British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes’ Oedipus Crow. Most noticeably the lines of “So Death tripped him easy/And held him up with a laugh, only just alive/And his watch galloped away in a cloud of corpse-dust.”
With dollop of the skin and heartbreak that has been a primary part of GoT from Day 1 and a plan by Bran to lure the Night King and his army’s desire for “an endless night” away from Winterfell to entrap them, it is the exchange in the crypt between lovers Snow and the Mother of Dragons that is a battlefield unto itself.
The statement by Snow that he is, in fact, the son of her brother Rhaegar that defined the episode as much as the reunion between Baratheon blacksmith Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) as the former forged fatal Dragonglass into weapons to take on the Night King and his undead dragon.
Of course, now that Harington’s character has told Clarke’s Queen that he is not the illegitimate son of Ned Stark but in fact her nephew, there is a new and greater Targaryen claimant to the Iron Throne than her Daenerys. A gossipy twist that viewers have known since late last season but one Jon Snow himself only learned last week – and now a gamechanger in the true sense in tonight’s cryptic conversation.
On sheer drama and coming off the all-time HBO viewership high of 17.4 million for last week’s Season 8 “Winterfell” debut, the second episode may end up exceeding its predecessor, as was often the case in Season 7 of GoT.
However, to HBO’s annoyance, just like the first episode of Season 8 on April 14, tonight’s airing was plagued by a leak.
This week the slip up came on Amazon Prime Germany with the entire second episode of the season going up online and spoilers soon after appearing on social media. As hard as EPs David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and HBO have tried to keep titles, details and plots a hard-held secret, the German leak today follows a previous leak where an ultimately incorrect title of the episode and a portion of the synopsis appeared on the TV listings of French outlet OCS City.
With next week’s third episode of the eighth and final season written by Benioff and Weiss themselves, in which the long-threatened war by the legions of Westeros and Essos with the swarming Army of the Dead looks to finally begin, we saw at the end tonight. Yes, the Night King himself wasn’t spotted, but the Miguel Sapochnik-helmed epic battle we’ve all been promised is surely coming now that Winter is here.
“We are going to die at Winterfell,” Dinklage’s Tyrion tells Coster-Waldau’s Jaime as they overlook the barricades being erected against the Army of the Dead early in tonight’s episode. “Not the death I would have chosen,” the dwarf brother tells their sister’s lover before describing the sex and booze demise he’d once hope to have. “At least Cersei won’t get to murder me. I’m sure I’ll feel some satisfaction denying her that pleasure while I’m being ripped apart by dead men.”
Having lost none of its tactically and strategic game moving towards the end, this second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season looks like we’ll all get some satisfaction and more. Or as the after-the-credits teaser for Episode 3 said: “The dead are already here.”
BTW – I’ve changed my bet from last week on who ends up on the Iron Throne in the GoT finale, it’s Sansa Stark now. And yes, I know the history and implications of the “Jenny of Oldstones” tune we heard gloriously performed by Florence + the Machine during the closing credits.