This was an unquestionably good episode of Game of Thrones, the best in years (qualified praise since there’s only been a handful of episodes), and this is what TV from a cultural standpoint is all about. Well received, good non-clunky fan service and payoffs. When a show can just film people talking in a dimly lit room and it mine it for good drama it’s a hell of a thing. We have spent this whole decade getting to know these characters and the show balanced every remaining one, hitting character beat after character beat with a quiet confident energy that made audiences giddy. The non-Stark characters huddled around the fire, Arya’s breakthrough with Gendry. It kind of reminds me of the Mass Effect 3 DLC: Citadel. Almost a curtain call except before the climactic battle as there will be hardly any time for character development during or after.
- The Starks’ and The Baratheons’ finally join houses
Arya Stark is one of the least sexual human characters on GoT. She joined the show when she was 11, now she’s 22. I get that it’s hard to accept for a lot of viewers a character you’ve grown up with be sexual as Dan Murrell mentioned on Twitter. But it is done in such a positive and consensual way with the proper legwork set up for it such a long time ago, maybe too long for some that when it arrives it seems uncomfortable or off-hand. The real and fumbling awkwardness represented by Stark’s scene partner Gendry is uncommon and a refreshing counterweight to the show’s biggest blemish. The stakes are high enough, there’s no time left to deal with it, so this is the best anyone could reasonably hope for. It affords Arya some long overdue humanity. Can America be happy with the behaviour of a sexually independent legal young woman acting in a fun consensual way of her own volition? Of course not. But you can’t have everything. For the record, speaking in Entertainment Weekly she speaks in greater detail about it, David Nutter’s offhand direction to her (amusing to anyone who has been professionally directed before). Simply put her scene partner actor Joe Dempsie responded perfectly how it was weird being with a friend and their 10 year age difference but: “I don’t want to be patronizing toward Maisie — she’s a 20-year-old woman. So we just had a lot of fun with it.”
- Brienne of Tarth finally becomes a knight
What I love about this plot point is how I had completely forgotten Brienne was not a knight. I didn’t really care, either. Or at least I didn’t think I cared. The show had established her capability by her beating The Hound, Jamie Lannister, executing Stannis in combat. She didn’t need to be officiated in the audience’s eyes. But seeing everyone support her by the fire and cheer her round as Jamie Lannister knights her is an emotionally resonant moment that rings stronger than I ever thought possible. Those scenes around the fire were the night’s strongest moments. Tyrion’s speech about everyone’s journey, Tormund telling everyone how he got his name (I love the shot early in the episode of him interrupting the shot spearing Jon as he goes to hug Eddison). However her journey may end, good or bad she’s been a great character and I hope she kicks some White Walker ass next week.
- Danny Dances with Dragons
The show likes to dance around Daenerys Targaryen being the antagonist of the show. She has been kept so separate from the rest of the action for so much of the plot. With Cersei smart or foolishly taking a back seat, Dany is front and centre for character conflict. She spars with just about everyone and is effective a character as she’s ever been. I look at her arc similarly to Hank Schraeder from Breaking Bad. A character who goes from bad to good and grows in effectiveness. It’s in the cards for her to achieve her singular goal of sitting on the Iron Throne only to likely meet her end. The show has rooted in her favour for a while, when things turn for her is likely the biggest play the show has left. She’s not charismatic enough to win it all I don’t think. But what makes her and Jon Snow such a good scene partners is they are both equals: well-written characters played by likeable bad actors. It mutes the problematic nature of their doomed relationship because you don’t think too much about it when they are off-screen. Dany doesn’t either.
The show always has room to effectively play smaller characters off each other. Jorah Mormont talking to leader of his house Lady badass Lyanna Mormont and trying to order her to stay in the keep. What part of “Valar Morghulis” does this guy not understand? Checking the Game of Thrones wiki you can see they are half siblings. So wonderfully detailed and realized. “I LOVE THIS WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE!” Observation, despite the dip in writing quality and tipping of fan service after Season 5, the show has made up for it in spectacle and production value. It has become a truly uniting force for culture. The same way the Avengers or Star Wars is. [Also a great argument in favour of Capitalism] I wish they weren’t owned by the biggest companies in the world (because AT&T sucks) but maybe a show on this scale would not be possible if it was not for them.
An interesting through-line for the series is how the show’s focus on women has changed and reflects the cultural landscape. I didn’t think about it until writing this review but all plot lines this week serve the females in a natural and un-showy way, that shows how far the show has come. Per TIME magazine, “Even if Benioff and Weiss don’t always admit it, the show has changed. Scenes in which exposition is delivered in one brothel or another, for example, have been pared back. It’s at moments like these that the success of Thrones seems a precariously struck balance, thriving on a willingness to shock but always risking going too far.”
At the beginning of the show Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, and Cersei Lannister were much lower on the ladder of the show’s power structure. To say nothing of Sansa Stark, who the writers say has probably had the greatest journey and arc. Sophie Turner for the record has been the late series MVP defending on Social Media what happens to her character and others among the show’s controversial sex scenes. The two egregious sins the show made in regards to sexual violence: changing previously consensual encounters in the source material to rape for the sake of a thrill: Khal Drogo raping Daenerys Targaryen & Jamie raping Cersei Lannister wasted goodwill the audience built up for unlikable characters. And to what end? Unlike last week’s boring episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” reflects the spirit of R.R. Martin’s writing but also the creators reacting and paying attention to its audience in the best possible way. It seems everyone can get along.
This is the best episode the show has had in years. Funny to say since the last great episode was a year and a half ago, also 4 episodes ago “Beyond the Wall“. Quality over quantity goes a long way.
- The Night King will raise the dead from the crypts of Winterfell hence Arya running away in the trailer for this season.
- Will Dany and Jon will kill each other, perhaps Tyrion and Sansa step in to rule? Will Cersei go out by Jamie or vice-versa? Will Arya and Gendry reap the rewards?
- Melisandre has to come back and going by press rounds that’s a guarantee. Who wants to bet it’ll be a convenient ghost army a la Lord of the Rings, very unlike Game of Thrones though.
- The episode titles have been hidden until premiere so the internet Render Farms don’t figure it out. There’s always one that blends house names like “The Wolf and the Lion” or “The Dragon and the Wolf” How about “The Lion and the Dragon” or “The Mountain and The Hound”?
- Will it stick the landing? I think so. The creators are aiming to end on the level of satisfaction Breaking Bad had.