This was probably the single least violent episode of “Thrones” to date. If you placed a bet that there would have been an episode with more “songs sung by Podrick” than drops of blood shed, time to collect your very big winnings. It was an episode for everyone to get things in order, to take stock of their lives. Next week brings us the first of four supersize episodes and maybe the most epic battle yet. What we just saw could very well be the last moments of peace the Seven Kingdoms will experience.
(As always, check out my colleague Alyssa Rosenberg’s reviews each week.)
The redemption of Jaime Lannister
It’s been a long journey for Ser Jaime, who was cast as a clear villain in the show’s very first episode when he sent Bran Stark plunging to his near-death after the tree-climbing kid caught Jaime and Cersei taking part in one of their regular incestual acts. Standing probably just a few hundred feet from where that attempted murder took place, Jaime finds himself face-to-face with a lot of people who have a lot of problems with him.
Daenerys begins the airing of grievances by telling the Kingslayer how when she was a child, her brother would tell her a bedtime story about the man who murdered their father, who stabbed him in the back, cut his throat and then sat on the Iron Throne and watched as his blood poured onto the floor. She was also told other stories about what would be done to that man when the Targaryens had reclaimed the Seven Kingdoms. Relatedly, what she’s most upset about right now seems to be the broken pledge by Cersei to send troops north for the coming battle.
Jaime confirms that Cersei lied; she never had any intention of sending her army and, in fact, has at her disposal Euron Greyjoy’s entire fleet and 20,000 additional troops in the form of the Golden Company. (But no danged elephants!!!) So even if the dead can be defeated, Cersei will have more than enough to destroy the survivors.
Tyrion is the first to jump to his brother’s defense, saying that he knew exactly what he was getting himself into by coming to Winterfell in this manner, so why would he do anything but tell the truth at this point? But Tyrion doesn’t have much credibility these days (we’ll get to that in a few). Sansa agrees with Dany — Jaime cannot be trusted. He attacked her father in the streets of King’s Landing, leading to his eventual execution and the near-destruction of her family.
Jaime won’t apologize, accurately saying that their families were at war and he was doing what was best for those around him. “The things we do for love,” Bran interjects, which creeps Jaime out not just because everything Bran does is inherently creepy but because that’s the phrase Jaime said to Cersei before smiling and pushing Bran out the window all those years back.
Brienne steps in to defend Jaime’s honor and does so in convincing fashion. When they were captives, he intervened and saved her from getting raped, ultimately costing him his hand. He upheld his oath to Catelyn Stark to look out for her children, by setting Brienne off on her mission to protect them. That’s good enough for Sansa — if Brienne vouches for Jaime and is willing to fight beside him, she says he can stay. Dany turns to Jon for his opinion, but on account of being distracted by the fact that he just learned he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne; is in love with his aunt; is a few hours away from leading a ragtag bunch of fighters against a literal army of the dead; and he was never really good at making these decisions anyway, he basically punts and says, “We need every man we can get,” which should rightfully infuriate Dany because really what kind of response is that? A skeptical Grey Worm returns Jaime’s sword, and he’s part of the crew now.
Later, Jaime goes to visit Bran, who is doing what he usually does: chilling by himself because everyone is too weirded out to be around him. At the Weirwood tree, Jaime apologizes for the whole attempted murder/crippling thing and wants to know what comes afterward (as in, after the White Walkers are defeated). “How do you know there is an afterwards?” Bran asks. Now whether this means for humanity in general or just Jaime himself can be open to interpretation.
But Jaime’s most full redemption comes through his dealings with Brienne of Tarth. After she sticks up for him in front of Dany and Sansa — arguably saving his life — he finds her as she watches over Podrick, preparing for battle. Turns out she is commanding the left flank in the upcoming battle (one of the two most important flanks, I’m told) but mostly she wonders why Jaime isn’t negging her as he had done in every one of their previous interactions. That’s because Quip Jaime is no more; please meet Sincere Jaime. He’s not the fighter he once was but he would be honored to serve under her on the battlefield.
And he would also be honored to be the one to officially make her a knight. In those final hours before battle, as Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, Tyrion and Tormund sit around the fire, drinking bad wine and trading stories, Tormund expresses bewilderment at the fact that Brienne is not a knight, all thanks to the regressive gender politics of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s then that Jaime realizes that, on any given night, it just takes one knight to make another knight. Jaime makes it official in what seems like his final act of atonement. He recognizes Brienne as everything that Cersei is not — honest, righteous, someone who won’t blow up thousands of people, etc. — so in perhaps his last act among the living, Jaime does what he can to bestow the highest possible honor upon her.
It all seems to telegraph that Jaime won’t make it out of the upcoming battle alive. He surely won’t be the only one, but this closure seems to bring his story to a logical end.
The weakening of Daenerys
From the first scene, Dany’s frustrations were evident. Face to face with the man who literally stabbed her father in the back and ended her family’s reign, she had to defer to Sansa and Jon’s wishes to keep him alive instead of killing him on the spot, which surely would have been her first choice, given what we’ve seen of her in the past.
She feels let down by her top adviser, accusing Tyrion of being either a traitor or a fool after they are made aware of Cersei’s deception, and Tyrion cops to being a fool. (More on this below.) When she visits Sansa later, she says they seemed to have common ground when it came to Jaime, before Brienne intervened. The two of them are pretty clearly at odds, and the reason is Jon. Sansa thinks men do stupid things for women while Dany tries to convince her that, actually, she’s the stupid one because of this diversion from her battle for the Iron Throne to fight Jon’s battle against the White Walkers.
“I’m here because I love your brother and I trust him and I know he’s true to his word,” she tells Sansa, adding that he’s “only the second man in my life I can say that about.” (“Someone taller” is her response when Sansa asks who, which is definitely accurate when comparing Khal Drogo and Jon Snow.) That joke only briefly breaks the tension, though — if the war is won, Sansa makes it clear that the North planned to never bend the knee to another ruler again.
But the biggest threat to Daenerys’s consolidated power comes when she visits Jon in the crypts of Winterfell. He’s standing in front of the tomb of Lyanna Stark. Daenerys has always been puzzled about why her brother Rhaegar — who was decent, kind, liked to sing, always tipped 20 percent — would do a thing like rape Lyanna. Then Jon drops the bomb on her. It’s a story we’ve heard three times now, so we know the details. Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love, were secretly married and Ned promised to protect their secret child and raise it as his bastard. Jon tells Dany that his real name is Aegon Targaryen.
Like a Twitter reply guy, Dany’s reaction is pretty much: Source?
There are two, Bran and Sam, which brings out Dany’s skepticism. “A secret no one in the world knew, except your brother and your best friend?” (Honestly, a good point.)
Jon doesn’t budge, and Dany comes to the realization that the man she loves and who stands as her most loyal subject is the last male heir of House Targaryen, with a true claim to the Iron Throne, truer than hers.
The preparations for battle
The army of the dead are on the (extremely methodical) march — they’ve already reached Last Hearth, which is where Tormund, Eddison and Beric found poor little Ned Umber impaled last episode. The Umbers are “fighting for the Night King now,” the group tells Jon when they arrive back at Winterfell.
The dragonglass and Valyrian steel won’t be enough to defeat an enemy that doesn’t stop, doesn’t tire and doesn’t feel. The only way to defeat them will be to get to the Night King — he was the one who reanimated all the dead, so if they can take him out, all those that he raised will be taken out, too. The key to making this happen is Bran. The Night King will come after him and be able to find him, since he marked Bran in one of their previous encounters. Why go after Bran? Because the Night King wants an endless night, to erase this world, and Bran is its memory. (Everyone nods along politely.)
Instead of hiding, Bran will use himself as bait and wait in the Godswood, an attempt to lure the Night King into the open before his army destroys everyone. (Don’t worry about Bran, Theon will be there to protect him, so he’s in great hands.) The dragons are also key — they’ll need to be close enough to protect Bran but not too close so that the Night King won’t be hesitant to make his move. (That’s just Dragon Battle Tactics 101 right there.) Of course there’s one thing they don’t know — whether dragonfire will destroy the Night King, since it’s never been tried.
Is Tyrion smart or stupid or what?
There was a time when Tyrion was both the heart and soul of the show and the smartest man in the Seven Kingdoms. Those days are long gone. Not only has he taken a back seat in terms of story line to those with more legitimate claims to the Iron Throne, but he’s also become something of an idiot. It’s becoming too much to overlook lately so it was kind of nice to see it addressed in tonight’s episode.
Dany threatens Tyrion, saying that if he can’t help her unseat Cersei, she’ll find a new Hand who can. But the person most likely to take that spot, Ser Jorah Mormont, goes to Daenerys to express his support for Tyrion. He makes mistakes, but he owns them and learns from them, he tells Khaleesi. (Jorah is the last one left to call her that.)
When talking with Jaime, Tyrion again admits that he’s been stupid. As they commiserate over their likely demise, Tyrion takes satisfaction in denying Cersei the pleasure of being able to murder him and wonders whether maybe after he’s dead he’ll march down to King’s Landing and rip her apart. (I now half-expect one of those two things — Tyrion’s murder, undead Tyrion killing Cersei — to happen in one of the final episodes.)
Daenerys also makes a point of telling Tyrion that he must not participate in the battle because he’ll be needed for his smarts if they somehow emerge victorious. And then there was Tyrion’s brief interaction with Bran — he wanted to know Bran’s story and Bran seemed willing to tell him, so maybe he’ll get more wisdom from whatever they talked about. Tyrion’s always had a soft spot for Bran, after all.
The deflowering of Arya Stark
Is there something somewhat unsettling about a sex scene featuring a character who was an actual child when this show first premiered? Yes. Does this put it in the top five of unsettling sex scenes in “Thrones” history? It does not. Is that progress or a reminder of how disturbing and/or gratuitous this show could be in the past? Maybe a little of both? (It sounds as if it was a bit awkward for everyone.)
In any case, from the time we see Arya check in on Extra Buff Gendry in his workshop making dragonglass daggers, and he’s all greasy and working with that hot, hot steel, it’s pretty clear what Arya’s intentions are with him. But even a horny Arya is still a focused Arya. She wants details about the army of the dead from Gendry and after his “really bad” descriptor gets mocked, he says that there’s really no way to describe it — it’s death. “I know death. He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one,” she says before throwing daggers that all hit their mark. If Gendry wasn’t thinking with his loins before that display, surely he is now.
Arya finds another one of her former traveling companions, the Hound, spending his maybe-last-night drinking by his lonesome. Beric Dondarrion finds them, and now the Hound’s peace and quiet is really destroyed. (“May as well be at a bloody wedding.”) Beric was once on Arya’s kill list — he was the one who let Melisandre kidnap Gendry — but it seems as if Arya’s softened her stance on this one. But his arrival serves as a reminder that there’s got to be a better way to pass this last night. Or, as she puts it, “I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable old s---s.”
Gendry finds Arya practicing her archery (just as she did in those early days in Winterfell) and brings her the weapon he forged for her. Arya wants to know what Melisandre wanted with him, and he matter-of-factly tells her that she wanted his blood for a spell because he’s Robert Baratheon’s bastard. It was a whole thing — he got tied up, stripped, leeches all over him. There are a lot of questions one could ask after hearing that — you’re the king’s son? What kind of spell? Did the leeches hurt? — but Arya just wanted to know if that was Gendry’s first time doing it. He wouldn’t exactly call that encounter “it” but admits that there were three other times that would count, and for her part, Arya just wants “to know what it’s like” before they all die. And that’s the story of how Arya Stark lost her virginity.
Tormund’s name and other TMI
— Jaime confirms that Cersei was telling the truth about being pregnant. (Mazel Tov.)
— Why is Tormund called Giantsbane? It’s a charming story, really. At the young age of 10 he killed a giant and then crawled into bed with the giant’s widow, who thought he was her baby. So that giant nursed him for three months and if milk does a body good, just imagine what giant’s milk does. That’s why Tormund is such a physical specimen. The best part of this story was when Jaime shot his brother an actual Jim Halpert-stare during the telling of this tale.
— Missandei tries to make small talk with some Winterfell children, and they run away almost immediately. Maybe racial harmony can be added to the To Do List after defeating the army of the dead.
— Theon’s redemption arc is a lot smaller than Jaime’s, but his return to Winterfell to fight on behalf of Sansa and his offer to protect Bran show that he’s trying to do whatever he can to make things right with the Starks.
— We already know about Podrick’s skills when it comes to the bedroom. Tonight we saw that he’s much-improved as a swordsman and on top of that, he can carry a tune. A true Renaissance man.