After last week’s exciting, but slow-paced, season premiere, fans were hoping that Game of Thrones “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” would provide some action. However, instead of broadening its focus from last week, the show went in another direction entirely, focusing on Winterfell with a laser-like intensity. Once you realize that the entire episode takes place in the North, things become clearer. These first two Game of Thrones episodes are about saying “goodbye,” both to Winterfell and, likely, many of these characters. Ironically, the last episode was all about people reuniting, saying “hello” to one another, often after a long time apart. The first two hours of a six-hour final outing has just been a series of scenes showing people having conversations. Some fans might begrudge this choice, but we should appreciate our time with these characters. It’s probably the last we’ll see of many of them.
Since the show left the books behind a few years ago, almost no important or beloved characters died. Perhaps these are the characters that author George R.R. Martin plans to leave alive, as well. Perhaps it’s a choice from the show-runners to not lose great actors or characters. Either way, it’s lulled us into a false sense of security. The next Game of Thrones episodes are going to be drowning in the blood of beloved characters. The battle in the North will be followed by a battle in the South, this one for the Iron Throne. And not everyone is going to get there. So, the slow pacing of the first two Game of Thrones episodes this season is deliberate. It’s our last chance to spend time with figures that have been important to this story since the first episode.
Jamie Lannister’s Reckoning
Jamie Lannister is, perhaps, the most important character in the world of Westeros, second only to the late Lord Peytr Baelish. His attempt to kill Brandon Stark in the pilot episode of the show kickstarted the war that drove the show those first three seasons. His return to Winterfell is ignominious at best. He’s met by the boy he tried to kill, now armed with a kind of historical omnipotence. He is brought before the others at Winterfell he’s wronged. Queen Daenerys wants him destroyed for killing her father, the Mad King. Sansa wants revenge for attacking her father and fighting a war against her brother. If Bran revealed Jamie pushed him out the window, Jon Snow would probably have killed him right there. Instead, Jamie defends his position but proclaims he’s there to fight for the living against the dead.
It’s only when Brienne of Tarth vouches for him, he knows he can keep his head a little longer. Her undying loyalty the Starks bought her enough credit to spare one of the most hated villains in the Stark household. Jamie repays this, and pays off their long friendship, by volunteering to serve under her command. The title of this episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” refers both to him and to Brienne. Because Jamie is able to legally bestow on her the rank of Knight, fulfilling a dream Brienne couldn’t even admit she wanted. There is no way that both of them make it out of the battle to come alive. And while Jamie seems like a marked man, it’s Brienne’s turn do him a solid. So, it seems like they are setting her up to make a heroic sacrifice to save the Kingslayer.
Tyrion’s Despair Serving Dany and Abandoning His Family
The other Lannister boy is not doing as well as his big brother. Tyrion finds himself on the outs with his Queen because his sister played him. He chalks this up to underestimating his opponents, and half-jokes that either Varys or Jorah will take his place. Typically fatalistic, Tyrion’s the town-crier shouting to the audience and anyone else that they are all likely going to die. His despair is not born from this, because Tyrion’s faced death before. No, what makes him so morose is that, unlike before, he now has something to believe in. A clever person’s cynicism is crucial to their ability to see through lies and machinations. Sansa’s development is evidence of this. After a lifetime of drunken cynicism, Tyrion finally found something to believe in. No sooner does this happen, and a supernatural army of the dead comes to kill all of humanity. Yet, Tyrion is no longer a cynic. Daenerys made him a believer, and hope can be as infectious as despair.
Still, as Jorah Mormont points out when defends Tyrion to Dany, he learns from his mistakes. In the past two Game of Thrones episodes, Tyrion has mostly just spoke to people, reuniting with Sansa or talking to his allies. In the season premiere, he’s withdrawn and almost shy. He’s humbled, afraid, and—thanks to Sansa—suddenly aware that he’s lost some of his edge. Yet, in this episode, he starts to get it back. He sits with Bran to learn all he can about this crippled boy who the worst villain in the world wants to kill himself. He reconnects with his brother, and he creates a sense of community among the other leaders. He’s the one who invites Brienne and the others to sit by the fire, where they share stories and a song. When the fighting comes, he’ll be in the crypts with the women and children because his “mind” is worth protecting even though it’s been dulled by hope.
The Ladies Playing the Game of Thrones
The women of Westeros feature heavily in these first two Game of Thrones episodes. In fact, it’s the women in the show who seem like the ones who most have it together. Sam Tarly mourns his family, and Jon Snow learns who his true family is (including his current girlfriend). Tyrion is in a tizzy, and Davos doles out soup. The women are the ones who are leading the way forward and humanity’s best hope against the dead. Here’s where their all at as the army of the dead approaches.
Daenerys: Queen in Crisis
Queen Dany is in a state. She all but commanded Jamie Lannister be executed, only to be overruled by Lady Sansa. Her hand was duped by his sister, leaving her at a huge military disadvantage. Not only this, but later the man she loves reveals that he’s actually her nephew and has a better claim to the throne than she does. This world-shattering information comes from his best friend and his brother, no less. Still, she does not plan to die fighting the dead. This much is clear, as her mind is still on claiming the throne that she sees as her birthright. She tries to reach out to Sansa, especially since they have a kinship where hatred of the Lannisters is concerned. Yet, when it comes to her right to rule the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa is not keen to bend the knee to her.
Sansa: The Next Littlefinger
Over the last dozen Game of Thrones episodes, Sansa has gone from a brutalized victim of assault to a woman of great confidence and power. Despite commanding two dragons, Sansa remains both unimpressed and unafraid of her new Queen. The right honorable Jon Snow will likely not care who sits on the Iron Throne should they defeat the dead. But Sansa? She will. Knowledge of Jon’s real identity and claim to the throne will likely motivate her to stay at odds with Dany. She’s as ruthless as Cersei and as clever as Littlefinger, but unlike them she’s not evil. The question remains where Sansa’s loyalties will lie when the dust settles. Whatever decisions she makes, should she survive, it will be the one she thinks is best for the North.
Arya: Lady of Winterfell or No One?
Of all the characters it feels like we’re saying goodbye to in these past two Game of Thrones episodes, Arya’s fate feels inevitable. Not just because she is the only one eager for the fight to come, but also because her character arc feels complete. She left Winterfell in a season one a scrappy little girl who wanted more than the life of a lady. Since then she’s been a prisoner, a slave, and a “boy.” She traveled across the sea to become one of the deadliest assassins in the world. In this episode, she shares a drink with her old protector, the Hound, and shags the boy she had a crush on all those years ago. Also, she is the one poised to be the peacemaker between Jon and Sansa. If she’s gone, who knows? She may survive, but it’ll be better drama if she doesn’t.
Next up: The Battle of Winterfell
If the past two Game of Thrones episodes lacked for action, the third installment will make-up for it. The show-runners promised that this battle will be, perhaps, the largest and “most sustained” action sequence in television history. It will be bloody, brutal, and costly. This will be the crescendo of the “song of ice and fire” that George R.R. Martin started two decades ago.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.