Game of Thrones: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

“Well, here we are.”

Halfway through this episode, after a long day of laundry and spring cleaning, I decided to hit pause and go out for a cup of coffee. Surely, I thought, there would be an epic battle. After all, Game of Thrones has long since abandoned subtle political machinations in favor of spectacle. It has become a very simple show, and I wanted to be properly on edge for the thrill of mass death and dragon mayhem.

Can you spot the flaw in my “no Game of Thrones spoilers” policy?

It’s not a perfect policy. I don’t live in a cave, and Sam T. Cat spends a lot of time on Reddit. So I’m passingly familiar with the “Is Littlefinger really dead?” theory and this episode’s emergent “Do Arya’s scars means she’s really the Waif?” theory. I knew there was a battle coming up, but not when.

But I’m just not interested in reading a bunch of theories about the answers prior to watching the show itself. Put another way, I want to avoid falling into the rabbithole of what I’ve started to call “predictive emplotment”: our communal obsession with digging for clues as to what has happened and what will happen. It’s a form of reading that treats all narratives as scavenger-hunt mystery in need of solving, rather than works of art that we can appraise and with which we can connect.

George R.R. Martin loves predictive emplotment, of course: internet rumor has it that his dealbreaker question for potential showrunners was asking them who Jon Snow’s parents are. How interesting would it have been if his dealbreaker question was about the portrayal of sex, clothing styles, accents, character development, or magical mysticism? How would that have created a different show, one not created by showrunners who believe that “themes are for eighth-grade book reports”?

That is not to say that Game of Thrones lacks interesting character development, fascinating plots, and high production values. It even, despite the showrunners' best wishes, has themes. Thomas’s review from last week demonstrates the benefits of focusing on meaningful character moments and why they matter after all of these years and all of this pain.

And this episode did have numerous lovely moments: Jaime and Tyrion reunited at Winterfell. Arya and Gendry getting their own dragons to dance. Dany and Sansa working out the parameters of their power and their relationships. Brienne and Pod. Beric and the Hound. Ser Davos serving soup, which at first I thought was an absurd contrivment but then realized is exactly the sort of useful humility that is the core of his character.

The highlight, of course, was the slow-paced camaraderie between a motley group of some of my favorite characters around the fire. Brienne, Pod, Jaime, Tyrion, Davos, and Tormund Giantsbane talked about nothing and everything, and somehow it all led to Brienne getting the one thing she’d wanted so badly and never thought was possible: a knighthood. It was perfectly staged, sweet without being sentimental. Knighting Brienne might be one of the best things Jaime has ever done. Supporting Brienne shows the inherent goodness of Tyrion, Davos, and Pod. And Tormund, obviously, is really into it.

Watching that scene, realizing that the epic battle wasn’t going to happen yet, and then rewatching the entire episode, I had a realization. Not about predictive emplotment (I still really don’t like that). Not about the often-terrible dialogue. Not about how this slow-paced episode makes me wonder just how busy the next four are going to be. Rather, I had a realization about Game of Thrones’ move from Machiavellian maneuvering to a more black-and-white simplicity.

Game of Thrones is not, in fact the simple show I thought it had become. This used to be a show about political trickery, sure. And it has become a show about fighting zombies. But that doesn’t mean GoT is too simple.

It means it is more meaningful. This episode told us what matters: community, camaraderie, owning up to mistakes, and—to steal a line from Jaime last week—fighting for the living. The heroes of this show are in Winterfell because they’re willing to die to save the world. In a time of terrible risk, they’re putting it all on the line and putting the past behind them. They learned about zombies and dove into the fight.

Contrast that with Cersei, who learns about zombies and brainstorms how they can benefit her. Contrast that even with Dany, who wants to save Westeros so she can rule it—not just, cuz, y’know, saving Westeros is the good thing to do. (And what even is she going to do about Jon's disclosure?!) Game of Thrones has killed off most of the wannabe Machiavellis, and we’re left mostly with those who know the value of Valyrian steel backed up by good intentions.

And that has left me still interested in the spectacle to come, but no longer looking forward to the carnage that will result. Because many of these characters deserve to live because they are willing to die. There's nothing simple about that. There's something beautiful.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• So, the potential Jaime/Bran conflict kinda fizzled out, didn’t it?

• Are we supposed to be shipping Theon and Sansa? Are we doing that now?

• I’m shipping Arya and Gendry, but I’ve been doing that for a while. I think those plucky youngsters have a real shot at happiness.

• I think that Tormund Giantsbane might benefit from psychoanalysis. Then again, maybe not.

• I’m adding something to my wish-list: that Misandei and Grey Worm do get their day on the beach. More than a day, in fact.

• My original version of this review had a whole snarky paragraph about how clumsy their dialogue was (Missandei’s statement about her people had no context until Grey Worm’s next line!), but the time for me to critique Game of Thrones’ mediocre dialogue has long passed.

• Hey, did you spot Ghost?! Ghost is here!

I started reviewing Game of Thrones when it aired, and I’ve been delighted to share that (epic) responsibility with the wonderful Agents of DOUX. This is my last Game of Thrones review, eight years after my first.

I guess that means that now my watch is ended.




Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Oh, Josie -- I'm sad that this is your last Game of Thrones review. Eight seasons! I feel like saying "Congratulations!" and "Awwww" at the same time.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Well, Josie:

I'm happy I got to review the pilot. I'm happy you got to review this one. You made a lot more of it than I'd done.

I thought this was a painting-by-numbers episode. It is true that normally, I enjoy the "low-key" episodes a lot more than the "dragons'n'monsters'n'mayhem' ones, because the former have more character moments. That's also why I rank Blackwater as perhaps the best of all its episodes - it had both.

The "fighting" episodes of Game of Thrones are rarely even interesting as "war movie" episodes, because there are rarely any interesting strategies at play whatsoever when it comes to that - it's all about who can deus-ex-machina the other. Doesn't stop it from being spectacular, tho.

But most of this episode was stuff we could already deduce from last outing. Jaime gets a chilly welcome to Winterfell, check. Tyrion defends him, check. Dany hates him, check. Brienne defends him, check. Jon telling Dany about Starkgaryen and Dany not batting an eye over the "incest" (sidenote, cousins can even marry in Sweden) but immediately picking up to the threat to her claim to the throne, check. People bond before the final battle, check.

Only welcome surprise was Arya finally getting laid, because if there's any girl in the Seven Kingdoms who's really needed to get laid it's Arya. Gold star! (And seriously the people whining about that one, pfff... Perfectly in character.)

But it did have lovely moments, I just worry about the precious few minutes left of the show.

Bottom line tho kudos.

TheShadowKnows said...

I believe the idea that Arya is actually the Waif is ridiculous for a few reasons:

1) In-universe, it's ridiculous because there's no possible way the Waif would have all the knowledge that Arya's displayed since she returned to Westeros. (Did the Waif even speak Westerosi?) She and Arya weren't exactly besties who had a lot of heart-to-hearts, and even if they had been I don't see how the Waif could recognize all the people that Arya clearly recognizes. Anyway, why would the Waif poison the Freys? Why would she come to Winterfell to most likely die? What would be in that for her?

2) On a dramatic level, it would be replacing a character that the audience knows and cares about with one they know and care nothing about, and doing it YEARS later. How would you even reveal that at this point, without leaving the audience confused and annoyed?

3) That sure looked like the Waif's face hanging in the Temple at the end of season six, especially in freeze frame. If it wasn't hers, then whose? It couldn't have been Arya's (which it looked nothing like anyway) because according to this theory the Waif was wearing her face in that scene. Was it supposed to be the face of the actress the Waif killed before she and Arya fought? It didn't look much like the actress either...

4) Finally, how could scars be giving the Waif away? The face has to include some illusion that cloaks the body as well, or there's no way the Freys would have believed Arya was Walder, who stood a foot or more taller than her and was male to boot. For that matter, the Waif was also taller than Arya, so the face must (according to this theory) be concealing the Waif's real body somehow. So if the Freys couldn't see that Arya is five foot nothing and has breasts, why would Gendry be able to see that the Waif has scars?

All of that is not say that the show might not reveal that Arya is indeed the Waif in disguise - just that if they do, it will be the biggest middle finger to the audience to date out of a not-inconsiderable number of possible candidates.

Henrik Bennetter said...

What an episode - all bets are off! is the feeling I'm taking away from it.

Also, a thought in connection with that. I think, in the end, both Jon and Dany will die (and Cersei). But who will sit on the throne?

Well, remember that girl that looks a lot like Jon that was sent away by Bran in the previous episode? :D

I think we're meant to "forget" about Meera, who will instead be presented as Jons twin-sister, also a Starkgaryen.

Just felt I had to write that somewhere, so that I can prove it if it comes true.

Thanks for all the reviews by the way Josie. I (and many others) have said it before and I'll say it again. No GoT-episode is complete without the contemplation over it that is done here.
Your watch has indeed ended, thankyou.