-A review of Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 2, SPOILERS!

If there was a way to describe what this episode ended up making us feel, I think the correct description would be “dread.” While the pace of this episode and the lack of carnage made this seem like a mix of fan-service and introduction, the foreboding ending left a pit in the stomach of all of the viewers who know the next few weeks won’t be easy.

‘Game of Thrones’ has always done such an excellent job at creating character machinations and pulling quick surprises that often resulted in the death of major characters. The end of Season Six was basically a consolidation after The Battle of the Bastards and the destruction of the Sept of Baelor. Season Seven, in contrast, entirely felt like a lead-up to Season Eight. The deaths weren’t that substantial; there were some, but they were predictable. After this episode, I’m glad that the showrunners did not cave on what the final vision for the show would look like, because although there were some contrivances to keep characters alive (we see you, Beyond the Wall mission), it was for this final stand against The Night King and the White Walkers. Perhaps the element of surprise isn’t necessary when an under-manned and poorly equipped army stands to face a group of unfeeling drones five times its size. It’s the very fact that our characters were saying good-bye to each other and closing the loops of the character arcs so  cleanly that the viewers, like the characters, are walking into the jaws of death. It’s a unique feeling.

This episode was really great despite the lack of plot furtherance for that reason. Instead of fighting or emphasizing differences, this episode was about humanity. It was about everyone coming together and acknowledging past rights and wrongs, mistakes and successes. The group of characters around the fire at the end, all emblematic of different houses and backstories, bonded over their survival and spent one more night just living. Samwell put it best. The enemy here is death, the extinction of human kind. What do we do when people we’ve watched for eight years head face-first into the apocalypse?

 

Winterfell:

The entire show is based in Winterfell, as they prepare to make the final stand against the walkers. The credits, again, are a bit different, and then we get a smash cut right to Jaime Lannister’s face as he awaits a decision on his fate.

This was something that the trailers for the episode really focused on, and it’s fitting. Jaime’s character arc throughout the series, and his often spotty path to redemption has been one of the more interesting things the show has given us. He started as the overconfident, brash, and spoiled knight, known for fucking his sister and for stabbing the Mad King in the back. He used his privilege to hurt others, and ended the show’s inaugural episode by pushing a child out of a window. He attacked Ned and his guard out in the street, killing several Stark loyalists. He strangled his cousin to death to get the glimmer of hope to escape Robb’s capture. But, surprisingly, as Daenerys’s fiery stare digs into him, he has people around him vouch for his character. He saved Brienne twice, once from a bear and once from rapers, losing his hand because of it. He swore an oath to Catelyn Stark before her death that he would work to return the girls, arming Brienne with Valyrian Steel, a squire, and a mission. Cersei’s descent into further paranoia and violence began reminding him of the very King he killed out of a desire to protect the common people. And so, somehow, we have grown to love a character who pushed a child out of the window.

He came bringing knowledge, perhaps not to Sansa’s surprise, that Cersei never intended to march her army North. She, instead, brought over the Golden Company and betrayed her promise. Jaime’s reveal of this information, and support from some people in the room, spares his life. As Jon said: “we need all the men we can get.”

Yet, Jaime also refuses to apologize for all of his actions. I think he may have earned some respect by reiterating that they were at war, and he did things to protect his family. This is true, and his change in loyalty comes as he realizes that he made a promise to fight for the living. The other characters seated around the Winterfell hall have also made tough choices for their houses. In this respect, Jaime Lannister, of all people, has learned to respect his oaths.

The power dynamic in this room shows Daenerys’s continual slip of control. Sansa says that she trusts Brienne, and accepts Jaime. Jon, as we all knew he would, supports adding another capable commander. Dany’s story about how she used to dream about the different ways she would murder the man who killed her father goes pretty unheeded. Likewise, I think we can also accept the fact that she doesn’t end up too bent out of shape about this because she also knows her father was a terrible king. I think it’s the lack of control she laments, not necessarily the substance of what this encounter was. She began by leading the room, and slips into the background as she gets outvoted by Jon and Sansa. Turning to Jon as the scene ends, she looks for him, and he won’t even meet her eye. This will be the first of a few encounters where Jon is not ready to tell her the truth, and she is left reeling as to why the person she’s risked her army, dragons, and life to defend is now nothing more than a shameful nod in her direction. We’ve all been there, she’s probably like.. “what did I do!?” She’s being ghosted by the Ghost owner.

Daenerys vents her anger at her advisers, especially Tyrion, basically saying that if he doesn’t begin sharpening his decision-making, she’ll fire him from the Hand position. This, to me, is reasonable from Dany’s perspective. Tyrion has made a ton of mistakes, and the latest one of believing Cersei would march North with them is only one in a long line of both military and societal missteps from Tyrion. Daenerys, knowing that she needs adequate advisers when trying to take over a country she’s hardly ever lived in, has been failed by those same advisers time and again. Calling Tyrion a “traitor” or a “fool” is correct. He’s been a fool in that he’s made consistent mistakes and lost Dany some of her troops, allegiances, and ships. The traitor thing is a bit harder to unpack. In the literal sense, of course not, he does tell Jaime later in the episode that she will be a good Queen, reiterating his loyalty. The problem, though, is in a line Daenerys says to Sansa about him needing to be some combination of good, cunning, and ruthless. The Tyrion who arrived at Meereen in Season 5 is not the same Tyrion who adequately commanded and ruled King’s Landing as acting Hand of the King in Season 2. The family tragedy and being wrongfully accused of his nephew’s murder has left him much more passive, and being a pacifist in a world dominated by warfare has really softened his advantage. He may speak well, give good speeches, and even understand people, but he still needs to be a capable battle planner, which is where he’s largely failed. This reluctance to really embrace the occasional battle is only sharpened by the fact that the opposing side is his family. It may be subconscious, but he really would prefer to win this war with Cersei willingly stepping down. That is not a realistic goal, and has left him with unrealistic expectations and soft decision-making that has caused Dany’s power to be leaky. As soon as she’s shown vulnerability, things like burning the Tarlys or appearing a bit too anger-prone are exasperated.

 

 

We then get our first Arya/Gendry scene, where she comes to check in on the weapon. He reacts how many have reacted to Arya recently, downplaying her need and telling her she should be in the crypts with other women. (Why choose the fucking crypts when the enemy can resurrect the dead? Am I missing something?)

Anyway, Arya tries to get a feel on how the wights move and how they can be killed. She, like any warrior, wants to plan and theorize the best way or best fighting style to use in the war to come. Before Gendry can scoff at her, we get an iconic Arya line about death having many faces, throwing daggers one by one precisely where she wants them to go. She gets to flex too, guys, come on. More on that flexing later.

 

 

Jaime visits Bran by the Weirwood tree, apologizing for what he did to him as a child. Bran, of all people, is least upset by his being pushed out the window and paralyzed, as it started him on the path to becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. He tells Jaime that it wouldn’t be smart to have him killed if he can help, and drops the line that there may not be an afterwards after this battle.

The word “afterwards” seems to have a pretty specific place in where this episode lands thematically. The Night King wants to end everything, the before, during, and after of humanity, silencing it forever in the Long Night. There are a few characters who are planning for what could happen after the Battle of Winterfell next episode, and it’s interesting how little all of that seems to matter as we currently assess the living’s chances. Sansa and Dany talk ‘after.’ Jon and Dany sort-of do as well in the final sequence. Jaime inquires about ‘after’ with Bran. Does Bran mean that there is no afterwards for everyone, or is he implying that Jaime will die this season?

Then, Jaime and Tyrion’s brotherly stroll on the grounds, occasionally interrupted by a Northerner spitting at them because of their Lannister lineage, hits tons of topics, mostly predictable. Tyrion makes the line about how he wanted to die at age 80, with a belly full of wine and girl around his cock. They also talk briefly about Daenerys, Tyrion standing up for his Queen and remaining loyal, which is notable after the ribbing he takes earlier in the episode. Jaime then spots Brienne training some people with sword-play and pledges his service to her. It’s a nice scene, showing that Jaime clearly respects and admires Brienne, and there may be a romantic attachment, I don’t think we know yet. Maybe they don’t even know.

One final thing on the Tyrion and Jaime walk-and-talk, it appears that Tyrion has confirmed for him that Cersei’s baby is indeed real. This leaves, to me, three possibilities on how this is playing out: a) there was a baby and a miscarriage has or will occur, leaving Cersei more alone than ever, b) the baby is fine, and she slept with Euron to disguise a bastard baby with Jaime as one of a marital union between her and Euron, or c) there was still some kind of back-door deal made between Tyrion and Cersei in the scene we didn’t see back in the Season Seven finale, where Tyrion has promised Cersei that her baby will have something to do with the Iron Throne succession. Tyrion says to Jaime that Jaime always knew who Cersei was and that he loved her anyway, I’m not so sure that’s accurate. Jaime’s leaving came close on the heels of Cersei turning into the type of Queen that Jaime sacrificed his reputation to kill, as I mentioned above. I think he slowly soured on her after that point.

 

 

Dany and Jorah have a scene alone together, which is nice. Their chemistry has been put on the sidelines with Dany accumulating all of these new people in her inner circle. Jorah, as the original protector, offers Dany some guidance. First, he tells her to forgive Tyrion, to allow him to grow from his mistakes. I think Jorah realizes that Tyrion can continue to grow into the job of Hand and turn his currently losing record around. Let’s hope that’s true. The second thing is to ask Daenerys to mend the currently fractured relationship with Sansa, as Sansa’s chilly response to Dany and her army sent shockwaves through the first episode. Before diving into that conversation, as it does follow this one, it’s notable that this may be the last time we see these two interact. All Jorah ever wanted was to serve Daenerys to the best of his ability, and as Daenerys grew up, Jorah was her watchful guardian, basically at all times. Of all of the impending deaths, Jorah’s will be one of the hardest. He, in two ways, completes his character arc in this episode. The first thing he does is begin to delegate some of the important responsibility he has with Daenerys to wiser people like Tyrion and Sansa, and the second thing has to do with a family sword that will be discussed in a few paragraphs.

So, Daenerys heeds Jorah’s advice, and makes her way into Sansa’s chamber, asking to speak alone. This scene, in particular for this great episode, features some fabulous acting by both Emilia Clarke and Sophie Turner. I, rightly, praise Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime pretty frequently, and he nails this episode as well, but Emilia Clarke and Sophie Turner have really upped their game so far this season. Their scene completely crackles with how much goes unsaid between them. Dany laments some of her adviser’s failures while Sansa praises Brienne, leading Dany to pull out a line that really works for Sansa, discussing how they both know what it’s like to lead people who aren’t inclined to accept a woman’s rule, and have done a damn good job of it. But, she points out the obvious, there’s tension, they’re at odds with one another.

Daenerys gets a bit vulnerable in this scene, which I think brings her some much needed humanity. She says that her whole life was focused on the Iron Throne, until she met Jon. Now, she’s half a world away, fighting his war with him. She says she loves him and can trust that he’s true to his word. Sansa’s remark about men being easily manipulated fails because Daenerys presents a case that it’s she that has fallen victim to Jon’s worldview. Not vice versa. They also get a nice dunk in on Kit Harrington, Dany saying that Jon is the second person in her life she loved and was true to his word (Khal Drogo), but that Jon is shorter. Kit, my man, call your agent! They’re running roughshod over you!

The conversation ends, though, with Sansa again pushing the topic of Northern independence. Dany withdraws her hand, physically recoiling from this show of authority, and seems like she immediately regrets it. If these characters survive, I do believe that Dany, Sansa, and Jon will work out the kinks of the leadership structure. I think that this stuff is largely a red herring. The reason I believe this will resolve amicably is actually reinforced by Theon coming to greet Sansa and Dany. Theon says that he wants to fight for Winterfell. The Northern people love their lands, and it’s something that Dany will never understand. I’m not saying that Jon and Daenerys’s relationship can survive the fact that his claim may now be superior, or that they’re incestual. It’s more that I think it resolves in a way that they aren’t at each other’s throats. The Theon-Sansa reunion was a bit more emotional on Sansa’s end than I expected.

 

We also, then, get a nice scene of Davos and Gilly feeding the common folk, both taken by surprise when an orphaned girl with a burned face asks to fight like the other soldiers. Although they successfully misdirect her, the callbacks to Shireen Baratheon, and how she taught both Davos and Gilly to read, as well as gave Davos an almost adoptive child for a few years after losing his own, clearly affects him. Davos is one of the most human characters in the entire show, and they gave him this scene for that purpose. You may promote him to trusted adviser, etc., but you can never take away the Flea Bottom smuggler that defines so much of his caring resourcefulness. I almost hope they were serving Onion Soup. Speaking of the Stannis subplot, I lolled when Dany said “who manipulated whom?” when talking to Sansa, because Stannis was quite the grammarian. RIP.

 

 

Just then, riders approach Winterfell, and our ranging party sent out to Last Hearth has returned intact. Beric and Tormund have returned from Eastwatch castle, while Edd and the remainder of the Night’s Watch have reconvened as well. Tormund tackle hugs Jon, calling him Little Crow, and Jon gets a nice reunion with Edd. They lost the Umber forces, now fighting in the Night King’s Army, but getting Beric, Tormund, and Edd back alive will be nice. Don’t forget, that’s the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, the de facto leader of the remaining Wildlings, and the acting Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. It’s odd to think of them that way, but all three of them have exhibited leadership and bravery during their careers. Tormund tells them they have less than a day to prepare.

This slight interruption in between the Davos scene and the war-room scene is really a break in the mid-episode focus on the preparations necessary for the oncoming battle. I’ve remarked that I like when episodes show the importance of the preparations. This is legitimate warfare, and people need to be armed, clothed, fed, and rested. The montage that follows is one of Jon’s voice-over from the trailer for this season: “Our enemy doesn’t tire. Doesn’t stop. Doesn’t fear.” The war-room is filled with all notable faces still alive to face the White Walkers, and we get one of the most important reveals we’ve had in the show to this date.

Jon points out that the Night King is the key. If they can kill him, they can fell the rest of the dead. His motivation: Bran says it’s because he wants to eliminate humanity. Eliminate its past, present, and future. The best way to take away its history is to kill Bran.

It appears that the Three-Eyed Raven functions as the world’s memory. It can maintain the timelines and answer important questions to ensure humanity’s survival by looking into the deep, deep past. In that way, it’s quite different than the dusty old men at the Citadel. Instead, the Raven acts as a protector, using the past and knowledge of time to ensure humanity’s survival and continual flow of information. The Night King’s desire to kill Bran makes perfect sense. Eliminating Bran eliminates humanity’s history, or at least most of it. Remember that the Night King was created by the Children of the Forest as a biological weapon to destroy humans during the days of the First Men. The experiment went so wrong that the First Men ended up helping the Children survive and they built the wall. It appears the Night King is still the same, his desire isn’t much in particular. He just seeks the endless night. I also believe that the Night King has some magical green-seeing power, such that he can do a lot of what Bran can do in looking into the past and spying on individuals to watch their movements and patterns. The Night King, between Hardhome and the pointed mountain, has trapped humans a few times. Getting rid of Bran helps with the extinction aspect, but it also strengthens his magic advantage against the remaining humans.

Samwell backs this up, stating that death is forgetting. If we lose our history, our traditions, our culture, we’re nothing more than animals. The Night King commands animals. He agrees that killing Bran makes sense, and Bran reveals the mark the Night King left on him. The plan ends up being using Bran as bait, and then trying to get Jon, or someone as mighty, to cruise in against the Night King to strike the killing blow, thus eliminating all he has turned. Theon volunteers to be Bran’s bodyguard with some Ironborne forces, stating that he took the castle from Bran and defending Bran now is the best way to repay. This makes it appear that Theon is on the short list of upcoming deaths. Finally, Dany relegates Tyrion to the crypts, stating that she needs his mind to work and not on the balcony ready to fight. As they leave, Jon does his second quick exit, leaving Dany alone and bewildered.

Tyrion then corners Bran and asks him about his journey. I can’t imagine how long this conversation lasts, but Tyrion has a lot of important things to learn about Bran, and is among the best equipped to use Bran’s powers and transmit it successfully to the humans. Bran stared at Tyrion pretty awkwardly in Episode 1, and I wonder if it was anticipating this conversation. I don’t know that they specifically talked about Jon, Jon’s parentage, and Dany, but it’s as good of a conversation as any.

 

 

Grey Worm and Missandei get a scene together, remarking on how the Northern attitudes hasn’t been good for their foreign appearances. I don’t want to get overtly racial in my review, but it’s obvious that there is some subtext in these scenes. Grey Worm, rather than be affronted, proposes an alternative, to run away to Missandei’s homeland of Naath and live out the rest of their days after they’ve helped Daenerys win. The last characters to plan something like this for the future were Robb and Talisa, and we all know how that turned out. In addition, there are some wooden line readings in this scene about people needing protecting and Naath being a peaceful people. I’m still not entirely sure what was meant to be said, and I’ve watched it three times.

At the top of the Wall, Sam, Edd, and Jon joke about the parallels of their current predicament and their time at the Night’s Watch. Sam refuses to go to the crypts, listing his battle achievements like killing a white walker, killing a thenn, and stealing books from the library. It’s played for a laugh, but Sam’s point is well taken. He wants to see and help direct the action, even if he can’t properly fight. I also think that he’s had some time to calm and think since the previous episode, and although I think he’ll always doubt Daenerys as a queen, I don’t believe that he still feels she is evil.

 

 

The end of this episode starts the most talked about situations. We get the opening of what will surely be an iconic Thrones legacy scene around the fire the night of the battle. Tyrion and Jaime share a pitcher of wine and joke about how absurd it is that two Lannister men in the main hierarchy are going to die defending Winterfell and the Starks. It’s the first time they’ve been together at Winterfell since the season opener, and although Tyrion doesn’t know Jaime pushed Bran out the window, they discuss how Jaime has gone away from his Golden Lion persona and how Tyrion has gone away from being a drunken whoremonger. Tyrion says that he cannot go back to being that person, and addresses ‘the perils of self-betterment.’ This makes it seem, along with the weird Season Seven shot in the boat, that Tyrion may also love Daenerys; that maybe he isn’t capable of going off to the brothels anymore. At the same time, it could just be that he’s more focused on his political position and legacy, and that at least some of Tywin’s words have sunk in. I really liked the line when Jaime wonders if things that that much worse now: “I was sleeping with my sister, and you had one friend in the world….who was sleeping with his sister.”

Brienne and Pod then walk in, looking for a place to rest for their remaining hours. Tyrion, after being instructed to only pour Pod half a cup of wine, fills it to the brim. Hopefully that becomes a “when your best friend pours your drink” meme. Davos and Tormund then trickle in, Tormund with a tusk filled with some kind of milky liquor that he likes to drink. He’s clearly been at it. He looks at Jaime, calling him King Killer, telling the story of why they call him Tormund ‘Giantsbane,’ and in an epic drunken rant, describes that he spent three months living off of giant’s milk from a lady giant who thought he was her son. Tormund is definitely used as comic relief in this episode, and I loved this little diatribe here. It’s almost as good as the “I fucked a bear” story.

Arya finds the Hound, sitting at the top of a balcony, questioning why he was up at Winterfell. The Hound may not have a response, but he knows that he’s secretly good, and there to defend the living. Arya asks when was the last time he fought for someone other than himself, and he replies “I fought for you, didn’t I?” I know a lot of people expected their reunion to be a bit more warm and fuzzy, but that’s not what their relationship was. They respect and like each other. They both let people know when they have a problem with someone else. Beric joins them, and The Hound delivers a zinger before they sit and have some drinks in the cold. Arya leaves, finding Gendry, and finally gets her staff/spear weapon. It looks similar to what she used when training with the faceless men, so that could be useful for her.

To be honest, I don’t really have much to say about the Arya/Gendry sex scene that follows. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, is in her 20s, and I think Arya is supposed to be like 19 or so in the show. She’s allowed to make advances on a guy she’s clearly thought a lot about since they parted back in the earlier seasons when they were with the Brotherhood. Surprisingly, it was one of the more consensual-type sex scenes we would get in Game of Thrones. I also don’t care if they did or did not use a body double, and you shouldn’t either. They have sex on a night that could be their last in the world, let’s move on.

I actually think the more interesting part of the scene is when Arya plays the Game of Faces with Gendry, basically able to immediately tell if he’s lying or not. Arya has become the ultimate bullshit detector, and in addition to her fighting prowess and espionage skills, this could be very useful in the future.

 

We then head back to the fireplace with our collective of characters, and Tyrion lets a bit of optimism poke through: what if they live? It’s always been Tyrion who has seemingly valued life above all else, and it makes sense that he is the only one heading into the battle with a little bit of hope. This one line stands at stark contrast to the rest of the episode, as characters have their arcs closed and make decisions as if this is it. We just saw Arya justify that to Gendry, etc.

Feminist Tormund, of all people, remarks negatively when he finds out Brienne isn’t technically a knight. So, Jaime, using his own power as an anointed Knight, decides to give Brienne the title she always wanted. In a beautiful scene, Brienne kneels in front of Jaime as he recites the vows, and she rises as a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, to applause from everyone else in the room. The smile of pride on her face afterwards is the happiest and proudest look we’ve gotten from any character, perhaps in the whole series. With this action, one could argue that Brienne’s arc has now been resolved, she kept her oath, protected the Stark women, and was awarded a knighthood because of it.

Speaking of closed arcs, the second part of Jorah’s journey is completed in this episode after previously delegating some power and giving advice which Dany takes. After a standoff with Lyanna Mormont who refuses to stay in the crypts and wants to fight, Sam approaches Jorah and rewards him with the Tarly family sword, a Valyrian Steel weapon called Heartsbane. Jorah, in taking the weapon has now gone full circle from where he lost the inheritance of the Mormont Valyrian steel sword named Longclaw (now wielded by Jon) when he committed crimes in Westeros and was exiled. His father, Jeor Mormont, commander of the Night’s Watch, gave the sword to Jon after explaining how he sent Jorah away after he brought shame to the family. Jorah, who sold slaves, helped Dany liberate the slaves in Essos, behaved honorably time and again, and is now given the ancestral sword of House Tarly because Sam knows his family’s legacy will be well-represented by Jorah after the death of Sam’s father and brother. It’s a wonderful scene, and although I think we lose Jorah soon, this was a good episode for him, only overshadowed by the wonderful knighting of Brienne.

 

The final scene with our fireside chat group involves Tyrion asking for someone to sing a song. It’s Podrick who comes forward, singing ‘Jenny’s Song.’ Although not finished in the books (the showrunners and writers finished the verse), it tells the story of Jenny of Oldstones, who was married to Duncan Targaryen, one of the rightful Targaryen heirs who decided to forsake his claim because of love. He broke a betrothal to a powerful ally to marry Jenny. That clearly has some ramifications for the Jon and Daenerys relationship, as this episode clearly establishes that they’re both in love with each other; Dany actually says it. Jon has the best claim, but one has to wonder if one of them decides to put their claim aside to be with the other person. It would seem that Jon would be the one to do that, he actually has the best claim and has never shown an inkling of wanting to be King, but it’s Daenerys who has received repeated criticism and misunderstanding during this season. Samwell wonders out loud to Jon last episode whether she’d put the crown aside to protect her people. I’ve said that I think the Sansa, Jon, Daenerys conflict is a red herring and will resolve with some compromise, maybe with Northern independence, maybe with Jon on the throne. It’s the other part of Jenny’s song that’s interesting, mainly because Duncan Targaryen died in the tragedy of Summerhall, where there were experiments to try to get new dragons to hatch and it resulted in an explosion which killed Duncan and his father. The story of Jenny dancing with her ghosts has a tragedy aspect to it, a longing for people she had lost. I would hope that Daenerys doesn’t end up a shell of herself after the death of people close to her, the same that I hope Jon wouldn’t, but there’s also a level of symbolic symmetry between Jenny dancing with the ghosts and Jon staring at the tombs of his adoptive father and natural mother in the crypts. I get the feeling that Daenerys may give up her claim for Jon, only to die tragically, and Jon wants nothing to do with power even after that, as he laments the loss of all those close to him.

The song, sorrowful and sung above a rising orchestral score, cuts from Pod to the battle preparations and quick one-shots of some characters. Sam lays awake with Gilly and Little Sam, Arya lies awake next to Gendry, etc. It also shows Grey Worm passionately kissing Missandei and leaving to go join the battle, just as a barricade is placed between them, a symbolic gesture of the chasm that will separate those who remain in the castle and those who go out to battle. Finally, it’s Jorah we see with the Dothraki, riding up to the front lines. The song, although may not technically referencing a battle provides a mix of sadness in tone for the audience to watch characters ride out to an impending death but also backstory and context within the History of Westeros that may play into the endgame as we move along this season. This scene and montage under the song is among my favorite scenes ever in Game of Thrones. I was really, really moved by it.

They could’ve ended directly on this, but they don’t. They pivot into the scene of Jon and Daenerys in the crypts, widely referenced since the season trailer came out. Jon is staring at the statue and tomb of his real mother, Lyanna Stark, as Daenerys finally can get his attention after their abrupt departures previously in the episode. The look Jon gives is a subtle piece of acting, despite all that he has to tell her and fully knowing that it will not go over well, he smiles a look of relief and tenderness at her. She does the same in a warm gesture of grabbing his arm. She asks who the person is, and he tells her that it’s Lyanna. Daenerys is the one who really broaches the subject, as she tells Jon that she’s surprised that despite all of the nice things she heard about her older brother Rhaegar Targaryen, it’s widely assumed that he kidnapped and raped Lyanna, as we had been told for years on the show.

Jon says that she wasn’t and that they wed in secret. After the battle, she had a son, and as she died bleeding to death post-childbirth, she gave the son to her younger brother Ned to be raised as a bastard, protecting him from Robert Baratheon’s wrath against the Targaryens. He says that his name, his real name, is Aegon Targaryen.

And, Daenerys reacts as we’d expect her to. She pulls away brusquely and challenges the information: where’d you obtain it? it seems impossible? This reminds one, at least slightly, of The Empire Strikes Back, an almost denial of a critical family tree reveal that comes as such a shock. To Daenerys, she has spent her whole life believing that she was essentially the last Targaryen alive (minus Viserys, who dies in the first season), and premised her goal around coming to Westeros the rightful Queen and liberator. Her identity is entirely made up of reclaiming, but improving, the history of her family.

So, for people who criticize Daenerys’s reaction here, I’m not really sure what you would expect. It doesn’t make her evil to challenge the source of the information (fuck, it’s his brother and best friend telling him), and then pointing out something rather obvious: it gives him a better claim compared to her. Her feelings are complicated because Jon’s existence as Aegon Targaryen challenges her entire identity and world-view, and worse, it comes at the expense of a person she’s in love with. I don’t think the biological connection aspect is as important to Daenerys, because she was raised under the impression that Targaryens bred within the family anyway. Him being her nephew isn’t a huge deal, especially because in Game of Thrones, a first cousin marriage alliance is not very strange: Tywin Lannister was married to his first cousin, Joanna.

Jon probably cares a bit more about the biology, he’s probably a little uncomfortable being in love with his aunt, and I think he’s disappointed that she cares about the passage of the throne from one person to another. He doesn’t really care at all. This is a conversation that will be revisited, and could always be complicated if Daenerys ends up being pregnant. We don’t know yet, but they certainly set it up in the previous season as being a possibility.

Their conversation ends, and they nod to each other outside as the Army of the Dead approaches, starting the plan that they had cooked up in the war room. That nod appears to be a “let’s get to the top of the balcony somewhere so we can make a decision on how to use the dragons.” Daenerys goes along with it. She knows that this fight is more important than anything, and she’s clearly upset, but understands that it will be worked out as we go along. Daenerys doesn’t want to be Queen of the Ashes, and recognizes that survival of the country has to come before they litigate claims to the throne. Plus, she knows she can trust Jon. He told her the truth.

 

Finally, the last thing I want to point out is that there appears to be a TON of actual White Walkers, versus just wights (the unthinking zombies). The show had previously only shown us around a dozen of them, making it seem like there were a few generals and a lot of foot soldiers. The shot down the line of the army’s front makes it seem like there could be fifty, or more, actual White Walkers, which makes sense given that they took 99 of Craster’s sons to turn into Walkers.

 

Score:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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