In the fifth-to-last Game of Thrones episode ever, Season 8 Episode 2, the Starks and Targaryens and everyone loyal to them prepared for war. That now includes Jaime Lannister, a character who, somewhat ironically, now officially rivals Bran for most pronounced character arc. Few others have changed as much as Jaime Lannister, and this episode highlighted that at every opportunity, from his long-coming apology to Bran, to his historic knighting of Ser Brienne (how weird is that to read?).
But as satisfying as it was to watch the former Golden Lion mull around Winterfell with his tail between his legs, Season 8's second episode was yet another filled with build-up and anticipation, the promise of something monumental waiting just over the horizon. That something is now one week away, but it's not just the Battle of Winterfell we have to look forward to: Dany and Jon didn't get to finish their conversation in the crypt, and that's arguably even more important. It's the story behind the story, and it's always been the series' real heart.
When you think about it, the conflict between Jon and Dany–the one caused by her increasingly alarming lust for the Iron Throne–should be easy to resolve. Where their conversation ended, I can hear what should have been the next line in my head: "But I don't want the Iron Throne." For Jon to respond in any other way would be untrue to his character; he's always been reluctant to accept power, and quick to give it up once he gets it. That Jon wants the crown least despite having the best claim would probably make him a decent ruler, but the Jon we know was likely about to tell Dany she can have it before they were interrupted.
Leaving that resolution as an open question throughout the upcoming battle was a fantastic narrative choice. It will add even more tension to what will surely be a fraught episode, one in which we're rightfully expecting many (or maybe all) of our favorite characters to die impaled on White Walker spears. But it also leaves room for something to change; Dany has been acting increasingly unhinged, lashing out at Tyrion and exhibiting an alarming unwillingness to consider any alternative to her absolute rule. More than one character has expressed concern that Dany is more like her father than her supporters would prefer to admit, and if she goes full Mad King or does something extreme in the coming battles, Jon might begin to view it as his duty to claim his birthright.
Whatever happens there, this episode provided plenty of other wish fulfillment for longtime Game of Thrones fans. Let's start with the obvious ones: Arya actually getting together with Gendry is huge, while Jaime knighting Brienne fulfilled their relationship as well, although in a very different way. Both of these pairings are longtime fan ships, and it wasn't long ago that it seemed unlikely either of these relationships would ever lead anywhere. It was a little bit jarring to see Arya Stark in this new light, but what better sign that we're nearing the end of this story? And although I don't really expect anything romantic to happen between Brienne and Jaime at this point, in retrospect this was perfect. We should have seen it coming.
There were some less obvious bangers as well, huge among them Pod's little performance. When Pod started singing, book readers may have gasped as they recognized his opening words from a song referenced several times in the third Song of Ice and Fire book, A Storm of Swords. It's described as a sad song, always sung softly, and Arya only catches snatches of the lyrics. It's not necessarily important to anything, really, but it's something those of us who read the books before the show ever premiered never thought we'd actually get to hear.
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The song brings to mind all kinds of thematic context from that book, from a terribly sad old woman weeping as she recalls the days of her youth, to weighty conversations between the doomed King Robb and Catelyn Stark in the chapters leading up to the Red Wedding. Hearing Pod's surprisingly dulcet tones (yet another of his secret talents apparently) belting out that morose tune was somehow one of the most emotional moments yet in Season 8.
This episode also revealed something of the Night King's motivation, which has been a question since the very first scene of the show's first episode. According to Bran, the White Walkers are heading south so the Night King can kill him. "He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory," the weirdo formerly known as Brandon Stark claims. That still doesn't tell us why, but it's something.
As we head into the final battle of Winterfell, a plan has taken shape: The non-combatants will cower in the crypts (which might not be so wise if the theory about the Night King resurrecting all the corpses stored down there turns out to be right) while the army of the living holds off the dead long enough for Bran to lure the Night King to the Godswood. What happens next is anyone's guess–although what happens after that will likely be where Game of Thrones' real climax takes place.
Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
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