All that has been on “Game of Thrones” and all that shall be hung in the balance Sunday night as — spoiler alert — the ranks of the undead made it to the periphery of Castle Winterfell.
So it was a good thing that in the hour before that the warm-blooded characters got so much emotional accounting taken care of in an episode filled with powerful jolts and poignant swirls of sentiment. They drank together. They let bygones be bygones, even bygones of the most monstrous sort. They bemoaned their certain fate in fighting so very many supernatural enemies.
This last episode before the battle begins was titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” but really the series’ creators could have called it, “If You’ll Have Me.”
Theon Greyjoy came back to defend Winterfell, if you’ll have me, Lady Sansa. Jaime Lannister wanted to fight under an old friend, if you’ll have me, Lady Brienne of Tarth. Most racily, formerly little Arya Stark wanted to know what love is before she leaves this world, if you’ll have me, Gendry, son of King Robert.
For Jaime, actually, it was a serial forgiveness tour. He met with Daenerys, whose father he killed. He met with Sansa, whose father his sister had killed. And, out in the wood, under the Tree of the Bright Red Leaves, he met with Bran, whose paralysis he caused.
The outcome in every case? Let’s just say it doesn’t hurt to be handsome and able to make a convincing case for having discovered honor. And if you’re going to paralyze a snooping kid, make sure it’s one who’ll grow up into a time-traveling, wisdom-spouting, mostly passive superhero.
In perhaps the most significant news of the hour, interpersonal relationships division, Dany and Jon approached their own if-you’ll-have-me moment. They started to have the talk that is so important in every young relationship but that so many couples neglect: Which in the pair is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and true ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, the one who has dreamed of it her entire life or the one who just found out when his old army buddy clued him in?
They were interrupted before getting to a resolution by blaring horns, signifying death, quite literally, was on the doorstep.
So the wights are nigh. The battle looms. Here, then, are 5 thoughts recapping “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 2, the One Before Everything Changed:
1. It’s good to know our heroes are actually coming up with a battle plan. Judging by most of the first two episodes, you might have thought they were planning to defeat the Night King merely by the sheer emotional power of the many character reunions taking place.
But no, on Sunday, the generals actually gathered at table over the Winterfell version of a Risk game to talk about how to win. As Jon points out, “Our enemy doesn’t tire, doesn’t stop, doesn’t feel.”
Slaying the king himself might be the best path to victory, it is agreed, but he won’t show himself. “Yes, he will,” says Bran, continuing to surprise those of us who’d grown accustomed to him as the “Game of Thrones” equivalent of a dream sequence.. “He will come for me.”
The Night King always tries to kill the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran explains; it’s kind of his thing. Just before our own eyes glass over at Three-Eyed Raven talk, they hatch a plan to have Bran try to draw the Night King into the open by waiting for him in the woods, protected most immediately by — really? — Theon. (Note: I don’t see Theon’s old smooth-down-there battle plan working so well against this enemy).
Other strategic tidbits we learned of: There’s a sort of fiery moat being constructed. Arya got her special spear from Gendry (nudge, nudge, say no more). Jorah Mormont is carrying the Valyrian steel sword of House Tarly, gifted to him by Samwell. And Brienne is guarding the left flank.
As a special bonus, we actually learned something I’ve been wondering about: What is the Night King’s motivation? Does he just like to win at battle? Is it about having an ever-bigger army, as every dead enemy becomes a new conscript?
“He wants to erase this world,” Bran says, “and I am its memory.” That may be it, and it’s helpful to bear in mind as we watch in coming weeks. But I can’t help but worry for the fellow: If he actually achieves his goal, what will he have left to not-live for?
2. Those aren’t tears in my eyes, I swear. It’s just kind of smoky in here. The scene with many of the “GoT” veterans gathering before the fire on what they think will be their last night alive was one of the most emotionally powerful the series has created, Tormund’s TMI tale of suckling at a giant’s teat notwithstanding.
It all had a glorious, wistful, old-warrior air, full of resignation and packed with nobility, Tormund’s puppy-dog pursuit of Brienne notwithstanding.
The first great moment came when Brienne explained to Tormund that “women can’t be knights.” Jaime realizes this is not strictly true: “Any knight can make another knight,” he says. “Kneel, Lady Brienne.”
He administers the oath and on possibly (let’s be real: probably) her last night on Earth, she becomes “Brienne of Tarth, a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
The second potent moment comes when they are out of wine, out of stories, but refusing to go to bed. How about a song? Somebody must know a song.
And eventually Podrick the apprentice chimes in with a lovely sad tune referred to in George RR Martin’s source novels but apparently given lyrics for the first time here. “High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts,” he sings, in a voice as pure as the one in the Florence and the Machine version that plays over the final credits.
As he sings, the camera moves us through Winterfell, showing people preparing for the morning’s battle. Podrick ends by repeating the line: “She never wanted to leave.”
3. Jaime Lannister is one lucky legitimately born male child. The episode opens with him in front of Daenerys and Sansa, having to answer for his hand in killing their fathers, and for his failure to bring the Lannister armies with him. Only Brienne speaking up for his honor, and Sansa vouching for Brienne, save his neck.
But in an indelible moment, Jaime protests that what he did, he did for “my house and my family.” Bran, heretofore silent, pipes in, “The things we do for love” — the exact thing Jaime said before pushing him out a tower window in the series’ first episode.
It hangs there, the charge waiting to be made, but Bran says no more, and Jaime is welcomed, a little grudgingly, into the Northern armies. The scene ends like the first episode of this season did, with Jaime and Bran staring at one another.
Later, Jaime meets with Bran in the wood and apologizes. No need, says Bran, because your shove made me into the Three-Eyed Raven I am today, and, besides, “you won’t be able to help us in the fight if I let them murder you first.”
“What about afterwards,” Jaime asks.
“How do you know there is an afterwards?”
Gulp. Or maybe Bran’s just using his mystic aura to mess with the dude and exact one small measure of payback?
4. Daenerys is going to have a lot on her mind during the battle. At the urging of Jorah, she sits down to make nice with Sansa, after their relationship began so frostily last week. They agree they are sisters doin’ it for themselves, #LadyBoss.
Dany further assures Sansa that she loves Jon, Sansa’s “brother.” She even points out — as if in rebuttal to Samwell Tarly last week, who asked Jon is Dany would sacrifice for him — that she put on hold her queenly ambitions to come fight “Jon’s war alongside him.”
But Sansa asks what will happen to the North, her territory, should the humans prevail in this battle? Dany has no ready answer, which is Targaryen for “You shall be mine.”
It’s in the Winterfell crypt with Jon, though, toward the end of the episode, that her world really gets shaken. He is standing in front of the sarcophagus of Lyanna Stark, his secret mother.
How could her good older brother Rhaegar, who sang and gave money to poor kids, have raped Lyanna, as the stories have it, Dany wonders.
And Jon lets it spill, the truth about his parentage rolling out in a really well-constructed scene: Rhaegar and Lyanna were secretly married and — boom, goes the dynamite — “My real name is Aegon Targaryen.”
Dany is skeptical, pointing out that his sources for this knowledge are “your brother and your best friend.” But she realizes immediately and not happily what it would mean, that Jon/Aegon, not she, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
The meeting is interrupted by the Night King’s arrival, but it was clouded enough to make you think Jon might not want to turn his back on his erstwhile sweetie in battle.
5. Arya’s pillow talk is awesome, and a few other stray observations. Just before lying with Gendry, because “I ought to know what it’s like” before the potentially final fight, Arya tells him, “I’m not the Red Woman. Take your own pants off.”
Tormund, apparently, is destined to go into battle sporting the blue banner of House Frustration, cerulean walnuts against a field of azure. Despite his yeoman efforts, he was unable, it seems, to find a moment alone with Lady, now Ser, Brienne.
Welcome back, Ghost, Jon’s direwolf. If all the humans are gone and your kind takes over, I’m sorta good with that.
Lady Mormont continues to be the best, this time upbraiding older relative Jorah for daring to suggest that she not take part in the battle. I’m worried for her, of course. But if she ends up in charge, perhaps in a power share with the direwolves, I’m definitely good with that.
We didn’t see Cersei or King’s Landing at all this week, but pretty much every other character had a sort of closure moment that would make their death unsurprising. The ones for Brienne and for Grey Worm and for Tyrion felt especially ominous. But clearly deaths will not be in short supply and almost no departure will be a total shock.
Finally, I’m getting very worried about the crypt at Winterfell and what might happen there should the Night King take control. Powerful and ancient magic lurks down under, to say nothing of a whole lot of late Starks who we really would not want to see fighting under the sigil of the frosty scythe.
Put another way: I might not stop rubbing my hands until next Sunday at 8 p.m. central.