'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms' slows down to quality time with fan favorites before the carnage begins

Daenerys gets bad news from her boyfriend. Arya has great news for Gendry. Jaime and Brienne respect each other so damn hard. Tyrion drinks and isn't sure he knows much of anything anymore. And there's so much more in a unique Game of Thrones episode which devoted its whole hour to exploring the calm-before-the-storm on the eve of the great battle to decide the fate of Westeros.

Tonight there were no deaths, no fights, no dragons (but, yay, the return of Ghost). Titled "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," the episode took advantage of having so main characters in the same place at the same time to really focus on giving each some quality screen time, demonstrating how the characters have grown and the myriad of ways they relate to each other before a devastating battle that we expect will claim at least some (if not all) of their lives. GoT's action scenes and intense dramatics get so much worthy attention but the Emmy-winning series has always executed its quieter moments equally well; on GoT, two people chatting in room can be as powerful as any swordfight, so this episode by writer Bryan Cogman is an unexpected treat in a six-epsiode final season that many would assume would just fly by ("a love letter to the characters" as Cogman describes it). And if you criticized season 7 for its fast pacing and say this episode is "too slow" then you're just an impossible-to-please person.

Great Hall: Jaime is brought before a tribunal to decide his fate. He was supposed to bring a Lannister army to the party but instead showed up empty-handed (so to speak). Pretty much everybody in the room hates him, many for different reasons, and his reputation is admittedly largely his own fault.

Bran probably has the most personal reason to despise Jaime, but his current programming doesn't allow for these things you humans call emotions and he doesn't even mention the whole pushing-him-out-the-window thing from the pilot, though Bran does drop a "things we do for love" quote (like: Just so you know, Jaime, the North does indeed remember what you did). Dany also has a strong case as Jaime killed her Mad King father whom he was sworn to protect (not without a good reason, but still: When you're a Targaryen queen you don't really just let prisoners off the hook for such things). Dany stares at Jaime, her face twitching, and you can just feel her thoughts bubbling up from her ancestral memory: Burn them all, burn them all!

The scene explores The Crimes of Jaime and — in a reversal from Tyrion's season 4 trial — there's a final character witness who arrives to save him. Brienne finally enters the show and recaps Game of Thrones season 3 for the room (she probably skips over all the dull Bran traveling scenes). Sansa and Dany seem like they're on the verge of being in agreement on at least something, bonding over killing Jaime, but Sansa is swayed by Brienne's testimony. Jon votes to spare him as well. The Kingslayer is saved and you can be sure Dany can't wait to claim the Iron Throne and ditch this whole democratic voting silliness. We're very happy Jaime's going live. But if things had gone another way that also would have been totally justifiable from, as Obi-Wan said, "a certain point of view."

Afterward, Dany wants to talk to Jon and he's like, Sorry Dany I would love to chat but I gotta do something in that other room that's totally not incest. 

Daenerys is perturbed. Sansa voted against her. Jon voted against her. And Tyrion can't seem to do anything right since season 6. "You're either a traitor or a fool," Dany tells Tyrion and threatens to find a new Hand of the Queen. We know the man is doing the best he can, but he has been rather hapless in his advice to Dany (with the exception of pushing back on her most vindictive impulses — Tyrion's been spot-on when it comes to that, but an advisor who will say "hey maybe don't burn people alive?" can't be too hard to find).

Tyrion and Jaime: Tyrion is kicking himself. Jaime assures him that Cerise is pregnant for real, something many fans have been skeptical about. Just because Cersei's got a hot pie in the oven doesn't mean she's become a different person; she would have never helped Daenerys merely for the good of the realm. Cersei also lives on the coast, after all, she has some selfish last resort escape options if the Night King wins. "She's always been good at using the truth to tell lies," is one particularly good Jaime line, and then there's a great Tyrion retort: "She never fooled you. You always knew exactly what she was and you loved her anyway."

Missandei and Grey Worm: Missandei says hello to some northern children and the kids abruptly leave. There was much speculation after last week's premiere about a shot of Northerners glaring at this duo, with some wondering if the North was racist. From what I've gathered, the intended subtext is that most people in the North have never seen a person of color before, and since Missandei and Grey Worm are foreigners from across the sea in an invading Targaryen queen's army, they're regarded with skepticism and suspicion. So it's not exactly about race, but also kinda about race as the two are even more alien-seeming to the North than the rest of Team Targaryen.

"When Daenerys takes her throne, there will be no place for us here," Grey Worm tells her. Missandei and Grey Worm make a plan to leave and go live at the beach after Dany takes the Iron Throne (which sounds like the best post-war plan yet).

Sansa and Dany: Last week Jon suggested to Dany that she just needed to get to know Sansa. Well, here she is, totally making a solid effort.

Sansa sits straight-backed, practically looking down her nose at Dany.

While Dany is trying to apply a little softness, a little charm and flattery, find some common ground — hey, we're both strong women in leadership roles being paid 80 cents on the dollar, let's be besties and smash the patriarchy. 

Sansa cracks a little: "I should have thanked you the moment you arrived," she admits, which is true. Dany even takes Sansa's hand. They're holding hands! This is so weird. Could it all work out just fine?

Then Sansa just has to ask: "What about the North?" Which is a valid concern. The North fought hard for their independence and want to keep it. But, you know, maybe Sansa should focus on winning the war against the Army of the Dead first, have coulple tea and lemmoncake dates with Dany, and then bring that up?

Dany quickly slides her hand back. Can't believe I actually tried to hold her hand! It's like Sansa is literally playing with fire here.

They're interrupted by the return of Theon Greyjoy.

Ah, thinks Dany, one of my loyal allies has returned to my service!

And Theon goes straight into Sansa's arms and says he wants to fight for her. Great. Juuuuust great. Yet very smartly constructed, using the obgligatory return of a character to sow more division between them.

Strategy meeting: Could this be the last Standing Around a Map scene on Game of Thrones? If so, it's a doozy. Bran reveals the Night King wants to force Westeros into an "endless night." "That's what death is, isn't it?" asks Sam. "Forgetting. Being forgotten."

Since the Night King's mark is on Bran and he's being tracked, the plan is for Bran to go to the Godswood and to try and lure the Night King there where he will then be attacked in some unspecified manner. Dragonfire is mentioned but it's also not clear if dragonfire works on him. Theon volunteers to guard Bran. You'd think somebody would say, Um, maybe somebody else? Any other volunteers? But Theon seems sincere enough. Davos will lead the men in the front of the castle holding off the dead for as long as he can. The castle front has a long trench with wood spikes to hold a line and broken pieces of dragonglass atop the ramparts like a zombie invasion version of a walled English garden set up to keep out hooligans.

Certain characters less skilled at fighting — such as Tyrion, Samwell, and Gilly — will be down in the crypt with the children. We're repeatedly told the crypt is "the safest place." You know, the place storing all the corpses when the Army of the Dead is attacking? That plan seems airtight. This is one of those Tyrion ideas, isn't it?

At the end of the strategy meeting, Dany again tries to talk to Jon but he's all: Sorry, I aunt talk right now. Can't! Can't talk right now!

Jaime/Brienne: Jaime asks Brienne "for the honor" of serving under her command in the battle. We've seen Jaime evolve in all sorts of ways throughout the series. But is this the first time we've ever seen the man humble himself before another person? His arrogance has been a defining trait for so long. And being a leader in a fight is probably a situation that Jaime would feel most confident about. Brienne is so shocked she doesn't even know what to say.

Later gathered around the fire, Brienne is telling Tormund (who arrived too along with Beric and Dolorous Edd) that women can't be knights. Tormund is all "I'd knight you 10 times over" which makes knighting sound like something that's not actually knighting. Jaime points out that any knight can make a knight and "I'll prove it." He unsheathes his sword. And suddenly the whole moment turns and we realize: This isn't casual chat. This is now a ceremony. "Do you want to be a knight or not?" Jaime asks.

Brienne kneels and Jaime knights Brienne, giving her the position and recognition that she's sought all her life. It's an incredible scene, a rare moment of pure joy on this show. So much of the drama and emotion plays out on Brienne's face as she gradually processes what's going on. I'm not crying, you're crying! EW actually asked Brienne actress Gwendoline Christie which scene she's most proud of throughout the entire series and she said it was this one ("I think the knighting scene," Christie replied. "I thought about it so much and what it means to me conceptually. It's so emotional for the character to get something she wants and to be acknowledged.")

The episode's title is "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" and it actually refers to both Jaime and Brienne. One is a man privileged to have the position of a knight his entire adult life yet never lived up to its ideals. The other was disadvantaged and struggling for recognition her whole life yet always living up to the lofty position's standards. Now in this episode, they're both becoming the person they've always wanted to be. (The title also could be a bit of a play on words, as many GoT titles are, because if you squint it could read like "A Night in the Seven Kingdoms," which is what this play-like episode set entirely during the eve of battle feels like — quick, somebody mount this as an off-Broadway play).

Courtyard: Davos and Gilly (a name my autocorrect keeps changing to "Silly") are tending to refugees streaming into Winterfell. The kids are being systematically separated from their parents and detained in cages (just kidding, as if even Westeros would be that cruel).

They meet a girl who has half her faced burned off. Davos and Gilly are reminded of Shireen (Stannis Baratheon's innocent young daughter who was burned alive in a failed attempt to use magic to turn the tide of a war). Shireen taught both Davos and Gilly to read, yet neither of them knows that. As the episode's writer Bryan Cogman points out better than I can in our interview for this episode, what's really cool about this scene is that Shireen's name is never spoken aloud, the viewer is thinking about her, and Gilly and Davos are thinking about her, yet neither of the characters is aware of the impact she had on the other.

Arya-Hound: After their tense meeting last week, Arya just chummily goes and joins her old traveling companion for a drink. The Hound, of course, is drinking solo. During a recent GoT rewatch, their scenes together traveling the Westeros wasteland were some of my favorites in the series so it's great to get a little more of them. Arya wonders why The Hound is here fighting for a cause since causes aren't his thing, and he replies: "I fought for you." Just one of many of the rather heartwarming moments in this hour.

Gendy and Arya: Gendry has made that weapon Arya designed. It's a staff like the one she used to train with in Braavos, fighting the Waif, only with a wight-killing dragonglass spike on top. She starts asking Gendry some awkward questions, like how many girls he's slept with. He tells her three, which seems to be an acceptable number. He also casually drops that he's sort-of royalty too, you know. For somebody who's not trying to flirt Gendry keeps saying all the right things.

"We're probably going to die soon," Arya says. "I want to know what it's like before it happens."

Gendry is pretty shocked, unable to believe that Arya Stark, of all people, wants his, uh, hammer.

They kiss and Arya gets undressed. Gendry sees all her scars and is a bit stunned. Clearly, this is not the same girl he met all those years ago.

Some thoughts: Arya has always been focused on survival and training and revenge. She's never been remotely interested in sex. But then again, she's never had the space to allow those thoughts to form along with another person for those thoughts to form around. She's here. Gendry's here. She likes him well enough. He's older — but not that much older. Arya wants to experience this whole sex thing before she might die. Since her training in season 1, Arya's internal mantra has been "Not Today." Well, tomorrow might be Today. So what do you do the night before Today?

And honestly, while everybody else in Winterfell is spending their final night drinking and singing and giving out swords and promotions and discussing their dead parents, Arya has the best idea here.

Still, as viewers, this is admittedly a little strange for us because we've known Arya since she was 11. Should we look away? On Twitter I noticed some taking offense at this scene, suggesting that Arya fooling around with Gendry somehow diminishes her. But do we want all our strong female characters to be like sexless Marvel superheroes who only express their strength through fighting? There are other ways to show strength — like being totally vulnerable with another person.

And also, as one wise reader pointed out commenting on our Maisie Williams interview: Arya has committed all sorts of brutally violent acts over the years, and we've cheered that on, but Arya enjoying romantic intimacy and being shown slightly undressed, that's objectionable?

Another thought: This could also be seen, in a way, as another season 1 callback: King Robert's wish in the pilot was for Stark and Baratheon to join their houses via a marriage between Sansa and Joffrey. Now here's Arya and Robert's son Gendry getting together.

The camera cuts away as they get closer and we don't see any more. But if Gendry's rowing and running prowess is any indication, Arya probably had a good time.

Podrick's Song: The fireplace scene is one of those group scenes that GoT writers always say is just brutally difficult to do, especially when it's just characters chatting and there's no plot mechanics to move forward. We get this oddball collection of Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos and Tormund just hanging out having a drink because why not?

They're about to break it up and Tyrion wants everybody to stay together a bit longer. Tyrion is speaking for all of us here. Can't we have more? Does Game of Thrones have to end? And more specifically: Does this have to be the last episode of all these characters together? Because we know this massive battle isn't going to happen without killing some of them, right? Many somebodies? All the bodies?

Tyrion suggests a song and Pod casually whips out another one of his hidden talents and breaks into a rendition of "Jenny of Oldstones," a song referenced in George R.R. Martin's books only with mostly original lyrics here. The song's origins involve a Targaryen prince and forbidden love and giving up a crown and a war that resulted from their love so, yeah, this is pretty on point.

In an alternate universe somewhere, there's a CBS version of Game of Thrones where Podrick reveals a different surprising new skill each week.

The Crypts: Finally Jon is going to tell Dany his big secret and she finds him down in the crypt. Viewers everywhere turn off any remaining lights in their TV room in order to see Jon and Dany's facial expressions. At this point, I want anybody else who learns Jon's secret to also get brought into the crypts to be told, like it's some rite of initiation into his parentage club.

They're standing by Lyanna Stark's statue and Daenerys notes that she always heard the Prince Rhaegar was kind but that he kidnapped and raped Lyanna. Jon is like: Well, about that, I have good news and bad news…

Jon explains to Dany that the prince and Lyanna were married and strongly declares "my name is Aegon Targaryen" and that he's actually her nephew. So all this time they've been sleeping together they're actually related and that—

While Dany's reaction is basically: Iron Throne? Iron Throne! Iron f—king Throne?!

There's a lot of strong emotions playing out on both characters' faces here. Clearly, these two are going to need some serious time to discuss all the ramifications of this devastating—

"HHHUUUUAAAAAAA" (or whatever sound a horn makes).

And that's our time!

The Army of the Dead is at the gates. It's the final season guys, gotta get the action moving again. But great job, Jon Snow, dumping that mess into your girlfriend's head right before she has to fight the Night King, really set her up for victory. Is that your idea of a pep talk? "You're sleeping with your nephew who has a better claim to the one and only thing you've wanted your whole life — now get out there and kill a million zombies!"

Like Tyrion told Jon in the season 7 finale: "Have you ever considered learning how to lie every now and then, just a bit?"

Not even lie, in this case. Couldn't Jon even hold off a bit longer on telling the truth?

Of course not. Jon may not have Ned Stark's name, but he has Ned Stark's total inability to withhold devastating information even it means preventing a potential disaster. I wouldn't blame Dany if instead of fighting the battle she hopped on Drogon and flew down south to visit Cersei in King's Landing where they could get some brunch, drink mimosas, and complain about their air-quote/eye roll "noble" Westrosi men.

So this move isn't very strategic of Jon, but it sure is strategic from a Game of Thrones entertainment standpoint — because that was a great ending and now we're on the edge of our seats for what's to come.

And with the preview for next week, it's now public that the massive battle episode you've heard so much about takes place in episode 3 and not, as most fans assumed, in episode 5 or 6. Which must make you wonder: If the big battle is in episode 3 … then what happens in the final three episodes? That's an excellent question. None of the photos or trailer footage you've seen from HBO has been from the black-boxed back half of the final season of Game of Thrones.

In the meantime, read some of our other coverage of this episode. I'd really recommend Williams, Clarke and Cogman's interviews in particular. Plus we'll have our podcast up later Monday..

Exclusive interview with Maisie Williams discussing her thoughts on shooting that big scene with Gendry: "At first, I thought it was a prank…"

Our podcast for "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" (or listen on iTunes or on Spotify):

Also: We're doing a Game of Thrones season 8 gift giveaway! Each week during the season we're giving away three bundle packs of multiple goodies from the HBO Store. This week: Bundles of four Tyrion items. Just answer a trivia question that will be in the recap. This week's question: How many times has Peter Dinklage been nominated for an Emmy for GoT? To enter: Head over to Twitter and tweet @EW your answer along with the hashtag #EWGOTPrize and the hashtag #sweepstakes (Full details).

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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