Bryan Cogman on the 'play-like' episode 'A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms': 'This is really a love letter to the characters'

By James Hibberd
April 21, 2019 at 11:16 PM EDT
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Game of Thrones co-executive producer Bryan Cogman penned the second episode of the final season, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which devoted an hour to quietly spending time with fan-favorite characters before their apocalyptic battle against the Army of the Dead. While fans expected the six-episode final season to be action-packed (and it will be), the producers also felt it was important to slow down and savor the show’s ensemble lineup of characters now that they’re together in one place and facing what is almost certainly their last night all together.

“This episode is really a love letter to the characters,” Cogman says. “With most of our battles you get about 15 minutes of calm-before-the-storm with the characters participating in that battle taking stock of where they are in their lives before the dam breaks. This is an entire episode of that so that episode 3 can hit the ground running.”

Below, Cogman (who previously wrote a terrific GoT re-watch viewing guide) gives some behind-the-scenes insight into some of the episode’s biggest moments…

Jaime’s informal trial: “This was not unlike the trial episode I adapted with Tyrion in season 4. It was a chance to revisit Jaime’s arc and the different perspectives that they have about him. Brienne’s perspective mirrors the audience. One thing I have to remind myself is that not everyone on Game of Thrones is watching Game of Thrones. The characters only know what they know and they only know their own experiences, but the natural thing for you to want is to say, ‘they’re both good guys, just put aside your differences.’ What’s fun about Brienne’s testimony is she’s the only character who’s bore witness to the amazing changes Jaime’s gone through over the course of the season — apart from Tyrion who has his own reasons for loving his brother and knowing he’s different than how he’s perceived.”

Jaime asking to serve under Brienne and Brienne being knighted. “Jaime does something here you would never expect the Jaime of season 2 to do. For Jaime, to humble himself to serve under anyone is a huge thing. He would never do that for anybody other than her. Jaime has been a knight of the Seven Kingdoms his whole life, but he’s finally becoming the knight he’s been chasing.” And later, Jaime knighting Brienne in the Great Hall: “We wanted to take the audience by surprise. It’s not a ceremonial scene on a cliff at sunset with billowing capes. It comes out of a throwaway moment that even some people in the room think is a joke and then they quickly realize it’s not. It’s a monumental thing. It’s a moment of grace and beauty in the middle of a nightmare and the main reason I wanted to write this episode. The episode’s title, ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,’ refers to both Jaime and Brienne.” (By and by, EW asked Brienne actress Gwendoline Christie which scene she’s most proud of in 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.”)

Arya and The Hound: “Arya asks, ‘When have you fought for anything or anyone other than yourself,’ and The Hound says, ‘I fought for you.’ There were glimmers of ‘goodness’ — for lack of a better term — in The Hound before he encountered Arya — certainly in his occasional protection of Sansa. But that scene in season 4 when he fights for Arya he was protecting her in his mind. He believed Brienne was there to do her harm. The tragedy of that scene was, again, if they had just seen each other’s subplots they would know to work together. Yeah, The Hound is always going to be a killer, he’s never going to embrace the life of peace that Brother Ray was preaching. But that time with Brother Ray fundamentally changed him and the seed of that was protecting Arya which grew into who he is now.”

Arya and Gendry: “We asked ourselves what a lot of these characters would do on their final night. For Arya, there’s an attraction to Gendry and she’s like, ‘If I’m going to die, I might as well see what all the fuss is about.’ She executes that encounter and Gendry is more than happy to go along. We were very careful to make sure Maisie [Williams] was comfortable and everything was on her terms. One thing I wrote specifically when crafting that scene is ‘Gendry notes her scars.’ They’re from all of Arya’s encounters but most specifically when The Waif tried to kill her. There are so many things Gendry doesn’t understand about Arya. They’re having this nice flirtation and have this own shared history they draw upon but she’s very different from the Arya he used to know. There’s an attraction for him, but she’s also a bit scary too.”

Davos and Gilly tending to refugees: “The short little scene with Davos and Gilly tending to refugees streaming into Winterfell. They encounter a girl with half her face scarred who bears a resemblance to [Stannis Baratheon’s sacrificed daughter] Shireen. The name ‘Shireen’ is not said in the scene. But Shireen taught both Davos and Gilly how to read. This is an example of how brilliant [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] are. I wrote a scene where Davos and Gilly get on the subject of knowing how to read and then get on the subject of Shireen and how she taught them both. It was the right inspiration but it felt contrived. [With the showrunners’ notes it] evolved into this where the scene is absolutely about Shireen, but neither of them are aware of the impact she had on the other. It was a beautiful way of acknowledging all of these threads between all of these characters that many of them are not aware of and never will be aware of — only we as the audience have the privilege of being aware of them.”

Podrick’s song: “Songs have been important in the past on the show, but they’re more present in [George R.R. Martin’s] books. Pod once again surprises us when we find out he has a lovely singing voice. It was fun to find a reason to get ‘Jenny of Oldstones’ [a.k.a. ‘Jenny’s Song’] in there in a way that feels organic and appropriate. It’s not something we normally do, but I think it works. Dan wrote the [bulk of the] lyrics — about it being warm and having fellowship together and how they wish it could last longer, but it’s not going to.” The song is also covered by Florence + the Machine in the closing credits.

Jon tells Dany about his parentage. “Jon is avoiding Dany the whole episode because this bombshell has been dropped on him and he can’t even process how to be in the same room with her. She senses a strange tension and can’t understand why. What really upsets Jon is that he’s a blood relative to the woman he’s in love with. In the crypt, Jon is taken aback when essentially the first thing she says is acknowledging that he has a claim to the Iron Throne. And Jon’s immediate concern is the fact that that’s her immediate concern. [Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke] play it beautifully. It’s a very difficult scene to pull off; so much has to go on behind the eyes. But then the horn blasts and the Army of the Dead are at the gates.”

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is “almost like a play,” Cogman adds, an episode that he was eager to tackle yet proved to be a massive challenge. Cogman praised showrunners Benioff and Weiss for helping shape and edit the final script. “This was the most difficult script of the 11 I’ve written for Game of Thrones,” he says. “The big challenge was not writing a Wikipedia page. In fact, my first draft was a Wikipedia page. The way it works is the showrunners return a Final Draft document with notes written in red in the margins. They returned my first script with a sea of red.”

One suspects the episode will dramatically feel even stronger when watched in tandem with the next episode of season 8, which chronicles the Battle of Winterfell. “There was such a breakneck pace to season 7 that I was delighted when the [showrunners] proposed an episode of just spending time with characters in this space,” Cogman says. “I think it will make episode 3 — which is spectacular — all the richer. The moment that episode 3 starts we’re in full 100 percent battle mode.”

More Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” coverage:
— Maisie Williams discusses her surprise Gendry scene: ‘At first, I thought it was a prank…’
Game of Thrones: Emilia Clarke defends Dany’s reaction to Jon’s parentage
Game of Thrones reveals big battle trailer for season 8, episode 3
Game of Thrones releases ‘Jenny of Oldstones’ song performed by Florence + the Machine
Deep-dive recap for ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’

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