Why One of the Least Exciting ‘Game of Thrones’ Is Also One of Our Favorite Episodes
Even people who don't watch Game of Thrones know what to expect. Beheadings. Dragons. Incest. Jim Broadbent. But not this week. In this week's episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” barely anything happened. But to long time fans – the type who talk about these characters and if they were real people with hopes and dreams – it was absolutely fantastic.
In 1959 Howard Hawks released Rio Bravo, a John Wayne Western co-starring Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson. and Ricky Nelson. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was just another typical white hat/black hat film of the era. (John Wayne starred in Rio Grande just a few years prior.) But what makes this movie special (and why it is regularly cited by Quentin Tarantino as foundational to his own style) is that the most memorable stuff is the waiting around prior to the action. Tarantino dubbed it the ultimate “hang-out movie,” and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is Westeros' version of hangin' out.
With every major living character except Cersei now in Winterfell, and the Night King just a few hours away, it's a final evening where Game of Throne's plot can essentially take five before facing the undead and basically unstoppable army. (Next week I suspect the Rio Bravo influence will likely evolve into more Henry V, and you can bet Jon Snow will give a rousing speech to the troops.)
Our heroes break off into separate groups. At first Arya is hanging out on a parapet with The Hound. She's unusually glum. He chides her for not being her talkative self. “Guess I've changed,” she shrugs. Berric shows up and Arya realizes hanging out with these two geezers is no way to spend her last night on earth. She heads inside to practice her archery when, well well well, in walks Gendry, with a newly smithed sword. Years ago, before all the Stark-Lannister tumult began, the moppety Arya had eyes for the handsome, teen Gendry. Feels like a lifetime ago.
Gendry's never going to make a move, and Arya, having done so much in her short life, realizes it makes no sense to head into the next one a virgin. She seduces him. It's a little unnerving to see Arya in a passionate scene. We've watched her grow up! She was a little kid when we met her. (Someone cue “Sunrise, Sunset”!) But it's not just that – and thankfully, by GoT standards this is a tasteful scene – it's that ever since Eddard Stark's head got stuck on a pike this young woman has faced nothing but existential horrors. Roiled by vengeance to the point of shedding her own identity she became a now-you-see-me-now-you-don't killing machine. It just feels strange to see her a-courtin'. But it also feels nice. She deserves a moment of respite. (And Gendry doesn't seem too upset about it either.)
Other characters pair off, too, but the episode's big action is in a main hall where a group have collected to stare into the fire and chat. It's Jaime and Tyron Lannister, Ser Davos, then Podrick and Lady Brienne and finally Tormund. Our red-bearded Free Folk warrior starts pouring on the charm – well, his version of charm – in the hopes of wooing, as he calls her, “the big woman.”
He sucks back mead (or maybe it is ale, or wine, or Mountain Dew, who knows?) from a giant hallowed-out horn and explains that he got his last name, Giantsbane, because he slayed a giant when he was only ten years old. Afterwards, he climbed into the bed of the giant's wife's whereupon she mistook him for her baby and she nursed him at her teat for three months, thus granting him great strength.
Hey, it's his story, not mine.
His delivery is hilarious, but it's unclear if it's working any magic on Brienne of Tarth. Yet here's where “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” delicately turns into one of the best moments, truly, of the entire series. Tormund's compliments lead to the men realizing that she is not a “Ser.” She is not knighted because women, it is believed, cannot be knights.Jaime, who is only at Winterfell because Brienne vouched for him to Lady Sansa, has her kneel and with a lump in his throat dubs her a knight.
It's a great moment for everyone on screen but also a great moment for us. Our characters have been through so much it's about damn time that something pleasant happens to the good people of Westeros. But we've got to savor it. In seven days, a zombified dragon is coming to breathe undead fire on everyone and it's going to be rough. There's no way all of these brave fighters survive.
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