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Game of Thrones: The White Walkers Are Coming

A TNR roundtable discusses “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the second episode in the final season of the HBO fantasy series.


Each Monday, members of The New Republic staff will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones, now in its eight and final season. Join Josephine Livingstone, Alex Shephard, and Ryu Spaeth as they contribute their little drop to the ocean of Game of Thrones content, which this week will feature tearful reunions, wistful gazes, and impending mass slaughter.

Ryu: What would you do on your last night on earth? Would you drink a lot of wine? Make amends with bitter opponents and honor your friends? Divulge your true identity to your girlfriend, who is also your aunt, who is also your rival for the kingdom?

OK, maybe that last one is not a likely scenario for most people. And we all know what we would really like to do if we only had hours left to live, as an army of walking dead bears down on the gates. Lust has always been a prominent theme in Game of Thrones, but never has it been so bittersweet. Arya dropped her scary ninja-assassin persona to pounce on Gendry, whose gleaming muscles have been quite conspicuous of late for a reason. Tormund Giantsbane threw his most charming leer Brienne’s way. And Dany came looking for Jon Snow (aka her nephew Aegon Targaryen) in Winterfell’s crypt, only to discover that incest is kind of a buzzkill. Not a lot happened in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”—we are still largely in set-up mode. But all that swirling emotion and heavy eye contact may have made up for it.

Alex: Like the last episode, this one seemed to be about two things: Setting the table for the conflicts that will follow next week’s Battle of Winterfell (aka Helm’s Deep 2: The Deepening) and giving us a few final moments with our favorite characters before they are wiped out. If Sam articulated the theme that the show has reluctantly embraced—that life, as fucked up as it is, is still preferable over death—the scene in which Jaime made Brienne a knight embodied it, showing the genuine bond that two vastly different characters have forged over many seasons.

But also like last week, we got a series of dutiful reunions—though the one between the very obviously doomed Theon and Sansa carried more emotional weight than I expected. A lot of the forced, awkward banter between characters felt like it belonged in an Avengers movie, where a limited amount of time and an endless number of characters combine to make unrealistic, if thematically efficient, conversation.

Ryu: This might be an unpopular opinion, but I feel that Sansa can do much better than the perennially wretched Theon Greyjoy. But I guess he’s probably dead next week, so maybe it’s a moot point.

Jo: What could possibly be unpopular about that opinion? This episode, where—as you say, Ryu—nothing much happened, allowed for a lot of previously-unrealized sexual tension to blossom. As that great wave of death waits to break over Winterfell, it seemed that all sorts of different characters abandoned their proudly defended dignity and gave over to their concealed desires, many of which were pretty hot and queer. Finally.

Personally, my favorite combinations were Brienne and Jaime, and Sansa and the Khaleesi. The former relationship is one of the tenderest and most interesting arcs in the whole show, and here these two sweet, tall, soft butches got to gaze into one another’s eyes (they’re the same height) and get kinky with their power dynamic. The sub becomes the dom! Who’s kneeling now, eh? Similarly, Sansa has survived her many ordeals to become a straight-backed, leather harness–clad mistress. When she and the Khaleesi met to do official business, they prowled around one another like attractive female panthers.

Am I being too easily manipulated as a viewer? Perhaps. There was some seriously, seriously poor dialogue in this episode, as when Tyrion sits down beside Bran to observe, “You’ve had a strange story!” Indeed. But honestly, I didn’t care. The onion knight found a new little girl buddy; Arya got to do something other than kill people; all was right with (the end of) the world.

Alex: What’s happened to Tyrion is a crime, although that (awful!) scene was maybe the only not completely stupid thing he’s done in ... twenty episodes? The show has screwed Tyrion over by making his screw-ups the major engine of the plot. In any sane world, he would have been shit-canned, or at least demoted, but he’s managed to hold onto his position by virtue of the fact that he’s supposed to be smart. They’re clearly setting something up by constantly reminding—though never showing!—the viewer how smart he is. I suspect that Tyrion will do something brilliant (and probably tragic) in the final three episodes of the season.

Also, why has no one, besides Tyrion, asked Bran how he got his weird super powers? Seems like an important thing to get a handle on, given the whole “lure the Night King into the godswood” plan. Similarly, it would have been useful for Bran to tell someone this information before, you know, the day before the battle?

Ryu: I also loved how they were able, in roughly ten seconds, to peer deep into the Night King’s mind and motives and figure out the best way to beat him.

Before moving on to post-Battle of Winterfell conjecture, do we have a sense, or do we want to guess, who is going to die next week? (Besides Theon?)

Alex: Everyone?

Ryu: I’m afraid Brienne is done for.

Alex: She’s definitely a goner. Same with Grey Worm. And Theon. I wish they would put Tyrion out of his misery.

Jo: If Grey Worm and Missandei survive, they’ll found a magnificent dynasty! But they won’t. I liked it when they mutually confessed how much they hate the weather up North.

Ryu: As long as Jaime survives, I’m fine with almost everyone else dying.

So there were a few scenes that hinted at the troubles that will likely follow the Battle of Winterfell. Sansa and Dany’s budding rapprochement suddenly wilted when the former pointedly asked what would become of the North once Dany became queen. Dany, meanwhile, was alarmed to find that Jon has a superior claim to the throne. And, of course, Cersei is planning to mop up what’s left of the army up North once the army of the dead is taken care of (that is, if the show doesn’t take an unexpected turn by proclaiming victory for death and the White Walkers). Though the series has recently been cast as a battle for humanity’s survival, at its heart, it is still a game of thrones.

Jo: Hold on, we should explain the significance of Pod’s song.

As you will recall, Podrick of the magical penis closed out the episode with a song. As more intense fans than I have explained to me, it’s called “Jenny’s Song” and it’s a deep-cut reference to a plot that was cut from the TV adaptation of the books. It went like this in the show:

High in the halls of the kings who are gone

Jenny would dance with her ghosts.

The ones she had lost and the ones she had found.

And the ones who had loved her the most.

The ones who’d been gone for so very long

She couldn’t remember their names

They spun her around on the damp, cold stone

Spun away her sorrow and pain

And she never wanted to leave

“Jenny” is Jenny of Oldstones, a historical woman who married Duncan Targaryen, a hitherto-unacknowledged (I think) great-uncle of Dany’s, who sacrificed his claim to the crown for love—thus facilitating Daenerys’s or Jon’s eventual claim. That could be a harbinger of the Dany/Jon power struggle outcome: Will one sacrifice the crown for the other?

But remember, the song is not a happy celebration of Jenny and Duncan’s love: It’s a gloomy ode about dallying with ghosts in a damp and unpleasant castle filled with sorrows. Not good.

If Duncan is supposed to be Jon, in the song’s parallel, then Dany is Jenny. The song does not show her rejoicing on a throne, but moping about miserably after everybody else has died—specifically in a fire. In the book she’s lamenting the great fire at Summerhall that killed a bunch of Targaryens, including Duncan. It may be a red herring, but what Podrick’s lament foreshadows is a nasty future for the Targaryen love story, with the possible interpretation that Jon is going to, well, burn.

Ryu: This is so helpful! And here I thought it was just a rip-off of Peregrin Took’s sweet song in Lord of the Rings.