Game of Thrones is, without risking hyperbole, the watercooler show of a generation. For Americans, it’s Sunday evening fare, to be watched with friends, at bars or viewing parties, while for Brits it’s post-midnight fodder, to be ripped apart the next morning, bleary eyed, over strong coffee in workplace kitchenettes. But, for a show that relies so heavily upon its own cultural importance and the conversations that happen around it, the series’ final season is proving reluctant to serve up a real watercooler moment.
This second episode – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – is comprised of a set of classic eve-of-battle sequences. With the Night King’s army reportedly only a few hours away (“one sleep ’til Winterfell,” the wights might be squealing excitedly) and battle plans laid down, Jon Snow tells his myriad foot soldiers (and the array of the show’s characters at Winterfell is, by now, truly dazzling, with Tormund, Edd and Beric being added, along with Jaime, whose arrival was teased as last week’s parting shot) to “get some rest”. None of them do, of course.
Tyrion – in trouble with his Queen for underestimating Cersei – sits down with Bran for an off-camera sequence in which the secrets of the universe are, perhaps, unfolded for the youngest Lannister sibling. But the real meat of the episode, and the source of its title, comes from the gathering of Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Pod, Davos and Tormund in Winterfell’s hall. They wax nihilist about the threat of the undead, get increasingly drunk (not something I’d personally choose to do on the eve of an existential battle, but each to their own), and in a moment of quasi-frat boy solidarity, Jaime knights Lady Brienne as “Ser Brienne of Tarth”. It’s a moving display, involving the sexiest use of the command “kneel!” since, well, Fleabag. The scene concludes with Pod singing “Jenny’s Song” (a George RR Martin original, covered by Florence and the Machine over the credits), a choice very reminiscent of Pippin in Lord of the Rings, warbling “The Way Home” as horses charge against Mordor. It is a melancholy moment that reminds us that, this time next week, it’s unlikely that all these beloved characters will be alive and kicking.
Elsewhere in the castle, Dany and Sansa are continuing their flirtatious animosity, Theon returns to Winterfell (thus completing the show’s longest redemption arc), and precious final season runtime is dedicated to the reunion of the Hound and Beric Dondarrion, who have been apart for precisely two episodes. The most shocking moment comes courtesy of Arya, whose “rest” involves heading down to a candlelit dungeon with sexy blacksmith Gendry, in order to bang it out lest she risk dying a virgin. My breath was momentarily caught when the show teased the idea that we were going to see Arya, who we’ve witnessed grow from a very young looking child to a slightly older looking child, stark (no pun intended) naked. There’s something weirdly leering about the scene, reminiscent of late era Harry Potter coverage, when press and paparazzi obsessed about Emma Watson turning 18.
With one icky storyline introduced, another is rather snuffed out. In the show’s final dialogue exchange, Jon reveals his true lineage to Daenerys, who, honestly, seems more concerned about his bump up the Iron Throne claimant stakes than their incestuous dalliance. The revelation has been a long time coming – the slow trickle of this information has crossed over two seasons – but doesn’t have much punch at this point. The show is pulling its viewers in opposing directions, asking us both to believe that the army of the dead are the final boss of the eponymous game, while also wanting us to retain a stake in the politicking of Westerosi lords and ladies. The final shot of the episode shows a pair of White Walkers staring down the battlements of Winterfell, setting the scene for next week’s climactic battle, and it’s hard to feel too bothered by who is the true Targaryen heir.
If some found this season’s opening episode a little light on action and rather heavy on character reunions, then “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” offers no respite. The emotional knighting sequence, a wee bit of suggested nudity, and Tormund’s fabulous story about being suckled by a giantess are the moments that people will take away from this week’s Game of Thrones. But while things will undoubtedly kick into gear next week, it’s hard to imagine that many of Britain’s through-the-night watchers will feel like it was worth it when they arrive at work without any good spoilers to whisper at the watercooler.
Game of thrones is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV in the UK
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies