Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2 Deconstructed

ATM’s GOT Guru provides insight into another thrilling episode of Game of Thrones, one that finds a bustling Winterfell bracing for the battle to end all battles, and a beloved character receiving an honor a long time in the making…

by: Geoffrey Golia (aka — ATM’s #GOTGuru) and Michael Shields

MCS: Ok, let’s get into it. The calm before the forthcoming storm that was “A Knight of Seven Kingdoms” was full of a bevy of deeply affecting moments (you get yours Arya!), and it was truly wild/distressing spending some final moments with beloved characters who — it’s very clear — are not going to walk away (alive at least!) from the impending battle. I truly wanted that night to last forever…

I was authentically moved at a couple points, specifically when it came to the interactions between Jaime and Brienne. Their journey together has been one of the more wonderful aspects of the show to me (and I am not alone), and watching her vouch for Jaime to Dany and then him humbly requesting to serve under her got me. I guess the question I am working towards here is: Am I the only one that welled up when Brienne of Tarth became a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms?

G.G.: I mean, clearly, no…and that’s Ser Brienne of Tarth now, thank you very much. Now, I’m not much of a crier, but it’s clear, even without a ton of context, that this was the dramatic culmination of Brienne’s entire journey from outcast tomboy to Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and a moment of real connection and camaraderie between her and Jaime. And, as you can well imagine, there was a lot of history and foreshadowing in this scene — including history that pre-dates the events of the book and television series — which ought to deepen viewers’ appreciation for what transpired and what will most likely happen the next morning.

I looked back at our previous conversations, and I could have sworn that I had at least mentioned, if not discussed, the Tales of Dunk and Egg — as of now, three novellas that explore the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall, a hedge knight, and his squire, Egg, who is in fact Aegon Targaryen, the future Aegon V Tagaryen, also known as Aegon the Unlikely — but after a quick Google search it seems as though I didn’t. But Ser Brienne’s story contains both parallels and links to the story of Ser Duncan the Tall.

First, let’s start with the title of the episode: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Indeed, to be knighted in Westerosi society is to literally become a knight of the Seven Kingdoms, though in reality, knights either swear allegiance to a house, lord, or landed knight (in perpetuity or for a specified period of time) or become hedge knights, itinerant travelers offering their services to those richer and more powerful than themselves or hitting the tourney circuit, where they can win money and acclaim in melees, jousts, and other feats of martial prowess. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when George R. R. Martin compiled the three Dunk and Egg novellas into a single edition a few years ago, he titled it a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Ser Duncan the Tall, or Dunk as he is known, is a squire who, upon the death of the knight he serves, decides to become a knight himself. (It’s insinuated that Dunk, perhaps, was never actually knighted, but that’s a matter for a different discussion.)

Like Brienne, Dunk is an unlikely knight. Born in Flea Bottom, the worst slum in King’s Landing, he eventually rises to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Brienne, as we know, was the “Maid of Tarth” who knew intuitively that her passion and commitment lay in a life of knightly service–and we know to what high places that has led her. At just under seven feet tall, Dunk towers above most others and is known for his exceptional strength; Brienne, as we know, is also particularly tall and strong, and very skilled in fighting with weapons and without. The night before his first tourney, Dunk laments that he does not have a proper sigil for his shield. As he rests beside an oak tree, he sees a shooting star. Later, he has that image painted on his shield and it becomes his sigil. In A Feast for Crows (Book 4 of “A Song of Ice and Fire”), Brienne has her shield re-painted with that very same sigil, citing a memory of seeing that shield in her father’s hall at Tarth. While we may be tempted, as many GOT fans often are, to ask whether, perhaps, Brienne is a lineal descendant of Dunk (there’s also speculation that, of all people, Hodor may have also been a descendant), I think it’s safer to argue that Martin finds the archetype of the unlikely hero moving, and draw the parallel to elicit feelings of synergy and connection across centuries. Clearly, the showrunners have bought into this…and, you know, are giving a wink and a nod to us nerds who have not only read (and re-read) the series, but also the other books in his extensive universe.

Aside from history, there is also a ton of foreshadowing, which you eluded to in your prompt. “A Song of Ice and Fire” is replete with stories of squires and common folk being knighted before or during a battle in some magnanimous, chivalrous gesture, only to be cut down subsequently — sometimes immediately. This trope, I imagine, is present in other stories that involve warfare and strict codes of conduct and hierarchy, and this episode seems filthy with examples…though, of course, we won’t know who will fulfill this doomed hero trope until Sunday night.

This answer is already too long, but I’d be remiss not to mention how Jaime’s conduct throughout also aligns with a similar trope: the redeemed individual who, upon demonstrating his true character, dies heroically. Again, we won’t know about that last part until Sunday (or beyond), but in leaving his sister, choosing humanity over his house, walking into a place where he may be executed for his past actions, and volunteering to fight a battle where the odds are stacked very much against the living…and being willing to serve under a woman in battle, Jaime earns Brienne’s support. In turn, why wouldn’t be give her something that has been so difficult for her to earn, but so easy for him to give.

I don’t think romantic or sexual love in this context (or any context) is necessarily cheap, but what Jaime and Brienne demonstrate is kind of affinity and connection borne of shared experiences — their journey together, their shared oath to protect and reunite the Stark children, their experiences of war and conflict, and their commitment to a knightly code. Jaime became a true knight of the Seven Kingdoms when he chose to fight for the living of Westeros; Brienne was always a knight of the Seven Kingdoms — Jaime just codified it.

MCS: Codified indeed. So good. Alright, moving on…near the episode’s conclude Jon came clean to Dany about his lineage and ultimately his claim to the throne. She seemed to not be buying it as the information that led Jon to this conclusion came from Jon’s best friend and brother (she kind of has a point there…). Do you think she will come around to this truth, and how would she react and move forward do you think? And to make an already loaded question more loaded….Dany seems to be progressing down a path where she values her power and appears full of herself in a troubling way sometimes…could her arc end on the wrong side of history so to speak? Also, to emphatically pile on…concluding their moment of bonding, Sansa boldly and purposefully questioned Dany about the future of Winterfell and House Stark if they were to make it out alive and Dany took her supposed place on the Iron Throne. She asked…”What About The North?” — I am curious how, with your in depth knowledge of the inner workings of the Seven Kingdoms, how you see this playing out?

I think sometimes we forget that the model of monarchy in Westeros, especially the model developed by the Targaryens, is that of an absolute monarchy, gained through conquest — Fire & Blood…with the exception of Dorne, which the Dornish will never let you forget. In the World of Ice and Fire, the Targaryen claim to the Iron Throne is more than just a recognition of a heritage and ancestry that leads back to Aegon The Conqueror. As we’ve heard from stories of Targaryen kings, and as we’ve seen in Dany’s more dramatic moments, the desire to rule is an irresistible impulse, a natural inclination, which foments a sense of right and also of duty.

Every fiber of Dany’s being–her raison d’etre–is to claim the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Yes, we’ve seen her take a necessary detour in that struggle. You can’t rule a kingdom when you’re facing an existential threat — although someone should tell Cersei that — but her goal, borne of her knowledge of her claim, and that innate knowledge of her duty and desire, is to rule and radically change the social and political order of Westeros and beyond. For a while now, Dany believed she was the last Targaryen, or, at least, the last Targaryen with a valid claim to the Iron Throne. This is not a notion that you give up easily, especially when the knowledge of a rival claim is, at best, hearsay and based on iffy, historical and psychic sources.

So Dany’s inopportune conflict with Jon or Aegon or AeJon seemed both predictable but also unnecessary. Not that Jon didn’t feel truly moved to tell her. I mean, clearly the dude is earnest and chooses transparency over tact all the time. (He may not be Ned’s kid, but wow, did he learn a lot from the former Lord of Winterfell.) But, like so many conflicts, from fiction and real life, this situation could have been avoided with a little foresight and some de-escalation skills.

One thing we know about AeJon is that, while he has demonstrated some real ability to lead and make hard, but smart, decisions, he seems to lack that deep belief in his right and duty to rule. Now, on the other hand, he just learned that he is the heir with the better claim, which brings to mind a different sense of duty — the realization that allowed him to respect the democratic processes of the Night’s Watch and seriously commit to being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. (I think there can be a reasonable debate as to how effective he was, given the prescience of his Wildling policy vs. the fact that he was betrayed and murdered by his own people. Also, he was crowned King in the North, and almost immediately gave it up to Dany, but I digress…)

It’s not difficult to see how AeJon could have handled this better: he could have abdicated, though that would have involved a long process of demonstrating his claim and making a big show out of declining his hitherto unknown birthright. Or he could ask her to marry him. I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s into him; she’s trusted him this far, albeit to the doom of Viserion and possibly the doom of herself and remaining dragons. Instead, like a jerk, he just sort of leaves the question open, only for both to be pulled away from the impending doom. Crises are no time to deepen divisions and mistrust. I’m not advocating dishonesty, but clearly, if the allies survive this battle, they’re going to have a lot to suss out. So why enter the conflict with that level of uneasiness?

This brings us to the second question, posed by Mr. Shields but also by Sansa: if the allies survive, what does the post-apocalyptic socio-political order look like in Westeros? Sansa is sick of this back-and-forth bullshit; she thinks the North should be free and independent. As I mentioned, Dany is committed to maintaining a Seven Kingdoms that extends from the North to Dorne, Iron Isles to Dragonstone…and, I imagine, Lonely Light as well, home to the most obscure house in all of Westeros, House Farwynd, who may or may not make love to seals and bring forth half-human children…so much is dependent on how Dany, and the North, come out after the Battle against the dead.

As Ms. Krissy Trujillo consistently reminds us, “Dany ain’t shit without her dragons.” My only beef with Krissy’s argument is, the Unsullied and Dothraki are have been helpful, but — conversely — will most likely be diminished, if not completely dead and turned to Zombies, by the end of this fight. The dragons really are a game-changer, especially against any depleted force, alive or dead. This isn’t the 1940s and we don’t have Pentagon planners and technocrats mapping out a post-war order. Whatever comes next, if anything comes next, will be ad hoc and extremely disorganized.

MCS: There is a theory going around right now that has my attention. This episode focused a great deal on who would be hunkering down in the Winterfell crypts during the battle ahead. There exist many a dead body down that way. Knowing the abilities of the Night King, do you think those deceased Starks can come into play somehow? 

G.G.: Didn’t you hear that the crypts are the safest place in Winterfell? Everyone’s talking about it, so obviously it’s 100% true and everything is going to be fine down there…in the crypts…where dead people are buried…in a battle against an army of White Walkers who can reanimate the dead into zombie killing machines. Perhaps this is a moment to inaugurate our first Across The Margin #GoTGuru Reader Poll: Who will be hero of the Winterfell Crypts when all the dead Starks reanimate and make things both terrifying and awkward? Will it be:

  • Bran
  • Gilly
  • Sam
  • That girl with greyscale who reminds everyone of Shireen Baratheon
  • Headless Ned Stark who defies the Night King’s magic and fights on the side of the living
  • Varys
  • Tyrion
  • Sansa
  • A barrel of wildfire

MCS: Can you give us any further insight on what Bran was speaking about in terms of his relationship to the Night King? What exactly does the Night King want from Bran? (So odd how Tyrion is the only one who demands further explanation of Bran’s esotericism!)

G.G.: Your guess is as good as mine…one thing the show doesn’t do well, and the books do even worse, is provide the kind of exposition necessary to understand the complicated mythical and supernatural underpinnings of Westerosi natural theology. This, of course, is a brilliant strategy if you want to spawn the immense theory and speculation industry that has grown exponentially since the back-to-back debut of the show and release of the most recent book in the series in 2011 (Yes, we’ve been waiting almost EIGHT YEARS for book 6).

From what I’ve gathered, there is a kind of adversarial duality to Bran, or more accurately, the Three-Eyed Raven and the Night King — kind of a yin and yang, night and day, life and death motif. Yet, I also know that the pervasive notion is that the yin to the Night King’s yang is thought to be Azor Ahai, sometimes seen as synonymous to the Prince(ss) that was Promised. So while I’m knee-deep in metaphors and allusions here, perhaps Bran is more a Merlin to Jon’s or Dany’s or Jaime’s or Tormund’s or Brienne’s Azor/PTWP?

MCS: Final question, two parts. A. How much do you love Tormund? B. Anything in the books about the momentous strength-offering power of giant’s milk?

G.G.: I know for a fact in a previous conversation, or maybe on the podcast, that I spoke extensively and regretfully about how the showrunners really dropped the ball in their presentation of Tormund. Initially, he started out mean, curt, and paranoid. The Tormund of the books, like Dolorous Edd Tollett, is funny, charming in a crass sort of way, and tows this amazing line between self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating. Clearly, the writers got the memo, and over the past two seasons, we’ve seen the real Tormund stand up and show us just how fucking wonderful this character is. So while the giant’s milk story is not in the books — though it is clearly a part of the canon now and thank goodness — I implore everyone to pick up the books and read about Tormund’s amazing adventures before all this unpleasantness befell the world.


Circle back for next week’s deconstruction of Season 8 Episode 3, “The Long Night,” at Across the Margin!

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