'Game Of Thrones' Delivers One Of Its All-Time-Best Episodes With "A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms"

In "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," Game of Thrones does something unusual. It goes small. And intimate. And never strays from a single castle. The result is one of the most moving (and funniest) episodes of the entire series.

/Film's resident Westeros experts Jacob Hall and Ben Pearson will be examining this season together, discussing the merits, debating the issues, and maybe even harmoniously agreeing on this grand conclusion. Join them below.

A Game of Thrones Bottle Episode

Jacob: Game of Thrones has become known for its sweeping scope, dozens of key characters, and numerous locations. But what if – hear me out here – the show is actually at its best when it disregards all of that, picks a single locations, a smaller slice of the cast, and chooses to stay there for the entire episode? I know "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is too expensive and sweeping to be considered a typical "bottle episode," a TV term referring to an episode that uses minimal, pre-existing sets to tell a contained story (often for budget reasons), but it's a reminder that epic is not always better. Sometimes, you want and need the time to luxuriate in the details, to really hunker down and spend some time with characters you love.

This episode mostly reminded me of "Blackwater," the seminal season 2 episode that first proved Game of Thrones could pull off a massive battle. Of course, this chapter didn't get to the actual battle, but that's okay – it reminded me of that episode's first 20 minutes or so. My favorite part of the episode. Because while the actual fighting was impressively staged, it landed with such incredible impact because we spent time with the characters before the swords started to swing. We saw their restless nights, their anxious waiting, their getting drunk, their picking petty fights...we saw them live their final hours before a battle that was seemingly lost from the start. An action scene is only as good as the people involved and both "Blackwater" and "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" were focused squarely on the human element of a bloody battle. After all, you can tell a lot about a person based on what they choose to do with their final hours of life, and this episode was entirely about that. After eight years of scope and expanse, watching people I've grown to love prepare for their deaths in a single location that means a great deal to me...well, it was a lot.

Ben, am I crazy or was this one of the best Game of Thrones episodes ever? And was it due entirely to the reduced scope?

Ben: I'm sure a segment of readers and podcast listeners have grown tired of my complaints about the show's pacing and increased size during the past couple of seasons, but this episode seemed like it was written specifically for watchers like me – those of us who are impressed by dragon riding and huge battles, but haven't always connected to those scenes in the same way we've connected with smaller character moments.

So yes, I freaking loved this episode. If last week was about setting the table, this week was about adding some last minute decorative touches before the carnage of the meal (aka the Battle of Winterfell) commences next week. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have made some questionable decisions in my eyes, but giving their characters one last breath of respite and giving us several moments of joy and levity before the chaos erupts is one of the smartest things they could have done this season. It'll make everything hurt that much more later on.

The Trial of Jaime Lannister

Ben: Daenerys is cracking her knuckles, practically itching to roast another opponent – but this time, it's personal. Jaime Lannister killed her father. Dany missed that great season three episode in which Jaime revealed to Brienne that he killed the Mad King to save the people of King's Landing, so the Breaker of Chains has no reason to trust him. Neither does Sansa Stark, who still holds a grudge against Jaime for attacking her father in the streets back in season one. Luckily for the Kingslayer, Brienne of Tarth is still on his side. The tide turns when she vouches for him (much to Dany's chagrin), and Jaime goes from being potential dragon food to a soldier fighting for the living.

I loved this scene: history is dredged up, Jaime refuses to apologize for his actions during war, Bran freaks him out with the "things we do for love" callback, the women make decisions, and Jon Snow just kinda sits there and mostly stays out of it. Were you as excited about the old-school nature of this trial as I was, Jacob?

Jacob: As I talked about above, Game of Thrones is at its best when characters are just put in the same room and allowed to exist. And oh boy, was this a case of someone whose mere existence has rubbed most of the cast the wrong way, to say the very least. Jaime's list of crimes against the citizens of Westeros was barely touched here – Bran doesn't reveal his role in paralyzing him, no one remembers that Jaime put a blade in Jory's eye back in season 1, it's never brought up that he murdered his own cousin in season 2 to create an escape diversion – but only because his other crimes are so much bigger and more painful and continue to echo through castles all over the Seven Kingdoms. However, we've spent eight seasons watching Jaime grow and change. We've spent eight seasons learning to sympathize with a monstrous man. We know his darkest secrets and shames. We know everything that Dany and Sansa and Jon do not. I breathed a genuine sigh of relief when Brienne stepped to his defense. Team Stark and Team Targaryen had every right to want him dead on the spot. Thankfully, the only character who knows what we know was present.

So, to directly answer you question Ben...yes. I love that season 8 is confident enough to press pause to let an important character stare his demons, and the people he's directly harmed, in the face and ask him to answer for his crimes. That's as thrilling as any sword duel.

Arya Grows Up

Jacob: Ben. It's come to this. Game of Thrones had an Arya Stark sex scene. And it was...well, it was equally wonderful and weird. Wonderful because it was a beloved female character having full agency, making the choice to have sex with a man she totally digs in a world where not every woman is afforded that decision. And while the passage of time has always been murky on this show, Arya is clearly no longer the tween girl she was back in the pilot. She's a full-grown woman, one who wants to experience intimacy before facing death. It's an impulsive decision, but also a genuinely human one. I found her moments with Gendry to be sexy and sweet and funny. And of course Arya is the instigator and the commander in the sequence because there's no way she was ever going to let any man put hands on her unless she first ordered him to take off his pants.

At the same time...it's weird, right? Deep down in the recesses of my mind, Arya is still a young girl, still the kid sister we've been rooting for all this time. This is purely a psychological roadblock that I imagine many Game of Thrones fans will experience with this scene, but one that I want to dismantle. The show chooses to not ignore that one of its major characters has grown up and has the desires and needs of an adult. We can titter and we can shift uncomfortably in our seats, but I'm dropping the gauntlet here: Arya and Gendry getting it on is, strangely enough, one of the show's wisest and most mature moments, a vital scene that completes Arya's transition from imperiled child to woman in full control of her body and destiny. What did you think, Ben?

Ben: From a storytelling angle, this rendezvous makes all the sense in the world. The groundwork for this pairing was initially laid back in season 2. They've been flirting ever since they reunited this season. Arya is taking the lead. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel twinges of that weirdness you mentioned, and I'm still not sure if that was due to the execution of the scene itself or if I'd react that way to any instance of Arya getting it on, considering we've been watching her grow up for nine years. It's the same weirdness I'd feel if I saw a TV sex scene featuring, like, Michelle from Full House or Rudy Huxtable from The Cosby Show.

But ultimately, I'm with you on this: the show treats it matter-of-factly, so I will, too.

Ser Brienne and The Drinking Circle

Ben: A brotherly fireside chat quickly becomes a full-on drinking party as Tyrion and Jaime are joined by Lady Brienne and Podrick Payne, Ser Davos Seaworth, and Tormund Giantsbane, the latter of whom delivers one hell of a yarn about how he got his name. Names are crucial in Game of Thrones (as Jon Snow recently discovered down in the crypts), and this episode takes its name ("A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms") from the remainder of this scene, which was the highlight of the entire hour for me. Tormund, who seems to respect Brienne's fighting ability almost as much as he wants to sleep with her, says he'd knight her ten times over if he could – but it turns out Jaime Lannister actually can, since he's a full-fledged knight himself. So Jaime hosts an impromptu knighting ceremony right then and there, and the newly-knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth bursts with pride.

From Tormund's quasi-creepy ogling and his quasi-sweet comment that spurs on the whole thing, to Jaime returning Brienne's vouching moment from earlier the best way he knows how, it's a terrific moment – the type of scene that's going to be bittersweet to remember when most of the people in that room end up dead on the battlefield. Jacob, how did you react when Ser Brienne rose with happy tears in her eyes?

Jacob: Ben, this may be one of my all-time favorite Game of Thrones sequences, with the knighting of Brienne being the best moment of the entire episode. Gwendoline Christie has been fabulous since her season 2 debut, but watching tears appear in the eyes of the generally stoic Brienne, seeing her shatter Westeros' glass ceiling (with the help of Jaime fuckin' Lannister!), was profoundly moving. It's been said in the past that Game of Thrones has problems with its female characters, that it too often resorts the male gaze or male assumptions about women in storytelling. And yes, these criticisms are often on-point. But I'd also argue that the series has taken these criticisms, absorbed them, and learned from them. It's why Arya takes command of her own sexuality. It's why Brienne of Tarth becomes Ser Brienne. Game of Thrones is a series about many things, but it's really about the continent-shattering war that gave Westerosi women the leverage to rise to power, take command, and get shit done.

But beyond Brienne's knighting, this sequence was just a blast. These people have no reason to be in the same room together and watching them bond over wine and their mutual fear of impending doom was simply a joy. I don't think I've ever laughed harder during a Game of Thrones scene than when Tormund described the origin of his name. I could have watched this drinking circle for hours.

Dany and Two Tough Chats

Jacob: This was not a good episode to be Daenerys Targaryen. At the beginning of season 7, she looked like the ruler to beat, the future Queen of Westeros, and an unstoppable military force. Now, baby steps into the final season, her claim to the throne is slippery and her future allies are already suggesting they won't be easy to rule. Ouch.

Naturally, both of the conversations that deflated Dany's future a bit were with Starks, a family known for sucking the air out of parties all over Westeros. The first was with Sansa, who made it clear that after the war with the undead, the North would like to rule itself, thank you very much. Initially, I was wary of the Daenerys vs. Sansa conflict, but I actually like where it has gone. This isn't a petty fight between two stubborn women, but rather, two strong-willed women with very different visions of the future and histories of being betrayed and abused, refusing to give up ground because they've been burnt by compromise and half measures before. As much as I would've liked to see them become best buds (that hand touch!), this is the right decision. Nothing is clean or simple on this show and these two have no reasons to be friends or even allies. Sansa should never trust a southerner again. Dany cannot abide an entire kingdom demanding independence. Mother of Dragons, meet Sansa the immovable object, crafted in the hellfire of King's Landing by the torments of Queen Cersei herself.

Of course, the other, bigger harder truth for Daenerys comes in the crypts, where Jon reveals what he's recently learned: he's actually Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rheagar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the true heir to the Iron Throne. Dany barely has time to react to this world-shifting news before the horns summon everyone to battle. This is a discussion for another day...if everyone is still alive. So Ben, how are things looking for Daenerys these days? Is her quest for the throne doomed at this point, especially now that she has Jon and Sansa in her path?

Ben: Last season's drama between Sansa and Arya had me wary of how the show was going to handle Sansa this season: she's probably not going to be swinging a sword next episode, so what would she get to do in this final stretch of the story? "Butt heads with Dany" seemed like the clear answer, and thankfully, every one of their interactions has been wonderfully executed thus far, this scene included. Gotta love the fact that they're both throwing their cards on the table and telling it like it is.

And for what's supposed to be the safest place in Winterfell, the crypts have suffered two major bombs being dropped there over the past two episodes. Jon avoided Daenerys as long as he could, but eventually the truth had to come out, and that scene being interrupted right after she learned the truth was a great example of the "always leave 'em wanting more" approach. She reacts similarly to how Jon did: first with incredulity, then with anger – although she managed to keep her emotions slightly more bottled. But her dream is dying before her eyes, and it looks like she's either going to have to sacrifice her lifelong quest or watch the man she loves die...if she makes it through next week, that is.

Final Hours

Ben: Let's do a quick rundown of some of the other key interactions. Tyrion, who has made some colossal strategic blunders over the past few seasons, is in hot water with the Mother of Dragons, but Jorah convinces her to give him yet another chance. I love Tyrion, but it seems like a long time since he's given Dany any great advice, doesn't it? Meanwhile, Jaime apologizes to Bran in the godswood for pushing him out of that window all those years ago, asks why Bran didn't snitch on him at the trial, and receives an ominous response when he wonders what will happen after the war to come. Grey Worm and Missandei confirm that the north is too racist for them to stay after the fight, make plans to head to the beaches of Missandei's native Narth after it's all over, and share a big kiss goodbye. Haven't they ever seen a movie before? When lovers make plans like that, something horrible always happens.

Jorah tries to convince his cousin to stay in the crypts during the fight, but he apparently doesn't know her at all, because that ain't Lyanna Mormont's style. But Gilly will be down there with Little Sam, Tyrion (whose mind is so valuable that it needs to be protected), and a fierce little girl with greyscale who says she will protect them all. Pod sings a very "Pippin in The Lord of the Rings"-esque song called "Jenny of Oldstones" over a montage of some of the key players, and Theon has an emotional reunion with Sansa and asks to fight for Winterfell. Did I miss any, Jacob? Did any of these micro-moments stand out to you?

Jacob: You got most of them (I'm so happy that the show finally acknowledged that Jorah and Lyanna Mormont are related), but I want to focus on one of the best scenes of an episode that feels like an instant all-timer for me. Jon, Edd, and Sam gather on the walls of Winterfell, a reunion of Night's Watch survivors, and a reminder of just how far these three have come and how many friends they have lost. The conversation between the three is wonderful and a reminder of what made some of the earliest scenes at The Wall so much fun. Jon's straightforward awkwardness, Edd's cynicism, and Sam's sweetness is such a wonderful mixture and personalities.

And speaking of Sam, I want to address one of his lines of dialogue, specifically because it sums up so much of what Game of Thrones has been quietly all about. The Night King wants to kill Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven, because he is a walking history of Westeros. As Sam points out, death is forgetting. Death is being forgotten. Beyond simply the loss of life, death is the erasure of memories and history and culture. A death makes the world emptier in more ways than one. The Night King is not coming to destroy the living – he is coming to destroy the very concept of civilization. And if he doesn't finish the job, the citizens of Westeros may do it themselves. They've done a fine of murdering each other in great numbers over the years, and adjusting the record books accordingly. History is written by the victors. Those who perish are doomed to live on in the words of those who ended them, to be played as buffoons in plays across the Narrow Sea in Essos. Death isn't just a physical state of being. It's an absence of everything we put into the world, good and bad.

Oh, and Theon is back and chilling out with Sansa, which is pretty nice, I guess. And that scene with Arya and the Hound and Beric sharing wine! There was just too much good stuff to talk about here.

Final Thoughts

Jacob: As I've made clear above, I think "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. With this hour in my system, I'm ready for the carnage next week brings. I've said my goodbyes. When half of the cast dies next week, I'll be sad, but I'll also know that they'll be remembered. By me and by those who survive. And that's how we defeat death.

As for who is winning the game of thrones...no one, really. This is the rare episode to not focus on that. However, I'm giving it to Ser Brienne because no one is riding higher than her right now. Go Brienne, go! (Please don't die leading that left flank.)

Ben: This is the first Game of Thrones episode since the season 6 finale that I haven't had any significant complaints about. This episode rules, and I loved how the characters sitting around and having a few last laughs mirrored the audience doing the same thing.

In terms of the current winner of the game of thrones, a case could maybe be made for Ghost, since this is the first time we've seen him in years. But since that awkward staging (he's just hanging out as if he's been there the whole time, and no one even looks at him, let alone acknowledges him verbally) was almost certainly just putting him back in viewers' minds so when he charges onto the battlefield next week, it won't feel completely out of nowhere. Sorry, Ghost. There's only one rightful winner this week.

Currently Winning the Game of Thrones: Ser Brienne of Tarth