Game of Thrones A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms review

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.

GOT Bottle Episode 2

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.

GOT Jaime Trial 2

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.

GOT Arya Grows Up 2

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.

GOT Ser Brienne and the Drinking Circle 2

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.

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