You’ve waited long enough, so let’s talk about Arya.
The younger Stark daughter began the series as spunky and precocious, an almost immediate fan favorite; over the course of seven seasons, we’ve watched her humanity be wrung out of her like a rag. She witnessed her father’s execution; she befriended an assassin and escaped Harrenhall; she took up with the Hound and witnessed the aftermath of the Red Wedding; she sailed east and became a deadly assassin herself; she ticked several names off her hit list, completely wiping out the Freys. But now it’s the end of the world, and to her credit, she just wants to get down with the hunky blacksmith who was there for her at her most vulnerable all those years ago. And why not? Was my entire watch party squirming horribly throughout? Of course we were, it was awful — but that’s because we’ve watched Maisie Williams grow up on the show, not because of her character’s choice. Let Arya get some, is what I’m saying.
“I know death,” she had told Gendry at the forge, casually throwing dragonglass daggers into a post. “He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.” This makes Gendry, who she also learns is the last Baratheon, putty in her hands; when she asks him about the women he’s been with (like, lol, Melisandre and her leeches), he gets defensive, but he doesn’t get it — she doesn’t want to guilt him, she wants to make sure he knows what he’s doing. She could have hung out with a squabbling Clegane and Beric, but she left those “miserable shits” on the ramparts because she wants to feel like a person again.
Of course, the post-coital look on her face suggests she maybe should have gone down the hall to Pod. Speaking of…
I don’t think anyone would dispute that line for line, moment for moment, the scenes with the group by the fire — Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Pod, Tormund, and Davos — are the heart of this episode. The writing was as astonishingly economical as it was moving, and funny. And yeah, the emotional apex of it all was Jaime knighting Brienne — a stunning and tear-jerking moment, to be sure, and I’ll have more on that in a second — but it’s elevated by the patience shown in the buildup to that moment. How it starts with just the Lannister brothers, remembering the last time they were here, and wondering what their late father would say about them now. Then the others trickle in, organically; wine is poured, though Brienne tries to keep Pod from being over-served; chairs are pulled up to the hearth. No one wants to be alone. Tormund, the living embodiment of a Twitter meme, tells the no one who asked how he got his nickname “Giantsbane” and dribbles milk all over his clothes, as if that’s supposed to impress Brienne. (It’s incredible.) This disparate group has more in common than they think: Not only have they all fought their share of battles, they’ve all taken their turn against the Starks. Yet here they all are. What’s one more battle, when they’re all finally united?
Earlier in the day, Jaime had come to Brienne as a fully changed man, which she found disorienting: “We have never had a conversation last this long without you insulting me,” she tells him, dripping with acid. But Jaime sticks with it: “I’m not the fighter I used to be, but I’d be honored to serve under your command…if you’ll have me.” There’s that phrase again: If you’ll have me. Like Theon, and Tyrion, Gendry, and so many others, Jaime is ready to humble himself and be part of an egalitarian solution, not part of the problem. But he was just getting warmed up for his final gesture, in the running for the single-most emotional moment ever on Game of Thrones. And, beautifully, he has Tormund to thank for it.
“You’re not a knight? Why not?” the wildling asks Brienne by the fire, dumbfounded. Where he comes from, spearwives like Ygritte are no less honored than the men. “F–k tradition. If I were king, I’d knight you ten times over.” And everyone agrees that that would be great; they all respect Brienne, yeah, sure, sure. But only one man in the room can actually do something about it. And whether he’s responding in challenge to Tormund’s affection for his maiden fair, had a little too much to drink, or is simply feeling an undeniable pull in his own chest, Jaime — the dishonorable Kingslayer, Brienne’s one-time prisoner, the broken man — rises to his feet. “Any knight can make another knight.” It’s their Kingdom of Heaven moment, right here.
Most in the room think he’s joking at first. Especially Brienne, who is resigned to being the butt of yet another joke. Surely he won’t follow through. But Jaime bids her to kneel, and she does, still in disbelief. (Who does she look to, right now, for affirmation? Pod.) The moment takes on all the qualities of a tender love scene: An emotional, almost spiritual climax and release of a different kind. He draws his sword, the sister blade of Brienne’s own Oathkeeper — which together once made Ice, the Stark sword, now back in Winterfell, and my head is spinning — and says the words. She rises a knight. She is beaming like we’ve never seen before. Tormund is clapping, deliriously. I’m crying. You’re crying. It’s miraculous.
As Pod sings out “Jenny of Oldstones” (of course he can sing, he’s the perfect man), we see a stunning montage of characters taking their last moments of quiet before the apocalypse, reminiscent of Pippin in Return of the King: Sam and Gilly with Little Sam; Sansa and Theon; Arya and Gendry; Missy and Grey Worm — who promises the interpreter he’ll take her out of this racist country and back to Naath when this is all over, which means he’s going to die for sure, dammit; and Jorah, who looks out at the ink-black forest carrying the Tarly blade, Heartsbane. “Your father taught me how to be a man,” Sam had told him. “How to do what’s right.” And now Jorah’s arc is complete, too: “I’ll wield it in his memory, to guard the realms of men.” Man, next week is going to suck so bad.
Pod’s song is about a Targaryen heir who gave up his throne for love, so of course we finally cut back to Jon, once again at the crypts — but this time in front of the woman he now knows is his mother. Sam had pushed him to have The Talk with Dany; instead, he’s been avoiding eye contact with her all day, and fled the room right after they locked down the battle plan. He’d rather hang out with Ghost than her, and we haven’t seen Ghost on screen in two years. So instead, Dany has come to him. Like the rest of the world, she knows the common story of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark: “Everyone told me he was decent and kind,” she says, but he raped Lyanna, and she can’t square that. But he didn’t, says Jon. “He loved her. They were married in secret.” She had a child, and gave him to her brother for safekeeping.
Realization slowly dawns on Dany’s face. It’s impossible, she says. But she takes the wrong message from it: “A secret no one in the world knew, except your brother and your best friend?” (Poor Howland Reed!) Yeah, it sounds sketchy when you put it that way. But Dany’s mind goes only to what that means for her, and her claim. Not their relationship. Not that she’s his aunt. Jon doesn’t mention that either, as if he has barricaded that inconvenient fact out because he can only deal with one at a time. There are a lot of ways the conversation could have gone. He could have told her immediately that he doesn’t want the throne, that nothing has to change. Or that they can’t be together, obviously, but he swore allegiance to her and he’ll keep his word like he always has. But he doesn’t say either of those things, and so Dany reacts how Dany always would: Defensively. Now Jon is the single-greatest threat to her lifelong dream. It’s a wonder she doesn’t murder him right there in the crypts, one more corpse for the Night King to raise up.
But now the horn is blowing. He’s here. They’re out of time. They’re all out of time.
Next week: Oh god oh god oh no