Later, Arya heads to the forge and gets into a staring match with The Hound; the pair are equally surprised to see each other alive, but respect each other’s games. (Hopefully his reunions with Sansa and Brienne are coming soon.) This is immediately followed by some awkwardness with Gendry; she wants him to make her some kind of crazy Darth Maul weapon, and our new favorite bastard is too gobsmacked by the presence of the girl he kinda had a crush on but could murder him without blinking to do much more than stammer. I don’t know if the show’s going to make this thing a Real Thing (hard to imagine Arya wanting to be tied down to anyone, or any place), but our hopeful future lord of Storm’s End is by default the best smith in Westeros, and a steady supply of inventive weapons for the (by default) best assassin in Westeros is a pretty good arrangement for both parties. But how durable is dragonglass, anyway?
And then there’s the third Stark sibling, whose superpowers now include hilariously killing the vibe no matter what room he’s in. It was a legendary sixth-man performance from Bran, and he didn’t even have to leave the chair; every cutaway to him lurking, impassively watching everyone with his wide flat face, was high comedy. Bran popped up everywhere with portents of doom: “We don’t have time for this!” he admonishes Jon; he chills in the courtyard like a forlorn pet, “waiting for an old friend” who of course turns out be a gaunt and terrified Jaime (a scene that Twitter user @NaturallyKatz instantly improved); and most importantly, he spurs an emotionally compromised Sam to do the hard thing and tell Jon the truth about his origins. “You’re his brother, you tell him!” Sam splutters. “I’m not his brother.” Pay attention, Sam!
The scene that follows is the emotional fulcrum of the episode — and in fact the entire season to come. Sam leads not with Jon’s family tree, but his own, harshing his smitten friend’s mellow with the news that Dany had Sam’s father and brother burned alive. “Would you have done it?” Sam asks. Jon had the Night’s Watch traitors hung, and would do it again, as much as he hated it. “I wasn’t a king,” Jon responds, already flailing, and we haven’t even gotten to the hardest part yet. “But you were,” says Sam. “You’ve always been.” Thanks to that High Septon’s diary (i.e. thanks to Gilly) and Bran’s “whatever Bran has,” the truth can finally be revealed right here, right now, at the tomb of the man that Jon called father all his life.
What would happen when Jon learned that truth has fueled speculation all off-season, but here his brain seems to only let him connect the half of the dots. While he doesn’t immediately reject Sam’s declaration that he is, indeed, Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his Name, Protector of the Realm, titles, titles, titles, the news is so shocking — as upending one’s entire identity would be — that he hasn’t gone yet to the more immediate logical conclusion: He’s been boning his aunt. One supposes that comes next week. Earlier in the hour, he asked Sansa if she “had any faith” in him at all after he walked away from his own crown. She didn’t get a chance to answer. Now she’ll have to. Everyone will have to.
It’s a fascinating counterpoint to Theon, who has finally screwed up his courage and rescued Yara (who head-butts him, deservedly) but has ultimately chosen to be a Stark. It was Jon who told him that choice was his to make, the earth cracking beneath him at the weight of the dramatic irony. Fortunately for Jon, his entire brand is “misery,” and no matter what happens or what he chooses — to tell Dany and accept his birthright, or abdicate it entirely — he is now guaranteed to be tormented by that knowledge forever.
Speaking of branding, the Night King steps up his marketing game this week by turning Last Hearth, home of the Umbers, into a True Detective crime scene for the Wild Bunch to find. It’s not the first time we’ve see that creepy spiral — they used horse parts at the Fist of the First Men, and it also appeared on the cave wall on Dragonstone — but if it’s “a message,” as Beric suggests, what kind? Death is coming? We kinda already got that already. We still don’t know what the Night King’s deal is or what he wants other than total continental destruction, but one wonders if a return of the Children of the Forest might be imminent to shed some light. (Or we could just ask Bran.) That scene was also the most genuinely terrifying Thrones has been in some time, smartly leavened by some classic Edd/Tormund humor — “Stay back, he’s got blue eyes!” “I’ve always had blue eyes!” Tough beat for Lil’ Lord Umber, though. Really tough.
Finally, even once the Battle of Winterfell is over, there’s still Cersei to deal with. As Sansa guesses, the Queen has no intention of sending her army to fight the dead, instead keeping Harry Strickland — because why not introduce a new character at this stage — and his Golden Company close at hand. She’s still got a newly-sated Euron and his Iron Fleet. And now she’s got Bronn, who Qyburn pulls away from a season’s worth of HBO-mandated TV-MA-S with a job offer: Take this very significant crossbow North and kill both of her troublesome brothers. “That f–king family,” sighs Bronn. Indeed, Bronn. Indeed.
What she may not have, however, is a baby; after seemingly answering that question definitively at the end of Season 7, her wine drinking this week suggests otherwise. So either she was lying to Jaime, keeping the truth from Euron, or simply doesn’t care if she keeps it because her twincest has, like everything else in her life, curdled into rage. I don’t think it’s going to matter, ultimately. But it points to how isolated Cersei has become, picking at her fingernails and simply waiting to see who shows up on her doorstep so she can end her miserable life on her own terms. Lena Headey lets all of this — the grief, the anger, the delusion, the resignation — play across her face in the span of a few seconds. Saving the Lannisters’ confrontation for the end is a bold choice for a show that has spent years hyping the one-dimensional Walkers, but it will also be the most fitting. I can’t wait to see it.
Next week: Jamie in the wolves’ den. The siege is prepared. More epic side eye.