As the senior senator from Massachusetts recently observed, the world needs fewer Cersei Lannisters—but, I would add, the world could also stand fewer immolations-by-dragon of non-supplicants, à la Daenerys Targaryen, and it would definitively benefit from more Briennes of Tarth. Excuse me—Ser Briennes of Tarth. Last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” continued building intriguing themes of a gathering matriarchy to lead the fight against the Army of the Dead, with one red flag: Dany’s obsession with dominance, which often trumps her interest in masses-liberating, kingdom-saving, and justice-spreading. And our erstwhile feminist King in the North, Jon Snow, purer of soul than his lover-aunt, can be psychologically dim, in ways that don’t help in a matriarchy or anywhere else. This will come up later, in a crypt. Leadership is complicated.
As last night’s episode began, our doomed and plucky friends were continuing to mingle at Winterfell, pre-onslaught. And, man, if you thought Dany’s first conversation with Jon was awkward (“Break faith? Your father burned my grandfather alive!”), I’d like to introduce you to Dany’s first conversation with Jaime Lannister. (I’m starting to realize that people in Westeros do not like people who have murdered their fathers.) She seems to be focussing on his having spilled her (crazy) father’s blood and ignoring the fact that he’s looking wonderfully rugged and earnest. Give him a chance, Stormborn! Dany also grouses about Cersei’s lies; Jaime concurs; Sansa points out that Jaime wronged her father, too. Tough crowd! Then Bran gets in on the action.
“The things we do for love,” the Three-Eyed Raven pipes up, unleashing a defenestration-related zinger. (Bran is back, baby! Sort of.) Touché, Jaime thinks. But this battle, he reminds them, goes beyond loyalty, looking meaningfully at Brienne “Fuck Loyalty” of Tarth—who stands up and defends him, while I yowl in delight. “He is a man of honor,” Brienne says, and fills them in on the rape-fending-off-and-hand-chopping-off episode of yore. She tells Sansa, “He armed me, armored me, and sent me to find you and bring you home, because he’d sworn an oath to your mother.” This speech is a success all around; Sansa trusts Brienne; Brienne trusts Jaime; Dany grudgingly allows it; Jon does, too. I’m all over this sororal decision-making. Yet, as the scene ends, Dany detects a weird vibe with Jon. What could be bugging him?
On the ramparts, the Lannister brothers contemplate dying at Winterfell—they hope not to—and Jaime gazes wistfully at Brienne as the scruffy odds-n-ends army prepares for battle and Grey Worm messes with a Qyburn-lite trapdoor situation. Jaime approaches Brienne, and they talk of flanks and hilltops and squadrons, and he rather romantically says that he’d be honored to serve under her, if she’ll have him; less romantically, she scowls and ambles off.
Inside, we witness a Sansa-Dany détente—they’re all dealing with a lot of power dynamics, braids, and breastplates—that’s interrupted by Theon Greyjoy. “I want to fight for Winterfell, Lady Sansa, if you’ll have me,” he tells her. (I have to say, I’m heartily enjoying all this respect that’s being offered up by the gentlemen of the Seven Kingdoms: an hour of Campion before who knows how much Tarantino.) Sansa runs to hug Theon—much nicer than a head-butt, Yara.
After a charming scene with Gilly, in town—and a cute little kid who wants to fight, and who is told that her services will be best employed in defending the kids in the crypt—there’s a happy reunion between Jon and his main men Beric and Tormund and Edd. Things are looking grim, they tell him: the Umbers are fighting for the Night King now (eeuch!), and the undead will be upon them before sunup. But also: Tormund has lust in his heart. “The big woman still here?” he says, eyebrows aflutter. The big woman is busy storming away from Jaime’s earnest declarations, thank you very much.
Preparations galore: Gendry hands out oodles of dragonglass weapons (dude has been industrious); spiky death traps poke out of the ground; regal beagles confer around the Stratego board. “We’re all going to die,” Tormund says. Sam is more specific: What does the Night King want? he asks. We’ve all been wondering that—especially after his mixed-media message of last week. “He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory,” the Three-Eyed Raven says. “That’s what death is, isn’t it? Erasing stories,” Samwell R. R. Tarly says. ”Being forgotten.” Bran wants to wait for the Night King in the Godswood, to lure him into a trap. I assume some kind of magic will save the day, or, failing that, Theon. “I took this castle from you,” he says to the Starks. “Let me defend you now.” Everybody’s so goddam valiant, I can’t stand it.
On this night before battle, fire is bringing out cozy glows in everyone’s hearts. Grey Worm and Missandei murmur before various buckets of flame; in front of a hearth, the brothers Lannister banter once more. “I wish Father were here,” Tyrion says. Jaime is startled; Tyrion murdered their father on the toilet. “I would love to see the look on his face knowing that his two sons were about to die defending Winterfell,” Tyrion says. Ruefully speaking about their pasts of whoremongering and sister-rumpy-pumpy, they drink to the perils of self-betterment. Brienne and Pod show up, as does Tormund, who seems to think that his flirting has been too subtle. He pulls up a chair. “I killed a giant when I was ten,” he says. “And then I climbed right into bed with his wife.” She suckled him with giant’s milk for three months, he continues—that’s why he’s so strong! Tormund, if you ever meet Robin Arryn, I know how you can make him jealous.
Sex is on the minds of many. On the ramparts, Arya boozes with—then takes her leave from—the Hound and Beric. “I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable old shits,” she says. Good point: pre-death canoodling is better. Suddenly we’re in Gendry’s smoldering smithy, admiring Arya’s brand-new double-ended killing spear, sparks a-flying. It’s a multipurpose visit. “What did the Red Woman want with you?” Arya asks. His blood, of course. “I’m Robert Baratheon’s bastard,” Gendry says. “She tied me up, stripped me down, put leeches all over me.” Reasonably, Arya has questions. First time? she says. “Yeah, I’ve never had leeches put all over my cock,” Gendry says. Another first: being aggressively hit on by a young woman he last knew as a child. Dumbstruck, and possibly thinking, Wait, how old are you again?, Gendry observes Arya’s fight scars, and also her gazongas. Arya’s assertiveness serves her well in sexual situations, we discover. “I’m not the Red Woman,” she says. “Take your own bloody pants off.” And, reader, he does. Good for you, girlfriend.
By the fire, as the talk of life and death and honor continues, Tormund growls that Brienne should be a knight, sexism be damned: “Fuck tradition!” Jaime, remembering that any knight—him, say—can make another knight, unsheathes his sword and asks Brienne to kneel. “In the name of the warrior, I charge you to be brave,” he says, dubbing her on the shoulder. “In the name of the father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the mother, I charge you to defend the innocent. Arise, Brienne of Tarth: a knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” All clap; Ser Brienne tears up; she and Jaime exchange respectful nods; I swoon. What if one of them dies for the other? I can’t stand it.
After some upstanding Mormont situations—young Lyanna tells cousin Jorah that she’s fighting, dammit, and Sam gives Jorah his family’s Valyrian-steel sword, Heartsbane (he’d love to use it himself, but he “can’t really hold it upright”)—Podrick sings softly by the fire, having briefly turned into the Pentangle. A montage, to Podsong, of peace within the night’s tense fear: the sleeping Samwell Tarlys, Theon having emotionally intense soup with Sansa, Arya lying next to Gendry, passionate Missandei and Grey Worm, Ser Jorah and his faithful horse. But, in the crypt, all is not well for the Targaryen-Snow-Targaryens, because R + L = Yikes. Jon, standing before Lyanna Stark’s crypt, tenderly whispers to Dany the real story of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s love—and somehow doesn’t realize that her reaction to learning his parentage, after Wha?, will not be Ick! or We’ll figure it out! but How dare you be the rightful heir to my throne? Tomorrow will bring the clattering of icy death hooves—and Jon’s dragon-riding girlfriend wanting to murder him won’t help. Aegon, take me away! Meanwhile, I’m curious: How is Brienne spending her first night of knighthood? Being brave, I hope.