Eammon Jacobs reviews the second episode of Game of Thrones season 8…
After Game of Thrones‘ premiere episode reunited a sprawling list of characters to Winterfell to prepare for war, it was always going to be interesting to see how all these different character dynamics would work in a highly stressful situation. The threat of the White Walkers is weighing them all down and with such little time to prepare, tensions were always going to run a little higher than usual. Daenerys, Jon and Sansa waste no time interrogating Jaime after his arrival – and their vicious line of questioning is completely understandable. Right from the beginning of the episode the series returns to its dialogue-heavy roots, exploring different relationships and overtly stating how dire the situation is. Just like old times!
It doesn’t feel like it’s recycling old material though thanks to role reversals and characters discovering a genuine sense of agency. Take Jaime for example; he’s managed to redeem himself in the audience’s eyes over several seasons, he’s still paying for his actions as Kingslayer – yet he still feels the responsibility to make up for his actions and help defend the realm in spite of his sister’s wishes. It’s surprising that Bran hasn’t revealed what Jaime did to him way back in season one – but then he’s spent most of his time staring at people…
Tyrion and Jamie’s relationship feels surprisingly healthy in a series full of troublesome characters and brutal attitudes. Add on his willingness to serve underneath Brienne (in more ways than one) and the once arrogant and unlovable Lannister has developed in ways that no one would have expected in the show’s fledgling days. Although there’s a definitive sense of foreboding when Tyrion mentions that Cersei won’t have chance to kill him in the North… Bronn was given a crossbow to assassinate the younger Lannister after all.
Sansa looks incredibly regal in her conversation with Daenerys, maybe it’s her flaming red hair – but she’s surprisingly reminiscent of Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots. Their honest conversation is refreshing andalthough she was irritating in the premiere episode, the Stark sister is sharply diplomatic. The pair might not be best friends any time soon, but the embers of a healthy working dynamic are there. However Daenerys’ reaction to everyone not siding with her on the Jaime issue could lead to more strife within the allies camp. In fact she spends a considerable amount of the episode at odds with those closest to her, will her thirst for power impede her ability to rule?
Game of Thrones still has an authentic heart beating under all those layers of armour as Theon and Sansa are reunited. There’s a genuine sense of forgiveness after their respective traumatic experiences over the years. Even in his few lines of uneasy dialogue, Alfie Allen manages to convey a shaky strength forged out of his torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. But to say that this is the final season and we’ve been led to believe it’s going to be all-our war over the six episodes – it’s remarkably slow. It’s not that it isn’t entertaining, because seeing all these characters working together (aside from Cersei of course) is fascinating to watch – but it’s not as pacy as you might expect. Tormund drunkenly explaining his Giantsbane title brings some levity to the Winterfell crew’s contemplation that they could die at any time.
Arya and Gendry’s chemistry isn’t as warm as it could be, but it’s definitely there – mostly in the comedic one liners delivered with Maisie Williams’ dry wit. Their final act of passion makes complete sense in the calm before the white walker apocalypse – and it’s hardly the most controversial thing the show’s gotten away with. And in a bizarre parallel, Jaime knighting Brienne also feels fitting in the face of damnation.
Unfortunately, all this character development and newfound camaraderie means one thing – death, lots of it. However, we’ll have to wait a week for that, because this slow episode focused on making sure audiences remembered why they fell in love with the sprawling list of characters in the first place. Maybe it’s fan service, maybe it’s just reaffirming what’s really at stake. While there might not be a bloody finale, the dramatic climax comes when Jon actually confesses to Daenerys who he really is… Of course her first reaction is about the Iron Throne and the fact that he has a genuine claim to it. It’s not said out of compassion or understanding either – it sounds like jealousy. She’s understandably annoyed, considering her monumental journey to even make it this far. It didn’t sound like she’d realised the implications on their romantic relationship either. Then again, he probably won’t be calling her Auntie Daenerys any time soon.
But before they can do anything, the horns of war are blown. Winter is here, and so are the White Walkers. Another week to go, and then we’re already halfway through the final season. It’s looking like a huge battle between the White Walkers and Winterfell. It’s directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who notably helmed the incredible episodes ‘Hardhome’ and ‘Battle of the Bastards’. We’ll just have to wait and see what horrors are waiting for the heroes on the battlefield.