[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”]
Do you like shows featuring a lot of fireside chats and talking about battles soon to be fought? Well, the second episode of “Game of Throne’s” eighth season totally delivered for you. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” keeps bringing together so many of the show’s established characters that the few left out are likely feeling a bit of FOMO. But what matters isn’t their absence but the tragic lack of action as various characters confronted foes from seasons past… and basically made their peace with each other.
It’s honestly bizarre. This episode was packed with answers to the generic fan question, “Oh man, what will happen when [BLANK] sees [BLANK] again?” But while one might have expected “Game of Thrones” to make more of the “reunion” between Bran Stark and Jaime Lannister — especially given Daenerys’ family history with the titled Kingslayer — things ended up being relatively chill (always a great term to use in describing a dramatic scene at Winterfell). The fact that Bran seems to be operating on a new plane, and Brienne of Tarth stuck up for her one-time road companion (reminding Sansa that without his help, she wouldn’t have survived) made a difference, but at the same time, this is a beef going back to the very first episode of the show — and, ultimately, easily brushed over now.
Then look at how Sansa embraces Theon Greyjoy, noted child murderer, as a brother for pledging to fight for Winterfell — a redemption which does not yet feel earned (even given how the two bonded while under the imprisonment of Ramsey Bolton). In general, the amount of men hugging other men feels a tad excessive — though not perhaps as eyebrow-raising as Arya deciding to get it on with Gendry (and while it’s hard to not think of Maisie Williams as a young girl, the actress is now 22 years old and, so why not get it girl).
It’s not that things were badly executed, but there was nothing really challenging or assertive to inspire interest. Jon Snow does get around to telling Daenerys that he is officially her nephew (with the name Aegon Targaryen), and she doesn’t take it well. But then… well, the White Walkers arrive, and the episode ends.
Through a third of the final season, the presumably massive battle on the horizon remains the center of the show’s focus — without, alas, actually showing us any battling. For the second week in a row, “Game of Thrones” continues to dodge actual action in the name of reassembling its characters in new formations. To be mad at this show for devoting an episode to emphasizing character relationships feels unfair; characters are the foundation of shows like these, and it’s theoretically good that the writers have not abandoned the emotional journeys of their toys given their limited screen time.
But it’s also a show about dragons and swordfights and so forth. And there are only four episodes left, ever. There’s no time for Jon to wait a full episode to tell Dany his incestuous, power-shifting secret.
The issues surrounding “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” would be lesser if a) Episode 1 hadn’t also been so devoted to moving pieces into place and b) Season 8 wasn’t going to be only six episodes. So many of the personal beats here, from Brienne’s knighting to Tyrion’s reconnection with Jaime, are nice touches which do a lot to emphasize the underlying humanity of the series. But even the season premiere found the time to deliver a moment of horror which emphasized the ongoing danger of the battle to come. (Rest in peace, Lord Umber.)
The choice to set up Bran as a key force in the continued existence of the Westeros folk gives new meaning to his importance (and in fairness, he wasn’t ever insignificant), but talking about preserving the legacy of a society offers up intense reminders that for this world, it’s not just winter that’s coming — it’s a full-blown apocalypse.
Next week, the battle begins. Or, at the very least, it’s hard to imagine the show putting off the battle any further. One takeaway at this stage is that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t plan to leave any fan wondering about how one character might feel about another. But the downside is that at this point, a third of the final season’s action has been stalled in this sort of character-driven-but-not-really-consequential drama. At least the season premiere found the time to set someone on fire.
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.