Beyond The Wall

'Game of Thrones' Recap: How Episode 2 Sets Up the Biggest Battle in Show History

game of thrones season 8 episode 2
Helen Sloan/HBO
This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 through the first two episodes. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

"A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," the second episode of Game of Thrones eighth and final season, is more concerned with delivering big moments audiences have been yearning to see between characters than action-packed sequences, and it should make fans of the show nervous. With the Army of the Dead at Winterfell’s doorstep, and knowing how this show loves to rip away things we love, it’s fitting that this week dedicates an entire episode to delivering climactic scenes across multiple storylines. It’s a fan-service episode! Like a kiss on the cheek before they rip the Band-Aid off. The more you loved someone this episode, the more you should fear what happens in next week’s showdown. Here's where everyone stands before they either survive or perish during the battle with the dead.

tyrion and jaime lannister at winterfell
Helen Sloan/HBO

House Lannister (or, the humbled lions)

No check-in with Cersei, Qyburn, or Bronn this week, but the Lannister brothers have been reunited in Winterfell, and both Tyrion and Jaime spend the majority of the episode sitting by a fire, having great conversations.

Tyrion has a great mind, just like everyone in the series is fond of pointing out, but learning that he misjudged Cersei this week is another big mistake. Tyrion gets confirmation on Cersei’s pregnancy from Jaime, but still trusted her to send her troops North. Last season, when Tyrion guessed Cersei was pregnant, we cut away from the scene and didn’t catch up until Cersei (falsely) pledged her troops at the Dragonpit. There was some lingering mystery as to how much Tyrion knew, since we did not see the conclusion of the conversation, but this episode plays it off as his genuinely making a mistake in evaluating Cersei. Hopefully Ser Jorah is correct and Tyrion is the type of person who actually learns from his mistakes, because Daenerys seems ready to replace him as Hand of the Queen if they survive the battle with the Night King.

While Tyrion keeps making mistakes, Jaime Lannister finally starts doing all the right things. Even though the episode starts off by recounting his various crimes in the Hall of Winterfell, the gold-handed Lannister is great in every other scene. Jaime Lannister goes on an apology tour of Winterfell, and it’s incredibly satisfying to watch the formerly cocky, amoral Kingslayer eating humble pie.

Did Jaime owe Bran an apology? If so, it only would have been valid several years ago, as Bran delightfully tells Jaime that he needs him alive to fight. Bran also heavily foreshadows Jaime's death with the open-ended question of whether there will be life after the Long Night.

Then, the Lannister brothers drink by the fire and discuss how there's no going back for them now that they're on the arc of positive character development. It reads as both heartwarming and melancholy, and not just because it’s set the night before a huge battle. Cersei always tried to turn Jaime against Tyrion, but the bond between the brothers -- neither of whom felt loved by their father -- has always been solid, even when they’ve been on opposing sides.

Tyrion talking to Jaime by the fire was the first scene this season that felt like we’re nearing the end. So far, there’s been a lot of reunions and revelations of facts (and burning of children named Ned Umber), but Tyrion and Jaime drinking wine and bemoaning that things can’t go back to the way things were feels like the end of that bond. Maybe there’s only terror and pain left for the male Lannisters, but they had this moment.

ser brienne of tarth
HBO

Ser Brienne of Tarth (or, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms)

With that emotional switch flipped into the "on" position, the show delivers even more endgame content through Brienne of Tarth, who didn’t have much to do last week, but makes up for it this week. Brienne standing up for Jaime in front of Dany, Sansa, and Jon not only saves his neck, but quickly reminds us of just how much Jaime did help Brienne, and how they both attempted to uphold oaths to the late Catelyn.

During Jaime’s apology tour stop to Brienne outside Winterfell and asking to fight under her command, he uses his new humble demeanor to show respect for her, catching Brienne off-guard. Brienne has learned during her travels not to expect anything from anyone, to live on her own honor, wits, and strength. The one exception to that defense strategy is the Kingslayer. Before his hand was cut off, they had a mutual admiration, but after Jaime showed his vulnerability to Brienne in their shared bath (Season 3's “Kissed by Fire,” written by Bryan Cogman, who also wrote this week’s episode), they were a pair of kindred spirits.

Brienne and Pod join Jaime and Tyrion by the fire the night before the battle, and soon they’re joined by Davos and Tormund. It’s a sit and chat with some of our favorite characters, but the rock at the center is Jaime and Brienne. It would have been easy to bend the characters a bit for the sake of pleasing a certain wing of the show’s audience (sorry, Braime shippers) and have the pair show some sort of physical affection, but instead we get the same emotional high from Brienne’s knighting. First, we know that Brienne is honor-bound above all. Second, it was just established that she can’t take compliments from Jaime because she’s become so used to forging her own way in this world as a warrior woman. Nobody can give Brienne a compliment that’s worth a damn, and she doesn’t want lands or a lordship. Jaime finds something relatively meaningless to him: the power of a knight to make another knight, and gives it to Brienne as the most complete way of showing her his respect. It’s beautiful, and it means much more than a kiss.

Everyone claps for Ser Brienne of Tarth, and as our hearts as viewers swell, the shadow knowledge of serialized television dictates that this moment had to happen now because it will be impossible in the future. It’s going to be very sad to watch some or all of these people die.

gendry and arya
HBO

House Stark (or, Forge Sex/Love Sounds)

What a time to be Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, two powerful women who finally get to sit down and talk as equals. It turns out that Sansa’s concern about Jon bending the knee to Daenerys because of love has to do with concern for House Stark -- she is the Lady of Winterfell, after all. Sansa and Dany look like they’ve reached an understanding when Daenerys outlines how in love with Jon she is. Sansa isn’t unreasonable in questioning it, especially since Daenerys hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with Sansa, and she’s very accepting once she understands all sides of the situation. Then, she holds the damn line when it comes to what's important to her: What happens to the North after the Long Night is over?

Sansa Stark is all the best parts of Littlefinger and Cersei now. She’s fighting all the battles in her mind at all times. She won’t be surprised. The entire conversation with Daenerys isn’t something Sansa hadn’t thought about before, she just was unaware of the Dragon Queen's political style. Once Sansa actually gets to judge her character (and her love for Jon), she knows exactly when to stand up to Dany and the plain language to do it with. If we’re judging who should win the Game of Thrones based just on this season, the answer is Sansa, the woman with all the correct answers and Lyanna-Mormont-like propensity to put people in their place. Last week, Sansa’s perspective might have been a bit more murky when it looked like she’d have to make angry eyes at Dany from afar. While Bran is unsure if there’s going to be anything after the battle with the dead, Sansa already seems to have a dozen plans for keeping the North free from the throne. Now that we see the Lady of Winterfell in political action, and she’s not giving up Winterfell for a silly notion like two young leaders in love with each other.

Speaking of love, of all the couples who might get a “we might die tomorrow” bone session, Arya and Gendry were not at the top of the list. Let’s take a moment before debating if that means they’re both going to die to enjoy the frank foreplay talk about dick-leeching from Melisandre. Arya’s Essos street smarts has stripped her of basically all the innocence she had left, so she comes in hard with intent once Gendry has delivered her dual-dragonglass dagger staff. They’re two consenting adults about to fight an army of zombies, so everything about it is fan service... right?

It would be a real gut punch to play up Arya’s super skill in battle, plus her dragonglass throwing accuracy, PLUS her new fancy weapon, then to have her die three episodes from the series finale. The kind of gut punch that a show might not be able to recover from. So much of Game of Thrones has followed Arya as she reacts to the death around her, reversing that story to have the events of the show react to Arya’s death would be... rough. All the Arya scenes this week are fitting final notes for her relationships, but not good final notes for the character overall. Arya might simply interact this week with the most people who will be dead next week.

For instance, Gendry might have just served his final purpose on the show. In season one, Robert Baratheon tried to lure Ned Stark to be Hand of the King by saying “I have a son, you have a daughter, we’ll join our Houses.” Joffrey and Sansa didn’t work out, but Gendry and Arya found each other. It’s still possible that whoever takes the throne at the end legitimizes Gendry and we can have a true Stark/Baratheon bond, but it’s unlikely.

Arya also has a relatively nice moment with two other characters she used to hate: The Hound and Beric Dondarrion. Arya and The Hound already had a tiny showdown last week, and that could have been it, except... why? It’s the curse of this type of episode structure: the odds of The Hound making it south for Cleganebowl go down every time we get a humanizing scene. Beric seems to show up simply to remind us about where Arya left Gendry, which isn’t important enough on its own, so Beric’s chances of living also drastically plunge when Arya talks to him.

theon greyjoy game of thrones season 8
Helen Sloan/HBO

House Greyjoy (or, finally nothing reeks)

Theon! We knew Theon was fast-traveling from King’s Landing to Winterfell while Yara went to take the Iron Islands, but the reunion between Sansa and Theon when the latter arrives to fight for House Stark was much better received the Lady of Winterfell, whom he had rescued from Ramsay, than by Bran -- the person he actually took Winterfell from. Sure, Theon gets a moment later in the episode to make it up to Bran: He takes the unenviable job of guarding Bran the Bait in the Godswood, but the Sansa/Theon hug really felt like welcoming that character home. Theon was an arrogant kid who was broken down to Reek, and since his return to being Theon has generally tried to do the right thing, give or take some cowardly dives into the ocean. All the loose Theon story threads are tied off (save a reference to how he should have helped Rob more); what a tragic arc, and one that may come to its final end next week.

dany and jon snow game of thrones
Helen Sloan/HBO

House Targaryen (or, the least powerful Queen in Westeros)

Emilia Clarke does good work this episode as all of the ground starts to fall from beneath Daenerys feet. She’s technically the Queen, but Brienne and Sansa get in the way of her exacting revenge on Jaime for killing her father, the Mad King. She gets mad at Tyrion for making bad decisions as Hand, then Ser Jorah comes along to talk her down. She has a breakthrough with Sansa, only to discover another woman who’d like to keep her lands separate from the Kingdom (remember Yara’s first pitch?). Then, she strolls down to the crypts for some comfort from her pouty boyfriend, only to have him tell her the true story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

We don’t have time for the consequences of Jon’s real name and Dany’s realization that he’s the last living male Targaryen heir before the horns blow and the Army of the Dead shows up, but judging from the look on Daenerys' face, their budding love might have gone right out the window. That complicates things more than any other development in the entire show, mostly because of when Jon decided to drop the info bomb. All Daenerys has wanted to do was rule, and all Jon wants to do is not rule. This truth is the one thing that could instantly turn these lovers into enemies, because neither of them wants it to be true. It’s tragic we don’t get to deal fully with Aegon and Dany before they’re off to their battle stations with a cold look shared between them. But that also means we’ll be returning to this conflict, after we get some killing done.

House Mormont (or, Jorah gets a new sword)

Sam gives Jorah Heartsbane his father’s Valyrian steel sword even though Jorah’s attempt last week to honor Sam with a visit from the Queen turned into a feel-bad session about burning Tarlys. When Sam finds Jorah, he’s trying to convince the head of his house, little Lyanna Mormont, to stay in the crypts, not fight in the battle. Lyanna, being who she is, is having none of it and will fight for her house alongside her men. Sam once again honors Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont, and Jorah does too, as he says he’ll wield the sword in his name. Be very worried for both Mormonts.

tormund beric ser davos jaime lannister at winterfell
Helen Sloan/HBO

Winterfell (or, other people who might die)

As far as what to expect next week, we saw Grey Worm overlooking some of the battlements including a cool collapsing bridge. We get talk of lighting a trench during the planning session. We know Brienne and Jaime will be on the “left” flank where there is some high ground. The walls of Winterfell have dragonglass mounted on them to deter climbing wights. Since the episode ends with a bunch of White Walker lieutenants (significantly, however, not the Night King himself) arriving at Winterfell, it’s safe to say all that stuff was planted so we can see it used next week.

Dolorous Edd, Sam, Jon, and a silent Ghost (HEY! GHOST!) talk about being brothers of the Night’s Watch and Edd being virgin. Through this episode’s lens of "who[s gonna die," Ghost and Edd seem the most likely. Edd because The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch’s whole job is to defend the realms of men, and the Wall has fallen. Ghost because this show really doesn’t like to use Ghost. Just watch -- we’ll get like three dragon fights this season, but Ghost will get ice-speared early on. Do you remember how quickly the Army of the Dead got Summer?

For some reason, Grey Worm and Missandei are the only characters in the episode who are allowed the luxury of thinking of a future. This is usually a bad move in dramatic fiction. It’s close to the equivalent of being "one day from retirement" or deciding to take "one last job." We’d all absolutely love for these two former slaves to sail off to the beaches of Narth after Dany sits on the throne, but that seems unlikely. What's interesting is neither of them talk about the threat from the dead, but rather the threat from the country of Westeros, where they are the others. Maybe this conversation isn’t foreshadowing that one of them will die fighting the Army of the Dead, but foreshadowing that the true threat to Dany’s band of outsiders still is the Westrosi. Will Grey Worm successfully battle the dead only to be put in peril by…? The Lannisters? The Golden Company? Bronn with bad timing and aim? What’s up?

We also got a peak Tormund episode. Tormund Giantsbane killed a giant and was breast fed for months by the giant’s partner, who thought he was a baby. Plus he continues his advances toward Brienne, which mostly have to do with compliments and raised eyebrows (and “knighting” innuendos). For every other character who had a great moment in the episode, scenes this great would put them on death watch, but at this point Tormund lives on death watch with great stories like giant suckling or bear sex. Maybe Tormund Giantsbane outlives us all.

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Dave Gonzales is a contributor to Thrillist.