Game of Thrones Presents “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Fan Service

“Fan service” is an interesting thing, isn’t it? On the one hand, it’s mostly a pejorative in this modern day-and-age of criticism: a way of describing something that feels artificial to the story at hand, and was just put in to appease, rather than improve. I can certainly understand why this perception has come about, and why it’s worth criticizing: lord knows I’ve seen my fair share of properties sacrifice themselves to the fan appraisal alter, foregoing the fruits of narrative for the quick benefit of simply making “the fans” happy. But although this is something that any long (and popular) series should worry about…should it be viewed so negatively overall? Shouldn’t you want your fans to be happy, and to feel satisfied? Quite frankly, isn’t that the whole damn point of storytelling in the first place?

Then again, Game of Thrones is one of those special cases amongst big genre properties in which giving people what they want is practically the exact opposite of its mondus operandi. Hell, dangling the carrot of fan expectations before violently yanking it away is what put the show on the map. And though I would argue the series doesn’t do that quite as often anymore (ever since it became its own thing divorced from Martin’s books, really), that expectation is still somewhat ingrained in the show. Why else do you think everyone on Twitter is freaking out about the bloodshed that will potentially unfold next week? Game of Thrones takes no prisoners, and this close to the endgame, there’s no reason why it would conceivably pull punches. Anyone could die here, which is something apparent for both us as viewers and the characters within the show itself.

That sense of pure melancholy and dread at the battle ahead permeates throughout pretty much all of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which can best be summarized as a contemplative calm before the storm or, as I would put it, one of the absolute strongest installments of Game of Thrones in recent memory. This is the kind of episode that a series can only truly deliver as it reaches its conclusion, providing moments of closure and finality to many of its characters. But, more than that, it allows the series the continued opportunity to just breath for a goddamn second, and focus on this sprawling cast of characters and their relationship with one another. Last week’s episode got a bit of flack for doing the same, but I once again must reiterate my main point: THIS is the show for me. To expect it to be “moving faster” or “getting to the story” or any of the myriad of complaints I’ve seen about the past two episodes just fundamentally does not jive with what I believe makes Game of Thrones, well,Game of Thrones. Back before the show had the budget to do its crazy, action-packed set-pieces, it just had a collection of actors, playing an assortment of characters sitting in a room, just talking with each other. And if that’s what you are looking for in your Thrones, you’ll be hard pressed to find better examples of this principle in action than with “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

Ably written by series vet Bryan Cogman, and directed once more by David Nutter (who also did the season premiere), I think it would be a fair assessment to also describe “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” as a series of little scenes, without an episode through line to really propel them forward. Sure, there’s the apocalyptic theme that crops up throughout, and the concept of reflection that has taken up so much real estate of GoT’s final season so far. But the fact the episode can still work without any real plot movement is a testament to the writing and the performers, who all bring their A-game here. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” spends time checking in on pretty much every major character currently at Winterfell (all but Varys, oddly, which automatically makes me suspicious about what he’s up to), which considering the cast size, seems like it would be a foolhardy task. But the storytelling is smart throughout, honing in on groups of characters and little moments, rather than grander, elaborate sequences.

The closest the episode gets to that is the whole Jaime storyline, which sees him come face-to-face with his past sins. This was teased pretty heavily during last week’s closing segment, so I must say it’s pretty surprising how fast the whole thing gets resolved. Though I knew realistically we wouldn’t get a whole episode devoted to The Trial of Jamie Lannister (and, honestly, I’m not even sure such a thing would even be all that good), they do all roll over pretty fast into bringing him in the fold. I guess that’s what having the all-star character witness of Brienne of Tarth on your side will do for you. Plus Bran didn’t mention the whole “he tried to kill me” thing, which also helps. In any case, even with his crimes pushed aside by the current Queen and Lady of Winterfell (with a shell-shocked Jon, most likely still thinking about aunt boning, simply giving a passing remark before starring back into the distance), Jamie remained the emotional center of the episode, especially when it came to his relationship with the aforementioned Brinne. The series has done such great work through the years in building that relationship, and to see it culminate with that wonderful knighting scene is long-form storytelling at its finest.

It’s also giving the fans exactly what they wanted, which brings us back to my opening point (like Game of Thrones, it was a very long and sometimes meandering journey, but we got there, guys): from Jamie/Brienne to Gendry/Arya, this was an episode chock full of things that people wanted, in a series very much set against giving them that. Does that make “A Knight of the Seven Kindoms” any lesser? Are we curving its greatness simply because it’s bringing us what we want, and making us feel happy in the process? Possibly. But I would argue that the only reason so much of “A Knight of the Seven Kindoms” works is because the series has done all the groundwork beforehand. It has planted so many of these seeds in previous seasons and, finally, it can harvest them. And if the final season isn’t the time for the series to get a little sentimental for its characters, and for what they mean to us as viewers, I don’t know when is. Besides: me thinks the events of next week will give us plenty of death and destruction to balance the happiness. My guess is we’ll be looking back on these as the simpler, happier times soon enough.

Stab Them With The (Loose) Pointy Ends:

  • On that previous note..who’s gonna die, y’all? Honestly, its a complement to “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” that so few people actually feel safe here. While some get more direct foreshadowing of doom than others, pretty much everyone gets a little moment that could be latter conceived as their last hurrrah.
  • That being said, Grey Worm is fucking DEAD, folks. He got the “The Live 4 Ever” moment, talking about leaving the force with his wife, last-day-before-retirement, treatment. Unless the show is purposely setting up a reversal of fate, he is DONE.
  • I’m also terrified for Jorah, if we’re being honest. Sam giving him the family sword was great, but he just had to fuck it all up by saying “I’ll see you when it’s through.” DAMN IT SAMWELL TARLY, THAT’S THE LAST THING YOU SAY TO SOMEONE BEFORE THEY HEAD OFF TO BATTLE! ARE YOU TEMPTING FATE?!?!
  • Theon is also doomed, because his arc is nearly finished. Frankly, the only one I’m 100% certain will live is Jon and Dany, because clearly their drama is the absolute endgame here. “Song of Ice and Fire” and what not. I also think Sansa will make it for similar reasons, and I don’t think the show will kill Arya off yet. So most of the Starks are safe IMHO. The only one in real danger is our favorite weirdo Bran, who has OP powers, and thus might be disposed of quickly. The ol’ Professor X treatment.
  • Structurally, this episode oddly reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that show’s approach to “calm before the storm” episodes, namely “Tales of Ba Sing Se” and “The Ember Island Players.” Of course their approaches are wildly different, but similar sentiment with having little stories reflecting on the characters, right before the madness unfolds.
  • Of those little stories, it almost feels impossible to chose — I love my guy Daavos and his work at the soup kitchen, and that scene with the little girl was adorable. But I was strangely taken by the scene between Jon, Sam, and Ed, reflecting on their time as former Knight’s Watch men, and being pretty much the last of that organization. We spent so much freaking time with the Night’s Watch, so to have that scene as a cap off was pretty powerful. “Last man left, burn the rest of us.” Who will be the final crow to do the deed? My hope is Edd. Dude has survived so far!
  • “I stole a considerable amount of books from the Citadel library.” Sam’s guilt at this despicable act must be eating him up inside, considering how often he’s brought it up. Our sweet summer child can’t handle the burdens of a life of crime.
  • Tormund’s “Giantsbane” origin story needs no introduction nor commentary. It’s just absolutely perfect the way it is.
  • That entire fireplace party was just a delight from start to finish, with all those characters meshing perfectly together. To many notes to include really, but did love Tyrion’s little moment with giving Podrick the full cup of wine. And the pipes on Pod too! Would make Pippin Took proud.
  • Arya and The Hound also got another talk together, in what I feel will probably be their last (no matter how the Battle of Winterfell goes down.) It was a pretty great one too — Masie Williams and Rory McCann still have the best frenemy chemistry on the show, and it was nice to see them flex those muscles again. Beric Dondarrion is still here too, I guess, preaching a storm. Keep it in fire church, man.
  • “Oh for fuck’s sake, might as well be at a fucking wedding.” Hound gets it.
  • “I’m not spending my final hours with you miserble old shits.” Never change, Arya. Never change.
  • If I have any complaint about the episode, it would be the fact that maybe a few too many of the scenes start with some version of “BOY, HAVEN’T WE COME A LONG WAY???” I’m pretty sure Tyrion expresses that sentiment at least three times alone. Like, that’s not at all untrue, but you don’t have to say it as a kick off to every moment of reflection.
  • At first, I thought Jon was making a surprisingly shrewd decision by keeping the secret of his heritage from Dany until after the battle, since it would only cause chaos and distraction for her if she knew. But Jon Snow proved himself to still be Jon Snow, and went ahead and told her anyways literally minutes before the battle starts. Way to Jon, Jon!
  • On that note, fan theory time: Dany is going to have the option to save Jon, but will hesitate, and might even leave him to die. Because as much as she might love Jon, she’s opportunistic as fuck. Should be interesting to see how it plays out anyhow.
  • This has already gone on, so I’m not going to write a ton about the whole Gendry/Arya thing, other than to say that it’s silly the amount of shock it has garnered. Arya is a woman. She fucks. Let her fuck. Frankly, my only complaint is that they cut away so soon — it would have been nice to see Arya actually in the throes of passion and expressing pure joy and excitement. Then again, considering her post-sex look, maybe that wouldn’t have happened anyways…should have gone with Pod, Arya!
  • I’ll end things with a Brienne smile, to power you through the rest of the week. Your welcome.

Originally published at Freshly Popped Culture.