For all the indicators of the passage of time that filled the second episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones” — a humbled Jaime Lannister, his brother Tyrion drinking with men by the fire instead of at the local brothel — it was seeing one of the youngest Stark children joining the series’ long line of sex scenes that colored the temples of anyone in the audience as much as on the show. But this coupling, on a few levels, was very different.
Indeed, as Tyrion told Jaime among the ramparts of Winterfell, “We’re going to die,” and the show that began in 2011 with Stark children clowning around inside those walls has seen the youngest Bran become a grim, time-surfing mystic and sister Arya develop into a face-swapping assassin (and, alas, the otherwise anonymous Rickon grow into arrow-perforated bait to kick off the Battle of the Bastards).
Though the season has started slowly, time has passed for us all. But with next weekend’s episode promising to be a messy, spectacle-laden marathon with enough deaths and dismemberments to double as “The Walking Dead” but with swordplay, we might as well enjoy another episode-length moment to reflect on these characters’ humanity and how far they’ve come.
And frankly, kudos to Arya for claiming a normal, human moment for herself after surviving an adolescence that threatened to grind her humanity out of existence. Though she’s become lethal in combat and something of a mass murderer, you could see her interest in lighter pursuits telegraphed with a raised eyebrow while watching Gendry’s weapon-forging audition as an extra in Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” She struck up conversation with him about her weapon’s progress, and for details about the army of the dead. “Even a smith’s apprentice can do better than that,” she teased for details before flinging a few dragon-glass spearheads into a nearby beam. She then boasted, “Death has many faces, I look forward to seeing this one.” Oh, get a room.
And a few scenes later, they did. After nailing down details on Gendry’s parentage, sexual history and whatever happened with him and Melisandre a few seasons back, the ever-direct Arya cut the courtship short, telling him, “We’re probably going to die soon, I want to know what it’s like before that happens.” With that, Gendry was hers, though she did clarify, “I’m not the red woman, take your own bloody pants off.” For at least that moment, Arya was no longer an agent in the service of death.
Less likely to enjoy any semblance of normalcy, however, was Bran, who expanded on his usual cryptic allusions to life as the three-eyed raven. Shortly after parroting Jaime’s line before shoving him out the window back in Season 1 during the episode’s opening debate over welcoming the former Kingslayer into Winterfell, Bran met with Jaime to accept his apology for crippling and, in some ways, starting this whole mess. He offered his usual distant perspective, but as Jaime questioned him about what may happen after the battle was over he coolly replied, “How do you know there’s an afterwards?”
Bran is a downer. But, as discussed in a later council meeting, he also may be key to the whole thing. Outnumbered by the dead, the strategy for Jon Snow and company hinges on targeting the Night King to kill him and whatever parts of the army he created, and Bran offered that he would be a target for them because the three-eyed raven represents the collective memory of humanity. On top of all that lies ahead for a battle that combines nearly every major character in the show (apart from Cersei, off-screen but leisurely sipping wine back in King’s Landing), Bran will be the bait in a battle with humanity in the balance. No wonder he seems gloomy.
Elsewhere in the episode, the ginger wildling Tormund Giantsbane also arrived, and he discovered the “hey, we could die tomorrow” pickup strategy yields uneven results. Trying his best to woo “the big woman” in front of the pre-battle fire with tales of killing a giant as a child and being nursed by his widow — that kind of material kills north of the wall, by the way — Tormund wasn’t having much luck with Brienne, who was reckoning with her own unfamiliar feelings of affection with the return of Jaime.
Fresh from vouching for her former prisoner from a few seasons ago, Brienne was awkward with the shaggy-haired Jaime, and she could only hustle away after his pledge to serve under her command. But later, around that same fireplace, she explained tradition prevented a woman from knighthood, and Jaime offered to bestow the honor on her right there. After a graceful, equally human moment that altered tradition, Ser Brienne for the first time looked truly happy as the room applauded. Sorry, Tormund.
While this was another episode long on reunions, heartfelt exchanges and a light nostalgia (along with a few short jokes at Jon Snow’s expense), its most sharply rendered scene involved a meeting between two would-be monarchs. After Jorah defended Tyrion, whose standing as the most clever man in Westeros took another hit after foolishly trusting his sister, he then suggested Daenerys meet with Sansa to ease some tension in the kingdom.
The Mother of Dragons found common ground with Lady Stark through their shared leadership experience and backgrounds (“Families are complicated,” Sansa offered, which could have been the working title for George R.R. Martin’s books), and they bonded over feelings about Jon Snow. However, the summit was cut short as Sansa wanted answers about Daenerys’ plans for the North should she reclaim the Iron Throne. In this case, the would-be queen may have appreciated the interruption.
And, oh yeah, about that throne: After spending the bulk of the episode avoiding his aunt/lover, Jon finally met with Daenerys in the crypts below Winterfell. As they both stood, appropriately, before the tomb of his mother, the news landed as well as expected, and she skipped over the whole “Oops, I’ve slept with my family” issue pretty quickly before figuring out Jon — err, Aegon — was the rightful heir to the throne. (She’s a Targaryen too, after all, and they have a thing about maintaining the purity of their bloodline.)