“We’re all gonna die.”
As we draw near the end of this sprawling saga, nearly all our heroes and villains are on a collision course at Winterfell. The good guys can read the scoreboard. They know their odds are slim. And indeed, throughout the episode, nearly everyone lets out a sigh and admits the obvious: death is coming.
In a way, this episode was self-aware. Even if the Night King goes down, even if the living prevail, all of these characters will cease to exist on May 19. The end is coming for this story. And these great characters will join Walter White, Tony Soprano, and Omar Little among the pantheon of great TV icons.
While last week was all about logistics – moving the pieces into place, this week focused on the show’s greatest strength – allowing those pieces to interact as only they can. While so much of this series has focused on guile and deception, this episode saw all the characters drop their armor and be vulnerable. And what a thing to behold.
The episode begins with the Jaime Lannister Apology Tour. He stands before everyone in the Great Hall of Winterfell and proclaims his allegiance to the side of the living. Brienne vouches for him. This is enough to convince Sansa to suggest a reprieve for all his crimes. Daenerys agrees. Bran offers more helpful weirdness with his monotone recitation of the last words Jaime said before shoving him out a window: “The things we do for love.”
Dany gives Tyrion a tongue lashing, furious that Cersei lied about sending reinforcements. Tyrion admits he probably shouldn’t have trusted her, but later tells Jaime he thought Cersei’s pregnancy might have provided a rare moment of honesty.
Arya stops by the forges to take a long gander at Gendry, pounding away at softened steel with his massive hammer. (Foreshadowing alert!) She asks if he’s made her custom weapon yet. Then she presses him for details on what it’s like to fight the army of the dead.
Gendry is a blacksmith, not a wordsmith, so he fumbles around before finally declaring that the dead are “like death.” Somehow, this turns Arya on because she’s all about the many-faced god and she’s jazzed to see this particular death face. Then she whips three dragonglass daggers at the same spot on the wall.
Jaime continues his contrition caravan by stopping by the Godswood to make amends to Bran. Bran admits there are no hard feelings, especially since both of them have changed. Bran tells Jaime he looks forward to his help in the war to come. “What about afterwards?” Jaime asks.
“How do you know there is an afterwards?” Bran replies. (Someone needs to dub in a record scratch after everything that kid says. He’s like the love child of Debbie Downer and Ben Stein.)
Jaime and Tyrion walk through Winterfell while the northmen spit at them. The brothers chat about their sister and how, despite that baby, Cersei’s gonna Cersei. They climb the wall and Tyrion delivers his blunt assessment: “So we’re going to die at Winterfell.”
On that cheerful note, Jaime spots Brienne training some soldiers. He walks over to offer his services: “I came to Winterfell because I’m not the fighter I used to be, but I’d be honored to serve under your command if you’ll have me.” Brienne is beyond touched.
Jorah visits Dany to suggest that she forgive Tyrion the way she forgave him. It’s a brief scene, but still powerful. The “game” part of “Game of Thrones” is over. In another circumstance, Jorah might have lobbied for his old position as Hand of the Queen. Now, faced with death, Jorah believes their best chance is the smartest man.
Jorah also urges Dany to make peace with Sansa. The two women meet and share a laugh. Although Sansa claims that women can manipulate men, Daenerys explains that she’s only there to fight this war because of Jon, so manipulation can work both ways.
While it looks like a truce may be coming, things turn frosty when the subject turns to the world after this battle. Sansa’s eye is on the North, Daenerys is focused on the Iron Throne. All this talk about what happens after the coming apocalypse is the one weak spot in this episode. It’s like last season when the showrunners tried to convince us that Arya might turn heel and murder Sansa. They’re trying to inject tension where it doesn’t quite fit. This episode was strongest when focused on the coming battle against the dead, not jockeying for political position after the fact. To quote Bran, “How do you know there is an afterwards?”
Theon appears and basically replays Jaime’s beat from the beginning of the episode. “Sorry I murdered all those people. Can I fight for you now?” He gets an easier pass as Sansa hugs him immediately.
Davos somehow drew the short straw, so he’s ladling out soup to the various folks at Winterfell. A little girl with a skin problem shows up to grab a bowl and Davos thinks back to his pseudo-daughter with a dermatological condition – Shireen Baratheon. (Remember, her parents burned her alive to please the Lord of Light.) Gilly convinces the little girl that her fighting skills could be better put to use in the crypt.
Edd, Beric, and Tormund arrive at Winterfell and Tormund provides a legit jump-scare by pouncing on Jon. They deliver the news about the dead people at the Last Hearth and explain that they outraced the army of the dead. By sunrise, they estimate, the battle will be on. (Gulp.)
Our heroes gather to discuss the battle plan. Jon believes that killing the Night King should wipe out the entire army. Bran explains that because the Night King touched him, he basically has zombie LoJack on him. Bran plans to wait in the Godswood while the Night King zeroes in on him. Why? “He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory.” Theon volunteers to defend Bran, so, uh, goodbye, Theon.
As the war council continues, Dany tells Tyrion he needs to hang in the crypt with the weakest folks. Tyrion protests, but Dany says she’ll need his mind if they can survive this fight. You have to wonder about that strategy. Tryion has proven his skill as a battle commander. (That reminds us, if only they had some wildfire lying around, that would come in handy against the White Walkers.) Tyrion relents.
Tormund wraps up the meeting on a high note, leering at Brienne and saying, “We’re all going to die, but at least we’ll die together.” Meeting adjourned!
Grey Worm and Missandei share a moment where they realize these northmen are racist as hell. Missandei says if they survive all this, she’d love to go home to the beaches of Naath. Grey Worm explains he’s just a few days from retirement, so this is a very logical plan that will totally work out. All this scene was missing was a discussion of possible names for their as-yet-unborn children. (Also missing: Grey Worm’s penis, but we digress.)
Jon, Edd, and Sam share a moment atop the walls of Winterfell, reminiscing about the Night’s Watch Class of 2011. Grenn and Pyp are long gone. (So long gone, you probably don’t even remember them anymore.) The three men share some gallows humor, now preparing to defend a much smaller set of walls against a much larger threat. You know things are serious because they don’t even take a moment to talk trash about Alliser Thorne or Olly or Janos Slynt. (Every true reunion involves reminiscing about the worst people you know collectively.)
Arya visits the Hound and Beric and they think back to that fun day when Arya wanted the Hound dead, but Clegane chopped Beric in half, but Thoros brought him back to life, then the Hound went free, and Arya flipped her lid. Fed up with these two old dudes, Arya goes hunting for some end-of-the-world sex.
Arya finds Gendry who, at long last, has finished her Darth Maul-style double-bladed dragonglass murder stick. Since death is right around the corner, she figures she might as well try the whole sex thing. She pounces on Gendry. For her sake, we hope he’s more hammer than Needle, if you know what we mean.
Jorah tries to convince Lyanna Mormont (his cousin) to stay out of the battle, but the tiny leader of Bear Island has no such plans. Sam arrives to hand Jorah his Valyrian steel family sword, Heartsbane.
Quick sidebar about Valyrian steel: Remember, other than dragonglass, it’s the only way to kill a White Walker. (Maybe fire can work, but that has yet to be seen.)
Current Valyrian steel weapons in circulation:
Heartsbane: Sam’s father, Randyll Tarly, enjoyed pointing out that Sam would never wield the family sword. Sam stole it when he ran off to the Citadel with Gilly. Now, Jorah Mormont has it.
Longclaw: This was originally in the hands of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (Jorah’s father). He gave the sword to Jon.
Oathkeeper: This sword is one of two forged from the steel of Ned Stark’s melted-down sword, “Ice.” Tywin Lannister gifted it to Jaime, who gave it to Brienne.
Widow’s Wail: This is the other sword made from Ned’s old weapon. It was a gift to Joffrey Baratheon on his wedding day. (He used it to chop up a rare book Tyrion gave him, then slashed up a pie full of live birds because he was an absolute nightmare.) After his death by poison, his uncle/father Jaime claimed the sword.
Unnamed Valyrian steel dagger: Arya is currently packing this nimble little weapon. It first appeared in an assassin’s hand as he tried to kill Bran after his Season 1 fall. Catelyn Stark took it to King’s Landing, where Littlefinger lied and claimed it belonged to Tyrion Lannister, which kicked off a bit of drama. Littlefinger eventually gave the dagger to Bran, who regifted it to Arya.
We assume those weapons will be important to keep track of in the battle to come.
Against the backdrop of Arya’s sex and Sam’s sword-bequeathing, we see several scenes taking place in front of a roaring fire inside the castle. Tyrion and Jaime reminisce about old times. Soon, they’re joined by Tormund, Davos, Brienne, and Podrick. Tormund whips out an absolutely incredible story about why his last name is Giantsbane:
“I killed a giant when I was 10. Then I climbed right into bed with his wife. When she woke up, you know what she did? Suckled me at her teat for three months. Thought I was her baby. That’s how I got so strong. Giant’s milk.“
Tormund lifts a horn of milk to his lips and, well, we’ll let the actual closed captioning explain what happens next:
In a touching scene, Brienne explains that she’s not a knight because women are not allowed to be. Jaime notes that any knight can knight another person, so he blesses Brienne with the honor. Tears fill her eyes. She gives a genuine smile.
Harkening back to those scenes when Tyrion would convince his companions to play a drinking game or tell jokes, he asks if anyone can offer a song. At long last, Podrick pipes up. As he sings, we cut around Winterfell, catching glimpses of our beloved characters, many surely in their last hours. When you’re all out of words, music is all that’s left.
In the crypts of Winterfell, Jon explains the truth of his parentage to Dany. She’s freaked out and not sure she can believe him. And then, as if any of this matters, she blurts out, “If it were true, it would make you the last male heir of House Targaryen. You’d have a claim to the Iron Throne.” It’s really weird that Dany is so focused on the potential leadership structure of a world none of them may live to see. It’s like when the ’85 Bears recorded the “Super Bowl Shuffle” two months before the game. Maybe focus on the battle first and worry about your novelty rap single (or monarchy distribution) after the fact.
While Dany is focused on all the wrong stuff, a horn blares and everyone races to the walls. The dead are here. Winter has come to Winterfell. Next week, bodies hit the floor.
This episode shared echoes with the greatest scene in “Jaws.” It begins with the three shark hunters in a boat, comparing scars and sharing stories of old adventures…
…which leads into the terrifying story of how Quint survived the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the subsequent shark attacks…
…and when the story ends and the reality of the danger sinks in, there’s nothing left to do but sing…
All of those beats were repeated in this wonderful episode, one that draws on the strengths of seven seasons of character development, pulls us in close, and prepares to rip our hearts out.
We live in an era of entertainment where giant CGI battles dazzle our eyes but leave us cold. The deaths of a million computer-generated characters mean nothing compared to the death of one character we’ve grown to love. That’s the beauty of this series. At the heart of every battle is a character we love or loathe. In some cases, we’re rooting for players on both sides of the war. And all of these characters have lost something. In that loss, they are united. No matter who or what they lost, they now stand to lose their lives. So it’s time to team up or shut up.
An episode like this is rare in television. But it was a wonderful payoff for all those who have come to love this series. No matter what happens in next week’s battle, the viewers are the true winners.
Final score: 4 out of 4 stars
Bold prediction: Because we have not seen the Night King this season, we’re guessing he’s not going to hit Winterfell, but rather attack the Iron Islands or King’s Landing while the rest of his zombies jump on our heroes. With three episodes still ahead after next week, it seems too early to end the threat he poses. (It also doesn’t make sense for the dead army to snuff out everyone at Winterfell, so the safe bet is some sort of mixed result – a bunch of dead zombies, a bunch of dead heroes, but a greater threat still waiting.)
Another prediction: They’re shoving everyone in the crypts where it’s “safe.” They’re facing an army that can raise dead people back to life. The crypts are going to be an absolute bloodbath.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, the online betting site Bovada will let you wager on whether or not next week’s first death of a living character will occur before or after the 15-minute mark. Either way, we’re in for a long night.