Foreboding but not quite funereal, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” felt like the last moment of calm before a great calamity. And certainly it is: episode three of Game of Thrones’ final season promises the start of a conflict we’ve been alternately fearing and waiting for since the series began - the fight between the living and the dead. Winter is most definitely here. The odds against our heroes are grim. And the episode’s understated humor and consistent compassion only highlighted the reason its stakes feel so tremendous: these are characters who, good or bad, villainous or virtuous, have arrived at a crossroads, and the coming war will test the lessons they have learned across the past seven seasons.
To some extent, the episode felt a bit like an hourlong version of those scenes in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers right before the battle of Helm’s Deep, and in Return of the King prior to the siege on Minas Tirith. Many scenes took place of the characters gathering together in solidarity and support, to make last minute preparations - and often, resolutions - and steel themselves for a battle against a foe that seems, to put it mildly, formidable. As the episode opens, Jamie confronts his own past upon arriving in Winterfell, revisiting his many conquests and kills via the righteous and well-earned fury of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), not to mention Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright). But as he joins the army and prepares for battles, he slowly acknowledges two truths that would in other circumstances be earth-shattering: he’s abandoned his family to fight with his sworn enemy, and he’s not as good at fighting as he used to be.
Daenerys, though committed to the cause of defeating the Night King, remains preoccupied by the comparatively petty grievances of the past, starting with Jamie. But even as she attempts to mend fences with Sansa, the Lady of Winterfell reminds her that the proud and obstinate people of the North will not readily bow to her when and if the fight ends with the defeat of the Night King’s forces and Daenerys installed upon the throne. Daenerys’ bearings are further disrupted after finally learning that she is Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) aunt, but more importantly, he is the last male heir to the throne of Targaryen - placing his claim above hers. Certainly the show’s interruption of these scenes is at this moment a necessity - neither Sansa’s nor Jon’s revelation can be satisfactorily explored, or resolved, on the eve of battle. But there’s something almost comical about the repeated rescue from confronting harsh truths with news of more immediate concerns.
The show’s kindness to its characters this week thankfully emphasized not just female equality but agency. As tiresome as some of the female sniping has been (particularly between Sansa and Daenerys) thus far, the motivation was finally sketched out in details that both alleviated cliched acrimony and made their simmering conflict more practical-oriented. Though they grilled up the beef over Jon’s feelings for Daenerys (and hers for him), what remains is the question of what happens, again, should they emerge victorious at the end of that war. Meanwhile, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) receives an unexpected gesture of solidarity from Jamie after he offers to fight for her on the battlefield, and later, when Jamie makes her a knight - a dream she dared not have. It is to the credit of the show itself and to Christie’s performance that the honor is not just deserved but overdue, and it provides a powerful kind of recognition in this patriarchal system to bestow that upon her as she is about to lead Winterfell’s armies into battle.
And then, finally, there’s Arya (Maisie Williams), whose flirtation with Gendry (Joe Dempsie) began pre-sexually as an act of chivalry seasons ago, and culminates here with her deciding that she wants to experience sex at least once before going out to quite possibly face her death. Having not only reached the age of consent (to us, anyway), but experienced virtually every other “adult” benchmark within this world, Arya’s curiosity is entirely understandable, and reasonable. And best of all, it is consensual and with a person she’s not related to - a classification far too few sexual encounters sometimes fall into on the show.
But ultimately, there was a certain sort of kindness that prevailed over so many of the exchanges in the episode - a temporary salve, or perhaps a mutual recognition from different characters to provide comfort in the face of absolute evil. Sansa’s reaction to Theon (Alfie Allen) after he returns to fight, and die, for the Starks. Jorah’s (Iain Glen) plea to Daenerys to forgive and understand Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) after his guidance faltered - and Daenerys’ subsequent kindness to Tyrion. The brief reunion of Jon’s fellow soldiers from the Night’s Watch. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) making plans for after the war. Brienne’s adorably failed attempt at professional courtesy when Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) joins Tyrion’s drinking group around the fireplace, as well as Tormund’s conspicuous attempt to showcase his masculinity to the woman he loves. And Samwell’s extraordinary clarity and empathy, first when he reminds the council that their humanity is the real thing they are protecting, and then later when he gives Jorah his family’s sword in recognition of the older man’s prowess and skill as a warrior.
The episode ended beautifully as Podrick sang “Jenny’s Song,” a distant but beautiful echo of Pippin’s “A Walking Song” during Faramir’s futile siege on Osgiliath in Return of the King, itself an expression of resignation and fate in the face of impending tragedy. Meanwhile, next week promises to be one of the series’ most dramatic - the battle with the army of the dead will take many lives, likely including those of characters we’ve come to care deeply about. But “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” underscores all of the truly important details that make that inevitable loss meaningful by skillfully reminding us who they are and why we care in the first place.