Some people watch Game of Thrones purely for the swords, sex and dragons, others for the political manoeuvring, character interplay and dense themes. Most fall somewhere in between, but for those who are of the latter persuasion, this was as good as Game of Thrones gets.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms was a delight from start to finish. The most satisfying storytelling the show has delivered since at least three seasons ago and quite possibly in the show’s entire run. There were no dragons, no deaths and only a smidge of sex; but it contained the most important element: well-written, nuanced and believable characters.
While nearly every episode before (bar a select one or two) has had to navigate its cast being spread out across a wide imaginary map, trying to tell countless stories simultaneously, now Game of Thrones has reached the endgame. This episode took place entirely within and around the walls of Winterfell with that once far-flung cast all converged for a shared purpose.
The writing staff on a TV show rarely works as siloed entities, with individuals being able to claim sole responsibility for each episode. But the touch that writer Bryan Cogman displayed throughout this episode was glorious.
Cogman has been on the show since the very beginning, starting off as the assistant to showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss. After graduating to a full writing credit, he has become a favourite amongst the fandom for his encyclopaedic knowledge and passion for the world of Westeros. (Case in point: the episode title is taken from a collection of George RR Martin’s novellas).
But knowing about a character is very different from knowing who they really are as a person. The longer the show has gone past its source material, the more it has struggled to remember what is at the core of these characters’ motivations.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms found Game of Thrones finally remembering who its characters are. John Locke theorised that personal identity is founded on a continuity of consciousness, or memory. It’s apt that Bran in this episode stated that the Night King wants to not only kill everyone, but to destroy the memory of man’s existence.
We remember how Daenerys is driven to claim the Iron Throne not just by an altruistic notion of humane leadership, but by a burning passion to claim vengeance for the murder of her family and fall into poverty.
We remember that Arya was once a sweet and playful girl who had to grow under the watchful eye of death; a girl who came of age physically but not emotionally or sexually.
We remember that Theon spent his entire life in Winterfell growing up with the Starks, but never able to be counted as one.
We remember that Jamie was once a shameless and ruthless superstar swordsman, or that Tyrion was a whore-mongering layabout.
In the episode’s best moment, we remember that Brienne is much more than a mindless protector but driven by a desire to be respected as an equal in a male-dominated world.
We remembered where all of these character started off when we first met them, the tribulations they’ve endured and why they are holed up in a snow-bound castle awaiting almost certain death. We remember so many of the reasons why so many people have fallen in love with this story.
With the heavily billed ‘largest battle scene ever filmed’ to come next week, this will be the last time we spend with many of these characters, while the rest will only be with us a few more weeks. But once Game of Thrones concludes we will be left with these moments of inspired television.