Let me get this out of the way up top, I am and have always been a sucker for bottle episodes. While your mileage may vary and I can understand being disappointed if you were expecting more plot than character payoffs, this was everything I could have asked for in a prelude to the devastation we all know is coming. Only one location this week, so let’s get into it.
I don’t know what Jaime thought was going to happen, but the Kingslayer showed up about 19,999 soldiers short on the bill and was immediately hemmed up and brought to trial after arriving in Winterfell like a thief in the night. Daenerys was ready to feed Drogon the man who killed her father (and if he kept pushing it, a side of Tyrion), and Sansa was all too ready to help before Brienne of Tarth stepped in to vouch for him. Finally giving respect to the depths of their relationship, her word was enough for the Lady of Winterfell and Jon, who wants NO smoke between his sister and his love, is just happy to have another hand in the fight. He exits stage left, giving Dany the cold shoulder as soon as she bangs the gavel, ignoring his beloved like he’s 1995 Dumbledore.
Ratbag, slave trader, creepy old pervert Jorah, who for some reason is still hanging around, managed to convince Daenerys to save Tyrion’s head and job as Hand for now and also advised her to have a direct conversation with Sansa instead of ruling by exchanging petty looks. In an overdue change, we’re getting to the point and having characters act like adults instead of talking about each other this season. There is a thawing of relations, as the two powerful leaders find common ground and Sansa explains that her standoffish nature is less about Dany specifically and more about ensuring the protection of her people.
She knows men do stupid things in love (and out of love) and while the Dragon must have three heads, Sansa wants to make sure her people are protected should Jon make decisions with the wrong one. She apologizes for the lack of formalities last episode, but isn’t here for the kiki and wants to know what will happen to the North after the battle with the dead. Dany is as non-committal as Stevie J, but her answer is cut short by the arrival of Theon back in Winterfell. I didn’t like the looks Sansa and Theon were exchanging here, but hopefully it’s just the bonds of friendship and not a more romantic suggestion. I have never seen it for Theon, his redemption arc, shipping him with anyone other than death, or as a staff, record label, and a MFing crew and I’m not about to start now.
The Night’s Watch and Brotherhood Without Banners holdouts (primarily Tormund and Dolorous Edd) made their way to Winterfell from the disaster with the Umbers at Last Hearth less than a day ahead of the army of the Dead. With all the expected players finally assembled, the armies of the living try to come up with some sort of strategy, and their plan centers around setting up Bran as bait to get the Night King in the open. For the first time we begin to get some sense of what the White Walkers may actually want, and chief among that is killing Bran as the holder of living memory. Theon volunteers to guard him, which means he’s as good as dead, but no great loss there. Breaking up the war council, Jon avoids Dany again, still having not told her about being first in line for the throne.
After experiencing even more microaggressions, Missandei and Grey Worm realize they’ll never be welcomed in Westeros, and being disgusted with the racism, make plans to retire somewhere warm and safe when this is all over. Which means they’re going to die. BUT THEY’D BETTER NOT! I need someone to rescue them and fly them to Wakanda. By the old Gods and the new.
GHOST BYKE! They finally remembered Jon’s closest companion and friend was not one of the direwolves they needlessly killed, as Winterfell is transformed to the Wall South. We see Jon, Edd, and Sam once again as the Watchers on the Wall, this time atop the Starks’ castle, reflecting on all they’ve seen and mourning their fallen brothers Grenn and Pyp. Inside, Jaime and Tyrion are also going down memory lane, which turns into a fireside chat joined by Brienne, Podrick (who Neville Longbottom’d ALL the way up), Tormund, and Davos. Tormund tries to measure his dick against Jaime and teaches the children about the virtues of calcium.
Trading war stories and all this unlikely group have survived to this point, Tormund — ever the feminist — is disgusted that Brienne is not yet a knight. After she downplays how much the honor would mean to her, Jaime realizes it’s past due and as an anointed knight himself, commands Brienne to kneel as he confers the honor upon her. There’s a touching bit of hesitation on her part, as a woman who has been taunted all her life has to pause to see if this is just another mockery, but in a stirring and surprisingly intimate scene, she finally attains her lifelong goal. Which, unfortunately, means she’s also going to die.
Atop the walls, the Hound and Arya are having another one of their stilted, yet loving conversations, during which Sandor Clegane admits fighting for her changed him. However, being interrupted by Lord Beric reminds Arya there’s somewhere she’d rather be and goes to find Gendry. After stalking her prey and realizing Gendry is here for her murderous ways and still as fine as ever, she drops all pretense and asks his body count as she starts stripping, deciding she wants to celebrate Easter Sunday by hopping on that boy right there in the forge. Our little baby psychopath is all grown up and made good on six years of lust.
Outside, Lady Lyanna Mormont read her cousin Jorah for filth for even fixing his mouth to tell her anything. Unfortunately, the scene did NOT end with her banishing him from the North and our sight, but with Sam rewarding the worthless weasel with the Tarly family’s Valyrian steel sword “Heartsbane” in memory of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. Back at the fire, Podrick channels his inner Pippin from Lord of the Rings and uses his gifted pipe, er…pipes to sing on the verge of battle. As we see a montage of loving couples (and Sansa x Theon) spending their last night together, we end with Daenerys finally walking up on Jon in the crypts as he stares at his mother’s statue. Jon finally tells her the truth about Rhaegar and Lyanna, and by extension, himself. Instantly, the love leaves Dany’s eyes and she looks at Jon now as a threat and rival, growing colder than the winter outside. Before they can finish their conversation however, they are interrupted by horn blasts. The dead are here. It’s. About. To. Go. DOWN!
With next week’s “Battle of Winterfell” bearing constant comparisons to the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers, it’s interesting that this episode should share so much in common tonally with The Return of the King: a kingdom on the edge of war, awaiting its inevitable destruction before the dawnless day. The episode posits that life is intrinsically linked to memory and history. What better way to spend a last night with the forces of the living than by reminiscing. The last enemy that must be defeated is death, but the battle is not lost as long as the memory of what was lost is preserved.
Book-Specific Notes: I try to keep theories and predictions (at least those informed by the text) separate for the particularly spoiler-averse, so read on at your own discretion. The choice to use Jenny of Oldstones for Podrick to sing before the battle was potentially telling. For a refresher, this is also the song that Tom of Sevenstreams sings as payment to the Ghost of High Heart for her visions. The song laments the Tragedy of Summerhall, which saw the death of several legendary figures, but was also the night Jon’s father (and Daenerys’s brother) Rhaegar Targaryen was born. The Jenny of the song is the wife of Duncan Targaryen, who gave up his claim to succession and chance to rule the Iron Throne out of love. It's also strongly hinted that the Ghost of High Heart is the same witch who made the prophecy that The Prince That Was Promised would come from that specific Targaryen lineage.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the show is tipping its hand yet, but there are a number of interesting parallels. But also, the lyrics might spell trouble for those that we saw in the montage as Pod sang:
High in the halls of the kings who are gone
Jenny would dance with her ghosts.
The ones she had lost and the ones she had found
And the ones who had loved her the most.