Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Let me guess: Being the hard-charging, no-nonsense Editor-in-Chief that you are, you’re going to require more than just 1,000 words from me complaining that Brienne and Tormund didn’t have sex, right?
BECAUSE I HAVE THOSE 1,000 WORDS, JOSH. AND THEY ARE SCINTILLATING.
But look, I’ll put that aside for now. What we just witnessed was, I guess, another set-up episode (and kind of a bottle episode too, if you consider Winterfell one giant bottle, which I do), except with that added Eve of Destruction energy that clearly makes everyone randy enough to break out their own “this might be our last night in Westeros” pickup line. It worked for some (Arya and Gendry), and not for others (reminder to self: paste 1,000 words on Tormund and Brienne here), but in general this whole episode could be described as “let’s check in with everyone, multiple times and a little bit helter-skelter, before kickass director Miguel Sapochnik bursts through wall for episode 3, aka the battle against the dead.”
Plot-wise, what happened? Well, Jaime gets spared, mostly because Bran—sorry, the three-eyed raven—only made vague allusions to that time he pushed him out of the window and changed the course of history, rather than stating it outright and giving the dragons their next meal. Tormund and company return from Last Hearth courtesy of Dolorous Edd’s horses to let everyone know that A, the Lil’ Ned Umber performance art project had a terrific closing night, and B, the White Walkers will be on the scene in about 12 hours. And last, in a strategy session I felt could have been just a little longer, they all agreed to tie Bran to the Weirwood while he wears a sheep costume and bleats helplessly. The Night King wants him, because he’s the Three-Eyed Raven and the Three-Eyed Raven holds the memory of the world, and maybe when he comes for him a dragon can burn him or Arya can use all her many episodes of training with the Faceless Men to throw a spear at him.
(Or maybe—spoiler theory alert!—she’ll wear Bran’s face and trick the famously untrickable Night King???)
And that’s pretty much it for the plot, except for that teaser of a scene in the end when Jon—who is dumb, for a smart dude—didn’t wait until the VERY IMPORTANT FIGHT AGAINST THE DEAD was over to tell Daenerys the one extremely upsetting thing that might make her up and GTFO. Which, I might add, also marked the second time in as many episodes that this enormous revelation was dropped on a character, and then we cut away before we got to see them reckon with a bit of sensitive and somewhat fraught carnal knowledge. Here’s how I would have written that scene:
Daenerys: Jon, what gives? You’ve been avoiding me all episode like you just found out I was your aunt, or something.
Horn blows three times
Both, together: Let’s deal with this later.
The script deviated slightly from my vision, but the end result was the same: All parties agreed to defer, and soon the really big battle will be afoot.
Now, aside from story advancement, I thought there were several very cool moments here, Josh. My mind immediately goes to the knighting of Brienne (goosebumps), Jaime and Bran having a private convo at last (needed way more of that), Jaime finishing off the last of his 19 straight scenes by asking Brienne to fight for her, only to get the cold shoulder (a little unfair?), and everyone defending Tyrion as super-smart despite the fact that he clearly sucks as Hand of the Queen.
On that note, can I just say that as much as I love this show, and as much as I love Tyrion and will drink secret toasts to him for the duration, the writers might have been better off just killing him two seasons ago rather than completely and utterly failing to give him his due? What is Tyrion now? I hope he’ll have a redemptive moment, but of all the characters that have suffered the most once the HBO crew ran out of George R.R. Martin pages, the one who has devolved the most…is Littlefinger. But Tyrion is a close second! This is every Tyrion scene since he linked up with Daenerys:
Tyrion downs a full glass of wine in one sip
Tyrion: Where is Varys? I should like to make a jape about his lack of testicles!
Tyrion What if instead of attacking King’s Landing, we had the dragons fly into each other at full speed over and over until all of them died??
Seriously, it’s all drunkenness, bad jokes, and even worse strategy. It feels like the writers finally realized their error tonight, but their solution was to have everyone who should want him out of the way suddenly vouch for him instead. Feels lazy, and the more this goes on, the crazier his eventual redemption will have to be, to the point that I can’t possibly see him proving his worth to Daenerys unless he can ride a dragon and kill Cersei with a blow dart, or something.
Complaints aside, I legitimately enjoyed this episode, Josh. Is two episodes of set-up one too many, when you’re only working with six to begin with? Possibly. But I think they more or less succeeded at capturing the atmosphere of anticipation and fear, and I’ll admit to being totally curious at what will happen next week. Why is Theon guarding Bran? What will Arya do with her spear? And of course, who’s going to die?
But I’ll also say this: I think the writers have tipped their hand that, in fact, the entire battle against the dead is also a set-up. Maybe we always knew that, but there were too many hints tonight of tensions to come (between Dany and Sansa and Dany and Jon, among others) to view the battle against the dead as anything but a fait accompli. It will be cool to see how they win, but it’s no longer in doubt that they will win. And I kinddaaaa get the feeling we won’t get too many major deaths, beyond a Theon-type sacrifice or two.
I’ll kick it to you now Josh, with one final riddle…of sorts. Since we played MFK last week, let’s do it again, but this time with Pod the lover, Pod the suddenly-good fighter, and Pod the shockingly good singer. It may be the toughest choice you’ve faced yet.
This was an episode for the fans—we got more than an hour of little moments to enjoy with characters who may be dying soon. They know it. We know it. And so we’ll forgive the writers for allowing these scenes to stretch (like when the camera stays on Tormund as he shotguns a horn of “proper northern drink”) as we await the action next week. They’re enjoyable because we’ve gotten to know these characters over the previous seven seasons and watched them change.
And if last week was about family, this week was about personal growth. Tyrion, despite taking some lumps for his blunders, has come a long way from the drunken whoremonger who could barely be convinced to leave the brothel all those years ago. He’s now Hand of the Queen and celibate since the death of Shae. Jaime likewise has changed from the man who casually pushed Bran out the window in Season 1 to the humble soldier who honors his word and bestows knighthood on the woman who unwittingly guided his redemption.
Arya has obviously changed from the little girl pestering her siblings to a woman (though I was mentally begging HBO to show some restraint with the 22-year-old Maisie Williams’ first sex scene). She’s taken back control of her life in so many ways, and her seduction of Gendry was just one more example. Arya is all grown up—the deadliest weapon and now the quickest wit in all of Winterfell.
Jorah returns the north a reformed man and after refusing his father’s sword, still ends up with some Valerian steel. Theon finally takes Jon’s advice, embracing the part of him that was always a Stark and gets warmly welcomed by Sansa, the only person who understands the depths of his trauma. Even the Hound is a far cry from the ruthless bodyguard we met in Season One, something Arya has trouble accepting even if she knows it in her heart. The calm before the oncoming onslaught of the dead allowed us to see examples of how the living can transform themselves, and most of these scenes seemed designed to drive that point home. How much you enjoyed this episode has a lot to do with how much you’ve invested in these characters. I enjoyed it quite a lot, even if it did feel like the beginning of a goodbye.
That said, I understand your quibbles. I’m ready for Tyrion to be a hero once again, this time in a battle that we all want him to win. And I’d like for a longer conversation between Jon (er, Aegon) and Daenerys. Also, I really wish Maester Aemon was still with us, so he could meet his great-niece and learn that Jon was his great-great-nephew.
So now we come to a battle, something that Game of Thrones has delivered better than any TV show before it, and better than the vast majority of movies. Bran is bait and for once he doesn’t seem to know what’s going to happen, except that Jaime will play a vital role. Winterfell has rallied its defenses but stands overwhelmingly outnumbered. They’ve got planning, dragon glass and some tough fighters on their side, and Tyrion seems to be the only one who thinks that might be enough.
To answer your question, no matter how many times he saves Tyrion or how pretty his song was, the best Pod is Lover Pod.
Now a tougher one for you, who gets killed in Episode 3? There are a lot of options, but I want you to give me your most likely three.
I can’t pretend this is an original thought—as with most things I miss, it comes from the geniuses at Reddit—but here’s prediction number one for who gets killed next week:
Literally everyone in the crypts.
They went out of their way to mention the crypts a bunch of times as the safe house for all the non-fighters, and Davos even convinced the girl who reminded him of Shireen to take shelter there and protect her people. And we also have specific scenes where it’s determined that Bran and Sam won’t be in the crypts (nor will Lyanna Mormont, for the record), but Tyrion will.
But Josh, what else is in the crypts?
And what does the Night King do?
He raises dead people.
Now look, I have no idea if there’s a statute of limitations on who he can actually raise. Is it only people he and his wights killed first? Or is it literally anyone? If the latter is the case, you’d expect to see the dead climbing up from their graveyards all over Westeros and the North already, and we haven’t seen that (other than that one time in front of the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave…does that count, since the Night King wasn’t even there yet?), but I’m actually not sure if there are normal graveyards in Westeros, so I wouldn’t take solace quite yet. And I guess all I’m saying is, after all our Tyrion talk, he and everyone else might get killed by the bones of Ned Stark or his great-great-great-great-grandfather Ebenezer Jeroboam Aloysius Stark.
And let’s be honest, this would be a classic Game of Thrones reversal—spending all that time with the main characters deciding who gets to be safe below ground and who will be out in the open, only to make the “safe” ground the most dangerous by far.
So that’s prediction one, and along with it I’ll predict that Sam will be safe, but have to live with the death of Gilly and little Sam, while Bran also lives (he kinda has to) and Tyrion dies in some incredibly noble fashion. Yes, Josh, I’m going there. It makes too much sense—it’ll even inspire Jaime to avenge him, kill Cersei, and become Azor Ahai.
Death prediction number two: Tormund.
A lot of people are thinking that with all the good feelings around Brienne last night, the writers were telegraphing her death, but I’m going maverick here and saying that in fact, no, she will not die—it’s going to be Tormund. And his death scene will be powerful—I think he gets killed by a zombie giant, taking the giant out in the process—and as he’s dying, Brienne will be there and he’ll say something like, “will you send a dead man off with a kiss?” And we’ll get one last roguish Tormund grin, and maybe after the kiss he says something like, “we would have made beautiful babies. Great big monsters!” And then lights out.
And finally, I’ll take the obvious one: Theon’s a goner.
We’re all set up for a few massive sacrifices next weekend, but Theon is the most obvious, and one way or another, he’s going out a hero. There is absolutely no way the person assigned to guard Bran will make it to the end of the episode, especially when that person has been on a seasons-long redemption arc that practically demands his sacrificial death. Plus, it’s full circle—he lost his way when he turned against Bran, and now he’s going to protect him.
(On that note, may I quickly go back to the strategy session and point out one small shortcoming, which is that if you discover the one person who is more important than all the others because he is literally the memory of the world and the only thing standing between civilization and eternal night, maybe guard him with more than just one guy who A, previously betrayed him, and B, has a long history of cowardice ever since. MAYBE. Just a suggestion.)
I’ll ask you the same question about deaths, Josh, but before I kick it your way, a few random thoughts about last night that I can’t leave alone:
1. You are not alone in being a litttttttle uncomfortable with the Arya sex scene. I know she’s technically an adult and all that, but Arya has been such an asexual character for so long, and still looks enough like the girl from the season one, that you and I were joined by millions across the country thinking, “please let this be over quickly.” And, amazingly, HBO did show some restraint, which is a minor miracle. That said, there is now a very decent chance that Gendry dies next week and Arya is pregnant with his child.
2. Tormund’s “giantsbane” monologue was fantastic, made even more so by the fact that absolutely nobody in that crowd gave him any encouragement, but he didn’t show even a moment’s hesitation. The ale-quaffing was similarly great, and though Ser Davos has been reduced mostly to quips so far this season, he nailed it with, “maybe I will have that drink.”
3. The only characters that leave me guessing as to their purpose right now are Beric and the Hound. We haven’t seen a ton from them this season yet, and while it feels like Theon and a few others are set up for a special purpose, I can’t quite figure what’s left for those two. I’m especially curious about the Hound, and I get the feeling he’ll survive to go south and take on his brother in the infamous, long-awaited CleganeBowl.
That’s all I’ve got Josh—who’s on your death list? And what am I forgetting from an all-around enjoyable episode?
It would make a lot of sense for the Night King to make some dry bones dance, and HBO was kind of teasing that in all the previews leading up to this season, but somehow that never occurred to me. And then there was a lot of time spent talking about who’s going to be in the crypt and who’s not this episode, with Samwell, Lyanna Mormont, Tyrion and the little girl in the soup line all arguing to stay outside and fight (only half successfully). Jon and Arya have to be part of that fight, though, right? A mad rush against all odds into the crypt to protect the innocent against their reanimated ancestors? I’m betting against everyone down there just getting slaughtered. Not little Sam.
I agree on Tormund, though. As much as we’ve all stanned for the giant babies, Brienne’s heart belongs to another, and Tormund is the opposite of her type. Tormund’s death was teased out three times last season before miraculous saves. And he had the most obvious “make us all love him more” scene last night that might telegraph a goodbye.
If I were to pick another candidate for next week, it would be for Dolorous Edd’s watch to end. The scene with the three remaining members of Jon’s gang of crows looked like it was telegraphing a further reduction in their numbers to two. I predict he’ll die fighting side-by-side with Tormund.
I’m also going to predict the “death” of a lot of dead warriors at the hands of Arya Stark. We’re going to see just what her new weapon can do.
Next week is the longest episode left at 82 minutes. I’m curious if all 82 minutes will be at Winterfell or if we’ll get reprieves from the action to see what Cersei and Yara are up to. I’m betting the former. Expect a breathless battle episode that makes Hardhome look like a skirmish.
In the meantime, please don’t die George R.R. Martin.
Listen to Shane and Josh talk more about the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones on The Paste Podcast this week, available on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or the new app from our podcast partner Himalaya.
Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.