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As Game of Thrones rushes toward the finish line, time is running out for predictions about how David Benioff and Dan Weiss’ fantasy epic will end. Enter: Before the Storm, a weekly column wherein The Hollywood Reporter‘s Westeros guru Josh Wigler and THR‘s chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg put on their Valyrian foil hats and muse aloud about the next steps of the story.
This week, Wigler and Fienberg take one last look back at “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” written by Bryan Cogman, featuring some of the happiest and most peaceful moments in the HBO drama’s entire run — all before the doom and gloom of the coming Winterfell war. Did the final season’s second episode all but guarantee death for Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), for instance, due to his promise to protect Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) in the future? How worried should the audience be for Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) following her moment of intimacy with Gendry (Joe Dempsie)? Read on for their thoughts on those subject and more, as Wigler and Fienberg do their best to see what’s coming next in the much hyped battle episode. Read the first edition of Before the Storm here.
Josh Wigler: We’re almost two full hours removed from Bran Stark’s declaration that inspired your “Winterfell” review: “We don’t have time for all this!” And yet, we’re now on the other side of yet another final season installment defined more by quiet character moments than the fire and blood many fans crave. Not a single death this week, which might be a first; a rarity, at the least. With that said, looking at reactions online in the immediate aftermath of the episode, a lot of the folks who were critical of the season premiere’s relatively relaxed pace were much more in favor of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” How did it sit with you? And why do you think this episode may have worked well for people who were turned off by the premiere?
Daniel Fienberg: It’s funny, because I spent a lot of the episode pondering whether I could have trimmed 15 minutes from the premiere and 10 minutes from this second episode to form one 85-minute premiere that might have achieved a combination of place-setting (since that’s mostly what the premiere was) and looming disaster (since that’s mostly what the second episode was) that might have been equally, or possibly more, satisfying with even more efficiency. It’s interesting how these exact same circumstances could have been played for urgency — THERE ARE FREAKING ZOMBIES COMING! — and instead the episode went for earnest reflection and, as with the first episode, I was able to excuse a pacing that invited dour melancholy because I loved so many of the individual interactions. And I really did love so many of the character interactions, but let’s be honest Josh, might you have still gotten the point with three or four fewer direct references to pending death and to the journeys that each character had to take to get to this point?
Wigler: You know, I actually could have done with more! I found myself craving better scenes for Jon Snow and Daenerys, beyond them brooding over the consequences of the Targaryen reveal. But I was happy to spend so much time with so many second-stringers, and I include Tyrion on that list; the show hasn’t known what to do with Peter Dinklage since he crossed paths with Daenerys, but putting him in a series of drink-ups with new and old friends? That’s the sweet spot. Everything that happened around the fireplace filled me with immense joy, from Tormund Giantsbane putting Luke Skywalker’s milk-drinking to shame through the Podrick song and everything in between. I’m hard pressed to think about a scene that filled me with more joy than Jaime knighting Brienne, a tremendous payoff to two characters who have wrestled with the notion of “honor,” on systemic and personal levels. It’s a high point of the episode for me, and one of the high points of the series as well. Of course, all the happy moments are in here just to make us extra sad when everyone dies on Sunday night, right?
Fienberg: I have, indeed, heard that they could all die. I feel the same way about the Jon and Dany — look at you showing off that you know how to type “Daenerys” correctly the first time around — revelation that I felt about Sam telling Jon in the premiere, namely “Thank God they didn’t drag that out.” Of course, Dany may not be all that perceptive about social cues — I’m pretty sure she misread every beat of her “Sisters are doing it for themselves” confab with Sansa — but she knows that when a man can’t look her in the eyes something is up, and Jon was getting mighty squirmy. So I appreciated that they got it out of the way early-ish, and I loved that her first reaction was, “Wait, so does this mean you think the Iron Throne is yours?” rather than “Ew! Maybe we shouldn’t have sex tonight!” which may be the most Westerosi reaction imaginable. When we say “second-stringers,” are we just saying any character not named “Stark” or “Targaryen”? If so, I’d like to add several great moments, including: Davos, The Onion Knight, serving soup, Lyanna and Jorah having a Mormont family reunion and Brienne’s beat of pride at how well she’s trained Podrick. Are we total ghouls for expecting/hoping/assuming that next week’s episode is going to claim the lives of a half-dozen major or semi-major characters? Are you going to be annoyed if the only person who dies next week is Grey Worm, who committed the cardinal sin of discussing his future plans?
Wigler: First, if I don’t know how to spell “Daenerys” correctly on the first try at this point (or “Jaime” for that matter), then what am I doing here? As for getting annoyed… I don’t know what I want out of this next episode, honestly. I am not a bloodthirsty man; it’s not that I want to see heads rolling, especially as they fall from the bodies of characters I love. That said, we’re left with only three episodes after whatever rampage occurs at Winterfell this week. Feels like the right time to start culling the cast, slimming down the storyline and getting us in a place where knots can be untied. I’ve made my predictions for who’s going to die, and I’ve sketched out some possibilities for how the forces at Winterfell can win the day … and I don’t know that I have a rooting interest in either outcome, because there are ways to be satisfied no matter who wins the battle. With or without the White Walkers (now picturing Arya Stark passing by the window at an Amtrak station), there’s still Cersei and the Iron Throne to deal with, a storyline that can work well for me with the Night King in play or already destroyed. I’m betting he’s alive, but at the end of the day, I’m here for the unexpected — and at this point, the unexpected outcome would be a mid-final season end to the White Walkers. All that said, I can’t imagine leaving Sunday night without losing some series regulars. Grey Worm, for sure. Anyone you have your eye on?
Fienberg: Grey Worm is obvious White Walker kibble. I’m not sure how mortal Beric Dondarrion is at the moment, but his death — permanently or temporarily — seems highly plausible. I’d expect us to say goodbye to that guy from The Wall with the beard whose name I never remember? Oh right. Dolorous Edd. I liked him much more in the book. The series has never really captured his sense of humor. But those are mostly small potatoes. I feel like somebody bigger has to go, but almost everybody is earmarked for the bigger Iron Throne-related fight and if somebody like Lyanna Mormont dies, fans will stage their own uprising and march on HBO’s office upon their own zombie horses. But, like, Jaime can’t die because he has to have one last showdown with Cersei. Gendry can’t die because he’s got at least one Phil Donahue-style DNA test ahead of him as everybody stakes their Iron Throne claim. Theon? Is he big enough? I’d be very worried about Theon right now. He’s nearly made a full transition from heel-to-hero, but he’s still got one step to go and that’s self-sacrifice in the name of Winterfell. If this were a horror movie, I’d be very worried about Arya because of what she did this week. Jason Voorhees would definitely have it out for Arya. That’s what I call transition. Let’s talk about Arya and that thing she did this week.
Wigler: Let’s! Everyone had a reaction to the sex scene between Arya and Gendry. We’ve watched the Stark children grow up before our very eyes over the better part of a decade, way past my field of vision, in the case of Isaac Hempstead Wright. I understand from that perspective why some folks winced at an Arya sex scene. At the same time, did those same viewers flinch when Arya stabbed Meryn Trant in both eyes, stuffed a rag down his mouth, then slit his throat wide open? Or when she slit Walder Frey’s throat wide open one season later, minutes after feeding him a pie filled with his own family members? I’d be curious to know the overlap on those reactions. Arya is a deeply damaged individual, one who has had to live in kill or be killed mode for most of her life, and has opted for a liberal lean on the former option through much of Thrones. As she’s returned to Winterfell, she’s struggled to reconcile her killer instinct and well-earned trust issues, now that she’s surrounded by people who love and trust her. The Sansa conflict last season waded in these waters, rather clumsily. It’s working much better for me this season. I love seeing Arya attempt to find some shred of normalcy again, whether it’s fully backing her sister or finally seizing a romantic moment with the boy she idolized when she was a kid. Jaime Kennedy circa Scream would be screaming at his television set, thinking Arya just bought herself a one-way ticket on the White Walker express, but I’m not concerned — not yet, anyway. I don’t like her survival odds long-term, but I feel like she has more story in front of her. Back to you, Dan. I know she’s a favorite character of yours. How did the Arya of it all play for you?
Fienberg: I, too, understand the sense of discomfort that some viewers felt. Game of Thrones has always kept the specific passage of time a little fuzzy, and if Arya was 10 or something when we started, she could be 14 or 16 or 18 now and Maisie Williams is 22 now, but none of that changes that Arya today looks a lot like Arya in the pilot. But if you stop and think of the world of Westeros and what it does to women, chances are good that in a peaceful world, by this point in her life, she’d have been married off to one of Ned’s banner-families and that would have been if she was lucky. Sex is tied to power in Westeros and that has, all too frequently both in the show and in this world, led to rape. This makes Arya completely unique in this world. She chose her time and her place and her person and it doesn’t seem unreasonable that on the Eve of Destruction — cue Barry McGuire — she would be examining the journey she’s taken and the life she’s lived and the things she has or hasn’t done. Everybody in this episode is doing that. And everybody in this episode is looking for moments of distraction and self-affirmation. So what are her choices? Sit around drinking with men twice her age? Meh. Lobby for future power? She doesn’t care about that. Continue to train for battle? She’s a killing machine already. She chooses a moment of intimacy and distraction with a young man of roughly her age who has shown the capacity for kindness and isn’t a part of her bloodline. That’s absurdly healthy. And I don’t think her pensive post-coital look was one of regret about the act, merely disappointment that the distraction it provided was only temporary. Arya was entitled to a Little Darlings moment.
Wigler: Fully agreed. Let’s wrap it up. Final predictions for this big battle episode, beyond death? Do you have any sense of where it’s going to leave us in terms of the final season’s trajectory? Do we do away with the White Walker war here and now, only to push onward toward Cersei and the throne? Is there an enormous loss for Jon Snow and friends, and they have to pick themselves up from that only to also have to contend with Cersei’s army? Is everyone hiding out in the crypts of Winterfell as doomed as I think they are? Call your shots, Dan!
Fienberg: I definitely don’t expect full closure from the White Walkers. I can see a circumstance in which the White Walkers win and continue on to King’s Landing and our remaining heroes go to King’s Landing and give Cersei one last chance to do the sane thing and join the human resistance. And even if our heroes win, I can imagine it being only a partial win and sustaining enough losses to render it a Pyrrhic victory. Oh and for sure the crypts are not as safe as everybody kept saying they were. Chekhov’s The Crypts Are Safe will come into play, but I would be utterly satisfied with a victory for Gilly and Tyrion’s Children’s Army. I don’t need a lot of underaged bloodshed. I’m not a monster, Josh. And we haven’t even talked about Ghost!
Wigler: Ghost is toast, Dan. Ghost is toast.
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