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Last Night for the Seven Kingdoms?

Winterfell braces for battle in the second episode of Season 8, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”

Does knighthood matter anymore?
HBO / Vox
Again, thanks to everyone for indulging us as we deviate from regular sports coverage. There are SPOILERS below, for those who have not watched Season 8, Episode 2 of Game of Thrones.

Is there an afterwards?

Throughout the second episode of The Game of Thrones’ final season, the assembled masses at Winterfell behave as if their final day is upon them. Characters make plans, all with a nod to the inescapable truth that death is both literally and figuratively marching toward them, rendering the plans themselves perhaps necessary yet foolhardy grasps at something like hope. It has a “High Noon” (High Midnight?) quality to it. Many characters have loose ends to resolve, whether in the form of reminiscences, promises, last-chance experiences or grand gestures. Yet, at the end of the episode, perhaps the biggest of loose ends remains.

The title—“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”—lends a hopeful air. Where is the good in being a knight, if the Seven Kingdoms are about to wink from existence? Despite this suggestion of hope, much of the episode is devoted to quiet resignation. It is punctuated by Podrick Payne’s melancholy rendition of a song called “Jenny of the Oldstones.” The song suggests a great deal and will be the talk of show bloggers and analysts this week. We’ll talk a bit about it, too.

Jaime and the question of “afterward”

Last week’s episode closed with Jaime Lannister arriving at Winterfell and encountering Bran. This week’s opens with a confrontation between the Kingslayer and Daenerys. She recalls all the things she and her late brother, Viserys, planned to do to the man who murdered their father once they took the Iron Throne. Sansa reminds everyone that Jaime also attacked her father, Ned Stark, in the streets of King’s Landing and has tried for years to destroy their family. It appears for a moment that Sansa and Daenerys have found common ground in distrusting Jaime. But when Brienne vouches for him, Sansa changes her stance. Jon views him as another body for the defense, and the inquest ends with Jaime’s sword being returned to him.

Later, in the godswood, Jaime tries to apologize to Bran. They engage in a philosophical discussion about being shaped by fate, and Jaime thanks Bran for not handing him over for pushing him out a window years ago. Bran says he would have been no good in the battle if Jon and the others had murdered him for that old crime. When Jaime questions whether Bran will keep the secret afterwards, Bran says, “How do you know there is an afterwards?” Bran’s lines are always suggestive, but never direct. Does he mean the end is coming for all of them? Or is he merely hinting that Jaime’s time is short? That’s the problem with seers and prophets. They are always so vague.

Whether or not there is an “afterward” for Jaime, the rest of the characters are living as if they will not have one.

Arya first surprises Gendry with amazing blade-hurling skills and a spooky speech about Death’s many faces. Later, she takes what could be the last chance she has to know physical affection.

Jon, Sam and Edd convene as the last remaining members of their Night’s Watch pledge class and engage in some dolorous humor. “Samwell Tarley,” Edd says, “Slayer of White Walkers. Lover of Ladies. As if we need any more signs the world is ending.”

Grey Worm and Missandei, perhaps channeling the outcome of a Grisham novel, make plans to go to the beach. Or, at least, somewhere warmer than Winterfell.

Promises of the Redeemed

After Jaime arrived at Winterfell without the Lannister army, Daenerys called Tyrion “either a traitor or a fool.” But Jorah demonstrates his newfound humility by encouraging Daenerys to forgive Tyrion for his mistakes. He owns them, Jorah assures her, and he learns from them. Jorah has cast aside his jealousy and even offers counsel about clearing the air with Sansa.

Daenerys takes the advice, trying to strike common ground in their roles as women whose leadership is constantly questioned and underestimated. When Sansa notes that Jon loves Daenerys and that men are easily manipulated when they are in love, Dany points out that she put aside her lifelong obsession for reclaiming the Iron Throne to follow Jon into this battle against the army of the dead. Sansa realizes she owes Daenerys gratitude for her help. They even join hands. But, like Jaime, Sansa is concerned about afterward. “What about the North?” she asks. “It was taken from us, and we took it back. We said we’d never bow to anyone again. What about the North?” Dany withdraws her hand. She bristles at the suggestion that she should sacrifice part of what she has always considered her birthright. Birthrights will have a say later in the episode, as well.

Before she can answer, however, the discussion is interrupted with news that Theon Greyjoy has returned to join the fight for Winterfell. He acknowledges Daenerys as queen, but pledges his services to Sansa.

At a council of all the important defenders, Jon notes that their best chance is to destroy the Night King. In the past, destroying other white walkers has meant the end of the zombies attached to them. The defenders hope the same rule applies to the Night King, who “turned them all.” Jaime, survivor of many battles, says that the Night King won’t expose himself, but Bran believes he will, because his ultimate goal is to destroy the Three-Eyed Raven and bring about the eternal night. Bran will be the bait, though even he does not know whether dragonfire will stop white walkers. Theon volunteers to see his redemption arc to the end by defending Bran. For the second time in the episode, Jon avoids Daenerys when the meeting concludes, holding his secret a little longer.

Sam presents Jorah with the Tarly family sword, Heartsbane. Jorah rejected Jon’s attempt to return Longclaw, the Mormont family sword, to him last year. This one, he accepts. Sam confesses he can’t wield it himself. But more importantly, he says, “Your father taught me to be a man—how to do what’s right. This is what’s right.” Jorah promises to wield the sword in his father’s memory “to guard the realms of men.”

Last moments

The pivotal scenes occur at the end. In the last one, Jon tells Daenerys that he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Dany’s brother, Rhaegar Targaryen, and that his real name is Aegon Targaryen. Daenerys questions the truth of the story, since Jon learned it through Bran and Sam, his brother and his best friend. The news must come as quite a shock, and not only for the awkward reasons arising from their intimate relationship. Daenerys has devoted her life to claiming a throne that she believes is rightfully hers. Now, it’s not hers. Everything she has believed about her birthright is a lie. After expecting every citizen of the Seven Kingdoms to bend the knee to her as the supposed rightful monarch, will she honor Jon’s birthright as she expected others to do for her? Or does she see him as competition now? This answer—will Dany turn on Jon?—will have to remain a loose end, for now. For the second time in the episode, her reaction is put on hold. This time, the interruption is horns. The army of the dead has arrived.

The penultimate scene may actually hold greater intrigue. It begins with Jaime and Tyrion reminiscing by the fire in the Great Hall. Tyrion says things would be much easier if, as in old days, he devoted himself to whoremongering. For unexplained reasons (perhaps related to Shae or his obsession with Daenerys, or maybe because he’s been stricken with an unwanted bout of decency) he says it is no longer an option.

Brienne and Podrick join them, followed by Davos and Tormund. Tyrion notes that nearly all of them fought against the Starks in the past, but now all are there to defend them. He misses the larger point that they are defending all of humanity, but that would kill the irony. When Tyrion says he believes they will all live through the assault, everyone in the room snorts. He tries half-heartedly to paint them all as survivors. In his recitation of everyone’s battle credentials, he inadvertently refers to Brienne as “Ser Brienne of Tarth.” Tormund is incensed to learn that she does not hold the title because tradition forbids women to be knighted. He says if he were king, he would knight her ten times over.

Jaime reminds them that any anointed knight may administer the vows and raise another to knighthood. Brienne kneels, and he touches her shoulder with his sword, saying, “In the name of the warrior, I charge you to be brave. In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just. In the name of the mother, I charge you to defend the innocent.” Brienne has been doing all of these things from the beginning, of course. But when he announces her as Brienne of Tarth, a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” she sports, perhaps, the broadest smile in the history of the series.

When the room quiets down again, Tyrion asks the lords and knights in attendance if any of them can share a song. All decline. Unprompted, Podrick sings a haunting melody about an unknown woman named Jenny, who danced with ghosts in the halls of dead kings. (Kudos to actor Daniel Portman, by the way, for singing the tune—a capella, no less—as beautifully and mournfully as anyone could want.) Though we may be tempted to write it off as the long-sought answer about how Pod really bewitched the professional ladies of King’s Landing to refuse his money, the song seems to be loaded with meaning. Here are the lyrics:

High in the halls of the kings who are gone

Jenny would dance with her ghosts

The ones she has lost and the ones she had found

And the ones who had loved her the most

The ones who had been gone for so very long

She couldn’t remember their names

They spun her around on the damp, cold stones

Spun away all her sorrow and pain

And she never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave

Never wanted to leave.

I don’t know about you, but I played it back to be sure he was really singing about Jenny dancing with ghosts. With the dead on their doorstep, threatening to wipe away all of humanity, a member of the living taking turns on the dance floor with the dead certainly projects a foreboding image, and I was not sure I had heard the right word.

Several commentators posted articles within hours of the show, conjecturing about the meaning of the song. To a casual fan of the show, the minor melody and melancholy lyrics may merely capture the mood of the castle as the characters confront what most believe will be their last day alive. On one level, that is enough. The song serves that purpose, certainly.

If you seek deeper significance, scholars of the series note that the song “Jenny of the Oldstones” is mentioned periodically in the books. Since seemingly everyone is obsessed with finding clues about the ultimate outcome of the series, some have suggested the lyrics are prophesy, suitably vague to suggest much, while revealing little. As with much of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy universe, there is a whole mythology built around the song, as much back-story as you want to explore, if you have the interest and the time.

Only the first two lines of lyrics appears in any of the books. The rest were written, and the melody was commissioned, for the show. Having criticized so many choices the show-runners have made in the past, we have to bow to their brilliance with this. Instead of plowing inexorably toward the end with dragons, swordplay and special effects wizardry (their unquestioned forte, by the way), they have given us something quietly interesting to contemplate in the final days of the show. It could mean nothing. Or it could hold the secret to the series.

So, what does the song mean? We will all have to do our own explications, because guessing at the exact answer may prove impossible. But clearly it has something to do with wanting to hold on to those who have died, perhaps even when we should let them go. Interesting juxtaposition, given what begins to unfold by the end of the episode. There may soon be many more “ghosts” for Jenny to dance with.

Memorable Lines and Exchanges

  • Bran, to Jaime, who says he would do all the horrible things he had done again to protect his family, and in a callback to the first episode, when Jaime pushed him out a tower window: “The things we do for love.”
  • Gendry, with some unsatisfying understatement, in responding to Arya’s demand that he tell her what the army of the dead is really like: “Bad. Really bad.”
  • Jaime, humbling himself to Brienne: “I’m not the fighter I used to be. But I’d be honored to fight under your command.”
  • Tyrion to Bran, who says his story is a long one: “If only we were trapped in a castle in the dead of winter with no place to go.”
  • Arya, to Gendry’s claim that he didn’t keep count of the women he had been with: “Yes, you did.”
  • Davos, in response to Tyrion’s request that he sing a song: “You’ll pray for a quick death.”

Did not appear

Cersei, Euron Greyjoy, Night King (though a squad of white walkers showed up at the end), the Mountain, Qyburn, Yara, Mellisandre (though she was mentioned), the dragons

Appeared, though only briefly, after a long absence

Ghost (the direwolf; not the ones referenced in Pod’s song)


Now that Daenerys knows Jon has the best claim through succession to the throne, what will she do?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Continue to fight alongside him and stake her claim if they both survive.
    (38 votes)
  • 15%
    Continue to fight alongside him and yield to his claim if they both survive.
    (10 votes)
  • 20%
    Turn on Jon in the battle for Winterfell.
    (13 votes)
  • 6%
    Other (explain your alternative outcome in the comments)
    (4 votes)
65 votes total Vote Now