With a show as vast in scope as Game of Thrones, it takes time to put all the pieces into place for what figures to be an epic conclusion to the series. So, it makes sense that both episodes so far in season eight, "Winterfell" and Sunday's "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," have taken great pains to get everything -- and everyone -- lined up, at a pace a little slower than usual for the show. If you've been waiting on larger-than-life battles, blood-soaked battlefields and shocking deaths, you'll have to wait at least one more episode.
The looming spectre of the Night King and his army of the undead hangs over Winterfell, with several characters remarking on their impending demise before the first White Walker even arrives on the battlefield. Yet there's still quite a bit of gallows humor left in this ragtag bunch, as this ranks as one of the funnier episodes in the series thanks to quips from everyone from Tyrion to Tormund as they seem to make peace with what lies ahead.
The episode opens with Jaime Lannister getting a tongue lashing from both Daenerys and Sansa for his dirty deeds. The one person who remains quiet is Bran, who neglects to tell the assembled crowd that it was Jaime who pushed him out of the window years ago. Brienne of Tarth steps up and vouches for Jaime, recalling how he protected her and lost his hand as a result. Sansa accepts Brienne's word and Jaime finds himself part of Winterfell's fighting force.
Jaime later apologizes to Bran, but like everyone else, discovers that the child he once knew has been replaced by something else. "You won’t be able to help us in this fight if I let them murder you first," Bran wisely notes.
A chastened Tyrion admits to Jaime he was fooled by Cersei's pledge to help with the war, but later finds an unlikely ally in Jorah Mormont, who admits to Dany that despite his jealousy of Tyrion, he is indeed a true asset to the queen's strategy.
Like the season premiere, this episode is big on reunions, with Tyrion and Jaime coming together once again after another sticky situation; Jaime pledging his loyalty to Brienne by offering to fight under her command; Theon returning to tell Sansa that he wants to be on the front line at Winterfell; and Tormund reuniting with Jon to tell him the Night King approaches soon.
One of the most anticipated showdowns came when Dany and Sansa finally have their one-on-one moment, which begins filled with optimism as a skeptical Sansa is won over by Dany's proclamation of her love for Jon. Hands are grasped and the two women share a girl power moment, only to see it shattered when Sansa asks what happens post-war and Dany stubbornly insists she will sit on the Iron Throne. "What about the North?" Sansa demands. "We said we'd never bow again." Truce off.
Tormund steals the show throughout the episode, wondering of Brienne, "Is the big woman still here?" upon his arrival at Winterfell and later regaling Tyrion, Jaime and Ser Davos about the origins of his surname, Giantsbane, which involves killing a giant and suckling at the teat of his wife for months on end to earn his strength.
With death on her mind as well, Arya corners Gendry and asks him how many women he's been with, to which the flustered weapons maker stammers, "Three." Arya decides she wants to be No. 4 (and wants him to be her No. 1) and goes about seducing him, which, to be honest, is a little weird considering we've seen Maisie Williams grow up on this show. There's a sense of finality about Arya's actions, and those of Jaime, who performs a knighthood ceremony on Brienne, and Grey Worm, who speaks of his future with Missandei.
The huge issue of Jon's true parentage comes to a head near the end of the show, as he tells the story of his birth and his real name of Aegon Targaryen to a shocked Dany, who sees her future on the throne slipping away as the last male heir stands before her. As expected, she reacts poorly to the news, wondering how only Bran and Sam know this long-held secret. And it doesn't seem like either one of them has thought about the whole aunt thing yet, but perhaps that's toward the bottom of their concerns. Maybe that was coming next, but Jon and Dany are pulled away by the approaching sounds of battle, as the episode ends with the undead army appearing just outside Winterfall's walls.
If this episode felt like one final chance to spend time with characters we’ve come to love over the years, the preview for episode three would seem to confirm it, as the battle begins in earnest. Knowing Game of Thrones, there will be casualties.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.