Lovers and Old Friends Reunite: Season 8, Episode 2 Recap

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Arya and Jon (c) HBO.

This may be the perfect episode for it evokes in the viewer – at least this viewer – a faint replica of feeling the events evoked in its participants. As the series marches towards its finale, I find myself filled with sadness and a desire to linger, just like the lovers and old friends who spent their last night together before death marches on Winterfell.

For the last two episodes, I’ve been struck by how much this feels like CS Lewis’ final Narnia novel: The Last Battle. And that’s also fitting because it’s always been my least favorite Narnia novel.

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By the end of The Last Battle, all the characters you’ve grown to love in throughout the Narnia series die  – except Susan. (Lewis describes Susan as too consumed by lipstick and boys and being self-important and grown up or something like that to present during the train crash — a characterization Neil Gaiman denounces as misogynist in his delightful but troubling un-fan fiction “The Problem with Susan.”)

The Last Battle is a weird novel because the characters all go to heaven, and you feel like you’re expected to be happy about it. But it just really blows.

I think that’s how I’m going to end up feeling about the final battles in Game of Thrones – and note that I did say battles because I *think* there might be too. But already I’m changing my mind. After all, this is GRRM: anything could happen.

Also, be prepared: I trash Daenerys a lot in this recap. As long-time readers of this blog know, I hate Daenerys. She’s a villain. We all should hate her. She’s based on at least two different conquerors: Alexander the Great and Henry VII. She’s Conquest personified and is the Mother of War (symbolically speaking) – and we should all hate war. Right? Right?

Well, if I ever write a book, you’ll hate war by the time I’m done. But I’ll bite my tongue for now. Read on, gentle reader.

Jaime’s Redemption

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Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) pleads for permission to fight to defend Winterfell in what may be the last battle. Tywin is surely rolling over in his grave. (c) HBO.

Despite some misguided choices (defenestration, incest), Jaime is a man of honor.

To fight in the most important battle in Westeros history, Jaime must perform his biggest act of personal bravery: facing those whom he has wronged.

The episode opens with Jaime standing in front of a panel in Winterfell’s great hall. Seated behind the head table are Daenerys, Sansa, Bran, and Jon.

None of them trust Jaime, especially after he reveals Cersei lied about sending her army. They suspect he is trying to trick them.

It’s only after Brienne vouches for Jaime that Sansa relents and agrees he can fight.

Daenerys still isn’t convinced. To me, this is another strike against Daenerys. On one hand, Jaime’s assassination of her father irrevocably altered her life. Fair enough. She had to live a bit like Henry VII: girl on the run. Well, sort of. On the other hand, at this point, she doesn’t seem to mourn her family life as much as she feels robbed of her birthright to be queen. (But if Jaime hadn’t killed her father, queenship wouldn’t be her birthright.)

Bran even forgives Jaime for leaving him paralyzed for defenestrating him from an old high tower at Winterfell.

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Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) right before Jaime pushes him out the window in an act of “defenestration.” (c) HBO

Daenerys and Tyrion

Jorah (Iain Glen) persuades Dany (Emilia Clarke) to give Tyrion another chance. (c) HBO

Dany threatens to fire Tyrion for incompetence. Specifically, for making yet another mistake and believing his sister’s lie about sending an army to support him.

Click here to jump over almost certain spoilers.

Winterfell Makes Ready

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There’s a lot of invasion prep going on at Winterfell. Those who are too young to fight will shelter in the crypts: where all the dead are buried. Hmmm…

It’s simply too juicy not to annihilate the GoT warriors’ “precious cargo” with a 1950s-style Monster Mash style of ending with skeletons climbing out of the graves.

Also, when the show (or was it video?) played Jenny of Oldstones while depicting Sam, Little Sam, and Gilly curled up in bed, it evoked those tragic images from the movie Titanic of the elderly couple and the Irish mother in steerage tucking her children in while telling them a bedtime story. (The elderly couple was loosely based on this true story.)

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The elderly couple in Titanic were a tribute to Isidor and Ida Strauss, the one-time owner of Macy’s. Although a first class passenger, he refused to get into a lifeboat until every woman and child had a spot. And his wife refused to go without him.

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The Titanic’s images of the Irish mother in steerage putting her children to bed before almost certain death were heartbreaking.

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Look familiar?

This cannot be a good omen.

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Arya and Gendry

At this point, it’s unclear whether Arya will ever regain her identity as Arya Stark, young woman, and not victim of war.

Back in Seasons 1 and 2, after witnessing baker’s boy’s death, her father’s execution and the slaughter of her Wall-bound traveling companions, Arya became obsessed with revenge.

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Yoren as portrayed by Francis Magee. (c) HBO.

In Season 2, the Night’s Watch recruiter Yoren told a sleepless Arya about his obsession with avenging his brother’s death by killing his murder, a man named Willem. Yoren hated Willem so much that he uttered his name every night before bed. When Yoren finally buried his axe in Willem’s skull, he felt so remorseful he took the black.

Arya misses the point of this story and instead uses Yoren’s tale like an instruction manual. Every night, she repeated the names of the men she wanted to kill. As we know, this sets her down a dark path wherein she almost loses her identify (“faceless-ness”) like the faceless assasins with whom she trained in Braavos.

Arya’s direwolf is still missing. As I discussed before, all of the direwolves have names that symbolize their master’s destiny. (Sansa’s direwolf “Lady” is killed at the beginning of her journey, symbolizing the self-mortification of her princess/lady-like drive; the name of Rickon’s direwolf “Shaggydog” symbolizes his tragically short and pointless life, etc.)

Arya’s direwolf is named Nymeria, after the warrior queen Nymeria of Dorne who lived 1000 years earlier. I believe Nymeria represents Arya’s deepest longing. She yearns to be a fierce warrior like Nymeria. But where is she now?

Arya has almost completed her list: only Cersei lives. (I think.) Arya is assassin, not a warrior – and this is a very different thing in GRRM’s world.

Assassins are sneaky and possibly even dishonorable.

Assassins are not warriors. Being a warrior implies openly waging war against an enemy.

This episode might be as far as the major characters’ arcs go. If they die in battle in episode 3, their arcs stop.

The Internet abounds with theories that Arya will attempt to assassinate the Night King. But maybe she is just using the spear Gendry made her to wage war against the army of the dead. Either way, I’d say she might be on the verge of going from assassin to warrior.

Does this mean redemption? Does Arya need to be redeemed?

A key theme of both the late medieval Yorkist period and Game of Thrones is the search for justice. You cannot have peace and stability without a strong justice system. From this world view, assassination is likely wrong.

Even if you don’t agree with this take, Arya will likely fulfill her dream of being a warrior next episode.

Arya is preparing to die. She sleeps with Gendry in case she never gets to experience any joy again after the Night King’s attack. Gendry also reveals that he is Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Will this end as Dany & Jon fighting against Gendry & Arya for the Iron Throne?

I, of course, keep hoping for a happy Bollywood ending where everyone ends up coupled off at the end and holds hands and dances together. Why couldn’t there be two couples who rule Westeros?

Oh wait I forgot. GRRM’s War and Peace-esque magnus opus is likely a tragedy.

And whether Arya or anyone else will survive the battle anybody’s guess.

Sansa and Daenerys

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Sansa and Dany’s chat does not go well. (c) HBO.

Dany attempts to build a bridge with Sansa by evoking their shared love for Jon. But, it all falls apart when Sansa asks Dany whether she would let the North stay independent if the dragon queen won the Iron Throne.

The tragedy with Dany is there is never any growth –not yet. I keep hoping that she will redeem herself, but I shouldn’t hold my breath. (Conquerors are evil in this world – and in our world.)

Daenerys is a foil for that other mother of monsters: Cersei. (Or perhaps it is the other way around.) In either case, there’s no evidence that Dany will be a better ruler than Cersei or any other self-involved tyrant that came before her. Well, maybe I’m not being entirely fair to the “Breaker of Chains,” but episodes like this one make it hard to believe that Dany feels anything beyond her sense of entitlement.

Sansa wisely senses that Dany’s only interest is in making sure that Sansa bends the knee. And Sansa suspects that she might be replacing one blonde despot with another.

Theon’s Redemption

Theon returns to Winterfell to fight for the Starks against the Army of the Dead. Few characters have suffered more for their mistakes than Theon.

What’s interesting here is there was a bit of a spark between Theon and Sansa when she saw he’d returned to fight for them. In fact, Sansa got kinda teary eyed.

Bran: The Three-Eyed raven

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Bran under the Heart Tree in the godswood. (c) HBO

Because the Three-Eyed Raven is the world’s memory, what enables the world to retain its humanity, he is a target for the Night King. The Starks and the other defenders of the Living intend to use Bran as bait.

They will plant him near the heart tree in the godswoods with Theon hiding in the background to protect him.

The Night King wants to kill Theon because he is the world’s memory, its humanity.

If Theon fails, the Long Night will succeed.

Old Friends Sit By the Fire

Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and others sit by the fire and sing songs.

On the basis of being a knight, Jaime makes Brienne a knight – well deserved indeed. Earlier in the episode Brienne vouched for him as a man of honor. Then Jaime told her he wanted to serve under her command. Given how wrapped up both Jaime and Brienne’s identities are in honor, service, duty, protection, and valor, this is even more powerful than a declaration of love.

Podrick’s fireside song – with its refrain of never wanting to leave – is what carries the episode’s mood. It’s beautiful, haunting and reminds me of an eighteenth century ghost story or something I can’t quite identify – maybe the kind of story I used to read as a child in my aunt’s basement.

This is the last time we will see our old favorites together:  we should savor it.

Arya and the Hound

Arya finally talks to the Hound. She is baffled that the Hound will risk his life in the battle against the dead. She claims he has never done anything for anyone but himself. But he points out he has fought for others: he fought for her. It’s gratifying to see them finally talk and for Arya to (sort of) acknowledge her debt to him.

Lyanna and Jorah Mormont

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The ever delightful Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey). (c) HBO.

In the spirit of reunions, Jorah finally reunites with his cousin Lyanna Mormont. Quite delightfully, he is trying to talk the small bear into taking a back seat away from the battlefield. She’s having none of it.

Despite her tiny stature and young age, she swore to fight for the North. And she won’t let her men down.

The Targaryens: Jon & Daenerys

Finally, Jon reveals his real identity to Daenerys in the crypts of Winterfell, in front of his mother’s effigy. Daenerys learns that her brother wasn’t a rapist like she’d always believed. But, she also learns that her lover is her nephew and has a stronger claim to the throne than her.

Now, I was really hoping that she would be more horrified that she was sleeping with her nephew and upset their romance might be over. (In fairness to her, she might have batted an eyelash since creepy brother Viserys talked about marrying her at one point.)

But she all can think about is the fact somebody might be trying to steal her throne. She is immediately suspicious that Jon’s brother and best friend are plotting to put him on the Iron throne.

I think Dany’s desire to rule is now so much a part of her core identity that it has become being the rightful claimant is the only way she sees herself.

But before she can talk about this anymore with Jon, the three horn blasts indicating the White Walkers’ approach sounds.

Final Thoughts

In Dany’s defense, she may be assuming that she can beat the Night King by incinerating the army of the dead with her two remaining dragons. I’m hoping it’s still possible that Dany will see the horrifying losses in the battle with the Night King and realize her throne quest isn’t what matters right now.

But I still strongly suspect, as I’ve suspected all along, that Daenerys is the ultimate narrative mind f*ck. We think she is a hero because of her sympathetic personal circumstances (exiled hunted orphan). But Daenerys may just be a case of narration from the perspective of the anti-hero or villain. It’s classic Reservoir Dogs where we sympathize with murderers because the story is told from their point of view.

This is George’s mega commentary on historians simply repeating the narrative handed down from the victor’s publicist. The biographer who falls in love with his subject distorts history just as much as narrative point of view impairs our ability to evaluate whether or not a character is evil.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

5 Comments

  • Reply April 25, 2019

    Tere

    I agree with your take on Dany’s inability to think of anything beyond her childish obsession with entitlement. I think the showrunners have done a good job over the last two episodes contrasting Sansa and Dany as leaders. Sansa participates in preparatory activities, listens to her people, knows the land, the names of her “subjects”, and she has real relationships with people. When Theon comes back, he kneels too Dany because she always needs that reinforcement but tells Lady Sansa that he wants to fight for Winterfell and hugs her. Dany’s face in the scene is telling. She has no tires to anyone in Westeros but Jon. She mills around doing very little. She has no real friends except for Jorah, but even he puts her on a pedestal. She doesn’t know the land or the people and she thinks everyone should just bow to her because she is an heir. Even in this climate where all those around her are focused on saving their homes and preparing for their deaths, all she can thinks about is her claim to the throne. She doesn’t know this place as her home and doesn’t try to get to know people. She is a fish out of water and I think on some small level she has felt this.

    • Reply April 26, 2019

      Jamie Adair

      *Thank you*! This is very validating to read. I hadn’t thought about Dany in contrast to Sansa as a leader, but Sansa is a very mature wise leader. She is focused on practical, matters, logistics, thinks if the people of the North and in Winterfell and is cautious.
      I always think of Daenerys and Cersei as foils. They’re clearly designed for contrast, but it isn’t clear that Dany is Cersei 2.0. Dany isn’t a clearcut improvement over Cersei.

      You know, in a way, I get it. Dany has really had a long and terrible journey. She is tantalizingly close to her goal. But she has kind of lost her way a little bit. She’s not improving people’s lives. In practice, she’s no longer “Breaker of Chains.”

      I was reading A Game of Thrones again yesterday, and I was actually feeling a bit bad about being so harsh about Dany in this recap. Book Dany was a really sweet character when she married Drogo, But when I read your comment, I was reminded all over again what is wrong now.

      Still maybe when Dany sees just how bad the battle at Winterfell is going to get, it will snap her out of selfishness and make her understand the true meaning of leadership.

    • Reply April 28, 2019

      Em E

      I think your take on Dany is right. I see a lot of similarities in the leaders in the show and U.S. politicians. Dany is one whose heart was in the right place, the breaker of chains and all, but lost her way and has become an imperialist. She used up all her political capital a few seasons ago. She could’ve stayed in the former slaver states to make sure they were being ruled properly, but decided to just use that as a stepping stone to being a conqueror. (Although I can’t remember who decided to leave Mereen in the book, I know it was a labored decision. Also staying in Mereen would not have been too exciting or helped move the plot forward.) Reminds me of what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan a little. You could even compare her dragons to the US dropping bombs and using drone strikes.

      Dany had that great quote about the wheel: each family is a spoke on the wheel, one’s on top and one is on the bottom, etc etc, but all they do is crush the people underneath. She wanted to break the wheel.

      Cersei reminds me of a certain impulsive, power-hungry person in power whose prime concern is putting their family above ruling their people justly, and who rules with a huge amount of hubris and ego. I think the show runners have developed Cersei like this on purpose actually to parallel current events. Her character wasn’t quite as unlikable in the books, especially after she went to prison. But the show is pretty far past the books now.

      I love your last point about how history is written. I think GRRM does have a lot to say about power and leadership. I often think that Varys is like what some people call the deep state (but I don’t mean it in a conspiratorial way though). In many ways he’s the most important character in the show. Varys says he serves “the realm”, like many US institutions that serve the citizens and whose employees make an oath to defend the Constitution. They keep going and keep the government running no matter who is President. For a few seasons it was really Littlefinger vs Varys, since they seemed to be pulling a lot of strings. Littlefinger had that great quote, “chaos is a ladder.” That also reminds me of our president, but I think a lot of corrupt people benefit from creating chaos. And some not corrupt people benefit too, like the media.

      The last episode I watched with my husband who is in the military and he commented to that so many of the traditions of knights has carried over into the modern military. I never really thought it about it but it makes sense.

      • Reply April 28, 2019

        Jamie Adair

        Thanks for the great comment, I definitely think the showrunners enhance those parallels between the characters and US politics deliberately. I believe I read that David Benioff particularly enjoys political theory, so presumably he follows politics and has opinions. The showrunners have made some changes that I have particularly enjoyed to make the parallels with the modern world clearer. I particularly enjoyed the scene with Dany and the fire in Vaes Dothrak a few seasons ago for that reason.

        I’m rereading the books right now and one of the things I’m looking at is Book Varys. I’m trying to better understand him since he is such a shadowy character. TV Varys doesn’t come across to me at least as nearly as repellent as Book Varys. I’ve been trying to figure out if you can reconcile the two.

        I’m fascinated by your husband’s comments. What types of medieval military traditions still remain with us? Is it more attitudes or practices?

        • Reply April 29, 2019

          Em E

          I’m going to have to rewatch that scene with Dany. I think I’m going to miss this show so much when it’s over that I’ll probably rewatch the whole thing and read the books again!

          The modern military still has a lot of oaths, creeds, ceremonies, etc. Some of the words have changed, like they don’t swear to protect a person/king/queen, but the Constitution, and the overall culture is rooted in those traditions with symbols, relics, artifacts, etc. to constantly reinforce their mission to be loyal to one another and protect their country. There’s also a lot of chivalry kind of baked into the culture as well. (If you’re on a military base, a man in uniform will hold a door open for a woman without a doubt, and everyone is extremely polite.) So I’d say it’s both attitudes and practices which are similar. Another example: in the Army every soldier wears a “coat of arms,” i.e. a patch with symbols of their unit’s purpose on their uniform, and the calvary divisions still have horses on them. They also use symbols like dragons, fleur de lis, and chess pieces. (You can see some examples here https://www.flyingtigerssurplus.com/army-patches.html). They all have mottos as well. I’ve been to ceremonies where they cut cakes (there are always cakes!) with swords. (I have no idea why they do this, or why they have swords for this purpose, but I’m guessing there’s some tradition behind it.) But during the episode my husband mentioned the similarities when Jamie was knighting Brienne because the ‘swearing in’ was similar to what they do in modern ceremonies. When a service member takes the oath, any commissioned officer can administer the oath, so it’s similar to what Jamie said about not needing to have a king to knight someone. There are also titles that are similar, like ‘sergeant at arms.’

          My take on book Varys vs show Varys is that maybe they had to make him a more clearly defined foil to Littlefinger, and didn’t have the luxury of creating a nuanced character like the books do. I like the show Varys much better too.

          Maybe I’m projecting my opinions onto the characters, but to continue the parallels between US foreign policy and Varys (and Littlefinger), I would say that similar to those characters, what some of the ‘spying’ agencies do can be pretty shady at best. There is a lot of Machiavellian motivation behind all of it, the GOT characters and the spying agencies. Some of it can be justified to protect national security (or, ‘protecting the realm’) and some of it is just manipulation based in paranoia to maintain power and control. What Littlefinger has done to manipulate characters, to create coups, etc. is so similar to what the CIA has done with covert (and ‘off the books’) operations. They’ve both created so much chaos their respective worlds. If Varys is trying to maintain peace in the realm I think he is similar to both domestic spying agencies (FBI, etc) and some of the super secret* spy agencies that target foreign countries/citizens (*not the official term lol; there are just a lot of them), because their mission is clearer and they maintain some standards to protect citizens. And US spy agencies are at odds with each other a lot, just like Littlefinger and Varys.

          Anyway, all this to say that in the spirit of GRRM’s love of complicated characters, Varys is repellent in the book but is important and sort of a necessary evil, just like spies. You have to be a certain kind of person to be an operative or agent, to be ok with deceiving people. Especially when you have to get to know people closely to gain valuable intelligence, like when Jorah was supposed to assassinate Dany but couldn’t turn on her because he got too close. You have to figure that the ends justify the means, but you also need to have some personal ethics to avoid becoming a double-agent and only serving yourself. The attitude is that if you’re not going to spy because of high morals or whatever, then someone else will, and they might not have any morals or ethics whatsoever. So rather than having just one Littlefinger-type person/agency, they’d all be like that, and other people won’t have any qualms about using their Machiavellian spies to further their own interests. Everyone is spying on everyone basically, is what I’ve learned, and as dirty as it seems, it’s often the best way to avoid war.

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