After tonight’s tense, edge of your seat cliffhanger ending to the second episode of Game of Thrones final season, I’ve already seen an avalanche of complaints that the episode was nothing more than a boring filler with the long anticipated battle being teased and then cruelly saved for next week’s episode. Having absolutely loved the episode (along with last week’s continually jaw dropping premiere), I felt compelled to argue that tonight’s episode, far from being a pointless filler episode, instead contained some of the series’ most sought after meet ups, reconciliations and conversations, made all the more poignant and captivating by the ever growing reality that this truly represents the end, if not for these beloved characters themselves then at least for this sweeping and phenomenal series which has ensnared millions of us in its grasp.
During last week’s reunion packed premiere, in which several core characters finally met up or reconnected after seven years of going their own ways, fans were confronted with one intense scene after another, chief among them being Sam’s revelation to John about his Targaryen origins and true heir status and the episodes shocking final moment when Jaime Lannister, newly arrived in Winterfell, turns to see Bran Stark, the now almost grown up boy he pushed out of the tower window in season 1, awaiting his arrival. Add to that Arya and the Hound’s terse and funny reunion, Daenerys’ and Sansa’s tense meet up and a thousand other little moments between beloved characters, and you end up with one hell of an episode.
The pressure was certainly on to deliver another utterly captivating episode from start to finish and considering that nothing happened in terms of action, episode two succeeded with flying colors. Taking place entirely within the walls of Winterfell as the somewhat uneasy allies prepare for the arrival of the Night King and his army, the episode begins with a tension filled council where Daenerys addresses Jaime, who she only knows from stories as the man who murdered her father. Surrounded as he is by many people who he wronged years earlier, Jaime, to his credit and with some vouching from the ever honorable Brienne, convinces the Starks and Daenerys that he, like them, was tricked by Cersei and is in fact here to honor his promise to fight the dead alongside them.
After this incredible scene, we spend the rest of the episode jumping back and forth between groups of our favorite characters getting to know each other better while preparing for the battle and one on one conversations with characters contemplating the possible end of the world. In another show this might make for a very slow and boring episode, but because of our love and deep investment in these characters, the complexity of their personalities and the richness of the dialogue, just watching these long isolated and fiercely independent people interacting and occasionally clashing with each other makes every scene positively simmer and crackle with intensity and anticipation. We hang on every syllable of every word, linger on every glance or facial expression, soak in every scene. This is evident in the scenes between Jaime and Bran, who, thanks to being pushed out of that window by Jaime, is now the three eyed raven. Fans have wondered when their paths would cross once more and when they eventually have a chance to talk alone, Bran makes it clear that what happened ultimately led to them becoming the fundamentally changed people they are now.
Rather than rely on huge, action packed moments, this episode was all about little moments, the little stolen moments between all these incredibly diverse and driven people who, despite the most unfathomable odds imaginable, find themselves brought together to face what may very well be the end of all things. The episode allows us, the loyal viewers who’ve been with these characters through their myriad triumphs and tragedies, the opportunity to be right there beside them, gathered around the warm glow of the roaring hearth or standing atop the battlements staring out into the icy darkness on what they all know may be their last night on Earth. Rather than being a tease, the slow and suspenseful build up to the oncoming battle adds to the preciousness of each of these moments; the jokes are funnier and every poignant moment (such as Brienne’s tearful Knighting from Jaime or Arya and Gendry’s night together and Missandei and Greyworm’s passionate kiss), is that much more impactful. These may well be the final moments shared between characters we feel we know like family but who can still surprise and shock us.
Given how monumental this battle promises to be, it actually makes sense to save it for its own episode, which will be over eighty minutes long. Even if it’d been squeezed into the second half of the episode, it probably would’ve been robbed of the duration it deserved. Instead, we got to sift through all the loose ends and unresolved issues which have been hanging over the series for years. Chief among those issues is certainly what affect John’s knowledge of his origins will have on his relationship with Dany and her quest for the Iron Throne, especially given that he reveals this to her towards the episode’s finale. This bombshell revelation coming moments before the battle ensures that the unresolved drama will continue after the battle itself is over and there’s absolutely no telling where things will go from this point forward, something I’m horrifically excited about. As amazing and most certainly heartbreaking as the battle will be, I’m more intrigued about the possibility that the greatest danger to our characters may come from themselves in light of this dangerous information.
There’s no doubting the excitement and thrill of the show’s battles, but the heart of Game of Thrones has always lay with its characters and their unending struggles, for survival, glory, power and love and the ways in which they’ve played the game, suffered terrible tragedies, learned from their mistakes and most importantly, learned what kind of people they truly are. As stated several times in tonight’s episode, the Night King and his army represent death and death’s been a main character in this show from the very first episode. What’s most important will be how these characters, these wonderfully complex and ever evolving characters, choose to act in the face of it and the harsh, unavoidable truths that come with it. Those are the battles that I really want to see before the end of all things.