With the second episode of season 8 of Game of Thrones behind us the plot has finally moved towards what we always wanted. The epic battle of the White Walkers against the living. It’ll be full of carnage, slaughter, blood, horrified looks and the clanging of Valyrian steel against ice spears. But first we had to deal with two very slow episodes. Yet was this needed? Did the show require the first two episodes take its time setting up the plot? Was the slow pacing a good or a bad thing?
One of the biggest criticisms of season 7 was the pacing. The audience, us lovely happy people who never take issue with anything, were inundated with plot. Armies travelled across Westeros, months seemingly passed without us getting any clue whatsoever and in the span of one episode various plot threads on the different parts of the country were going on at the same time. Well… Presumably? Again, we had no idea WHEN something happened. And while all of this was happening the army of the dead was slowly, very slowly, crawling its way across the few miles of frozen wasteland towards the wall, seemingly requiring an entire season to travel the same distance Jon and friends travelled in half an episode. That undead army requires a lot of maintenance after all. Dead soldiers need leisure time too! And don’t even talk about the working conditions. They’re simply murder.
The Luxury of People Growing
Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the story of the living went on a much slower pace during the first two episodes of season 8, whereas the Night King and his ilk travelled at normal speed towards Winterfell. Hell, they even had time to sack a castle or two. It’s obvious that this was due to the criticism levied at the previous season (ESPECIALLY after the Wight Hunt) and that D&D (and Cogman) wanted to provide some breathing room this season. Two episodes of slow preparation before we’ll get inundated by the fight scenes we’ve all been waiting for. But is this a bad thing? Of course not, you silly sausage. Because in those two episodes we finally had some time to see the characters interact with each other. A luxury that we had last seen in season 4.
The result of this is that these first two episodes gave us the opportunity to explore the relationships these characters have with each other and even resolve a character arc or two. Imagine that! This season actually has provided us with character growth! Episode 2 worked especially well, because the entire episode took place over the span of one day, the final day of preparation before the ultimate battle of good vs evil. It was surprisingly effective for building up tension. We see soldiers preparing for battle, we see farmers pressed into service, scared to death and telling Davos they can’t fight. We see girls arguing that they too should fight. We see smiths continuing to make the impossible weapons, we see our characters brooding and drinking wine, exchanging stories. In the grand scheme of the plot these scenes don’t matter, but the interactions between characters help to flesh them out. Something that was sorely lacking in the previous season.
We see the aftermath of Jon finding out he’s Aegon Targaryen. He wrestles with the thought, gives Dany the cold shoulder for a bit, but, eventually at the end of the episode, he puts his black big boy pants on and tells Dany who he is. Here I have to give props to the writers. I know plenty of shows that would’ve made Jon struggle with it for a lot longer. So sharing that knowledge the episode after he finds out? Nicely done. Hell, Dany reacts in a way we’d all suspect her to and it’ll set up a conflict in Winterfell that is actually… realistic for a change. Medieval nobles generally dislike it when another noble suddenly gets a claim to their seat and I sincerely hope this revelation will have negative consequences. Keep that whole realpolitiking going on that the show and book series have been deconstructing for a long time now. The natural end to the message that there is nothing glorious about a few nobles having petty conflicts about lands, honour and wealth. That even as people unite to fight against the ultimate evil they don’t necessarily make good allies and that everyone wants something and will try to get it using any means necessary.
A Song of Wine and Watching Fire
But without a doubt my favourite scenes this episode were the ones where Tyrion, Jaime, Davos, Pod, Brienne and Thormund spend their last evening drinking and talking to each other. It’s interesting how carefree it all is, how they’re taking those final few hours to relax to the extent they can, talking with each other, making jokes and being actual human beings. It starts off innocently enough, with Tyrion and Jaime spending time together, only for the other characters to casually walk their way into the room, wanting some of that grape juice that passes for wine in this show. A few drinks later and we get the wonderful sequence of events that leads to one of the characters finally resolving their character arc. Ser Brienne of Tarth finally gets knighted by Jaime Lannister, the perfect person to knight her considering their past interactions. The fact that he respects her throughout the entire episode really adds to this and while a tad unrealistic it’s probably the best ending that this character can get. The lady who has been scorned her entire life for being a woman in armour gets recognised as the knight-in-shining-armour she truly is. This probably means she will die the next episode, so it’s a nice little thing to give her before she croaks.
Dropping The Other Shoe
Now this is a rather positive article, isn’t it? Look at all the praise I heap upon the writers (mostly Cogman who actually wrote this episode). So what does the title have to do with anything? Simple. This episode definitely has some flaws that can make it come across as a horrible episode in the mind of viewers. I personally happen to like these scenes, but I can also easily understand why some people would cringe at Brienne getting knighted, think Jon’s cold shoulder is childish or that this episode was an artificial stall on the events we’re waiting for. After all, can we really afford to spend an entire episode focusing on the characters when we have only five episodes left to finish the plot? And, hey, even I think some of the scenes that they showed were bad or nonsensical.
Like the Jaime scenes at the start. While I didn’t think for a second that our fearsome maimed lion would get killed despite “entering the lion’s jaws” I still dislike how easily and casually they allowed him to join Team Living. This is the man who was their sworn enemy for years. YEARS where they fought against each other. He’s killed Aerys Targaryen, threw Bran out of the tower (which Catelyn knew, btw), lead armies against house Stark and has aided in systematically destroying Dany’s allies. No matter how much I or the characters may like Brienne, by all medieval rights he should be executed or imprisoned. At the very least Dany should’ve warned him to stay away from her…
Another sequence of scenes I disliked was the whole “I know Tyrion has being making a bunch of stupid mistakes, but he’s really intelligent. Trust us! We said so!” “plotline”. I appreciate that D&D acknowledgeTyrion’s role has been pathetic the past few seasons, but that doesn’t mean I’ll accept that he’s intelligent. They need to actually make him DO intelligent stuff, not just say he’s smart. They don’t have the writing credit to pull that off and unless this pays off in the next episodes (which I sincerely doubt, considering their last two seasons) this comes across as a cheap attempt to wash away his flaws by lampshading them. Sorry guys, not gonna work.
As for the lampshading, I didn’t like that the characters showed that the Dany/Sansa rivalry is petty. I can understand why they couldn’t fix it, seeing as their disagreements are politically related, but the whole Dany and Sansa thing is petty and pointless. It eats up valuable time they already don’t have and it’ll be resolved in a friendly way anyway. So why not resolve it this episode WHILE THEY ARE TRYING TO RESOLVE IT?! What, all of a sudden realism matters now? I know that having them make up and become besties now would be clumsy, but then they shouldn’t have written this awkward and pointless thing in the first place!
All is Fair in Love and… Sex?
And the final plotline I didn’t care much for was the Arya and Gendry one. While I like the Lyanna/Robert dynamic it was too forced and didn’t really serve any symbolic or plot purpose. In fact, didn’t Gendry specifically reject Arya for being a highborn in season 3? Where did this sudden attraction come from? Why isn’t the royal blood a problem for Gendry now? Is it because they’re adults now? Is it because Gendry is so clearly amazed by Arya’s badassness? Btw, called it. Or is it for that cheap Lyanna/Robert dynamic they’re supposed to represent? Either way, their flirting doesn’t really make sense. And I would’ve enjoyed the sex scene a lot more if it weren’t for the fact that the actors looked very uncomfortable doing it. To me it came across as Maisie and Joe trying to get the scene over with rather than trying to enjoy it.
So at the heart of it all the question whether episode 2 was the best of this season really depends on whether you think the slow pacing was a good idea. I liked what they tried to do, even if some of it was rather awkward and clumsily executed. But at the end of the day I do fear that D&D setting aside an episode specifically for the characters means there won’t be any time for this in the next five episodes. And that’s just bad, mkay?
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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin.