Sunday's episode of Game of Throneswas the calm before the approaching winter storm, and while many impatient fans were champing at the bit for the promised action to begin, urging the show to just get on with it already, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" delayed certain forms of gratification in favor of others. Indulging itself in a little fan service, the episode took the form of intimate conversations and meaningful moments, and in doing so produced an emotionally charged hour that reminded us that there is still some good left in this world.
Everyone spent what might be their final hours in different ways: Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) made plans for the future; Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Theon (Alfie Allen) enjoyed a last meal together; Arya (Maisie Williams) hooked up with Gendry (Joe Dempsie); Jon (Kit Harington), Sam (John Bradley), and Edd (Ben Crompton) considered where they all started; and a small group that included Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) drank wine and contemplated their mortality.
As the episode cycled through the different character pairings, it also underscored and bolded what has become abundantly clear over the course of the last few seasons, and that is that the show's supporting characters and their arcs within the larger narrative are richer, more dynamic, and ultimately resonate on a deeper level than anything pertaining to the show's leads and their main objectives -- and none more so than Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
If Cersei (Lena Headey) is the show at its most bone-chilling and worst, and if Jaime is the show at its most complex and complicated, Brienne is the show at its most honorable and good. Some fans may argue that distinction belongs to Jon, but though Jon is certainly pure of heart and has good intentions, he pales in comparison to Brienne, who is a pillar of strength, the picture of loyalty, and completely steadfast in her convictions. Jon's inherent goodness is often seen as a weakness, but Brienne's is her greatest strength. It was her vouching for Jaime to Sansa at the start of the hour that ultimately spared his life, because Sansa knew Brienne and trusted her not only with her life but at her word, which is only one small sign of her power.
And Brienne's complicated relationship with Jaime is ultimately what grounded the emotional throughline of the entire episode. That's hardly surprising, though; the relationship between Jaime and Brienne has been steadily building in one way or another since Jaime first confessed what happened the day he earned his unfortunate Kingslayer nickname in one of the best moments of the series. The connection that sparked from his display of vulnerability that day has grown into a relationship built on trust, which is not something that often happens in Westeros, and it has been growing and evolving ever since, sustaining itself on the briefest of interactions.
It's right and fitting that the first two episodes of Game of Thrones' final season have taken us back to Winterfell, taken us back to where this entire journey began eight years ago. The battle against the dead could occur nowhere else but Winterfell. But with the exception of Sansa (and Arya, at times), the Starks have become some of the least interesting pieces of the Westeros puzzle.
The power dynamics that Jon and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are wrestling with, especially since the former has told the latter the truth about his parentage, are ostensibly what the show thinks we should care about. After all, their relationships affects the series' big climax and will be the driving force behind the ongoing war for the Iron Throne after the battle between the living and the dead is over. But it's hard to care about shifting politics, Jon being the true heir, and all these big picture concerns involving two of the show's leading figures when something as small as a solemn fireside chat leads to a moment as deeply moving and powerful as Brienne being knighted by Jaime.
Watching "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," it was frightfully easy to forget Jon or his queen played any kind of role in the episode's poignant narrative -- in fact, I did forget how much Jon was in this episode until I rewatched it this morning. This was an hour that belonged to Brienne, the only truly noble person left in Westeros, and viewers were clinging to it like the lifeline it was.
In the world of television, especially in the last 20 years, characters like Brienne are often forgotten or ignored, pushed aside for those with questionable morals and hints of darkness around the edges. In the world of Westeros, they're frequently and mercilessly cut down. But inherently good and honorable people can be interesting and worthwhile too, and seeing the joy on Brienne's face upon finally being recognized for her worth and seeing the respect and support of the men around that fire as they all stared death in the face together was a sad reminder that most of these people will probably die by series' end, likely sooner, but the emotionally rich characters and the small moments like Jaime knighting Brienne we've experienced through them have made it all worth it.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.