This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
For a brief moment in the second episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, Arya Stark sounds less like the lethal, pick-a-face kid assassin we’ve known her to be, and more like a young adult with certain needs. “We’re probably going to die soon,” she tells her friend Gendry all stoically as they prepare for the Battle of Winterfell. “I want to know what it’s like when that happens.”
Cue a long stare, stuttering, and open-mouth kiss that triggers my inner-cringe.
With almost any other show, this normal moment—a young person indulging in healthy sex—would be a regular thing; as nonessential as a Riverdale hookup. But with Game of Thrones, it’s the culmination of an eight-year investment in these characters. Arya is no longer the rambunctious tomboy begging to squabble in the Winterfell courtyard anymore, she’s now a young woman with needs. She’s the product of a show that continues to shape characters into the fabric of our memories.
‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’—named after the most affecting scene in the episode, and maybe one of the kindest moments in the entire series—was basically an expensive bottle episode set in the Stark’s castle, Winterfell. Given Game of Thrones is a show known for jumping across continents to check in on its dozens of characters, it certainly felt like a bit of fan service to have all our favourite characters in the same place, trying to rapidly tie up loose ends. No blood was spilled, and we didn’t even see a White Walker until the end of the episode. You didn’t find screaming zombie children or foreboding signatures. Hell, we didn’t even see Cersei, although she got more than a few shoutouts. But our heroes got their affairs in order, and we all took in Tormund Giantsbane-sized gulp of character growth.
As the first few minutes would remind us, it was Jaime Lannister who underwent a very complex moral shift over the past few years. As a man who began as a boy-crippling, incest-indulging villain, he’s recently found himself in do-gooder shoes. Because few characters have seen him come full circle, he stood before Daenerys Targaryen for the trial of his life and found rescue from an old friend in Brienne of Tarth, who stood up and reminded everyone of his reformed baddie status—he’s saved her life and, by extension, was responsible for the rescuing of Sansa Stark.
This short-lived moment of a friend sticking up for a friend culminated several seasons worth of unspoken affection. They’ve experienced storied isolation of pain and loss that developed over the years, but from very different positions on the board. When Jaime decides to fight under Brienne and grant her a dream to boot—to be knighted—it’s clear from her hesitation, but eventual acceptance, that their relationship was far deeper than the erotic fanfiction some of us bundled them up with in the past.
And speaking of erotic fanfiction, fan favourite Tormund Giantsbane got his latest meme-worthy moment as he stole the show with an absolute killer monologue/heat check, spinning the tale of killing a giant at the age of 10 and then milking at the breast of the giant’s wife. We finally got the Jaime/Brienne/Tormund triangle all in the same keep, and yeah, one of them is definitely going to die next week at the Battle of Winterfell. (Which in case the show hasn’t made absolutely clear, is definitely happening next week and apparently is the Longest Battle Scene Ever Put on Film.)
Almost all your favourite living characters, no matter how small—looking at you Lady Mormont—got a sweet, short moment last night. Davos Seaworth handed out soup and wisdom. Sansa Stark stood up to a Queen and showed herself to be smarter and more capable than her father and brothers, a far cry from the spoiled brat of season one. The Hound and Arya shared a drink. Jaime and Tyrion reminisced about who they used to be when they visited Winterfell back in the Game of Thrones pilot. Sam Tarly got his rightful recognition as an accidental badass, slayer of a White Walker, bedder of women, stealer of library books.
The whole thing felt a lot like the end of a role-playing game, where you walk around camp talking to everyone in your party before you go out to fight the final boss. But it felt earned, not forced.
The simple scenarios of Jaime Lannister being nice to Brienne, or Ayra losing her virginity feels like a monumental investment that’s uniquely Thrones. In past seasons, we were still getting to know these characters bit by bit. Digging into the relationships of Arya, Jaime, and the like were incredibly slow burns, where moments of foreshadowing played off to the moments we’ve witnessed several years later—like Brienne’s undying relationship to the concepts of knighthood. And that’s the thing. Beyond the short sequences between Theon reuniting with a tearful Sansa, or Daenerys’ obsession with the Iron Throne—despite being told that she’s boning her nephew—we know who these people are. We’ve known them all along. Arya might have been an adult slitting throats, but like Jon, we remembered her as a child—so hence, the cringe. We’ve seen Brienne’s undying honesty, so hence, the tears.
Game of Thrones is simply at a special place in a series where it doesn’t have to ask us to remember, we just will. It doesn’t have to explain a moment, it’ll be felt. And it doesn’t have to manipulate us for to cry, because goddammit, we will.
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