Game of Thrones review: we get it, everyone’s going to die

 “The army of the dead are coming... only on HBO.”

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Death: coming soon to an ancestral seat near you. As battle plans were drawn, weapons strapped to armor, and Dutch courage liberally swigged, this episode of Game of Thrones beat us over the head with warnings that our remaining favourite characters (all gathered at Winterfell) are perhaps just a week away from their final minutes of screen time, cheerfully mentioning their own impending deaths with alarming frequency. “So, we’re going to die at Winterfell,” Tyrion said jovially early on. “We’re probably going to die soon,” Arya declared. “I could wait to die freezing my balls off out there, or wait to die nice and warm in here,” Davos joked. Looking for “somewhere warm […] to contemplate your imminent death? You've come to the right place.”

Like last week, this was another plot-light, comedy-heavy, anticipatory hour of Thrones ­­­– an episode designed to deliberately torture the audience by putting everyone we love in one room, uniting them against a common enemy, and having them joke and sing and flirt before they get ripped apart by icy dead hands. We know they have little chance of survival. The upcoming battle against the White Walkers, in episode three, has been much discussed in the press cycles for the show’s final season, with cast and showrunners repeatedly labelling it the series’s “biggest battle ever”. Now it has been heavily trailed inside the show itself, too, giving some moments the uncomfortable feeling of self-promotion. I half expected Jon Snow to turn to camera mid-monologue: “The army of the dead are coming... only on HBO.”

I like Game of Thrones when it is slower, chattier, and more character-focused, but at times, this episode became repetitive. If last week felt full of reunions (at least eight, at my count) this was equally stuffed with powerful hugs and meaningful looks between long-lost companions and rivals: from Theon and Sansa to Jaime and Brienne. “Who would have thought WE’d end up on the same team?!” was a sentiment echoed in every corner of the castle, as was a bleak take on carpe diem: “Well, if I am going to die, I might as well spend my final hours drinking/chatting/singing/fucking with you”.

And they did. The love triangle between Jaime, Brienne and Tormund brought the majority of the fun and spark this week, thanks to another fantastically earnest performance from Kristofer Hivju. The knighting of Ser Brienne of Tarth was the emotional heart of the episode, but I hope that’s not her character arc done with: she deserves more. After several episodes of “looking concerned”, Tyrion was finally given his gallows humour back. A sex scene between Arya and Gendry left me squirming uncomfortably.

While an update on Cersei was conspicuously (ominously?) absent, there were a few quiet but key plot advances. Ser Jorah has a Valerian steel sword, and Arya has her special weapon made with the precise purpose of finally killing death – let’s hope she is the one to kill the Night King. Jaime was allowed to join the Winterfell army. Daenerys attempted to sweet talk Sansa, with saccharine smiles and a veiled implication of feminist sisterhood, but fortunately, this didn’t become a hollow girl power sequence: Sansa stood her ground as their fundamental opposition over the fate of the North re-emerged. And we were told over and over again how “safe” the crypts are – a warning sign if ever there was one.

But Game of Thrones does death best when you least expect it: protagonists beheaded just when you thought they had been promised mercy, or just as they finally pause to celebrate their good fortune. Characters are as likely to die on their wedding day, on the toilet, or in bed as they are in battle. So there’s something unsettling about an entire press cycle and two episodes of pre-amble telling us to expect everyone to die. Surely, something more unexpected than the Night King looms on the horizon.

This week’s bad bitch points are awarded as follows:

  • Brienne stepping up to defend Jaime. A loyal queen! +13
  • Dany: “He never should have trusted Cersei.” Sansa: “You never should have either.” +43 to Sansa, who has never once trusted Cersei in her adult life.
  • Sansa, seeing right through Dany’s slick sisterly act. +32
  • Arya: “‘Really bad’”? Even a smith’s apprentice can do better than ‘really bad’”. +14
  • “I know Death. He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.” Arya, flirting. +23
  • Tiny child racists. -38
  • “Everyone seems to forget that I was the first man to kill a White Walker. I’ve killed Thenns. I’ve saved Gilly more than once. I stole a considerable number of books from the Citadel library.” Samwell Tarly, a true rebel. +19
  • Edd: “Samwell Tarly. Slayer of White Walkers. Lover of Ladies. As if we needed any more signs the world was ending.” In 2019, Eddison Tollett is one of those people who regularly racks up a bizarrely high number of favs for joking about the apocalypse on Twitter. +5
  • Jaime: “It wasn’t so simple. I was sleeping with my sister and you had one friend in the world – who was sleeping with his sister.” I’m sorry, what?! Jaime leaves his terrorist murdering evil queen incest wife (who he raped, by the way!) for ONE EPISODE and suddenly he’s all like, “Remember when I slept with my sister? Lol bants” as though she’s a regrettable tattoo he got in Zante 12 years ago after one too many Jaegerbombs. She’s PREGNANT with your CHILD right NOW and she’s probably coming to kill you. ARE YOU JOKING? -321
  • Tormund: “They call me Giantsbane. Want to know why? I killed a giant when I was 10. Then I climbed right into bed with his wife. When she woke up, you know what she did? Suckled me at her teat for three months. Thought I was her baby. That's how I got so strong. Giant's milk.” Of all the “suckled by a giant’s humungous teat” stories I’ve heard in my life, this is my favourite. +48
  • Tormund’s proud clapping after Brienne is knighted. +38
  • Tormund guzzling his mystery drink from a horn. +28
  • Lyanna Mormont: “We’re done here. I wish you good fortune, cousin.” A firm yet polite queen! +26
  • Podrick’s beautiful singing voice. +34
  • Dany bleating on about the Iron Throne literally seconds before everyone she’s ever loved is murdered before her very eyes -329

This week’s baddedst bitch is Tormund, a true icon of our times.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.