For this review, I decided not to do a play-by-play type of commentary. Instead, I wanted to address the macro issues within the episode since a lot of things happened. Much of the episode was about setting up for the highly anticipated upcoming battle between the living and the dead but there was a lot of other subtexts going on too.
Unlike episode 1 this season which only showed us a brief moment with Jaime, a good chunk of this episode was resolving a fair amount of his story arc in terms of how he changed from season 1. He certainly has one of the largest character alterations within the story, going from an arrogant, snarky son of a rich lord to a much more humbled person who sees what his true purpose in life is.
While the arc started to evolve when he met Brienne, I think he became very conscientious when he was talking to Joffrey in an earlier season about deeds of knights. His pages were empty or filled with failures. However, he knew that he had time left in the world to make up for it. Thus, in this episode he attempts to redeem himself in a few ways such as joining the cause of the living, apologizing to Bran for his actions and knighting Brienne of Tarth.
His purpose mostly is for Brienne at this point as he pledges to stand by her side, fighting under her. As she had saved his life in the beginning of the episode, he takes the opportunity to provide Brienne her happiest moment alive by knighting her. Not only is that scene one of respect but it is of mutual love and understanding of one another where both characters can play out their final days with peace in their hearts while dying with honor.
Another major arc comes in the form of Daenerys and her position of ruling. Unlike her previous conquests, the one of the North is given as a result of Jon bending the knee. There is a begrudging from the North that Daernys cannot understand. Her misunderstanding is that the people have a gravely different perspective of Targaryens and what they had done to the North in the past.
Also, unlike other places she overthrew, the North has a very strong character built by family, loyalty and love. While she starts to gain a little understanding of how things work from a private meeting with Sansa, she starts to see the difference of what it means to be a Northerner when Theon Greyjoy returns to redeem himself after turning against Robb and the North.
It is a crucial moment because she has been obsessed with ruling for most of her life, especially after her brother died. She is a foreigner as many have stated, despite being born within the Seven Kingdoms. But her thinking is alien and she herself is alienated because she demands her position.
What complicates things is Jon’s own discovery of his heritage, which he shares in private with Daenerys. There’s a huge conflict within her as she loves Jon but realizes that she no longer has the stronger claim to the throne. Fortunately for them both, the enemy is at their doorstep before they can resolve this issue.
Much of the rest of the episode deals with how these characters will face death. Bran discusses in the war council what the Night King and the army of the dead represent: death incarnate. Samwell Tarly expatiates on the idea of death; the state of being forgotten permanently. The whole goal of the Night King is to convert the world into perpetual darkness and extinguish all life and memory of it.
Sam’s speech is a critical one that touches on one of the key recurring themes in the book. Arya herself talks about “knowing death” because of how she underwent her training with the Faceless Men. Jon knew it directly in being murdered by his own brothers within the Nights Watch. And Beric talks about how death is always the enemy, the first and the last that we must all face and that we all will eventually lose to despite being forced to confront it.
The idea of death makes everyone bond as they know that this is their ultimate war. It will literally be the living vs the dead and the question is how people will react when confronted with it directly. It’s like Robert Baratheon’s riddle to Cersei: what is the larger number, 5 or 1?
At this time, the living finally have gathered together (minus Euron, Cersei and whatever forces Cersei still has) to make their last stand. But as Jon mentions it’s not enough. They do not have the numbers to win, especially in a straight fight. But they do have the prime purpose of any creature: survive.