Sunday night’s Game of Thrones teased the onset of the Night King’s raid on Winterfell. Battle plans were made, weapons were forged, warriors began to assemble at their posts, and the women and children were sent to the crypts, where they will certainly be very safe, because why would the show keep mentioning the crypts as a safe haven for the women and children only to later have them be in danger?? But with everything in place, and one fitful night of sleep in front of our heroes, we were treated to a slow-down episode, where these characters we’ve become accustomed to over the course of eight seasons grouped off in different, often delightful configurations, took a breath, and tried to take in what may well be their last night on earth. “We’re all going to die,” said Tormund Giantsbane after the plan was laid out. “At least we’ll be together.”
It was a surprisingly warm statement from the Wildling warrior, even if we’ve seen a significant softening in recent seasons. It also summed up an episode where the most significant set piece — saving for maybe Jon’s come-clean to Daenerys about his true parentage and Arya determining that Gendry will be the one to show her what sex is before this great and terrible battle — was a fireside chat between a ragtag group that included Tyrion, Jaime, Podrick, Brienne, Tormund, and Davos. This meeting of once far-flung warriors drove home even more how much the Game of Thrones universe has compacted itself in this final season. At long last, these characters we’ve come to know so well are intermingling, and it’s honestly thrilling.
Fireside Club also served as a stage for what has become, bar none, the greatest love triangle on television. In fact, just referring to it as a “love triangle” belittles it in a way I don’t intend. For one thing, neither of the three participants have expressed this love physically, and only one of the three have even expressed a desire for it. But it’s there and it’s deep. Since season 2, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth have shared an odd bond. She was his captor at first, then they were both prisoners, and at different points along the way they saved each other. At their lowest points, they shared their innermost secrets and feelings. The only reason any of us have any sympathy for Jaime whatsoever is because he spilled his guts to Brienne about how much the “kingslayer” thing bothers him, since killing the Mad King was the one good and noble thing he’d ever done in his whole pampered life. She shared her own feelings with him about her isolation as a woman whose ambitions were in the world of men.
This all came to a head Sunday night, as Brienne stepped forward to vouch for Jaime, for his character and nobility, and convinced Sansa to let him fight with them. And of course she’s in love with him! We established that back when Cersei taunted her about it before Joffrey’s wedding. But the love story between Brienne and Jaime, unlike pretty much every other romantic pairing on this show, goes deeper than romance or attraction. Brienne and Jaime share a love that is wrapped up in notions of loyalty and in the promise of being better than the people they were. Their love, in other words, represents everything that Game of Thrones is supposed to be about.
It’s a testament to how much we love Tormund that any third party could complicate that love in any way. But here’s Tormund, uncomplicated warrior (and a right ginger snack, too) who from the moment he set eyes on Brienne’s tall frame knew that she was the woman for him. The show has played this as a one-sided crush — a very cute one, at that — but the thing about Tormund is that he outwardly and forthrightly wants Brienne and has no other rival for her in his heart. Jaime … has a tangle of Cersei-shaped thorns around his heart, and he’s going to have to work that shit out.
That is, if Jaime even survives the battle. Or if Brienne does. Or Tormund. That’s what made Fireside Club so great. They all might be dead tomorrow, so Jaime takes it upon himself to bestow knighthood upon Brienne tonight, in one of the straight-up most emotional moments in the history of the show. Tormund … well, he can’t compete with that. But the beauty of Tormund is that he never realizes he has to. He just keeps making eyes at Brienne and boasting of suckling at the teat of a giant woman. Honestly? It’s a good look on him, and Brienne should seriously consider it.
For as much as Game of Thrones gets adoration and accolades for being a large-scale spectacle of battle and betrayal, daggers and dragons, ice and fire, an episode like “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a good reminder of what a great character drama Game of Thrones has become, with a deep roster of people whose histories we’ve come to know and enjoy. This pause before the storm hits was an absolute triumph for the show and a chance to prove that it’s not just giant battle epics that it does well.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.