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'Game Of Thrones' Season 8, Episode 2: 'Think Back To Where We Started'

Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in his cups (well, goblets, technically) on <em>Game of Thrones</em>.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in his cups (well, goblets, technically) on Game of Thrones.

We're recapping the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones; look for these recaps first thing on Monday mornings. Spoilers, of course, abound.

Here it is, folks, the Great Inward Breath.

Last week's season premiere was all about setting the table — reunions, recriminations and churning out great big meaty chunks of plot to get everyone up to speed. Now that the table's set, the series decided to take a step back to admire its handiwork — how well they lit the candles and folded the napkins into the shapes of swans or what have you.

Did you notice? Not even a passing glimpse of a dragon. Just scene after scene of people in rooms having conversations — classic, O.G. Thrones, although these conversations came tinged with a wry ruefulness and a kind of low-key thrum of amazement that any of them made it this far. It was a throwback episode, a bottle episode, a chance to watch these characters make ready for the coming battle.

After last week's onslaught of story points, this episode seemed measured, even contemplative, as it parceled out only a handful of new bits of information that seem likely to prove relevant:

  • The Night King wants Bran, so they'll use him as three-eyed bait.
  • Jon revealed to Daenerys why he's been so ... auntsy.
  • Everyone at Winterfell who will not be fighting the Army of the Dead will be holed up in the crypts, as it's (several characters repeat this, which should raise all sorts of the very reddest of flags) "the safest place." It has evidently occurred to none of these characters that when fighting a foe whose whole freaking schtick is animating corpses, the least safe place to be is a big ol' corpse storage facility. "Oh, no, we're being chased by a dude with a flame thrower! Let's hide in this fireworks store!"
  • From here on in, the final four episodes are gonna clock in at about an hour and 20 minutes each, and they're likely to go heavy on dragon-zombie-razzle-dazzle. So let's take some time and appreciate this moment of quiet before the ice storm.

    To begin:

    The revamped credits take us through Last Hearth and King's Landing again, even though we don't visit them in this episode. Nope, we're all about Winterfell, which gets several new clockwork lines of defense this pass-through, and its clockwork godswood comes equipped with a tree whose face looks an awful lot like Winston Churchill, if you're in the market for World War II parallels.

    We open with Jaime Lannister on trial, of sorts. Daenerys is all, "My name is Inigo Montoya, you keeled my father, prepare to die," but Tyrion and Brienne vouch for him. Tyrion's entreaties don't impress Daenerys much — throughout this episode, she regards her counselor as if he's a small, stubborn stain — but Brienne makes a convincing case, by invoking the late Catelyn Stark. And if you're sitting there thinking "Aw, what a nice moment between Jaime and Brienne, who share one of the most interesting, nuanced relationships on a show full of nuanced, interesting relationships," boy, just you wait 45 minutes, because damn.

    There's a bit at the end of the scene when Dany's like, "What say you, Warden of the North?" and Jon Snow's all like, "Hm? Sorry, I was miles away, thinking about how different Auntie Mame would be if Rosalind Russell and the kid who played Patrick were schtupping each other what no reason NO REASON I'm fine what is that the time I gotta go."

    Tyrion gets a royal dressing down from Daenerys, as the show makes explicit something that's been implicit for several seasons now — Tyrion isn't as smart as he thinks he is. This means he's due for a nice, redemptive Big Smart Thing That Will Save The Day any episode now, so those of us who've been impatiently waiting for the writers to let Tyrion be Tyrion shouldn't have long to wait.

    Forging ahead

    Arya visits Gendry in the Winterfell forges, where many, many dragonglass weapons are being made. In a nice callback, she admires his uh ... form, and they share some banter. She asks for details about the Army of the Dead, and Gendry proves an inarticulate storyteller ("They're bad. Very bad.") who jokingly condescends to Arya, all while sporting a bad haircut, which is why you heard so many millions of people yelling "ARYA YOU CAN DO BETTER GIRL" at their televisions at 9:07 ET Sunday night. But the heart wants what it wants, as do the loins, so here we all are, neck deep in ... what are people calling it? Ardry? Genya? I like Ardry, because is sounds like "arduous," which is what this particular ship seems.

    Jaime meets Bran in the godswood, and Bran's like, "So, bangs now, hunh?" and Jaime's all, "Yeah, I wanted a change; I think they frame my face, like yours do, what do you think?" and Bran's all "We're bangs buddies now! And bangs buddies don't hold grudges for throwing each other out tower windows!"

    Jaime and Tyrion get a walk-and-talk scene intended, in whole or in part, to quell online questions about whether Cersei is really pregnant (she very is). Jaime stares down over some battlements, which have been newly festooned with defensive dragonglass, at Podrick and Brienne. Jaime and Brienne get a touching exchange in which Jaime asks to serve under Brienne in the coming battle, and if this moment between them touched a soft salty part of you, hoo boy, just wait half an hour.

    Daenerys and Jorah Mormont spend some time dutifully inching Tyrion's redemption arc a few inches further down the road. This is followed by a scene in which Daenerys and Sansa get some quality time onscreen together, finally — though as their conversation is dominated by talk of Tyrion and Jon Snow, they manage to fail the Bechdel test so flagrantly, with such verve, elan and aplomb, that they'll need to retake it after school. (It's a nice scene, though.) "Tell me," Daenerys asks Sansa, pointing out that she's up in the frozen North at Jon Snow's side, when she could be down in King's Landing serving herself up a nice big helping of Cersei en flambe, "Who manipulated whom?" (The fact that she said "whom" instead of "who" right there means she was raised right and deserves the Iron Throne.)

    They are interrupted before Daenerys can answer Sansa's question about the fate of the North, once the battles are over. (It's the first of two times this episode that fate will interrupt her at a crucial time.) Theon shows up and is warmly welcomed by Sansa — very warmly. Surprisingly warmly, frankly. I mean, sure, he did save her life. But that didn't seem like a "You saved my life" hug.

    Crypt-o currency

    Davos serves soup — the color and consistency of hot ketchup — to several peasants readying for the coming battle. Gilly assures someone that the crypts are the safest place KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON KLAXON and we meet an adorable moppet who will likely become Victim No. 1 when ice-zombie Lyanna Stark or whoever comes crawling out of her grave next week.

    Dolorous Edd, Beric Dondarrion and Tormund make it back to Winterfell, where battle preparations proceed apace. At a war council held around a big map table that's not nearly as cool as the one at Dragonstone, plans are made. Well. Plan, anyway.

    The plan, such as it is: Get to the Night King — who, we learn, has got a thing for Three-Eyed Ravens. Sam gets a nifty little speech about memory, history and the stories we tell, which causes everyone around the table to look at each other meaningfully. Or questioningly. Or amorously. It's hard to tell.

    "We'll put you in the crypt," Jon tells Bran (wait for it!), "where it's safest." "What a stupid idea, I've seen next week's episode," Bran doesn't say.

    What he does say is that he'll park his wheelchair in the godswood and wait for the Night King there, defended by Theon. Tyrion wants to fight, but Daenerys orders him to stay in the really, no kidding, completely absolutely super-duper safe crypts.

    After the council, Daenerys tries to connect with Jon, but he disappears, leaving a broody dust cloud behind him and a Jon-Snow-shaped hole in the wall.

    "You've had a strange journey," Tyrion says to the creepy goth kid who can see through time and supplant the consciousness of wildlife — two skills he honed via the mentorship of Max von Sydow, the half-tree wizard. "I'd like to hear about it." The scene cuts away then, leaving us to wonder if Bran told Tyrion about his own story alone, or shared some spicy tidbits about the real identity of Jon Snow.

    More battle prep. Missandei and Grey Worm make plans for a beach vacation; Jon, Sam and Dolorous Edd (plus Jon's dire wolf Ghost!) brood on the battlements, giving the show yet another opportunity to mash the "Gilly and little Sam will be SAFE DOWN IN THE CRYPTS" button. "Think back to where we started," says Sam, transforming the episode's subtext into text.

    In the Great Hall of Winterfell, Tyrion and Jaime drink by the fireplace and reflect on how much they've grown as people. They are joined by Brienne, Podrick, Davos and Tormund. (No Varys, though, which seems like criminal oversight.) Tormund flirts a bit, tells a story about how he got the name Giantsbane (it's what you guessed, pretty much) and demonstrates the kind of table manners that you'd imagine someone who's lived most of his life without tables would possess.

    Arya meets the Hound and Beric Dondarrion on the Battlements of Brooding, and once again the series reminds us how far these characters have come — which suggests that some or all of them won't make it through next week's battle. I'm thinking Beric's Done-darrion, at the very least.

    Gendry finds Arya in a kind of storage room and gives her the weapon she asked him to build for her. The two of them catch up with each other, and then they really catch up with each other. Like, horizontally. Sweatily. And if you've recently binged every episode in preparation for this final season, and 13-year-old, Season 1 Maisie Williams is fresh in your mind, you will be forgiven for turning your eyes from the screen during this bit.

    Knight moves

    Back at the Fireside Chat, Tyrion is drunk. Like, "You know bros I think we actually might live through the hordes of ice zombies led by Death himself" drunk.

    There follows a scene between Jaime and Brienne that is fueled by, and comments on, and enriches, their complicated history together: Jaime knights Brienne of Tarth. If you can, watch this scene again, and notice just how much Gwendoline Christie is serving you — the tiniest quiver of her lips, at just the right moment, the eyes that glisten but never quite well up. So much passes between them: strength, gratitude, awe, respect, love. When it's done, everyone applauds, because, I mean ... wouldn't you?

    Lyanna Mormont refuses to be sent to the crypts "where it's safe" (Hey, show? We get it) by her cousin Jorah, because of course she does. Sam presents Jorah with his family's Valyrian steel sword, which is called Heartsbane. (He does not tell Jorah the story of how it got the name Heartsbane; one assumes it has nothing to do with anyone suckling at anyone else's teat.)

    Then Podrick sings a sad song that will put you in the mind of that moment in The Return of the King when the Steward of Gondor orders Pippin to do some emo cabaret while he eats his dinner loudly and slurpily. This turns into a quick montage of our cast of players (including Sansa and Theon, making googly eyes at one another over steaming cups of tea, so goodbye Theon it's been real) that concludes in the Winterfell crypts, which look, not for nothing, just really quite remarkably safe.

    Jon is staring at the tomb of his mother, Lyanna Stark. Daenerys approaches him, and he spills the I'm-secretly-a-king-oh-also-we've-been-doing-an-incest beans. She doesn't accept it — because why would she — but Jon is firm. As it were.

    Look, it's no secret that the scenes between Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington haven't exactly lit up the screen with big hot sexytime electricity. The show needs them to have it, though, and plows on as if they do — but now that the secret's out, that disconnect will likely fall away. Because the truth is their onscreen chemistry always felt more familial than intended, so at least now we're all on the same page.

    Just before Jon can tell Daenerys what his intentions are re: the Iron Throne, the war horns sound, conveniently enough: White Walkers have been sighted.

    White Riders, technically, I suppose, as we get our first and only special effects shot of the episode — a horde of those pasty, icy, long-haired Edgar-Winter-looking zombies massing before Winterfell. No sign of the undead dragon, or the Night King himself, however. He's still in the latrine, presumably, because lord knows he hasn't been getting enough Bran. Though that's about to change.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.