Reviewed by Tania Evans
Part 2 in Tania’s review of the last season of Game of Thrones, read her review of Episode 1 here
In the days between the first and second episode of Game of Thrones season eight, U.S President Donald Trump has posted a fourth Game of Thrones style post on Twitter, this time using the phrase “Game Over” in the Game of Thrones typeface to refer to the report on his possible collusion with Russia issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This is not the first time Trump has attempted to capitalise on Game of Thrones’ popularity to make political comments: in 2018 he tweeted a photo of himself overlaid with the phrase “Sanctions are Coming” in the Game of Thrones typeface, to announce the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran, a clear citation of the phrase “Winter is Coming,” the House Stark words. More recently still, he issued a similar graphic with “The Wall is Coming” to promote the wall he plans to build at the border between the United States and Mexico.
In each of these posts Trump instrumentalises Game of Thrones to highlight his violent rejection of the Other, but his use of the series is at once (unintentionally) humorous and jarring because he misses the complexity and ambiguity behind phrases such as the ‘game of thrones’ and ‘winter is coming’ as they operate in the series. A large part of Game of Thrones’ charm is its moral and ideological ambiguity: characters are neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ but occupy a nuanced in-betweenness that is both refreshing and comforting. Trump’s messy citation of the series for use in his far-right rhetoric highlights the importance of this ambivalence to disrupting the binaries that inform dominant and oppressive matrices of power in the real world and for Game of Thrones as a fantasy television series.
But in its haste to tie down the multitudinous plotlines and character arcs at Winterfell before the battle against the living dead, the second episode of season eight, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” skims over this delicate ambivalence and simplifies them in ways that align more closely with Trump’s simple ‘Game Over’ tweet than with previous seasons. The episode is set entirely at Winterfell on the night before the battle against the white walkers and the Night King. The focus is on conversations rather than action: Daenerys confronts Sansa about her animosity, Jaime arrives at Winterfell, Brienne of Tarth is anointed as a knight, Theon returns to fight for the Starks, Arya and Gendry have sex, and in the crypt Jon tells Daenerys about his true identity and his claim to the Iron Throne. If this sounds like a lot for sixty minutes of screen time, it most certainly feels like it. So much is crammed into “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” that it feels like a string of relationships are simply marked as either ‘Game On’ or ‘Game Over.’
Take, for example, Brienne’s knighting. While sitting around the fire, Brienne, Tormund Giantsbane, Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, and Podrick Payne discuss knighthood and the fact that Brienne is not technically a knight. Jaime informs the audience that any knight can make a knight, and proceeds to interpellate her into knighthood then and there. Shameless fan service aside, this scene feels very confused and confusing. The scene’s tone shifts from jocular to serious and heartening far too quickly, Brienne lacks agency, and there is no acknowledgment of the complexity of knighthood itself – something previous seasons have spent much time interrogating.
One of the most troubling parts is the way in which Brienne’s gender and power are glossed over throughout the entire scene. In the three minutes of screen time that her anointing is given – quite a lot for such a packed episode – Brienne does not have a single line of dialogue. The most sustained glimpse of her affective and gendered response to being knighted is the moments after she rises as “Ser Brienne of Tarth,” as Tyrion proclaims. She looks around the room with teary eyes and a wide smile, grateful to this group of powerful white men who acknowledge her as an equal. The weight of the previous seven seasons almost makes this scene convincing – but not quite.
How does Brienne feel about being knighted by Jaime, a man whose honour she has long derided even as she now recognises it? What is the relation between Jaime’s history as Kingslayer, his own tenuous status as a disabled knight, and his decision to knight Brienne on the eve of battle? Did Jaime’s confrontation with Bran Stark, whom he pushed from a tower in season one, influence his feelings about his own knighthood? How are we to reconcile Brienne’s anointment with her complex gender identity? Has she ‘settled’ the ongoing queerness around her being Ser or Lady Brienne? Is such a settling possible? This episode certainly seems to think so. And it is here that “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” becomes such a disappointment: neither gender, nor morality, nor relationships, can be as neatly resolved as this episode pretends. Suggesting otherwise is dangerous because it falls back on the binaries between good and evil, man or woman, ally or foe, that previous seasons of Game of Thrones have so thoroughly disrupted, and which far-right political actors such as Trump are eager to levy as a means of perpetuating racist, sexist, and homophobic rhetoric. With four episodes to go this is not to say that it is ‘Game Over’ for season eight, but that it is necessary to level up the ambivalence and uncertainty that have won a legion of fans across the globe.
Tania Evans is a cultural studies researcher at the Australian National University, Australia. Her PhD on masculinity and Fantasy in George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire (1996 - current) and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones (2011-2019), was recently passed and she will be graduating in July 2019. She has written several essays on gender in popular culture, which have been published in Gothic Studies, Fantastika Journal, Masculinities, and Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies. She teaches literary studies, film, and feminist theory.
Read more of Tania’s work on Game of Thrones here:
- An article on Cersei in Aeternum: https://www.aeternumjournal.com/issues
- A meme version of this article: http://cass.anu.edu.au/news/10-memes-explain-how-game-thrones-cersei-lannister-blowing-patriarchy
- A book chapter on Shireen: https://www.palgrave.com/jp/book/9783319964560