Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Last of the Starks”

The Moment: Jaime Lannister Leaves Brienne of Tarth

Setting the Scene: After the consummation of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship and seemingly a period of happiness in Winterfell, Jaime hears that Cersei and Euron have done serious damage to Daenerys’s forces, which causes him to do some soul-searching.

Why It Matters: If you’ll notice, I changed the title of this section. “Why It’s Awesome” didn’t feel right for a scene that left my favorite character sobbing and my other favorite character riding off to what seems to be certain death with the most unclear motives in television history. Despite its inherently tragic (and possibly frustrating) nature, this scene deserved a closer look.

Let’s start with the obvious: None of us have any idea why Jaime really left the North—and the life he was building there with Brienne—to return South. We can make educated guesses, make up various theories, and even claim to use the actors’ performances, small pieces of what we think is foreshadowing, and potential spoilers to gain insight into Jaime’s mind in this moment. Is he leaving to kill Cersei because he knows he’s the only one who can get close enough? Is he leaving to die with her because he feels that’s the only way to fully atone for the sins he committed out of his love for her? Is he leaving to try to save her because he still loves her? Is he leaving because of the child Cersei is pregnant with? Does he plan to die in her arms as her soulmate? Did he always only love Cersei, or does he truly love Brienne now? Does he think he’s not worthy of Brienne? Is he trying to protect Brienne by pushing her away so she won’t follow him?

There are probably a thousand more ways to interpret this scene and what Jaime is going through during it, but we won’t know until the next episode airs, or the series finale, or maybe not even then. And for some people, that might be fine. Obscuring character motivations for the sake of preserving shock value is not a new trick on this show—it was my main complaint with last season’s Arya/Sansa storyline. But it’s not fine for me. I want to leave every scene of this final season feeling something—whatever that feeling may be—deeply. I prefer when the characters drive the plot, not the other way around. So Jaime’s lack of clear motivation—and the lack of relationship building between him and Brienne (in this episode rather than in the many seasons of gorgeous development we got before their love scene)—left me feeling confused more than anything else. By trying to hit two huge beats (the sex and the “breakup”) in one of the show’s most nuanced and beloved relationships all in the course of an episode, it just cemented my belief that this final season is more about moving characters into predetermined places as quickly as possible instead of creating a story whose final highs and lows feel earned.

With that being said, I don’t want to talk much about Jaime in this scene. I want to believe that the tears in his eyes gave away his true feelings (because how deeply unsatisfying would it be for him to actually go back to Cersei because he loves her after all this?), but my lack of faith in these writers when it comes to Jaime’s character arc is telling me that might have just been the result of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau once again bringing so much more depth to his character than the writers believe exists in Jaime.

And how could he not bring everything he had to this scene when he was met with his best scene partner giving what may have been her best performance yet?

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Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Long Night”

The Moment: Arya Stark Kills the Night King

Setting the Scene: Just as all hope seems lost for the living in Winterfell and with the Night King seemingly about to draw his sword against Bran, Arya jumps out of the darkness and fulfills her destiny to close blue eyes forever.

Why It’s Awesome: I’ll be honest: I didn’t love “The Long Night.” Last week’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is much more my style of storytelling and provided far more of what I want from Game of Thrones. However, this episode delivered when it counted, with a moment that had me leaping off my couch in shock and will forever be immortalized in reaction videos that bring tears to my eyes when I watch them.

This is what fandom is all about. It’s what entertainment is all about. It’s about these kinds of moments—ones that make us hold our breath and then explode with emotion, ones that make us want to talk to everyone we know about how it made us feel, and ones that bring us together in shared excitement.

Arya killing the Night King was unexpected in the moment. It seemed like it was Jon’s destiny—or maybe even Bran’s. And then, as the episode neared its end and the fates of all the main characters looked pretty grim, I actually started to worry if maybe the Night King would actually win. But that wasn’t the subversion the writers were going for. Instead, it was the subversion of our expectations of whose hero’s journey we’re actually on when it comes to this story. After Arya stabbed the Night King, I had the best kind of reaction imaginable to a piece of media—I immediately thought about going back and rewatching the entire show with this knowledge in mind, because I knew that I’d see everything differently now. This was a moment that changed not just the future of the show, but how I will now view its previous episodes, too. Because, in her own twisted way, Arya was on a hero’s journey. She had to travel far from home, encounter monsters of all kinds, let her old self die, survive hell, and return home with new knowledge that could be used to create a better future. It doesn’t get more quintessentially Joseph Campbell than that.

I love that Arya’s journey had a real purpose. I struggled for a long time with her story because it felt like a depressing tale of a haunted girl learning to become a soulless killer for revenge. And that kind of story is never interesting to me. But now it all makes sense. She had to become intimately familiar with death in order to kill its greatest agent and symbol. She had to know death to destroy death. All of her training led her to that moment of sticking death itself with the pointy end to defend her brother and her home. When you look at who Arya is and what she was fighting for, there was no better way for this part of the story to end. It managed to be both surprising and satisfying, which doesn’t happen very often on television.

I have no idea where this story is going to go now, but I’m ready to move on from the Night King and get back to the interpersonal, human dramas that have made this show so compelling from the pilot onward. And if this moment taught me anything, it’s that satisfying surprises are still lurking around every corner.

Honorable Mentions: Tyrion kissing Sansa’s hand, Bran telling Theon he’s a good man, Arya giving Sansa a dagger, and literally any of the approximately 800 times Jaime and Brienne saved each other

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

The Moment: Brienne of Tarth Becomes a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

Setting the Scene: When Tormund asks Brienne why she’s not a knight, Jaime is inspired to break tradition on what might be their last night alive.

Why It’s Awesome: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is all about the answer to one question: If you thought you only had one night left to live, how would you want to spend it? It’s one of the all-time great episodes of Game of Thrones because of how perfectly that question is answered for each character. Arya wants to spend it experiencing one last pleasurable human act that’s about life and not death. (Get it, girl!) Tyrion wants to spend it getting drunk. Sam wants to spend it with his new family. Sansa wants to spend it eating among her people with a man who makes her feel safe. At the end of the world, some people choose to forget, some people choose to pray, some people choose to sing.

And some people choose to hope.

For Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister, hope is not something that comes naturally—at least not anymore. They’re both masters of pushing down their deepest desires to the point that even they no longer believe they want those things anymore. Jaime has fooled most people into believing he doesn’t care if anyone respects him or sees him as honorable, and Brienne knows she’ll never be a knight—will never have that public acceptance of who she is—so why bother wanting it?

But when facing the end of the world, it was finally time for both of these characters to admit that those things mattered to them—and to find that when they finally looked out from behind their self-imposed walls, they were staring into the eyes of someone who wanted to give them exactly what they desired most.

The buildup to this moment was perfect—from Jaime jumping to his feet when Brienne entered the room (complete with Tyrion’s knowing eyebrow raise) to her downright adorable blush when Jaime asked her to stay. Gwendoline Christie played those early moments with an innocent sense of romantic anticipation—the kind of barely-restrained glee and fear a person feels when they realize the object of their affection might actually like them too. And then throw in Tormund and his hilariously misguided attempts to woo Brienne and it was like a Westeros romantic comedy, despite the impending sense of doom. I wasn’t sure what kind of payoff we were going to get, but I knew something was coming. I just had no idea how great it would be.

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Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Winterfell”

Welcome, friends, to our final round of Game of Thrones analysis before our watch ends! If you’re new to these posts, each week I’ll break down a different moment that I loved in that week’s episode. However, the comments are open for you to talk about any and all aspects of the episode that you loved. There are always more moments I want to discuss, and I’m usually just looking for one magical commenter to give me an opening! I can’t wait to take one last journey through Westeros with all of you, so join in the fun whenever and however you can!

The Moment: Arya Reunites with Gendry

Setting the Scene: After Gendry arrives in Winterfell, Arya visits him to ask him to make her a new weapon.

Why It’s Awesome: “Winterfell” was an episode filled with reunions—Tyrion and Sansa, Jon and Bran, Jon and Sam—but many of the most emotional and compelling centered on Arya. As we all expected, her embrace with Jon was a moment of joy and love that was worth all the years we spent waiting for it, and her scene with the Hound was filled with the complex mixture of antagonism and respect that made their relationship one of the show’s most interesting. However, the moment I’ve found myself rewatching the most was the surprisingly sweet—and dare I say, flirtatious—reunion between Arya and Gendry.

I’ll admit it—part of me loves this scene purely because it put a ship I thought was long dead back into circulation. (I shipped these characters from early on in my reading of A Song of Ice and Fire and still think that Ned and Robert’s discussion about the marriage of their daughter and son was actually foreshadowing Arya and Gendry as a romantic pair.) With the passage of time and plenty of growing up on Maisie Williams’s part, it now feels okay for me to say that there was some real sexual tension in this scene that was fun to see. (Sparks were flying for reasons beyond the smithing, if you know what I mean.) It was playful and coy, and those are unexpected tones for Game of Thrones, especially for a scene featuring Arya.

Characters don’t get to smile a lot on Game of Thrones, so when a genuinely happy moment happens, it deserves to be treasured. And what I’ll remember most about Arya seeing Gendry again after so many years and so many changes was seeing her smile. Even in the scene with Jon, there was a hesitancy and a tension there—after the initial relief and emotional payoff of all these years of waiting, viewers were left with a sense that Jon, once again, knows nothing. He has no idea what kind of killer his sister has become and has no idea how strongly she’s aligned herself with Sansa, adding a layer of discomfort to their final hug. In contrast, there was nothing ambiguous about Arya’s demeanor with Gendry. She’s never going to be a cheerful character or even a relatively light one, but this was the most consistently at ease we’ve seen her since the show’s early days. And in showing this side of her, it made her feel like a more well-rounded character.

And that’s what made it so important. Arya is a young woman—she’s not a killing machine. And sometimes it feels like the show forgets that she is a person and that people have different dimensions and desires and emotions beyond their primary motivating factor (in her case, revenge). But in this scene, Arya got to behave in many ways like a young woman who hasn’t seen the death, destruction, violence, and trauma that have plagued her since the start of the show. She laughed and grinned and bantered and flirted with a young man in the same way she might have had her life not been upended by her father’s death all those years ago. And that’s all I have ever wanted for this character—for her to have a normal moment of happiness, even if it’s only for a stolen moment in the darkness of the coming winter.

I loved the way Joe Dempsie played Gendry’s realization that the girl he left behind had grown into a woman—and a woman he’s found himself attracted to. As his initial—almost comedic—tongue-tied reaction gave way to that fun place between warmth and heat, I felt like I was watching two partners remember the steps to a dance they thought they’d never do again—while also discovering some new moves along the way.

Although I’m a sucker for any time a man tells a woman “As you wish” (and we all know the writers are genre-savvy enough to know what that line means), my favorite part of the whole scene was Arya literally twirling around to give him one last look as he stood staring at her, completely transfixed. This is Arya discovering a whole new kind of power and loving it and Gendry loving it too. It’s Arya getting to have a moment of being desired for something beyond her skills as an assassin and relishing in it. And it’s the show giving its characters a moment of pure, uncomplicated, relatively innocent fun before tragedy strikes.

Game of Thrones is at its best when it allows its characters to have room to breathe and be human beings in between all the battles and killings, and this scene is a perfect example of that. It added a fun new dimension to Arya’s character while upping the emotional stakes of the battle to come because both Gendry and Arya now have something else to lose in it—the hope of what might be if they acted on those sparks between them.

Honorable Mentions: Sansa and Tyrion reunite, Arya and Jon hug, Sam tells Jon the truth, Jaime sees Bran across the Winterfell courtyard

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Beyond the Wall”

The Moment: Jon and Daenerys grow closer

Setting the Scene: After Daenerys rescues the wight hunting crew but loses Viserion to the Night King in the process, she and a recovering Jon swear allegiances to one another.

Why It’s Awesome: Game of Thrones is not known for its gentle moments. Scenes of tender, sincere intimacy are few and far between. So when a moment of genuine connection happens between characters, it’s worth celebrating. Say what you will about the romance between Daenerys and Jon being rushed due to this season’s shorter episode count or being strange because we all know (even though they don’t) that they’re related—there’s no denying that watching them pledge themselves to each other in their own way (Daenerys pledging to help him defeat the Night King and Jon pledging to call her his queen) was beautiful in its rare sense of softness.

Ever since I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire years ago, I knew Jon and Daenerys would get together at some point. (It was right there in the title! Although I suppose it could be argued—and probably will ultimately be true—that the “Ice and Fire” actually refers to Jon’s parentage.) They were the first couple in the series I read fan fiction for, the first couple I really “shipped” as I read the first book. Over time—and with the introduction of other love interests for the two of them and other couples in the series for me to care about—my interest in a potential pairing between those two characters faded, but watching them interact this season made all those initial “shipper” feelings I felt so long ago come rushing back, now with the added bonus of getting to see them actually become the partners I spent so long hoping they’d become.

More than just “shipper” gratification, the main feeling I got watching this moment unfold was a sense of happiness for both of these characters—who have lost so much, who have been betrayed, and who have struggled at times under the weight of being leaders. To see Daenerys so openly emotional with Jon was stunning; the moment when she told him the dragons were the only children she’d ever have broke my heart, and I loved that Jon immediately made her feel understood without having to say a word. Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington were both quite good in this moment, projecting a true tenderness that made the moment stand out.

It’s a rare thing for these characters to find someone they can be vulnerable with, to find someone they can trust with their truest self. And in a show where power plays are often the basis of relationships, trust is hard to come by. But Daenerys and Jon trust one another; they’re true partners. And if there is one thing I took away from this scene more than any other, it’s that there is no character more trustworthy when it comes to a woman’s heart than Jon Snow. From the moment he woke up, immediately apologizing with the kind of sincerity that put tears in my eyes, to the moment he made his adorably lame little joke about bending the knee, I was struck by the idea that Jon is just inherently good. He’s a good person—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And there is nothing more attractive in this morally complex universe than that—the genuine goodness Harrington has effortlessly infused into his performance as Jon.

When it comes to fictional relationships, I have a weak spot for fierce female leaders and the men who support them. And now these two characters have joined that list. Daenerys’s tearful confession that she hopes she deserves Jon’s support was the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her when it comes to her leadership abilities, and that vulnerability was met with steadfast support from Jon, whose belief in her is lovely because there is no doubt about its sincerity. Daenerys has someone to go to now when she’s doubting herself without having to worry that he’ll judge her or think less of her for it. She has found someone she respects who respects her in return. And Jon has found someone who will fight beside him in the battles to come.

As these two characters held hands, I was struck by the idea that we rarely see physical touch being used in a soft way in this series. Even love scenes are often approached with heated passion rather than gentle intimacy. So when two characters have a moment that focuses on this kind of gentle, slowly building intimacy that has its foundations in respect and understanding, it means something special. It certainly felt special to watch it unfold.

I’m not sure what the future will bring for these two characters, especially after the truth of Jon’s parentage is revealed. But if this show has taught me anything, it’s to enjoy the moments of true connection, real respect, and sincere intimacy when we see them, and that’s exactly what I’m doing with this moment. I’ve watched it many times in the last six days, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

Honorable Mentions: Jorah and Jon talk about Longclaw, Jon and Beric talk about the real enemy, the Night King claims Viserion for his own, Sansa instructs Brienne to go to King’s Landing (if only because that meant she’ll be reuniting with Jaime!)

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Eastwatch”

The Moment: Tyrion and Varys talk about serving Targaryens

Setting the Scene: After Tyrion watches Daenerys burn her enemies, he returns to Dragonstone and shares a drink and some deep conversation with Varys.

Why It’s Awesome: I know, I know—But Katie, Jon Snow petted a dragon and Kit Harrington’s eyes filled with tears of awe and how can that not be your moment of the week?! Don’t get me wrong; I have re-watched that moment many times since Sunday and have come to appreciate the nuances in Harrington’s performance more and more each time. (Jon Snow is just such a good and decent human being that sometimes I cry about it—and by sometimes I mean all the time.) However, the moment I can’t stop thinking about was a quiet conversation about two people that could very well be about the world we’re actually living in—if you take out the mentions of dragons—and that’s when Game of Thrones is at its very best.

In a week where inhuman acts of cruelty were sadly not just the stuff of fiction and the idea of sitting back silently as people do horrible things in the name of “reclaiming” their place has been on everyone’s mind, this moment feels even more powerful. Although it was specifically about these two men and their relationship to the rulers they’ve served, it felt disturbingly universal in light of recent events in the United States.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

That refrain from Varys will haunt me just like it should haunt everyone who watched this episode. Although he may not have been the person who killed the supposed traitors, he was complicit in their deaths because he did nothing to stop Aerys. Conleth Hill is always brilliant, but he was especially captivating in this scene, showing that Varys will always feel a deep sense of guilt and responsibility over what happened under his watch. You can feel the weight of that refrain—“I’m not the one doing it”—in Hill’s pained delivery, and you could also feel his sense of fear that he’s watching it all start to happen again.

The men who served Aerys Targaryen—especially Varys and Jaime Lannister—bear incredible psychological scars from that time in their lives. While Jaime tried to ensure that history wouldn’t repeat itself by attempting to kill Daenerys, Varys has taken a different approach—trying to guide Daenerys on a different path than the one her father had taken. So it’s understandable that this news of what she did to the Lannister army and to the Tarly family would bring back horrible memories for him and conjure up a deep sense of anxiety that history could repeat itself.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

If that refrain showed us anything, it’s that silence makes you complicit. You can tell yourself over and over that you can’t control what people in power do, but that’s no excuse not to speak out and take action when you know something is wrong. Varys sees himself as complicit in the deaths of so many because he allowed himself to believe it was out of his hands. But as he reminded Tyrion, it’s his job to make his queen listen, to make her see reason, and to help her make the right choices. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who felt like Varys’s speech about the responsibilities of an advisor when a leader is doing awful things felt just as applicable to Washington, D.C., as it did to Westeros.

At a time in both the world of Westeros and the world away from our television screens in which the stakes are high and the lines of right and wrong are clearly drawn, this scene served as a reminder of what can happen when people watch those in power do terrible things but fail to speak up and fight back.

“I’m not the one doing it.”

No matter how many times you tell yourself that, it never absolves the guilt. Just ask Varys.

Honorable Mentions: Jon pets Drogon, Jon and Daenerys say goodbye, Jon meets Gendry, Davos bribes the soldiers, the “wight capturing crew” assembles

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Spoils of War”

The Moment: Arya and Sansa reunite

Setting the Scene: When Arya comes home to Winterfell, she shares a quiet moment with her sister.

Why It’s Awesome: I will always have a soft spot for the complex relationship between Arya and Sansa Stark. I have a younger sister, and people have always separated us into the “girly older sister” and “tomboy younger sister,” which made it hard at times for us to find common ground as young kids. But as we grew up, we came to learn that those stereotypes and differences in interests meant so little in the grand scheme of things. When you’re family, it doesn’t matter how different you may seem, your roots are the same, and they connect your stories forever.

Arya and Sansa are the last Starks left (since Bran has basically lost all sense of his former identity), so to see them finally reunite after so many seasons of following their separate journeys was incredibly cathartic. But what I loved about their reunion scene was that it wasn’t immediately filled with relief and joy; there was a tension there that I wasn’t expecting but was actually the perfect choice for their dynamic. Knowing how close Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner are in real life, I have to give them a lot of credit for playing their initial interactions with pointed restraint. These two characters were never close, and they didn’t exactly have a happy parting. So for them to cry happy tears and tell each other all they’d been through wouldn’t have been true to their characters. Instead, Arya didn’t really return Sansa’s initial embrace, and they seemed unsure what to say to each other. There was happiness and relief there, but it was understandably guarded.

However, things began to soften when they talked of their father. When Sansa mentioned that everyone who knew him was dead and Arya replied, “We’re not,” a warmth began to spread between them. Because Arya was right—their father’s legacy lives on in them. No matter what they’ve gone through, they’re still alive, and as long as they’re still alive, House Stark is still alive. It was a reminder that they’re family, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

There was still some believable uncertainty and hesitation between them—like when Sansa laughed at Arya’s very real list of names of people to kill—but as they spoke of their mutual hatred of Joffrey and the hard roads they’d traveled alone, they felt more like sisters than perhaps they ever have. There was a quiet understanding between them when they spoke of the long stories that brought them back home. They didn’t pry (unlike Bran’s super creepy mentions of Sansa’s rape); there was a depth of understanding between them that showed they both understand that the other has faced traumas of her own that are best left unspoken.

Williams and Turner played those last interactions in the crypt with a level of mutual respect that was actually far more beautiful than any tearful reunion would have been. When Arya remarked to Sansa that their stories aren’t over, I felt a swell of hope that I don’t often get to feel when I watch this show. They get to write the next chapter in their story—in the story of the Stark family—and I hope we get to watch them write it together.

The realistic ebb and flow of awkwardness and affection in that scene made their second hug—filled with genuine emotion—feel incredibly earned and powerful. (It was the first moment of the season to make me cry.) It was a moment between two sisters who, on the surface, could not appear more different but who, at their core, have always been connected. They get to choose how their stories go from this point on, and that hug seemed to be a sign that—at least for this moment—they’re choosing to make each other a part of their story. In a season where family ties and loyalty seem to be playing more important roles than ever, it was beautiful to see the bond between these two sisters strengthen even over the course of one short scene. After all they’ve been through, they need allies they can trust, and it seems they might have found that in a place neither would have expected years ago—each other.

Honorable Mentions: Brienne watches the Starks, Arya and Brienne spar, Bran sees straight through Littlefinger, Jon counsels Daenerys, Daenerys and Missandei have a moment of “girl talk,” Drogon and the Dothraki make their Westeros debut (featuring Jaime experiencing some very painful flashbacks to another Targaryen who wanted to “burn them all”)—basically this entire episode was one phenomenal scene after another

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Queen’s Justice”

The Moment: Olenna Tyrell has the last word

Setting the Scene: After the Lannister army takes Highgarden, Jaime goes to Olenna Tyrell to deliver the queen’s justice. However, Olenna still has some final truths to tell.

Why It’s Awesome: I know many people find the battle scenes on Game of Thrones to be some of the best parts of the show, but I would trade all the cinematic battles in the world for great conversations between excellent actors. Luckily, that’s exactly what we got in “The Queen’s Justice.” There were so many fantastic monologues and dialogues in this episode that it was the hardest so far to choose my favorite moment to single out. I toyed for a long time with choosing Jon and Tyrion’s perfect reunion and subsequent discussion of brooding, and part of me wanted to discuss Lena Headey’s insane (in more ways than one) talent in Cersei’s big scene with Ellaria Sand. However, sometimes sentimentality gets the better of you, and if this is the last time I get to write about how amazing Diana Rigg has been as Olenna Tyrell and how brilliant that character is in general, then I’m going to write about it.

My favorite thing about this scene was that it was a match made in heaven between a great actor and a great reactor. No one delivers lines like Rigg, and no one reacts with the subtlety and depth of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Watching his expressions change as Olenna touched on some hard truths about Jaime and Cersei was a true treat, and it gave us some real insight into the depth of his delusions. Jaime Lannister is a man of action who has become completely stuck. He believes his love for his sister means he must stay with her—until death do they part—no matter what she’s done. That’s all he’s ever known of “love”—a toxic kind of codependency that has him convincing himself that she’s going to bring peace and all will be well soon. But once Olenna reminded him that he could be honest with her because she was never going to reveal his secrets, he showed in small ways that he was finally being more honest with himself, too. The completely flat way Coster-Waldau delivered his line about Jaime knowing Cersei will be the end of him showed how much he’s given up even thinking about who he could be without her. And the flash of anger that sprang to the surface when Olenna told him he’d regret spreading the “disease” of Cersei was a very interesting tell; Jaime wants to live in a make-believe world where Cersei is going to bring peace, and if he can’t convince himself of that, then everything could fall apart inside of him. There’s an emptiness to Jaime right now that’s tragic to see from such a formerly lively and impassioned character—almost as if the more powerful Cersei gets, the more he loses his sense of self. But there is still some honor in him, telling Olenna that he didn’t want her to die a painful death, despite what Cersei preferred.

Instead, Olenna was painlessly poisoned, which provided the perfect parallel for her to exploit in her final moments. Yes, it was fun to watch her pick apart Jaime and Cersei’s relationship and to call Joffrey what he truly was. But the best part of the entire scene was her slow, detailed description of Joffrey’s death to Jaime—preying on his helplessness in the moment of his son’s death before dropping the mic and finally saying the words out loud: “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.”

Even in her own death scene, Olenna ended up with the upper hand. She played her last card at exactly the right moment, and Rigg gave that moment all the gravitas it deserved. This show is all about power, and Olenna died making a true power play. She never begged for her life or asked for forgiveness. She owned her crimes and admitted to never losing sleep over them. And she confessed to perhaps her biggest crime with a twinkle in her eye and an unwavering voice.

If you’re going to die on this show, that’s the kind of death scene you hope you get. And it was the kind of death scene a legend like Rigg deserved.

Honorable Mentions: “This is Jon Snow…He’s King in the North,” Jon and Tyrion reunite, Sansa proves herself to be a smart ruler of Winterfell, Tyrion narrates the attack on Casterly Rock, Cersei taunts Ellaria

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Stormborn”

The Moment: Nymeria finds Arya

Setting the Scene: After learning from Hot Pie that Jon has taken control of Winterfell, Arya decides to head home to the North instead of traveling to the South to kill Cersei. Along the way, she finds herself surrounded by wolves—until a familiar face arrives.

Why It’s Awesome: Stark reunions are awesome—whether they’re between two people or between people and direwolves. After so many seasons of watching this family get ripped apart and come close to reuniting only to be ripped apart again, even the briefest moments of togetherness have an immense power. And although this reunion was certainly brief, its emotional payoff was huge. The connection between the Starks and their direwolves represent a connection to the selves they once were, and that connection was honored in a powerful way in this scene.

In order to talk about the emotional power of this moment, we need to talk about the power of Arya deciding to turn her horse around and head North after learning that Jon took Winterfell. In that moment, Arya decided to put love above hate, family above vengeance—and I have wanted her to do that for so long. All that was missing was for her to return home with her beloved Nymeria by her side, but we all know nothing on this show can ever be that perfectly happy.

Instead, Arya came to the same conclusion a lot of characters seem to be coming to this season: After you leave home, you can’t be expected to come back and return to exactly the same life you had before. No matter how much Arya (and the audience, by extension) wanted Nymeria to go with her, we know the truth; she doesn’t belong in Winterfell. She’s been on her own for too long. She has her own pack now.

Arya gets it, and I’m sure there’s part of her that knows the same will ultimately be true for her. She wasn’t meant for a domesticated life in Winterfell. She knew that long before her life took her far from home. And that’s what made Maisie Williams’s reaction to Nymeria so beautiful. That small, sad smile after Nymeria walked away said it all; Arya knows that some creatures have to make their own way and can’t be expected to be anyone’s pet. The gentle, loving way she whispered, “That’s not you,” harkened back to her telling her father “That’s not me” when he talked about her being a proper lady. Arya and Nymeria have always been meant for more than a simple, safe life at home.

This scene’s bittersweet tone was clearly foreshadowing Arya’s inability to be content with a life in Winterfell—even if that means a life with people who love her. However, the emotion Maisie Williams packed into this moment opposite her direwolf makes me cry just thinking about an Arya/Sansa or Arya/Jon reunion. Even if the joy doesn’t last, these actors are good enough to give us the smallest moments of beauty in a seemingly endless sea of hard times and harsh punishments. And if nothing else, this scene was worth it just for the sheer goosebump factor of hearing Arya say the words “I’m going home” out loud.

Honorable Mentions: Missandei and Grey Worm get intimate, Jon threatens Littlefinger, Jon and Tyrion speak kindly of each other, Olenna tells Daenerys to be a dragon

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “Dragonstone”

Welcome (or welcome back) to a feature that used to be a staple here at NGN: our weekly discussion of my favorite moment in each episode of Game of Thrones! I took some time off from this feature because the show itself had become too violent for me to handle on a week-to-week basis, but I have returned from that hiatus feeling more excited than ever before to talk about the world (and especially the women) of Westeros with all of you!

The Moment: A call for equality in the North

Setting the Scene: As Jon settles into his role as King in the North, he makes a proclamation that all Northerners—including girls and women—should be trained to defend themselves and their lands. When his judgment in this matter is called into question, Lyanna Mormont makes the case for the women of the North to be trained to fight for what’s theirs.

Why It’s Awesome: “Dragonstone” was a reminder that Game of Thrones is at its best when its female characters are allowed to be women of action—exactly the kind of women Jon calls them to be in this moment. This scene was the perfect example of the fact that this world may have its rigid gender norms, but it is also populated by women who defy those norms outright or use those norms to change the game from the inside.

The three main women in this scene—Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa—all represent women who are willing to fight for what matters to them. As Lyanna made her case, I was once again struck by the thought that I’d follow that girl into battle today if she asked me. The confidence and strength she possesses are so clear that no man—no matter how old or how powerful—would dare challenge her. And I loved the way the camera cut to Brienne during her speech. The slight smile on Gwendoline Christie’s face said it all; in this girl, Brienne sees a kindred spirit, and in this place, she has finally found somewhere to belong. She’s no longer a freak; she’s exactly who Jon wants the women of Winterfell to aspire to be as they train. The affectionate pride Christie showed in her reaction to Lyanna’s speech was such a small but powerful nod to the fact that Brienne may be a warrior, but she has a gentle and kind heart—a heart that is devoted to protecting and serving other strong women.

I also liked that the camera cut to Sansa when Lyanna talked about not letting other people fight for her. Just because Sansa isn’t skilled with a sword, that doesn’t mean she’s not a fighter. She uses a different skill set—words and appearances, courtesy and strategy—but she is every bit as fierce as Lyanna and Brienne. And as she proved by bringing the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards, she’s not one to sit around and let other people fight her battles, either. She may not hold a sword or a bow, but she is still a force to be reckoned with.

It makes sense for Winterfell—under the watchful eye of Jon—to be a place where women are treated as equals in combat. Jon has always been a champion of strong women—even as far back as his close relationship with Arya before everything went to hell. And once he fell in love with Ygritte, he became even more convinced that women could fight just as fiercely in battle—and die just as bravely—as men. Jon’s time with Ygritte changed him forever, and it changed him for the better. Her spirit was in that room with Jon when he promised to put a sword or a spear into the hands of every person in the North, and she would have been proud of him in that moment.

“Dragonstone” allowed the women of Westeros to shine in all their complex, fierce, and frightening glory. Just as Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa are all strong women but none show their strength in exactly the same way, the other prominent female characters in this world are also uniquely strong and powerful, and this episode focused on each of them as women with an incredible amount of agency who now face the question of what to do with it. Jon gave all the Northern women a kind of agency by proclaiming that they will learn to fight for themselves, but the main female players in this episode didn’t need any kind of proclamation to do so. From Cersei and Sansa to Arya and Daenerys, these women play the game on their own terms and won’t back down when challenged—whether it’s by an enemy (Arya slaying all the Freys in the episode’s most badass moment) or by someone who they believe means well but doesn’t know the world the way they do (both Cersei and Sansa dealing with brothers who disagree with their methods of trying to protect their worlds). These women are fighters in every way a person can be—using their swords, their wits, their sexuality, and any other weapon at their disposal to get the job done and done their way. And when one achieves a victory (like Daenerys finally coming home in one of the single most emotionally satisfying and cinematically beautiful scenes in the series), it’s her victory—not anyone else’s.

As the final battlefields are set and the final chess pieces are moved into play, one thing has become crystal clear: The women of Westeros will fight for what’s theirs, and they’re not to be underestimated.

Honorable Mentions: Arya takes out all the male Freys, Sansa shuts down Littlefinger, Euron pledges his two good hands to Cersei, Sandor deals with his guilt, Daenerys finally comes home