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‘Game of Thrones’ recap: It’s the end of the world as we know it

Emilia Clarke (left) and Kit Harington on “Game of Thrones.”
Emilia Clarke (left) and Kit Harington on “Game of Thrones.”(Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO via Associated Press)

After Sunday night’s installment, only four episodes remain in this song of ice and fire. And with so many loose threads to tie up, undead conquerors to vanquish, and sovereignties to settle, it’s both excruciating and exhilarating to report that “Game of Thrones” found time for a grace note.

That’s not to say that “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was short on story. Though table-setting has been getting somewhat of a bad rap this final season, what with wights to slay and thrones to conquer, much of what transpired in the second episode may have set the stage for a saga-defining battle royale down the line — especially between two characters who hadn’t previously been at odds.

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With the Battle of Winterfell just hours away, “Knight” fit in love before war, giving its characters a momentary respite while exploring what’s really at stake in an increasingly existential bid to stop humanity from being enveloped in the Night King’s dark dream of an “endless night.”

We kick things off with Jaime getting an unofficial pardon for shoving Bran out of a tower window and crippling him. For his part, the weirdest Stark is grateful Jaime’s murder attempt set him on the path to becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. Without his greensight, none of them would stand a chance against the Night King.

With death himself approaching, Bran literalizes the threat he poses, explaining that the Night King seeks to not only wipe out Westeros but erase its very memory. Sam’s on hand to drop further exposition: “Memories don’t come from books,” he says to Bran. “And your stories aren’t just stories. If I wanted to erase the world, I’d start with you.”

While this makes Bran the most insufferable bait in TV history, it also gives everyone a chance to formulate a decent plan of attack against the Night King. Instead of beating the army of the dead in battle, they’ll lure the villain into Winterfell’s godswood, where Bran will be waiting, and they’ll at least have a chance to take him down.

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An understandably heavy sense of foreboding hangs over the proceedings at Winterfell; these characters are gathered for what they know to be a last stand, and no one fully expects to make it out of the coming melee alive. We’re in the end-“Game” now; come tomorrow, the likes of Sers Jorah (now armed with Sam’s ancestral sword) and Davos to name two characters who got little moments to shine this week may be meeting their last sunrise.

Podrick may have articulated the stakes best while serenading the most unlikely group of drinking buddies since the Starks, Boltons, and Freys raised a glass at the Red Wedding. Surrounded by Jaime, Brienne, and Tormund (hereby referred to as the new “Three’s Company”), as well as Tyrion and Davos, he let loose with a surprisingly robust tenor, singing “Jenny’s Song,” a number that fans of George R.R. Martin’s books may recognize as the prophetic refrain of the ghost of High Heart.

In the novels, it was all kinds of important, caught up in the tragic love story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, but even without that added context, its morose lyrics (sample: “High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts/The ones she had lost and the ones she had found, and the ones who had loved her the most”) speak powerfully to this episode’s main idea: what death takes from the living, and the question of who’ll be left alive to remember it. What is a story, after all, without someone to tell it?

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Dany finds out about Jon’s parentage this week and is a little skeptical about such a game-changing revelation emerging on the eve of a massive battle. “A secret no one in the world knew,” she asks, not unreasonably, “except your brother and your best friend?”

They’re interrupted before Dany can really process the news, but for someone as single-minded about taking the Throne as she is, news that Jon has more of a right to it certainly doesn’t sit well. She’s spent much of the episode conducting a performance review of Tyrion’s work as her adviser, eventually leaning more favorably once Sansa weighs in to comment on his good character. Expect all that to take a major backseat while she figures out that planning to independently rule all of Westeros — including the North — won’t endear her to anyone. Tyrion thinks Dany’s different, but “Thrones” has been lining her up this season to be another power-hungry leader too hardened to know the virtue of mercy. Her learning that skill, and not indulging the same tendencies that got her infamous father assassinated, might be the only way she makes it out of the coming episodes on top.

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It should be said that this was the most hot-and-heavy “Game” in some time. Missandei and Grey Worm reunite and make doomed plans to go to the beach after the fighting stops. Arya — after some very in-character flirting over dragonglass blacksmithery — gets down with Gendry, cementing what we should remember is another pretty significant power couple (Gendry’s one of Robert Baratheon’s bastards, after all). And was that look between Sansa and Theon merely shared empathy, or something more?

Best of all, Brienne has both Tormund and Jaime smitten. The trio are all battle-tested warriors with stories to share; the most notable comes from Tormund, who provides a hilarious and horrifying account of why he’s called Giantsbane. (It involves being breast-fed for three months by a giantess after he slayed her husband, a sentence that only belongs in “Thrones” recaps.)

Tormund notes, “This could be our last night in this world,” while Jaime finds Brienne training with the soldiers to state, “I’d be honored to serve under your command, if you’ll have me” — basically their “always.” Jaime takes the lead in this contest for Brienne’s affections, bucking centuries of Westerosi tradition by using his stature as a knight to knight her. Even if they’re all going to die tomorrow, it’s a massive moment for a character who’s spent most of her time getting people to respect her. Everyone breaks into raucous applause, the Night King calls off the invasion on account of his icy heart having grown three sizes, and the entire cast engages in an elaborate flashdance to cap off the season.

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Fine, none of that happened. But it was still nice.


Isaac Feldberg can be reached by e-mail at isaac.feldberg@globe.com, or on Twitter at @isaacfeldberg.