It was a quiet moment of humanity and connection before the brutality of war. But this is why that sex scene between two fan favourite characters is going to be so important.
The night is dark and full of spoilers, everybody. If you haven’t watched the second episode of Game of Thrones season eight yet, now is your chance to save yourself from learning more than you wish to know. Otherwise: read on.
For all of you who rose at an ungodly hour this morning and waded through the fug of an easter chocolate sugar comedown, we salute you. This week’s episode of Game of Thrones, the second in the eighth and final season, was one of the best of the entire series.
Was it full of fan service throwbacks and triumphant moments for the characters we have grown to love so much these past ten years? Of course. But guess what, the fans of Game of Thrones – myself very much included – love to be serviced.
The order of the day for episode two was love. Or rather, the things we do for love. When those words were first uttered on the show way back in season one, they were the precursor to an act of violence so shocking that it set two crucial plotlines in motion.
When Jaime Lannister first said those words, right before pushing Bran from a tower window, he unwittingly set Bran on the path to becoming the Three Eyed Raven and, also unwittingly, kickstarted his own long and winding journey to redemption.
That journey ended this episode, when Jaime arrives at Winterfell to fight for the living. The power of his love for his brother, and for Brienne of Tarth, has spurred him forward thus far.
For many, the powerful scene in which a crew of disparate fighters converge around what appears to be Winterfell’s only lit fire to watch Jaime knight Brienne was one of the most emotional in the entire episode.
Her tearful face, as she kneels before the man she loves as he gave her the one thing she has longed for her entire life, was more powerful than dragon fire. The things we do for love, right? (A warning: this scene wrapped up the story arcs of Brienne and Jaime almost unfortunately neatly. I would be worried about their fates next episode.)
Elsewhere, love burned through Winterfell like a heated forge. Theon, arriving back at Winterfell to fight in Sansa’s name, prompted a more emotional reunion between the two than Arya and Jon’s last episode. Outside, in the bitter cold, Missandei and Grey Worm did the one thing that no one on Game of Thrones should ever do: dream wistfully about their post-battle future.
“Do you want to grow old in this place? Is there nothing else you want to do, nothing else you want to see?” Grey Worm asks Missandei.
“Naath,” she replies. “I’d like to see the beaches again… My people are peaceful. We cannot protect ourselves.”
“My people are not peaceful,” Grey Worm responds. “We will protect you.” (Prepare the Kleenex. Grey Worm is definitely dying on the battlefield next week.)
But it was Arya and Gendry who provided episode two with the most romance, and the strongest love story, of this season thus far.
The night before the army of the dead and the Night King march on Winterfell, Gendry seeks out Arya. He’s made the weapon she requested, a double-edged staff tipped with dragonglass, all the better for killing white walkers with. He’s been up in that Winterfell forge, chest gleaming, doing whatever it is that blacksmiths do, to make a strong weapon for his strong woman.
Last week we spoke about the power of that gesture from Gendry to Arya and, with it, the recognition of Gendrys longheld respect and love for his one-time travelling companion. This pair has been a fan favourite since the early seasons of the show, and the first episode provided a glimmer of hope that there might be something burning between these two beyond forged Valyrian steel.
Reader: there is. After Gendry gives Arya her weapon, he tells her that he is Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Quicker than you can say ‘Valar Morghulis’, Arya is quizzing Gendry on his past experience with Melisandre and any other women he might have bedded down in Flea Bottom. (“I didn’t keep count,” Gendry says, exasperatedly. “Yes you did,” Arya responds, with a smirk.)
From there, it’s a matter of urgency. Arya wants to know what it feels like to love a man before she faces the army of the dead and, quite possibly dies. Battle-hardened and warrior-weary, Arya wants to feel human again, and that very human need for connection and love, and she wants to feel it with Gendry. Their sex scene – one of the most feminist sex scenes on Game of Thrones – is a powerful coming-of-age moment for Arya but also, crucially, an important recognition of a season one prophecy.
Back in the first season of Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon told Ned Stark that he would one day like to see their houses joined. “I have a son, you have a daughter,” Robert told Ned way back when. He was referring to Sansa and Joffrey, of course, and we all know how that ended up. Here, though, is Ned’s favourite child and Robert’s uncannily similar son in a loving, consensual, long-awaited union, put in motion the second that Gendry revealed himself to be Baratheon’s bastard.
“I’m not the Red Woman,” Arya says, as she pushes Gendry into a few conveniently placed sacks of hay. “Take your own bloody pants off.”
Maisie Williams did not use a body double for the sex scene, instead wanting to show Arya’s battle scars in an empowering way. “David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] were like ‘You can show as much or as little as you want,’” the 22-year-old actress told Entertainment Weekly. “So I kept myself pretty private. I don’t think it’s important for Arya to flash. This beat isn’t really about that. And everybody else has already done it on the show, so.”
She also admitted that, at first, she thought the scene was a prank put into the script by the showrunners at her expense. But when co-star Sophie Turner told her about the scene – “This scene, this page, read it! This is awesome! She was very happy,” Turner said – Williams realised that it was really happening. “‘Oh, we’re actually going to do this,’” Williams recalled. “‘When do I shoot this? I need to go to the gym.’”
Winterfell has been the site of so much violence and so much horror for so many characters. It is the place that Sansa was raped, brutally, by Ramsay Bolton every night, with Theon looking on. It’s no coincidence that Theon returns to Sansa’s side and that the two share an emotional hug and, later, a bowl of Davos’ delicious soup in the exact same episode that Arya and Gendry get their happy ending. At least for one night, anyway.
Theon is a reminder of how brutal life has been for the Stark girls these long, weary seven seasons. And Gendry is a reminder of how, when the fighting is over and the war is finally done, there might be light at the end of the tunnel.
Game of Thrones airs on Sunday nights on HBO in the US and Monday mornings (and again in the evening) in the UK on Sky Atlantic and Now TV.