WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS SPOILERS
The sophomore episode of Game of Thrones season eight often seemed a repackaging of the most indulgent elements of another fantasy blockbuster, Lord of the Rings.
There were, of course, moments of indulgence in the show’s premiere last week. Think Cersei bemoaning her lack of elephants, and Jon and Daenerys’s dragon riding, which could have included A Whole New World from Aladdin as the backing music.
But so much of episode two employed the expected conventions of a pre-battle sequence that, at times, it bordered on parody.
The melancholy dirge overlaying a montage as combatants in the upcoming battle pondered survival chances.
Old warriors hunkered before a fire, testing each other’s mettle with gallows humour. And a young warrior – Arya no less – getting pragmatically romantic because it could be her first and last roll of the dice.
Despite all the flesh that has come before it, the sight of the youngest Stark daughter getting her kit off was too much for some fans.
— Allison #ALLCAPS🏆 (@allie_jay13) April 22, 2019
— Nakia (@WakandaQueenMza) April 22, 2019
As always with Game of Thrones, there was a purpose in these well-worn conventions that became obvious from the episode’s structure, so much of which comprised one-on-one conversations, often reunions.
The first third involved people reacting to Jaime’s appearance – first Daenerys and Sansa then Bran, Tyrion and finally Lady Brienne in individual encounters.
This set the pattern for an episode made up mostly of conversations between individuals who, through circumstance or design, discovered more about each other.
Uncharacteristically, this episode was free of violence and almost free of sex. With the possible exception of Tormund, who was breezily unfazed, death hung over everyone like a sword of Damocles fashioned from Valyrian steel.
Everyone: *worries about the battle against the Night King*
— Denizcan James (@MrFilmkritik) April 22, 2019
Despite a broad vein of humour, there was a sense of unease from the expectation that several characters we have grown to know, and often become fond of over the years, will be dead as the credits roll in episode three.
That knowledge of an inescapable fate gave elements of the episode the gravitas of Greek tragedy. Certainly it gave more tender moments an extra tinge of melancholy, from Sansa’s genuine joy at seeing Theon to Arya’s father/daughter griping with Sandor.
But most tender of all was the moment Davos Seaworth choked back a sob when his heart was touched by the bravery of a scarred little girl.
Davos’s painful recollection of Shireen’s horrible death also heralded that the war against the Wights, while undoubtedly serving up potential annihilation, also offers the possibility of redemption for some.
The episode’s key scene saw Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Tormund and Davos drinking and joking before a flickering fireplace, taking comfort in each other’s displays of nonchalance.
Yet when the scene concluded with Jaime knighting Brienne in tribute to her courage, one couldn’t help feeling an opportunity was lost in Brienne’s misty-eyed gratitude at being admitted to the brotherhood.
Perhaps this was deliberate because the contrast with the following scene, where Lyanna Mormont insisted to her cousin Jorah that her right to join combat was unquestioned, could not have been more stark.
Much will need to unfold before or during the clash of swords next week.
With one question – what about the North? – Sansa signalled to Daenerys that if they survive she will not accept her rule. Bran has revealed that he is the memory of the world that the Night King seeks to erase.
And Daenerys is in on the secret of Jon’s true parentage, to her clear displeasure.
Throughout the episode, characters made offhand references to what happens should they survive the onslaught.
Although the stage is set for a cataclysmic battle of Winterfell early in the season, there will be plenty of battles to follow for those still standing when the blizzard clears.
Dr Paul Salmond has lectured and published on film.