This review contains spoilers.

Following last week’s season premiere, Winterfell, which felt more like a reunion episode than a plot-advancing instalment, many were excited for the next episode, which we now know as A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, to ramp up the pace of Game of Thrones‘ final season. Far from this, the episode instead functions as what may be a last hurrah for many beloved characters before next week’s Battle of Winterfell bestows upon us what is sure to be Thrones‘ bloodiest conflict yet.

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(C) HBO

Easily the episode’s highlight is the exchange it takes its name from, the slow-burning gathering in Winterfell’s meeting hall. Here, fan service was ramped up to eleven: a humorous reunion between Tormund and Brienne, the final stage of Jaime Lannister’s redemption, and the return of characters such as Podrick, who bounces excellently off Tyrion in this episode. Above all else, the sheer emotion in Jaime knighting Ser Brienne is perfectly executed: Gwendoline Christie is given more moving material to work with than ever, and her reaction to being knighted – by Coster-Waldau at his absolute pinnacle – reinforces her status as one of the show’s best-developed and most admirable characters.

Underpinning this scene is a close, creeping sense of dread: these characters all know they may not survive the siege of the White Walkers, and so seeing them interact for one last time, quipping off one another, telling stories of the past (notably finding out where ‘Giantsbane’ comes from!) is surprisingly touching. If the group of characters here are to take their final breath next week, it’ll feel like their arcs have come to a natural conclusion – and by giving them so much breathing space in this episode, will make it all the more devastating if the worst does happen.

Interestingly, we hear nothing from King’s Landing whatsoever: to call this Game of Thrones‘ first bottle episode may not be inaccurate, but it certainly doesn’t have the inconsequential nature that episodes in this category often carry. While last week continued the interesting relationship between Cersei and Euron, it’s bold to only mention them in passing this week: it makes clear that the battle for the Iron Throne is no longer the focus, with the Kingslayer himself putting it best: it’s now about survival.

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(C) HBO

This episode also drops some of the more out-of-tone moments from Winterfell: Jon and Dany riding the dragons last week felt like something out of a medieval rom-com, and putting their relationship drama in the background for most of the episode was a refreshing change of pace, with so much of season seven and last episode focusing on them. Nonetheless, when Jon finally plucks up the courage to reveal to Daenerys the truth about his heritage, nowhere near enough time is given for this interaction to play out. While it’s of course purposeful to have this interaction occur just before the siege begins, it frustratingly limits the reaction to the news: we can tell Dany is seething, but the poor pacing here means what should’ve been this episode’s emotional crescendo is reduced to an afterthought, that will lack the same impact when it is inevitably brought up post-battle.

Despite this, the most uncomfortable moment of this episode, as many people have echoed, is the culmination of the romance between Arya and Gendry. Neither Maisie Williams nor Joe Dempsie are at fault for this, as they hold up well, but the chemistry between them has felt forced since a romance was hinted at, and for a character as battle-scarred, worn-down and resilient as Arya, it seems out-of-character for her to switch motivations so suddenly. This relationship came out of nowhere and due to this poor execution it didn’t have any of the emotional payoff it was clearly meant to, feeling like this season’s biggest misstep so far.

Despite this, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is perhaps one of the show’s most character-driven outings. If this is the last time we see a lot of these characters, at least they’ll go out with their arcs (mostly) wrapped up in a satisfying way, with this episode serving as a reminder of why Thrones‘ ensemble cast is so strong. Not everything works, but broadly speaking it’s a powerful, meticulous and satisfying episode that will make the losses suffered in next week’s episode all the more harrowing.

★★★½