As Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", came to an end, many fans were a bit bewildered. While it's been long-suspected that Winterfell's battle with the Night King would come in Season 8, Episode 3, exactly how we'd get to that point was up in the air. It turns out everything leading up to that anticipated battle has been much quieter than many fans expected.
**This story contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 2, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."**
So far, this season's pacing has been a bit of a mystery. All the setup in Episode 1, "Winterfell," was expected; Game of Thrones season openers always act as a sort of setting up of the proverbial chess board — this character is here, that one there, and here's what you can expect of everyone this season. In every other Game of Thrones season up to this point, Episode 2 had marked the true beginning of everyone's journeys, as characters part ways to begin season-long arcs, heads roll, and new players enter the game. That's not what happened this time around, though, and it's a change that left many fans confused and, on occasion, angry.
In fact, a lot of fans are grumbling and accusing this episode of being pure wish fulfillment or, worse, fan pandering. Who can blame them? As almost every series fan favorite hunkered down in the calm before the storm, drinking ale in front of fires and sharing quiet words, just about everything you've ever wanted to happen in Game of Thrones happened. It felt like fanfiction.
Daenerys and Sansa acknowledged their mutual lady badassery. Tyrion and Jaime shared several soft, brotherly moments. Brienne was knighted, and on top of all that, Jaime tripped all over himself whenever she was in the room. There was Tormund's "Giantsbane" explanation, which included the whole milk thing. Tyrion made his famous "how I'd like to die" speech again (with Jaime poking fun). Sansa and Theon shared a look. The remaining members of the Night's Watch gathered on Winterfell's wall to begin their final watch. And, perhaps most surprisingly for people, Arya and Gendry had sex.
"A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" felt like fanfiction because it was fanfiction — in the best, most reasonable way.
Think of it like this: Fans who write fanfic spend months and years obsessing over certain characters. More often than not, their love for and knowledge of the characters ensures a heady sense of intimacy in the fic they write. Whether the point of the story is angst or fluff or sex or what have you, the passion remains the same; people write fanfiction because they love the characters and the story in which they're based.
On the other hand, series writers are usually forced to consider the bigger picture. Any payoff or emotional satisfaction often has to be held back to drive the narrative forward; there's a reason the will-they-won't-they trope is so big in television, given the holding power it has on audiences. The people weaving the show's narrative have knowledge of these characters and the tropes they're leaning in to, but fans' often single-minded obsession lends them a particular understanding. And, unlike a show's writers, fanfic writers don't have to hold back for the sake of tension — fanfiction is all about satisfaction, in whatever form that takes.
But Game of Thrones ends with Season 8. There is only a handful of episodes left. It's only right that things should start to boil over.
As Game of Thrones has rid itself of nonessential characters, the ones we and the writers know so well are forced to go head to head with equally developed characters rather than one-offs. What felt so unrealistic and wish fulfill-y to many is actually the result of finally having all these characters in the same place, interacting in ways we could have never expected in Season 1. They await their fates together, big personalities bouncing off one another as the series' writers treat these moments with the level of intimacy they deserve.
None of these characters acted out of character. They have grown as individuals apart, so when they come back together, they are the most extreme, certain versions of themselves. The result of that is high-end, televised fanfiction.