Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” the official title of the second episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, is a phrase charged with meaning for fans of George R.R. Martin’s books, which form the basis for the show. At face value, it’s just echoing the phrase Jaime Lannister uses to refer to the newly knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth (played by Gwendoline Christie). After eight seasons of fighting off rapists, sexists, and the collective contempt of the half of Westeros who see her gender before her honor, she’s finally become a knight.
But there’s a deeper meaning in the words “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” It’s also the title of Martin’s collected prequel novellas to the A Song and Ice and Fire series, which are known as the Dunk and Egg stories. Those novellas are set 90 years before the main series, and they follow the adventures of Aegon V Targaryen (Egg) and Ser Duncan the Tall (Dunk), the titular “knight of the Seven Kingdoms” of the collection and, as Martin revealed in a 2016 panel, Brienne of Tarth’s ancestor.
Ser Duncan’s status as Brienne’s forefather is a fitting heritage for the knight of Tarth. First and foremost, Ser Duncan’s stories are Martin readers’ first introduction to the rule Jaime Lannister quotes, that “Any knight can make a knight.” Like Brienne, Ser Duncan was knighted in a way that lacked the tradition of the usual ceremony, which normally involves standing a vigil and being anointed by a septon, then taking vows to “obey the seven gods, defend the weak and innocent, serve my lord faithfully, and defend the realm with all my might.”
Dunk’s character — and his unofficial title as “a knight of the Seven Kingdoms” — are particularly apt matches for Brienne. While Dunk isn’t the best fighter or the smartest knight around, his main character traits are loyalty and adherence to justice. Given the chance to take a particularly safe and comfortable position serving as a knight to House Targaryen, Duncan chooses to remain a hedge knight, traveling the land and protecting the weak and innocent. As his former master, Ser Arlan of Pennytree explains:
“A hedge knight is the truest kind of knight, Dunk,” the old man had told him, a long long time ago. “Other knights serve the lords who keep them, or from whom they hold their lands, but we serve where we will, for men whose causes we believe in. Every knight swears to protect the weak and innocent, but we keep the vow best, I think.”
Brienne fills a similar role as her forefather on Game of Thrones. After the death of her lord Renly Baratheon and the downfall of his house, she doesn’t look for a new, cushy job where she can serve with comfort. She doggedly works to protect the Stark girls, return Sansa to her family, and bring justice to those who have been wronged, serving the people of Westeros instead of serving a lord.
Now, with her official knighthood, she’s just as much of a knight of the Seven Kingdoms as her ancestor, Ser Duncan, once was. The words Jaime speaks over her — the same words Martin ascribed to Ser Duncan — say everything about her purpose and her honor.