First thing’s first. If you’re not caught up with the current season of Game of Thrones and its most recent episode “Eastwatch” you should stop reading right now because we are getting into heavy spoiler territory. Consider yourself fairly warned.
Okay, so yeah, Jaime is NOT dead. Bronn pulls him up from the depths of the strangely deep waters and Daenerys does not think to give chase and capture the King Slayer. She could have easily made him a valuable political prisoner, or exacted vengeance (since he did stab her father the Mad King).
This is a missed opportunity. Why did “The Spoils of War” even end in a cliff-hanger if it was going to be immediately resolved so anti-climactically? Even forgiving the breach in logistics regarding Bronn pulling a heavy-army wearing Jaime a mile upstream from the brink of death, this creative decision robbed us of any strategic or emotional use for Jamie’s near-death experience.
But Dany’s got bigger fish to fry right now. Making the remaining Lannister and Tarly army soldiers bend the knee is priority number one. She is SUPER into making people bend the knee right now, even though she did not force, say, Yara Greyjoy or the Martel women to do the same last season.
However, Randyll Tarly does not comply with Daenerys’ demand. His refusal to bow down to yet another fire-happy, power-hungry queen is his last chance to basically flip the bird to the powers that be, and also to serve as an example so that his soldiers don’t have to suffer the same draconic fate.
Funny enough, Tyrion kindly suggests the same ultimatum that horrible-father Randyll Tarly presented to his own son Samwell years ago when he demanded he either go to the Wall and Take the Black, or die. Randyll refuses this offer, and we can all remember that he was never a nice guy to begin with.
But poor Dickon – who really stepped up to the plate last episode when he saved Jaime from a Dothraki fighter and won over our malleable hearts – decided to do the honorable thing and stood by his father’s side. Poor, stupid Dickon. For what it’s worth, Randyll and son die hand-in-hand, which is as heartwarming as it gets (literally).
Once again we are presented with the moral quandaries surrounding Daenerys’ leadership style. Tyrion and Varys examine these together in the Dragonstone throne room. Taking his first swig of wine in the entire show, Varys laments having served the Mad King too well, and cautions Tyrion take necessary steps to put Daenerys’ Targaryen tendencies in check.
True, it would be brutal to watch anyone being burned alive. But Daenerys did give the beaten soldiers a choice, and an explicitly clear choice at that. And when she asks Jon Snow why it bothers him so much when he himself caused thousands of men to die in the Battle of the Bastards, it reminds us of the late Tywin Lannister’s pragmatic logic. When Tyrion was upset about the Red Wedding, Tywin asked why it was preferable to kill more people in a drawn-out war than putting an end to the conflict in one horrible blow. The sad thing is that these rulers are not wrong, nor is Daenerys wrong when she says, “We both want to help people. We can only help them from a position of strength. Sometimes strength is terrible.”
Jamie returns to King’s Landing with the news of the catastrophic defeat. Cersei’s pissed, Jaime’s in shock, and it’s nice to see the Lannister smugness rocked, if even for a moment, as they take in the reality of fighting against an army powered in part by Dothraki and dragons. Additionally, the truth is revealed that Lady Olenna killed Joffrey – not Tyrion after all. We should have expected that Cersei would not immediately believe it, as dead-set as she’s been to exact vengeance upon her younger brother. Her slow understanding of the situation unnerves her, and us.
Okay, but we need to talk about the big Targaryen moment between Drogon and Jon.
We all know, via Bran’s vision of the Tower of Joy last season, that Jon is not the bastard of some lowborn who shacked up with Ned Stark. He is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, though this truth is still unknown to him. Dragons, however, are magical beings, and Drogon senses something different about the King in the North. Daenerys is visibly shocked, and moved, as her favorite child and newest crush connect on the windswept cliffs of Dragonstone. (Can Jon and Dany just get together already? Even Drogon seems to like the idea. Daenerys has come down with a serious case of Jon Snow fever, and I know what the cure is.)
That isn’t the only revelation concerning Jon we had this episode. Irritated Sam – who has not heard the news of his recently deceased father and brother – interrupts one of the most important discoveries in the entire show as Gilly proudly recites a little-known fact she read about Rhaegar Targaryen. Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martel annulled and married someone else – Lyanna Stark! This means that Jon Snow is not a bastard afterall, but in fact the rightful heir to the throne. Or one of them anyway.
Because we are rejoined with yet another character who has a right to the Iron Throne this episode: that’s right, Gendry! It’s about damn time that Robert Baratheon’s bastard made it back onto the screen. He’s older now, but he is ready to wail on enemies with the use of an epic Warhammer.
The realities surrounding royal legitimacy are now incredibly complicated, as Cersei, Daenerys, Jon, and Gendry all have a right to sit on the Iron Throne. Luckily the two “bastards” are new BFFs, and don’t care much about power, while Cersei and Daenerys are going to declare an armistice.
The reason for the truce is the matter of highest importance: the impending ice-zombie apocalypse. Bran has levelled up his warging abilities and is now able to transfer into the minds of an entire flock of ravens. Sure enough, he sees the army of the dead, and it has grown immensely.
That’s why Jon has to leave Dragonstone, and he has to do it now. There’s no more time to waste. Jorah, who pitifully returns to Daenerys, does not get much opportunity to make love-sick eyes at her before he leaves her again, to help Jon (and Daenerys) north of the Wall.
This entire season – and this episode in general – is crammed full of reunions. The last few scenes are so bursting with meetings that it’s comical. It might be carelessly rushed writing that brings seven diverse characters so quickly into each other’s company at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, but the final shot redeems the convenience.
One of my favorite things about the last few seasons is the feminist elevation of women into positions of power, including autonomy within their own lives. The final scene of “Eastwatch”, however, is a classicmoment in which a rag-tag team of misfit warriors join together to fight impossible odds. We’ve seen this trope in action films, Westerns, fantasies, and legends, ranging from “The Magnificent Seven” to “300”, from “The Seven Samurai” to “The Fellowship of the Ring”. As Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Thoros of Myr, Beric Dondarrion, Jorah Mormont, Gendry, and the Hound venture beyond the gates of the wall, we have to celebrate a moment of masculine badassery. And celebration is welcome considering the odds, as it is unlikely that everyone will return from this mission alive.
Still in the North, just not as far, Arya and Sansa are chafing at each other. Arya is understandably irritated at the spoiled brat in Lady’s clothing that is her older sister. At the same time, Arya underestimates what Sansa has learned about politics in her years with the Lannisters and Littlefinger. Still, she is right about Sansa’s motives for power, even if Sansa has not fully embraced those desires yet.
Arya can see through Sansa well enough, as well as Littlefinger. But where Arya fails is in her arrogance. She’s used to being the craftiest person in the room. Littlefinger uses this weakness against her, and allows Arya to discover a scroll that Sansa wrote all the way back in season one, when she implored their brother Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey.
The Starks’ greatest strength is in their roots, and through all of the trauma Sansa and Arya have forgotten where they come from. If they can look past their predispositions against each other, and put some faith in their familial bond, they may be able to prevail. Still, Littlefinger is still in the game for a reason, and the shot of him peeking at Arya from the shadows is the best of the episode. Something serious is about to go down in Winterfell – especially considering there are only two episodes left of the season, and only eight left of the entire series.
It’s still a weird secret that Jon Snow died and came back to life. I’m not quite sure why. His resurrection is hardly less believable than an army of the undead. Especially when you’re talking to a woman who walked into a funeral pyre and walked out with baby dragons. Is this “secret” going to come back to haunt him? I’m not sure how.
Jorah returns once again, but I’m so over his story line. He’d better make himself highly useful up North. Although, to be honest, I’d prefer Jorah never make it back alive.
Equally boring is Sam Tarly. I’ve reached my limit for easy poop jokes at the Citadel, and I’m ready to move on. I guess Sam is too, but frankly I don’t care what he or Gilly do next. His importance to the story was one of knowledge, and now he’s leaving the place where he could do the most good because he is impatient and frustrated. He’s so impatient he couldn’t even hear the important information Gilly had to impart. And, more importantly on a relationship level, he couldn’t even be proud of her for coming so far in her ability to read and learn. She’s grown so much as a person, but now he seems to take her for granted. He will probably head far North, and we’ll also have to spend time learning about his reaction to the news of his father and brother’s deaths. But with so much to do in the show, and such little time left, we can’t afford many more Samwell detours.
Congratulations to the happy couple, Cersei and Jaime. Some viewers may believe that she is lying about being pregnant, but I don’t buy that. The argument is that she wants to control Jaime, and she would claim to be pregnant in order to manipulate him. But anyone can see that Jamie is already wrapped around her finger. Additionally, even regarding a lie that would be found out within a matter of months, Cersei has always loved her family first, and I don’t think that even in her jaded state she would make light of bringing a new child into the world.
After so many houses have been wiped off the map (Boltons, Tyrells, Freys, etc.), it never sat with me that the Baratheons were extinct. Gendry is a welcome return. The costume designers of the scene summoned the house sigil in our subconscious even before we saw him. And I couldn’t be happier that he wields a Warhammer just as his father did. And with an engraved Stag to boot!
In an episode all about reunions, we were robbed of one of the more enticing ones: Tyrion and Bronn. The last we saw them was when Bronn refused to be Tyrion’s champion against the Mountain in season 4. They used to be thick as thieves. But their initial meeting was glossed over entirely.
Almost as disappointing was Tyrion and Jaime. Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are both fine actors, but Tyrion and Jaime’s reunion was sterile and subpar.
Similarly, Jon receives the news that Arya and Bran are both alive. This would have some effect on most other characters, but in his typically grim manner he remains unphased. I understand that fighting White Walkers takes priority, but it doesn’t make sense that he doesn’t seem to feel any joy at all that two siblings he had thought were dead are actually still breathing.
As full of reunions and missed opportunities as this episode was, it was almost as full of fan-service. Ser Davos telling Gendry, “I thought you might still be rowing”, referencing the memes of impatient fans since season 3. Tormund asking after “the big woman” Brienne up at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Even the convenience of putting the Brotherhood Without Banners in the same place as Jon and crew.
My final thought:
The season has gone at break-neck speed. At the expense of subtlety. At the expense of secrecy. At the expense of… reasonable time it takes to travel anywhere. Seriously, the writers do not care AT ALL about traveling across the continent any longer. In season one it took a month in show time to travel from King’s Landing to Winterfell, and several episodes to travel back again. Now everyone seems to apparate wherever they please in a moment’s time.
Game of Thrones was built around its clever complexity, its human interactions, its strategic unfoldings. The show has now given away to climactic action and easy culminations. Part of that is truly breath-taking, as we witnessed in last week’s Loot Train Attack. But in slower episodes like these, many moments between characters, even if they seem exciting in the moment, appear lazy in retrospect. The show seems to be inadvertently begging for more breathing room, which would allow true artistry occur. If David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had let the pace breathe, we probably could have gotten an entire extra season of content, and all around higher quality.