This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 5
In retrospect it’s only natural that as Game of Thrones steadily approaches its climax eight years in the making, the speed and pace of the storytelling would only accelerate. Still, understanding that and accepting that are two different things, particularly as the narratives “blend” into one overall tapestry where there are fewer subplots; now it seems there’s simply the plot.
And unexpectedly, to get to that wonderful plot realization of six blokes, all characters with names that we care about, walking to likely a few of their deaths, the narrative has had to spin its wheels faster than the one Daenerys Targaryen is always yammering on about, crushing everything in its path. In some ways that can be extraordinary—Gendry’s back due to a Davos’ pit stop!—and in other ways, it can be quite frustrating, as more and more leaps in logic are being made. Nevertheless, the fact that it can all pay off with the Westerosi Avengers assembling and walking into that cold is a powerful thing.
But first there is all the rest of “Eastwatch,” which flew like a dragon escaping the Doom of Old Valyria, and that unto itself is fairly remarkable since this is somewhat of a place-setting episode.
Aye, the episode itself begins with one of those aforementioned jumps in logic that are becoming far too regular as the show enters its final lap. Despite being seen sinking into a watery abyss last week, Jaime Lannister in full plated armor and with that blasted gold hand is seen miraculously being pulled back to the surface by the leather-bound Bronn. I more or less predicted last week that this is how tonight’s episode would begin, even suggesting that he’d lick his wounds from a safe distance. However, I was wrong. Jaime and Bronn paid no price, iron or otherwise, for their folly in attacking a dragon. One of them should probably be dead and the other captured. And the tension of Tyrion begging Dany for Jaime’s life could offer so many dramatic possibilities.
Alas, the pace of the show moving toward its “come together” end (both North and among the Southron queens) has dictated rather absurdly that Bronn was able to paddle with Jaime in full armor all the way to the other side of the Blackwater Rush without ever being spotted by Daenerys’ Blood Riders or the Dragon Queen herself. Nor did Tyrion look for the brother he saw almost barbecued. All of which is to say this is the kind of convenient plotting that George R.R. Martin so thoroughly skewered when Ned lost his head.
In any case, it was at least amusing to hear Bronn saved Jaime more out of avarice than a brotherly bond with the Lannister. My guess is that deep down he still prefers Tyrion.
Meanwhile, Daenerys has a moment across the river with the few soldiers her dragon didn’t fry, and unsurprisingly all are quick to bend the knee when they hear the dragon roar. Well, almost all of them. As it turns out, Lord Randyll Tarly developed a spine fairly late in the game. Tyrion was so good to point out for me before this review what kind of a fair weather man of honor the Lord of Horn Hill is, as he switched allegiances from the Tyrells to the Lannisters after the latter nuked his liege lord. Yet, it is entirely believable that Randyll would draw the line at supporting Dany. But not out of loyalty to his oath. Nay, this is just pure racism.
At the end of the day, Randyll will always be the terrible father and self-righteous dingbat that tortured Sam. He also is the perfect profile of a prick who would view foreigners as a horde (albeit, in the case of the Dothraki… they kind of are). The idea of siding with so many skin tone variations really would be just too far for such a proud (and small) mind.
So the moment is really more about creating a litmus test for audiences. Do you agree with Daenerys for turning Randyll and then poor, surprisingly decent Dickon Tarly into ash? It depends on whether you place more value on morality or medieval integrity. Tyrion proves himself to be quite the humanist, arguing on the side of modern viewers that they should not slaughter prisoners of war. This is doubly important for Tyrion, and later Varys, because these are their countrymen. Randyll and Dickon are also like Tyrion in that they were born into wealth and privilege. And she means to execute them? These things simply aren’t done.
But Dany already had drawn her red line when she said bend the knee or die. If she went back on it, they’d accuse her of not living up to her word. If you promise fire and fury and then don’t deliver, integrity becomes almost instantaneously shot. Further, from a medieval perspective, making an example out of one enemy is just good politics. While Tyrion might cringe at the optics of the “horde” celebrating as another noble house is seemingly extinguished, leaving the Reach in complete disarray, Daenerys is hardly Mad King Aerys II. Rather, she more resembles Aegon the Conqueror who burned those who wouldn’t bend the knee and accepted with complete leniency those who did submit.
For the record, this includes Tyrion’s own ancestors. The Lannisters came to power in part because they pragmatically allowed their “betters” to taste dragonfire before finding their joints were quite flexible.
So morally speaking, what Daenerys did is abhorrent. From a realpolitik vantage, particularly on Game of Thrones, she made a shrewd calcuation. She can even now give the Reach to any lord in the area who shows excessive fealty. With that said, she’d have been smarter to just burn Randyll and then see if Dickon still kept to his convictions. There’s a decent chance, they needn’t both die.
Then again, they’re not the last Tarlys.
Yep, Samwell Tarly is a newly minted college dropout who’s become disillusioned with the world. It’s unclear if Sam ever learned about his brother and father’s deaths in this episode, but he learned a great many things, indeed. Even if he is a bit oblivious about it at the moment.
In the primary narrative, Sam discovered that academia isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. He wants to go out and finance his proverbial startup that in this case will actually do the world some good by fighting an Army of the Dead, and he’s discovered institutions keep their power by maintaining a certain status quo.
Despite Arch Maester Jim Broadbent seeming to be relatively open-minded for someone who has tenure 15 times over, he dismisses using the clout of the Citadel to try to persuade Southron lords to help the North fight the dead. Already having discovered that there is a cavern of Dragonglass beneath Dragonstone, Sam rightly decides to get back into the main plot. For the Sake of the Mother, there’s only eight episodes of Game of Thrones left ever!
However, Sam and Gilly are pretty safe for several reasons. First of all, Samwell will likely end up being the Lord of Horn Hill that will keep the Reach for Daenerys (and her husband Jon Snow, mayhaps?). After all, there are no lords left with major names in that kingdom on the series, and Tyrion made a big point about not extinguishing two great houses in just a handful of episodes. Granted, Sam is still a member of the Night’s Watch. But assuming he survives the Long Night to come next season, Daenerys and/or Jon would have the ability to pardon Sam from his duty on the Wall. Also, there likely won’t be a Wall either at that point…
And the main reason either should be intrigued in raising Sam up is because Game of Thrones, on the super down low tonight, confirmed that Jon Snow should be neither called “Snow” or “Stark.” Rather, he is a trueborn Targaryen!
In a very sneaky way, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss hid this little secret in plain sight while Sam and Gilly were having their My Cousin Vinny moment while arguing about steps. Undoubtedly, Sam is going to realize the brilliance of this conversation later and put Gilly on the witness stand, because amongst all the minutiae she relayed from a maester’s old dusty book that Sam handed to Sam Jr., Gilly also revealed, “Maynor says here he issued an annulment for Prince Rhaegar and remarried him to someone else in a secret ceremony.”
Prince Rhaegar, for those who don’t recall, is Daenerys’ older brother and Jon Snow’s father. Last season, it was confirmed that Jon is Lyanna Stark’s son, not Ned’s, and that we can all assume Prince Rhaegar is the father since he had “taken” the Stark girl. Yet it appears not only was it a happy, consensual relationship (duh), but that it was a lawful marriage… meaning Jon Snow is Jon Targaryen, and he has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys since he is the son of Aerys II’s oldest male heir, Prince Rhaegar, and Dany is the last Targaryen king’s daughter. Now she should have a better claim, however Westeros is a sexist and feudal society, so Jon’s takes unfortunate precedence.
How will this blow up in season 8? Likely with wedding bells—especially once the Northern lords discover that their King in the North is actually a Targaryen. But that is something to discuss for another day….
Speaking of the King in the North, Jon was out on Brooder’s Peak again doing his best sad face when Dany and Drogon appeared and seriously tried to intimidate him with the ultimate power move. With Drogon roaring in Jon Snow’s face, the brooder neither bent the knee or did the most understandable thing of running in the opposite direction. Nay, he signaled his Targaryen blood further by petting a curiously reciprocal Drogon.
Any reader can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Jon is the first person besides Daenerys that Drogon has let pet him since he was a baby in season 2. Either way, I was fascinated by Dany reacting to this interaction. I suspect she wanted to shake Jon Snow’s calm but found herself intrigued that he stood his ground. It looks like Drogon could be getting a new stepdad soon enough. Which is weird since, if Drogon is really Dany’s “child,” then he and Jon are also cousins.
But as Jon and Daenerys continue to bat eyes at each other, a blast from the past rolls in when old Ser Jorah Mormont finally makes it to Dragonstone. He’s come a long way to get there from Oldtown, but it makes sense—he’d have crawled if it was his only option.
Also, it is here that I must tip the hat and bend the knee for Daenerys. She might be a bloodthirsty administrator, but she takes Jorah at his word that he found a cure and goes in for the hug. Personally, I would have asked to see the previously infected arm first, yet Dany believes the greatest knight the Friend Zone has ever had is true. And honestly, it’s surprising how moving this reunion actually turned out to be. It’s also a bit humorous how Game of Thrones attempts to play up love triangle sparks with Jon giving Jorah the side-eye in this moment (which Jorah dourly returns later in the episode as they make near tearful goodbyes upon the Dragonstone surf); surely, no one in the Seven Kingdoms, including Jorah, believes Daenerys will end up with the Bear Knight. Nope, the sequence is moving because these two characters have a longer onscreen history than any other living pair on the show, save perhaps the Lannister twins.
And theirs is a friendship built on genuine affection and positive emotions (ahem, unlike the Lannister twins). That or I’m still a sucker for how Iain Glen growls, “Khaleesi.”
With the old gang back together, Daenerys has a small council meeting of her own with Jon Snow demanding he be allowed to return North to fight the Army of the Dead. While it appears the Khaleesi has come to believe Jon Snow emphatically after only a few cave drawings, she still is not about to cede this war to Cersei Lannister. In fact, it’s a bit perplexing why she isn’t laying siege to King’s Landing right now. She wouldn’t even need to unleash another dragon, just starve the city and use her dragons to burn Euron’s ships at sea if they try to aid Cersei. Let the people turn on the incestuous queen.
Instead, Dany appears actually persuaded enough to want to go North, but she just needs assurances that Cersei won’t muck things up if she did so. This is an intriguing choice since she is entirely letting Cersei rebuild her army by doing this, which more or less confirms we’re going to meet the Golden Company next season. However, for it to work, she’ll need proof that can convince everyone for good and all that White Walkers exist.
Thus at last, Tyrion gets to make a good decision this season. After proving himself to be a lousy general for offensive maneuvers, Tyrion makes an acute political calculation. If you can’t convince anyone that Ice Zombies exist Beyond the Wall, bring a single Ice Zombie south of it and present it to Cersei, Daenerys, and other Southron lords. Find evidence that temperatures are rising every year. It’s a sound move on Tyrion’s part, albeit real life has taught us that even empirical evidence will not mean rich leaders of inherited wealth will see beyond their own self-interest.
Ahem, anyway, Tyrion’s plan still has a few snags: They need to convince Cersei to sit down for a face-to-face, as well as get the walking dead man from up North. Thus Jon Snow and Tyrion are deployed to do what they do best: fight and talk. Jon recently lamented that he doesn’t enjoy what he’s good at while Tyrion does. That might be true, but we enjoy both of them doing their thing. Hence there was no doubt Daenerys would allow Jon Snow to retrieve his zombie.
It does underscore though a growing romantic tension. While I dread that Jorah will never see his precious Khaleesi again when he kisses her hand, seemingly for the first and last time, Jon and Dany’s parting is much more hopeful. Theirs is the eponymous song of ice and fire, and this moment on the banks of Dragonstone played much better than their moment earlier on the cliff. It seemed less about two characters in their signature poses and more about two people who’ve grown “quite used to it.” That affection and the hope of rekindling it is a much more earnest sizzle than any faux attempts at triangulating these characters.
(Albeit, by letting both Jorah and Davos go North, Dany is now without any good military tacticians yet again…)
Speaking of Davos, the old gent from Flea Bottom wound up having the best line of dialogue of the evening. Upon viewing King’s Landing for the first time since season 4, Tyrion gets a bit misty-eyed and reminisces that “the last time I was here, I killed my father with a crossbow.” Davos then drops a mic on Tyrion by spitting back, “Last time I was here, you killed my son with wildfire.” Snap.
Assuming they forgot about this “slight,” I was a bit disturbed about how cordial the Onion Knight had been around Tyrion in previous weeks. Apparently Ser Davos has become quite the savvy political player over the last few seasons. Having gone from the man who put Gendry on a row boat to keeping a fanged disdain for Tyrion to himself and hiding it around smiles, he’s turned out to be quite the cunning political player. Maybe he’ll give Arya some pointers if/when he ever gets back to Winterfell (We’ll also get to that too, don’t worry).
Davos continued dropping truth bombs throughout the night, including wondering why nobody heeds his counsel when he’s lived to an old age. But the most satisfying action he took was bringing Gendry back into the series. Davos even got to break the fourth wall while he did it, making fun of the internet meme about Gendry still be rowing somewhere out to sea. Nope, the Baratheon bastard is hard at work on armor in the same dingy little shop that Ned Stark found him in all those seasons ago. Convenient? Sure, but in this case oh, so satisfying. Gendry is also in a hurry to make up for lost time. Pulling out the kind of war hammer that would have made his daddy proud, he’s off to fight. About damn time, kid.
Tyrion’s homecoming was decidedly colder. In the bowels of the Red Keep, Miraculously, the youngest Lannister was able to get a message to Bronn, thereby setting up a rendezvous between himself and Jaime. It’s a powerful scene mostly because Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are fabulous actors, and honestly neither has had a scene this good since their final episode together in season 4. The anger and animosity on Jaime’s part for his beloved little brother and now his father’s killer is entirely justified—no matter what Tyrion says, he killed their father.
Conversely, Tyrion had every reason to pull that trigger. Jaime will never understand, but Tyrion had to have his justice, even if it means the two funniest blondes will forever be on opposing sides. Tyrion trying to rationalize the nigh irrational act is perfectly cut short by his brother; Jaime cares not at all about what Tyrion wants. What does the kinslayer need from the kingslayer? As it turns out, a détente. This presumably means that season 7 will end with all the characters sitting around like the Five Families of The Godfather to discuss the “Sollozzo” situation. But Tyrion should be less open-minded to this, because it ultimately didn’t play well for four of those families.
Cersei would seem to agree, as she is already scheming that this is her opening for a rebound following last week’s crushing defeat. Cersei swung from irrational, where she’d rather be burned alive on her throne than accept defeat, to a stunning pragmatist. In fact, she reveals that she is aware that Jaime met with Tyrion and that “nothing” occurs in King’s Landing without her knowing about it.
This, more than anything we’ve seen this season, is mind-bogglingly incredulous. Cersei Lannister is many things, but a cunning strategist has never been an accurate description until it became convenient for the plot this season. The “graceless” way she handled Petyr Baelish in season 2 shows how clumsy she is with power, which manifested itself in allowing the Sparrows to become the Faith Militant and start arresting highborn lords and ladies. If she could behave foolishly out of spite for Margaery Tyrell, the thought she would comprehend political advantage in allying, even temporarily, with Tyrion is preposterous. And her knowing Tyrion was within city limits and not thirsting for his head is a complete sacrifice of her motivations and personality tics.
If she really knows “everything,” she’d have taken Tyrion’s head and given a message to Davos that she’d come to terms with the Dragon Queen when she feels like it. Cersei is not Tywin Lannister, and David Benioff and D.B. Weise suddenly pretending she has grown into that craftiness overnight is the silliest thing this season, and we all saw the jacket Euron was rocking in episode one….
Oh, also, Cersei is pregnant, which is painful because it means Jaime is still trapped in her games. Genuinely, I hope it is a false alarm or a manipulation of Jaime, because if she really is with child, Jaime will never attempt to free himself from her control again.
Another twisted family dynamic is spinning out of control in the North. The miscommunications from last week between Arya and Sansa Stark is growing into quite the dangerous rivalry… with potentially deadly consequences.
It begins with Arya correctly reading Sansa enjoying the power and attention that being the Lady of Winterfell brings her, but mischaracterizing it as treacherous. There is obviously some jealousy on Sansa’s part about Jon being King in the North, and you don’t have to be trained by the Faceless Men to see it. However, Sansa is still behaving like a consummate politician, deflecting bad ideas and keeping the constituents happy. Arya has not been around political players since season 1 and quite ridiculously thinks Sansa should behead anyone who speaks ill of Jon. And we thought Robb Stark made poor game moves when he beheaded Karstark or married a non-Frey?
Sansa points out that this would estrange 2,500 men Winterfell will need, but Arya only sees the older spoiled brat from season 1—a sister who moved into their dead parents’ bedroom, even though it appeared as though she gave it to Jon last season. But Arya has spent too much time in the company of assassins, because if she was watching for more than just psychological telltale signs of weakness, she might have noticed another’s great strengths.
I do sincerely wonder if any viewer was actually fooled by Littlefinger’s faux-oblivious act. Arya Stark was darting around Winterfell like Christian Bale’s Batman, vanishing from the shadows and keeping tabs on Lord Baelish, imagining she was actually being sneaky. But Littlefinger is no mark on the street of Braavos. Bran was able to roll him last week by introducing a magical element he could not anticipate, but this cloak and dagger shtick is Littlefinger’s bread and butter. He didn’t rise from a nothing boy to Lord of Harrenhal and Lord Protector of the Vale by getting dropped on.
The audience didn’t need the scene of Littlefinger in his most Luciferian visage yet—which is saying something—but there it was at the end. Smiling. Arya took the bait, hook, line, and sinker. She’s never really dealt with Petyr Baelish and seems to not know how to play “the game” her TV show is all about.
For those who may not recall all the way back to season 1, the letter that Littlefinger left for Arya to find is one in which a very young and naïve Sansa was forced by Cersei, Varys, and Littlefinger to write to Robb and Catelyn, begging them to come to King’s Landing and bend the knee, swearing fealty to Joffrey as king. And to be fair to Arya’s boiling rage, Sansa at the time was innocent enough to believe that Cersei and Joffrey meant well—something she learned the hard way to be false on the steps of Baelor.
Nonetheless, the letter was Sansa under duress being forced by a queen to write that, otherwise they insinuated they’d execute her father without her ever getting to speak with him. Well, they ended up doing that anyway, but it certainly is nothing to hold against the older Stark girl, as neither Robb nor Cat did. They saw the political machinations at work. But Arya doesn’t seem to believe in politics. Say a bad word about Jon? Your head should be rotting on a spike. Apparently ask Robb to side with Joffrey while their father suffered in a black cell?
Well… here’s an interesting thought: Arya kills Sansa next week. Littlefinger is trying to obviously play the Stark sisters off each other. If Arya begins stalking Lady Stark, who she tellingly has yet to call “Sansa” to her face, then theoretically it would push Sansa more into his orbit. But just as he underestimated Ramsay and then Bran, perhaps he doesn’t know just how bloodthirsty Arya is? She’s a fighter, but there’s a fair analysis to be made Arya is also a bit unhinged.
Still, I don’t believe that is what will happen. It’d be a shocking choice, but I imagine Arya will merely threaten to kill Sansa. And then the older sister will put the dots together and perhaps turn that anger in Petyr’s direction. Then again, that would be quite the twist after a year of media misdirection about Sansa betraying Jon, and then all of a sudden Arya, everyone’s favorite Stark (including myself), betrays Sansa because she got played by Littlefinger. At this point, it is a family tradition.
Yet elsewhere to the North, we have the real ending everyone wanted to see: characters coming together for a common purpose—kicking White Walker ass and chewing bubble gum. And they’re all out of bubble gum. Aye, it was quite a sight to see poor, lovelorn Tormund Giantsbane, the Hound, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, Ser Jorah Mormont, Ser Davos Seaworth, Gendry of House Bastardos, and good ol’ Jon Snow—he’s King in the North—onscreen together. There are so many animosities between these characters that it’s hard to keep up with how Jorah knows Thoros or why Tormund is getting testy about fighting alongside Watchers on the Wall now.
And it doesn’t matter. Beric tries to give his Captain America speech while wearing Nick Fury’s eyepatch, and it’s not needed, so the Hound cuts him off cold. “For fuck’s sake, will you shut your hole? Are we coming with you or not?”
You are going, Sandor, but you might regret it. You’ve come to serve the Lord of Light while Jon has come for a more practical service—that of Daenerys Targaryen’s, albeit he won’t admit it. Yet I imagine a few of them are not going to survive into the season finale in two weeks. If I had to put my wagers down right now, I’d say that Beric, Thoros, Tormund, and probably even Jorah are doomed. Beric and Thoros will die so there is no “resurrection” button for Jon Snow or anyone else when they get into trouble later, and Tormund and Jorah will bring the audience tears, particularly that ginger haired wildebeest in need of a lady knight.
But that’s for next week. With the place set, there is a decent chance the penultimate episode will be even crazier than the Battle of the Reach. If these characters survive a tussle with the Night King, fireworks will rain. But there will be no dragons nearby to make that expression an actual reality.
In the here and now, we had a very good episode with just a few tumbles. However, they are becoming a little too frequent for my taste this season, and Cersei’s entire psychology getting temporarily thrown out the window in name of the plot might be the most frustrating cheat yet.
As a solid episode of Game of Thrones, hopefully “Eastwatch” has paved the way for the final two hours of season 7 to be spectacular.