With the penultimate episode of the penultimate season approaching, Thrones really decided to embrace that “go, go, go” mentality once again by delivering an utter slogfest with “Eastwatch”. In an episode written by Dave “originator of the Olly-at-the-Wall plotline” Hill, the lack of character motivation, appallingly weak writing, and wheel spinning becomes ever-apparent without a flashy dragon battle to hide behind.
During the credits we get a first look at the location that gives the episode its name and it kind of looks mediocre. Not that any of the castles along the Wall are the structures they once were, but there was nothing noticeably distinctive or interesting about the visuals of Eastwatch-by-the-sea, let alone one that has an interesting role acting as a mix of both a port and a defense post. We don’t even get some galleys! But alas, this frustration can be saved for when we actually see it in all of its lack-of-glory in the episode itself!
I knew this episode was going to be a doozy when it opened up how I jokingly suggested it would last week, with Bronn and Jaime safe across the river. No one drowned. They managed to go completely unnoticed by Daenerys or any of her army. And they got to the other side of the river… There’s lazy writing and then there’s just plain “I don’t give a shit,” and I think we know what route the writers are taking this season. I mean maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe Bronn’s push to save his best friend Jaime was so hard that it launched them all the way across the body of water.
Bronn is also talking to Jaime about how stupid his move to try to spear Daenerys was with a dragon right near her and how bad of a position the Lannisters are in after seeing the might of Dany’s army. “You’re fucked. Dragons are where our partnership ends,” Bronn tells Jaime. Excuse me, WHAT? WHAT? That line itself is completely in character for Bronn, sure, but it also completely contradicts his heroic action that they are literally having a conversation about. It never made sense for Bronn to risk his life to save Jaime from Drogon and this only confirms it, so the fact that we open the episode with characters confirming inaccuracies shows us that we are truly in Emmy Award Winning™ territory here folks.
Tyrion walks through the aftermath of the battle, through the ashes and the corpses and we see how much it weighs on him. Poor St. Tyrion, if only everyone could be as good and as pure as he. (If only an episode that remembers his father’s murder also remembered another murder he committed that night and how he doesn’t exactly have clean hands either, but that would be asking them to think deeply about their favorite self insert.) Also, Tyrion is literally our point of view in this situation, and he has been this whole season. I’ll get more to it later, but it’s similar to what they have done with Sansa and Catelyn: Dany has been sidelined in her own storyline and now it is the Tyrion or Jon show that Dany just simply happens to orbit around and feature in.
Dany then delivers a speech to the remaining soldiers and lords that fought with the Lannisters and it’s confusing and frustrating on multiple levels:
“I know what Cersei has told you. That I’ve come to destroy your cities, burn down your homes, murder you and orphan your children. That’s Cersei Lannister, not me. I’m not here to murder and all I want to destroy is the wheel that has rolled over rich and poor to the benefit of no one but the Cersei Lannisters of the world. I offer you a choice. Bend the knee and join me. Together we will leave the world a better place than we have found it. Or refuse and die.”
For one, what are we supposed to be getting from this speech? It worried me/unsettled me, but I don’t think it was supposed to be convincing to us. As we hear Dany essentially hypocritically strong-arming the crowd, dressing Cersei up as Aerys 2.0 when she is no different and is about to prove it, the writers are setting Dany up in a frustrating position. They want us to still feel sympathetic for her but when she deadpans to an audience about how bad another ruler is that is no less fire-crazed than she and willing to kill innocents, and proclaiming a rule under her to be a rule that will change the course of society, it’s impossible to actually sympathize.
Not to mention this is not a choice. Randyll Tarly and Dickon refuse to bend the knee, insisting they already have a queen (they’re really riding that Cersei train), and as Tyrion realizes this Mad Queen is about to execute these Lords, he tries to convince her otherwise. She insists that she gave them the choice and they will deal with the consequences of what they have chosen, that she will not back out from her word.
All of this is held up upon the fabrication of the appearance of choice. There is no choice here. A choice between something and death is not a choice; it’s backing someone into a corner and forcing their hand. It’s not asking. It’s not giving them true agency. It is telling them it is your way or the highway and the highway is death. If you can’t come back from one of the “choices,” there is no real choice. If one option isn’t actually viable, then there is only one option.
This whole scene is rather mind-boggling as Tarly continually insists on laying the foreign savages racism on thick, even weirdly extending it to Dany. Tarly suggest that Dany is less a legitimate ruler because she wasn’t “born in Westeros” like Cersei. Which is simply not true: as we know Dany was born on Dragonstone but didn’t grow up in Westeros. And also, it is bit of a stretch to call Dany a “foreign invader” with the Targaryen line a steady-point in recent Westeros history. Lay all the believable racism and bigotry in front of a man like Randyll Tarly and yes, it is believable, but to direct all of that at the clear Westerosi leader, someone who does have a claim to the throne, unlike the queen you are serving, instead of the people she is leading into battle is another one of those “don’t give a shit choices” that has pushed beyond laziness.
As they are awaiting their death by fire, Randyll reaches out for his beloved boy—I mean thirty year old man son Dickon—and awwww. It’s a cute father-son bonding moment that I definitely wanted to be shown of Randyll Tarly who literally told his other son he would kill him himself should he not forsake his claims and titles and join the Wall because he did not live up to the toxically masculine standards. Randyll Tarly, who inflicted years of abuse towards Sam, is given character moments for us to explore before his death as if we should feel for him, but I guess we can paint Randyll however we want now because both Sam and the writers have forgotten abut his trauma.
While Dany roasts alive the Tarly men (there goes any conflict from Sam taking Heartsbane), Tyrion looks worried with his choice of queen, and I can’t wrap my head around what we’re supposed to think. We’re usually always supposed to be on the side of Saint Tyrion, but he always gets her to come around to do whatever he thinks up after dismissing her own plans, so are we supposed to just disregard her burning people who did not bend the knee to her while they are alive a little constituent issue? Is it just up there with blowing up the Sept and all those inside and the temple of the Dosh Khaleen? Are we supposed to “Yas Queen!” Aerys 2.0 right now or are we supposed to reprimand her?
Well good thing the ever insightful showrunners on the “Inside the Episode” answer this up! Or not…Benioff says “I wouldn’t say she’s acting like the mad king because it’s rational. She’s giving them a choice and they are choosing not to bend the knee to her and she accepts that choice.”
I wouldn’t ever call burning people alive rational, but I guess morals are different in Weiseroff. So we are supposed to clearly still be on her side and understand her decision to burn these people and not read a bit of the Mad King into this fire-happy personality? Benioff also goes on to say Saint Tyrion has got a good point (because we can’t go a minute with fellating Tyrion, especially in regards to Dany) and that it’s supposed to be an ambiguous choice for the viewers of who to stand behind.
Well here’s a curveball…it’s kind of impossible to root for any of these characters at this point.
At King’s Landing Jaime returns to his sister-lover and confesses to Cersei the horror of what he saw during the “loot train” battle (*snorts* sorry I can’t stop laughing at that name) and the they stand no chance. Cersei knows Dany won’t just treat with them as she sits “on her father’s throne, the father that [Jaime] betrayed and murdered.” Are we just gonna forget about Jaime’s kingslaying being the ultimate duality for him internally as his ultimate dishonor but also his greatest act of heroism? Yeah? Okay sure, what is nuance?! The fact that Jaime never once touches on what he’s feeling seeing Aerys 2.0 burn men alive on the battlefield all around him just goes to show how far gone this character is.
Cersei is being super reasonable and suggests Tyrion could be a good source to intercede for them. And, you now, how he’s probably totally sorry for the murder of their father and Joffrey, but Jaime confesses that Olenna was Joffrey’s true killer. Cersei continues to disregard Jaime, getting angry with him for convincing her to let Olenna have an easy death (seriously though who the hell are we supposed to root for here?). But like the loving lapdog he is, he continues to follow her and we continue along the “us or them,” mentality we were supposed to leap over several seasons ago.
I think the show forgets that the morally grey aspect comes from sympathizing or empathizing with characters that might take or have taken bad actions in the past. It’s usually finding good to hold onto within the bad rather than the other way around, because when it’s flipped you start to lose your footing and all empathy.
Speaking of Tyrion, Davos volunteers to smuggle him into King’s Landing to talk to Jaime to try and convince him to set up a meeting with Cersei to arrange a necessary armistice. Davos rows him completely unnoticed in the rowboat landing on the shore right by the Red Keep, but I guess if a rowboat worked for Gendry, it’ll work for these fools. The two part ways while Davos goes to take care of some badly handled fan-service in Flea Bottom and Tyrion heads to the bowels of the Red Keep and into the room with the dragon skulls to speak to his brother. (They spent money on designing that set so you can bet we’re coming back to it).
There’s so much history in King’s Landing and the meaning of both of these central characters’ memories within it, but of course Davos mentions the killing of his son lightly in conversation without any sort of focus (I mean come on! The dude was more broken up about the death of Shireen and his anger towards Melisandre than he was about his own son.). Tyrion’s feelings about being back in King’s Landing for the first time since murdering Shae and his father are either not going to be brought up or will be thrown away over the course of a conversation, because a conversations on this show cannot develop two characters at the same time.
Bronn leads Jaime to the room with the dragon skulls under the guise of a training session but brings him right to Tyrion. How did they organize this? Do they have secret cellphones they talk on? This meeting and reuniting of brothers is something the books are really building up to in terms of how these figures have warped and changed in these characters’ heads, and also who they’ve become. The lack of impact here is all an effect of removing the Tysha reveal on the show, and the writers’ sheer unwillingness to give room for these men to change and grow.
In the books, Tyrion and Jaime leave each other in a bad place that vastly effects both of them. After Jaime’s confession about Tysha is spoken, Tyrion never thinks of Jaime, his father, himself, or his past the same ever again.
Instead here we get great acting but meaningless words and scenarios.
Gendry also returned this week as Davos stumbled upon him on the Street of Steel, making a cringe-worthy joke that he thought he might still be rowing. Newsflash D&D: inside jokes that the audience make of small nonsensical things that happen in your writing as a result of laziness aren’t funny when used in-universe. AKA you don’t get to make this joke!
This whole scenario is quite hamfisted and fan service in the bad way. Gendry literally went back to the first place they would have looked, as they were solely going off of the information that he was an armorers apprentice and had a bull helm, but okay. Gendry immediately, without question, agrees to come with Davos (perhaps to move the plot along at that “go, go, go” speed, but there’s no in-verse explanation.)
There’s also no in-verse explanation as to what Gendry is suddenly in love with Robert Baratheon as a father figure, considering he never met the guy, even to the point of using a war hammer over a sword. The war hammer reveal is perhaps the tippy top of cringe in this interaction and as a concept it’s not a bad idea, but it’s just executed poorly. I’ll bring this up again later but don’t have your characters directly dictate your parallels/themes. Show! Don’t tell!!
The two nearly get caught as they are about to row back by two unsuspecting guards who get payed off by 15 gold dragons each (seriously do they know what a gold dragon is worth?) and a few swings of Gendry’s warhammer.
Jaime meets with Cersei, confessing that he met with Tyrion because he can keep nothing from his one true love, and how Tyrion warned him about the army of the dead and a need for a temporary armistice. Cersei is one step ahead (wow, are we continuing the false belief that she is truly Tywin’s daughter?) and already knew about the meeting. Maybe it’s because they were meeting in her new favorite Dragon felling practice spot? She was down there for another practice session with Qyburn. We get another “us vs. them” speech and Cersei confesses that she is pregnant with their baby and that she will name Jaime publicly as the father.
Yes you hear that right…Cersei is pregnant with a baby. Remember that prophesy that outlined her three children? Oh well “fuck prophesy, fuck fate” as Jaime would say, because we retconned one baby, why not another? The two hug and embrace it out in another nice fuck you to book Jaime, and Cersei warns her brother lover to never betray her again. Is this an attempt to seed in discord again? I can’t tell anymore.
On Dragonstone Jon pets Drogon as Dany lands in from her Tarly roasting and we’re meant to be moved by the significance because Targaryen blood!!! Although it’s not technically necessary to ride a dragon, as plenty of dragon riders died before their dragons and their dragons were ridden again in Westerosi history, so it really doesn’t mean anything.
Jon asks her how the fighting went and he’s not sure how he feels about the fact that she “has fewer enemies than she did yesterday.” Dude, this is war! Killing and death happen all around you and you weren’t fighting the Boltons for Winterfell just to give them a holiday job. Dany brings this up too but before Jon gets to answer for his hypocrisy they change subjects immediately and she begins to pry into the mention of taking a knife to the heart. Jon’s resurrection is apparently still a secret, so he hesitates to tell her but have no fear—the nonsensical plot point Jorah Mormont arrives!
Dany is so pleased to see her obsessive and creepy companion, hugging him and nearing tears and as he professes his love for Dany, one has to cringe at the choice they made to make Jorah less narratively complicit in the latter issues. Dany’s true feelings, emotions, and honest anger take a backseat once again and this time it’s to Jorah “I’m so sad I’m friendzoned,” Mormont who struggled far and wide to find the cure for greyscale and return to his Khaleesi. I’m so glad that plotline panned out.
Varys and Tyrion are chilling in the throne room and discussing their worries about their queen. Varys isn’t too happy she burnt the Tarly’s alive. Varys is really questioning his decision to back Dany and it’s almost as if he wasn’t originally supposed to in the plotline set out for him. The lack of the Aegon character has really messed up a great deal of Varys’s characterization and the show keeps trying to explain it away, but it really just digs itself further into a hole.
Tyrion tries to insist he can’t make all of her decisions for her, but Varys lets him know that he can. If she listens to good counsel by Tyrion, she’ll be A-okay. If not she’ll go full on Aerys 2.0. #PUPPETQUEENCONFIRMED.
No but really, this frustrates me to know end. The show has continually infantilized Daenerys and failed to understand what drives her. To now have a scene where two characters mansplain her flaws away by saying they just need to tell her what to do, insisting that without them she’s incapable of rule and out of control… Well, it seems to forget that she spend a great deal of time without them already. Dany is officially no longer the main character in her own story. She is secondary to everyone around her and acts to support their arcs, decisions, and choices rather than the other way around or, in a good case, equilibrium.
They get a note from Winterfell where Bran had a vision of the White Walker army marching towards Eastwatch, and Jon is shocked to read confirmation that Bran and Arya are alive. He says that he thought they were both dead, which isn’t necessarily true in Bran’s case, but it would be understandable that he would think that going beyond the Wall would result in that. I do wonder how the letter was worded and if this new Maester is smart enough not to put down that Bran knows all of this due to visions in the letter. But if he did utter the words “visions” or “three eyed raven” as we heard in the version he sent to the Citadel, Jon acted pretty calm receiving that information.
Jon wants to go home and fight after receiving the letter, but Dany is reluctant to help because if she retreats north to the Wall, Cersei could move in and take the Seven Kingdoms. Saint Tyrion however, is so smart and figures out a new plan. To ”bring the dead to [Cersei].” As they put it in the “Inside the Episode,” “Like many of these situations on the show, the one who figures it out is Tyrion.”
Benioff and Weiss seem to constantly be reaching back to AGOT and the first season for inspiration and material, because they are helpless with this outline and padding out run time, so we essentially get a reboot of Alliser Thorne bringing the hand of the wight to King’s Landing. Benioff and Weiss mention this incident as if it were on the the show, but I could have sworn Thorne doesn’t trek with the hand to King’s Landing on the series? Please correct me if I’m wrong! Also Weiss adds some insightful commentary on that hand and their writing process, saying that this retread came about because it “seemed like on a story level [it] would do the trick.” It shouldn’t “do the trick,” it should come from character and story!
Jorah also offers to go get a wight for his beloved queen and Dany is distraught because she wants him to stay by her side. Jon speaks up, saying the the Free Folk will also help. Dude, stop throwing them into the shit storm! Seriously? First he volunteers them to hold Eastwatch, which would be first to go should the White Walkers break through the Wall, and now he’s volunteering them for a very stupid mission to go back beyond the Wall and capture a wight. These are the people who spent so much time trying to run and get away from this threat, but Jon keeps insisting on throwing them into the line of the firing squad.
Jon also says he must go as the free folk would never listen to Jorah, and Dany becomes super emotional because they clearly have a tangible connection. I still fail to see this chemistry that keeps getting shoved down our throats. Jon asks her to trust in him as he did in her and of course, in true puppet queen fashion, she has to glance at Tyrion for the answer first, and ultimately concedes.
Davos tells Gendry to keep his identity under wraps, because Jon is so busy right now and doesn’t have time to deal with these “complications” but Gendry walks right in like “HEYOOO IM GENDRY BOBBY B’S BASTARD” without a care. Gendry then eulogizes about how they are their father’s bastards and that their fathers were friends and fought by each other’s side, conquering all, and perhaps they could do the same. This is where the Gendry/Robert parallels get overtly heavy-handed. We as an audience would understand the significance of these two meeting and talking. We understand the bastards of the historical Bobby B and Ned Stark friendship possibly forming one of their own is weighty, and if we just saw these two without the added narration and saw them fighting side by side, Jon with Longclaw and Gendry with his warhammer, it would hit hard in the only way it should on film; show don’t tell!
As the gang head out we get a million goodbyes including an awkward one between Tyrion and Mormont, where Tyrion seems to talk about their slavery experience so nonchalantly and insists he keep the coin that was paid to them so they could fight in the pits without breaking the law. Jon and Dany also say goodbye and it’s once again supposed to be sentimental and chemistry packed, but I still am failing to get anything between these two on screen together.
Time for my least favorite stuff of the episode. First we get the one positive snippet when Bran skinchanges into those birds and the effect looks pretty cool. It would have probably been a stronger sequence if we didn’t have to see Bran doing it, but we have to be handheld into anything so it’s something I can overlook.
The Northern lords are holding a meeting with Sansa about their growing frustration about Jon’s endless trip to Dragonstone and are rethinking their appointment of ruler. Now the tides are turning in favor of Sansa and even the Vale lords are remembering why they are there (for Sansa). It only took almost the whole season and a contrived plot line of cattiness, but these men are finally recognizing Sansa’s strength and rightful place as ruler in the North. However, if the Vale lords remember they are here for Sansa, why is Littlefinger even still kicking it around?
The meeting itself also is just written so flatly. It doesn’t even sound like they are in the middle of an argument, or a discussion, or an announcement. It all kind of just happens slowly, much like this episode. But Sansa is very nice and doesn’t wish to claim her birthright so she insists that “Jon is our King, he’s doing what he thinks is best.” The Northern lords walk way disgruntled and Arya is watching and she’s doing her creepy smirk thing, thus kickstarting the cattiness!!
Later Sansa does the equivalent of the Gendry rowing joke telling Arya that “[Jon] couldn’t just leave the North and expect it to sit here and wait for him like Ghost,” but Arya is annoyed at her sister for not holding the North for Jon the way she should. She calls her out for being petty and materialistic, insisting that Sansa “always liked nice things, It made you feel better than everyone.” I am suddenly brought back to the reddit holes on the internet or the bad part of the fandom that blame Sansa for the deaths of her whole family and believed she should have knelt for Tyrion.
Seriously though, what is this? The Sansa and Jon drama was always so contrived and she was deliberately shown in this episode, in front of Arya, to have no desire to usurp Jon’s position. She continually speaks out for him (despite actually being more inline for the position than he) and is always there to support him. Even though they had contrived drama the overall message was one of support. So moving into Forced Contrived Sibling Drama, the sequel, the fact that it could even be based around Sansa wanted to take over Jon’s position in the North is ridiculous and even proven to be false this episode.
It really is just further inline with the continuing pattern of catty females and a lack of female bonding/relationships. This is the perfect opportunity to present a positive one and the writers have gone out of their way to make it not be so.
Sansa points out that if they “offend them…Jon looses his army” and Arya replies “Not if they lose their heads first.” This rivalry is just so unnecessary and forced, and these two are still not clicking for me on screen.
The fact that Arya is so suspicious of her sister that she tails Littlefinger and goes poking through his room is ridiculous, but so is the fact that she is somehow going to get caught in this game of Littlefinger’s to turn them against one another. These two girls who were so different but on incredibly similar paralleling journeys, fighting for life and death to finally get back home, they should be each other’s greatest asset, not rivals. But they are girls right? And girls are always catty as we learned!
Back at Oldtown, Sam realizes Maester college really sucks when the Maesters get a letter from Bran about the approaching Army of the Dead. They don’t believe the letter or Sam’s support of its contents, and go back to dragging their least favorite Maesters of history.
Just as Sam leaves, one of them utters “Is he the one whose father and brother were just burnt alive?” And you’re forced to realize that we don’t get to see Sam deal with this news at all. Once again, we let people talk about and discuss things that have absolutely no effect on the people who deliver the lines whatsoever. Sam’s father and brother who he had complicated relationships with have both been killed, and been killed by Daenerys, and we should get to see some of the effect of what that means for Sam.
Instead we see him on his journey realizing Maester School sucks and his decision to hightail it out of there. Sam is transcribing a book while Gilly reads out loud random statistics from a maester’s book that more likely resembles a diary (because it is so random), and she flips to a page about an annulment that a “Prince Rhaggar” had seemed to secure and that the prince was “remarried to someone else at the same time in a private ceremony in Dorne.” This is clearly about Rhaegar, Elia, and Lynna and the fact that Sam isn’t even paying attention to this piece of information isn’t even the most frustrating part of it all.
It’s just so lazy and easy, and this is most definitely the most in depth version of the scenario we are getting. First of all, annulments aren’t your typical divorce. They usually refer to the ending of a marriage that was invalid in the first place or something occurred that invalidated it. Henry VIII is a good example of this. He wanted to set Catherine of Aragon aside for Anne Boleyn as Catherine failed to bear him a male heir, much like how Rhaegar likely wanted a third head to the dragon and felt he needed Lyanna to complete that. To do so, Henry had to state cause for his first marriage to be invalid as he clearly consummated it because the pair had a daughter. This is essential also when marriage is tied directly to religion as it was for England and it is also the case for Westeros. It goes beyond the modern concept of “divorce,” and speaks more to the rights and rules of the marriage as laid out by religion.
Henry claimed that Catherine had previous relations with his brother Arthur when she was married to him, thus invalidating the marriage, and he proclaimed she didn’t enter into his marriage bed a virgin as she had said. He took passages from the Bible to explain the matter, claiming that his marriage was cursed, for if you marry your brother’s wife, you would have a childless marriage and for Henry, a marriage of miscarriages, child death, and one healthy girl was the equivalent of nothing. Thus there was a case behind it, not something that happened behind closed doors. Because when marriage is a construct tied to religion and someone trying to get around that construct is the King, there’s no hiding it.
Not that D&D have much of an ear for nuanced worldbuilding, but the fact that this piece of information is just sitting recorded in a random maester’s book and that Rhaegar found someone to do this process secretly is just resoundingly lazy.
Sam’s annoyed with all this reading though, and after stealing some books from the restricted section again, starts heading out with Gilly. He says goodbye to the pretty library sept and Gilly questions his choice to leave because he “always wanted to be a maester.” (Book reader gut punch number two). Sam denies her question, insisting that he’s tired “reading about the achievements of better men,” and in true toxic masculinity, heads out. And that is how Sam drops out of Maester College!
The Dragonstone crew meets with Tormund, who is cool to do anything for Jon apparently, and he also looks as if he were running Eastwatch on his own because they didn’t bother to hire or place any wilding extras around. Tormund shows the crew three men who he jailed that they found heading North and what do you know? It’s the Hound, Berric, and Thoros! What a surprise!
Gendry is also along for the journey, and of course has some beef with Berric and Thoros for selling him to someone who was going to kill him. But after a game of everyone recognizing each other and getting angry, Jon puts it all in perspective. “We’re all in the same side, we’re all breathing,” he says and that takes care of that. Guess that’s so much for remembering old wounds.
The squad head out beyond the wall to enact their stupid plan and now we must prepare for what is sure to be an onslaught of praise after next week’s sure-to-be-coming White Walker battle.
Overall this episode was quite a snoozefest for me this week and I had to actively remind myself to pay attention, which was less the case last week. The writing just didn’t go anywhere, and despite the fact that sometimes people were actually talking to each other, it was either incredibly heavy handed or a whole pot of nothing that developed neither character. We just have to tell ourselves only two more episodes to go (except they are both over the hour mark!) and we can get through this season!