Game of Thrones Recap, Season 7 Episode 5: Eastwatch
Along the Goldroad
Bronn drags Jaime out of the depths we saw him sinking to last week and safely across the river from Dany and her army. Bronn is worried that without Jaime there will be no castle; Jaime is consumed with the unstoppable force that is Dany’s dragons.
Tyrion walks through the aftermath of the battle, seeing Lannister shields, piles of ash, and Dothraki looting the fallen. Dany collects the survivors and makes an offer: bend the knee, or die by fire. A roar from Drogon encourages more to kneel, but Randyll and Dickon Tarly remain standing. Prompted by Tyrion, Randyll explains:
Tyrion attempts to talk Dany out of executing the Tarlys, but neither she nor Randyll is willing to budge. Dickon joins his father, and both are consumed in dragonflame.
First of all: yes, the idea of Bronn swimming from a spot ten feet from where Jaime was attempting to kill Dany, with a fully-armored Jaime in tow, unnoticed by Tyrion (intently watching Jaime's charge) or anyone in the Targaryen army, is ludicrous. It was the tip of an iceberg of moves made this episode with dramatic effect prioritized over logic, but I'm going to limit my commentary because my qualifications as a TV critic fall short of my qualifications as a Game of Thrones reference. Let's talk about other things.
Maddock and I agreed on our podcast that the show is positioning Dany's use of Drogon as parallel to her father's behavior. I think her execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly despite Tyrion's protestations was intended to further this parallel. I don't consider it extreme or shocking, though; treason is punishable by death in Westeros, established in the series premiere with Ned’s beheading of a Night’s Watch deserter in the series premiere. Randyll and Dickon are both guilty of treason in Dany’s eyes, and both opted for execution. Is using dragonfire, which quickly turns bodies to ash, really worse than hanging or beheading? I don't think so. Her opening comments were more concerning than her behavior, because they seem contradictory:
I was clearly very wrong in thinking Dickon would play a role by wielding his family's ancestral Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane, against the White Walkers. I'm a little sad because he seemed like a way better person than his xenophobic father. Randyll will not be missed.
Dany and Drogon triumphantly set down right in front of Jon Snow. Nervous but determined, Jon reaches out and pets Drogon’s face. Dany dismounts, and they discuss the use of her dragons and the costs of war; Jon doesn’t quite know whether to consider them necessary or cruel. Jorah re-introduces himself to his queen, who gladly welcomes him back into her service.
Tyrion and Varys, drinking in the Dragonstone throne room, struggle to maintain confidence in the justness of their cause. They present a scroll from Winterfell to Jon, informing him of Arya and Bran’s return and Bran’s visions of the Night’s King.
Concerned about the Night’s King’s proximity to the Wall, Jon tells Dany he wants to return home and fight with the men he has. Dany is hesitant until Tyrion suggests a temporary peace with the Lannisters to allow both queens to turn their attention north. Jon reminds everyone how difficult it is to convince people of the threat, and to address this they formulate a plan to capture a wight and bring it south to convince Cersei and everyone else of their existence. While Jon and Jorah head north, Davos will smuggle Tyrion into King’s Landing to convince Jaime (who Tyrion believes Cersei will listen to) to suggest the armistice to Queen Cersei.
I don’t understand where Dany and her council’s willingness to acknowledge the existence of White Walkers and put their plans on hold comes from. Not long ago, Dany and Tyrion were both skeptics; since then, Jon showed Dany some cave drawings and a letter arrived saying Jon’s long-lost brother is having visions of the Night’s King marching on Eastwatch. It makes perfect sense for Jon to hurry back, but Tyrion responds by proposing the worst plan since Ramsay said he'd stop Stannis's army with a small group of good men in Season 5; at least he had the good sense to sneak in at night. Think about what would have to go right here for this to pay off for Dany. First, the Night’s King would have to be real. Second, the Lannisters would have to behave like an ally to the point that their help is required to win the battle. Third, Dany would have to operate under the assumption that the Lannisters wouldn’t betray here before or immediately after turning back the army of the undead. Finally, after all this is true, Dany would need to pick up where she left off (on the heels of a convincing victory) and resume her war for the Iron Throne. The potential reward here is the temporary assistance of an untrustworthy house against a supernatural threat no one south of Winterfell has witnessed in over 5,000 years.
In pursuit of that reward, Dany is willing to send her hand, Tyrion, and her most experienced military resource, Davos, into her enemy’s castle to see if Cersei would consider a temporary peace if Jon can sneak a wight away from the Night’s King’s army and bring it south to King’s Landing. Wouldn’t you at least wait until someone in your own camp confirmed the undead army’s very existence to send two valuable resources into mortal danger? It would certainly make sense to lay siege to or blockade King’s Landing to improve your negotiating position in case, hypothetically, Queen Cersei cares more about her own power than the good of Westeros. And who put forth this plan in the first place? Tyrion, who has felt the sting of Cersei’s hatred his entire life, who has seen his sister smile as he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, and who knows she will seize every opportunity to weaken her opponents. High-risk, low-reward play for everyone involved.
Jaime sees Qyburn leaving Cersei's chambers on his way to explain the futility of their cause. Cersei, confident to the point of delusion and correctly skeptical of a better fate upon surrender, wants to buy mercenaries. Jaime now fully comprehends the strength of Dany’s dragons and Dothraki, but he can’t come up with anything better. After Cersei mockingly suggests asking Tyrion for help, Jaime conveys Olenna’s confession, which theoretically absolves Tyrion of guilt in King Joffrey’s murder. Cersei refuses to believe him at first, but she can’t argue Jaime’s point that anyone would rather see their daughter marry Tommen than Joffrey. Cersei is eerily critical of Jaime’s tolerance for mercy.
Davos and Tyrion arrive on the beach before going their separate ways. Tyrion works through an awkward reunion to present their offer to Jaime, reminding him it’s only a matter of time with what they’ve both seen. Davos seeks out Gendry, who grabs a warhammer and joins the anti-Lannister side of the war with no questions asked. After a narrow escape from two members of the City Watch, the three return to Dragonstone before Jon leaves. Gendry introduces himself as a Baratheon and offers to help Jon the way his father once helped Ned Stark. Jon accepts his help, and they set sail for Eastwatch.
Qyburn is again counseling Cersei when Jaime arrives to relay the message from Tyrion and Dany. Cersei correctly wonders why she'd do that after a resounding victory, and asks if Jaime will punish Bronn for his "betrayal” in arranging the meeting. She expresses a willingness to consider the armistice as a way to buy time, and changes the subject to tell Jaime she’s pregnant with his child, something she plans on openly acknowledging. They embrace, and she says "Never betray me again."
Cersei is much farther down the Mad King’s path than Dany at this point, but she’s responding more rationally to her circumstances. She might not fully understand the power of Dany’s dragons the way Jaime does, but she’s right to ask for alternatives. I doubt Dany would be willing to pardon the Lannisters at this point, and Cersei showed a willingness to commit suicide rather than be taken by her enemies during the Battle of the Blackwater. Her response to Jaime actually reminds me of Jon Snow in The Broken Man, when he asks Sansa what choice he has but to attack Winterfell with the largest army he could gather after speaking to every available ally. She’s practical again in weighing Tyrion’s offer, showing an understanding that diverting Dany’s attention is the only path House Lannister has to survival. As for the baby she’s carrying, I think it will end up acting as Jaime’s breaking point one way or another. I could see Cersei aborting the pregnancy in an act of spite or giving birth to a child without blond hair; either could be enough to push Jaime over the edge after mounting concerns over Cersei’s lack of humanity.
Bran sends a flock of ravens east from Winterfell, turning north and over the Wall at Eastwatch, where he sees the Night’s King and his army on the march. The raven’s scatter at the Night's King’s gaze, and Bran asks the Maester to send ravens.
In the main hall, Lords Glover and Royce complain about Jon Snow’s prolonged absence and advocate for Sansa to assume more of his role in the North. Sansa defers, but Arya looks displeased from where she’s watching. She brings her concerns to Sansa’s attention after commenting on her moving into their mother’s and father’s chambers. Arya wants Sansa to disregard the opinions of their liege lords and more firmly discipline anyone suggesting she fill Jon’s role. Sansa correctly points out that her job is to listen to the concerns of the Northern lords, but Arya doubts the purity of her motivations and her relationship with Littlefinger.
Arya watches Littlefinger work the people of the town, including commonfolk, Lords Glover and Royce, and the resident maester, who provides Littlefinger with a scroll he requested and assures him it is the only copy. Arya searches his chambers after he leaves and under the mattress finds the scroll, signed by Sansa, entreating Robb to bend the knee in the aftermath of Ned’s execution. As she walks away with the scroll in hand, Littlefinger is shown lurking in the shadows.
I’ll lead with my conspiracy theory this time: I think the scroll Arya found was not in fact the scroll Littlefinger requested from the Maester. It could work to further the rift between Arya and Sansa, but why would he be concerned with whether or not it was the only copy on record? There’s no obvious disadvantage to having backup copies of that communication. I think he requested a potentially damaging message from the Maester and then hid this note poorly to simultaneously protect himself and advance his plot to sow dissent amongst the Starks.
Otherwise, I found the action in Winterfell infuriating. First, Bran sees a vision of the Night’s King some unspecified distance from the Wall and immediately decides to send word to the rest of Westeros. In his message to Jon at Dragonstone, he mentions his own visions and Arya’s return, but avoids any mention of Jon’s parentage or his knowledge of it. The only explanation I can think of is that he’s seen a future where Jon learning that now could prove dangerous; we know Varys is screening all communications, and Dany probably wouldn’t be happy to learn Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than she does (more on that later).
Let’s assume Bran is protecting Jon by not revealing his royal lineage. The next item on my list of perplexing events is the advocacy of Lords Glover and Royce for a new ruler in Winterfell. Yes, Jon left shortly after being declared King in the North and has presumably been absent for some time. What the hell is everyone in such a rush about? Everyone in the North is gathering food and moving to Winterfell in preparation for winter, and Glover and Royce, last seen being dressed down by a teenage girl and blackmailed by the man he’s now negotiating with respectively, are agitating for Sansa to take more of a leadership role. To do what, exactly? She’s already issuing orders and preparing the population for winter, and there hasn’t been any word of the White Walkers’ arrival. They don’t need to march anywhere, they don’t need a live battle commander, and they do need to remain bound together to survive. Proposing a change of leadership shortly after coronating Jon helps with zero of those goals.
Is Littlefinger just so skilled in his machinations that he’s able to muddle the brains of everyone he talks to? Like I said above, his relationship with Lord Royce has never been amicable, and the Northmen are traditionally suspicious of anyone from the south. Apparently they’ve been converted to the church of Littlefinger with little trouble. Can we get Lyanna back to set these idiots straight?
While she’s at it, maybe she can lock Arya and Sansa in a room together until they work through their petty issues. Yes, Arya, you’re right: Sansa is in fact happy to be in a position of power and recognized as a noble lady. Sansa, you’re also right: Arya is a bit bloodthirsty and possesses a grasp of politics on par with Areo Hotah’s grasp of bodyguarding. Neither should trust Littlefinger as much as they trust one another, though. Sansa is well aware (because he keeps mentioning it) that Littlefinger has transferred his obsession with her mother to herself, and Arya was present when Littlefinger discussed plans to recruit the Tyrells to help defeat Robb and Stannis with Tywin. Maybe just talk to each other about what’s happening?
Littlefinger, despite failing miserably to convey his feelings for Sansa to anyone without coming across as a pervert, is now as good at sneaking through Winterfell as he is at scheming. Somehow he’s able to trick Arya, a highly-trained assassin, into taking a note he wanted her to find and not checking the far end of the hallway when she leaves his room. I don’t doubt that he’s spent a good deal of time stalking anyone and everyone who reminds him of Catelyn Stark, but I hoped there was a bit more to Faceless Man training.
Bran’s message arrives at the Citadel and is met with extreme skepticism. Sam remembers meeting Bran and asks the Maesters how he could have survived beyond the Wall without some mystical intervention. In a desperate attempt to rally the Citadel to help Westeros prepare for the undead threat, Sam tells his own story of encountering a White Walker. The Maesters remain unconvinced, and they send Sam away.
Sam is transcribing more works while Gilly reads from a book by High Septon Maynard, who issued an annulment for Prince Rhaegar and remarried him to someone else in a secret ceremony in Dorne. Frustrated with the slow pace at the Citadel, Sam decides it's time to go and gathers a combination of books and scrolls on his way out with Gilly and little Sam.
I can’t pretend to have a higher tolerance for tedious bookwork than Sam, but I still don't know how he’s better off elsewhere. He's leaving the most expansive library in the known world where he seems to have enough time for free-reading and access to ravens. How can he better serve Jon or the Night’s Watch (or Gilly and little Sam, for that matter) by heading north again? I’m sure he will, because the show wouldn’t have him leave Oldtown if he didn’t, but I’d like to understand the logic.
I know a lot of fellow fans of the show who were frustrated with the lack of recognition or interest Sam displayed upon hearing about Rhaegar's annulment and quick re-marriage. It actually makes a lot of sense given the circumstances, though. Bran Stark and Howland Reed are the only two living people with knowledge of Jon's parentage and they haven't mentioned it to anyone, no one knows Rhaegar ever had another child, and Sam is deeply focused on researching information related to the White Walkers. The actions of the last Targaryen prince wouldn't seem important in the moment, but I'm confident he'll remember Gilly's words if he ever learns of Jon's parentage.
I went through two phases after hearing Gilly’s mention of the annulment and marriage performed by High Septon Maynard for Rhaegar Targarayen. At first, I was extremely excited to learn that Jon is not only a legitimate child of both Stark and Targaryen lineage, but also the rightful heir to the Targaryen throne.
LORE: TARGARYEN SUCCESSION
After further consideration, though, I can’t imagine this information being particularly useful. In order for it to matter on a larger scale, Jon would have to learn of it and then press his claim to the throne ahead of Dany’s; he’s been consistently reluctant to do so in the past, and I think he’d opt to avoid further bloodshed even if he was tempted. Of course, it also means his bastardy, a defining characteristic upon which he’s built much of his identity, is a lie. Unless he undergoes an identity crisis like Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder, though, it shouldn’t dramatically change his behavior.
Tormund immediately questions the intelligence of the plan Jon presents to him. Determined to participate anyway, he leads Jon to the cells at Eastwatch, where the Hound, Beric, and Thoros are being held. Jorah and Thoros recognize each other almost instantly.
LORE: JORAH AND THOROS AT THE SEIGE OF PYKE
Gendry also recognizes Thoros and Beric as members of the group that sold him to Melisandre. Needing as many men as possible, Jon accepts their help, and they march through the gates into the land beyond the Wall to capture a wight.
Thank god for Tormund Giantsbane. Not only does he react to Jon’s plan the same way Dany, Tyrion, Jorah, Davos, and everyone else within earshot should have, but he proceeds to inquire after Brienne. If there’s anything purely good left to happen this season, I hope it’s his survival to continue pursuing the woman of his dreams.
The band of misfits they’ve assembled for this mission is, at the very least, highly competent. Jon is amongst the best swordsmen in Westeros at this point, we’ve seen Tormund kill the Smalljon, Jorah prove himself against Dothraki bloodriders, and the Hound smash every obstacle smaller than Brienne. According to the books, Thoros has bested the Hound three times in various melees, Beric hasn’t run out of lives yet, and Gendry looked competent enough with his warhammer outside King’s Landing. You could do a lot worse. I still don’t think I understand the plan, though, because it appears that they’ll need to capture a wight and then drag it through the snow back to the Wall while fighting off the undead army on their tails. Undoubtedly stupid, I’m excited to see how any of them manage to survive.
Dragonflame Burn of the Week
Thanks for checking out our recap! If you need some more historical context for what you're seeing, you can check out our Game of Thrones Lore series, which details the history of Westeros and some of what we know of Essos. Check back for another recap next week, and until then, remember: "Everything before the word 'but' is horseshit."