Last night’s “Eastwatch” was so packed to the gills I scarcely know where to begin.
Jorah Mormont is back in Daenerys Targaryen’s service. Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon, last seen rowing away from Melisandre’s clutches with Davos’ help, is back as well. We got all of a few seconds with Bran, whose psychically controlled ravens spotted the White Walkers and the massive army of the dead heading for the Wall. We even got a few welcome moments of humor, like Davos trying to distract two soldiers by selling them on the male-enhancing qualities of fermented crab.
But on to the important stuff: First off, Jon’s true parentage as a Targaryen got some major shout outs last night. Poor Samwell Tarly was so upset at the Maesters he didn’t even realize Gilly had stumbled onto a record of Rhaegar Targaryen’s secret remarriage to Lyanna Stark. There was also that prolonged and gorgeous moment when Jon reached out and petted Drogon; presumably something only a Targaryen could pull off. (Recall that Tyrion touched one of the creatures as well — lending oomph to the theory that Tyrion is actually another Targaryen heir.) There’s even a cool meme chronicling the ways David Benioff and D.B. Weiss gave have given Jon and Daenerys similar lines, and shot them in the same visual motifs, since the beginning.
Game of Thrones is clearly setting the two characters up as mirror reflections of one another: fire and ice, etc. But to what end? If Jon isn’t merely a Targayen, but was born to an official marriage, then he isn’t a bastard. He’s rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and a rival to Dany’s ambitions. That’s an ominous possibility, because “Eastwatch” also showed Daenerys taking another step down her dark road, by burning Randyll Tarly and his son Dickon alive. Westeros won’t be liberated without conquest, and a conquerer must do something to deal with their political adversaries, but there’s no reason to torch them with dragonfire after they’ve already surrendered. Yes, Dany gave the Tarlys a choice: either die or bend the knee. (It’s officially creepy how much she gravitates towards that phrase.) But that particular choice should never have been forced on them. If they won’t pledge loyalty, there’s always prison — or pledging the black and going to the Wall. The latter was Tyrion’s suggestion: He was visibly horrified and shaken by Dany’s decision, and it seems clear that he and Varys are going to attempt something to rein their queen in.
On a lighter note, Bronn is still Bronn. He hauled a humbled but very alive Jaime from the river, then helped sneak Tyrion into King’s Landing. When those two parted ways several seasons ago, it was on a sad note of failed camaraderie. So “Eastwatch” offered some small redemption in that regard. It was also an example of what we’ve lost with Game of Thrones’ new super-fast pace: How Tyrion contacted Bronn and convinced him to help would’ve made for some excellent scenes in their own right. (Not to mention fleshing out Sam’s maneuvering against these other Maesters, or Gendry’s reintroduction into the plot.)
Watching Tyrion plead with Jaime was poignant for how quickly all the childhood pain of his father’s hate come flooding out from underneath Tyrion’s usual-composed exterior. Last night was a great episode for faces: When Jaime relays Tryion’s offer of an armistice to Cersei, the look on her visage makes it clear she’s completely deluded in her serene confidence of victory. Even Cersei’s willingness to parlay with Daenerys is just raw confidence that she can successfully betray the Mother of Dragons when the time is right. Then there was the final chilled expression on Jaime’s face: After Cersei reveals she’s pregnant again and wants the whole world to know he’s the father — finally offering Jaime the life out in the open he’s always wanted. And right as she offers that freedom, Cersei also drops her final threat: “Don’t ever betray me again.”
Also on the subject of creepy faces, check out Arya when she suggests cutting off nobles’ heads in Jon’s absence. I thought the reunion last week between Arya and Sansa was moving, but last night showed the gulf that adulthood has also placed between them. Arya thinks nothing of murder to keep the North in line, and still suspects her sister of being selfish and powerhungry. Obviously, it’s occurred to Sansa that she could seize the North for herself. But Arya acting as if that’s the only true thing about her sister, and all else is for show, is cruel and reductive. As Sansa shoots back, the lords of North didn’t successfully work together to reclaim Winterfell by cutting off each other’s heads. That general wisdom applies to individual character as well: It’s not that good people don’t have evil impulses, it’s that they don’t succumb to them.
Finally, let’s talk about how “Eastwatch” momentarily turned into Game of Thrones’ take on Ocean’s 11.
First, there was the crazed plot hatched on Dragonstone. Jon and Dany need some way of getting Cersei to stand down, and Tyrion desperately wants to guide Dany away from resorting to more carnage. So they all land on the idea of sending a team beyond the Wall to kidnap an undead soldier, and bring it to King’s Landing as proof. Jorah, fearless and devoted to Dany as always, volunteers to go. But then Jon does as well, and Dany’s expression at this moment is profound. (Like I said, an episode for faces.) I’m sure a lot of fans are expecting some kind of love triangle between Dany, Jon, and Jorah. But personally, I hope the show doesn’t stoop to that. I prefer to think the look on Dany’s face was one of respect and realization: that Jon truly is a selfless man, willing to sacrifice even himself for the sake of his people and what he believes is right.
Then, when they reach the Wall, who do Jon and Jorah and Gendry run into other than Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the Hound? The latter three are apparently there solely on the strength of the Hound’s vision in the flames, and decide to join the rest on this madcap quest. It might be the most motley crew of misfits ever assembled in Game of Thrones. Under the looming threat of the White Walkers, no partnership seems inconceivable — and no person, no matter how vile, not even Cersei Lannister, seems beyond the possibility of value. And I’d bet serious money these were all things George R.R. Martin was planning all along — I doubt anyone else could’ve cooked up outcomes this morally topsy-turvy.
Game of Thrones’ storyline has been long and bloated and filled with cruelty. Those qualities give it something you rarely achieve in fiction: a sense of long repetitions and dreary weight similar to human history as it is actually lived. It’s easy to write stories about idealistic revolutions, and people coming together for the greater good. But to anchor those moments in a world where they seem so improbable — to viscerally show how rare and precious they are — that’s a rare artistic achievement.