Featuring the Lord of Light Orchestra’s hit new single, “Last Train to the Wall.”
There’s a greater purpose at work, and we serve it together whether we know it or not.
First off, many thanks to Chase Branch for pinch-hitting last week while I participated in a wedding. It was, of course, just my luck (or his) that “Spoils of War” was the dopest episode of the season, culminating in the terribly named Loot Train Attack and some breathtaking grand-scale direction from Thrones newcomer Matt Shakman. The longtime Always Sunny In Philadelphia hand seemed like an odd fit for this series, but he shot right up the GoT Director Power Rankings like one of Qyburn’s crossbow bolts with his one-two punch of “Spoils” and tonight’s “Eastwatch.”
This one didn’t have the same level of jaw-droppiness, but it was a rock-solid hour that allowed for some big character moves in anticipation of the season’s final two episodes. With the army of the dead rapidly approaching the Wall, loyalties are in flux, longtime enemies begin to find common cause, and Jon keeps racking up the frequent sailor miles as this episode sees him make his way to the Very North, and to the forlorn outpost on the edge of the Shivering Sea, where he teams up with Tormund, Jorah (Jorah’s back!), Gendry (GENDRY’S BACK!) and the remaining three amigos of the Brotherhood Without Banners to form a new Magnificent Seven.
The plan isn’t to instigate a battle they know they can’t win, but to capture a wight, bring it down to King’s Landing, and use it to convince Cersei that the threat of the Night King is very, very real. If you ask me, though, it’s a plan that makes several major assumptions. First, would a wight stay a wight when brought that far south, or will it just turn back into a regular corpse? Second, why would Cersei even care, when she’s already got a zombie commander of her Queensguard and considers Qyburn’s antics weird science, not magic? And third, why bother going beyond the Wall at all — just pick a random wildling redshirt to ice, and wait for him to reanimate!
Flaws aside, it’s a glorious “assemble the team” moment that unfolds in just about a minute and a half, and there’s enough bad blood in this room to make even Mirri Maz Duur find something better to do with her time. Gendry was sold into slavery by Beric and Thoros, Tormund is no fan of the Mormonts (save Lyanna, I guess, because who could hate Lyanna?), and the Hound just wants everybody to shut up. “We’re all on the same side,” Jon decides. “How?” asks the swole and tan young blacksmith. “We’re still breathing.”
But that’s all coming next week. First, we have to talk about everything else that didn’t actually involve the title of the episode: like how, contrary to no one’s belief, Jamie survived his little encounter with Drogon, thanks to the quick reflexes and surprisingly strong biceps of Bronn. “Until I get what I’m owed,” Bronn gasps, “a dragon doesn’t get to kill you. You don’t get to kill you. Only I get to kill you.” The Kingslayer, long due for a rebrand, thought he was ending the war, but only proved how hopeless the Lannisters’ circumstances are. At least, that’s what any sane person would believe. Cersei just shrugs, and perishes all thought of her vaunted regiment of lions, because Daario’s Golden Company is heading their way.
As always, she has bigger fish to fry, and only spares a moment to fume about Olenna’s deathchair confession re: Joffrey, if only to realize that there’s no one left for her to get revenge on. She’s not ready to give up everything she fought for just to bend the knee to the Dragon Queen and her army of barbarians: “So we fight and we die, or submit and die. I know my choice. A soldier should know his.” Ouch, but Jamie’s going to need a stronger incentive than that to stick to her latest crazy plan, so hold that thought.
As for Ms. Titles, Titles, Titles herself, she returns to Dragonstone looking refreshed after roasting Tarly & Son (thanks for participating, boys!), which provides all the incentive the surviving Lannister soldiers need to change sides — though really, shouldn’t they have had enough already? Did they require another demonstration? Before getting flambéed, Randyll gets off a line about there being “no easy choices in war.” Tyrion, disagreeing, intercedes, looking for some other option that keeps them alive and useful, but the Queen is pretty clear: “I offered them a choice. They made it.” This makes Varys nervous, too, as he sees Tyrion’s influence with her beginning to slip. For him, the Mad King flashbacks are much more real. How long can you make excuses for a murdering monarch before you realize you’re complicit? You can only say “Daenerys is not her father” so many times before you reveal yourself as too cowardly to face the truth about just what kind of monster you’ve hitched your wagon to. There’s nothing allegorical here at all, I swear.
If anything, however, Dany has gotten softer of late — and it has nothing to do with the bloodlust doing wonders for her skin, but the mopey King in the North. Yes, friends, when he departs her little island for the Wall, she’s looking on him as more than just a Northern upstart. Maybe it’s the way his locks flow in the breeze; maybe it’s his quiet confidence; maybe it’s the way she senses Jorah’s immediate jealousy upon his arrival (ugh, another dude! He’s trapped in the Friend Zone forever!). Or, most likely, it’s the way he reached out his hand to pet Drogon on the snout, and the big dragon was totally cool with it. He’s not supposed to be that cool with it. Jon must be more than he appears.
She’s so smitten that she doesn’t even muster a good warning when he straight up says he doesn’t need her permission to leave — it’s been fun, very refreshing, but my weird
half-brother cousin Bran sees the dead getting closer every day and vacation is over. Somehow, they all agree to Tyrion’s plan to capture a live — well, you know — wight; he’s been terrible as a wartime consigliere, but hopefully he knows his sister better than he knows what to do with their armies. But the first part of the plan isn’t to gain an audience with the Queen, but with her brother.
And so, in the basement of the Red Keep, amidst the remains of the previous Targaryen dragons, Bronn brings Jamie to meet the Hand of the new one. But rather than cutting Tyrion in half, they simply exchange words, reliving the final decisions of their late father, and Tyrion makes his pitch: we’re not asking Cersei to bend the knee…yet. Rather, give us some troops to fight up north, and everyone might survive this war. Cersei’s reaction to this– the way Lena Heady plays this moment, when Jamie coughs out so I met with Tyrion — is absolutely priceless. She sits stock still for a solid eight seconds before simply asking what was offered. But she’s not interested in suing for peace or even buying time: “Dead men, dragons, and dragon queens…whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it.”
We, this time, meaning three, as she motions to her belly. Jamie is stunned, and breaks down in her arms. But Cersei is simply smug. It seems clear to me that she’s lying. She knows Jamie is wavering, and is playing the only card she has left to bind him back to her: a second (well, fourth) chance to raise a child, this time in full public view. Man, Euron is not going to like this.
King’s Landing is also down two more soldiers by the time Tyrion and Davos make their escape, thanks to Gendry’s SWEET WAR HAMMER. Turns out the last remaining bastard of Robert Baratheon simply returned right back where he started, a forge in Flea Bottom. And he’s so eager to get out of that shitehole he doesn’t even wait for Davos to finish explaining what’s going on — “I thought you’d still be rowing,” Davos chuckles, all but winking to the camera — before grabbing his big mallet and volunteering for duty. (As an aside: Davos is quietly having a 6th Man-caliber season, but “Eastwatch” was full of Onion Knight gems, especially his improvised sales pitch to the gold cloaks about the aphrodisiacal powers of fermented crab.) Minutes later, after braining the suspicious soldiers but leaving the gold behind, Gendry is doing some bastard bonding with Jon and signing on for the next mission. Valyrian steel and the hammer, together again. But can we put some dragonglass on it first?
Dr. Branhattan’s warnings have reached Oldtown, too, where they’re met with (surprise, surprise) skepticism by the learned archmaesters. But Sam seizes his moment: “If you tell the people the threat is real, they’ll believe it,” and maybe they can have the local maesters start going through old records and collecting items that might be useful for the upcoming fight. Alas, it doesn’t work. Maybe these guys just suck, Sam begins to think (and they haven’t even told him what happened to his father and brother!). He’s so distracted by the injustice of it all he freaking skips right over Gilly reading along from an old gossip scroll about Rheagar Targaryen’s secret wedding, just so he can rant. It’s hilariously delivered by John Bradley, but sheesh. Who’s going to be the one to connect these dots — guys, Jon isn’t a bastard at all! He’s the trueborn heir! You guys!
I assumed, once we saw Sam head back into the restricted section to grab some paper, he’d simply be sending ravens himself. Instead, he just leaves with Gilly and Lil’ Sam. “You always wanted to be a Maester,” Gilly notes, correctly. “I’m tired of reading about the achievements of better men,” he replies. But that one thing sounded pretty important, though! And where does he go now? How can he better take matters into his own hands without access to all the Citadel’s resources? It’s a surprise move, and I like a good surprise, but I don’t get this one. I mean, I completely understand Sam’s feelings — but if this closes the book on Oldtown, I’ll be pretty disappointed. It smacks of anti-intellectualism, a touchy subject for a show where the cleverest characters are pretty consistently evil. Hmm.
Finally, we wrap things up in Winterfell, where the warm reunion last week between Sansa and Arya is already beginning to frost. The elder Lady of Winterfell dutifully declines suggestions from a few of the other lords to forget about Jon and take on the Queen of the North tag for real, and, to be fair, even Tormund thinks Jon’s an idiot for going to Eastwatch. “He can’t expect the North to sit and wait for him like Ghost,” Sansa tells Arya. (Ah, so we didn’t forget about Ghost! I had wondered.) “I’m sure cutting off heads is very satisfying, but it’s not the way to get people to work together.” But Arya senses her sister’s ambition, and lays it out in the most Littlefinger way possible: you’re hoping Jon doesn’t come back. You’re enjoying this power. And Sansa — because come on, doesn’t she have to deal with enough mind games around here — can’t exactly muster a denial.
Arya and Littlefinger are two sides of the same Braavosi coin, but neither realizes it. While the young assassin has thrived in the chaos of the last few years, she has yet to learn the subtleties of manipulation. Even a Faceless Man acolyte could spot her lurking around corners, staring daggers. Littlefinger’s trap — a fake note, the one Cersei forced Sansa to write long ago, now stuffed in a mattress between the illicit magazines — has only one purpose: to turn the sisters against each other. It might be time for Sansa to be the cleverer one, and call out Baelish for what he is. And something tells me that once the Starks get back on the same page (or if Bran wants to chime in, seriously, at any point; please do something useful, my dude), he’s going to wish he’d left when he had the chance.
Next week: Sansa closes a door. Jon sprints. Beric lights ’em up.