It’s hard and sad to believe that we’ve now crossed the midpoint of Season 7 of Game of Thrones as after tonight’s episode, it’s all down to the final two hours before we’re plunged into the depths of a year-long darkness. And yet, as the show accelerates towards what’s looking like a finale chock full of action and revelations, it has also comfortably settled into its own rhythm, alternating between action and drama heavy episodes.
It follows then that after last week’s epic Loot Train battle, the subsequent episode would eschew action to save some money for next week’s long-awaited skirmish with the Wight Walkers. However the brutal pace at which sub-plots are colliding means even this dialog-heavy episode moves much more briskly than an episode at this point otherwise would. The shortened season also helps in that the middle episodes generally come with a dip in pacing (not counting last year’s Hold The Door). But enough of rambling. Let’s dive in right away to discussing this plot heavy hour. By now you know the drill: spoilers galore so read ahead at your own peril.
Let’s get last week’s cliffhanger right off the bat: Jaime survives. The episode thankfully doesn’t waste much time dodging around that and right away opens with Bronn pulling Jaime out of the Blackwater Rush with the two having swum far away from the destruction near Highgarden. As they stare at the fuming spoils of dragon warfare, they realize how much the odds are stacked against them. And this was just one Dragon. “She has two more”, remarks Jaime. Suddenly defeat seems like the only plausible outcome, surrender the only sensible choice.
Jaime is not the only Lannister staring at the horrors of war. On the other side, Tyrion strolls past the mess, as nothing but ashes remain of the Lannister soldiers. He stares at the destruction around in a rather strong moment that has several implications. Is he feeling guilt for being indirectly responsible for this wasteland? Has he begun doubting the side he chose or questioning his betrayal of his own House? Does he fear that Daenerys is being driven by power with rage having taken over her sanity? All these thoughts run by us and possibly him in that short moment supported by Ramin Djawadi’s poignantly haunting score as he finally arrives by the Queen’s side to witness what she has in store for captured prisoners of war.
In what seems to have become her new trademark line over this season (and one that I suspect is going to spawn plenty of internet memes), Daenerys asks the captured Lannister soldiers to Bend The Knee. Or, as she puts it, she gives them a choice to either bend the knee or die. Not quite a choice if you ask me for most would’ve chosen the former. And most certainly do, except Randyll Tarly who has sworn allegiance to Queen Cersei and refuses to switch sides despite him having already done so in the past when he switched from the Tyrells to the Lannisters as smartly pointed out by Tyrion. By all accounts though, he’s fiercely loyal this time around and would rather die than bow to the Mother of Dragons. So also would his son who he tries in vain to shield from the inevitable fate. Alas, despite Tyrion’s insistence, Daenerys needs to make a statement that she means what she says and thus has both father and son burned to the ground.
While Tyrion is visibly upset over Dany sounding more and more like her ancestors, Dany certainly has a point. If you’ve ever had to fire someone for under-performing at work or even reprimand your subordinates to get them back on track, you’ll probably get a sense of what Dany was trying to achieve here. Had she taken them hostage, more people would’ve preferred that path instead of fighting by her side. She uses the Tarlys as bait to strike fear in the hearts of the survivors. It’s this dichotomy of viewpoints that’s precisely what makes this decision a lot more thoughtful, and the episode and the show in general far more interesting than its TV counterparts. Even her deed of burning two people alive and taking the survivors of the army she slayed as prisoners of war doesn’t make her outright evil for there’s some rational behind her doing so.. Talk about moral complexity. The remainder of the episode hops largely around Kings Landing, Winterfell, Dragonstone and Eastwatch, the latter of which also gets added to the opening credits, a detail I was almost convinced the show’s creators would’ve overlooked by now.
While the episode as a whole is low on action sequences, it doesn’t mean we don’t get to see any VFX at all. In fact at this point in the show’s run I wouldn’t be surprised if nearly every other shot was touched up in post-production in some form. Still, the Lannister army marching towards Daenerys with the mighty Drogon resting atop the hills is truly a sight to behold and one that evokes a majestic feeling and scope rarely seen on TV. As Daenerys returns back to Dragonstone to plot her next steps, we’re witness to another such moment of awe with the dragons as we see what is possibly the most detailed and intricate look at a dragon’s face in the show to date.
Visuals aside, the moment holds huge significance in taking the story of Jon’s lineage a step further. Drogon allowing Jon to tame him only serves to further squelch those doubts about Jon being a Targeryn. That Jon is the only other person on the show who has managed to pet Drogon is probably as far as the show’s creators are going to go at this point with revealing Jon’s lineage. Daenerys is clearly taken aback, probably expecting Jon to have either made a run for it or plead safety. As audiences, we’d have expected that too.
By now it would have been observed by even the most casual viewer that Daenerys clearly has a thing going for Jon. Whether it’s admiration or attraction is hard to judge and the makers are clearly toying with fan’s desires of seeing the two end up together in some way. As if that wasn’t enough, we now have Jorah Mormont in the mix, back at Dragonstone to serve her queen after having “healed” himself from the greyscale at the Citadel thanks to Sam’s help. Khaleesi is much glad to see Jorah and the two share a touching moment after not quite expecting to see each other ever again the last time they parted. Knowing the equation between Jorah and Dany, the episode heavily plays with the idea of a triangle between them and Jon. There’s visible tension when the three are there in the same scene and the manner in which the show ends is going to make things a lot more interesting.
But the end’s still a while away. Clearly, playing on the promise of the teased trailers, the major players are beginning to realize that the Walkers could be the bigger and real threat, far more important than the Iron Throne. Daenerys almost believes Jon at this point and so does everyone else. At the Queen’s council, they propose convincing Cersei of the nature of the threat so that the last of the Lannister forces can also be used in fighting the walkers together. Could the Walkers end up being the threat that unites all the warring houses to defeat them and inadvertently cause peace in Westeros? While seeing the Westerosis fight the Wights is a tantalizing prospect and one that we even predicted back when the trailers aired, we still have a full season of six episodes to unfold. And there has to be more to the Night King than is being let on.
Anyway, transgressions aside, for this to even be considered, Cersei must be convinced of the Walker threat. And Tyrion pitches in with a smart but also equally ridiculous proposal: that Jon head North and capture a single Wight Walker and bring him back to be showcased as proof that the threat is real. While it ideally should instantly convince Cersei of the threat’s seriousness, how does Jon go about accomplishing that task when he doesn’t have the numbers? To fight the Walkers and bring one alive, Jon needs help. And for that help to arrive, it needs proof of the Wight Walkers. That’s a catch-22 right there. Seeing no other option, and with the show’s pacing now in fifth gear, Jon decides to go to the Eastwatch castle which is nearest to the wall. Accompanying him are Ser Davos and Jorah Mormont. One of them is most likely not going to make it back. Seeing as one of them has already died and returned, that doesn’t leave us with much options.
At their end, Tyrion and Ser Davos decide to sail to Kings Landing to explain the seriousness of the Walker threat to Cersei. Tyrion understands she’d listen to Jaime and Jaime to him. The two reunite in a secret meeting arranged by Bronn and emotions and thoughts flow in abundance. The last time they saw each other, Tyrion had shot an arrow in their father’s heart and was still considered responsible for the murder of Joffrey. While the latter of these issues was cleared out, the former is still a sticking point. And yet, while Jaime visibly had anger seething through within at the sight of his brother, Tyrion had its own perfectly valid reasons for disposing of Tywin Lannister the way he did, the humiliation had driven him to a point of no return. Moral dichotomies again.
Tyrion informs Jaime of the threat off screen who conveys it to Cersei. In a rather surprising reaction, it seems Cersei is momentarily willing to consider the act of uniting with her enemies if it means putting and end to this madness. She then reveals in a quiet twist that she’s pregnant with another child (naturally Jaime’s) and we know if there’s anything that has grounded Cersei, it’s always been her children. While this might be a ruse to get Jaime to stick by her, there’s a strong chance it may be for real. Could this cause a change of heart for Cersei and persuade her to grant Daenerys the audience she wants with her to present her options?
Ser Davos on the other hand goes and picks up a long-forgotten but important character. Yes Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon makes his return after missing in action for three seasons. And just like the actor, the character himself is itching to play a more important role than merely polishing swords as a blacksmith at Kings Landing. In a rather amusing sequence that follows shortly, Davos tries bribing two gold cloaks by all means to fend them away only to have all his attempts go in vain as they spot Tyrion return to the boat. In the flick of a moment, Gendry takes his hammer and smashes their heads, giving us the brutal violence Game of Thrones is so famous for. Gendry is truly back with a smack on the face.
An interesting ploy is unfolding at Winterfell as Littlefinger, having set his eyes on what Sansa and Arya seek and are capable of, sees a clear opportunity to drive a wedge in between the Stark sisters. And so the schemer sets in motion his plans that involve planting a years old letter to be found by Arya. That letter written by Sansa pleads for Catelyn and Robb Stark to come to Kings Landing and bow down to King Joffrey. Arya, not knowing the circumstances under which it was written, has a flicker of anger in her eyes as Peter Baelish has a glint of mischief in his. I wouldn’t be surprise to see the Stark sisters sparring in the next episode though with the all-seeing all-knowing Bran present at the same location, I don’t see how Littlefinger will succeed.
Speaking of Bran, The Three Eyed Raven wargs into three-eyed ravens and observes the Night King’s army marching towards the wall. The army is massive, almost endless, as it should be to justify Jon Snow’s fears. The Night King’s frightening glance wargs out Bran who then sends a letter to The Citadel warning the Maesters of the incoming threat. The ignorant Maesters dismiss the possibility of Walkers even existing and, while Archmaester Jim Broadbent shows some willingness to belief, he doesn’t really spur anything into action. Fed up by being bound to do monotonous tasks, Sam, like a frustrated employee realizing his underutilized potential, quits his job without notice and heads back to join the real fight.
There are two pieces of information revealed here that are worth dwelling upon. The first and the more obvious one is Gilly reading random bits of trivia from the books to an irate Sam just before he makes the decision to quit. Among those random tidbits is a line that holds immense significance which the duo are oblivious to at the moment. It reads that the legal marriage of Rhaeger (Targeryn) was annulled in secret and was followed by another secret legal wedding. By all accounts, from what we’ve known so far, this implies that Rhaegar was legally married to Lyanna Stark before Jon was born (assuming of course, the wedding happened before the birth) in which case, Jon is not really a bastard but a true Targeryn with dragon-blood running inside him. This could have huge ramifications for Jon and his battles with the Night King ahead.
The second tidbit, which I’m unsure as to its role in upcoming events, is a line by the Maesters while discussing and dismissing the Wight Walker threat. They talk a prophecy wherein “a drowned God would rise up and destroy Aegon the Conqueror”. Now assuming this “prophecy” hasn’t really come true, this raises some interesting questions and theories. If the threat to be destroyed at this stage is that of the Wight Walkers, is Night King really a dead Aegon the Conqueror? And while the title of a drowned man would’ve befitted Jaime Lannister nicely after being submerged last week, it seems less likely that he’ll be the one to take the Night King down. The only other person then to have figuratively “drowned” and “risen up” again is the one who took a knife to his heart. Does this then forecast a prophecy of Jon Snow / Jon Stark / Jon Targeryn destroy the Night King? These two statements existing in the episode could not have been mere filler information. They seem far too significant to be dismissed off easily.
We finally head to Eastwatch where, rather hilariously, Tormund quizzes Jon about the situation with the two queens and lets him in on some “people” captured wondering around. Those happen to be The Brotherhood Without Banners including Ser Gregor The Hound. The conflicts between them all could easily have taken up a quarter of an episode to resolve but The Hound in his typical no-nonsense style, shuts them all up, including Beric Dondarrion who was rather stirring up an emotional speech at that point and volunteers to join Jon in the mission they’re all here for. And as the army of the undead marches towards the army of the dead, we’re set for another battle in another penultimate episode with stakes higher than could ever be.
My gripes with this episode, if I could even call it a gripe would be in the pacing. Not that I mind the brisk pace at which events are unfolding. But the briskness makes me question the writers’ decision of cutting short the episode to seven episodes. There’s clearly enough material here to avoid having rushed things and fill up 10 episodes nicely. That would’ve ensured we had bigger payoffs when The Hound, The Brotherhood Without Banners, The Wildlings and The King in the North got together or when an entire fleet or characters assembled in Dragonstone from Jon to Jorah and even Theon (he’s still at Dragonstone isn’t he?). I’m still hoping for Season 8 to be longer than 6 episodes, fingers crossed although that seems about as plausible as Thoros of Myr slaying the Night King in the next episode.
Speaking of which, the next episode looks like it’s going to be an absolute treat and Game of Thrones might just be able to pull off yet another spectacular penultimate one. But that’s for next week. This week’s Eastwatch was quite heavy on plot developments and characters reconnecting with each other after long season breaks and stirred up some interesting theories and possibilities to ponder over. It was a solid episode overall and continues Season 7’s phenomenal streak of churning out one great episode after another.
Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10.0