After the excitement of last week, it was too much to hope for this episode to maintain that same level of energy, and, indeed, “Eastwatch” is the first episode of the season so far that was actually boring. While there are a lot of things happening in this episode, they all tend to run together into a giant, messy series of generally ill-conceived scenes that make up a plot that’s both increasingly convoluted and wildly (and occasionally hilariously) stupid.
On a more irritatingly personal level, this ridiculous lack of structure is starting to make it difficult to figure out how to organize these recap/review posts. The last few weeks, I managed to get things loosely grouped under setting headings, but there’s enough character movement and enough crossover between storylines in “Eastwatch” that this is no longer an effective organizational method. Instead, this recap is going to follow each of the focal/POV characters of the episode. I’ll be talking about it more in depth in the individual sections, but something that’s been fascinating and frustrating to observe this season has been the way in which—in a complete reversal of last season’s “women on top” philosophy—nearly every female character in the show has now been reduced to a character in the story of the male characters. Every episode this season has worked to systematically reorient all the most important stories around men, and it’s really obvious in “Eastwatch” just how much that has been at the expense of women (you know, if it wasn’t obvious to you already, obv).
Jaime Lannister, Bronn and Cersei
Jaime has always been part of the show’s main cast, and he ought to have one of the more compelling character arcs if the show had followed the books more closely. Unfortunately, even as he’s emerging as one of the most important characters in season seven—to the point that Cersei is now mostly relegated to being a secondary character in Jaime’s story—Jaime is increasingly a character that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Previous avenues of growth and character development and sources of narrative tension in his story have been abandoned, and it’s not at all clear what the show is going for with him this season, but with the amount of screen time he’s getting and the number of scenes from his point of view, it’s obvious that Jaime is important. For some reason.
“Eastwatch” opens with Jaime and Bronn having escaped from the main battle by, I guess, swimming down and across the river they fell into when Bronn rescued Jaime at the end of last week’s episode. As unlikely it might seem if you think about the weight of their clothing and armor and their lung capacity and the amount of distance they’re supposed to have traveled downriver, they’re not too out of breath to have a chat. After two seasons of the show’s writers not really knowing what to do with Bronn, he’s playing a bigger role this year as something of a, well, not a conscience, but some kind of voice of reason or something for Jaime, who is as much in need of a voice of reason as ever. This might work better if the show had done a better job of developing this pair’s friendship over time, but having been neglected for so long, this relationship feels hollow, and the character beats in this episode are without the true depth that would have come from that more thorough development. Also, it’s patently silly to have Bronn inform Jaime that “dragons are where our partnership ends” literally moments after Bronn threw himself in front of a dragon to save Jaime’s life.
Nearly as absurd as Jaime’s relationship with Bronn is his relationship with Cersei. The big reveal this week is that she’s pregnant, and this is a game-changing turn of events for the Lannisters. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t manage to really sell us on the impact of it, either personally or politically for these characters. In the books and in much of the middle seasons of the show, the story of Cersei and Jaime’s relationship has been a story of the deterioration of an unhealthy codependency, and it seemed at the end of season six, when Jaime returned just in time to watch, stone-faced, as Cersei was crowned queen after Tommen’s suicide, that this conflict was finally coming to a head. Instead of furthering that compelling storyline, this season has walked back pretty much all the Jaime-Cersei conflict in favor of treating their relationship like nothing so much as a forbidden romance, framing them as star-crossed lovers fighting against an unjust world that threatens to tear them apart instead of continuing to explore the parallels between Cersei and the Mad King, the strain that puts on her relationship with Jaime, and Jaime’s internal conflict as he has to choose between his beloved sister and his honor as a knight. The show has struggled since at least season four to properly deal with this storyline, but this year the Cersei-Jaime story has finally been entirely stripped of its major conflict, robbed of its thematic value and reduced to a tawdry incestuous-for-shock-value romance in which both Cersei and Jaime have transformed into characters that it’s basically impossible to root for.
Sidenote: I guess they’re just forgetting about that whole three children prophecy thing that Cersei’s been obsessed with and living her whole life by, huh?
Tyrion Lannister, his feelings and Daenerys
Since Tyrion’s story connected with Daenerys’s, it’s been more and more his story than hers, and this week took that shift to a new level as it showed the aftermath of last week’s battle completely from Tyrion’s point of view and then gave him a lot more screen time to process his feelings and day drink/plot with Varys about how to control Daenerys. I’m not sure there are really words adequate to convey how infuriating it is to see Tyrion’s hypocrisy and self-righteousness exalted like this over and over again in the show, and always, these days, at Daenerys’s expense. Tyrion, who unleashed wildfire on Stannis’s fleet in “Blackwater” (something we’re explicitly, albeit weirdly jokingly, reminded of by Davos later in the episode), is undone by the devastation wrought by dragon fire and the Dothraki and consumed with guilt or shame or maybe just upset by the realities of war. It’s hard to tell, frankly, because this season has an awful problem with failing to adequately convey character motivations.
Regardless of what we’re supposed to understand about Tyrion’s post-battle state of mind, the show is at some pains to portray Daenerys as a potential villain here. She burns Randyll and Dickon Tarly when they refuse to bend the knee, and one could write a whole essay just on whether or not that was their choice or an act of tyranny on her part, but the truth is that the answer to that question is outside the scope of what can effectively be explored in a world like Westeros. Tyrion and Varys, during their day drinking conversation, both seem to believe that they are the right advisers to make Daenerys into a good ruler, but it’s not clear what that would look like. Though Varys, in particular, fancies himself a sort of voice and defender of the common people, both of these men are supporting a destabilizing revolution that will, nonetheless, only affect a change in the head of the monarchy. What they are advancing isn’t the kind of sweeping and sustainable societal and governmental change that will produce the positive outcomes they claim to desire; it’s a simple (albeit fiery and bloody) regime change.
This is highlighted best in the single moment of the episode that is Dany’s alone, where she’s standing in front of Drogon and gives a nonsensical speech about how she’s come to Westeros to “break the wheel” that has been oppressing the rich and the poor and that only benefits “the Cersei Lannisters of the world.” It’s the stupidest, most tone deaf “we are the 99% and All Lives Matter” speech I’ve ever seen on television, and it’s not how anything works. Now, I increasingly suspect that Daenerys is not one of Westeros’s endgame leaders, seeing as how her story is mostly no longer her story anymore and seeing how the show seems to be priming the audience to want Jon Snow as king (though they could still surprise me and have Jon marry his aunt and rule jointly), but the way this whole conflict is playing out is ridiculous. While the use of monarchical governmental systems in fantasy can be useful for examining what the qualities of a good monarch might be, this is a perfect example of how the fantastical monarchy is a poor framework for examining complex real-world political and ethical ideas. Daenerys may frame herself as a liberator, but her use of force (and this would be true even without the dragons, which are perhaps best understood as a metaphor for nuclear or other weapons of mass destructions) eliminates any meaningful power of choice among her subjects. She gives the Lannister army survivors and the Tarlys the option of obedience or death, but that’s not an unconstrained choice of the kind that is necessary for true freedom.
Tyrion and Varys seem to recognize this, but their solution is both shortsighted and self-serving. They still intend that Daenerys will sit on the Iron Throne, but safely controlled by themselves. They do stop (just) short of calling Daenerys hysterical, but the ugly sexist and grossly paternalistic undertones of this narrative—in which two men plot to install Daenerys as a puppet queen under their control—just get more unpleasant all the time. There’s a certain pragmatism to this idea of how a fantasy monarchy might work—a flawed monarch influenced by others towards a better way of ruling—but there’s no evidence that either Tyrion or Varys is a true representative of the people of Westeros. Indeed, Tyrion’s motives are muddled with his daddy issues and still-split loyalties, both of which come up in his conversation with Jaime, though none of that conversation is as affecting as it would be if the show hadn’t inexplicably ignored the fate of Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha, and Jaime’s role in that debacle. If Tyrion’s motivation to support Daenerys is personal, as vengeance against his family and others he thinks have wronged him, then he’s no great champion of the people. If Tyrion’s motivation is more selfless than that, there’s very little evidence of it.
Meanwhile, there’s really no accounting for Varys’s seeming passion for helping the people of Westeros. He’s foreign, childless and without property in the country; though he’s addressed sometimes as Lord Varys, he doesn’t hold any traditional title or lands, and his position isn’t hereditary. He could just be a remarkably nice guy, but there’s little evidence of that, either. He seems to personally gain and lose very little with the change in leadership in Westeros, and his actions—low key fomenting (or at least contributing to fomenting) the wars that have devastated the country—are rather at odds with his claims to desire stability. And on that note, what constitutes “stability” in this situation? Can any monarch, even with the best possible advisers and policies, provide meaningful and sustainable peace and stability to a nation that still uses a feudal system? It’s some kind of nonsensical Bernie Bro bullshit to believe that’s the case, which is pretty much in line with everything we know about this show and its writers at this point, but that doesn’t make this entire situation any less laughably absurd.
Jon Snow, Drogon and Ser Friendzone
Listen, I want to pet a dragon as much as the next person who was first drawn to the genre by great dragon-riding heroes (Kitiara Uth’Matar and Lessa of Pern, in my case), so there’s something magical about a woman riding a beautifully animated dragon. There’s even something magical about that dragon having a moment with a bastard boy who’s secretly a prince, though the show plays all of these tropes completely straight in a way its source material never did. Completely out of context and uncritically, the scene where Jon gets to pet Drogon is a great moment, and it’s proof that Game of Thrones is still capable of producing those every now and then. In context, it’s still a mess. Jon and Daenerys have no chemistry, for all that the show runners insist that there’s a romance brewing between them, and their dialogue is robotic and nonsensical. Ser Jorah’s return is boring and under-emotional, and the suggestion that this could create a love triangle—at least I think that’s what we’re supposed to get from the shot of Jon’s dismayed (I think that’s what that expression is supposed to be) face while Dany greets Jorah—is stupid. Jon’s decision to go back north of the Wall and Jorah’s decision to go with him in order to catch a white walker to show to Cersei is even stupider. Worse, after several episodes of escalating action, switching back to a cold war situation between Daenerys and the Lannisters is extremely anticlimactic.
Bran’s Ravens, the Citadel’s Response, and Sam and Gilly
At Winterfell, Bran is using ravens to do some reconnaissance to remind the viewer of the vastness of the army of the dead. It would be scarier if the army of the dead wasn’t as slow as molasses. Everyone else on this show can traverse continents in the blink of an eye, but these guys have been slowly shambling south for years. Bran sends ravens to the Citadel, where the highest ranking maesters in the world decide to do nothing with the news, even though the Archmaester himself has met Samwell Tarly and believed his stories about what’s north of the Wall. Sam witnesses the maesters’ inaction firsthand and in a fit of frustration decides he’s going to leave the Citadel and return to the Wall to help his friends there. In the midst of Sam’s snit, Gilly discovers the biggest secret in Westeros, just written down in some random maester’s journal: Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia of Dorne annulled and married someone else (Lyanna Stark, obviously) the same day.
Here’s the thing, though. Do the writers of this show even know what an annulment is? As far as I know, there’s no mention of annulment in any of the show’s source material, at least not by that name, and it doesn’t make sense here for Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia to have been annulled at all. For one thing, there are no grounds for an annulment; by the time in question, Rhaegar and Elia had been married for several years, and she’d given birth to two children, one of them a son, so the marriage was neither unconsummated or infertile and not even without a male heir. For another thing, setting aside Elia would almost certainly have been an unwise political move if the Targaryens were relying on Dorne to support them during Robert’s Rebellion. Finally, the Targaryens are canonically polygamous as it suits them, so there would be no legal or religious conflict in Rhaegar simply taking Lyanna as a second wife if that was what he wanted to do. Also, maesters aren’t religious figures in Westeros; they’re teachers and doctors and advisers to secular leaders, so why would a maester perform either a marriage or an annulment?
None of this even matters, though, since Sam was too busy talking over and ignoring Gilly to hear her. Because of course he was. Naturally, this is played for laughs instead of pointed out in the text as Sam being an asshole.
Davos and Gendry
The big news before this episode aired was that Gendry was coming back, and he did. When Davos has to “smuggle” Tyrion into King’s Landing (In broad daylight! On a deserted beach! Within sight of the walls of the city!) for a meeting with Jaime, Davos takes a side trip to the Street of Steel, where he finds Gendry working at a forge, again in broad daylight, completely openly as if there never were gold cloaks hunting down and murdering all of Robert Baratheon’s bastards. Not only is Gendry right there and easily found, he’s also already packed and ready to go with Davos more than a little too enthusiastically. Gendry’s apparently turned into some kind of Robert Baratheon superfan while he was gone, even crafting himself a beautiful Baratheon-themed war hammer, because it makes total sense for an orphaned boy to idolize his deadbeat dad who practically bankrupted seven kingdoms. Davos wisely counsels Gendry to keep his parentage on the down-low, but literally the first thing Gendry says to Jon when they meet is basically, “I’m Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Let’s be best friends since our dads were.”
This might be the single worst-written development in the show to date, and it’s a shame because there is potential in this situation to elicit a genuine emotional investment and reaction from the audience if they had developed this friendship over time and worked in symbols like Gendry’s Baratheon hammer in a subtler manner with a more impactful reveal of Gendry’s parentage and the connection between the two young men. Instead, every bit of symbology is forcefully spoonfed to the audience in scenes that almost literally tell us how we’re supposed to feel about what we’re seeing. It’s stupid, and it’s insulting, and it’s a shamefully missed opportunity. A better show with better writers and less desire to rush to the end of things would have let Jon and Gendry connect first over their shared experiences as bastards, allowed their friendship to grow over some time, and then revealed Gendry’s hammer and parentage in a key moment, perhaps having him rescue Jon or perform some heroic deed in Jon’s service.
Instead we get Jon and Gendry as insta-bros, and they’re all going north together to find a white walker for Cersei because what could possibly go wrong?
Arya at Winterfell
This week’s Winterfell storyline is mostly about Arya. Sansa is busily working, still, to maintain the coalition between the Northern Lords and the Lords of the Vale, all of whom are starting to get pretty pissed off that the man they proclaimed King in the North has gone south for specious reasons instead of staying in the North and ruling them like they wanted. To keep the peace, Sansa is doing the politic thing and listening to the various Lords’ concerns and trying to smooth ruffled feathers while still being explicitly—in very clear words—supportive of Jon and clear that she is only acting in her brother’s place. This isn’t good enough for Arya, however, who accuses Sansa straight to her face of being materialistic (for using their parents’ old rooms, which Sansa was encouraged by Jon to do) and of trying to usurp Jon’s position. Sansa patiently explains that this isn’t the case, pointing out that it’s her job to listen to these crusty old dude’s complaints, but Arya suggests that maybe they should be murdering dissidents, or at least Sansa would be if she really loved Jon and supported him as King in the North. Poor Sansa looks pretty put upon, since she’s stuck dealing with unhappy Lords all day and her siblings all went on journeys and came back as total assholes, but the way this scene is framed, one gets the distinct feeling that we’re supposed to think that, even if Arya isn’t totally right, she does have kind of a point. Even though Arya’s accusations are just, factually, one hundred percent without merit. There’s literally no evidence that Sansa has any designs on Jon’s throne at all, and there’s every evidence that Sansa is doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing: holding down the fort until her brother gets back. Even Arya’s accusation that Sansa is thinking about what would happen if Jon didn’t come back doesn’t make much sense. Of course Sansa must be thinking about that, at least a little bit. That’s a wise thing to be thinking about and a distinct possibility that it’s worth having a plan in place to deal with, just in case. That Arya (and the show) are trying so hard to paint this as a sign of disloyalty in Sansa is ridiculous.
Later in the episode, we find Arya snooping around Winterfell, mostly following Littlefinger, who, it quickly becomes obvious, is almost certainly manipulating Arya in order to, I guess, sow discord between the newly reunited Stark siblings. We find out that Arya has picked up some spying skills from somewhere—What can’t Arya do?—as she follows Littlefinger around the castle, eventually going into his room and finding a piece of information that he left there for her to find. We know he left it for her on purpose because he is watching her the whole time and because this show has, apparently, zero interest in building any suspense or tension about anything at all anymore. The thing that Arya finds is Sansa’s letter from season two, the one that Cersei dictated to her when she was a prisoner of the Lannisters and in which Sansa implores her brother to come to King’s Landing and pledge fealty to Joffrey. It’s not clear what Littlefinger means to accomplish by leaking this information to Arya, and we don’t find out this week. Is Arya supposed to be angry that Sansa was coerced as a child into writing this letter? Is she going to be upset because she thinks Sansa was hiding it, even though that letter had pretty much no effect on anything and even Robb and Catelyn knew when they received it that it was Cersei’s words? Will Arya use this information against Sansa to try and paint her as a Lannister loyalist and end up fracturing the increasingly fragile accord between the Northern and Vale Lords? All these ideas are terrible, which probably makes them all about equally likely. Goodness knows, Arya isn’t going to talk to Sansa like a reasonable adult or anything, because that’s not how this show rolls.
For being the title of the episode and everything, Eastwatch plays a tiny part in the hour’s proceedings, and we don’t actually make it there until the very end when Jon, Davos, Jorah and Gendry show up. Tormund is surprised and skeptical of the capture a white walker plan, but he has news as well. Thoros, Beric and the Hound made it to Eastwatch and are convinced it’s their destiny to go beyond the Wall. After some obligatory and very perfunctory posturing—Gendry is still mad at Beric and Thoros, no one trusts each other, and the Hound wants to just get going—Davos decides to stay behind at Eastwatch while the rest of the men go forth to catch a zombie. Ostensibly, this is because Davos is too old and not a fighter, but I’m pretty sure it’s so that the group—Jon, Tormund, Jorah, Gendry, Beric, Thoros, Sandor—can be compared to the Magnificent Seven. Next episode, we find out how this awful plan pans out. Whee!