So, picking up from last week, Jaime is alive. Not just that, but Bronn managed to get himself and Jaime to a considerable safe distance away from the death and devastation, and it seems like no-one was ever really fussed about catching them. Right. At this point… fine, he survived.
In a sense, ‘Eastwatch’ felt like an episode that, more than any this year, was hurt by the shorter season length. The episode carried an air of desperation across the map, yet not every plotline felt like it had quite earned that desperation. Or rather, regardless of whether they had earned it, an extra 3 episodes worth of build-up would certainly have helped to reinforce that it’s not going to plan for, well… anyone, really. If you think of this as equivalent to an earlier season’s episode 8, would Hardhome have been quite so effective with such little build-up? Would ‘The Mountain and the Viper’ have been such a tense battle if we had only had a few episodes with Oberyn? Season 7 hasn’t done a bad job of paring the show down to just the bigger moments, but it’s unavoidable that the faster pace we were promised also means that when things do happen, they aren’t quite as meaningful. But here we are, five episodes in, and things certainly are moving quickly.
What couldn’t be skipped past, however, is the aftermath of the battle last week. Jaime’s means of survival is what it is, but there was far more value to be found in how Dany dealt with those she did capture, amongst them the last fighting remnants of House Tarly – unless Talla Tarly, now head of her house, does an about turn on her characterisation and swears vengeance against Dany. Once it was clear that they were part of the captured crowd, there wasn’t really any other possible outcome for Randyll or Dickon. Had Randyll improbably sworn allegiance to Daenerys, I’m not entirely sure he would have been believed; as Tyrion pointed out, his allegiances are rather flexible, and fealty to Dany would have been as potentially temporary as Randyll’s brief allegiance to Cersei would have ended up being in that scenario.
As it is, he chose death over breaking another pact, and in doing so, could hardly be surprised his son followed suit. But of course, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t hurt him to see his favoured son accepting death alongside him. In this sense, it bore a vague parallel to the roles of Catelyn and Robb at the Red Wedding, with the despairing parent whose only desire is for their child to survive, regardless of what kind of survival that would be; and the son who ultimately acknowledges the futility of the situation.
None of that redeems Randyll as a character, given the context of previous allusions and appearances, but then, those previous elements don’t necessarily earn him death by dragonfire either. It’s an interesting dilemma; the perfectly logical argument for execution by dragonfire is… why not? If death is the outcome either way, what makes one modus operandi more noble than another? And compared to previous ‘Dracarys’ deaths, theirs certainly seemed quicker, portrayed on screen to be over in a flash.Importantly, however, Dany didn’t choose Drogon as her executioner because it was practical, or because he needed feeding. She chose it to send a message, and to convince the rest of the soldiers to bend the knee. More worryingly, she chose it in full awareness of its connotations to her father, of Tyrion’s warnings. Her speech to those soldiers might have been an attempt to placate them, to convince them that she is not there to burn and conquer. But even if that rhetoric is true – and it is an ‘if’ so long as the Dothraki, not the Unsullied, remain her only available force – it is diminished when her next action is to burn the leaders of a ‘great House’. And, unlike Jon, Robb or Ned, for whom execution was and is functional, a matter of duty not pleasure, Dany certainly takes some enjoyment from watching people burn. Even if it’s simply in the sense of a proud mother and her child – as we were reminded that she sees them as her dragons – there is more to it for her than just duty.
It seems Tyrion is aware of this too, in an episode that harked back to the ‘old’ Tyrion, after a couple of seasons of relative stagnation as a character. In Dany’s service – until recent weeks – Tyrion has bore little resemblance to the conflicted, troubled, witty character he initially was, yet with the catalyst of the battle taking him to King’s Landing, there were signs of life. He may still believe in Dany’s ultimate goal, but he still has issues with her current means, and his scenes with Jaime at least showed attempts at humour. Oh, and let’s not forget that he was actually shown drinking with Varys.
Those brief moments between Jaime and Tyrion were another instance of the focus on narrative simplicity replacing a focus on character. Sure, what was left in that conversation was only information that would be repeated immediately afterwards when Jaime relayed the news to Cersei, but still, Jaime and Tyrion together is always a compelling duo to watch, even more so now. How – and if – they would say goodbye to each other seems as interesting as how they greeted each other. In the knowledge of Tyrion’s plan, would Jaime’s absolute antagonist to Tyrion have dissipated slightly? Or would Jaime have ended by warning Tyrion that he still plans to kill him, eventually?
While Tyrion met Jaime, Davos brought an old friend back into the show. And he did it with a meme, obviously. Gendry’s return can really go one of two ways; either he’s back for good, reminiscent of Sandor’s reappearance last year, or he’s back to be expendable, reminiscent of Rickon’s reappearance last year. The fact that he’s part of the ranging part going North means both are entirely possible. His blurting out of his true heritage to Jon seemed a way of shortcutting in camaraderie between him and the others, so that his death isn’t so meaningless to them; still, he’s one of three characters in that group whose role is otherwise as the potential love interest to a more prominent female character. With the continued focus on trimming the cast down, it’s quite a safe bet that one of Gendry, Jorah or Tormund doesn’t make it back to Arya, Dany, or Brienne – though in all three cases, the women have more important things to consider anyway…As far as their plan goes – to capture a single Wight and bring them back as proof to Cersei and Dany of the veracity of Jon’s claims – there’s no other way to put it, other than it’s really fucking stupid. The political logic isn’t great – though none of them are to know that Cersei already has proof of reanimation, through Ser Gregor – in expecting Cersei, or Dany for that matter, to just change all their animosity and plans because they see a single undead soldier, but the practical logic is even worse. How exactly does one sneak up on a zombie army led by magically near-omniscient commanders, powerful enough to reanimate the dead on cue, and to sense and interact with Bran during a vision? Even if they do get there undetected, it’s hard to see a way they might get away with a single Wight, without the rest of the hive noticing them, even without the unknown powers of the White Walkers.
It’s a stupid plan, and one that’s only likely to lead to failure and death. Which ironically might well be the only way they manage to capture and secure a single undead – if it’s one of their own who’s died. Really, though, it’s their only plan, that would have an outcome that could possibly band the remaining living factions together, without first killing a large portion of one of those factions. But this, to return to the issue raised at the start, is the problem with the shortened season. Such a flawed plan doesn’t quite feel earnt by this point, and the characters, in coming up with it, didn’t seem quite as desperate as they would have to be to go with it. Three extra episodes before this point, perhaps with further losses to Dany, Cersei and Jon, and perhaps with an initial plan to convince Cersei having failed, would have built up the moment far better.
As for built-up moments, Sam really picked a bad time to get angry, didn’t he? Just as Gilly was about to provide irrefutable proof that Jon isn’t just Rhaegar’s son with Lyanna, but his trueborn son – and thus the rightful heir to the throne if you follow the Targaryen bloodline, not Dany – Sam starts moaning about steps and shits, and the futility of his time at the Citadel. In a sense, I get the desire to keep holding off on completely spilling on these elements until Jon can actually be told them, but there is such a thing as a tease too far. Had Sam found out while at the Citadel, it wouldn’t just be about telling Jon, but about informing the entire realm by raven, and so Sam had to be moved away from there before he could realise the truth. But then, why not refrain from Gilly’s reading until they had already got away? Like I said, one tease is alright, two is pushing it… let’s just hope there isn’t a third.At Winterfell, we’re seeing the results of putting Arya’s volatility, Sansa’s over-diplomatic steadfastness, and Littlefinger’s trickery together. Littlefinger may have overplayed himself with Bran – it’s hard to outwit someone who can look years into the past and relay your own words to you – but with Arya, he has a target with more predictable weaknesses, from her hubris – as indicated in her fight with Brienne last week – to her distrust of Sansa. But even if Arya is making things worse, it’s hard to see Littlefinger ‘winning’ anything real. If his play is turning Arya against Sansa, then all it takes is for one of them to see sense, or for Bran or Brienne to intervene, or just for Jon to return, and Littlefinger is dragged out the shadows. For now, it’s good to see him properly scheming again.
Finally, in what seems a slightly contrived developed, Cersei is pregnant. There’s nothing that says this isn’t a logical result of her and Jaime’s sustained sexual relationship, but the timing as a plot point is a bit much, designed solely to add an element to bind her and Jaime firmly together again, and to give Cersei something to lose again. Which begs the question: is it fortuitous timing by the writers, or by Cersei? Either she really is pregnant – and following book clues, she might not carry the baby to term, even if she survives events with Dany – or she’s feigning it to convince Jaime. Qyburn’s little exchange with her as Jaime entered the room did seem a bit staged, but then that could just be the writer’s fault, rather than part of a plot. But either reality could break one of the two potential parents: if it’s real and Cersei loses it, that’ll tip her permanently over the edge, but if it’s revealed to be fake, it could be enough to break Jaime instead. Who knows.
So, with next week, we come, in effect, to episode nine. At least, we come to the penultimate episode of the season, checking in at 71 minutes, two minutes longer than even ‘The Winds of Winter’ last year. Somethings going to happen, even if we don’t yet know what. But put it this way, if you start to hear the entirety of ‘Light of the Seven’ playing in the background, as Cersei goes to meet Dany, then death might be on the cards…