“Eastwatch” felt like the second season premiere of this all-too-short penultimate season of Game of Thrones. There were so many moving pieces and ground covered to set up the final two episodes that the whiplash left me hazy on the details. “Wait, so after Dany’s big victory, they want to sue for peace? And they think Cersei will ever be reasonable about their desire to stave off armageddon?” After delivering one of their best episodes yet in “The Spoils of War,” this fifth episode felt like staring in to the abyss of the unknown end.
I can’t say stuff didn’t happen. In fact, so much stuff happened, I had a hard time keeping it all straight; I didn’t even notice Cersei clasping her stomach to announce her pregnancy to Jaime, instead awed by Lena Headey’s psycho expression directly after. Jorah finally returns to Dany’s side and bolts in the span of a few scenes (and two costume changes). Even better, on the basis of questionable logic, everyone decides to call an armistice, even the violence-loving Cersei.
Jaime & Bronn miraculously not only survive last week’s loot train battle, but emerge from the water safely away from Dany, which can’t be said for their Tarly allies, Randyll and Dickon. The Dragon Queen roasts them alive via Drogon, over Tyrion’s objections, when the father and son refuse to bend the knee.
Jaime is smart enough to realize the inevitable: they will lose and he doesn’t let her keep the delusion that Tyrion murdered not just their father but their son as well, informing her of Olenna’s deathbed confession in episode 3. The Lannisters weren’t the only one’s learning truths this week. Arya’s paranoia is a well-developed shield but Littlefinger is smart enough to use this against her, tricking her into reading a letter Sansa wrote back in season 1 under Cersei’s duress to plea for her father’s life (spoiler: it didn’t work). Even when the Starks are a tree wizard, a magic assassin, and a skilled politician, Littlefinger plays them like fiddles.
Bran instructs Wolkan to send ravens to Jon and Oldtown about the Night King and the army of the dead approaching Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, where Tormund and the Wildlings has taken up residence. Unsurprisingly, Jon is unable to enjoy the news of Bran’s and Arya’s survival because of this, immediately declaring his intention to leave. Tyrion, usually the sensible one, thinks proof of the army of the dead will force a truce in the war over the Iron Throne. If only Tyrion lived in America 2017, then he’d realize no amount of evidence will shake foundation beliefs. Befitting his righteous hot-headednes, Jon immediately volunteers to lead the mission to retrieve a wight (“zombie”) as said proof. How they intend to do this and live is anyone’s guess. Surely, they’ll bring an army.
Nope. Jorah jumps at the chance to do Dany’s bidding. Davos has the sense to bow out ( something he lampshades in the episode) but Gendry leaps at the chance
to star on Game of Thrones again to meet his destiny. Happily, a bunch of other named characters have already arrived at Eastwatch with the same purpose – Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the Hound await in a cell. Beric himself take the opportunity to hang a lampshade on the “greater purpose” driving them. I half expected him to start talking about mysterious godlike showrunners pushing the narrative to a breakneck collision pace. The rapid-fire recriminations to sell the teeth-clenched teamwork almost made it seem like the group was a diverse one but ultimately, the show has adopted the unifying (and conveniently binary) theme of life fighting against death, the latter taking the form of anthropomorphic ice demons and zombies. Samwell even refers to the Night King as evil incarnate at one point.
Jon leads his Magnificent Seven out of Eastwatch on his latest dumb plan. At least when Dany went into combat, it was on dragonback with a Dothraki horde leading the charge. Do they think this will be a stealthy mission? That somehow they won’t alert the telepathic overlord of corpse-reanimating ice magic? Rewatching the scene where this idiotic plan is drawn up is mind-boggling because everyone acts as if this is the already agreed-upon course of action. Even granting that this is something realistic, the fact that we don’t see such a consensus arrive highlights the recurring weakness of this particular episode – the pace is so relentless and is so plot heavy that very little breathes naturally. It comes across arranged and “writerly” for lack of a better word.
It stings all the more because it was precisely the lack of this weakness that made the earlier, more book-orientated seasons better. While not perfect, this narrative style imported from the books allowed the show to have the same sense of worldly vastness. Now, the contraction of the world in the form of countless character deaths and increased pacing has resulted in a world that is very small, with issues addressed as the plot requires, rather than driving the plot itself. Martin’s own obsession with the depth and sprawl of his universe is what drove the delays on the fourth and fifth novels in the series, which noticeably slow down to allow tensions to rebuild and characters to fan out to the furthest reaches of their arcs. The show is quite good still and is even able to mask several of these weaknesses in well-meaning narrative logic, but no doubt does it deprive the show of the same sense of scale, even though the show is delivering on its huge budget via its best battles and effects yet.
Gendry’s reappearance (oh, yeah, did I mention Davos took Tyrion to King’s Landing this week? Working-class hero Davos did a stand-up number.) is a good example of the writer’s poking fun at these weaknesses. He leaps at Davos’ recruitment and is completely unremorseful regarding killing now. He also acts super proud and knowledgeable about his birth father and very upfront with Jon, a fellow bastard but one who is also royalty now.
Emotional investment is just chips you can cash in. For what they’re worth, the reunions and meetings have been exciting but they also carry an expectancy that the sheer fact that they’re happening is enough to drive the encounter. Sadly, they lack the thoughtful measure with which they were first put together.