Monday, August 14, 2017

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Jon and Tyrion Have a Plan to Establish Peace in 'Eastwatch'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 7.05 "Eastwatch"

Daenerys offers a choice. Arya grows suspicious. Tyrion answers a good question.

Earlier in this season, Jon sent Tormund and part of the wildling army to man a castle on the Wall called Eastwatch. It was a decision made because it seemed like the most likely place for the Night King to attack with his army of white walkers. They were last seen in Hardhome. That was such a devastating battle that changed everything for Jon and the wildlings who followed him. Ever since Tormund left for this position, it seemed like only a matter of time before a great battle would occur that would kill him off. He's a character who has been fun to watch over the years but is expendable to the overall plot. In an episode named "Eastwatch," it seemed very likely that the threat from the white walkers would come into focus once more - just like the excellent "Hardhome" did in Season 5. But the show smartly subverts those expectations. This hour doesn't follow the same structure as "Hardhome" where it plays as a normal episode of the show only to cut away to up north and a devastating battle with the Night King. Instead, it's an hour about very careful and deliberate strategizing. The threat at Eastwatch is growing. It demands the attention of Jon right away. The fate of the entire realm may rest on the mission he embarks on in that corner of the globe. It's significant that he has returned to the north to fight alongside a motley crew of individuals. But it also establishes a precarious future for each and every one of them as they are willfully going beyond the Wall on a mission. That's a nice tease while also crafting an intriguing and thrilling episode leading up to that point.

It could feel like a letdown to follow the season's most epic battle sequence yet with an episode that is mostly about the characters talking amongst themselves over how that battle has changed the war for the Iron Throne. The show doesn't keep the audience in the dark over whether Jaime died or not. The first second of this episode features him and Bronn returning to the surface of the water having survived the attack and also managing to go downstream enough to avoid being taken prisoner. That happens largely out of plot necessity because Jaime has a couple of important messages to deliver to his sister. That made the tease of his death feel so false in the immediate aftermath of that battle. He wasn't going to die in that moment. He still may die in this war. If so, the show won't live in the ambiguity of the moment for very long. This will serve as a wake-up call for everyone on the Lannister side though. They may have gotten a couple of key, strategic victories in the early going. But they will not be able to outfight this war. The Dothraki army and Daenerys' three dragons are just too powerful. Qyburn's "elaborate" weapon is not very effective. Drogon already seems fully healed from his wound during this episode as well. That's not really commented on though. And neither is the incredible amount of travel time in this episode.

So, it all starts in the aftermath of Daenerys' successful attack. She has proven how powerful she can be. After losing too many times, Daenerys felt the need to use the full extent of her powers. She has held back for moral reasons. And now, she has been unleashed. She has gone against the advice from her council. She's carrying out her own sense of justice. As such, it's morally complicated to know who is actually right. Daenerys presents her captives with a choice. They can either bend the knee to her or be killed by her dragons. Randyll and Dickon Tarly stand against the Mother of Dragons despite it meaning the end of their house for good. They've picked their side and are willing to die for it. Tyrion suggests to Daenerys that they should join the Night's Watch. It's a solution other than death that shows she can play by the rules of Westeros. Instead, she burns them alive. It's a horrifying sight that makes Tyrion truly question the Queen he has chosen to serve. He wonders if she is becoming like her father. The Mad King burned people alive out of paranoia and pleasure. Tyrion sees Daenerys wielding these dragons and using them to brutal effect. He sees her willfully ignoring his advice. When he's tried to be clever this season, he's been outwitted. So Daenerys is seeing less of a purpose for him and his advice.

As such, "Eastwatch" marks a key shift in this war. The actual fighting may be over with for now. Daenerys returns to Dragonstone and is greeted first by Jon who is able to tame Drogon as well and then by Jorah who has made his remarkable recovery. Meanwhile, Jaime and Bronn are able to return to King's Landing having fully witnessed what Daenerys is capable of in battle. Tyrion sees this as an opportunity to work for peace. Ravens have been sent throughout the kingdom telling the lords and ladies that the Army of the Dead are marching on Eastwatch. Jon needs to leave. Meanwhile, Tyrion understands that his sister will only believe in this threat if she can see it herself. As such, he sneaks into King's Landing to arrange peace with his family. It's a very risky plan. One where he puts himself in great danger because he's reuniting with the brother who wishes to kill him for murdering their father. And yet, the history between Tyrion and Jaime is so rich and nuanced that they both have conflicted emotions upon seeing each other again. Bronn is even in on the plan as well - though the show doesn't give us nearly enough time with Bronn and Tyrion together. It's a move that seemingly works as well. Cersei knows that it's happening. She allows it to happen because she knows the Lannisters need to be even more cunning than before. They need to outwit their enemies. That's a tantalizing promise - especially since the protagonists can be stupid in their plans a lot of the time. The Starks and Targaryens have lost a lot over the years simply for being stupid.

That's a pattern that seems to be repeating itself back in Winterfell as well. This is the story that seems the most tangential to everything else going on. It's largely just giving Sansa, Arya and Littlefinger something to do. Arya doesn't trust Littlefinger. She sees that he has gained the confidence of Sansa. And yet, Arya knows just how cunning and manipulative Littlefinger can be to get what he wants. He's only loyal to himself and he has betrayed the Stark family before. And yet, Littlefinger presents himself as a worthy opponent to Arya. No, he can't match her skills as a warrior. But in the use of cunning deceits, he's the best throughout the kingdom. He knows that a sisterly bond forming between Sansa and Arya could easily push him aside. So instead, he's working in the shadows to secure his position as the man right alongside Sansa in every decision that she makes. He hopes to do so by tricking Arya into reading that letter Sansa was forced to write under duress by Cersei after their father was beheaded. Again, it's the show reaching way back in its own history and asking the audience to remember. I didn't know what the note was until I did a little research online before writing this review. It's a plan that might work. Arya has never had to face a foe as smart as Littlefinger. And yet, it's also going to be so satisfying to see her take him down because he's not expecting the other special skills she has picked up along the way. But will that lead to a healthy relationship between the sisters? That remains unclear.

And finally, the trip to King's Landing also serves as a way to bring Gendry back into the narrative. He is Robert Baratheon's bastard son. He could make a claim to the throne if he wanted to. He's still on a kill list as well. He's thrilled when Davos appears in his shop to whisk him away to a better life. It's a thrilling reunion too. It almost plays as a son and a father reuniting after a long time. The show even reminds us that Davos had a son who died in the Battle of the Blackwater because of Tyrion. And now, they are all on the same side. Gendry returns to Dragonstone and doesn't hide behind a false identity. He reveals himself fully to Jon. He makes it known that he is the bastard of the king who played a role in his father's demise. Before that they were friends though, so it's not surprising that Jon and Gendry quickly form a bond. It goes against Davos' advice. But they are also sailing directly into danger and it's better to be upfront about all the previous bad blood. The hour ends with a ragtag collection of potential allies meeting at The Wall. It serves as a strong reminder of the history amongst these characters. Some of it has happened onscreen - like Gendry being sold to Melisandre by the Brotherhood - while others happened long before the show started - like Jorah's own beef with the Brotherhood. This collection of men have every reason to hate each other for betraying each other in the past. And yet, they can't afford to think like that anyone. The Army of the Dead is marching towards this castle. The battle is on the horizon. They walk into the unknown together. They need to trust each other because they are on the same side. It's a thrilling way to conclude the episode. It places the focus back on the war to the north. It finds peace in the south with a potential solution for an even greater understanding in Westeros. That's unexpected. But it also hinges entirely around Jon and Jorah being able to get a white walker back to King's Landing. That's a very dangerous mission.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Eastwatch" was written by Dave Hill and directed by Matt Shakman.
  • Gilly is just casually reading from a book that details the annulment Rhaeger Targaryen got in order to marry another. It's a reveal that means nothing to Sam and Gilly but could prove to be an extremely important detail in the future. It means that Jon likely has a better claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys does. She's the daughter of the Mad King. She's not even the first in his line of succession. Jon is the son of the first son of the Mad King. He's not a bastard either if this document is to be believed.
  • None of this is why Sam and Gilly ultimately decide to leave Oldtown. This isn't information that Jon needs to know because they don't know it's important. Hopefully, they stole that book with them in their grand escape so they have proof. But they leave because Sam feels like he's not being taken seriously and that apprenticing for years as a maester won't ultimately do much good. He helped Jorah but that was it.
  • Of course, society obeying the rules that have stood for hundreds of years no longer seems to be the case. Jon has abandoned the vows he took as a member of the Night's Watch. He claims his death freed him of that. But now, Cersei is willing to admit to the world that Jaime is the father of her new child. So, it wouldn't be hard to fathom Sam becoming the new lord of Highgarden after he learns that his father and brother have been killed by Jon's new Queen.
  • The moment where Jon seems to tame Drogon is significant for a number of reasons. It only further confirms that he has Targaryen blood. Dragons only seem to be controlled by that bloodline. Will Daenerys suspect that moving forward? It's doubtful because she looks at the moment more as an empowering thing that builds trust between the new allies. If the dragons like him, so can she.
  • How much of the dragonglass has been mined and forged into weapons? With Gendry joining Jon's ranks, they now have a blacksmith capable of creating weapons from the material. But they are heading into battle now. Yes, time was probably spent on ship that would allow the creation of these weapons. But it's still a mystery heading into this big conflict.
  • So who is most likely to die in the venture beyond The Wall? Jon seems safe because he's one of the few characters who can't die until the end. Everyone else seems like a fair option though. It's doubtful that Gendry goes simply because he just came back. But Jorah's death could be fitting and very devastating. Meanwhile, it would be difficult to care about anyone from the Brotherhood going since they haven't been all that important.