After the “dragon-induced Armageddon” of last week’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Spoils of War,” it was inevitable that the follow-up was going to be comparatively smaller and more down to earth. Apart from a big raven flyby that had Bran Stark checking in on the Night King and his undead army, who are getting progressively closer to the Wall and the poorly maintained, undermanned outpost that gives “Eastwatch” its episode title, that generally proved true.
There were a lot of long-in-the-making reunions in this episode, and a little bit of abrupt and bloody murder, which all made for the kind of memorable moments we usually discuss here. But the scenes that seem most likely to have important ongoing effects on the show were relatively quiet ones. Sam and Gilly discovered, in passing, that Jon Snow may have a more legitimate claim to the throne than Dany. (And they have no idea that they discovered that.) Arya gently confronted Sansa about her relationship with Jon, and how the King in the North shouldn’t leave the North. (Arya’s always been a political hardliner, which is somehow creepier than her being a superpowered magic assassin.) That said, I’m not sure what Arya is objecting to here — the possibility that Sansa may have secretly, in her heart of hearts, thought about being queen, and is therefore disloyal to Jon? Arya really is a hardliner.
But back on the reunion list… Jorah came home and got some hugs, then took off on a thoroughly bizarre quest to nab a sample wight from an army of them, alongside Jon and a whole batch of old and new buddies. The big prison meet-up sequence in particular was mighty quiet and calm, given all the emotions and enmities in play, but judging by the episode 6 preview, it’s certainly setting up some big, explosive scenes to come.
Oh, and last week’s cliffhanger is resolved with a mild shrug. No, Jaime and Bronn didn’t die in last week’s dragon conflagration, though their daring escape, which apparently involved swimming across a few miles of 50-foot-deep water, in full plate armor, is treated as no big deal. It’s just something else for Bronn and Jaime to have best-frenemy banter about.
All those quiet scenes are likely to have loud repercussions down the line. But they’re still comparatively small moments, for now. Here are our votes for the most memorable scenes from “Eastwatch.”
The Bonfire of the Tarlys
Bryan: A point of discussion in last week’s favorite-moments roundup was whether Daenerys had taken Jon Snow’s advice about restraint to heart. She destroyed a huge chunk of the Lannister army with a fire-breathing animal, sure — but she limited her attack to the battlefield, with civilians safely out of the way. In “Eastwatch,” she has another opportunity to show mercy when talking to the Lannister survivors of her attack. “Bend the knee” — Dany is really starting to develop an unhealthy fixation with that phrase — and they can serve her. If they don’t, Drogon is looking bored and hungry in the background.
Most of the army plays ball, except Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon. (This scene suddenly explains why Dickon appeared out of nowhere last episode for some face time with Jaime and Bronn.) Daenerys turns the battlefield into a Tarly barbecue, wiping them both out, against Tyrion’s counsel. I do understand why Dany goes this route; she has a basic philosophy about getting people on board, and some big threats to back it up. But after so many years of thinking she would be the outside force that would bring order to Westeros, her hardline tendencies are becoming disconcerting. It’s too early to say she’s headed toward Mad King territory, but at the very least, from the audience’s perspective, a character many people assumed would be fantastic is suddenly showing some disconcerting signs. Does power — or the potential loss of it — make people their worst possible selves? Does the focus of leadership lead to a lack of empathy and contextual awareness? Does owning the Westerosian equivalent of a fighter jet automatically make someone terrible, no matter how noble their intent?
The show seems to be playing with these ideas, and setting up potential conflicts down the road. Randyll and Dickon are the father and brother of Samwell Tarly, Jon Snow’s BFF. Randyll was always a bit of a jerkface when it came to Samwell, but that doesn’t mean Sam’s going to respond well to Jon’s ally killing his family. Conveniently from a storytelling perspective, Samwell makes it through the entire episode without learning the truth — meaning there’s a big shoe about to drop for him sometime before Game of Thrones wraps up.
Tasha: I’m a little conflicted about this sequence. On the one hand, Randyll Tarly betrayed his Tyrell allies, apparently without even talking to Olenna about her choices, which would have been much smarter. By Game of Thrones logic, he’s earned his fate by being a turncoat. Though when Dany has Drogon crisp the Tarlys, she’s ignoring Ned Stark’s old episode 1 advice: “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Which may be a hint that she’s finding it a little too convenient to have a creature willing to kill anything she doesn’t like, so she doesn’t have to get her hands dirty.
I do find it interesting that even though Randyll’s too proud or stubborn to take Daenerys’ offer of clemency for loyalty, he still expects his son to surrender, and he seems appalled that Dickon doesn’t take the chance to be craven in front of a crowd. Tyrion’s plea that an entire noble house shouldn’t be wiped out is also pretty fascinating. Given how many individual human beings have died on this show, his attachment to, essentially, a concept — the old state of the world, and the value of traditional houses — seems almost quaint and noble here. In a world falling to pieces, he’s still trying to preserve the overall shape of the puzzle.
But when it’s all done, Dany’s staying pretty true to herself by valuing the common people — the rank-and-file soldiers in this case — more than the nobility, and being willing to make an example of her more powerful enemies in order to save lives down the road. Here, publicly killing two people saves her from having to kill a lot more people who wouldn’t swear fealty until they saw what that meant. That said, I’m looking forward to more soul-searching on everyone else’s part as they see what it really means to have a weapon that only has two modes: “pause,” and “obliterate.”
Hey, remember that time you didn’t kill my son?
Tasha: Now that Game of Thrones is moving into the climactic battles and eventual endgame, it’s focusing much more on bringing its surviving protagonists back together, which has meant a series of long-in-the-works reunions and revivals. We’ve gotten a couple of back-to-back Stark sibling reunions, so clearly it’s time for a Lannister sibling reunion — the first time Jaime’s seen Tyrion since he helped Tyrion escape the dungeons of King’s Landing, which left Tyrion free to murder their father Tywin. Jaime is fresh off Olenna’s bombshell that she murdered his son Joffrey. Even knowing Tyrion had no part in it, Jaime’s clearly still not in a forgiving mood when it comes to his patricidal brother.
This particular face-off reminded me a lot of last week’s reunion between Jon Snow and his family’s betrayer and later helper, Theon Greyjoy. And it played out in a similar way, with the transgressor (Theon there, Tyrion here) scrambling for a way to appeal to the other man on his favorite grounds. In this case, Tyrion tries to praise Jaime’s military acumen. What’s really missing, though, is a simple, straightforward, “I was at that battle. I thought you were going to die. I’m glad you’re alive.” Maybe these kinds of sentiments are too mushy for Game of Thrones, or maybe the showrunners just don’t think there’s time for any personal dialogue that doesn’t forward the story. (Except from class clown favorites like Bronn and Podrick.) But c’mon, Tyrion. Just say it. It’s true, and it feels more legitimate than praising your brother for kicking your tactical ass over Casterly Rock.
It’s good to see these two together again — Jaime being one of the few people on the show who’s been legitimately kind to perpetual whipping-boy Tyrion — and the meeting is important, since they’re using back channels to try to set up an armistice between Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen (at least long enough to fight off the White Walkers before they zombify all of Westeros). But did you have as many questions as I did about this scene? Game of Thrones has gotten mighty hand-wavey about time and travel lately, whether it’s Euron’s fleet teleporting around the continent, or Jon Snow magically whisking from Dragonstone all the way to the Wall. But even so, it felt like some corners were cut here. How did Tyrion reach Bronn to set up the meeting? How did he know Jaime and Bronn were still alive, since he last saw them plunging into mysteriously deep water in heavy armor, and never emerging? And then one of the most distinctive and most wanted men in King’s Landing just hops in a rowboat and goes there? Even with Davos’ secret shortcut, this all seemed pretty hinky to me.
Similarly, I was a little surprised that Jaime doesn’t even bring up his recent Joffrey revelation, or the fact that he told Cersei, and she actually seemed to believe it. And I was surprised how quickly Tyrion forgot his mission and started in on the self-pity about Tywin not loving him enough because he was born a dwarf. Man, nothing rewinds us back to childhood as quickly as being around family.
Bryan: I’m probably in the minority on this, but I’ve absolutely adored all the time-jumps this season. It has certainly felt abrupt at moments, particularly when the show has taken its time slowly moving characters across the board in previous seasons. But this season, everything that’s not directly important has been left behind. It definitely feels whiz-bang magical for Jon to say he has to leave Dragonstone, then pop up a continent away, but at this point, I am far more content with that than having to spend an episode or two watching him sail across the ocean. The season has momentum, the plot is cooking, and stakes are intensifying. Awesome. Let’s blow through some red lights to do it.
That said, I am totally with you on the bizarre planning. Tyrion and Davos just head their separate ways, assuming they’ll end up back at the boat at the same moment? With no way to contact each other? Or, even more importantly, without having a sense of each other’s missions? I’m not asking for a scene full of exposition or anything. I’m just asking for a vaguely believable plan that would allow me to buy that these two guys are splitting up — before they each accomplish their tasks in record time, of course.
Varys accidentally admits he has a soul
Bryan: There’s no Tyrion like drinking-wine-to-forget Tyrion, and after the Tarly slaughter, he hangs out with Varys, goblet in hand, while trying to convince himself that the Queen he’s assisting didn’t really do anything that bad. Varys empathizes, recalling his own time counseling Daenerys’ father, The Mad King — who had a penchant for burning people alive. “I was only a purveyor of information,” he tells Tyrion. “It’s what I told myself when I watched them beg for mercy: I’m not the one doing it.”
Given what an ice-cold operator Varys has been throughout this entire show, it always stands out when he appears unnerved or rattled. Put simply: that rarely happens to Varys. But thinking back to the Mad King, and the smell of burning human flesh, appears to bring him back to that dark place. All the strategy and game-playing falls away, and for a flash, he simply seems to be a man thinking back, with no small degree of regret, to the horrifying behavior he helped enable.
Of course, he’s Varys, so he’s also using it as a lever: trying to convince Tyrion how essential counsel will be to Dany if she’s to avoid the same fate as her father. But does he mean Tyrion — or is he trying to drive a wedge between Queen and Hand, because he feels he could serve Dany better?
Tasha: Oh, I think he’s straight-up trying to get out of being the one to tell the woman with the hungry, crafty flamethrower, “You should knock off all the winning battles and taking prisoners.” This is especially true since earlier this season, Dany accused Varys of possibly being a disloyal, sneaky spy she couldn’t trust. Granted, she’s accused Tyrion of the same thing, but here, Varys is doing the equivalent of an older sibling telling a younger one, “You’re cuter, so you should be the one to go tell mom we broke her favorite lamp.” Except he’s playing on Tyrion’s sense of rank, duty, and responsibility, as well as his ethics. It’s some pretty obvious manipulation, but it comes wrapped up in such a personal speech that it doesn’t seem as offensive as Varys just ordering Tyrion to go take one for the team.
The pacing of this scene felt so odd to me, though. Actor Conleth Hill impresses me, especially when he takes on these revealing personal monologues — as he did when explaining his past, and revealing why he had a box full of sorcerer shipped to him. But in an episode that races through so many other important meetings, decisions, and journeys, this scene slows everything back down to a more familiar and personal speed. It’s some solid character work, and it sets the scene for even more conflict between Dany and her advisors. Flush with victory after a series of defeats that came directly from Tyrion and Varys’ strategies, she has every reason to reject their counsel, and Varys knows it. So he’s trying to hide behind Tyrion.
Gendry’s back, and there’s gonna be some trouble
Tasha: I don’t think it’s remotely a coincidence that the same episode where we find out Jon Snow is almost certainly a legitimized-by-marriage Targaryen heir is also the episode where Baratheon heir Gendry finally turns up again after a four-year absence from the show. The showrunners want to keep us guessing about who’s going to end up on the throne, though for the moment, dragons really seem to trump secret, possibly unprovable bloodlines. That said, the viewers are pretty savvy, and they’ve been predicting Gendry’s return for some time, either because of a theory that he’s the Prince Who Was Promised (because he’s a blacksmith who might be able to reforge Azor Azai’s legendary White Walker-slaying sword), or because of a theory that Gendry represents the Smith, one of the seven gods of Westeros, in an earthly version of the heavenly pantheon.
But I’m betting no one predicted he’d come back swinging a warhammer and crushing Lannister soldiers. Taken as a whole, Gendry’s return in this episode is one of the few that was both big and memorable, and low-key but important. His initial reunion with Davos is pretty dialed down: “You came to get me. I’m ready. Let’s go.” But when some guardsmen are about to cause trouble, out comes his homemade skull-crusher. (Anyone else singing “Blacksmith of Brandywine” to themselves at this point?) And then he ignores everything Davos says, introduces himself to Jon, and more or less says, “Our dads were friends. We should be friends.” There’s that fast-forward button kicking in again. He might as well be saying, “We’ve got two episodes left this season, and no time for slow character-builds anymore. I look like a young Christian Bale and I can turn someone’s head to mashed potatoes with a single blow, let’s go find some action.” I’ve never understood people’s fascination with Gendry, but this new incarnation of him seems made entirely out of fan-nip. He’s an attractive man of action who knows his Game of Thrones history and is more interested in ass-kicking than politics. Tell me again why we had to lose him for four years?
Bryan: I never read beyond the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series before I began watching the show, and as a show-first viewer, I’ve always felt that there’s a slightly different dynamic at play with the show’s byzantine mysteries and various mythologies. Rather than looking at the established legends and fitting show events into them, I usually find myself much more in real time with the story — with small bits and pieces eventually building up over time until the show delivers on a eureka moment. (This week’s episode, and the Lyanna Stark flashback Bran had in season 6, both spring to mind.)
Given that, Gendry’s always been one of those characters who’s stood out a little awkwardly. He was somewhat notable early. Then he vanished, and was only important because of the love for him that existed outside the show. All of that said, the guy that showed up tonight was incredibly entertaining and fun. Shenanigans with his hammer? Got it. Banter that formed an (almost too easy) bond with Jon? That, too. They’re all beats designed to reintroduce the character to the audience and lay out the basic stakes and conflicts, but there’s something really enjoyable in the simplicity of it.
I just hope a little something more happens with him. As currently portrayed, he’s just a little too wholesome and honest to be real — at least, real in this world. Despite the ruthless narrative efficiency that’s exemplified this season, I hope the show spends a little more time fleshing him out before things start taking off on whatever storyline awaits him.
Bryan: With Cersei seemingly going off the rails on an hourly basis, it’s hard to blame Jaime for suspecting something strange is afoot when he enters his chambers to find Qyburn giving her some advice. Jaime quickly pivots to Tyrion’s pitch — but it turns out Cersei knew he had met with their brother all along. Shockingly, she’s even receptive to an armistice, seeing that an alliance with the Mother of Dragons could give her an opening to attack. Besides, it’s not just them or the city they need to be worried about: Cersei reveals she is pregnant.
For all her horrible tendencies as a ruler (and human being in general), Cersei has been a fiercely protective mother, and sharing the revelation with Jaime brings the first genuine, honest smile to her face that we’ve seen pretty much since Tommen stepped out a window. It’s not so much her soft side as it is her not-an-impenetrable-emotional-fortress side. Because she’s feeling so cocky about all the news, she tells him that she plans on letting everyone know that Jaime is the father. It’s one thing to let a servant see her and Jaime in the same bed, as she did a few episodes ago, but to announce that her heir to the throne is a product of incest will be another matter entirely, and it shows just how far Cersei is going off the reservation.
This is also the Queen at her most dangerous. She hasn’t been chastened by anything that’s befallen her, and the death of her previous children hasn’t caused her to even reconsider her approach. Instead, these things have just burned away any desire to adhere to anything resembling decorum or political norms. She is a leader unchained, and while these brazen acts reveal a sort of newfound strength in Cersei, they will almost certainly lead to a downfall of sorts. The only question is who will get taken down alongside her when it happens.
Tasha: Can we all take a minute to shudder at what it would be like to have Mad Scientist Qyburn as your obstetrician? Best-case scenario: he delivers your child, disappears into the basement with it, and comes back six months later, pointing out that he’s only made a few surgical improvements, mostly involving tacking on extra body parts, rather than sawing them off. But if anyone deserves Qyburn, it’s Cersei, who casually lets Jaime know that he doesn’t have a choice about being outed as the father. Granted, he hasn’t been in charge of this relationship for a while now. (Remember that pathetic attempt to refuse Cersei climbing on him earlier this season?)
But how can Cersei forget that not that long ago, the people of King’s Landing loathed her as an incestuous, unnatural adulterer? She claims she’s embracing their father’s “don’t care what the little people think” philosophy, but that idea was more about Tywin not minding if he looked brutal or unapproachable. He seemed to have pretty strong opinions about Cersei shutting up, keeping her hands off Jaime, and marrying someone suitable to provide more family alliances. Traditionally, “Screw you, Imma do what I want” is not a fruitful tack for rulers to take if they hope for longevity and a peaceful reign. If nothing else, right now, Cersei’s strongest remaining ally is Euron Greyjoy, who’s serving her because he thinks he’s going to marry her and become king. He’s willing to make bawdy jokes indicating that he’s aware of her side thing with Jaime, but how’s he going to react when his intended is walking around visibly pregnant, and bragging about carrying her brother’s bastard? It really seemed like Cersei had it together this season, that she was making smart moves in the game of thrones. But this “embrace your incest” business is just straight-up madness, on a level that makes Dany’s new burn-anyone-who-says-boo rule look mild and sensible.
Bonus scene: Jon Snow, dragon whisperer
Bryan: This episode did a lot to make R+L=J theorists happy, but one of the most subtle ways it leaned on that theory was also one of the most magical moments. After roasting up some Tarlys, Dany and Drogon arrive back home, where Jon just happens to be brooding atop a cliff. The massive beast lands and approaches him, but instead of lashing out, the dragon seems to be somewhat enamored with the King in the North. Jon takes his glove off, and proceeds to straight-up pet Drogon, stroking his snout like you would an everyday dire wolf.
In terms of Thrones mythology, it hints at a bunch of different things. It’s another reminder that Jon Snow has Targaryen blood running through his veins, something Drogon can apparently sense or smell. It also opens up a bunch of wild possibilities for Jon in the future, because if he can pet a dragon, it also stands to reason that he may be able to ride a dragon as well. (And Dany has two spares lying around at the moment.) All of that is fantastic, but what made me truly love the scene is just how simple it was on a human-to-animal level. Jon’s just opening himself up, in the least-threatening way possible, to make friends. As Jon pets Drogon, his eyes narrow and close. It’s almost feline — and if there’s one thing I can get behind, it’s a gigantic, flying cat.