How do you follow an episode as lavish and thrilling as The Spoils of War? With its climactic, money-burning, soldier-burning attack by an expensive CG dragon and an extensive Dothraki horde? The fifth episode of Game of Thrones season 7, Eastwatch reigns in both action-levels and budget, delivering a relatively quiet hour of viewing that necessarily pushes the show’s various plots towards their conclusions. It’s hard not to feel slightly deflated, though, isn’t it?
Let’s start at the beginning. Jaime isn’t dead! Surprise, who knew? Oh, wait, everyone in the world. Ok then. The idea that the show would throw away one of its most important characters to create a bit of suspense at the end of a battle never rung true, so it was no shock to see Bronn immediately pulling Jaime’s muddy body out of the river. That he does so with a killer line is no surprise either, but it’s similarly welcome. “Listen to me, c**t. Until I get what I’m owed a dragon doesn’t get to kill you, and you don’t get to kill you.”
The pair become integral to this episode, which starts to have shades of the good old times in seasons 1-3 when Bronn, Tyrion, and Jaime were all buddies, and life was a little simpler. When the three of them meet under the Red Keep, it’s an almost warming scene, albeit with a little awkwardness. It very much mirrors the reunion of the Starks at Winterfell, even if this family is a little more dysfunctional. Guess that makes the southern party-pooper Cersei, who… seems to be descending into delusion with every passing episode.
That Cersei is pregnant with Jaime’s fourth child is a bit of a knotty one. According to Maggy’s prophecy (which we see in a flashback in season 5), Cersei will have three children, and they’ll all die before she does. Which has happened. The likelihood of a fourth surviving is very slim, which means either miscarriage is on the way (which feels like a narrative device to facilitate… something else), or that Cersei is marked for death. It seems her obsession with the Iron Throne is isolating her from all but her closest allies, and even Jaime is unsure her course of action is the correct one. As a bizarre family drama, Game of Thrones season 7 is handling the Lannister plotline extremely well, and despite them clearly being positioned as the villains, there’s a pleasing amount of complexity to it all.
None of this changes the fact Cersei is running out of allies fast. Randyll Tarly and the recently recast Dickon end up as dragon BBQ, which is hardly surprising given how quickly the show needs to tie up some of its loose ends. Still, for every resolution, a fresh mystery is resurrected. Gendry, the bastard son of Robert Baratheon, is back. He’s clearly got a taste for warhammers like his daddy, and seems eager to leave King’s Landing. His return to the show feels like the biggest piece of fan service ever, and Ser Davos’ cheeky line, “Thought you’d still be rowing” could easily have been ripped direct from a Thrones Reddit. That he suddenly decides to head up north and become one of Jon’s raiding party, instead of a prized blacksmith able to forge Valyrian steel is… puzzling. While Gendry’s comeback is most welcome, it feels like the showrunners have rushed his return, and the decision to have him fight instead of forge is pretty clumsy.
There’s a strange scene on the beach as Davos, Gendry, and Tyrion try to leave. Words fail, violence ensues, and there’s another witty piece of dialogue - this time from a Davos / Tyrion - to wrap things up. This scene is deliberately inserted to make us believe Gendry can handle a weapon, but it feels much clumsier than the Baratheon bastard’s hammer skills, and it’s a little formulaic. Even the fact that Kevin Eldon makes a bizarre repeat appearance as a Goldcloak (remember: he played Ned Stark in the theatrical play Arya watches in Braavos) makes it all seem a little forced. There are few moments where Game of Thrones visibly crumbles under the weight of its own narratives and expectation to deliver, but this is definitely an example of exactly that.
A few swift teleports later and Gendry is up at the wall, complaining about having to form a hunting party with The Hound, who is now locked up at Eastwatch with the Brotherhood Without Banners. Again, as time is pressing, Jon simply opens up the cell door, hands them weapons, and invites this bunch of former enemies and prisoners to join him in a trip up north. It’s more rushing - previous seasons would have left them in that cell for at least a couple of episodes, as everyone verbally sparred until a degree of trust was built up. Even Tormund’s cute line about “the big woman”, which clearly hints at his romantic interest in Brienne, felt more throw-away than it should. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to pick up the pace, but season 7 is playing fast and loose with the credibility of its character motivations and decisions.
Similarly, Daenerys appears to have fallen for Jon in a relatively short space of time, although he is devilishly handsome, so this doesn’t necessarily feel out of place. In all seriousness, their coming together has been handled well by the showrunners, who avoided the obvious temptation of instant gratification - the pair are working on a relationship built on mutual respect, rather than tactical marriages and superficial attraction. The return of Ser Jorah could either throw a slight wrench into the works, or it could be the nudge the pair need to make a go of it. Time will tell, but judging by the pace of season 7 perhaps they’ll be married with kids by the end of episode 6…
What is most interesting is all the nudging and winking about Jon’s heritage. When Drogon allows the King in the North to touch his snout, it’s clear that the dragon can sense his Targaryen heritage. Similarly, the discovery by Gilly that Rhaegar was legitimately married to Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) during a deliberately sneaky scene where Sam leaves the Citadel, sets things up nicely. Yet another plot thread heads towards a satisfying conclusion, which is very much the purpose of this episode. None of that explains why the Archmaester is more keen to appear as ‘one of the lads’ instead of helping Sam potentially rally all of Westeros against the White Walkers, but I think that scene is deliberately designed to knock him down a peg or two, and puff up Sam’s heroism even further. Either that, or there’s a grand Maester conspiracy at work… but it definitely feels like Thrones is trying to tie up plot threads, rather than open fresh ones right now.
Finally, to Winterfell, where Littlefinger is sowing the seeds of dissent between the northern lords. Sansa and Arya return to bickering in yet another scene that evokes the earlier days of the show - a nice, cosy comfort blanket to remind us that everything is connected and deliberate - and the machinations of Baelish appear to be very much back on track. The note he plants is classic Littlefinger, yet his scheming seems slightly less potent because he’s playing with what appears to be a less important plotline, against foes who have the ability to end his shenanigans for good. There appears to be an obvious set-up for Arya to kill off Lord Baelish at the end of season 7, but despite being a little clumsy with its exposition, this run has proven pleasingly unpredictable with even its most obvious surprises. In other words: It’ll probably happen, but not like you expect it to.
Eastwatch, then, is an episode almost doomed to disappoint after the spectacle of The Spoils of War. It does its job of tying up loose ends admirably, but fumbles some of its narrative wow moments, making the whole thing feel a little weaker than it should have been. It’s all relative, however, as the most average of Game of Thrones episodes is still utterly compelling TV, despite not delivering the highs and lows we’ve so far gorged on in season 7. Gendry may have stopped rowing, but this ship is still firmly on course to be the TV highlight of 2017.
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