I wish I meant that there are cracks showing on the stoic facades of the rival queens, or the troubled relationships between siblings, or between the massive, but fractured partnership that forms at the end of the episode. Instead, I mean the TV series itself—because last night there were too many problems to ignore.
If Game of Thrones started its sprint to the season seven finish line in “Stormborn,” then “Eastwatch” is the episode where the show stumbled, fell down, and scrambled madly in an attempt to maintain its top speed. It was often sloppy and it was frequently shoddy, but man did it still move the story along as quick as it possibly could, no matter what the cost.
And there were costs. There were several interesting things in the episode that would have been wonderful if the show could have explored in more depth, as it has in the past. Daenerys has listened to Tyrion, Varys, and even Jon Snow’s pitches about how to lead the world and make it a better place for all people (i.e. peasants). Now Daenerys takes all the Lannister prisoners from the battle, and ask them if they want to bend the knee and help make the world a better, kinder place for everyone with her or if they want to die horribly. (Sam Tarly’s horrible father and reasonable-seeming brother Dickon choose dying horribly.)
After failing to convince his Queen that a more merciful, less deadly approach may be called for, Tyrion—already shaken by the sheer destructive power of the dragons, seen while he walks through the ashes of the battlefield—heads straight for the wine, and even Varys takes a drink, as they contemplate Dany’s “join me or die” approach. They don’t think she’s a new Mad King, but the fact they feel the need to bring it up at all is telling. But they have hope Dany can be advised to become a more merciful, less murder-y queen—but they’re a hell of a lot less sure than they were before they left Essos. Is Daenerys really the savior the people of Westeros need?
As for the other queen, Cersei isn’t pretending she’s going to make the world a better place for anyone but the people she loves… and she’s not even sure about them. After Bronn leads Jaime to a surprise meeting with Tyrion—another reunion that could have used some more time!—Jaime goes up to his sister to tell her about the armistice Daenerys is offering. But, thanks to Qyburn, Cersei knew about the meeting, and greets Jaime as the queen, not the sister who loves him.
She talks with utterly fake-pleasantness about how Bronn betrayed Jaime, how Jaime betrayed her, how Tyrion murdered their father and son—as which point Jaime corrects her, revealing that Olenna Tyrell confessed to poisoning Joffrey. Cersei drops her mask, infuriated that Olenna was killed quickly and painlessly instead of torturously, despite the fact Cersei had already murdered the rest of her family. But Cersei recovers to tell Jaime the good news—she’s having another baby, and this time she’s going to tell everyone who the real father is. Jaime is genuinely choked up at the idea that he will publically have a child… which is when Cersei threatens him to never betray her again. Count how many times Cersei says “betray” in this scene—and you can see her mask crack a little more each time, revealing someone who will happily watch all of King’s Landing burn rather than let her “enemies” win.
There could have been interesting scenes like these, except the show just couldn’t be bothered to give them some time. Tyrion’s tense, tearful secret meeting with Jaime was more of an uber-brief plot-dump than anything else. Jorah’s triumphant return to his khaleesi was blah, especially because he immediately left with Jon Snow for the North. Even beyond the bare hints of the love-triangle between them—it’s basically only Jon and Jorah giving each other the mildest of side-eyes when the other is looking at Dany—they’re two wildly different characters. It would be cool to watch them interact together, get to know each other more.
Especially when Davos and Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son, whom Davos found (Was there a “still rowing” joke? There was!) and who immediately decided he wanted to travel with these cool new guys Davos knows north of the Wall to capture a wight to convince Cersei (and Daenerys, let’s be real) that the army of the dead exists. Like, even just a single scene of them on a ship together, just measuring each other up. But nope! They all travel to Eastwatch together off-screen, where they meet up with Tormund Giantsbane… and also find Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and Sandor Clegane, waiting for them, too. The time for them all to decide to head beyond the Wall together to find a wight, despite the fact many of them hate each other a great deal: about two minutes.
This show’s utteral refusal—it was so harried last night it almost felt like fear—to never stand still for a moment is producing ridiculous results. Case in point: The show flat-out began with Bronn hauling the fully armored Jaime out of the lake on the far side, and they’re both only mildly exerted by traveling 40 or so feet underwater. The show doesn’t even bother trying to explain away the impossibility of this, apparently fully content to have had a cool cliffhanger in the previous episode over something that makes any sort of sense.
There was the immensely aggravating scene of Sam at the Citadel; first he just happens to be bringing busywork into a room with the maesters are discussing and summarily dismissing a note from Bran and his maester about an army of the dead is just outside the Wall. Sam gives a stirring speech about it, about the importance of maesters using their wisdom to help people, about how the threat is real because he’s seen these things himself—and of course he gets dismissed. It’s such a cliché, but it’s less annoying than Sam’s decision to steal about five to 10 seemingly random books, flee Oldtown, and quit Maester school later that night, along with Gily and Lil’ Sam. Unless those books include Fighting White Walkers for Dummies or something—and we have no reason to suspect what they’re all about—Sam just finished a six-episode internship to cure Jorah and clean shit. What a great use of everybody’s time.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse than the bullshit going on in Winterfell. If I may? (clears throat)
Why is Arya giving Sansa shit about ruling Winterfell? They’ve just met again after years of hardships. Perhaps Arya could stay polite a bit longer instead of basically accusing her sister of undermining Jon? Also how is Sansa undermining Jon by reminding all the grumpy lords of the North that yes, Jon is still their king?
Who cares if Sansa wants to rule Winterfell anyway? She’s spent years dealing with rulers and politics and learning how to manipulate people. This is a job she’s incredibly suited for that Jon is terrible at, which we know because not only did he abandon his people to go south to meet with a foreign invader, and instead of going home he then traveled to Eastmarch to personally find an ice zombie despite the fact there are many, many other people who can do that. Jon left a mess, still hasn’t come home to fix it, and Sansa’s trying to keep it all together as best she can—for Jon.
Why is Arya suddenly so terrible at sneaking? Why wouldn’t she at least use someone else’s face when stalking Littlefinger?
Why does that note that Cersei forced Sansa to write to Winterfell against her will, that Ned had been rightfully killed as a traitor, mean anything? Is Arya going to suddenly think Sansa was really happy back in King’s Landing and super-pro-Lannister? That she married Ramsay Bolton for political gain? That’s so dumb it makes my teeth hurt.
Is Littlefinger playing for much more low-stakes discord? That because Arya discovered he hid the letter, she’ll think he must be up to something, tell Sansa, Sansa will get pissed Arya broke into his chambers further driving a wedge between the two sisters? Uh, everyone knows Littlefinger is up to something all the time, especially Sansa. She should see through this shit a mile away.
The final question here isn’t “Is Sansa going to usurp Jon Snow?” It’s “Shouldn’t Sansa usurp Jon Snow?” Jon is so busy trying to save the world—and hey, good on him for that—that he’s not serving the North, and the North is fracturing because of it. The dumb, fickle Lords are already ready to ditch the newest King in the North for someone who actually stays in the North, and clearly a stable, present leader would make the North stronger and more united. Honestly, if Jon doesn’t get home to fulfill his duties as a king, Sansa may be forced to usurp him if she wants to hold the North together at all.
That’s not my point. My point is the show is moving so relentlessly fast that things feel rushed and unearned, scenes and characters aren’t given time to breathe, and the storytelling is suffering as a result—at least when there’s not a dragon to distract us. The show has completely abandoned its pretense of having a reality of time and space, from Jaime’s immediate saving by a Bronn ex machina to the borderline absurd way the episode managed to end with Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the Hound—few of which have ever met each other—suddenly all going on a mission together to find an ice zombie. Their conflicts were presented as an infodump of all the reasons they don’t like each other, specifically so they can be swept under the rug and they can be shoved out the Wall door before the credits roll. But better that than the poor Stark women, who now have their own conflict thanks to having gotten caught up in Littlefinger’s Scheming 101, as if they had suddenly forgotten Littlefinger taught scheming at Westeros University. These characters know better than this, and I’m afraid the show, in its desire to keep at top speed, is willing to ignore whatever fact/obstacle it thinks might be in it way.
I know this season is almost at an end—only two more episodes!—and season eight will only have six. But while these episodes have all been packed, the craftsmanship seems to be suffering. “Eastwatch” feels like it was an episode made for speed not quality, to get certain characters in certain places and situations for the next round of the Game. I guess my biggest problem is that I’m not convinced in the next episode, they won’t just do it again.
I mean, I had thought the showrunners were racing through these episodes to get to the epic final season, to get everything in place for the Game’s final round. Now I’m thinking they just want to be done playing the game entirely.
- One meeting that the show gave all the time in the world: Jon Snow and Drogon becoming best friends. Daenerys is bewildered at how much Drogon is accepting of Jon—maybe even turned on?
- In the episode’s needlessly longest scene, Davos and Gendry are trying to get their secret boat ready to go when two guards come and very slowly harass them until they spy Tyrion. This is all just a set-up for Gendry to show off his big hammer and his badass skull-smashing skills. I could practically see the RPG text: “GENDRY (Fighter Lv 7) has joined your party!!!!”
- Maybe I was just annoyed at how the episode was progressing, but Gilly’s reading aloud from a “random” section of a maester’s diary about a “Prince Raggar” whose marriage was annulled and a new one held in a secret ceremony in Dorne and Sam of course having zero idea that Gilly had dropped a valuable clue made me incredibly annoyed. It was like Old Town was designed to prevent Sam from learning anything except how to fix Jorah Mormont so he could die in the very near future of something else.