Hello again and welcome back to the great Chris and Nikki co-blog of Game of Thrones, in which we review, recap, analyze, and generally nerd the hell out about the goings-on in Westeros. This week: plans are hatched, siblings squabble, Jon Snow pets a dragon, Gendry brings the hammer down, and The Avengers Beyond the Wall assemble. It’s Nikki’s turn to lead us off, so …
Nikki: WOW! Every week we marvel about how many threads from the series are being brought together but oh my GOD this week was just one of those, “you better have paid attention for the past six seasons or you are going to be looooooost” episodes. We actually had to pause the episode a few times because I simply couldn’t keep up with my notetaking. The Avengers of Westeros are starting to assemble (on more than one front), a character I’ve waited to see since season THREE has returned and is back in the fold better than he ever was before, and Gilly has a perfect moment where she finally confirms something fans have waited to have confirmed since the beginning of time and gets cut off by Sam in the midst of it (and then puts on that face every woman puts on at some point that says, “Sigh… interrupted by a man in the midst of an important revelation AGAIN.”)
But let’s start back at the beginning! Watch closely in the opening credits and you’ll see Eastwatch added to the end of the sequence showing the Wall, and then we continue immediately where we left off in the previous episode. Jaime and Bronn appear back on the opposite shore from the one where Drogon just tried to broil them alive (and somehow Bronn has dragged Jaime up from the 5,000-meter depth despite Jaime wearing full armour, and Jaime’s golden hand is back on despite it seeming to NOT be there in the final sequence of the previous episode, but that could have been my eyes playing tricks on me) and Jaime’s first words were, “You could’ve killed me.” Ha! Bronn chastises him for being an idiot, and tells him that until he gets his full pay (which he lost in the midst of the battle), no one gets to kill Jaime except Bronn. The two men realize that the war at this point seems hopeless: despite the fact last week I pictured Cersei mass-producing the dragon-killing machine, Jaime just pictures three of the creatures he just saw mowing down all of Westeros. And even Bronn knows when things have gone too far. “Dragons are where our partnership ends,” he says. Jaime’s just upset that he has to be the one to tell Cersei.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, Tyrion walks amongst the carnage and sees what destruction Daenerys and Drogon have wrought. He watched the Lannisters burn people alive with wildfire, and he knew what they were doing was wrong because it was in the name of keeping the kingdom and keeping that throne. He was fighting on the side of the Lannister army because he was part of the family at the time, and believed he could prove himself to them. They didn’t care who got caught in the middle of it. Daenerys, on the other hand, fights for the poor and the meek and the helpless, and yet lately seems more concerned with people bending the knee before her than for any meek or helpless. Once again Tyrion is fighting on the side of the victor, but wonders if he’s sold his soul once again to do it. As Tyrion steps over the ashes of dead Lannister soldiers, we wonder how many of them were from Fleabottom and had no other choice in life but to join the army if they were going to be fed. Did they deserve to be immolated like this? (I also couldn’t help but marvel at the how much work went into the set itself in this moment, to make it look like thousands of men and horses and carts had been instantly turned to ashes. The set is remarkable.)
And just as we’re thinking that, we flip to Daenerys standing before the remaining Lannister soldiers they managed to round up from the battlefield and take prisoner. She tells them that Cersei has told them a bunch of lies about her, saying that she’s the daughter of the Mad King and will come to burn them all alive. But Daenerys rejects that notion, and says instead she wants them to know that Cersei is the evil queen, not her. She’s the kind one.
And then her actions sort of, you know, say the opposite.
One of the key titles that Daenerys uses is “Breaker of Chains”: she stands to free all men and women from slavery. And yet here she stands before the soldiers, telling them if they don’t bend the knee they will be killed. They have no choice; they have no freedom in this matter. There are about 200 men standing there; Cersei’s thousands have been reduced to a handful of survivors. They are broken and destroyed, yet managed to survive what seemed to be an unsurvivable onslaught. And instead of showing any respect for any of them for having done so, she treats them the same way she treated the slavers or anyone who has harmed or threatened her. These men aren’t threatening anyone. Even the formidable Randyll Tarly looks defeated, still glaring at her with his black eyes, but saying nothing. She tells them to bend the knee, and many of them do, showing not that they respect and love her, but that they fear her. Only a few remain standing. For the first time in the series, I actually respected Randyll Tarly: he knows he’s going to die, but he remains standing. Tyrion, of course, calls out the hypocrisy of this action: he flipped sides pretty quickly away from House Tyrell and over to House Lannister when it seemed to suit his purpose, and wouldn’t it suit his purpose now to bend the knee to the one who will otherwise KILL HIM?
Ah, but then we see what’s really going on, and I once again went back to hating the sonofabitch. Turns out Tarly’s a modern-day Republican. He’ll follow the insane queen who will burn her own city alive and start useless wars with people just to fuel her own narcissism, but damn it to HELL if he’s going to listen to a damn immigrant!! I mean, is she really even from this area? Has anyone seen her birth certificate??!! Cersei Lannister is going to Make Westeros Great Again and he’s going to stand behind her gulldarnit! Unfortunately, our new hero DICKON is going to follow his father into the cremation chamber, despite Tyrion’s plea to not do this. In the final moments, Tyrion pleads with the Tarlys to stop being so stupid, pleads with his queen to stop acting like his sister, but no one listens to him. Daenerys has tasted power and sees anyone associated with the Lannisters as being part of the family that dethroned her family in the first place and murdered her brother and father, and she can’t be stopped. So… that’s the end of Samwell’s dad and brother. Daenerys turns to the remaining Lannister soldiers, who instantly drop to the ground. She smiles in triumph, and Tyrion drops his head in defeat. Just as they would with Cersei, they bend the knee out of fear, not love or respect.
And speaking of the alcoholic who sits on the Iron Throne, Cersei clearly has received word that she’s lost, but Jaime’s come to tell her how. What did you think of his explanation and her reaction, Chris?
Christopher: As this episode makes clear, Cersei is in a tight spot—her only options are victory or death. She knows too well that she will not survive a loss, that there are no circumstances in which surrendering to Daenerys might allow her to live out her years in a small estate overlooking the ocean. Not that she would consider that a life—at this point, Cersei has become as power-mad as any Targaryen king. Jaime would likely throw everything away if it meant he could live out his years with his sister in a humble cottage raising goats, but Cersei would sooner die.
“How many men did we lose?” Cersei asks. Jaime’s answer, “We haven’t done a full accounting,” is a prevarication: on hearing her question, I’d expected him to say, “All of them.” Because while I imagine there were some deserters who managed to flee, it appeared as though Daenerys’s victory was more or less total … something Jaime is too aware of, something that haunts him as he tries to convince his sister of the impossibility of their position. But knowing she has no choice, Cersei reaches for whatever straws are at hand. “It’s not only armies that win wars,” she says. “We have the Tyrell gold, we have the Iron Bank behind us. We can buy mercenaries.” Considering the rather calculating terms Bronn laid out for Jaime in this episode’s first few minutes, we know this hope is rooted in delusion—dragons are a deal-breaker.
Jaime makes this point obliquely, but builds to it in classic debate club fashion. First, he makes his basic point about mercenaries: “I just saw the Dothraki fight,” he says. “They’ll beat any mercenary army.” Then, he adds, “They’ll beat any army I’ve ever seen. Killing our men wasn’t war for them, it was sport.” So even if it was just the Dothraki, the Lannisters and whatever swords they can hire are pretty much fucked. Of course, that’s not all they face: “Her dragon burnt a thousand wagons,” he continues. “Qyburn’s scorpion fired bolts bigger than you, they couldn’t stop it, and she has three of them.” Jaime had the same thought I did after last week: this is what just one dragon can do. He comes to the obvious conclusion: “This isn’t a war we can win.”
But if Jaime speaks with a soldier’s pragmatism, Cersei speaks with a tyrant’s fear, the fear of knowing that her position, and indeed her continued ability to draw breath, rests on maintaining power. She is not one who enjoys the love of the people; her only leverage is, ironically, fear. So long as she can make her people fear Daenerys, she can maintain her authority. And she has no illusions about the violence that led to her reign, not just recently, but historically. When Jaime suggests something like détente with Daenerys, Cersei reminds him, “I sit on her father’s throne, the father you betrayed and murdered.” In other words: I might piss her off by sitting on this throne, but you turned your cloak to kill her father. Even given Daenerys’ ostensibly clear-eyed understanding of the Mad King’s crimes, she’d probably be less than sympathetic to the man who quite literally stabbed him in the back.
It’s a measure of where Cersei’s at that Jaime’s revelation that it was Olenna who killed Joffrey and not Tyrion doesn’t sink in with her until he lays it out for her in stark strategic terms: Joffrey was erratic and intractable, and indeed insane; Tommen was young and impressionable; who best for Margaery to manipulate? Whom would the Queen of Thorns want her granddaughter married to? I have to imagine that only a season ago, Cersei would have much less receptive to Jaime’s argument. But now, having lost all her children and inhabiting a world in which the perpetuation of her own power is her primary consideration, she sees the truth quite quickly, and regrets her mercy: “I shouldn’t have listened to you,” she grates at Jaime. “She should have died screaming.” Considering the hell Ellaria Sand must be enduring at the present moment, all those of us who loved the Queen of Thorns can quietly thank Jaime for his humane intervention.
I must admit, there was a smug satisfaction, after a few episodes of Lannister victories, in watching Jaime and Cersei face the facts of their situation. In the end, all of Jaime’s arguments run up against the obstinate wall of Cersei’s brutal calculus: “So we fight and die or submit and die; I know my choice!” Experienced viewers of course know that, when this sort of scene occurs at the start of an episode, something will happen by the end to complicate it. But for now, let’s luxuriate in Cersei’s hopelessness, shall we?
And then go back to Dragonstone, where Jon Snow—presumably taking a break from all his arduous dragonglass mining—is once again brooding on a cliff’s edge when Daenerys returns on the back of Drogon.
Let me pause here to expound on my pet theory that dragons are basically cats. They’re capricious, they kill things just because, and they act like dicks to you until you hold out your hand for you to sniff. This is basically what happens in this moment: Drogon lands, and in spite of the fact that his “mother” is on his back, looks for all the world like he’s about to have the King in the North for a snack. Jon, to his credit—because he’s brave to a point of idiocy—stands his ground, and has the uncommon sense to remove his glove and touch Drogon’s nose … which has the effect of mollifying the beast, much as though he’d just scratched him behind the ears.
That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t observe that this is a HUGE moment. HUGE. Why? Because, as every fan site has been chattering about since thirty seconds after this episode ended, dragons supposedly only respond in this way to people with Targaryen blood. So while Daenerys (justifiably) calls the dragons her “children,” we the audience know that Jon Snow is also a Targaryen (something that is confirmed later in this episode, but more on that later).
(Further to my theory about dragons as cats: my girlfriend pointed out that, after Jon Snow touched his nose, Drogon blinked slowly … which is something cats do when they trust you).
Anyway … Daenerys is impressed. Her expression suggests equal measures of incredulity and desire. Though she is less than pleased when Jon does not immediately agree that her dragons are beautiful. His backpedalling is funny, but speaks to an element of Daenerys’ disconnection—we’re seeing her settle more and more into the role of “mother of dragons,” which has less and less relation to how other people see things. Her conversation with Jon Snow says as much, as she callously observes that she has fewer enemies than she had before she left; observing that Jon is not entirely comfortable with what she has done—something he acknowledges—she says, “We both want to help people; we can only help them from a position of strength.” This, of course, is a variation on every ends-justifying-means political argument that says “We can only do good if we win.” When she acknowledges that “Sometimes strength is terrible,” it is a callback to the opening minutes on the episode in which Tyrion picks his horrified way through the burnt remains of Lannister soldiers frozen in Pompeii-like corpses by dragonfire. That scene, to my mind, is the most powerful of the episode, and evokes the Duke of Wellington’s adage that the only thing worse than losing a battle is winning one.
Fortunately for Jon, Daenerys’ curiosity about Davos’ slip about his “knife to the heart” is interrupted by the return of a beloved character. What did you think of Ser Jorah’s return, Nikki?
Nikki: First of all, I just want to say that your girlfriend and my husband had the same reaction to Drogon. As he landed and Jon Snow held out his hand (with its darkened fingernails), my husband said, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these dragons are like cats!” And then when Drogon sniffed and blinked, and you could see its inner eyelid cross the eyeball, he said, “They ARE cats!!” And then we wondered if, like our cats, they pee everywhere to mark their territory. (Sigh.)
But yes, Ser Jorah has returned, and Daenerys embraces him and shows a level of affection towards him that she’s shown no one else in recent times. She embraces him fondly, though he doesn’t hug her back (after all, she’s the Khaleesi, and you’re not supposed to touch her, even if she’s hugging you). Her embrace shows not only her affection, but her lack of fear over his recent greyscale affliction. She asks him if he’d found a cure, and he says he wouldn’t be back here if he hadn’t, and I kept muttering, “Say Sam’s name, say Sam’s name…” but he didn’t. In an episode full of reunions and groups coming together, I still wanted to see Jon Snow’s face as he recognizes the name of his old friend. What’s interesting about this scene is the way Jorah immediately sizes up Jon, as if he thinks Jon is Daenerys’s new Daario. Jon tells Jorah that he served with his father (remember Lord Commander Mormont, who basically took on Jon as his personal assistant and treated him like a son) and Jorah has a moment of pause. The last time someone mentioned his father to him was when Sam came into his room to cure him and said he would do so out of respect and honour to his father. Perhaps in this moment Jorah realizes that Jon knew Sam, but he says nothing. Instead he continues to watch Jon suspiciously the whole time. Daenerys willingly accepts Ser Jorah back into her service, and he’s back where he’s always wanted to be: by his Khaleesi’s side. (Well, I think we all know he wants to be even closer but that doesn’t look like it’ll happen, so…)
And then we cut to Bran warging with the ravens, who are flying north of the wall and who are spotted by the Night King. Bran de-wargs (I have no idea what the actual technical term is here) with a jolt and tells the Maester that they need to send ravens immediately.
Cut to the Citadel, where the maesters have received one of those ravens and read the missive that a crippled boy from Winterfell has seen the army of the dead moving southward. With a dismissive chuckle the maesters wave off the concern, but Sam Tarly is standing nearby and can’t help himself. He knows they’re talking about Bran and says so, and says not only has he met Bran and has seen his powers at work, but he’s seen the White Walkers as well, and they really are a threat. Once again, just like two episodes ago where he discovered the cure to the plague of Westeros in a book, he’s inches away from effecting action that could create a major power shift with the White Walkers. Archmaester Ebrose pauses and listens, and Sam says to tell every House to send their men north, tell every maester in the Citadel to search the books and scrolls for ways to fight the dead, and they could defeat them. And then as Sam holds that goofily hopeful smile on his face, Ebrose’s attention moves back to the maesters, where he says Sam makes interesting points, but let us discuss this a lot more and do nothing right now. Again, pointing out the ineptitude of the scholars at the Citadel. They have all of the answers to everything at their fingertips, but they live in a world of theories and discussions, not one of action. Outside the walls of Oldtown, everyone else lives in a world of action, but they don’t have the knowledge to go with it. Ebron’s response isn’t an unreasonable one — after all, let’s imagine any one of us reacting to a letter like the one he’s holding in his hand — but Sam’s frustration oozes through our television screens and we can’t help but shout at the idiocy. As Sam leaves the room in a defeated huff, one of the maesters asks Ebrose if he’s told him about the deaths of Randyl and DICKon, but he hasn’t been able to bring himself to do so.
And then they all giggle about the previous notes they’d gotten about the Children of the Forest and the Drowned God rising up and destroying Aegon the Conqueror — both as mythical as the White Walkers, in their eyes — and we wonder… what other disasters in Westeros have happened because the scholars at the Citadel ignored the pleas and warnings of the people depending on them? The Children of the Forest accidentally invented the White Walkers. Aegon the Conqueror (the first of the Targaryens) has been mentioned on the show a few times, and it’s important that his name should come up now, because much like his descendant, Daenerys, he was the first to show up in Westeros with the determination to rule the Seven Kingdoms. He had three enormous dragons — Tyrion mentioned them a couple of seasons ago when he was talking about how Daenerys’s are small in comparison because they were locked up and no longer had the ability to grow — and he was the man who forged the Iron Throne. The Drowned God that the maesters mention is the god that the people of the Iron Islands pray to, the one who has sparked their “what is dead may never die” mantra.
And Aegon the Conqueror is exactly whom Tyrion is worried Daenerys is turning into. As he sits with Varys, drinking (a sure sign that Tyrion is back on the downswing), he tries to justify her actions. He’s traumatized by seeing the destruction she’s left behind, imagining all of Westeros looking like that one day if she is left to destroy everything the way Aegon once conquered all, but he’s trying to make excuses. Varys just stares at him like his bald conscience. Tyrion continues to gulp the wine while saying look, I can’t make her decisions for her… and Varys remembers when he tried to explain away his own complicity in the Mad King’s actions the same way:
That’s what I used to tell myself about her father. I found the traitors but I wasn’t the one burning them alive. I was only a purveyor of information. It’s what I told myself when I watched them beg for mercy. I’m not the one doing it. When the pitch of their screams rose higher, I’m not the one doing it. When their hair caught fire and the smell of their burning flesh filled the throne room, I’m not the one doing it.
While Varys talks, even he drinks from the wine goblet (and winces) and we can’t help but think, oh man, we are SCREWED if Varys is drinking now. But when Tyrion argues that Daenerys is not her father, Varys agrees, with a caveat: “And she never will be… with the right counsel.” He tells Tyrion that he must make her listen. Her father, and her ancestors, refused to listen and just wreaked havoc with abandon. The attack on the Lannister army in the previous episode has left a beautiful valley in ruins and has turned thousands of lives to soot. Earlier in the season Cersei said she would be fine being queen of the ashes, but if Daenerys keeps this up, she will literally be the queen of the ashes.
And that’s when Tyrion notices that Varys is holding the same raven scroll that Ebron had been holding in the previous scene.
Tyrion: Who’s that for?
Varys: Jon Snow.
Tyrion: Did you read it?
Varys [taking fake offense]: It’s a sealed scroll for the King of the North!
Tyrion: [long gulp of wine]
Tyrion: …Tyrion: What’s it say?
Varys: Nothing good.
Ha! Even in a serious scene, we still get a great laugh.
And then it’s to the War Room, where the beginnings of the plans for the rest of the series take shape. What did you think of the plan to get to Cersei, Chris?
Christopher: Blerg. Honestly? I had the same feeling in this scene as I did in season five of The Wire when it becomes apparent that McNulty intended to manufacture a fictional serial killer story in order to loosen the municipal purse strings. More specifically: it feels like an unnecessary plot twist. Now, that being said, Game of Thrones is not The Wire, and can likely sustain a cockamamie plan much better than Daniels, Freamon, and Bunny Colvin could, but it still made me have a WTF moment. Really? Capture a wight and cart it one thousand miles south? What makes you think it will even survive the journey intact? I somehow doubt Cersei will be impressed with a properly functioning ice zombie, never mind a sad bag of bones.
But all things being equal, I suppose this makes more narrative sense than a war of attrition in which Daenerys and her dragons grind away at the Lannisters while Jon Snow waits impatiently for them to finish and come north. This at least gets Jon away from Dragonstone, and hopefully back to Winterfell. I’ve skipped over the affecting intro to this scene, where Jon reads the news that both Arya and Bran are alive; as Daenerys observes, he doesn’t seem happy—but of course Jon is too aware of the fact that he’s far from home and effectively a prisoner.
At least that is about to change. When Tyrion hatches his scheme to capture a wight, Ser Jorah leaps into the breach: “You asked me to find a cure so I could serve you,” he says to Daenerys. “Allow me to serve you.” And when Davos points out that the Free Folk won’t follow Jorah, Jon Snow says “They won’t have to.”
Right. So this is the third episode in which Jon Snow has been on Dragonstone, and we’ve watched the attraction between him and Daenerys build. You mentioned, Nikki, that Jorah looks at Jon as if he might be the new Daario, but neglect to mention Jon’s own look—wondering if this is his romantic interest’s boyfriend returning. Of course, Ser Jorah is irrevocably in the friendzone, and if we wondered about that on his return, Daenerys’ expression when Jon makes it clear that he means to head north clarifies things (as does his expression when he looks back at her).
Jon Snow’s speech, when Daenerys points out that she hasn’t given him permission to leave, more or less distills his character and is another reminder of how much he learned from his putative father. The key word is trust—and of course Daenerys cannot gainsay his words, however much she obviously wants to keep him close (also, and perhaps I’m just projecting here, but she is so obviously turned on by what he says).
So the cockamamie idea gets royal assent. And as Jon Snow makes his way to the Wall, people back at Winterfell are getting irate by his absence. Arya walks into the—what, meeting room? The Winterfell people have to get their shit together and make Jon Snow a throne already—in time to witness some of the Stark bannermen getting stroppy over the fact that Jon isn’t present. “The King in the North should stay in the North!” declaims Lord Glover, whom I think I might rename Lord Windvane (to be fair, Robett Glover is played by Tim McInnerny; all those years in the service of Edmund Blackadder have probably given him trust issues). He goes on to suggest that perhaps they were wrong—perhaps they should have made Sansa queen instead. And while Sansa rejects these suggestions, Arya isn’t wrong when she says that Sansa took too long in doing so—that she’s starting to have her own designs on the Northern throne.
Arya’s misgivings are obvious when she gives Sansa shit for occupying what was once their parents’ bedroom. While it’s nice to see that Sansa no longer has patience for prevarication—“Say what you mean!” she tells her sister—I do wonder why she didn’t just say that Jon insisted she have the room. First, that’s true; second, Arya obviously trusts Jon’s judgment more than her sister’s. But instead, Sansa lets Arya make a thing of it, and Arya falls back into her dislike of Sansa circa season one. “You always liked nice things,” she says. “Made you feel better than everyone.”
I think this is the only moment in the series (so far) where I hate Arya. Both sisters have come so far from where they were six years ago (our time), by way of very different paths. Both have suffered, but in this moment I’m totally Team Sansa. Arya’s suggestion about lopping off the heads of Jon’s bannermen reflects the ruthlessness she’s learned; Sansa’s diplomacy reflects her far subtler education about human nature. Arya might suspect Sansa of ambition, but in truth, she has learned how to rule—and it’s hardly surprising she might look at Jon Snow’s empty chair and entertain certain speculations. “How can you think such a horrible thing?” Sansa asks Arya when Arya suggests she’s unwilling to be ruthless because she wants to maintain support in the event of Jon’s death. “You’re thinking it right now,” Arya retorts.
And again: Team Sansa here. It’s in her interests to maintain Jon’s coalition whether he returns or not. While I loved the back and forth here between Sophie Turner and Maesie Williams, the actual logic of the scene pissed me off. Is Arya really that resentful, still, of her sister? Is she incapable of seeing the larger picture? Can she not understand that if Jon doesn’t come back, “Lady Sansa” is the best eventuality? It’s not as though Arya the Assassin has any designs on power herself.
Of course, anyone who’s been paying attention these past six and a half seasons knows why everything is going a bit pear-shaped down Winterfell way. But we’ll get to Littlefinger later.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Davos return to King’s Landing, and both have bad memories of the place. “The last time I was here, I killed my father with a crossbow,” Tyrion says. To which Davos rejoins, “The last time I was here, you killed my son with wildfire.” Have I mentioned lately how much I love Davos? I’d hesitate to call him the moral compass of the show, but he’s close—he follows whom he believes to be right, but has a pragmatism that eludes all the ideologues from Stannis to Jon Snow, and a common sense we all wish we could bash into their heads. In response to Tyrion’s incredulous question of whether he means to stay with their boat, he says simply, “I have my own business in Flea Bottom.”
We’ll see what that business is soon enough, but in the meantime we are treated to Bronn and an exasperated Jaime, walking through the dragon room of the Red Keep basement.
Tyrion and Jaime’s reunion is about as awkward as one might expect, with Jaime silent and glowering in the face of Tyrion’s banter until he mentions their father—the one real point of contention they have, given Olenna’s revelation that she killed Joffrey. “He was going to execute me,” Tyrion says. Tywin was willing to kill his own son in spite of knowing he was innocent, because he saw Tyrion as a monster.
A pause here to address a fan theory, of which I am becoming increasingly convinced: in the novels, but even more explicitly in The World of Ice and Fire, GRRM hints that Tyrion might not be Tywin’s son—he might actually be the product of the Mad King Aerys’ rape of Lady Joanna Lannister. Aerys’ desire for Joanna and his jealousy of Tywin for marrying her is mentioned in the novels, and while there hasn’t been (to the best of my recollection) anything like this in the series, it has been pointed out that Tyrion’s interactions with the chained dragons in Meereen—in which he emerged un-singed—indicates that he might have Targaryen blood (just as Jon Snow’s ability to soothe Drogon makes the same suggestion). One way or another, Tywin’s suspicion that Tyrion might be Targaryen spawn certainly accounts for his irrational hatred of his most intelligent son.
I must say that my two favourite scenes of this episode are sibling showdowns: Arya and Sansa, and Jaime and Tyrion. Though as I point out that the logic of the former, narratively, is idiotic, it doesn’t detract from the performances of the actors; and in the latter, well, we all know Peter Dinklage is brilliant. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been a fantastic Jaime, but here he matches Dinklage. Such a powerful scene.
From there we cut to the Street of Steel, and apparently Gendry stopped rowing a while back. Nikki?
Nikki: I’ve long had this niggling feeling in the back of my brain that Tyrion could be a bastard, since much has been made of him aligning himself with other bastards and comparing his lot in life with them, but I didn’t actually know it was a fully realized fan theory. That’s fascinating (and I agree; Jon Snow petting Drogon this week immediately put me in mind of Tyrion not getting eaten by him a few seasons back). And one note I wanted to add about the Arya and Sansa scene (where, like you, I felt a little ill because for the first time I thought Arya was a petulant know-it-all who seems to think she’s the only person who’s gone out in the world and done stuff, which was incredibly annoying): to me it hearkened back to the scene with Jon Snow standing before the heads of the northern Houses and calling for mercy on the traitors, while Sansa was arguing for them to be relinquished of their titles and sent out into the cold. It’s interesting that both Arya and Sansa lean to the hard-nosed side of things, despite Ned being a more forgiving type like Jon. (I think the young women are more like their mother than their father in that regard.) But as you point out, even Sansa wasn’t calling for their heads.
But yes, over to Gendry! It’s been a while since we saw this guy, and a quick recap: many of the wheels of this show began turning when Ned Stark figured out that Jon Arryn had been in Flea Bottom seeking out Baratheon bastards, and Ned figured out that Gendry was Robert Baratheon’s son. When Robert is killed by the Lannisters (and Ned killed by them as well), Gendry escapes the city with Hot Pie and Arya. He eventually figures out that Arya is a girl (and insists on calling her My Lady, to her chagrin), and Hot Pie stops his adventures at an inn while Gendry and Arya continue on with the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Hound. The Brotherhood sells Gendry to Melisandre and Arya eventually takes off with the Hound, and Melisandre takes Gendry back to Stannis where his blood is leeched through a sacrifice after Davos convinces Stannis not to kill his nephew. But his pleas are soon ignored when the Red Witch bends Stannis’s ear, and, sensing that Gendry’s life is in danger, Davos whisks him out of the castle at Dragonstone and gives him a rowboat so he can split.
And now we find him a few years later, a blacksmith back in Flea Bottom, where he’s been hiding right under the Lannisters’ noses. I loved the way the camera built up to the revelation that this was Gendry, where many viewers knew the moment they cut over to him, and others may have needed the memory jog (or that moment on the couch where one viewer says, “Wait, who’s that guy?” and as the camera pans around the blacksmith shop the other viewers can explain it to them). Davos believes he’ll have his work cut out for him in trying to convince Gendry to leave this life and come with him, but he no sooner ekes out, “So I was thinking that maybe…” than Gendry has grabbed his war hammer and is out the door.
We then get an amusing scene that turns nasty pretty quickly (involving fermented crab as an aphrodisiac, and, like you Chris, Davos is my favourite character at the moment and this scene was fantastic) before Gendry shows he’s lived up to the threats he was uttering at Hot Pie in season one when he was swinging a sword at him when they first met. He knows how to wield that hammer. But now that they’ve left two guards with their heads bashed in on the shore, Tyrion, Davos, and Gendry jump into the boat and get out of there fast.
But Tyrion’s visit has left an impact. Jaime returns to Cersei’s quarters (where Cersei is mysteriously saying to Qyburn, “That won’t be necessary,” making me wonder what the hell they were just talking about), and once the Weirdo Hand of the Queen leaves the room Jaime bluntly says, “I met with Tyrion.” The loooooooong WTF look on Cersei’s face, which is like stone, is kind of hilarious for how long Lena Headey holds the pose, just staring at him, until he continues by saying that Daenerys wants to discuss an armistice because an army of dead men is marching on the Seven Kingdoms.
Yeah, that line will win friends and influence people.
Cersei, of course, shows that she’s the new Varys and clearly has little birds everywhere, because she already knew that he’d met with Tyrion, and that Bronn had set up the meeting. She tells Jaime that Bronn betrayed him, which seems to her to be an important point her brother has failed to mention. But in addition to being a few steps ahead of Jaime, she’s already a few steps ahead of Daenerys. She wants to join forces with her so she can ultimately betray her and take the Seven Kingdoms for herself. “Dead men, dragons, and dragon queens,” she says. “Whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it.”
And then she announces that she’s pregnant. (Oh cripes.) As Jaime hugs her passionately, once again remembering how they felt before all of this had begun, she keeps her mind in the moment: “Never betray me again,” she purrs into his ear. Which seems to me like some pretty dark foreshadowing that he will do exactly that.
And after that brief interlude we’re back with the Davos gang. And lemme tell you… if you’re planning a surprise party, DO NOT TELL GENDRY. Holy cow that guy can’t keep a secret for four seconds, but I was so glad he couldn’t, because not only do we get to see Classic Davos Face when he immediately undercuts Davos’s instructions to not say anything, we finally get something out in the open immediately so we don’t have to work through more secrets. Besides, Gendry’s move was a smart one. What better way to immediately ingratiate yourself to the King of the North than to say hey, I’m a bastard too! And not only that but my illegitimate father was best mates with YOUR illegitimate father! He will be a much better use to Jon in the coming fight if Jon knows who he is and what’s at stake. Gendry tells him he can’t use a sword, but that he certainly knows how to fight (as we just saw back on the beach at King’s Landing), and not only that, he doesn’t question Davos’s story about the White Walkers. He believes they are coming (Davos has given him every reason to trust him, after all) and he’s here to help. After all, it doesn’t matter who is from what House or who is a bastard and who’s legitimate if they’re all dead. And Davos is going along because, as someone who, as he puts it, has done nothing more than “live to a ripe old age,” what does he have to lose?
And then just as they landed on shore, they’re back in a boat heading to Eastwatch: Davos, Gendry, Jon Snow, and Ser Jorah, among others. Tyrion tells Jorah that he’s actually missed him, adding, “Nobody glowers quite like you.” He gives him the coin that Yezzan the slaver had given him back in season five (when Yezzan bought Tyrion and Jorah to use in the slaving pits, Tyrion tells him that he and Jorah should be paid so Queen Daenerys wouldn’t accuse Yezzan of slavery, and Yezzan flips him a coin and says that should last them the rest of their lives) and tells Jorah to bring it back when he returns. Daenerys fondly says goodbye, and Jorah glowers like he’s never glowered before, giving quick glances over to Jon Snow the whole time. We know how long and far Jorah has travelled to be by his queen’s side again, and here he is leaving not one day later, it seems. There hasn’t been a single look of calm or happiness on Jorah’s face since being reunited with his Khaleesi, as if he had fantasized a very different reunion that didn’t pan out. Daenerys tells Jon she’s finally grown used to having him around, and I think this scene could be interpreted equally one of two ways: she’s actually interested in him in a romantic fashion (or just has a fondness for him and his earnestness), and/or she has a sense of respect and awe for a man who showed up and won over the always-skeptical queen.
And then we switch over to Sam and Gilly, and a quiet little scene that tucks in a whopper of a revelation. We finally had it confirmed that L+R=J last season, but now we have LEGITIMACY, which sets up a whole new series of possibilities. But of course Sam mansplains Gilly out of finding out anything more and that’s that.
Because I know you’ve been waiting three times longer than I have to know this for sure, Chris, I’ll let you take over and unpack this scene. (I was watching it and imagining you fanboying out while watching!)
Christopher: To be perfectly honest, I almost missed it! I was both enjoying Gilly’s delight in the interesting but useless trivia she could now discover with her newfound literacy, and sympathetic with Sam’s irritation—irritation not so much at Gilly as the Citadel’s inertia. So when she comes across the passage detailing Rhaegar’s annulment and remarriage, my response was “Wait. What?” Which is unfortunately more than Sam can say, so preoccupied is he with his own brooding thoughts. “These maesters!” he grouses, interrupting Gilly as she reads what is perhaps the most important detail in the series so far.
They set me to the task of preserving that man’s wind accounts, accounting and annulments and bowel movements for all eternity, while the secret to defeating the Night King is sitting on some dusty shelf somewhere, completely ignored … but that’s all right, isn’t it? We can all become slavering murderous imbeciles enthralled to evil incarnate, just so long as we can have access to the full record of High Septon Maynard’s fifteenth thousand, seven hundred and eighty-two shits!
I love stroppy Sam, almost as much as I love how unfazed Gilly is when she corrects him. “Steps. That number was steps.”
But whatever the reason, his steps or his shits, Sam has had enough—like a put-upon grad student suddenly having a nervous breakdown in the midst of grading endless undergrad papers, he basically says “Fuck this shit,” and, raiding the restricted section of the library for an armload of books, makes tracks with Gilly and Little Sam in tow. He has a moment of remorse as he pauses, looking up at the massive mirrors that light the library by day, framed by the soaring stacks that so enthralled him at the end of last season; but he soldiers on, loading up his wagon. “I’m tired of reading about the achievements of better men,” he says wearily when Gilly asks him if he’s sure about this. Of course, he’s been through more, see more, endured more, and has demonstrated more courage, than most of the people he’s read about … but it’s not in Sam’s character to recognize that.
I do rather hope he tossed High Septon Maynard’s book in with the rest of his heist; I speculated last week that it will have to be Bran who reveals Jon Snow’s true parentage, but having the historical record support him will be key. And not only does Maynard’s account help establish Jon’s parentage, it shows that he is not a bastard—that he is in fact the legitimate and legal son of Rheagar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. And not only is he their legitimate son, that means, according to the laws of patrilineal descent, he actually has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys, as the son of the crown prince.
Not that that is such a crucial consideration any more: perhaps ironically, the Targaryen conquest occurred only three centuries before the start of our story, and that was the first time the Seven Kingdoms had been brought together as a single realm. That’s relatively recent, which makes it unsurprising that the death of Robert Baratheon gave rise to a cluster of new kings, only three of whom (Joffrey, Renly, and Stannis) were keen to rule the entire continent. The other two, Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy, were happy to call themselves king of their respective territories. Now we’re down to three monarchs: two queens and a king in the North, each of whom represent rather distinct preoccupations and philosophies. Jon Snow, of course, doesn’t give a fig for the Iron Throne, concerned only with the existential threat from north of the Wall; Daenerys sees the Iron Throne as her birthright, but grasps the need to rule from a position of trust and justice (her immolation of House Tarly notwithstanding); and of course, Cersei is a classic despot, a tyrant whose only choice is between maintaining power or death, because she is unlikely to be forgiven for the crimes she committed to claim the throne to start with.
Another exemplar of power and its exercises awaits us in Winterfell, as what we all suspected at the start of the episode is made clear: namely, that the discontent among Jon Snow’s bannermen and the groundswell of support for Sansa to be promoted from Lady Stark to Queen Sansa is the product of Littlefinger’s whispering and manipulation. At first it looks as though Arya has his number: spying on him as he pays off a servant girl for something, and as he has a murmured conversation with Lords Royce and Glover. The she watches as the maester brings him a scroll, for which he searched through the late Maester Luwin’s archives. “Lady Stark thanks you for your service,” says Littlefinger, and that’s the moment we should realize that perhaps Arya isn’t a stealthy as she thinks. She breaks into Littlefinger’s chambers and finds the scroll, but as she makes her exit, we see Littlefinger standing more or less precisely where she had stood, watching Arya leave.
My first thought was “Oh crap, he’s rumbled her.” But then on rewatching, I paused when Arya opened the scroll. It was the message Sansa wrote to Robb and Catelyn when Ned Stark was in the dungeons; she wrote it under duress, out of fear for her father’s life, at a time when she was still young and naïve. In the letter, she says:
Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark.
This was when I realize that Arya’s been played—Littlefinger wanted her to find the note, and that was why he very specifically mentioned “Lady Stark” to the maester. Arya’s already primed to be suspicious of Sansa; what will she make of a letter begging Robb to bend the knee, calling their father a traitor, and referring to her “beloved Joffrey”?
Clever, clever Littlefinger. I’m now putting my money on Arya killing him—possibly while wearing the face of the servant girl he paid off—but in the interim, he’s going to cause an awful lot of chaos. Because ladders.
But we end this episode with Jon and company reaching the wall, and being reunited with Tormund—who isn’t at all happy with the plan they’ve concocted. “Isn’t it your job to talk him out of stupid fucking ideas like this?” he growls at Davos, who has to admit that he hasn’t succeeded much on that front lately. I love Tormund: he has a great talent for cutting to the chase. He delineates between the two queens as “the one with the dragons, or the one who fucks her brother,” and quite candidly agrees with Davos when he notes that he’d be a liability. Nor is he pleased with Jon’s response when he asks how many men he brought. “Not enough,” Jon admits. And in what is easily my favourite line from the episode, Tormund asks hopefully, “The big woman?”
Ah, poor lovesick Tormund Giantsbane. If he and Brienne don’t get together and spawn a bunch of massive lethal babies, a large number of GoT fans will be storming HBO’s main offices.
But as it turns out, there’s a handful of unlooked-for volunteers for Jon’s expedition. Beric Dondarrion, Thoros, and the Hound are all mouldering away in Eastwatch’s dungeon, captured as they made their way to the Wall (which begs the question: what happened to the rest of their men? Did they say thanks but no thanks to the prospect of meeting the army of the dead, or did they die on the way?)
The scene that follows is entertaining in the way it establishes the vectors of dislike and distrust running in various directions: Gendry’s memory of being sold to Melisandre is still fresh, Tormund is irked to discover that Jorah’s a Mormont, and the Hound is just generally good at antagonizing whomever he meets. But as Jon Snow points out, they’re all on the same side. “How can we be?” Gendry asks incredulously.
“We’re all breathing.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the end of another week of Game of Thrones, with a scant two episodes left in the season! We’ll see you hear again next week. In the meantime: be good, work hard, and always assume that Littlefinger is two steps ahead of you.