'Game of Thrones' Recap: Secret Notes, Secret Plans, Secret Targaryens
We’ve pivoted from the War of the Mad Queens to the closing movements of Game of Thrones Season 7. The episode, strangely titled "Eastwatch" (only the final scenes take place there) spends its most memorable moments -- after some off-hand revelations, dragon justice, and surprise reappearances -- back in the North, for both The Night King and Winterfell drama. Written by Dave Hill, and directed by Matt Shakman, it’s Season 7’s last table-setting episode! And the silverware had quite a shine.
House Baelish (or: I see what you did there, Littlefinger)
Let's start with one of the fifth episode's more nefarious moments, in which Littlefinger finally manages to make a strategic move that isn’t horribly bungled in the exact same scene. We’ll have to wait and see if the attempt to stir up discontent between the Stark sisters plays out the way he hopes, but it’s much better scheming than trying, again, to convince a Stark sibling that he really loved their mother.
The good news is if you’ve been watching closely this season, the plan that Littlefinger is enacting has been foreshadowed while Petyr has otherwise been making missteps in maneuvering. First, when Maester Wolkan mentioned that Maester Luwin kept copies of all the raven scrolls ever sent to Winterfell, you could see Littlefinger take note in his mind for later. Last week, just in case we missed it earlier, shots of Littlefinger outdoors were punctuated with raven cries.
The scroll in question was written by Sansa in the Season 1 episode "The Pointy End," before Ned Stark was actually beheaded. Back in the day, Cersei made Sansa write a letter to Robb, trying to get him to call off his march South to rescue his father from the Black Cells. This plan doesn’t work on Robb, but eventually the argument that Ned should bend the knee works on both Sansa and Ned… until Joffery gets all murder-happy and has Ned beheaded.
This is the first smart move for Littlefinger in a long while. Every Stark who was smart enough to know that the letter was Sansa’s hand but Cersei’s words the first time through is now gone, unless Three-Eyed Bran decides to conveniently flashback to Cersei’s string-pulling and alert Arya. That has to be what Littlefinger is betting against: Bran.
Who knows if that’s a good bet, but at least this plot makes sense!
House Stark (or: sister vs. sister)
There’s some miscommunication between the Stark girls that the show amplifies because, from the perspective of the audience, these two should be fast allies with best interests for House Stark. Instead, both Arya and Sansa are paranoid over one another. Thanks to the two actresses' performances, this feels right, but the show still asks the audience to go way back in their memories to recall just how much Sansa and Arya never liked each other. Sure, they’ve hugged it out and acted like adults about it thus far, but it’s not because of maturity as much as both women are aware that the adult world has adult consequences.
Of all the combinations of Stark children, Arya and Sansa have the most shared scenes in the past and they both shared a location for all of Season 1, both in Winterfell and King’s Landing. They never liked each other and right about the time Arya started her journey to become the Westeros Murder List Killer, she was still mad at Sansa for the whole incident with Joffrey and Mycah on the King’s Road and Season 1 (RIP Lady). That was also when Arya let Nymeria go, the direwolf that would go on to lead a wolfpack running free. Knowing that Sansa had a hard time of it over these past few years doesn’t seem to be dulling all that built-up resentment.
Poor Sansa is making all the correct moves, but lacks the finesse of a natural leader. She’s like a ballet dancer technically executing movements without any soul. Arya’s reaction to her parents' bedroom differs from Sansa’s because Sansa has grown up in more traditional ways (Sansa’s life lessons on the show were horrible, but they didn’t involve going magically blind).
Since she's always been stuck politicking, Sansa hasn’t adapted to actual leading -- learning from Cersei and Littlefinger has taught her a certain set of skills, but neither of those people were leading their own people the way Sansa is now, the way that would inspire someone to suggest she take on the title of Queen in the North. It’s an unexpected position for her, which makes it occasionally frustrating to observe because it won’t always play to her character strengths.
Will Arya have the good sense to realize that things aren’t always as simple as an old scroll and a single Littlefinger plot, or will she be unable to let her distaste for her sister go? Maybe we’ll find out next week...that is, if we don’t spend the majority of the episode up North watching Jon Snow on, like, his 50th suicide mission.
House Tarly (or: is it hot in here?)
This week, the noble house from The Reach joined the ranks of House Baratheon, House Lannister, House Tyrell, House Martell, and House Frey of having no legitimate heirs left to become the head of the House. Since Sam, who we’ll get to in the Targaryen section because of his discovery this week, was disowned before he was sent to The Wall, Randyll and Dickon end up being the last two male Tarlys -- and victims of a barbecue based on principles.
The Randyll Tarly of the books reads more honorable to a modern audience than the adapted version for the series. Book Randyll would have remained loyal to the Tyrells, who were installed as Lords of the Reach by the Targaryens (which, coincidentally, occurred after the previous Lords of Highgarden, the Gardeners, were destroyed in the "Field of Fire" battle, the historical predecessor to last week’s Loot Train Massacre). In the books, he even bested Robert Baratheon’s army in battle during Robert’s Rebellion. The show has decided that Randyll Tarly should be one of Westeros’ biggest xenophobes. He won't bend the knee to a foreigner.
To be fair, this tracks with when we first met Randyll, seen yelling at Sam for making him share the table with a Wildling, last season. What could have just been classism mixed with poor fathering skills ended up being a full-on hatred of foreigners. Randyll Tarly despised the mere threat of invading "others" so much that he betrayed the Tyrells before he or his forces ever saw a dragon. Once they were defeated by one, he was still too xenophobic to bend the knee to the Dragon Queen despite Tyrion's truthful account of Tarly's reputation. It’s a different spin on the character that feels slightly simplified for television, making it a little easier to side with Daenerys in this morally complex situation. Go, Drogon; burn away that intolerance.
Then there’s poor Dickon, who was given just enough character development last episode for us to know he doesn’t feel great about the situation, although he’s still willing to suck up to the old man to make the bad feelings go away. Remember, he murdered his Tyrell hunting buddies but two weeks ago.
"Eastwatch" confirms that no main character of note actually died in last week’s massacre of Lannister and Tarly foot soldiers, so Dickon was placed in the difficult position of 1) needing to perish, and 2) being pathetic enough to make the audience consider turning on Daenerys. Your mileage may vary on whether Dickon’s death was cruel enough for Tyrion and Varys to actually worry about Dany evolving into the Mad Queen, but in comparison to his father’s death, Dickon's is at least supposed to appear more complicated in its implications. Dickon could have changed his mind; Rickon could’ve run in zig-zags. Sometimes characters have to die to make certain plot points feel slightly more momentous.
House Targaryen (or: we're so close to that Jon Snow confirmation)
The debate in House Targaryen this week orbits around whether torching some Tarlys because they wouldn’t bend the knee was the right thing for Dany to do. Varys and Tyrion are concerned as political figures who have some experience ruling in Westeros. They know it’s possible to unite the Seven Kingdoms under some dragons, but they also know the current Westeros would not take well to that old-school style conquering. It works to Dany’s favor that they’ve managed to keep her from storming King’s Landing, but she still lost the rebel Greyjoys and the Dornish Sands, and that’s not great.
In "Eastwatch," we also see that Jon Snow is capable of winning over Dany's dragons, which means that he’ll either learn about his heritage at some point, or Azor Ahai be blessed, get to ride a dragon in the immediate future. Considering it’s the same episode as Gilly's scroll-reading info dump, it probably has more to do with his being a legitimate Targaryen than foreshadowing a Jon Snow dragon ride.
We do get a moment where Dany tells Jon that the dragons actually are her children, not beasts. It looked like Dany might ask Jon if he was magic and could come back from the dead, but ended up being about… dragon children. Oh well. We love Jon, Daenerys, and her dragons. A (very likely) Targaryen brood.
Now for the historical Targaryen part of the episode. Just in case it wasn’t completely clear what Sam and Gilly uncovered, it bears reiterating that this piece of information was the missing one needed to legitimize Jon Targaryen (no, I don’t think his name is really Jon, but that’s for later). High Septon Maynard annulled the marriage between Elia Martell and Prince Rhaegar (which Gilly reads as "Ragger") Targaryen and travelled to Dorne to marry Lyanna and Rhaegar in a secret ceremony.
That’s why we spent a scene last week pretending that Missandei -- who speaks several languages -- wouldn’t have known what a bastard was, because the idea that it’s a child out of wedlock needed to be introduced. Jon wasn’t born out of wedlock, therefore he’s a legitimate Targaryen, and Sam has the scroll proof to assert legitimacy. The other part would be information that both Bad News Bran and thus-far-unseen Howland Reed would have. The audience might get to find out through Bran, but I wonder if his vision carries any weight compared to Sam’s super legitimate Citadel scroll.
The single-minded Jon Snow (or: all the wight stuff)
Thanks to a scroll from his crippled kinda-brother, Jon Snow finally has some evidence for his never-ending lecture to our main characters about the fact that there's a war between the living and the dead coming and they’re all too busy squabbling over kingdoms. We get another Dragonstone map-room meeting -- now rivaling the Iron Throne room for how many key plot points occur there during the series -- where Jon and Tyrion manage to convince the lead characters that they must do more to combat the White Walkers than mine dragonglass.
Because he’s Jon Snow, he has the foolish idea to lead an expedition to capture proof of the undead threat. Sure, it seems noble to put yourself in harm's way with your men, but let’s look at the crew we have assembled here: Gendry with Season 7 Warhammer accessories, Tormund, and freaking Jorah Mormont. That’s not a special ops group to thumb your nose at.
I’m sure the people of the North (and we see ample evidence that I’m right) would appreciate Jon letting someone else capture a wight while he got to, I dunno, go home and rule his kingdom or at least say hello to Bran and Arya before setting off to meet certain doom. Especially now that he has Berric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and Sandor "The Hound" Clegane, it seems like he doesn’t really need to be doing this. Priorities, Jon. Priorities.
Then again, who is Jon Snow if not a character constantly marching toward his own doom, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has any power to change it. Yet, at the same time he’s winning over Daenerys and Drogon with his charm and may not have to bend the knee… the exact opposite of his usual single-minded doom problems. The Dany-Jon pairing feels a little like the Ygritte-Jon pairing from Season 2, because it’s nice to see both of these characters flirt and hang out in caves together, but "you know nothing Jon Snow." Their love is doomed. Ygritte was always too much of a Wildling to accept Jon’s honor problems, and Dany being his aunt should cause its own set of problems.
Jon needs to survive next week and bring a wight South so he can stop the war between the two queens and shore up the armies of the living… but even if the threat is immediate, there’s going to be some fallout when these truths start coming to light. Maybe we’ve been too hard on Jon for being single-minded, because he has some very awkward conversations with his people coming up.
House Lannister (or: the perfect time for a new little boy or girl)
"Eastwatch" offered a major turning point for House Lannister this week, due to a certain well-timed discovery in Cersei’s uterus. The royal family of Westeros has turned to incest once again, which as several characters in the series have pointed out, the Targaryens do all the time.
Here’s hoping a new baby will slow Cersei’s descent into James Bond villainy. Not that the full-villain Cersei that showed up for one scene this episode wasn’t enjoyable or earned, it’s that she makes less sense as the odds mount up against her. There’s changing the way things run in King’s Landing, and there’s a mad obsession to burn every bridge and crush every enemy.
Taking a whole season to build from Cersei’s walk of shame to her blowing up the Sept was an intense character turn that had the audience roaring for Cersei to "choose violence." Now Jaime is telling her they can’t win the war against Daenerys and her dragons, and she isn't willing to pull back.
The anchor of Cersei Lannister has always been her children. Cersei without any children to protect has relied on increasingly cruel and paranoid machinations to justify her behavior. Now, hopefully, we can return to a more sympathetic Cersei, who might still act in a cruel way, but now has a reason to be doing it outside of trying to establish a world safe for sibling incest. Sure, the kid is another Jaime-Cersei co-Lannister joint, but so were Tommen and Myrcella and those two turned out OK. Dead, but OK.
While the baby is great news for Cersei’s character, the newly expecting queen also manages to ensnare Jaime back to her side, even if all the evidence he’s seen and heard about greater threats of dragons and the undead has begun to ring true. Jaime, like Cersei, has children to fight for. The problem is that Jaime’s character hasn’t been anchored by the kids as much as his sister. Sure, he loves them, but Jaime does horrible things for family and occasionally justice (we’ll throw killing the Mad King in the latter).
The pregnancy isn’t necessarily going to have a good effect on Jaime. Any brotherly mercy he showed to Tyrion this week is in danger of decreasing drastically with a kid on the way. Not out of defensiveness, but because he’s crazy in love with his sister and she sees even talking to Tyrion as a betrayal.
Here’s hoping Jaime Lannister can last two more episodes as a voice of reason while Cersei makes key decisions about what wars to fight on what fronts. Or at the very least, here's hoping Jaime starts distinguishing between love for his sister and the need to keep the Lannister name alive long enough for him to have another child. They are two different things.
House Baratheon (or: the return of an old friend)
Gendry! Gendry! Gendry! It looks like three seasons of hanging around King’s Landing while the Tyrells and the Sparrows ran the place worked out for at least one person! The former apprentice looks like he has a pretty good setup going; he can craft a warhammer and has clearly kept up his exercise. With Cersei ready to make it common knowledge that she and Jaime are an official royal incestuous couple, it appears that no one is even searching for the last bastard of Robert Baratheon.
You’d think that after Stannis was defeated up North, the people at Storm’s End (the Baratheon seat) would be looking for direction. Stannis was the former Lord of Dragonstone, and when Dany showed up it was abandoned, but surely there are some bannermen there who didn’t perish? It doesn’t even come up this episode, as the show makes a joke about rowing then skips over a lot of emotional development to get Gendry to The Wall, because, hey, Gendry’s back and ready to fight.
With Gendry back, the debate can begin about whether this was an effective way to dismiss a likeable character for more than three seasons. Then again, like with Hot Pie, it’s surprisingly pleasant to see characters we care about survive without major trauma for a few years. We thought Gendry could literally be lost at sea. Either way, now that we know Gendry and his Warhammer are going to be part of next week’s big battle episode up North, and rumors of some sort of ice river and/or island fight coming next week, everyone should be prepped for some perverse, historical echo of the Battle of the Trident. Basically, Gendry should cave in some chests and scatter some bones with that hammer.
Also, let’s talk a bit about how crazy bad all the Gendry boat travel has been on this show. Melisandre picked him in the Riverlands from the Brotherhood without Banners and took him on a boat that went past King’s Landing in order to get to Dragonstone… which is the wrong way to get out of the Riverlands by boat if you want to avoid Lannisters. Then, he boats off Dragonstone and goes missing for multiple years only for us to find out that he just rowed across Blackwater Bay and has been in King’s Landing this whole time. Now, we finally get to see Gendry again, and by the time the episode is over he’s at Eastwatch-By-The-Sea! Sometimes it takes Gendry years to row across a bay, others, half-an-episode to go thousands of miles North. Basically, he's Game of Thrones Season 7 in a nutshell.