Game of Thrones
In the final scene of tonight’s episode, all your Game of Thrones boyfriends (Jon! Jorah! Gendry! Tormund!) find themselves together in Eastwatch castle, and it’s like the angriest sitcom crossover episode you’ve ever seen. Tormund is suspicious of Jorah because his father used to hunt wildlings as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Gendry, newly scooped up from Flea Bottom, is livid because Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, whom Tormund’s men captured, once sold him off to Melisandre. No one really trusts the Hound because, well, he’s the Hound. But as Jon puts it, they’re all on the same side now, thanks to the simple fact that they’re all breathing.
If there is a theme running through “Eastwatch” — a grab-baggy hour that feels a little like a Westerosi telenovela, what with all the Revelation Bombs being dropped — the need to pick sides might be it. It starts at the very top of the episode, when the defeated Lannister forces are called to bend the knee to Daenerys following the Loot Train Attack. Randyll Tarly may not have been the most sympathetic character in Westeros, but when he refuses to submit to Daenerys it reads as a heroic, if Pyrrhic, act — one compounded by pretty Dickon’s decision to follow his father to his death, even though it means the theoretical annihilation of House Tarly. It’s a clear, decisive, and self-sacrificing move, the kind the show has liked to tease since the days of Ned Stark. It’s paired with an equally clear, decisive move on Dany’s part to honor that choice by roasting the Tarlys alive in their armor — a move that Tyrion takes as a troubling sign of her mounting ruthlessness.
Over in Oldtown, Sam is still being relegated to shit work (proverbial, this time) in the Citadel, but decides that he’s had enough of sitting by while the maesters ignore the White Walker threat. After hearing Archmaester Ebrose discount a message from Bran, who warged into a flock of ravens and witnessed the army of the dead marching on the Wall, Sam gathers Gilly, Li’l Sam, and a bunch of purloined books from the restricted section of the library and sets off, presumably to find Jon. If only he’d listened more closely to Gilly, whose love of Old Fun Facts uncovers evidence that Jon is not just Rhaegar Targaryen’s son, but his legitimate son, when she reads a High Septon’s account of having annulled Rhaegar’s marriage in Dorne (where the Tower of Joy is located) and married him to another woman — presumably Jon’s mother, Lyanna Stark.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, we reunite with Gendry — still a bastard, no longer #stillrowing — who immediately signs up for whatever cause Davos is peddling, after the salty dog comes to retrieve him from his blacksmith shop. Gendry lived most of his life not knowing his true parentage, but he’s fueled by those Baratheon family ties nonetheless: He not only tells Davos that he hates the Lannisters for having killed his father, Robert, he later cements a bond with Jon, whom he believed to be Ned Stark’s bastard, by citing their fathers’ friendship.
For other characters, choosing sides is a more fraught affair. Jaime in particular has a rough go of it. After Bronn fishes him out of the water, the former sellsword lays down the law, loyalty-wise: He’s only in with the Lannisters until he gets his gold or the dragon squad arrives in King’s Landing, whichever comes first. Then Jaime has to confront Tyrion, who not only killed their father after Jaime sprung him from the dungeons, but has added insult to injury by aligning himself with the opposing army. Tyrion sneaks into King’s Landing to tell Jaime of his latest sure-to-be-brilliant military scheme: He’s going to capture a wight and bring it to Cersei, proving to her that the threat is real and that a temporary armistice will be in everyone’s best interest. (Does anyone else foresee a rollicking, Weekend at Bernie’s–type scenario with Tyrion, Tormund, and the Eastwatch Gang trying to smuggle a wight in a Hawaiian shirt into the Red Keep?) Tyrion tries to soften the moment with a little half-joke about how unsentimental Jaime turned out to be about their family seat of Casterly Rock, but Jaime is clearly not ready to cross any lines today.
Jaime is brought back into Cersei’s orbit with the revelation — or is it fake news? — that she is pregnant with his child and plans to claim it publicly as such. Poor Jaime has spent the season flailing in Cersei’s evil wake. With each passing episode, his support of her reign becomes a little more rote, a little less full-throated; his love for her seems increasingly like a song he only half-remembers the words to. There’s mounting suspicion among viewers that Jaime will someday add Queenslayer to his string of epithets, once Cersei goes fully off the deep end. (No, we mean it, the real deep end this time.) For now, we get the lovely one-two punch of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s reactions: tentative, stuttering joy at the news of the child; followed by dawning dread when Cersei embraces him and whispers in his ear, “Never betray me again.”
Over in Dragonstone, Jorah has returned and enthusiastically reupped for Team Daenerys, while Tyrion and Varys, unnerved by her increasingly harsh behavior, discuss what sort of culpability comes with choosing to serve someone. As they sit at the foot of her throne, dwarfed by the looming architecture, Tyrion claims he’s just Dany’s Hand, not her head. In response, Varys recalls how, while in service to the Mad King, he similarly insisted he was just a purveyor of information, even as he saw the deadly consequences of his spycraft. Ned Stark always said you had to swing the sword yourself for it to really count, but in these messier, murkier times, can anyone really claim to have clean hands? Varys urges Tyrion to take his duty as counselor seriously, and find a way to make Daenerys listen.
Jon, meanwhile, still refuses to declare Daenerys his liege, and she still refuses to give him the army he needs — though their connection is growing deeper. She watches with interest as Drogon lets Jon pet him and tries to get him to tell her more about the story Davos alluded to, in which he took a “knife to the heart” for his people. He shrugs it off, letting her believe it’s a figure of speech, but we know that they’ve both flirted with back-from-certain-death status, and if that isn’t a reason to swipe right, what is? Plus, just catch Dany’s reaction when Jon later declares that he has to lead the wight-catching party beyond the Wall: Her eyes go ever-so-slightly wide and she swallows before announcing that she hasn’t given him permission to leave. Jon says he came to her as a “stranger” and asks her to trust a stranger again, but clearly they’re on their way to becoming more than that.
Finally, when it comes to choosing sides, something’s rotten in Winterfell. In Jon’s absence, Arya and Sansa’s relationship has grown spikier. Arya watches as the Stark bannermen agitate in the Great Hall, with some suggesting that Sansa should be their ruler, not Jon. Sansa takes a long pause before thanking them for their kindness, but reiterates that Jon is the King in the North and he’s doing what he thinks is best. This leads to a confrontation that was easily my favorite scene in the episode, as Arya accuses her sister of not putting down the rumblings decisively enough and Sansa retorts that “cutting off heads” isn’t the way you get people to work together. The two swipe at each other in a familiar, cutting way that shows both their history and how much they’ve changed since they last lived in the same house. Arya, sly as a cat, gives her sister the side-eye for having taken their parents’ room, which she clearly takes as a sign of her thirst for glory; Sansa, no longer the prim girl with time for niceties, spits back, “Say what you mean.”
Arya’s increasing darkness not only troubles her sister, it seems to have caught Littlefinger’s attention. Arya has been watching Littlefinger as he skulks around Winterfell, seemingly without him noticing. She overhears him speaking with Maester Wolkan about a scroll, and when she sneaks into Littlefinger’s room to find it, she discovers the letter Sansa wrote under duress in season one, asking Robb and Catelyn to swear allegiance to Joffrey. However, Arya has not done a very good job being faceless: As she leaves the room, we see Littlefinger watching her. Littlefinger’s long game has been pretty opaque this season, but it seems like he’s back to sowing chaos in the hopes that it becomes a ladder.
Will he be successful? Will Sam ever learn to get back to that Rhaegar annulment business? Will Tormund ever get his “big woman”? Perhaps we’ll find out next week, as we count down the final two hours of the season. I’ll just be here, snacking on fermented crab and trying not to poke holes in my chainmail.