For the second time today I must reach back and quite the wisdom of Azuma Yuuhei – “This is getting complicated”.
Game of Thrones will do this sort of thing from time to time, where it forces you to start at the end (or close to it) and work your way back because truthfully, the elephant in the room would be too big to ignore. I’m beginning to understand what the cast members meant in all those interviews meant when they said things would be happening much more quickly this season – every episode seems to contain two or three bombshells or watershed moments (this year, more often than not meetings or reunions) that would easily have been headliners almost any week in the first five season. But even so, when it comes to headlines for “Eastwatch” there can be only one: R + L = J is confirmed.
No, I’m not bothering with spoiler tags anymore, because there’s really no point. Things that haven’t happened in the books yet aren’t spoilers by definition, and if you haven’t pieced it together from the hints the TV series has dropped you need to watch more carefully. Drogon’s reaction to Jon was proof enough (though the only explanation I can give for it not happening earlier was that it needed to happen here for narrative purposes) – in addition to being proof of his massive set of cojones. But the clincher was (fittingly, somehow) Gilly’s offhand reference to “Prince Ragger” and his annulment – one which, it must be said, Sam totally blew off as blather.
For most of us this was confirmation rather than revelation, but there was one huge wrinkle that was a pretty big deal – that annulment. If Rhaegar and Lyanna were in fact married legally, that makes Jon’s claim to the throne unquestionably the strongest. If he were a bastard it would be a harder sell, but if he’s the legitimate son of the legitimate heir, well… Unless, of course, you hold to the belief that Robert Baratheon overthrew the Mad King legally and was himself the legitimate king – which would mean his only known son, Gendry, could make a claim of his own (not that I think he would – but we’ll talk more of him shortly).
Truly, we’ve gone through the looking glass and out the other side, for now we find ourselves facing the moment where we must ask the question A Song of Ice and Fire fans have been dreading – is Game of Thrones now spoiling the books? When it comes to the really big stuff – stuff like “Hold the Door” and R + L = J – it’s hard to imagine Benioff and Weiss haven’t gotten their stories straight with Martin (with Hodor’s death they confirmed it, basically). This was always going to happen, and it’s something I find very sad indeed – but for the record, unlike some I’m not going to lash out at GoT over it. It’s not like Weiss and Benioff (I wanted to write it that way just once) had any choice about this. This moved at the pace they always said they would – it was GRRM who didn’t keep up his end of the bargain.
As I said, this episode was full of big moments that could, in different circumstances, have been headliners. The death of Randall and Dickon Tarly – over Tyrion’s objections – was a ghastly reminder of the legacy that hangs over everything Daenerys does (it was also a moment for both Tarlys to show their honor, though Randall is still a fuck in my book). The problem I see here is that Varys and Tyrion are trying to “manage” Dany, and she doesn’t want to be managed. I’ve been pretty consistent in stating my view that Dany has done nothing to show she has the temperament to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I still don’t think she has. She may not be a raving psychotic like Cersei (or her father), but is that the measuring stick we’re going to use? If so, it’s a pretty low bar.
Maybe the arrival of Ser Jorah will help to keep Daenerys from totally giving herself over to her bloodlust – though I’m not convinced he always appeals to the better angels of her nature. But he does love her, and she feels an affection for him she seems to feel for no one else. It might be said too that Jorah fills a role that desperately needs filling in Team Targaryen, that of a military strategist – but really, how much strategy does she need when she has three dragons? And besides – this reunion (which certainly would have been the headline in most episodes) is almost comically brief.
This whole idea of Jon capturing a wight to offer as proof to Cersei that the threat from beyond the Wall is real? Yeah, not buying that. Frankly it sounds pretty silly, as does sending Tyrion and Davos into King’s Landing to try and convince Jaime (yeah, like you really thought he was dead – but that “cliffhanger” was resolved literally in the opening shot) to convince Cersei to meet to discuss it. Maybe that’s my narrow thinking – I thought Jon’s comment towards the end of the episode, “We’re all all the same side. We’re breathing.” was pretty on-point. But even if any remotely sane person would see the merit in the idea that all living people must join together against a threat this alien and terrible – as the First Men and Children of the Forest did – Cersei still doesn’t make the grade. She’s the embodiment of egomaniacal, sociopathic evil – I don’t think there’s common ground to be found with her. Not over this, and not ever. This is one of those big things I suspect Game of Thrones may be doing differently than ASoIaF, but only time (and maybe a lot of that) will tell.
Cockeyed scheme or not, this twist does give is some rather juicy moments with Tyrion and Davos sneaking into King’s Landing. As usual Davos gets most of the best lines, like his none-too-gentle reminder that Tyrion killed his son, and he greeting to Gendry: “I thought you might still be rowing” (yes it’s fanservice, but we’ve earned that much). I can only say that seeing Gendry and Jon together was quite a treat – they have a lot in common these two, and not just being bastard sons (though they don’t actually have that in common, it seems). The Baratheon name is nearly forgotten in Game of Thrones these days, and it’s good to see Gendry out there representing it.
As to the mission itself, it seems it has at least some chance of success. The reunion between Tyrion and Jaime (I wanted to see the one between he and Bronn just as much) was more tragic than anything else. Somewhere deep inside Jaime knows Tyrion is right, but then he’s always known Tyrion was right and went on fucking and propping up his sister anyway. This bond between brothers is one of the great melancholy regrets of both Game of Thrones and the books – their relationship is complicated and deep, and loving his brother in spite of all the pressure not to has always been one of the things that made Jaime seem redeemable. If all this winds up with a meeting of the queens, it’ll certainly be a spectacle – but I still don’t buy it as a plot development.
Up north, Littlefinger continues his machinations – seemingly unfazed at the idea that Bran knows everything he’s up to (I didn’t trust that Maester from the beginning – why was he watching Bran in the Godswood?). This should prove grist for the mill of fans who want to argue over one or the other Stark daughter being a snake, but it’s Arya who comes off looking the worse here. Sansa may be harboring the thoughts Arya accuses her of, but I don’t think she’d ever act on them. Arya seems blinded by her hatred to the point where she can’t see how much her sister has changed, and sees a traitor in every shadow. That makes her a perfect candidate for manipulation by Baelish, who knows that those who can’t trust can easily be made to see betrayal. Using Sansa’s duress-letter to her family seems a logical way for him to play on Arya’s paranoia.
If indeed the Northern lords are restless with Jon, who can blame them? Sansa has her hands full trying to strike a balance between respecting their right to dissent and making sure they stay loyal to Jon. The King in the North has taken on two missions they consider foolish – first journeying to see the Dragon Queen, and now going beyond the Wall to try and bring back a wight for the queens to gawk at. For all his decency, Jon seems as ill-suited to being a monarch as Dany in his own way – he carries on his (step)father’s mantra of “He who passes the sentence should carry it out” to its logical extreme. In the end, he’ll always choose to suck it up and do the dirty work himself – but that’s not the job of a king. Maybe he’ll live long enough to come to understand that one day, but I rather doubt it – not least because I don’t think a hundred years would be long enough.
We leave things with the new suicide squad setting off on what seems, by almost any measure, to be a very foolish mission. But it is one hell of a team (and bunch of actors), I must admit – Jon, Tormund, Jorah, Gendry, and the power trio of the Brotherhood Without Banners – Beric, Thoros and Sandor Clegane. It’s a gloriously entertaining bunch – sardonic and sneering and generally gruff and GAR till next Tuesday. I love all these characters so much I hate the idea that a couple of them probably aren’t going to come back – but I’ll be very surprised if that doesn’t happen.