Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted Thoughts on GAME OF THRONES, s7e5, “Eastwatch.”
– The first Targaryen invasion of Westeros, carried out hundreds upon hundreds of years prior by Daenerys’ legendary ancestor Aegon the Conqueror, was merciless and overwhelming–he crossed over from Essos and burned the land until all who were still alive saw fit to kneel before him. The second such invasion has been a much different affair, held in check by the vastly different character of Daenerys and by the schemes of more clever and knowledgeable foes. However, in this episode the war shows us different shades of its two warring queens–a Daenerys willing to act with tyranny and a Cersei toying with the power of reason.
For Tyrion and Varys, the execution of Randyll and Dickon Tarly is disturbingly familiar, an echo of other fathers and sons mad King Aerys had executed before him–most famously Rickard and Brandon Stark, Eddard’s father and elder brother. The two men dull their traumas with wine, and insist and justify the many ways that the daughter is not the reflection of her father, but the doubt has now been seeded. Whether it grows or not will depend on what further ways Daenerys chooses to wield her strength.
Cersei, on the other hand, is willing to create the appearance of clear-headed rationality for her own purposes. Initially she chastises Jaime that between a choice of submitting and dying, or fighting and dying, there is only one clear option, and that he should, as a soldier, be understanding of what that is. But later she strikes a different note with her brother, stating that suing for a cease in hostilities with Daenerys is a sly strategic maneuver. But it is important to note that even while Cersei is discussing her agenda to manipulate Daenerys, she is also, once again, manipulating Jaime.
Jaime has shown time and again that Cersei is his greatest weakness, the person for whom he has done the most damage either to himself or to others. His decision to join Aerys’ Kingsguard in the first place–which cost him his birthright to Casterly Rock–was driven by Cersei, who convinced her brother that it was a means by which the two could stay together as lovers in King’s Landing. Jaime has pushed a young boy out of a tower window for Cersei; he has killed scores of men solely to get back by her side.
But Cersei is also aware that Jaime has been expressing a rift in their relationship since her ascension to Queen of the Realm and the massacre she committed to attain it. When she arrives in his chambers to take him to bed he is hesitant at first. He has returned from the disaster on the Goldroad with his courage and confidence shaken, having witnessed the might of a single dragon and scores of war-hungry Dothraki taking his highly trained Lannister forces apart.
So Cersei shows him that she has full control of the larger picture, by telling him that she knew he would meet with Tyrion and that she allowed it to happen, because she is willing to concede that it might be the best way to keep them alive. And then she further buys his focus by telling him that they are expecting another child, a child who can fill some of the void of the three they so violently lost, a child who they can declare with pride and impunity as their own, instead of pretending it is the child of a man she despised so much she eventually had him killed.
And Cersei is almost assuredly lying to her brother about the pregnancy. It is a story she tells to steel his spine again: “You must fight, because you are not only fighting for us, but for the life we have once again created.” Besides the fact that we owe the tale of this time in Westeros the benefit of the doubt on its prophecies–such as the all-but-completed foretelling of Cersei having three children who would die before her–we might also recognize that Cersei would not allow herself to be so weakened, in the midst of her greatest battle, by having to sustain another child. She is done with compiling greater vulnerabilities onto her being. She is much more likely to exploit those vulnerabilities in others, including her brother.
– “Eastwatch” is preoccupied with the understanding that our remaining primary and secondary characters have more history between them than they may at first realize. Tyrion reunites with Bronn, Jaime, and Jorah; Jon sees the Hound for the first time since King Robert’s visit to Winterfell; Gendry is given the opportunity to testify against the Brotherhood being held at Eastwatch by Tormund, who realizes that the man next to him is the son of his once-tireless nemesis Jeor Mormont. Layered on top of these connections is a series of narratives about the ways that children may or may not follow in the footsteps of their parents, whether they knew those parents well or not.
Besides the aforementioned troubling refrain of a Targaryen burning her prisoners alive, we see how Dickon Tarly refuses to compromise his honor as a soldier after a lifetime of discipline given to him by his father. We see Cersei talk about fighting Daenerys as Tywin would have done. Jorah continues to display the steadfast grasp on the spirit and letter of his vows that his father Jeor once did. Gendry shows vicious mastery of the warhammer, hearkening back to his father Robert, who carved an angry laceration across the Seven Kingdoms holding a similar weapon, who slew Prince Rhaegar in single combat with a similar weapon. When Gendry and Jon greet each other as the bastard children of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark, their assessment of each other as “thinner” and “shorter” calls to mind the way Robert and Ned sized each other up as having grown in girth since their glory days in the Rebellion. Arya takes her sister to task for adopting their parents’ chambers in Winterfell, while Sansa attempts to educate her truculent sister on the nuances of holding on to one’s needed allies in the same tones that her mother once tried to advise Robb. Tyrion recalls the shorelines of King’s Landing as the memory of killing his father and Davos recalls the same shoreline as the memory of Tyrion killing his son.
And in a nearly throwaway moment, Gilly confirms that Jon is not simply the bastard child of Prince Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, but a child wholly legitimized when Rhaegar had a maester in Dorne annul his marriage to Elia Martell in order to wed Lyanna.
This becomes even more apparent in the scene when Drogon–who seems just fine, thanks, next time don’t bring a king-size crossbow to a dragon fight–achieves a kinship with Jon that Dany finds unusual and impressive. And the way this story is told between Jon and Drogon all but spells out the theory that Tyrion is also a Targaryen, as this same sort of contact was exactly how he engaged with Dany’s house-arrested children in Meereen.
(For those unfamiliar–the Tyrion Targaryen theory posits that Mad Aerys assaulted Tywin’s wife and that Tyrion was the offspring of that assault. Tywin didn’t only hate Tyrion because he was a dwarf, then, or even only because Tyrion’s birth killed his wife, but because Tyrion wasn’t even his son at all, and he was still forced to raise him as his own, rather than risk Aerys finding out his own child had been murdered.)
– Once again we see that for all of Arya’s cleverness and her developed talent for stalking a quarry, her greatest weaknesses are her overconfidence in those skills and an unwillingness to shift perspective to account for information she might not have. Her education as an assassin allowed her to get close enough to murder Meryn Trant and exact thoroughly satisfying vengeance on the entirety of House Frey, but it also nearly got her killed by the Waif, and now it sees her walking into a subtle trap set for her by Littlefinger.
The letter she eventually finds is the letter that Sansa sent to Robb immediately after Ned was betrayed, captured, and sent to the black cells to await sentencing. The letter was a plea from Sansa for calm and loyalty, and to say that she was being treated well. At the time, both Maester Luwin and Robb recognized it as a note under duress, and indeed, Robb swiftly began amassing his bannermen shortly afterwards.
Arya is a weapon, not a diplomat. She finds the idea of executing the heads of Houses Glover and Royce for insulting the King in the North to be reasonable displays of authority. She still perceives Sansa as playing dress-up games, except now as Lady of Winterfell instead of Princess of King’s Landing. The note Littlefinger leads her to discover is a condemnation of Sansa’s character, and the manner of his hiding it from her creates the illusion that he was trying to protect Sansa instead.
Littlefinger is dangerous because he spots openings for advantage and then seizes them firmly–a necessity he lacked for fencing that nearly got him killed in a duel for Catelyn Tully, but that he then developed significantly for scheming. During Arya’s sparring match with Brienne, he saw the look of concern on Sansa’s face and the look of mistrust upon Arya’s, and determined that together they presented an opportunity to isolate Sansa further from those who should be her most trusted allies. Arya now believes that Sansa betrayed Robb, lacking the sense of intrigue that would have led her to the same conclusions as Robb and Maester Luwin. This blindness has now led her astray, and how Littlefinger intends to push Arya and Sansa further apart might only be stymied by the interference of Jon or Bran. But Jon is ranging north to capture a wight, and Bran may no longer care one way or the other, to say anything to his sisters.
– Samwell’s swift and frustrated departure from the Citadel, with his bitter statement that he’s “tired of reading about the achievements of better men” and after the curt dismissal by the arch-maesters of what he has seen in the world, are a pattern in the poor man’s life of never quite fitting in anywhere he finds himself. His own father sent him to the Night’s Watch for being fat and disappointing; when he arrived there he was judged more or less the same by most of his peers. The Citadel was meant to be a place where his natural gifts finally had a place to shine, and instead he found the vaunted center of scholarship to be as ignorant as any other place he had been, and unwilling to learn from what he had witnessed.
When Davos prepares to sell Gendry on the thought of leaving with him, Gendry quickly cuts him off to ask how soon they can leave. When Lord Beric begins waxing romantic about the Lord of Light, the Hound brusquely interrupts him to ask if they’re joining the party heading beyond the Wall. Like them, Sam is done with sitting on the sidelines of the epic unfolding around him. While he was once content living inside books and scrolls and history, he has now experienced too much to be mired in the academic apathy of his teachers at the Citadel. When he steals the scrolls from the library he is making a statement that the information within them serves no purpose if it is locked away from the people who will know what to do with it.
– I’m really not sure how much I believe in the grand plan to capture a wight and get it back south for an audience with the queen. It seems folly to try and get one of them in a cage without the rest of the army tearing your expedition to shreds, then make it back to the gates of Eastwatch, then keep the rotting corpse functioning well enough to provide evidence, and finally use that evidence as enough of an appeal to a woman whose very ruthlessness has been cultivated in her mistrust. Tyrion’s thought that Cersei will listen to reason seems ill-conceived. He hasn’t seen her since he escaped the Red Keep, but he’s well aware that she blew up the Sept of Baelor and hundreds of people with wildfire. He should know as well as anyone that she’s not going to agree to anything that won’t in some way end with her rivals dead and rotting.
– The fact that Bran is now powerful enough a warg to inhabit an entire flock of ravens–which is properly referred to as an “unkindness” of ravens–without seeing them, and without being near them after they take flight, offers enticing possibilities. Is Bran powerful enough to inhabit, say, his late direwolf Summer’s sister Nymeria and her entire pack of lesser wolves? Might he be powerful enough at some point to seize the minds of three full-grown dragons?
– For as much as the Westeros hierarchy values nobility and birthright, it’s interesting to note just how many families’ bastards and disappointments rose to impressive heights and how many of them are still around and primed to do great things. Besides the deservedly departed King Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton, and the Sand Snakes, and the less deservedly departed Myrcella and Tommen, you also have Jon, Tyrion, Jorah, Gendry, Theon, and Sam, each of them surviving and in many cases thriving while others of their family have gone to meet their gods.
– As we get closer and closer to the Night King’s army finally marching past The Wall, it’s probably a good idea to keep track of all the Valyrian steel weapons we’ve seen floating about the continent, as well as who is wielding them, for the moment that they begin to enter combat with the dead and the White Walkers.
Jon Snow is carrying Longclaw, the ancestral sword of House Mormont, and one wonders how much more pain and guilt Jorah is holding in by seeing it again, in the hands of a man who more clearly fulfilled his father’s vision for a son. Samwell is carrying Heartsbane, which he stole from his family’s house. Arya is carrying the otherwise unnamed catspaw’s dagger. The Stark family greatsword, Ice, was melted down into two swords–Oathkeeper, held by Brienne of Tarth, and Widow’s Wail, held by Jaime Lannister.
Every one of these will end up crucially employed when the Long Night returns.
– Something I didn’t see tonight or last week but which I am going to start watching for: Bran looking at his feet before he offers anybody a startling revelation. In the very first episode of the series, Catelyn admonished Bran for climbing the castle walls, and when he promised her he would stop, she further observed that he looked at his feet right before he told a lie.
I’d have said that this was a detail that wouldn’t necessarily be remembered or useful, but this season we’re getting subtle callbacks to conversations between Arya and Ned, and a letter that Sansa wrote back when all she wanted most in the world was to marry Joffrey. Bran lying to Sansa for her own good, or lying to Littlefinger to throw him off balance, could be a useful plot device. On the other hand, he’s the Three-Eyed Raven now, and he may see no benefit at all in deceptions of any kind.
– Because ours is a stupid species prone to misadventure, shortly after this episode aired somebody out there began trying to determine the most effective recipe for Westerosi Viagra, made out of fermented crab.
– So how exactly DID Jaime escape drowning at the bottom of the Blackwater Rush? How did Bronn manage to drag Jaime, fully clad in heavy armor as well as a solid gold hand, underwater, far enough away from the battle so that Drogon didn’t simply roast them again? Because look, just go with it, people, that’s how. Ian McShane already told you the two things this show is about, and lifeguarding technique wasn’t one of them.