Game of Thrones “Eastwatch” recap: Northbound

ep65-ss04-1920Five does come after four, in order, and, in fact, “Eastwatch,” the fifth episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, will more than likely only ever be remembered as the episode that followed “The Spoils of War,” which concluded with one of the most enthralling and exciting battles in series history. It’s an unenviable task to follow such an episode, especially when two separate storylines aren’t working parallel to each other the way the excellent season six finale, “The Winds of Winter,” had quite a bit of fire left (literally) following the climactic episode before it, “Battle of the Bastards.”

So, what did “Eastwatch” do to follow arguably my favorite GOT episode ever?

Almost immediately, it answers the biggest question from the episode before it. (See clue in this post’s featured photo). Jaime Lannister is alive, despite “The Spoils of War” leaving off with him sinking to the bottom of a lake having dodged Drogon’s blaze. And Jaime, having apparently boarded the next available Greyhound bus to King’s Landing, returns to Cersei wholeheartedly convinced there’s no way of defeating Daenerys, any of her three dragons or her Dothraki army. He’s got one hand on the white flag.

But what does this episode do? It digresses — strange for an exploration with so few hours remaining. It turns the story’s attention north to begin the build-up to the other war, the zombie war, some of us thought would be happening simultaneously this season. This is an audible I’m sure to grow impatient with, but one it seems we may have to accept with only two episodes left this year.

In sticking to the war for Westeros, there’s a meeting between Jaime and younger brother Tyrion that seems to matter no more than stirring up a few warm and fuzzy feelings, and there’s a baby on the way for Cersei and Jaime that seems like a total bluff to keep Jaime hooked. There’s talk of an armistice between Dany and Cersei. (Really, guys? Really?) It’s all a bit frustrating — when has it ever been a good idea to give Cersei breathing room? — but if it is a wrap on that war for the season, it’s again an interesting place to rest it, everybody (you, me, both sides of characters) measuring it like it’s a foregone conclusion Dany will take the Iron Throne. It’s just that I’d prefer to see it happen rather than keep guessing.

The shift “Eastwatch” takes, which we expected because of the locale lending the episode its title, is a good thing for the Starks and their supporters.

Besides Arya being just awesome at every turn, time has move very slowly in Winterfell. Little has happened to and mattered for Sansa, Littlefinger, Bran or any of the secondary characters around that plot line.

The end of the episode sees Jon Snow & Co. (company including Jorah Mormont and The Hound, among others) heading north of The Wall to engage the White Walkers.

The heart of the episode sees a slight rift between Arya and Sansa, one doomed to fester. Arya, skeptical of Littlefinger advising her older sister, follows Littlefinger around. She sees him talking to who I presume to be one of his little birds. She sees him speaking on behalf of Sansa without her knowing. And, most importantly, she sees him hide a mysterious note, signed by Sansa, and he sees her take that note out of his room. Bait laid by Littlefinger? Or real evidence of something fishy for Arya to bring Sansa? If it’s the second one, a face-to-face conflict between Arya and Littlefinger could be coming. Either way, the existence of tension between sister suggests on a deeper level, again, that this Stark reunion can’t possibly be permanent, especially for Arya. Bran barely hangs out there anyway, but Arya has business elsewhere; at least, I hope the promise of Arya’s journey to King’s Landing wasn’t all for nothing.

Game of Thrones “The Spoils of War” recap: Clever plans

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Daenerys stomped across the beach of Dragonstone distraught, standing there in front of her team infuriated that the advice of her advisers had cost her another ally. She looks out over the water to see her three large dragons flying around, basically running stalling patterns, and she thinks: What kind of queen is she if she continues standing idly by as she loses this war without using the two weapons her enemies have long been most afraid of — those dragons and the Dothraki horde. How then can she convince anybody, let alone herself, that she’s giving it her best shot?

So, the Mother of Dragons takes action. And what we get, in “The Spoils of War,” episode four of Game of Thrones seventh season, is the most epic, heart-pounding battle to date. The Loot Train Attack, as it’s being called, is on record as the most fiery one in television history. It’s the first time two major, series-long central characters (Dany and Jaime Lannister) have engaged in battle. Dany, aboard Drogon and with the Dothraki army, launches a surprise attack upon Jaime, Bronn and the King’s Guard on the road after taking Highgarden and all of its resources (Dany’s resources). Dany incinerates the lot of it and engulfs entire groups of Lannister soldiers in fire that their bodies literally turn to dust in front of you, and the Dothraki warriors wipe out pretty much everyone who’s left. Drogon is shot down, assumed merely wounded, and Jaime charges at Dany, who Drogon swings around to protect in the last second. And Jaime, tackled off of his horse, out of the way and into the lake, is drowning as the episodes fades to black.

It is, for the first watch through, the longest, most stressful 20 minutes of your life — for me, terrified for Dany, as she gripped to Drogon who’s falling out of the air. My wife was standing up, in our small living room, shouting at the TV. (This is one of those moments, Where were you when Jaime charged on Dany? Isn’t it?)

Then it is, the second time I watched it, an amazing cinematic accomplishment. And like a good book, the second time you watch it, you notice new things. Like, how in the hell is Qyburn’s Scorpion the only wagon not burned to the ground by Dany and Drogon? And also you think of new questions. Like, man, what must Jaime have been thinking when he’s sitting their still atop his horse, having dodged death a couple times already, looking over all of the turmoil the surprise attack has caused, and then to see bright-haired Dany, in the flesh, the girl Robert Baratheon wanted to kill as a baby to avoid a future conflict like this, the girl who has been discussed and monitored so closely by her enemies for so long, there seemingly within striking distance of ending this whole war right now.

This is the shortest episode of the series, and, without thinking too hard on it, my favorite episode to date. And it’s not singularly because of the Loot Train sequence. “The Spoils of War” has to be one of the best Arya episodes ever.

Despite some attempted plot misdirection, Arya, too, returns to Winterfell. She toys around with a couple of dumb guards who swear she can’t be Arya because Arya is dead. (Which, by the way, do we know what the source of this rumor ever was?) And later, she engages in an awesome sparring match with Brienne.

Arya has so much swagger, a radiant confidence about her; she’s her own person, a whole new person compared to the one older sister Sansa knew as a child. Unlike Sansa, who arguably has become who she is in large part because of the things that have happened to her, Arya has done almost everything proactively to become the person she wanted to be. The separation of these still-living Stark kids has been driven home during these reunions — Bran’s last week, Arya’s now. Bran barely claims the Stark name anymore, Arya is as independent and comfortable going it alone as one can be, and Sansa is more traditional — back home to raise the Stark banners in the North once more. When Sansa reunites with Arya in the crypt, she still treats her like a little sister rather than an adult. Yes, call me Lady Stark, giggling about Arya’s supposed list. Maybe there’s some positioning going on, at least from Sansa’s point of view. Yeah, Jon has always liked Arya better, but I’m the older sister. Later, when Bran confirms Arya’s list (Sansa can do a quick cross check, as Bran knew about her own truths) and then when Arya spars with Brienne, Sansa slowly builds to a silent realization that many viewers will wonder about. She’s, of course, taken aback by the swordsmen Arya has become. It’s staggering how skilled she is. Maybe there’s some envy there, that so much has happened to Sansa while her brothers and sisters (the ones who stayed alive) have been able to carve out their own paths. Maybe that makes her feel a little disconnected now. Bran gives Arya the dagger, I think, because he foresees her playing an important role in the zombie battle to come. He, on the contrary, has been pretty short-winded and cold with Sansa since his return.

Now, one Jon Snow would make a complete Surviving Starks reunion. He, though, is still in Dragonstone, showing Dany more evidence of White Walkers, though still not bending the knee and now piggybacking on Tyrion’s reserved advice for Dany’s battle plans. Don’t use your dragons, don’t burn cities to the ground, don’t be like your father, which has become a pretty annoying stance at this point. The new advisers are so worried about Dany’s reputation with the common people of Westeros, which is fine or whatever, but it was refreshing to include in this episode Missandei’s explanation to Jon and Davos about why she and the others chose the queen they did. They don’t care who were father was, this man none of them ever knew. They know Dany, they know she’s unique, they know she’s better.

This has not been a good season for Jon. He’s trying to form an alliance with the right person, definitely, but how bad of a negotiator can one person be? Really? He’s so convinced that the evidence will be so overwhelming to Dany that she will have no choice but to commit forces to his side without the promise of anything in return. Get over yourself, Jon. She’s willing. She believes him. But he’s got to bend the knee. I have a feeling she’s not going to let him leave until he does.

And now Jon’s also backing Tyrion’s advice not to use the dragons. I don’t think Dany wants to burn the whole world to the ground, but she knows she can use them to get a win — a win she’s in dire need of.

As she stomps across that beach, she turns on Tyrion, who’s imploring her to keep faith in the original plan. “Our enemies? Your family, you mean. Perhaps you don’t want to hurt them after all,” she says.

This is a heart-breaking statement to make, but I don’t believe it’s true — I believe Tyrion was most concerned watching the Loot Train battle when he saw Drogon, carrying his queen, get struck and start falling out of the sky — and I don’t think Dany truly believes it is either. But it’s a necessary statement to make.

It’s an important power play leaders must make at a time like this. Remember who’s advising who. Remember who’s in charge.

Dany is their queen. She’s gotten herself there. This is her way of saying, You all are going to start listening to me now. She’s calling the shots again. Now, just let us Dany-backers hope it’s not too late.

“My enemies are in the Red Keep. What kind of queen am I if I’m not willing to risk my life to fight them,” Dany says. “A smart one,” Tyrion replies. Maybe, but no. That’s Cersei. Dany is the kind of queen who will risk her life to fight her enemies and to protect her people. That’s why we love her. That’s why — Tyrion ought to know this — so many risk their lives to fight for her.

 

Game of Thrones “The Queen’s Justice” recap: Deals and dying

episode-63-1920Introductions at Dragonstone, payback in King’s Landing, a reunion (though, the unexpected one) at Winterfell, a clean bill of health (apparently) at the Citadel, Casterly Rock falls (on purpose?), last words in Highgarden, another win for Cersei, and another loss for Daenerys. A lot happened in “The Queen’s Justice,” the third episode of seven in Game of Thrones‘ penultimate season, at a pace so staggering entire battles begin and end over a couple minutes of voiceover — however epic — or don’t begin at all, rather showing the approach and the expected surrender — however deliciously revealing. It’s a striking difference from all six past seasons, but a welcome one nonetheless.

And if you haven’t been keeping score, Dany is losing — a prospect so worrisome, I’m beginning to dream at night about rushing to her aide.

If not every one, then almost every new Westerosi ally at Dany’s stone table in Dragonstone, during “Stormborn,” has been wiped out or captured. That includes Yara Greyjoy and her fleet, the Sand Snakes and Olenna Tyrell, all of this without any actual action from either queen.

Sure, for Cersei that’s par for the course; but not Dany. We’re talking about (in no particular order) the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, Breaker of Chains, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Queen of Mereen, and the Mother of Dragons (I wanted that one to go last). This is a woman of action and conviction, who freed slaves on the back of her dragons and emerges from flames unscathed. The Dothraki crossed the Narrow Sea for her, for the first time in their history. But since arriving in Westeros, she has not been that conquerer. She’s weighing the advice of her advisers, calling shots but staying at home for fear of acting too maliciously as her father, Mad King Aerys.

Her forces’ first victory comes at Casterly Rock, an epic sequence shown with a voiceover by Tyrion, who’s telling the company back in Dragonstone just how Grey Worm and the Unsullied will take the Rock — a seriously awesome dialogue about having something worth fighting for. “There should have been more,” Grey Worm says after clearing the castle. The problem is troops were withdrawn and simultaneously marching with Jaime Lannister on Highgarden, where Lady Olenna, just before drinking a vial of poison, admits she murdered late King Joffrey. “Tell Cersei,” she says to Jaime. Then, with the Unsullied having infiltrated Casterly Rock, Grey Worm, worried, looks out on the horizon to see Euron Greyjoy’s fleet burning their ships.

Alas, Dany is growing more impatient, but it’s becoming clearer to us watching just how much of a disadvantage it is to be the only Targaryen, thus the only one who can control dragons. She makes it clear to Tyrion she feels it’s time for her to act, to use her significant advantage to at least attack Euron’s fleet.

Too risky, her advisers tell her, but how much longer does she have to wait? She’s losing allies left and right, and her long-anticipated meeting with Jon Snow didn’t go all too well. Not only did he not bend the knee to her, he didn’t seem interested in bending on anything, despite an awesome, intimidating introduction to her dragons.

It should not be surprising. There was a kind of comedic vibe to this meeting. There was Missandei reciting Dany’s long list of designations and Davos not prepared to introduce Jon. And there was also Dany asking Jon, “Did you see three dragons flying overhead” when he arrived. It was a ton of fun, but neither character seemed properly prepped for it — Dany assuming Jon only could have come to pledge his loyalty or risk not leaving alive and Jon assuming Dany (or anyone else for that matter) would just wholesale buy into this idea that White Walkers a) exist, b) are coming and c) can only be killed with something called dragon glass which is located only on her land.

Ultimately, Tyrion convinces Dany to give a little, allowing Jon to mine the mountains of dragon glass in Dragonstone. (Oddly, she does not ask for anything in return, nor does Jon offer. His unfettered loyalty is the assumed other half of the deal here.)

She also promises him troops when he needs them. But she’s the one who needs her half of the deal returned first. Although action is moving super fast this season, only one war has actually begun — that’s the one for the iron throne. This other battle, coming from north of The Wall, hasn’t made any such advances. Based on the previews for the upcoming episode, it looks as though Dany will, in fact, ask for Jon to return the favor. But more than that, more than being a dealmaker and a chess player, the time is coming when Dany must act. Act as the late Olenna Tyrell implored her to: “The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”