A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
In a 2011 interview with The Atlantic, George R. R. Martin was asked if writing within the fantasy genre helped him tell a story. Martin responded that the genre itself was more aptly set dressing for the narrative. More importantly, he famously noted that the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about. The words he attributed to author and Nobel Prize Laureate William Faulkner (famous for The Sound and the Fury and other works) ring true to perhaps the greatest strength of the series: an understanding of human behavior. In essence, Martin was noting that regardless of whatever the story may be, wherever it takes place, and whatever genre it fits into or not, the primary thrust of a narrative is driven by characters who make choices from the internal conflicts engulfing them. The choices can be deceptively simple, such as deciding whether to serve a flask of Dornish red or Arbor Gold with your evening meal (considering what happened the last time the latter was served, I would go with the former). They can be significantly more complex, such as deciding whether or not to stall a war to sit on what may or may not be the most uncomfortable throne in fiction in order to combat what may be a mythical threat. These choices that drive he narrative forward have consequences.
For the audience, the critical part is that we need to be able to understand the internal conflict that drives characters towards their decisions. We may or may not be faced with a choice like whether or not we should burn someone alive via a dragon as a method of execution and we certainly may or may not agree with the decision that was made. Yet the narrative and execution (pun intended) of the decision is secondary to the audience being able to latch onto the universality of the existence of an internal conflict. “Eastwatch” serves as a table-setting episode and a frenetically paced one at that, but it is in its stronger moments able to exemplify that theeme and capture that internal conflicts that are driving the characters in this tumultuous world.
“Eastwatch” opens with the aftermath of the Loot Train Attack, which I am going to refer to as the Battle of the Rose Road from this point forth for reasons. Ash has consumed the entirety of the battlefield and the smoke from Drogon’s immolation is still riding high into the air. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is walking through the battlefield as Ramin Djawadi’s melancholic score bellows around him. He’s devastated by the consequences of the battle, disquieted by the bodies that were fading away into literal dust. A part of him is undoubtedly searching for Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), seeing where he ended up after his foolhardy charge at Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had only been averted from certain death by Bronn (Jerome Flynn). He does not find his brother in the carnage, but he finds himself standing next to Daenerys as she looks upon the thinly remaining survivors.
As the victor of the battle, she could have executed all of them. Instead, she offers them a choice between bending the knee (the new catchphrase of the series) and execution. One could argue that this is a Hobson’s choice but it is more than the traditional rules of warfare would allow for. The holdouts as expected were the Tarlys. Randyll’s (James Faulkner) loyalty to Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) had wavered after considerable difficulty, but he refused to allow that same flexibility to Daenerys. She’s a foreigner, he notes with contempt, dying with his nativist xenophobia thoroughly intact. Yet Dickon Tarly (Tom Hopper) follows in his father’s footsteps. A horrified Tyrion tries to stomp out his naiveté, noting that a great house like the Tyrells had just been wiped out and it was his responsibility to safeguard Horn Hill and the Tarly name. Dickon runs through his internal conflict but ultimately refuses to bend the knee. Daenerys has father and son immolated by Drogon. Executing Randyll made sense but there’s a disquiet around the death of Dickon, even though he chose his execution.
When the team arrives back on Dragonstone, Tyrion expresses his discomfort over Daenerys’s decision to Varys (Conleth Hill). He tries to justify it, to disquiet the voice in his head that is spitting out a consistent warning about what he had just witnessed. The constant comparisons between Daenerys and her father the Mad King Aerys are at this juncture overdone and tried, but there is something to be said for perhaps not choosing that specific method of execution and perhaps trying a different degree of diplomacy. Varys, drinking for the first time on screen, remembers the screams and the pleads for mercy of Aerys’s victims that had filled the Red Keep as onlookers watched their flesh burn away. Daenerys is not her father, Tyrion notes, and there’s a truth to that. Immolation may not have been the best strategy in that particular moment, but Daenerys had not used it on a mere whim. There was a point and that gives both of her drinking advisors the confidence that she is at heart a reasonable individual.
While Tyrion is resolving his inner conflict with Daenerys, however, his reunion with Jaime is a bit more fraught. Both of them are struggling between their love for one another and their remembrances of the conflict between the queens they are respectively serving. Tyrion tries to defend his murder of their wretched father Tywin (Charles Dance) and Jaime recognizes the truth. Not wanting to deal with his emotions in response to Tyrion’s truth, Jaime shuts him down, wanting to know why he was there. Daenerys, in a move of significant diplomacy, was offering an armistice with Cersei (Lena Headey) so that Jon (Kit Harington) and company could complete their admittedly likely-ton-not-work plan to prove that the White Walkers were indeed real. Jaime brings the armistice to Cersei, who surprisingly agrees when Jaime is pressing upon her the reality that if Daenerys could destroy their army with just one dragon, they have no chance considering that she has three of them. She is agreeing no doubt because she has something nefarious planned but also because she happens to be pregnant. Jaime, who has been suffering from immense doubt the entire season in regards to his relationship with Cersei (although not as much as some of us would like) and now he is facing what might be his most difficult test in breaking that toxic bond.
The Stark siblings are facing internal conflicts of their own that are spilling over the gezellig reunion we had all in some part desired on their behalf. Arya (Maisie Williams) looks upon Sansa (Sophie Turner) facing complaints from the Northern lords about Jon’s long absence of Winterfell. Sansa is conflicted between her desire for authority and power, things that she had been denied for so long by one man after another. Arya is conflicted within her desires to feel at home again and the understanding that she simply isn’t the person who could simply skate the past the darkness that she has been exposed to. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) plays upon that schism expertly, playing Arya’s burgeoning suspicions of Sansa’s motivations.
As Sansa and Arya find their internal conflicts going external, Samwell (John Bradley) is faced with an internal conflict of his own. The arrival of Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) raven outlining the threat of the White Walkers galvanizes him yet further but the old, white male maesters of the Citadel are stuck within their orthodox fashions and refuse to budge. Sam looks upon the men who have the privilege of upholding knowledge and his heart slowly and quietly crumbles. There is a part of him that wants to stay true to his dream and become a maester but he knows that the threat from the north is far too important. He is tired of reading about the achievements of better men and wants to contribute something himself. He is so active in his disgust for the maesters’s inaction on using their knowledge to benefit humanity as a whole that he completely slips past Gilly (Hannah Murray) quietly noting that Prince Rhaegar had had his marriage [to Elia Martell] annulled and then had a secret ceremony performed in Dorne. That bombshell flies right over his head and he instead makes a decision to steal secret documents from the Citadel and flee to the North.
As Sam’s heart breaks and he flees with his family, Jon finds himself bonding to a snarling Drogon before heading north to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The Night’s Watch castle that gives the episode its title is surrounded by a gorgeous icy landscape, but its inhabitants find that the quietness of their surroundings is short-lived. As each character comes face to face with each other, old resentments and conflicts flare up as they are wont to do. Gendry (Joe Dempsie), having had his fair share of rowing, is understandably still furious at the Brotherhood Without Banners for selling him to Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Jon, however, quietly notes that they’re all on the same side for one simple reason: they can still breathe. The squabble dies instantly and they prepare to venture out into the Lands of Always Winter. Jon leads his team of magnificent seven out into the frigid cold, ready for his foolhardy mission as ominous winds fervently whip around them all.
+“That was only one of them.”
+“Dragons are where our partnership ends.”
+“Would you have your granddaughter marry Tommen (Dean Charles Chapman) or Joffrey (Jack Gleeson)?”
+Cersei finally learning that Tyrion did not murder Joffrey
+“I have fewer enemies today than I did yesterday.”
+Old white men around a table. Uh-oh.
+“Nothing fucks you harder than time.”
+“Safety is never a permanent state of affairs.”
+Gilly owning all of the misogynistic maesters and depending her love of learning is everything. It was genuinely beautiful to see her so engaged and excited about reading and discovering new facts.
+The mirroring shot of Sam’s entrance to the Citadel was so quietly devastating. It’s heartbreaking to see his dream come crashing around him in such a brutal moment of realizing that his dream simply was not what he so deeply believed to be. That that dream had given him so much hope makes it that much more worse.
+The Avengers Seven
-Jaime and Bronn escaping the carnage was less than plausible to say the least.
Episode Title: Eastwatch
Written by: Dave Hill
Directed by: Matt Shakman
Image Courtesy: Newsweek
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