game of thrones eastwatch review 11

Samwell’s New Mission (AKA Samwell Ignores Gilly’s Super-Important Revelation)

Samwell Tarly still hasn’t learned that his father and brother have been burnt alive by Jon Snow’s new buddy (that’s going to be an awkward conversation), but he is pretty sick and tired of life at the Citadel. Instead of learning how to defeat White Walkers, he’s transcribing old scrolls and changing deadpans and being on the receiving end of skeptical maesters who think his talk of the impending undead invasion is nothing but nonsense. So he’s done. He’s had enough. He packs a wagon, puts on his old Night’s Watch uniform, steals a few vital books from the library, and sets out with Gilly and the baby to where he’ll actually be useful. Where his knowledge can actually save the day. Does this mean Dragonstone, Winterfell, or Eastwatch?

Let’s dwell on Sam for a moment. For a guy who was introduced as being craven, a guy literally kicked out of his home by a cruel father who offered him death or the Night’s Watch, he’s really stepped up. In this patriarchal and medieval society, Sam is a round peg who will never fit the square pegs required for lords and leaders and heroes. He’s sweet and sensitive and smart, a man who only needed the right guidance and the right set of responsibilities to firm up his backbone. Randyll Tarly, with his narrow vision, cannot see what we see: the committed boyfriend, the loving adoptive father, the skilled advisor, and the kind of guy who doesn’t lead with courage but can summon it under the right circumstances. Samwell Tarly is probably the worst lead character in George R.R. Martin’s books, a character whose chapters are nothing but piss and shit and sweat and whining, but the series has transformed him into something lacking in just about every corner of the show – a genuinely good person who leads with kindness.

But Sam is also a guy and he does the most guy thing imaginable in “Eastwatch.” When Gilly reads about Prince Rhaegar getting his marriage annulled in Dorne, accidentally stumbling across the truth about Jon Snow’s parentage, he dismisses her so he can wallow in his own frustration and anger. Sorry, Gilly. I’m sure millions of the show’s female viewers can relate.

game of thrones eastwatch review 9

A Brother, a Sister, and One Creepy Pregnancy

Last week, we saw things we had never seen on Game of Thrones before: a dragon frying legions of Lannister soldiers, Dothraki soldiers stampeding over the Westerosi countryside, Bronn looking legitimately afraid for his life. And all of this was not lost on Jaime Lannister, who escaped from the battle by the skin of his teeth (and only because the endlessly reliable Bronn pushed him out of the frying pan and into the dark, murky river).

So when Jaime, the experienced soldier and killer who has endured his fair share of tortures and mutilations, has to trudge home to tell his queen/sister/lover that he doesn’t think they can win this war, it’s a big deal. Of course, he also comes bearing the news that the late Olenna Tyrell confessed to killing their oldest son, so it’s not what you’d call a fun conversation. This is a Jaime we’ve rarely seen: desperate, fearful, and entirely unsure of himself. The last time we saw him this shaken, he had just had his hand chopped off and he was confessing his darkest secrets to Brienne in a hot bath.

As grotesque as their relationship is, there is no doubt that Jaime is deeply in love with his sister. It’s wrong, but it comes from an honest place, built on feelings that run deep within him. It’s icky, but at least it’s an honest kind of icky. Jaime is a complex guy driven by pretty straightforward motivations. He pushes children out of towers for love. He murders his own cousin for love. He leads armies for love. He’s honest with his queen about their chances in this war for love. If not for all of the incest and murder, Jaime could be a…pretty okay guy? Maybe? Kind of? Sort of?

But Cersei has always known how to play her twin brother like a fiddle and that’s why her big reveal, that she’s pregnant with their fourth child, can’t help but feel like a ploy. Her lover and general and partner in domination was wavering…how else do you get him to stop talking about surrender and recommit him to the cause? Simple. You give him something to fight for. Of course, I could be wrong. Cersei could be pregnant. But the timing feels awfully convenient and a fake pregnancy is such a Cersei move. As she tells Jaime, they’ll fight Daenerys where they’re strongest – off the battlefield, in the political trenches, where a sharp mind can outmaneuver a dragon. This is the war the Lannisters fight best and it’s very likely Cersei has opened up a new front against her own brother.

game of thrones eastwatch gendry

The Former Smuggler and the Dead King’s Bastard

The last time we saw Gendry, the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon was rowing away from Dragonstone, escaping with his life after Davos freed him from Melisandre’s clutches. Fans have spent the past four years joking about him, wondering if he was still rowing, possibly lost forever. So when Davos tracks Gendry down on the Street of Steel, where he is once again working as a blacksmith, his dialogue reads like a little wink, the showrunners’ way of saying “Yeah, we knew you were wondering about him.”

Gendry’s return is a little convenient, but there’s no denying that it’s good to see him again (and eagle-eyed fans probably had his “surprise” return spoiled by actor Joe Dempsie’s name in the opening credits). As we sprint to the finish line, Game of Thrones seems determined to tie up as many loose ends as possible, to converge as many storylines as possible, to stitch all of the dangling threads into a handful of tight storylines. The return of Gendry has the potential to feel like fan fiction, but “Eastwatch” sells it. It sells it by making his return the result of Davos genuinely caring about this kid and wanting to take him under his wing. It sells it by allowing him to form an instant connection to Jon, two bastards united by the fact that their families have fought and died together for years. With every noteworthy Baratheon dead and House Stark still reeling from the events of the past six seasons, the Gendry/Jon alliance is a powerful spark of flame in the winter. Allegiances don’t die. They just take a break until the penultimate season forces everyone together again.

Anyway, it’s all worth it because every scene with Davos and Gendry is a hoot. From the beach scene where the former smuggler’s bribes and fermented crab plans fail spectacularly (forcing Gendry to smash in some Gold Cloak faces in a move that would have made his father proud) to the Onion Knight sarcastically noting that no one listens to him despite the fact that he’s managed to live to a ripe old age in the deadly land of Westeros, these two bring out the best in one another. Hopefully, Gendry hasn’t returned just so he can die in next episode’s journey beyond the wall. I feel like he and Jon have a lot to talk about. And I feel like Davos could use a son to replace the one Tyrion blew up at Blackwater.

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