Spoilers, as ever, ahoy...
Sound the horns! Pull up the draw bridge! Archers - do the archery thing! There is, in the heart of this reviewer at least, the first signs of a GoT backlash marching towards the gates, and unlike the death of Rickon Tarly it feels pretty heartbreaking.
If the show's previous dud notes were mere minor storylines (Jamie and Bronn's Sand Sisters escapade springs to mind, as does much of last year's religious fanaticism stuff), this was an entire episode in which a huge amount happened and none of it was very good. Or to put it another way: much of it was bad.
It wasn't the lack a spectacular battle - one of those every week would be too much for anyone - it was the depressing sight of Game of Thrones, for one episode at least, buckling under its own weight and disappearing into TV show convention. And there weren't even many good lines.
Allow me to elaborate, while giving 'Eastwatch' a standard raven-faced:
The most plausible Gendry theory is usually the right Gendry theory
Is he leading The Golden Company? Is he hiding out somewhere on Dragonstone? Is he Hot Pie's kitchen porter? Nope, nope and nope. The great Gendry riddle, as expected, was finally answered this week and it was the most straightforward explanation of them all. All this time he's been back in King's Landing working as a blacksmith, not pausing even to sleep, eat or form a meaningful relationship he isn't prepared to walk away from in a split second.
Which is handy, because he's been recruited by Ser Davos to help Jon - not by forging weapons out of Dragonglass but by swinging his war hammer by his side in battle, a Stark and a Baratheon fighting together just as their fathers did before them (Bastard Edition™).
(Not to be a spoilsport, but moments like the one when Davos told Gendry "I thought you were still rowing!", which serve as meta nods to the meme culture surrounding the show, always grate with me a little. Fourth wall guys: leave it alone.)
Anyway - Gendry's back and he's basically a Dungeon and Dragons computer game character with a special move. So that's nice.
Shock, horror - Jamie is not dead…
As predicted, the episode opened with Jamie and Bronn emerging from the lake completely unscathed after last week's nosedive out of the way of a fire-breathing dragon. A few splutters, a token 'cunt' from Bronn and the King Slayer was off back to Cersei with his tail between his legs.
Couple of points here: first, the teasing shot of him sinking under the weight of his armour that ended 'The Spoils of War' suddenly feels like a pretty cheap move, straight out of the daytime soap opera playbook. Secondly, why was Dany content to let literally the only person her sworn enemy cares about in the entire world swim off, rather than send one of her soldiers to capture him the moment he emerged? It's not like they assumed Jamie was dead: 5 minutes later, Tyrion was meeting his brother in King's Landing to suggest a truce. Cersei, meanwhile, made some vague threatening noises about Bronn before announcing she is pregnant, immediately shifting her character's motivation from Oh My God She's Completely Lost It to all that stuff about family legacy and how she really loves her kids etc., which feels a bit regressive, but whatever.
…but the Tarlys are very much dead
Oh yeah – Dany torched Randyll and Dickon Tarl (you know: the one we've cared about for literally one episode) for refusing to bend the knee to her in front of what remains of the Lannister army, a move that is supposed to make us wonder if she's going all 'Mad Queen' like her father, but didn't, really. She's always had a ruthless streak – you don't get her sixty-odd career titles without it - and soon afterwards she was shooting loving gazes at both Jon Snow (who she now knows is extra special after she caught him petting Drogon) and Ser Jorah, who's back from Grey Scale rehab and more gnarly and tired than ever. Tyrion and Vary's handwringing over her mental state feels like a very big, very smelly red herring, to be honest.
The real surprise in the Dany storyline was that, after finally seizing the initiative in the war with Cersei, she is now prepared to sacrifice that momentum to fight Jon's war in the North - all because Bran got particularly high one evening and sent everyone a raven's scroll saying he's seen the army of the undead marching, which everyone knew about already.
(While we're on it - how slow are these White Walkers exactly? Every other character in the show crosses continents in minutes on some sort of underground bullet train while they're taking straight up months to get from Hardhome to Eastwatch, which is like going from London to Luton, according to the map. If they're that slow, why doesn't everyone just go chill in Dorne – they'll be dead before the Night King is past Mole's Town anyway).
Everyone stopping now to fight the White Walkers is not only a tad unrealistic (I know, I know – it's a show about dragons, but when it comes to human motivation, at least, GoT has always been pretty true to life) but somewhat sucks the energy out of a season which thus far has centred entirely around the war between Dany and Cersei. Perhaps it wants to take care of 'the White Walker problem' first before getting back to the comparatively petty (though admittedly more compelling) fight for the Iron Throne, but that feels very odd given the show down with the ice zombies has been pretty much the anointed finale since the opening scene of the pilot.
Avengers, Unite! Or rather, please don't
OK, this is where things got really bad.
The sight of Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, The Hound, Jorah the ex who won't quit, Gendry the Warhammer action figure and the two Gingers without Banners setting off North of the wall on their mission to capture a White Walker was, presumably, meant to be a rousing sight.
But this unlikely band of characters, brought together by extreme coincidence and forged in a common cause over less than two minutes of dialogue, felt like something lifted straight from a cheesy super hero film. Why didn't their differences take longer to iron out? What's the plan – throw a bag over a White Walker's head and hope the other hundred thousand or so ice zombies don't notice? And what exactly is the Hound's motivation for marching North anyway? The show's most compelling minor character has been reduced to 'the grumpy one' in an unconvincing ensemble piece, Oceans 11 meets The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.
What this scene really did was painfully underline the show's biggest problem all season: it's too scared to kill anyone anymore. Everyone in that motley crew besides Jon are disposable in the grand scheme of things, but for some reason, they have not only been kept alive but thrown together in what feels like the final, desperate act of an ailing comic book franchise. As I said last week of Bronn / Jamie's last minute rescue jump, this feels like something from a normal TV show, not one that holds your very heart in the palm of its hand ready to squash it like a tomato the moment you least expect it.
The task of tying up the loose ends of so many divergent storylines was a huge one, and sadly, D.B Weiss and David Benioff appear to be approaching the task with precisely the sentimentality for its own characters that George RR Martin beheaded from the fantasy genre in the first place.*
Jon Snow is a bastard no more
Oh yeah - this is important. Reddit crack moment of the week goes to Gilly. who casually let it slip it while reading some old records in the Citadel that 'Prince Ragger' – aka Rhaegar Targaryen, Jon's father – secretly annulled his marriage to Elia Martell and remarried Lyanna Stark – aka Jon's Mother – before they were both killed. This means that not only is Jon both Stark and Targaryen (Ice and Fire) but a straight up legit nobleman in the eyes of the law, in other words a bastard no more. This is absolutely friggin' huge if true (it's true) as it makes the King in the North the most rightful claimant of them all to the Iron Throne. Not that Sam noticed – he was too busy whining about work. The thinking man of Westeros has really dropped the ball on this one - although that does handily delay the truth of Jon's parentage getting out for a little longer.
*Unless... it's all a ploy to get several much-loved but sort-of-pointless characters together in one place for a Red Wedding-style massacre, which would actually help with the plotting side of things and prove me wrong about the show's cajones. The trailer for the next episode, 'Death is the Enemy', suggests that is a possibility as it follows the gang's trip up north:
Someone must die. Surely. And not just the crap ones with Banners either. Either way, let's hope the next episode renders 'Eastwatch' but a distant bad memory. I'm still fairly hopeful it will.
Some other thoughts
- That note Littlefinger tricked Arya into finding in his room? It's the one Cersei made Sansa write to Robb way back when she was captive in King's Landing. It reads: "Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert's brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King's Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark." Arya, of course, may not realise it was written under duress. 'Finger, who has been a pretty redundant player in season 7 so far, is trying to pit the Stark girls against one another. Why? Shits and giggles, probably.
- Where the hell is Theon, then?