Game of Thrones is performing some serious plot acrobatics
"Eastwatch" felt like Game of Thrones at its old and chatty best. Everyone had a lot to say, especially about their juicy old unmentioned grievances. Don't get me wrong: The big new revelations we got were meaty and fun, too. Jaime's miraculously alive! Cersei is pregnant! Jon is legitimate (and has a better claim to the throne than Dany)! Gendry's back, Jon's a Dragon-whisperer, The Hound made it to Eastwatch and Dickon — poor Dickon — is toast! Even more pleasing, somehow, were the smaller moments that didn't direct you quite so aggressively. Liam Cunningham is so gifted I could watch him natter on about fermented crab forever. (He's so good I can almost — almost — overlook the fact that Theon, who made a big comeback to Dragonstone last week to ask Dany to do something about Yara and Ellaria, was strangely absent this week.)
But this was a charmingly talky episode, largely because long-separated characters are finally back together and everyone is in the mood to revive old wrongs. Cersei seethes over Jaime's message from Olenna. Varys darkly remembers his experience "just following orders" for the Mad King. Arya reminds Sansa of how shallow she used to be. Littlefinger digs up an old bit of Stark drama — a letter she was forced to write her family as a hostage in King's Landing — to foment Arya's distrust of her sister. Davos reminds Tyrion that he burned his son with wildfire. Gendry is so done making armor for the family that killed his father that he walks away mid-project (he also reminds the Brotherhood of how they wronged him). Randyll Tarly uses his last living moments to upbraid Tyrion for killing his father ("also, foreigners stink"). Sam is done with academic conventions, particularly the poop part, which we've seen him deal with in retch-inducing detail. And that remarkable team in Eastwatch almost dissolves into mutual recriminations until Jon — ever the effective diplomat — reminds them that they are on the same side as they are not (at this point in time, and strictly speaking) dead.
The most touching instance of this longing for some kind of cathartic confrontation over past events is, as ever, Tyrion's. I've written before about the buried tragedy of Tyrion. To say it isn't buried now is putting it mildly. Last week we saw Tyrion dejectedly watch the rout of the Lannisters over the strains of his family's Rains of Castamere. This week we see him surveying the ruins and ashes. Tyrion's angst culminates in a fraught confrontation with Jaime in which Tyrion, ruefully noting how completely Jaime fooled him by "[abandoning] the family home, completely unsentimental," at long last gets to try to explain himself to his brother. He wants Jaime to understand just how justified he was in killing Tywin. Jaime interrupts before he can get more than a few words out. "What do you want?" he says, cutting Tyrion's catharsis short.
Equally abrupt is Jaime's reunion with Cersei. He's back from the almost-certainly-dead (having essentially admitted his suicide wish to Bronn), but Cersei seems pretty unmoved about his return. She launches into logistics with nary a hello.
Not that she's alone: Everyone this episode is itching for action, so much so that their actual actions seem amazingly unmotivated. The Hound and Beric Dondarrion agree to help Jon. Why? Because it's better than sitting in a cell. Why do Randyll and Dickon decide to die rather than bend the knee to Daenerys? Cuz. (Tarly says he serves his queen, but even he admits he's been loyal to this particular queen for maybe two weeks.) Gendry drops everything to follow Ser Davos so fast it almost seems like the episode is making a joke of how unlikely everyone's actions seem. (Except for Sam — more on him later.)
Throughout, the dialogue is as good as the motivations are murky. It's clear that some major plot acrobatics were needed to get that Eastwatch team together. It's clear too, at this point, that a plan is ludicrous if Tyrion made it. His military strategy was a disaster, and his latest scheme came to fruition in a way that's no less cock-eyed: Dany says she can't help Jon on the grounds that Cersei will invade in her absence: "As soon as I march away, she marches in." Here's Tyrion's flash of insight: "Perhaps not," he says, noting that Cersei considers the White Walkers a child's story. "What if we prove her wrong?"
Friends, I'm not sure I've ever known anyone who likes being proven wrong less than Cersei Lannister. If Arya can gaze into Sansa's eyes and read her mind, Tyrion should have a basic understanding of how his own sister's mind works. Let's review: Cersei's rational process led her to execute Lady for Nymeria's crimes. She was fine having Tyrion himself executed for a crime he almost certainly didn't commit. She trained Joffrey to believe that the truth is what you make it. On what planet does it make sense to launch a lethal mission to kidnap a wight and bring it back to King's Landing in order to convince someone who reasons this way? Does Tyrion really think she'd honor an armistice? As much as I appreciate the end result, this is weak sauce.
Not to mention the fact that this move makes zero sense for Daenerys, who's just sent lovelorn Jorah off on a deadly mission in order to ... convince her archenemy that Jon Snow is correct about wights existing. That doesn't make sense; neither does Jorah's noble insistence that he'll do it to serve her, since the person asking for this is Jon, whom he's just met. Is Daenerys' reason for agreeing love? I wrote last week about how essentially ungooey I found their expressions in that cave, but things have taken a turn: Jon did get along with her children! And she did seem genuinely sorry to see him go. (He, on the other hand, seemed fine. "I wish you well in the wars to come" is not the most stirring lover's farewell.)
But one of the greatest unresolved grievances belongs to poor Sam Tarly, who seems to be working through some daddy issues still, seeing as how he echoed his father's contempt for his studies when he told Gilly he was "tired of reading about the achievements of better men." It's extremely sad that Sam — who raided the library just as he raided his father's house for Heartsbane when he left there in a huff — is now the likely heir of Horn Hill, and he doesn't even know it. The episode spent a lot of energy agonizing over whether Daenerys was right to execute Randyll and Dickon. I wasn't sure why, but one possible reason could be this: The discovery that Daenerys is responsible for Dickon and Randyll's deaths could make Sam less likely to help her and Jon in the future.