Ron Hogan

Aug 14, 2017

The latest Game Of Thrones season 7 episode builds towards a future big battle and is packed with fascinating character work. Spoilers…

This review contains spoilers.

7.5 Eastwatch

Does the lack of travelling on Game Of Thrones bother the viewing audience? It seems to be something brought up consistently; the characters appear to fly around the continent of Westeros without much concern for travelling time. They move from location to location without any real time passing between set-ups. Granted, one of them has the only flying vehicle on the planet, and the others seem to be fairly accomplished sailors and travellers, but you can get only so far on a horse or boat…

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies. One of the most prominent tropes is to have a character drive to a scene, park a car, get out of the car, and walk into a building. It’s always a sign that a movie needs to add a little time in order to be a feature-length film. This is padding that Game Of Thrones doesn’t need. There’s no real requirement to bother with a Westeros road picture; this isn’t the Arya’s trip north in the company of the Night’s Watch, or Jon’s trip beyond The Wall with Mance Rayder. With every passing hour, there’s less time to get everything that needs to be wrapped up neatly packaged; we are far beyond the point of really building new characters (except for perhaps Euron Greyjoy, who doesn’t need to be developed so much as unleashed like Errol Flynn in a swashbuckling naval battle).

Game Of Thrones is not taking any time with getting all the pieces together and getting events in motion. This is the first episode all season without some sort of crazy battle scene, but rather, Eastwatch serves as a building moment for another big battle scene to come. Incredibly, that’s as exciting as a flying dragon melting a Lannister wagon train, if only because of all the interesting character moments that happen during the shuffle.

Of all the fan service the show has indulged in, nothing’s quite as satisfying as seeing Davos and Gendry reunited, and seeing Davos do what he does best. To watch the head of every person in Dany’s throne room turn immediately to Davos, and that resigned look on Davos’ face, is pleasing, but to watch the smuggler at work conning a couple of goldcloaks with a story about fermented crab meat being an aphrodisiac is captivating. He’s the right amount of charming to get the job done, and he sells the effects of fermented crab meat well enough that the guards buy his story (after a bribe). The Onion Knight isn’t much of a fighter, but he’s skilled when it comes to dealing with people, and he might be the best asset Daenerys, Jon Snow, or anyone has when it comes to playing the game of diplomacy. Liam Cunningham slays every joke writer Dave Hill offers him in the script, and Davos has become a fan favourite with good reason, but the returning Gendry also has a great meet-cute with his new bestie Jon Snow. Gendry’s bull-headed refusal to play along with the story Davos sets up for him seems perfectly in line with the character, and there’s instant, amusing chemistry between Joe Dempsie and Kit Harrington that is a pleasant echo of the chemistry between Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon on their first televised meeting seven seasons ago.

It’s difficult to pick something aside from Davos to point out in this episode, because it’s jam-packed with great character work. John Bradley and Hannah Murray continue to work well together, and Murray has slowly built Gilly from an uneducated peasant girl to someone who loves learning almost as much as Sam. Sam’s frustration with the Maesters boiling over in his personal life feels all too real for a fantasy show, as anyone who has ever taken work troubles home with them could tell you. The last moments of Randyll and Dickon Tarly also end up being surprisingly touching, thanks to a little glance from James Faulkner to Tom Hopper right before the pair are incinerated by a dragon; Faulkner was overlooked a lot on Da Vinci’s Demons, but Randyll’s last look of pride at his son is heartbreaking despite the character’s prickliness. Jorah and Daenerys have a very heartfelt reunion (as do Jorah and Tyrion, because no one glowers quite like Jorah Mormont). Jon, Jorah, and Gendry make friends with the Brotherhood Without Banners (despite Gendry’s history with them), and go to the wrong side of the wall in the company of a skeptical Tormund Giantsbane, who inquires almost immediately about Brienne.  Speaking of ships…

Last week, director Matt Shakman earned a lot of praise for how he handled one of the biggest battle scenes on Game Of Thrones to date. Specifically, he had to mix live stunt performers with visual effects, coach actors on how to relate to said CGI (Jon petting a dragon looked amazingly real this week, kudos to the special effects crew and to Harrington), and make it all work while maintaining jaw-tightening tension. This week, he blends together seasons worth of character back story seamlessly while getting great performances out of everyone involved. Kristofer Hivju has less than five lines, and they’re all comedy gold. My praise for Liam Cunningham and Davos’ salesmanship bears repeating. The confrontation between Jaime and Cersei is appropriately uncomfortable, especially after Cersei announces to Jaime that she’s about to bring forth the next generation of Lannister before coldly threatening him with death should he double-cross her again.

Shakman’s skillful handling of the actors adds some serious dramatic weight to what might have otherwise been a bit of a cliched scene of pointed snooping. Littlefinger, skulking worm that he is, wanders around Winterfell doing something nefarious. Arya, like any good Junior Detective, is following him around to figure out what he’s up to. It’s a fun game of cat and mouse, because for the most part, it looks like Arya’s snooping is going undetected. She even breaks into Littlefinger’s room and manages to find the scroll he was hiding from Maester Luwin’s archives. Arya’s victory is satisfying, but cut short. As we can surmise from his maester-shit-eating grin, Littlefinger has something up his sleeve. Arya might be a faceless assassin who can fight Brienne to a stand-still, but skulking and creeping and plotting are still Littlefinger’s stock in trade, and he’s playing chess while most everyone else seems to be content with gnawing on the pieces. Arya’s suspicious nature is part of a plan she’s hatching, but it’s difficult to see that far ahead. Arya’s clashes with Sansa make sense; both characters have changed a lot since they last saw one another, but nobody knows Sansa better than her sister and vice-versa. Littlefinger seems to be trying to play one against the other to climb another rung on the ladder of chaos while satisfying his uncomfortable urge to take care of Cat Stark by bedding her daughter.

Some of the players in the game can’t or won’t see the true big picture. Littlefinger and Cersei are always going to be blinded by ambition. Littlefinger wants to be king, and Cersei reduced King’s Landing to ashes after one of her many poorly-thought-out plans turned against her. Jon takes one of the few people Daenerys listens to, the leader of the Free Folk, an unkillable man, and Robert Baratheon’s only surviving bastard on a zombie-hunting expedition.

These are people who might be more useful not off fighting zombies in the frozen north (like say the heir to Storm’s End), but at least Jon has a plan worth sticking to and an ability to see the true threat. The Magnificent Seven march north beyond the wall to catch a living zombie to take back to King’s Landing. It’s crazy, but it might work. Even Cersei couldn’t deny the threat of wights if one gets dropped at her doorstep.

Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Spoils Of War, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan thinks that Littlefinger should be crowned King of the Creeps. With that smile and that facial hair, he should be featured prominently on the Westeros version of “To Catch A Predator.” Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.