[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 7, Episode 5, “Eastwatch.”]
There’s nothing quite like a new location on the great moving “Game of Thrones” opening credits map, is there? Even with the well-informed geographical layout of Westeros that’s been slowly unspooled over the course of nearly seven seasons, every new opportunity to face a new foe brings with it the accompanying chance to carve out a new corner of map.
For this week’s episode, Eastwatch may not have made its full, grand entrance until the closing sequences, as unlikely allies go out to face the dangers beyond The Wall. But the remainder of “Eastwatch” brings reminders that “Game of Thrones” excels when it shows just how expansive this world can be. By combining that growing map with a sharpening sense of how would-be rulers keep a firm grasp on their part of the territory, it shows just how much everyone stands to lose if they’re looking in the wrong direction.
Matt Shakman dazzled in his directorial debut in last week’s “The Spoils of War” and he picks up right where he left off, literally and figuratively, following Bronn and Jaime out of their watery escape. Even as the two emerge from the lake, the smoldering remains of the doomed loot train behind them show that they’re not that far off from danger. Despite the overwhelming power of a dragon-based aerial attack, Jaime and Bronn staying alive is a testament to the idea that the area surrounding Casterly Rock, much like nearly every stop along the opening credits survey of notable places, still has massive amounts of open area.
But as those two surviving members of Team Lannister lick their wounds and return to King’s Landing, the biggest challenger to the throne is up to some of Cersei’s tricks with their former compatriots. Much like the characters on the show have their eyes fixed on controlling key strongholds, Dany is set on establishing a firm rule over her newly vanquished foes. Despite her growing reputation as “Breaker of Chains,” her repeated insistence to “bend the knee” means that though she might be committed to abolishing slavery, she’s not opposed to asserting control in other ways, including turning Randyll and Dickon Tarly into human charcoal.
Some of Randyll’s final words hit home the idea that having a gigantic map to work from is doing just as much to foment geography-based antipathy amongst one side of this fight. Cersei’s throne room proclamations have had their share of xenophobic streaks, an idea that Randyll reinforces in giving his reasons for aligning with her. “She was born in Westeros,” Randyll sneers, underlining the notion that self-preservation isn’t the only thing driving this conflict. (How fitting that those who chose their allegiances out of misplaced duty to an abstract construct got charred for stubbornly holding onto those ideals.)
Dany’s Drogon-fearing leadership style is in dire contrast to Sansa’s more deferential mode, fielding the complaints of the Knights of the Vale in Jon’s absence. “Eastwatch” compresses the amount of runtime the show takes to traverse the areas between Dragonstone and The Wall itself, but the sheer distance that Jon has to travel means that there might be fewer reinforcements left or on their way when the battles to come finally arrive. Tyrion’s idea to bring proof to sway Cersei’s ire is having some serious consequences in areas where neither of them are.
Aside from the restless soldiers itching for some direction, the Winterfell scenes this week also showed that another casualty of waiting around for Jon might be the Stark sisters’ tepid alliance. It was hard to believe that Littlefinger’s devious hallway convos were so mustache-twirlingly sinister that episode writer Dave Hill would have let them through without a reason. Never assume that Littlefinger will pass up a chance at subterfuge.
Leading his own Winterfell disinformation campaign, he leads Arya straight to a fateful scroll that reveals Sansa’s past allegiances to King Joffrey. In light of Joffrey’s death and some much larger undead fish to fry, this seems like an interpersonal ploy more than a seismic shift that could shake Winterfell. Much like the rest of the season so far, the Winterfell intrigue takes a back seat to the drastic shifts happening elsewhere.