“Eastwatch” felt poised to be an hour to catch our breath after the fire-breathing terror of “The Spoils of War,” and to set the pieces for next week’s first true showdown of winter: Jon’s seven samurai of Westeros against the Night King. The show isn’t resting on its laurels, though. This was an hour filled with game-changing revelations, poignant reunions, new uneasy pacts, and crackling tensions between siblings. It continued to ask refreshingly difficult questions about power and authority, and whom we trust with each. And it casually dropped the biggest plot bombshell of the season—then interrupted the woman reading it before she was done.
For Seven’s sake, Sam.
“Annulment.” Of all the most laughably mundane words in the world, did anyone anticipate “annulment” as the most radical revelation Game of Thrones has dropped yet? What Gilly reads aloud from the diary of High Septon Maynard, the man who apparently annulled the marriage of Elia Martell and Rhaegar Targaryen (“Raggar,” as Gilly pronounces it), officially crowns Jon the rightful heir to the Iron Throne—not Daenerys.
“Maynard says here that he issued an annulment for a Prince Raggar and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne,” Gilly reveals before being cut off by Sam’s crisis of ego. “I’m tired of reading about the lives of greater men,” he huffs before packing up the family, stealing a few precious books, and wheeling them away from the Citadel for good. Let’s hope Gilly packed her nighttime reading for the ride.
Rhaegar was King Aerys II’s heir and Dany’s older brother, whom most of Westeros believes kidnapped and raped Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark. We saw last season through Bran’s flashback that Lyanna died shortly after giving birth to Jon Snow in the Tower of Joy. At the time, we thought this confirmed Jon as Rhaegar’s bastard, since he was seemingly born out of wedlock. But Maynard’s meticulous recordkeeping confirms what we’ve always suspected (and secretly hoped for): Lyanna and Rhaegar, Jon’s all-but-confirmed parents, were truly in love. Rhaegar annulled his marriage to his wife Elia then married Lyanna. Which means Jon Snow is no bastard—he’s Rhaegar’s last living legitimate heir, one with a much stronger claim to the Iron Throne than his aunt Dany.
Daenerys’ entire identity is built on the notion that she is unique, the last of her kind, guided by destiny to restore the Targaryens’ rightful rule over the Seven Kingdoms. She’s out here barbecuing entire lineages out of existence, righteously convinced she’s the last living relative of King Aerys II. How she’ll react to news that the cute brunette she’s crushing on is both her nephew and her rightful king according to the laws of succession will be a crucial turning point for both characters.
On paper, the news seemingly pits Jon and Dany (and Cersei) against each other. In reality though, there’s no telling what either will do. The revelation could shatter their already uneasy truce. Or it could mean Jon, whose lineage already seemingly allows him to get along great with dragons, could be the next character we see ride one of the “gorgeous beasts.” Jon is only the second character in seven seasons to touch a dragon and live—Tyrion, another fan-favorite candidate for the Secret Targaryen Club, made contact while unchaining Viserion and Rhaegal last season—a fact that clearly impresses Dany and scores him a few points with her. (She hasn’t looked at anyone that way since Khal Drogo! “I’ve grown used to him” is basically Dany-speak for “marry me,” right?) So maybe the bigger question here is whether any of this will happen before or after those two inevitably make out.
Speaking of incest, what’s a medieval soap opera without a surprise pregnancy? In King’s Landing, Cersei—dressed in her Tywinniest outfit yet—reveals to a perfectly-alive Jaime (no surprise there) that she’s conceived another child. That’s a shock, to say the least, considering a certain prophecy that foresaw Cersei having and then losing three, not four children. It could be that Cersei is lying. That would certainly be to her advantage, considering Jaime’s growing hesitance with her ruthless tactics. Another child, and the promise of no longer having to hide that he’s the father, clearly means the world to him. They hug tenderly after she breaks the news, in the most perversely sweet moment of the episode.
Still, I personally think Cersei is telling the truth. Family means more to her than anything else. If there’s one thing that would convince her to agree to Tyrion’s proposed armistice with Dany (while still engineering her downfall on the side, duh), it’s preserving the Lannister line. Still, while the twins are genuinely in love, their paths have been slowly diverging for seasons. Something as traumatic as a lost pregnancy would both technically keep Maggy the witch’s prophecy in tact and, perhaps, be the last straw that drives them apart. Which itself could eventually lead to that other part of the prophecy coming true. Beware the valonquar…
Elsewhere in King’s Landing, Tyrion’s escort and smuggler extraordinaire Davos Seaworth wanders to Flea Bottom and finds none other than Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son and Arya Stark’s old travel buddy. We last saw him rowing away from the dungeons of Dragonstone three seasons ago. He is now appropriately, totally ripped. “Thought you might still be rowing,” Davos quips, before whisking him away back into a boat—and extolling the praises of the Westerosi equivalent of Viagra. The more you know! Gendry, his war hammer, and his guns soon prove a valuable asset: he presumably speed-rows the trio back to Dragonstone at lightning speed, then accompanies Jon, Davos, and a greyscale-free Jorah to Eastwatch, where the Night King’s army is fast approaching.
You have to feel for Jorah. The man flayed himself alive for Dany, only to travel halfway across the world and find her smitten with the prettiest dude in Westeros. There’s something different about the looks he gives the pair though, at least compared to the open contempt he had for Daario. He doesn’t seem to be envious so much as grateful to be alive and of use again. Which is great—and also sounds suspiciously like a completed character arc. (I am so afraid for him in next week’s showdown with the Night King.)
Jorah is even admirably unruffled at Eastwatch when faced with Tormund’s angry glare—still as comically savage as ever, only dimmed when he sees that Brienne, “the big woman,” is nowhere to be found. Tormund’s grudge is a result of ex-Lord Commander Mormont’s diehard vendetta against the Wildlings. But they’re not the only source of tension: Gendry’s quick to point out that Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion betrayed him, and almost got him killed. As for new Brotherhood Without Banners pledge Sandor “The Hound” Clegane—well, he hates everyone by default. There’s no time to sort out their differences, though. If Cersei is to be convinced that the threat of the undead is real, Jon and his suicide squad must survive to bring a live wight to King’s Landing. No pressure.
Jon’s absence from Winterfell is proving troublesome for Sansa though, whose Northern subjects are getting testier by the day. Where is Lady Lyanna Mormont when you need her? Look, guys, Sansa is doing her best. She’s making her subjects feel heard yet gently rebuffing their proposals to crown her queen instead. It’s called being diplomatic. She knows she needs each house’s support if the North is to stand a chance against the undead. And yet. Arya has convinced herself that Sansa’s buried ambitions mean she might follow Littlefinger’s lead and betray Jon. (If nothing else, this season has been very realistic in its portrayal of how people inherently mistrust women in power.)
In an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, Arya inadvertently engages in a lurk-off around the castle with Littlefinger, who purposely feeds her clues to confirm her suspicions and drive a wedge between the Stark sisters. He digs up the old raven’s note that he watched Cersei force Sansa to write way back in Season 1. At the time, Cersei had just succeeded in having her husband King Robert killed and Ned Stark framed for treason. In an attempt to quash Northern retaliation, she had Sansa write to her brother Robb, begging him to ride south and swear fealty to “my beloved Joffrey”:
“Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart,” Sansa wrote at the time. “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.”
Of course, Robb took one look at that letter and knew Sansa had written it against her will. But when Arya and Sansa last knew each other well, Sansa really was infatuated with Joffrey and wanted nothing more than to be a queen. Littlefinger is counting on that letter to convince Arya that Sansa is still the same person she was—worse, someone who would betray her own kin. He hopes that Arya will lash out at Sansa, and that Sansa will fearfully turn away from her deadly little sister into Littlefinger’s arms instead. But we’ve seen Lord Baelish slowly losing his manipulative touch all season. Surely the Stark sisters, whatever their differences, will be smart enough to see through him? (And hey, maybe Bran could take a break from warging around the skies to use that omniscience of his and sort out this simple misunderstanding? No? OK, then.)
Daenerys is also facing some mistrust from her advisers these days, who have watched her become more decisive (and, admittedly, more ruthless) by the day since losing Olenna. Dany executes two lords—Randyll and
Rickon Dickon Tarly, who just happen to be related to the maester-in-training who cured Jorah’s greyscale; I’m sure that won’t come back around—on the battlefield in a brutal, if efficient display that instantly gets the rest of the Lannister army to bend the knee. Still, whether Dany is using her power too forcefully is seemingly meant to be divisive. Tyrion advises she have the Tarlys spend two months in the clink rather than being flambéed alive. His later, troubled conversation with a despondent Varys also seems designed to cast our doubt on her decisions, even her sanity.
“Daenerys is not her father,” Tyrion says, trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. “If she has the right counsel,” counters Varys. But what Daenerys—who can, in fact, think for herself, thank you—says later makes just as much sense: you cannot win a war without strength, and “sometimes strength is terrible.” In either case, Cersei is plotting Dany’s downfall now through methods other than sheer strength. If Dany is to survive walking into the hornet’s nest of King’s Landing, she’ll have to be more than strong—she’ll have to be smart, too.
This post has been updated throughout.