Hype. There’s no better word to describe the final sequence of “Eastwatch”, the fifth episode of this season of Game of Thrones. Assembling the crack northern raiding team of Jon Snow, Tormund, Jorah, Gendy, The Hound, Beric, and Thoros of Myr hit every note of the classic “we’re putting together a team” motif perfectly. Sending the Westeros’ version of the Dirty Dozen on a suicide mission beyond The Wall sets up what’s sure to be a thrilling penultimate episode next week.
Yet, at the same time, the rationale for the fellowship of the king (in the north) heading into White Walker territory is incredibly dumb. Somehow, the Dragonstone braintrust convinced themselves that if they captured a wight and brought it back to King’s Landing, perhaps Cersei would simply set aside her maniacal ambition and play nice for the good of the realm. Keep in mind this is the same woman who very recently detonated the Holy Sept of Baelor with the then queen and her family inside.
It’s particularly baffling that Tyrion would be the one to propose such a plan. For most of the show, Tyrion has been well established as a cunning advisor whose grasp of human psychology has proven to be his greatest asset. Military failures aside, coming up with a plan that so blatantly ignores everything he knows and has himself espoused about Cersei betrays that seasons-long characterization in service of advancing the plot. Perhaps you can do some mental gymnastics to argue that Tyrion was so disturbed by seeing the Lannister army flambeed that he’s grasping at straws — but even still, the “maybe Cersei will be reasonable” straw seems like one he’d never grasp at.
What I’m about to say next will undoubtedly annoy some viewers, but this would never happen in the books. Martin has some flaws writing — mostly in terms of speed and spending too much time widening his narrative without advancing it — but contrived plot devices that betray pre-existing characterizations aren’t one of them. The Red Wedding was stunning and a subversive to the fantasy genre, but it also was the direct consequence of Robb Stark making a series of poor decisions and not getting away with it just because he’s the hero.
Moving such a deep, sprawling narrative towards its endgame is no easy task. In fact, that very challenge is almost certainly the reason why The Winds of Winter still hasn’t been released. For the past couple seasons Benioff and Weiss have mostly been forging their own path through the final acts of A Song of Ice and Fire and have overwhelmingly done a great job. However, this “use a captured zombie to broker an alliance” plan is perhaps the duo’s biggest narrative misstep to date.1
All that said, the “stupid f***ing idea” –Tormund’s words not mine — undoubtedly sets up a must-watch confrontation between the Westerosi magnificent seven and the White Walkers. It’s almost certain that one, if not several, members of the band are biting the dust. There’s also a decent chance we’ll get our first preview of exactly how effective dragons are against White Walkers. The spectacle may very well be worth the dubious narrative turns, but hopefully Benioff and Weiss can avoid further instances of undermining rich characterizations in their pursuit of the endgame.
- In terms of controversy and unnecessary sexual violence, Ramsay raping Sansa was their worst plot decision thus far, but it least that was true to what you would expect to happen with a marriage between those two characters. ↩