'Game of Thrones' Just Set the Stage for Its Most Important Battle Yet

GAME OF THRONES SEASON 7 - EPISODE 5 -Kit Harington - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the fifth episode of Game of Thrones' seventh season, "Eastwatch."]

"If we don't put our enmities aside," Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) once warned, "then it won't matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne."

At the time, the Onion Knight's words of warning fell on deaf ears, as Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) could focus on nothing but her own impending conquest of Westeros. She brushed off the reports of White Walkers as nothing more than myth. But Game of Thrones viewers knew all too well how real these mythical monsters truly are, and now, not only is the Dragon Queen starting to appreciate the threat, but even the Queen of King's Landing is beginning to chew on the idea.

Much of the action of "Eastwatch," the fifth episode of Thrones' seventh season, centers on a plan hatched by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and enacted by Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to convince their uneasy allies and enemies alike to set aside their differences and consider the true catastrophe heading toward the Seven Kingdoms: the Night King and the Army of the Dead. As a means of convincing everyone involved that the White Walkers need to be considered the foremost hazard on the board, Jon assembles a veritable who's who of Westeros' best and boldest — a group that includes Davos, the freshly healed Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), the recently resurfaced Gendry (Joe Dempsie), the Free Folk commander Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) and the Lightning Lord Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) — for a mission to travel beyond the Wall and apprehend a wight, with the purpose of bringing it back to King's Landing to sell Cersei (Lena Headey) on the existence of the undead.

"Here we all are, at the edge of the world, at the same moment, heading in the same direction for the same reasons," Beric tells his fellow warriors, a dysfunctional crew due to their myriad grievances against one another. "There's a greater purpose at work and we serve it together, whether we know it or not."

"He's right. We're all on the same side," agrees the King in the North. "We're all breathing."

All season long, Game of Thrones has been building toward a massive battle between the living and the dead at or near Eastwatch by the Sea, the Night's Watch's easternmost castle. Indeed, the location is of so much importance that it was directly featured in the show's opening credits. Now, the appropriate parties are all in place for the next steps in their intertwined fates — almost certainly the final stop on the Westeros world tour for one or more of these beloved characters, sad to say. While the great battle didn't arrive this week, it's poised to arrive in next week's penultimate installment, often the site of a Thrones season's biggest jaw-dropping moment. The events of "Eastwatch" knowingly play into those expectations, placing enormous weight on the shoulders of the season's second-to-last episode, in which nothing short of the fate of humanity is in the hands of some of our very favorite characters. Without question, this is shaping up to be the highest stakes battle we've seen on Thrones so far. No pressure, King Snow.

Speaking of Jon Snow feeling the heat, the King in the North experienced his closest encounter yet with a dragon in this week's episode, bravely (foolishly?) reaching out a trembling hand to stroke Drogon's snout — the Game of Thrones equivalent of Ellie Sattler stroking a triceratops for the first time. As a result, we witnessed a growing closeness between Jon and the dragon's mother. Ever since their first episode together, if not quite their first scene together, the attraction between Jon and Daenerys has been palpable, so much so that even Davos called Jon out about his apparent interest in the Mother of Dragons during last week's episode. He denied it then, but in "Eastwatch," Jon and Dany's feelings for one another became more undeniable than ever before, first through Jon fearlessly intermingling with Daenerys' "gorgeous beasts," then again with Dany inquiring about Jon's "knife in the heart," later still when the queen made a transparent plea for the Northerner to recuse himself from the mission beyond the Wall, and one last time in their final scene together for now.

"If I don't return, at least you won't have to deal with the King in the North anymore," Jon tells the Dragon Queen before he leaves the shores of Dragonstone.

"I've grown used to him," she responds.

Of course, we know there's added significance to both Jon's comfort around dragons and what he's feeling toward Daenerys. Although he doesn't yet know it, nor has the show outright confirmed it, Jon is secretly the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which means he has ice and fire from both great houses coursing through his veins. Did you catch what Gilly (Hannah Murray) told Sam (John Bradley) in their scene together in the Citadel? "Maynard says here that he issued an annulment for a Prince Rhaegar and remarried him to someone else at the same time in a secret ceremony in Dorne." In short: Jon Snow is a legitimate Targaryen. Talk about burying the lede! 

Given his lineage and given his easiness around Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, it's becoming likelier and likelier that we'll see Jon Snow ride a dragon into battle before all is said and done, and given what Gilly unknowingly reveals, we may even see Jon as the King of Westeros some day. With that said, there's a downside to Jon's Targaryen roots: since he's Rhaegar's son, that also means Jon is Daenerys' nephew. If the romantic tension escalates to something physical between Jon and Dany — and it feels increasingly likely that it will — it's going to give Luke and Leia's kiss in The Empire Strikes Back a run for its money in the awkward department.

Love connections aside, Daenerys had other dragon business to attend to in "Eastwatch." The episode dealt with the aftermath of the Loot Train Battle from "The Spoils of War," in which viewers were led to believe Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) drowned to death. Of course, he's still alive; we'll get to him in a bit. Anyone who thought Drogon suffering an injury in the heat of battle would soften Dany's views of her enemies were sorely mistaken, as the Mother of Dragons warned the defeated Lannister soldiers to bend the knee and leave the world a better place than they found it, "or refuse and die" — an option selected by Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) and his "stupid boy" Dickon (Tom Hopper), both of whom were incinerated by Drogon. 

"I'm not here to put men in chains," she tells a visibly troubled Tyrion when he protests, before she kills the Tarlys. "I gave them a choice. They made it."

The execution has the intended effect, as the Lannister soldiers bend the knee as soon as they watch Randyll and Dickon go up in flames. But the irony of Daenerys unknowingly murdering the family members of the man who rescued her longtime companion Jorah from the brink of the all-consuming sickness known as Greyscale shouldn't go without observation. 

While Game of Thrones won't likely push Daenerys all the way into Mad Queen territory, it's clearly flirting with the possibility that she's more like her unstable father than she or we care to admit. All season long, Dany has been hellbent on getting others to bend the knee. She gave a rousing speech in the third episode about how she's predestined to sit upon the Iron Throne. Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) both ponder the queen's potential instability over drinks. (And wow, Game of Thrones really loves its wine scenes, doesn't it?) There's a growing sense of pride within Dany this year — and you know what they say about pride. Watch for the Mother of Dragons to take a hard fall before the series ends, if not the season. With that said, Lord Thomas of House Wayne had his own saying about why we fall...

Across the way from Dragonstone, a few different royal developments occurred. For one, we saw the return of Gendry Not-Quite-Baratheon, the bastard son of the late King Robert (Mark Addy). Davos finds him in Fleabottom, hiding in plain sight as a blacksmith for the Lannisters. Gendry is all too eager to join the cause when Davos comes calling, and quickly proves his worth with two well placed hammer hits against two crabbed-up City Watch soldiers. Like father, like son. 

What's more, Gendry and Jon Snow hit it off right away when the two meet, and why shouldn't they? Their fathers were great friends and fellow warriors, after all — except for the awkward fact that Jon's actual father was killed by Gendry's father at the turning point of Robert's Rebellion. We'll see how that shakes out whenever Jon finds out about his true past, assuming he and Gendry survive their trip beyond the Wall — which, for what it's worth, feels like a safe assumption. Why reintroduce Gendry into the action this late in the game, with so much rich potential between himself and Jon (not to mention the possibility of a better Baratheon than the ones who came before him restoring honor to his family name), and an obvious ability to turn dragonglass into weapons against the White Walkers, just to kill him off after only two episodes back in circulation? Other than Jon (and perhaps the Hound, who still has a Mountain match in his future), nobody passing beyond the Wall is safer in the short term than Gendry.

Also in King's Landing, there are some key changes happening within House Lannister. Bronn (Jerome Flynn) unites Jaime and Tyrion in the dungeons of the Red Keep for the first time since they parted ways in season four, leading to a charged conversation between the estranged brothers. Ultimately, Tyrion manages to talk some sense into his elder sibling. He appeals to what Jaime saw on the battlefield, the impossible odds facing the Lannisters against the Targaryens, and presents the possibility of an armistice between the warring armies given the threat posed by the Night King. Jaime takes the offer to Cersei, who is surprisingly willing to play along with the idea — but only to a point.

"Dead men, dragons and Dragon Queens... whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it," says Cersei, as she strokes her stomach. "For ourselves, our house — and this."

With that, Cersei reveals she's pregnant with Jaime's child, and announces that she will happily reveal to the world the identity of her unborn baby's father. Just as Jaime started feeling like the odds were stacked so firmly against his family, he has reason to double down on the Lannister name. Could the Kingslayer actually become the King? It would be a perverted realization of the Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) dream, but it's also not a dream that's likely to come true. The Lannisters will certainly score future victories before Game of Thrones concludes, but anyone who thinks this story will end with the lions wielding absolute power hasn't been paying attention.

A few more odds and ends from the episode:

Winterfell is always a chilly place, but it was frostier than usual this week in the scenes between Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams), butting heads over leadership style. Frankly, the conflict between the siblings feels somewhat manufactured, certainly in the writing, but also within the context of the story: Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) is setting up Arya with the letter Sansa wrote to her family back in season one, begging House Stark to surrender to the Lannisters. But to what end? With so much at stake in so many other corners of the Seven Kingdoms, the Winterfell story and the Stark sister rivalry feels unnecessarily dramatic. The show has earned plenty of rope given its many accomplishments this season, and with only two episodes left, it won't be long before we see where that rope leads.

Samwell and Gilly have finally left Oldtown. Is that the last we'll see of Jim Broadbent as the Archmaester of the Citadel? Quite possibly. If nothing else, Sam marches onward with some pivotal information at his disposal, even if he doesn't know it: the truth about Rhaegar's marriage to Lyanna, and Jon's subsequent legitimacy as a Targaryen. Looks like a strong bet for how that information will finally come to light on the show. There's also the news Sam doesn't know quite yet, about his father and brother's fiery deaths. Even if there was little love lost between these men, expect Sam to shed a tear or two when he learns what happened to his family. 

• "Dragons are where our partnership ends. I won't be around when those things start spitting fire on King's Landing." So speaks Bronn of the Blackwater, he who wounded a dragon, and hopefully his words aren't too foreboding, given what Cersei tells Jaime about punishing the sellsword. Bronn and Tyrion crossed paths in this episode, if only for a fleeting moment — the last necessary bit of business for the character, if you're asking me. If the show wants to start shaving characters as a sign of the looming end, then, Bronn is an unfortunately expendable piece on the board. Not to will it into existence, but it's worth being worried for everyone's favorite merc with a mouth this side of Wade Wilson.

Watch the video below for the Game of Thrones cast's preview of season seven's battles.

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