With several family-related developments this episode, “Eastwatch” was all about the parents and children of Westeros — their relationships, the patterns of succession and the implications of their respective identities.
In Winterfell, the Stark daughters are still impacted by the brutal murders of their parents. Arya’s first accusation leveled at Sansa this episode was that she took up residence in their late parents’ former room. Even though the younger girl is generally suspicious of just how well Sansa is adjusting to leadership, the fact that this doubt manifests in that initial accusation reveals how much Ned and Catelyn still weigh on Arya’s mind.
Sansa responds pragmatically, implying that, as Lady of Winterfell, she has every right to stay there. Sansa was not always so confident in the issue of honoring her parents, and her uncertain past made a reappearance this episode with the letter she sent Robb in season one. Notably, in one of the letter’s highlighted lines, Sansa accused Ned of treason. Arya’s discovery of the letter could strengthen Arya’s notion that Sansa would willingly turn her back on family to secure her own power.
Arya’s suspicions aren’t entirely fair; not only was the letter from a long time ago, but it also actually links Sansa more to Ned than it might seem. Sansa, we know, believed that she was doing the right thing at the time by bringing the truth to Cersei. Ned’s downfall also came from honorable intentions; by not waiting to reveal to Cersei that he knew all her heirs were Jaime’s claimless bastards, he gave the cunning queen the upper hand.
But Sansa has wised up (courtesy of several tough seasons for her) and learned to be less trusting. Her increasing political sense actually shields her; where Ned’s honor was his downfall, Sansa’s savviness mixed with her inherent morality can protect her from reliving her father’s mistakes.
Also accused of betraying his father is Tyrion — albeit for a clearer reason. It’s by now well known that Tyrion only escaped King’s Landing after shooting Tywin point-blank. While the murder of his disdainful father was a freeing experience for Tyrion, it rendered his diplomatic relations this episode particularly difficult to maintain.
The stiff-necked Randyll Tarly alludes to it first when he refuses to open negotiations with a kinslayer, instead accepting a fiery death and thereby depriving team Targaryen of a seasoned general. Jaime, who had always been a friend to Tyrion and is a necessary liaison between Dany and Cersei, also greets his brother coldly on account of Tywin’s murder. Cersei is loath to pay heed to Jaime when he presents the idea of a meeting with Dany, largely because it was orchestrated by their traitorous brother. Even in death, Tywin exercises his influence — the usually crafty Tyrion is facing dead ends at every turn for his patricide.
Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei confront their roles as parents this episode. Jaime finally makes the big reveal (that Olenna, not Tyrion, killed Joffrey) and prompts Cersei to finally mourn her sons. Even when Myrcella died, she lamented the beauty that would rot with her daughter’s death; Joffrey and Tommen’s deaths were only greeted with stony silence.
Cersei’s mourning flows into her own big reveal — she’s expecting her fourth child with Jaime. Jaime’s character arc has been leading him farther and farther away from his sister, queen and lover, with numerous hints that he’d be back to slaying the person keeping the Iron Throne warm any episode now. The presence of a new son could reawaken Jaime’s love for Cersei, or at least give him a fresh reason to protect her in earnest.
Like Tyrion, Dany is also weighed down by her dead father. Unlike Tyrion, it’s because she keeps being compared to him. Any time her dragons breathe fire, the comparisons to Aerys start surfacing. Her council is all too aware of this, and all have taken turns trying to dissuade her from using them as weapons. In a fit of impatience and frustration, she ignored them and flew Drogon to the battlefront.
Using Drogon in war could have been excusable — after all, many of the Starks’ direwolves also engaged in combat. Eyebrows raised, however, when Dany burned the Tarlys. Varys, especially, was reluctant to support a queen who would burn men alive as punishment; the memory of Aerys’s tyranny is too fresh in the Spider’s mind.
Unlike Cersei, Dany can’t conceive any more heirs, a fact made clear when she discussed with Jon that her dragons would never be anything more or less than her own children. The sentiment is touching, but dragons can’t inherit; without a trueborn child, should Dany ascend the throne, her line could risk ending
What we (and Drogon) know is that her line won’t end; in fact, her ascension itself is in jeopardy now that we know that Jon is likely legitimate. Should Dany find out, Jon’s parentage could also be a hurdle, one that endangers his life.
Another dangerous complication is Gendry’s reappearance, as it heralds the return of House Baratheon. For now, his loyalty to Davos and instant friendship with Jon has him on Dany’s side. However, he jumped on board Robert-style: quickly and impulsively. Once Gendry realizes just how important he is as the last Baratheon, he could grow ambitious. His father did defeat Aerys; with no other living legitimate heirs, Robert’s successor would be his sole bastard son, giving Baratheon supporters a new champion for the throne.
Gendry and Jon’s bond formed so quickly because of their presumed fathers’ camaraderie, and the two instantly clung to each other as though their friendship could keep their patriarchs alive. In reality, Jon’s birth father is not Ned (Robert’s best friend), but Rhaegar (Robert’s worst enemy). If this comes to light, Jon could face pressure not only from Dany — his competitor from his own house — but also from Gendry — his competitor from the Targaryens’ opposing house.
The identity of Jon’s mother shouldn’t be ignored, however. Rhaegar was Robert’s enemy, but this was mainly because of the great love Robert held for Lyanna. While the hatred Gendry’s father held for Jon’s father could spell war for the two, his father’s love for Jon’s mother could yet salvage their fledgeling alliance.
While his house is much less influential (and only recently declared by a grateful Stannis), Davos’ role as a parent is also heavily revisited this episode. For a while now, Davos has been mostly a calming presence with a warm sense of humor and a penchant for correcting “less” versus “fewer” errors. Davos’s visit to King’s Landing brings his forgotten background into focus again, reestablishing him as a concrete character with his own objectives.
With his one-off comment to Tyrion just as they make landfall at Blackwater Bay, Davos proves to his traveling companion that he hasn’t forgiven and forgotten the events of that battle. He’s still haunted by the death of his beloved son, and he still holds Tyrion responsible. That he remembers but still risks his life to work with Tyrion proves Davos’s ability to remove his past from his present.
This quality will prove useful when he works with Jon and Gendry, both of whom he has bonded with in such a way to almost serve as their surrogate father. His levelheaded advice takes on a new light in this case: he’s not just a written-in voice of reason, but a father yearning for sons to inspire after the death of his own.
Gendry’s waterborne escape completes the circle of parent-child imagery, with water being a common symbol for rebirth. When Davos pushed off Gendry’s rowboat in season three, he was essentially giving birth to a new son.
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Still unknown to Sam, his father and brother died this episode. Sam and Randyll held no love for each other; in fact, Randyll practically disowned Sam for being a coward in season one, threatening to kill him in a “hunting accident” unless he went to the Wall.
The years have given Sam friends, knowledge and confidence, all of which tied together into the same stubborn courage Randyll doted on Dickon for. Like Dickon refusing to allow his father to die alone, Sam refused to let Jorah succumb to greyscale without attempting a treatment at immeasurable risk to himself.
If Sam can escape his vows, he could become the new Lord of Horn Hill and Warden of the South, assuming Jaime kept his word to Randyll earlier this season. With courage that has begun to resemble Dickon’s and an academic sensibility, Sam has more than proven himself an apt successor to his father, loath as Randyll would have been to admit it.
With a new generation emerging in the face of the war and taking the places of their predecessors in Robert’s Rebellion, every character must balance the twin burdens of honoring their forebears and avoiding their mistakes.
Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].