Even though Game of Thrones is on a shorter series this year, it looks like they’re keeping with the tradition of show-stopping second-to-last episodes.
This week was the slowest episode of the series so far, mostly serving to move characters into place for the penultimate episode of the series next week and hatching a harebrained plot to form a very questionable alliance.
One huge bombshell was dropped this week, however, although the revelation was easy to miss — but we've got you covered.
Warning: Spoilers are coming.
On the Roseroad
The episode doesn’t waste any time in wrapping up the cliffhanger from last week. The opening scene shows Jaime and Bronn — who was the mystery soldier who saved Jaime last week — emerging from the river directly after the attack.
After seeing the damage one dragon can do and knowing that there are two more that Dany can control, Jaime knows the odds aren’t on his and Cersei’s side. So does Bronn: Dragons are where their friendship ends, and the sellsword will likely join Team Dany and team up with the other Lannister brother unless things start looking up for Cersei and Jaime.
Speaking of the other Lannister brother, Tyrion still isn’t coping well with the actual brutality of the dragons either. The wreckage has been reduced to smouldering ash, for the most part. The remaining Lannister and Tarly armies have been rounded up by Dany, who offers them what she calls a ‘choice’: bend the knee or die. Not really much of a choice, is it.
Randyll and Dickon — Sam’s family — do accept the choice, and both refuse to bend the knee to a foreign invader with an army of savages. Tyrion suggests sending them to the Night’s Watch or locking them up in a dungeon, but Dany’s not here to put people in chains. She lines up Randyll and Dickon in front of Drogon, and he burns them alive.
Unsurprisingly, the remaining soldiers all bend the knee, so Dany’s army grows.
Shortly thereafter, Dany, Tyrion and Drogon all return to Dragonstone where Jon is waiting. Of the three characters, it’s Drogon who greets Jon the most warmly. He approaches Jon and even lets him pet him, perhaps sensing Jon’s true lineage — but more on that later.
Daenerys also tries to question him about what Davos meant by Jon taking a knife to the heart, but before Jon can avoid giving an answer, Jorah Mormont, recently healed of greyscale, shows up to serve his Khaleesi again. She greets him very warmly, which Jon doesn’t look terribly pleased about.
Tyrion voices his concerns to Varys while absolving himself of all responsibility. But Varys, who worked for Dany’s father, doesn’t let Tyrion off the hook. He clearly regrets his time serving the Mad King and the horrors he allowed to be carried out under his reign, and he urges Tyrion to be the voice of reason for Daenerys and steer her away from burning people alive like her father.
As luck would have it, an opportunity to do just that presents itself later on in the episode. Dany and Jon receive a raven carrying a message from Bran that the White Walkers and their army of the dead are rapidly approaching Eastwatch.
Jon knows he has to leave immediately and return North, and Dany tries to stop him. He insists upon leaving and asks her for her help in fighting them off, but she’s in a precarious position: If she leaves Dragonstone, Cersei can take it back. She has to stay to hold her ground and continue conquering Westeros since Cersei will never be her ally — which gives Tyrion an idea.
He comes up with a (likely to be horribly dangerous and flawed) plan of bringing a wight down South to present to Cersei in King’s Landing. He needs to sneak into King’s Landing to meet with Jaime and get him to convince Cersei not to kill them all on sight when (if) they make it South with one of the undead.
For some reason, everyone agrees to this plan. Jon and Jorah agree to sale to Eastwatch, and Davos agrees to use his old smuggling tricks to get Tyrion to meet with Jaime.
Of course, Jaime’s got his hands (or is it hand) full with trying to get Cersei to see reason. There’s no way she can win against three dragons and an army of Dothraki. She plans to use the gold ransacked from the Tyrells to buy mercenaries from Essos to defeat the horselords and dragons while also taking out their little brother.
In another attempt to make Cersei see reason, he tells her Olenna confessed to poisoning Joffrey and Tyrion is innocent — but Cersei doesn’t care. Tyrion still killed their father and, in Cersei’s eyes, their mother, which is crime enough against him, in her eyes.
Jaime’s always been more accepting of Tyrion, which is probably why their meeting goes... okay. He’s clearly willing to hear Tyrion out on this plan, and while he does seem very angry that Tyrion killed Tywin after Jaime freed him, he also seems to understand that it was somewhat justified.
He relays this plan to Cersei, but she was already aware that they had met. She ends up being the one to surprise Jaime, because not only did she know about this plan, she agrees to it, and she announces she’s pregnant again. She gives him a warning, however, to never betray her ever again, which seems very ominous.
Meanwhile, during Tyrion’s meeting with Jaime, Davos has his own reason for going to King’s Landing: finding Gendry.
Gendry’s still working as a smith, but he’s immediately ready to leave with Davos and put his skills to use elsewhere — convenient for Jon Snow now that he’s got a stockpile of dragonglass and no way of turning it into useable weaponry.
Gendry decides to go with Jon and Jorah to Eastwatch where they meet with Tormund and tell him their plan. He agrees to go beyond the wall with them and says he has some other people who would be willing to do the same.
He leads them to a cell, and it’s our old friends, the Brotherhood Without Banners. Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and The Hound have all ended up at Eastwatch since they’ve also set their sights north. Despite some initial reluctance — Gendry remembers the Brotherhood selling him to Melisandre and Tormund recalls Jorah’s father was hellbent on killing wildlings — Jon points out that, since they’re all living, they’re all on the same side.
So the ragtag group of Jon, Gendry, Jorah, Tormund, Beric, Thorow and the Hound all set off to face the army of the dead and kidnap a wight to take down to King’s Landing.
We don’t get any action there this week, but this thread will definitely be picked up next week since we know from Bran warging into a raven — which the Night King seemed to suspect... — that the dead are still marching south. The raiders heading out are a lot of interesting, named characters, so we’re expecting this series’ body count to rise next week.
Or maybe one of the scouting party will be the wight that gets brought back to Cersei...
Up in Winterfell, Littlefinger’s started hatching a new plan to play off of the Stark sisters’ tensions between each other. Arya thinks Sansa’s undermining Jon’s rule in the North by not beheading people who speak out against him because she wants to rule Winterfell herself.
The raven message that Arya steals out of Littlefinger’s room while she’s spying on him — which Littlefinger clearly wanted her to find — likely won’t help her change her mind: The letter is the one Sansa wrote under pressure from Cersei that declared Ned a traitor to the crown and asked Robb to come to King’s Landing and bend the knee to Joffrey.
Hopefully Bran, who knows about Littlefinger’s schemes, can set the matter straight and the Starks won’t be driven apart by this plot. But Bran’s got his hands full with spying on the Night King and his army of wights and sending ravens to everyone who can potentially help them fight.
One of the other destinations that received a raven from Bran is Oldtown. The maesters suspect it’s a cunning plan from Dany to get everyone to bend the knee, and Sam hears this and tries to set the record straight. He knows that if he can get the maesters on his side, they’re respected enough that people will believe them if they say it’s true. Although they agree to consider it, they need more proof.
While transcribing more old books with Gilly, Sam gets frustrated and decides to leave Oldtown. Instead of reading about great men, he wants to become one, and unbeknownst to him, Horn Hill is now without a ruler and he’s the last surviving Tarly.
Of course, maybe Sam should stick to reading books by great men, because sometimes, key answers are found in text. Gilly stumbles across one of the biggest bombshells of the episode: Rhaegar Targaryen had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled at a secret ceremony in Dorne.
The clear implication of this statement is that this enabled him to marry Lyanna Stark, making Jon a trueborn Targaryen and not a bastard. This would place him as the rightful King not just in the North, but in all of Westeros, as the line of succession would put him clearly ahead of Daenerys.