The Atlantic

Game of Thrones: No Choice at All

Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Eastwatch,” the fifth episode of the seventh season.
Source: Helen Sloan / HBO

Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we’ll be posting our thoughts in installments.

David Sims: This late in its run, Game of Thrones is mostly about tyrants, and I’m glad it’s aware of that. There are plentiful types of tyranny for the Westerosi to choose from, of course. There’s the conniving elitism of Cersei Lannister, still convinced of her house’s utmost superiority and willing to rule over whatever kingdom she can get, even if she has to blow everyone up in the process. There’s the “liberation” offered by Daenerys, who claims to offer freedom from oppressive rulers but really is presenting a more binary choice: Join her, or die. Finally, to the north, there’s the impassive force of the Night King, who offers only the apocalypse, something more than a few bedraggled citizens of Westeros might welcome at this point.

It would be too easy for this show to pitch Daenerys’s efforts at conquest as a battle between good and evil. That’s never been a narrative pursuit in George R. R. Martin’s books, and it was entirely absent from the fiery ass-kicking her Dothraki/dragon combo delivered to Jaime’s forces last episode. There are people to root for, and people to fear, on both sides, and the viewer’s sympathies lie more with Tyrion, aghast at the visceral carnage. “Eastwatch” picked up right in the aftermath of Daenerys’s assault on the Lannister loot train, as the mother of dragons stuck firmly to her brand and offered the beleaguered troops a supposed “choice”: Bend the knee, or get roasted alive. They all bent the knee, of course, except for the flinty Randyll Tarly and his son, Dickon (or was it Abercrombie?), who stood against

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