An area of particular interest to me when it comes to contemplating and debating A Song of Ice and Fire from a political perspective is the idea of legitimacy, specifically in terms of from where and whom legitimacy is conferred onto leaders/rulers given that democracy isn’t exactly a realistic prospect in this narrative universe. As the field of contenders for control of Westeros has shortened over the course of the series, questions around legitimacy have come into sharp relief this season, especially now that Dany and her army have finally descended on the continent.
Somewhat ironically, a large part of what I find particularly interesting about the way the series handles the question of legitimacy is that all though the text raises the question; in a lot of ways, it doesn’t seem to have much bearing on the contenders vying for power, at least in terms of how they conduct themselves, especially since there’s at the very least a serious argument to made against any and all of them as far a legitimacy is concerned. This came into especially sharp relief in this episode, most noticeably in cases of Dany, Sansa, and Jon.
As much of a miserable, steaming pile of shit Randyll Tarly is, he does have something of a point as far as his stated opposition to Dany’s legitimacy before she burns him alive. However compromised his stance is by the fact that the queen he’s fighting for gained power by firebombing all her political opponents and scores of innocents in one fell swoop, its not as if Dany is making any kind of effort to prove her bonifides to her prospective constituents, as it were. As unwavering as she’s always been in being completely content and inclined to claim victory by force, a huge part of her arc over the series has consisted of her closest advisors and supporters trying to get through to her how untenable that route is if she wants to establish a stable dynasty.
What I found so compelling about the Tarly execution sequence is how it’s the perfect encapsulation of her conundrum as a contender for the Iron Throne; as easy as she is to route for with her personal charisma and as genuinely just some of her more progressive actions have been, she is, at her core, “a true Targaeryan,” as has been mentioned in the series. However noble some of her aspirations are, her sense of entitlement aided by her impetuousness always seems to win out. I’m not arguing that it would be at all practical for her to engage in some kind of persuasion campaign as if she’s trying to win a presidential primary, but if I were some Joe Main street living in Westeros, I can’t imagine I’d be breaking out the champagne for some girl who’s only spent a couple days in the country sicking her dragons on the opposition, regardless of how terrible the alternatives are. It would be one thing if she just wanted to scourge the earth, but we know from all that’s lead to this point that her ambitions are greater than that and her need to be loved as a ruler weighs large. Her advisors are all keenly aware of this, regardless of whether or not they would consider it in those terms.
Of course, matters to due with the letter Sansa was forced to sign by Cersei in season 1 directly relates to issues of legitimacy, not only as it concerns protocol and the charades played in the service of propping up tyrants, but also in terms of how the very existence of the letter undermines Sansa’s status as the Lady of Winterfell (and whatever other title she might harbor ambitions for).
Despite the glut of political intrigue this episode, the specific moments that stood out the most for me had more to do with logistics, character, and genuinely good comedy emanating from both than politics; not that there were no politics involved in the Kings Landing section of the episode, wherein the Lannister material was as rich and deeply felt as always, but the highlights for me where the scenes with Davos and Gendry.
The mere fact of Joe Dempsie and Gendry being back is cause for celebration on its own, but the scene between he and Davos on the street of steel was so well done that even if I wasn’t waiting for Gendry to return it would have been a treat to experience that exchange. All of this was throughly ratified by Gendry doubling down on his qualifications for re-admittance by the way the last scene of the sequence ended, perfectly punctuated by Tyrion’s button line, which Gendry and Joe Dempsie throughly doubled-down on later at Dragonstone when he stepped all over Davos’ attempt to downplay Gendry’s true identity when introducing him to Jon.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the other truly funny bits throughout the episode, all of which served a vital narrative purpose, starting with the very first scene of the episode with Jaime and Bronn, into the scene at Oldtown where Sam uncharacteristically ignores Gilly at the exact moment that she’s inadvertently supplying him with what may well be the single most important bit of information he could possibly come by, all of which lead up to the sequence the episode gets its title from in the first place.
The last sequence in Eastwatch fires on multiple cylinders: the long-awaited reunions/confrontations, the long-wished for meetings, and the necessary resolutions across multiple parties and combinations that occur over the course of one scene that set us up for the last image of the episode, taken straight from American Westerns, of the newly assembled posse venturing into the wilderness for what is sure to be an eventful mission.