It is fair to say that last week’s episode of Game of Thrones“The Spoils of War” – was among the finest ever in the show’s illustrious history. Thus far, the seventh season of HBO’s leading fantasy drama has been nothing less than extraordinary, and with this week’s hour, little has deviated. In fact, “Eastwatch” – the fifth episode in this finite seven-episode season – was just as memorable and impactful as its predecessor; uncovering remarkable truths, delivering delicious portions of fan serving, and confirming a series of revelations so vital, it might just be the most critical episode so far.

Sure, it doesn’t topple the ember-laden highs of last week’s battle, but that was never the intention. “Eastwatch” maps what is yet to come in the closing stages of Season 7, and despite a breather in action, never fails to be utterly enthralling. So, without further ado, let’s break down our latest outing in the Seven Kingdoms…

The Title: “Eastwatch”

What Does It Mean?

We draw our title this week from the name of the most eastern castle upon The Wall. Eastwatch (or Eastwatch-by-the-Sea) is located on the Bay of Seals, and is frequented as a trading port between the Wildings and members of the Night’s Watch. Unlike Castle Black, Eastwatch is inherently a friendlier location for those outside of the brotherhood; a rather fitting location for the ragtag team accumulated by King in the North Jon Snow, then.

Jon, paired with Ser Davos Seaworth and Ser Jorah Mormont – who has travelled to Dragonstone, now free of Greyscale – among others head to The Wall in order to prepare for the war ahead; the one true war against the Night King and the Army of the Dead. Assembled like The Dirty Dozen or The Magnificent Seven, Jon appoints Wilding ally Tormund Giantsbane, and his prisoners which include Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Lord of Light followers, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. Oh, and there’s another member of the crew, too. One who was picked up by Davos and Tyrion Lannister in King’s Landing – Gendry. Yes, you read that correctly. Gendry is finally back, and ruddy-faced as ever.

Most Shocking Moment:

To put it bluntly, “Eastwatch” was LOADED with shocking moments. Tons of them. To whittle it down to just a single scene is an almighty task, but we make good of our promises here. Interestingly, our Most Shocking Moment from Game of Thrones this week actually spans across two conflicting storylines and settings: the first, in Dragonstone; the second, in Oldtown.

Jon is stood atop the Dragonstone mountains, looking out over the shore. Soon the booming sound of dragon wings fill the air, and it becomes clear than Daenerys Targaryen has returned. She is flying upon trusty firebreather Drogon, who wrecked havoc upon the Lannister forces last week, and quickly turned both Randyll and Dickon (still funny…) Tarly into small piles of ash. Drogon approaches the Northern aggressively, roaring and gearing up in what looks like an attack move, but Jon stands firm. Shaking – understandably so – he cautiously holds out his arm and moves closer towards the mythical beast. He places his cautious hand upon Drogon’s snout and waits. The dragon does not flinch, rather embraces his touch. This is quite frankly biblical. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – without the aid of dialogue – have just confirmed Jon’s true parentage and name.

The Targaryen sigil is formed of a three-headed dragon, and three key figures have now interacted with Drogon; Khalessi herself, Tyrion, and Jon. Together they form the trio of heads, and indeed the house unity. Drogon can practically smell the Targaryen blood rushing through Jon’s quivering veins, and with this revelation, actually pushes Dany back a step on the Iron Throne pecking order. This point is further argued (well, confirmed) at the Citadel where we find Jon’s good ol’ pal Sam and his beloved Gilly.

Sam is getting rather tired of cleaning up people’s faeces, and is finding life in the Citadel arduous to say the least. He might be the show’s primary source of comic relief, but he is a man of action. He did kill a White Walker, after all. Gilly – head buried in textbooks – is excitably reading passages to Sam of fascination. Unusually, he isn’t particularly interested, and nearly talks over perhaps the most critical selection of lines his co-star has ever uttered. After a number of trivial details, she mentions that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King Aerys and big brother to Daenerys, had his marriage to ?Princess Elia Martell annulled and was remarried in a secret ceremony. The text leaves that certain someone out, but we know who it had to have been: Lyanna Stark.

Now cast your mind back to Season 6’s legendary Tower of Joy sequence. Ned made good of his promise to Lyanna, and kept Jon’s true identity a secret. He lived a life where his beloved wife Catelyn thought he’d been unfaithful, and Jon was a by-product of his illicit affairs. In fact, this reveal that Jon Snow wouldn’t be Rhaegar’s bastard at all, he’d be his rightful, natural-born heir. To the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms. He’d have a far, far better claim than Daenerys; minus three gigantic, city-wrecking dragons, mind.

Biggest Agenda:

In this, the penultimate season, Game of Thrones is still utterly spectacular at exploring its characters’ layers and complexities. Even those we really know still have surfaces yet to scratch, and capabilities yet to be showcased. This was most certainly evident in Winterfell, as “Eastwatch” kick-started perhaps the greatest game of scheming rivalry between Arya Stark and Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish.

Baelish’s Lords of the Vale are still lingering around the Northern castle; a territory now under the temporary command of Sansa. We all know Littlefinger’s agenda when it comes to the eldest Stark sister: he is in love with her, and has used her like a political pawn pretty much from Season 1. Despite growing stronger and more accustomed to his conniving ways, you are never truly certain that she’ll be able to overcome his imposing shadow. Right now, the North are somewhat indebted to Baelish, as he saved their bacon at the Battle of the Bastards; a favour which will not go unpaid. Arya – now a sneaky survivalist, and absolute badass assassin – is quicker on the pulse than her sister, and spots Littlefinger’s interesting behaviours. She follows him on several occasions, overlooking conversations, and examining his activities. When he finally exits his chambers, Arya breaks in and starts looking for clues.

The room seems clean, until she spots a slightly untucked piece of bedding. Hidden underneath is a small hole, which houses a scroll – one penned by Sansa an awfully long time ago (Season 1 in fact, when she was to be wed to Joffrey Baratheon, and one which Cersei Lannister forced her to write. Remember?) It seems as though Baelish is attempting to break the Stark house from within, by driving a barrier between Sansa and Arya. By diminishing trust and respect, Sansa will have the capability to exile, or even kill, her sister. Alternatively, Baelish can come to the aid of his Northern Queen, and provide her council; therefore eliminating the problem in a different fashion.

Arya’s cold and unforgiving manner has been carved from years of neglect, brutal training, and isolation. She returned home for her family, but perhaps those closest to her heart will become yet another enemy upon her list.

Best Overall Moment:

“Eastwatch” set in stone a major tactical plan for Dany, and interestingly, it involved letting a number of her closest allies leave Dragonstone. However, there is another Queen who we must not forget about…

Khaleesi has taken to power and rule with pleasure; using her dragons to intimidate and ignite those who oppose her – forcing the fractured remains of the Lannister army to either bend the knee, or perish. However, she realises that the fight in the North against the White Walkers is perhaps a little more pressing than her vendetta against Cersei and those in the Red Keep. The strategy is set: Jon Snow will travel to Eastwatch, and she along with her Hand will remain at the Targaryen’s Westerosi seat.

Tyrion is actually rather shaken by his Queen’s sudden ability to destroy her opposition, and asks that she allows him to travel home for an important meeting (this is where Davos finds Gendry working as a blacksmith in the many markets). The meeting is with the one family member who has actually shown the Imp some finite respect: Jaime. Yeah, he didn’t die; neither did Bronn, thankfully. The Kingslayer returns home to King’s Landing and in no uncertain terms tells sister Cersei they cannot beat Khaleesi. Her dragons alone are enough to obliterate their city, their people, their house. Her main concern is whether he is angry with Bronn for his betrayal. Puzzled, Jaime probes his sister, but she is the Queen of the Realm after all, and knows exactly what happens in her city at all times. She knew Tyrion was coming to meet with him, and she allowed it.

Cersei has proven herself to not only be truly brutal and unforgiving, but also desperately smart. Sure, she lost a lot of men at The Reach, but men can be replaced. “The Spoils of War” have been claimed, and the Iron Bank has been repaid. The Lannisters now have money on their side again; perhaps their most powerful asset. Cersei knows she cannot beat Dany in the traditional sense – the odds are just ludicrously out of her favour – but she can work like her late father Tywin to get results. Much like her grand attack on the Great Sept of Balor last season, the Queen of the Seven has become a far more patient and cunning ruler; the kind of leader who’ll remain two steps ahead, even when the world presumes she’s already lost the race. Never count Cersei Lannister out; if you do, you are not playing the game correctly.

The Verdict:

Another week, another astonishing episode. Game of Thrones Season 7 really is something special; something to savour. “Eastwatch” was an utterly absorbing and thematically decadent hour of television. It used the rich and restless past of the series to bring back old characters and create a whole new battle map for the show going forward. There’s little doubt it has set up one hell of an adventure for next week…