Game Of Thrones Season 7 episode 5: All The Reasons Why Eastwatch’s Final Scene Feels Significant
There was some reckoning of who stands where in the battle to control the Iron Throne: Dany may have shown off what she is capable of achieving if she brings her dragons into the mix, but battle of Tumbleton was not a terribly crucial victory for her. At this point, her losses in war still surpass Cersei’s — all Dany destroyed with the loot train attack was the Reach’s grain (which will be needed by everyone, no matter which side they’re on, once winter reaches the South) and the Tarlys, who weren’t terribly important to the scheme of things. What the skirmish has achieved, is get Cersei to agree (on the surface of it) to an armistice while Dany engages with the pressing matter of the white walkers.
What else in Eastwatch was important? For that, we need to look at how it concluded.
At the very end of the episode, we see seven brave men set out beyond the Wall to capture a white walker. The end game is to bring it to King’s Landing to convince Cersei (and everyone else who needs convincing — like those querulous old maesters at the Citadel) that the threat of the Long Night is real, and that it requires their immediate attention.
The seven include Jon Snow, Ser Jorah Mormont, Gendry (who’ve travelled up from Dragonstone), Tormund (who had taken charge of Eastwatch) and the Hound, Ser Beric Dondarrion and Thoros the Priest (who’ve been travelling in the northerly direction to serve the Lord of Light — at least the latter two — and were held at Eastwatch by Tormund when they attempted to cross the Wall).
There’s been quite some response to this motley crew setting out beyond the Wall, including: Why aren’t they wearing hats in sub-zero conditions? How do they honestly hope to capture a white walker from the entire army that’s marching along with the Night King (and which they very well know of, thanks to Bran’s vision?). Funnier reactions have included comparing the group to the crew from The Magnificent Seven.
Seven’, incidentally, is a number that crops up time and again in GoTverse, fiction and real life.
There are the seven deadly sins, the seven days of the week, seven continents. Mathematically, seven is the smallest ‘happy number‘, while the number of random/disparate objects a human brain can recognise instantly, is seven. The Magnificent Seven, who Jon and company are being compared to, were inspired by Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. In GoTverse, one of the major religions is called the Faith of the Seven. Westeros itself comprises seven kingdoms, and A Song of Ice and Fire will be complete in seven volumes (or at least such is the hope).
So the number of Jon’s company feels significant.
It also feels significant for subscribing to a fantasy fiction trope — that of the small group of the righteous embarking on a quest to bring down a larger evil.
As one of the best known (and certainly most successful) writers of the fantasy genre of this generation, George RR Martin has offered a study in contrasts to the great who came before him — JRR Tolkien.
Superficially, the writers share much in common — all those ‘Rs’ in their names (Raymond Richard for Martin, Ronald Reuel for Tolkien), the genre (high fantasy) they’re giants of, their strong anti-war sentiments, their painstaking attention to world-building, and if we really want to stretch the point, the casting of Sean Bean in the screen adaptations of both their classics, as well as the presence of faithful sidekicks named Sam!
Both their best known works are also considered to be inspired by real life historical events: Tolkien served in the British Army during World War I and while Lord of the Rings being an allegory for either of the World Wars has been debunked, his experiences in the Battle of Somme certainly influenced his writing of it. With GRRM, there are more direct allusions drawn. Westeros may be a fantasy continent, but it does seem modelled on medieval England — notably the War of the Roses part of its history. As a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, GRRM never glorifies the war sequences in ASOIAF, humanising (where possible) the ordinary foot-soldier.
One could also draw parallels between the Targaryens’ dragons and the role of aerial warfare during World War I. In this light, Maester Qyburn’s ballista/crossbow (or ‘scorpion’, as it’s referred to) is nothing more than an anti-aircraft gun. (And the scene of Bronn shooting at Drogon from it, during the battle of Tumbleton as depicted in Game of Thrones season 7 episode 4, certainly lends credence to that imagery.)
And then there are the references to climate change GRRM’s woven into the story.
Despite their similarities, however, the greatest works of Tolkien and GRRM are also very different.
Some of these have been pointed out by GRRM himself — for instance, he’s far more interested in the nitty-gritty of day-to-day life than Tolkien’s sweeping epic was. So where Tolkien might write of Aragorn ruling wisely and well for 500 years, GRRM would get into what are the kinds of things such a rule might involve: Dany, for all intents and purposes, is a ‘good’ queen (when contrasted with Cersei, certainly), but she barely manages to hold on to power in Mereen. The entire section of the books and the TV series that sees her traverse from Qarth to Mereen is all about her confronting the reality of what it means to rule. Similarly, Jon is chosen to be King in the North — but the same people who chose him constantly question his decisions.
The crux of the difference between Lord of the Rings and ASOIAF (or Game of Thrones) is in how they view good and evil. In LOTR, the forces of evil emanate from one source: Sauron; his minions are recognisably dreadful — the Orcs; corruption shows itself quickly: Saruman, Smeagol/Gollum, and to a certain extent, Denethor II. Even Boromir’s transgression to the dark side is quickly rectified with a heroic sacrifice.
With GRRM, the distinction between good and bad isn’t as clear: Take the case of Jaime Lannister, for instance, who (as we’ve mentioned in a previous column) has undergone quite the redemptive journey. Or Theon Greyjoy, who can be courageous, and cowardly. Or Dany, who is positioned as a heroine, but feels no compunction in sentencing dissenters to become dragon toast. Ramsay and Joffrey are perhaps the only two dyed-in-the-wool sadists the series has presented, most other characters fall along the spectrum of grey. The greater battle too — between the Forces of Light versus the Forces of Darkness — has a morally ambiguous tone: Wasn’t Shireen burnt at a stake to appease the Lord of Light?
If Tolkien’s LOTR was aspirational in a sense (of what mankind could be), then GRRM’s ASOIAFis more about what mankind is (mostly rubbish, but sometimes, surprisingly brilliant).
Tolkien changed high fantasy fiction in a way he couldn’t have foreseen. Pretty much every writer who has come after him, has been consciously or otherwise influenced by him, even in aspects like setting up tales as trilogies.
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