A ruler needs to have information, that much is plain. Getting it can sometimes be difficult and involve a lot of nifty spywork. Sometimes, it can simply fall into your lap. Sometimes, information is a pure plus in your ledger, sometimes a double-edged sword, and sometimes it can stand in the way. There are a lot of examples for all of this in this episode.
For the first time since his arrival at Castle Black, Bran is using the superior means of information he has at hand. With a swarm of ravens, he scouts the army of the White Walkers that seems to be within striking distance of the Wall. He immediately tells the maester to share this information with the whole of the realm. It will need to be seen, however, what will be done with this information.
Let’s continue with Arya, Sansa and Littlefinger, who are playing a bit of the Northern version of the Game of Thrones. The lords are growing restless, seeing as the true Queen in the North is there taking their problems seriously while their newly made king is on an extended furlough on Dragonstone. These divisions are played down by Sansa, who’s acting against the little demon sitting on her shoulder, while being played up by Littlefinger. If this were deliberate, it would be a great act, but Littlefinger is working on two fronts here: pushing an unsuspecting willing-unwilling Sansa into usurping Jon while at the same time estranging her from her favorite related assassin.
While Arya surely has a leg up on assassin skills, Littlefinger runs circles around her when it comes to controlling information by planting a copy of the letter Sansa sent way back when in season 1, urging everyone to bend the knee to Cersei. Add to that the good reading of character Arya gives, with Sansa occupying the master bedroom and really, really wanting this (as opposed to Jon, who doesn’t give two fucks), and you get a conflict. Given the rather uncompromising mood Arya is in regarding traitors and vows, this should work like a charm. It’s nice to see Littlefinger work like a master schemer once more after being a befuddled idiot most of the time since leaving King’s Landing.
Information, on the other hand, is something Jaime would very much like not to have. He now knows first-hand how devastating a dragon-attack can be (something he shares with his little brother), and he wants to bring this to Cersei. The queen, however, couldn’t care less about it – yes, dragons are powerful, but there’s not really an alternative now, is there? It’s a problem to be solved, not a nemesis to despair about.
Speaking of his little brother, Tyrion and, by extension, Varys, are extremely troubled by the new information they now have about Daenerys’ style of ruling and waging war. She’s committed to Break the Wheel still, yes, but she’s very much committed to the way of the enlightened monarch to go about it as well, and damned be anyone standing in the way of the breaking business, as the surrendering Lannister and Tarly soldiers learn when the Tarly family is wiped out in front of their eyes. Varys immediately has flashbacks to his time at Aerys’ court, and rightly so. Both he and Tyrion lack the information necessary to deduce if their dragon queen is another “mad queen” or if the is a savior whose mission demands ruthless methods. Given the clear contrast we as the audience have to Cersei, the answer is troubling.
In the meantime, Cersei is using every ounce of the unlimited amount of information she has over her kingdom – knowing in advance of Jaime’s meeting with Tyrion – while at the same time being severely hindered by the fact that her kingdom is rather small, encompassing not much more than the capital itself (which begs the question: since no once controls the West or the South currently, what a disastrous state of anarchy must ravage these lands?) and not being able to assess the threat Tyrion talks of.
Cersei does, however, act more and more like a determined (if genocidal) ruler, accepting against the rational arguments Jaime brings that Tyrion didn’t, in fact, murder her son, and immediately adapt to the changing rules of the game. This queen is good with information, but the way she uses it is limited to her own success, the survival and winning of her own house (“so much winning, you’ll get tired of it”), that even if she’d get the proof the Seven Rangers are now conspiring to bring to her she’ll only see the use it brings her in becoming undisputed queen of the land.
At the same time, the relationship Jon and Daenerys have is almost exclusively defined by the availability of information. When they flirt over the neck and head of Drogon, it is astonishingly clear where the connection she, him and the dragon are feeling comes from, and when Sam shuts up Gilly, his new-found researcher, about this whole story of Rhaegar Targaryen getting a divorce in Dorne with some northern woman, ah, how would it change their whole dynamic in a hurry! But alas, the information is not yet available, and so Jon must go on calling himself a Snow instead of what he could rightfully do – a Targaryen, and heir to the Iron Throne, with a better claim than Dany.
To go on a little excursion here, I’m not sure how I’m feeling about this thing. As I said before, I don’t think that the question who will ultimately sit the Iron Throne will matter all that much, so the respective claims of Dany and Jon wouldn’t matter much, but I always felt that the fact that Dany is a woman gave the story a specific drive that is blunted a bit if a male Jon, the most classic of hero archetypes available, turned out to be the King Who Was Promised.
But back to the topic at hand: how do you make an alliance of, in Jon’s words, all breathing people a reality when most people don’t believe you? Sam tries to convince the maesters to throw their authority behind the question, but they want empiric proof first. Sam despairs over it, preferring to find out the answer on his whole like a librarian cowboy, but he didn’t know how close that empirical proof actually was at hand. Plus, Elbrose had a point: given the information available, staking a thousands-of-year-old institution on one letter that could easily be a ploy in an ongoing civil war isn’t exactly a wise thing to do. Only the audience knows that Sam is right, after all. Information remains key.
Jaime also remains a sceptic, but his mind is a bit more open than Cersei’s. It certainly helps that doing the right thing to save the world and realpolitik, not to mention the wish not to repeat traumatic “Dracarys”-moments, align so neatly. For now, he’s along for the ride, waiting for the proof, and reveling far more in the latest morsel of information that Cersei was ready to share with him: her pregnancy, which for the first time she will allow everybody to have the information about the fatherhood of. Jaime’s tears of joy pay testament to the power of information being in the open, of being able to claim something. He wanted this for a long time, and here it is – ready to be snatched away by a nefarious plot element, but giving him another real stake in Cersei’s survival. Dramatic tension is heightened expertly this season, one has to admit.
At last, we get to Eastwatch-By-The-Sea, where a lot of identity issues come to a head. After Davos searching and finding old Gendry (you’re back!) to bring him into the team, he immediately tells Jon that he’s Robert’s bastard son, wielding a surprisingly light-weight warhammer to lend weight to his claims. Jon shrugs – who cares for lineages when the world’s going to end, after all – and heads to Eastwatch, where he can name one of the three prisoners (information from season 1), whereas Gendry recalls his latest rewatch of season 3 and can give vital context to the other two guys the unsuspecting wildlings without their HBO conscription simply threw into the dungeon. To add insult to injury, Tormund only now learns that the guy standing next to him is the son of his old arch-nemesis. It’s so confusing coming to this show as a first-time viewer, but really, he could’ve been bothered to google Brienne’s name.