Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously spoilers and speculation will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
On last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, character reunions were the order of the day. “Eastwatch” may have been titled after the Night’s Watch castle standing between the army of the dead and the Seven Kingdoms, but it barely featured in the hour. Instead, HBO focused on the highly satisfying return of long-missing characters like Gendry and the sibling dramas involving both Arya and Sansa and Tyrion and Jaime. All those emotional moments made for gripping television, so it wasn’t until after the credits rolled that I realized something: seven of the nine regions of Westeros are currently without leadership. That… can’t be good.
The realization dawned on me when I noticed Dany made the Lannister army bend the knee, but she didn’t assign a Lord loyal to her cause to control Highgarden. Last week I had suggested Tyrion might be rewarded with the Reach, but nope. Instead, Dany hopped on Drogon and flew back to Dragonstone to have more meetings with her nephew. A similar loose end was left in the season premiere when Arya decimated House Frey. The show never slowed down to consider who was in charge of the Riverlands now. In fact, the only two regions with active leadership are the Crownlands (where both Cersei and Dany are located) and the North. In their haste to bring Game of Thrones to its conclusion, the showrunners have lost the political machinations that are hallmarks both of George R.R. Martin’s work and earlier seasons of the show.
As of this writing, the following castles sit empty: Storm’s End (House Baratheon), Riverrun (House Tully), Casterly Rock (House Lannister), The Twins (House Frey), Highgarden (House Tyrell), Sunspear (House Martell), The Dreadfort (House Bolton), and Horn Hill (House Tarly). Two other major seats of nobility — The Eyrie (House Arryn) and Castle Pyke (House Greyjoy) — are in precarious positions as both their leadership and their armies are away, leaving them vulnerable and running on skeleton crews. Some of these castles are completely without a bloodline to inherit them, while others such as Casterly Rock and Horn Hill are simply without a lord for the moment. That means, outside of the story being told on Game of Thrones, there is a power vacuum throughout most of Westeros that none of the current monarchs are reaching to fill. On any other show, I’d say that was a costly mistake that will come back to bite them, as lesser nobles in-fighting for power will send shock waves through an already unstable political atmosphere, but Game of Thrones doesn’t seem interested in that subtlety. Which is an annoyance for people who think about these things.
After all, what is the point of Dany taking the Reach — the breadbasket of Westeros — if she isn’t interested in holding it? Not leaving someone in charge of Highgarden will grind the supply lines to a halt as the smallfolk turn to “every man for himself” and there’s no justice to stop the petty lords from riding roughshod over their people. Dany sent the Unsullied to take Casterly Rock, but not a leader to govern the West Coast and bring the lesser nobility to heel once they’d won the battle. Meanwhile, with the Frey line obliterated, why hasn’t Sansa reached out to her Uncle Edmure Tully about rallying the people of The Twins and Riverrun to protect the North from any Lannister invaders? For that matter, why didn’t Jon give the Dreadfort to a Northern family as a reward for their loyalty? It certainly looks like he could use the backup now that Littlefinger is meddling. Then there’s the castles that were once responsible for huge tracts of land and all the people within them that are now lawless. Even the kingdom of Dorne is completely rudderless! These are not small problems.
Practically, I know Game of Thrones is shedding side plots like a molting snake as it sprints to the finish line, but it appears the complex political landscape of Westeros is going the way of the dire wolves; completely forgotten.