This article originally appeared in Vulture.
The last time we saw Gendry on Game of Thrones, he was in a tiny rowboat with some bread and water, attempting to head south toward King’s Landing. He’d never even been in a boat before. He didn’t know how to swim. Luckily, Davos Seaworth was there to offer some helpful advice to the city boy. The first lesson: “Don’t drink sea water.”
Ever since, Gendry has been rowing, rowing, rowing, perhaps all the way to Pentos. Or maybe he’d gone in the wrong direction and docked somewhere up in the Fingers? It was anybody’s guess, really, since three-and-a-half seasons of Game of Thrones had gone by and we’d seen neither hide nor hair of the boy from Flea Bottom. But now he’s back! In case you’ve forgotten what all the fuss is about, here’s a quick Gendry primer that explains his major role in Sunday’s episode, “Eastwatch.”
Way back in season one, the newly crowned Joffrey was rounding up all of Robert Baratheon’s bastard children and executing them to destroy any contenders to the Iron Throne. The last remaining bastard was our boy Gendry, a talented apprentice to a blacksmith named Tobho Mott. To save Gendry from the Lannisters, Mott hustles him out of King’s Landing, and Gendry soon joins up with Yoren, a recruiter for the Night’s Watch. Yoren’s crew includes Arya, whom he has taken from King’s Landing and disguised as a boy to help her flee the Lannisters. While on the road, Gendry and Arya form a close bond: He discovers that she is a really a girl, and what’s more, a lady from a noble house. Their bond is absolutely adorable, with Arya promising Gendry that she’ll be his family since he never had any.
Unfortunately, Yoren’s recruits are captured by Lannister forces and taken to Harrenhal, where Gendry just barely escapes torture and execution after Tywin Lannister arrives to remind his soldiers that prisoners are more valuable alive than dead. After escaping from Harrenhal, Arya and Gendry (and Hot Pie!) stumble onto the Brotherhood Without Banners, who put Gendry to use as a blacksmith and plan to ransom Arya back to her family for gold to support their cause.
When Melisandre arrives on the scene, though, she buys Gendry from the Brotherhood for two bags of gold. She figures that Gendry’s Baratheon blood will make him a valuable sacrifice to the Lord of Light, and Stannis Baratheon needs a boost in his war against the Lannisters and Robb Stark. At first, Melisandre is content to suck the blood from his veins with leeches—which, you’ll recall, she obtained via seduction—but after Robb Stark’s death at the Red Wedding, Stannis believes that a larger sacrifice will ensure his own victory, so he commands that Gendry be put to death in service of the Red God. Davos, being the heart and soul of this entire enterprise, protests the murder of an innocent young man. That’s when he decides to free Gendry from his cell, leading him to the shore and that tiny rowboat.
So why is Gendry back now? The question of where he went has been a big one, with GOT fans inquiring for years after the sweet, charming, disarmingly attractive man who seemingly rowed off into the abyss. Rowing Gendry became a symbol for all our unanswered questions, hence the laugh line in Sunday’s episode when Davos greets him at the King’s Landing smithy and says, “I wasn’t sure I’d find ya. Thought you might still be rowing.” If nothing else, perhaps the showrunners wanted to offer us some closure on Gendry’s rowboat adventure.
But a quick cameo would have been enough for that, and now Gendry is venturing beyond the Wall with Jon Snow and his wily crew. Are bigger things in store for King Robert’s bastard?
It’s possible that Gendry is just another set of arms (the warhammer he wields in “Eastwatch” is nod to the hammer that Robert used to kill Rhaegar Targaryen during the rebellion that preceded the show) and a link back to the bond that existed between House Baratheon and House Stark in the days of Robert and Ned. If you recall from season one, Robert greets Ned by ribbing him that he’s gained weight, when it’s painfully obvious that Robert is the one who’s been downing too many Renaissance Faire turkey legs. When Jon Snow and Gendry meet one another, Jon remarks that Gendry is “a lot leaner” than his father and Gendry shoots back lightheartedly that Jon is “a lot shorter.” It’s just the kind of honesty Jon values and the two form a quick bond.
If Gendry is just there to fight, though, why is he going beyond the Wall with Jon Snow while Davos stays back? As Davos attests (and Tormund so obligingly agrees), he’s not a quality swordsman. Neither is Gendry! What Gendry does know is steel. He insists that Jon “won’t need a blacksmith with a sword like that,” referring to Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword he’s carried since Jeor Mormont bestowed it upon him. But a blacksmith is exactly what Jon might need, since he is about to face the White Walkers and only two things are known to kill them: dragonglass and Valyrian steel.
You wouldn’t know it from only watching the show, but Gendry might be one of the only living men who knows how to manipulate Valyrian steel. As explained in the novels, Valyrian steel is an ancient art that requires magic to reforge and a dragon to create. We already know that Tobho Mott was able to reforge Ned Stark’s Valyrian blade, Ice, into two new swords: Oathkeeper, which Jaime Lannister passed on to Brienne of Tarth; and Widow’s Wail, which went to Jaime after Joffrey’s death. Did Mott pass down some of that Valyrian know-how to Gendry, who apprenticed under him for years? Almost definitely. And now that he’s joined up with Jon Snow, Gendry is awfully close to having three dragons and a high priest at his disposal. The Baratheon bastard from Flea Bottom just may play an integral role in saving the entire realm.
See also: Our 15 Biggest Questions About This Week’s Game of Thrones