It’s full speed ahead now on Game of Thrones, and the tempo for “Stormborn” is immediately set by a tempest raging against the walls of Dragonstone. The whole episode, even in its more subdued or talky moments, seems rushed, and that is of course out of necessity. No more slow-burn character development, subtle dialogue, or blossoming discoveries. There are only 11 episodes remaining in the series, and there is so much left to accomplish!
On that front, Daenerys is ready to begin. She’s been waiting impatiently (and we the audience even more so) for her to FINALLY reach King’s Landing. The Season 6 finale “The Winds of Winter” was a true masterpiece for many reasons, not the least of which was the breathtaking finale view of Daenerys’ fleet sailing at last towards Kings Landing with her dragons soaring epically above.The idea of Cersei being able to defend against Dany’s monopoly on badass armies seemed almost laughable. How could Cersei and her new Queendom possibly survive?
The answer is Targaryen ineptitude. Apparently, rather than spend time on the voyage across the Narrow Sea discussing strategy, the Mother of Dragons decided to wait until after her homecoming to consult with her newfound allies. Once at Dragonstone, she opts for a restrained approach, as suggested by her Hand, Tyrion.
Tyrion’s thought process isn’t wrong – to send the Unsullied, Dothraki, Ironborn, Dornish, Tyrells, and three dragons into King’s Landing would mean certain death for tens of thousands of people, and that’s not why Tyrion got into this mess, nor, as he sees it, what Daenerys truly desires. Dany sees the logic in not killing the subjects she hopes to win over, especially so soon after the whole Wildfire in the Sept incident.
“Divide and conquer” may be a great strategy in war, but to divide your own forces may not be the best idea, and division happens almost immediately as Daenerys consults with her allies. Hot-headed Ellaria Sand can’t even pretend to hide her displeasure, her main objective being to kill off all of theLannisters once and for all. Yara Greyjoy, who comes from a people known for reaving and raping, senses her talents may not be put to their best use. And Lady Olenna is as sassy and displeased as ever. While it is exciting in theory to watch a War Room filled mostly with strong and powerful women making these kinds of decisions, in reality the scene was more of a sobering exhibit that this alliance may not be built on the strongest of foundations, and that Daenerys, despite ruling briefly (and arguably not very well) in Mereen and Slaver’s Bay, has very little experience in strategy.
Daenerys reveals her and Tyrion’s plan to send the Unsullied to overtake Casterly Rock. The dragons – those weapons of mass destruction –seem to have been left out of the battle plans.
Okay, fine. Everyone’s sort of okay with it, and go their separate ways. But not before Lady Olenna schools Daenerys. “I’ve known a great many clever men,” she says. “I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” This pep talk could definitely be summarized and sold on a t-shirt (and probably will be).
Jon Snow struggles similarly in the North, with a parallel scene in which he tells his followers that he has decided to ride south to meet Daenerys Targaryen. Really no one is on board with this plan, but Jon says – in almost the exact same manner that Dany did – hey, you wanted me to rule for a reason, so I’m going to do the thing and you’re going to have to deal with it.
The meeting of Jon and Dany was suggested by Melisandre who, after being banished from the North (after that little child-burning incident came to light), rode back to familiar territory. Dragonstone, which was her home for quite a time when she served as Stannis’ pyromaniac advisor, seems as good a place as any to return. But now that the Mother of Dragons has shown up, all the more reason. After all, the Red Priests sung Dany’s praises over in Volantis, and their endorsement throughout Slaver’s Bay helped to rally the people to her side. So, Daenerys is thankful when Melisandre appears, and agrees easily to her suggestion to meet the King in the North. Because plot progression, but also because Melisandre throws out a few words about Azor Ahai, the Prince who was Promised. But wait -Missandei is sure to spell out just so everyone is clear: the Chosen One could really be a man or a woman. Dany’s into that, and maybe so are we.
Jon wasn’t sure about going to meet a Targaryen, after (*Stark Trigger Warning*) his grandfather, father, and brother riding South didn’t end up so well. Sansa, while admitting that Tyrion’s a cool guy (Oh yeah, they were married!), is dead set against it.
However, Sam’s raven from the Citadel has finally reached Winterfell. And that mountain of dragonglass Jon went out of his way to say they needed last episode? You know, to fight White Walkers? Well we found it, and it’s right under the feet of the Dragon Queen.
Meanwhile, Arya has left the company of Ed Shereen and stops by to say hello to her old pal Hot Pie (which was cute, I guess). There she scarfs down food and ale – in a manner remarkably reminiscent of the Hound – and Hot Pie reveals that the Boltons are dead and that Winterfell belongs to the Starks once again. I have to admit that I raised my fist in the air and shouted in triumph as Arya decided to forgo riding to the South and instead return home to Winterfell.
In typical Stark fashion, she will just miss Jon who has set off for Dragonstone, but a Sansa-Arya reunion is better than nothing (although best not to count our Stark eggs before they hatch).
On her way though, her camp fire is beset by a pack of wolves, and a long-awaited reunion finally occurs. (No, not Gendry, who maybe we’ll see this season, or maybe he died immediately after rowing into the sea without knowing how to swim in season 3.) Enter Nymeria, Arya’s old Direwolf which she set loose to save her from Lannister retribution after she bit Joffrey’s arm in the first season.
When we last saw the Direwolf, she was just a pup. Now she is truly magnificent, towering powerfully over her pack and snarling fiercely. This brief scene could be written off as a simple fan-service call back, but the Direwolves are much more important than that. They serve as a symbol of the Starks. Traditionally, each direwolf is either a reflection of or in some way connected to its master. Jon’s wolf Ghost was the runt of the litter, and its white fur a perfect fit for a bastard named Snow. Both Rob and Rickon’s wolves, whose personalities also fit with their respective masters, were killed just before each of their humans were. Bran’s wolf died as he became the Three-Eyed Raven. And Lady was unjustly treated and killed as Sansa made the decision to lie for Joffrey and, in essence, turn her back on the Starks in favor of better things in the South (joke’s on her).
Nymeria and Arya have both become extraordinary beasts in their own right. They have both gone through an incredible journey and have transformed into untamable killing machines. Coming face to face with her direwolf was the perfect welcome back to who she really is. “A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I’m going home!” she proclaimed to Jaqen H’ghar at the end of season 6. Arya has been away for so long, it’s finally time to return to her roots. But both Nymeria and Arya are forever changed, and can never be domesticated. Arya pleads for her direwolf to come with her. But she can’t. “It’s not you”, she says and realizes that’s okay. They’re both lone wolves, after all. Maisie Williams does lovey close-up work in this brief but emotionally affective scene.
Another lovely scene is shared between Grey Worm and Missandei. As Grey Worm prepares to leave for the siege of Casterly Rock, Missandei comes to say goodbye. Their relationship had never fully culminated due to both characters being introverted and well trained in their respective roles, as well as the obvious bodily insecurities that come with being or being attracted to a eunuch. But it’s maybe now or never, and it’s lovely to see these two delicate characters express themselves to each other. They bare both soul and body, and share an intimacy which is frankly refreshing. Shot beautifully, the emphasis on Missandei’s pleasure is a far cry from the many instances of female objectification in the show, and even if it’s only out of necessity, we’ll take it. Jacob Anderson’s performance as Grey Worm is often under-appreciated, but this scene really lets him, and Nathalie Emmanuel, shine.
Game of Thrones episode titles are usually chosen for a thematic reason. “Stormborn” opens (on the nose) with a storm and deals largely with the Dragon Queen (Stormborn being one of her many titles). Even Sam Tarly’s scenes are anchored in some way by Jorah’s devotion to his Khaleesi. The episode ends with the attack of Euron Greyjoy, who it may be recalled has been known to proclaim, “I am the storm!”
Euron really could have waited at least a few more minutes to attack though, since Yara and Ellaria were only just getting to know each other. Their interlude cut short, Yara rushes to the deck of the ship, only to realize that Euron and his Greyjoy fleet have shown up, and that she is hopelessly outgunned.
It’s Greyjoy against Greyjoy, and we have to appreciate getting to finally see the Iron Islanders in their full-blown glory as we’ve never seen them before, the brutal sea warriors.
Yara is a badass, and she fights valiantly. The Sand Snakes try their best, but I guess they forgot to apply their signature poisons to their weapons this time, and two of them quickly wind up dead in what was surely a collective sigh of relief from fans who have been disappointed in them from the beginning.
Even as strong and experienced as Yara is, she is no match for her uncle Euron, as we finally see how maniacal and fierce he really is. Although hard-fought, he manages to defeat her, and holds an axe to her throat.
Here is a classically great Game of Thrones moment: We know that in a world where no life is sacred (except maybe Jon Snow’s), beloved characters could die at any time. Yara seems like she’s dead meat as Theon looks on. Indeed, this is Theon’s moment to shine. Being referred to as Yara’s “protector” only slightly earlier in the episode, this is his chance to lay it on the line and fight for his big sister, who has done the same for him in the past. But in a far more realistic turn, Theon’s PTSD is triggered, and he is unable to do anything except jump into the sea. Yara is left alone and helpless, but it is Theon’s betrayal and abandonment that are more poignant than Euron’s weapon. Gemma Whelan does fine work as the defeated Yara. Theon lives, and reminds us once again how truly pathetic he is. He was always and will always just be… Reek.
Well, it’s clear now what Euron’s gift to Cersei will be. Ellaria Sand, Tyene Sand, and Yara Greyjoy. Plus his sound defeat of the Greyjoy fleet. For a man who seemed like maybe he was all talk, Euron has really delivered and in a short amount of time. His victory may have turned the tide of war in Cersei’s favor.
While that comprises the bulk of the episode, I have a few other thoughts.
Sansa, while finally showing some sort of a spine by channeling Queen-bitch-Cersei realness, is really still just a petulant young woman who is more interested in herself than anything else. She seems to disagree with everything Jon says based on a sort of teenage principal alone. Jon leaving Winterfell in her hands while he rides South clearly surprises her. And while it’s good to have a Stark – and a woman – in charge of the North, it’s unclear how great Sansa will be in this new role. Especially if, oh, I don’t know, the Night King happens to make his way past the Wall. And ESPECIALLY with Littlefinger hanging around.
How great was it, though, when Jon Snow totally channeled the late Ned Stark (and right in front of his tomb) and strangled Little Finger in the crypt? Poor Baelish, it seems it’s his fate to have Stark men’s hands around his throat.
Meanwhile, Sam is really going out of his way to break as many rules as possible in the Citadel. But, as somehow he receives no repercussions for his actions throughout the entire show, he might as well continue doing as he pleases. The one most redeeming quality about Sam is his loyalty, and once he hears that Jorah is a Mormont, his love for the late Lord Commander Jeor Mormont sways him and decides he will do whatever it takes to try to cure Jorah. Perhaps this indicates that his love for the old Maester Aemon might inspire a similar loyalty toward Daenerys.
I will make no secret that I despise Jorah, because he is a CREEPER who doesn’t take no for an answer and quietly cries about an idolized version of a woman who will never feel the same way about him. Still, watching Sam scalpel off greyscale after greyscale brought me no pleasure. Leave it to Game of Thrones to find new ways to make us squirm.
Varys is put under fire by Daenerys. Even though this is a discussion that probably should have taken place a long time ago, he makes clear what he has always said (whether you’ve believed him or not, but I always have): that his priority is the good of the realm, and that the decisions he makes are always with the people in mind. Dany is known for holding grudges, but seems cool with what Varys has to say, and it’s good to have them on the same page. It’s also nice to see that both Varys and Little Finger are still actively in the game. Maybe they’ll both make to the end to complete their lovely arc that’s been going on since the beginning of the show. Then again, maybe not.
And we can’t forget about the hard work Cersei is putting in as she uses a nationalist approach to rally Tyrell bannermen to her side. It’s unfortunate when fantasy shows recall real life, but then again she makes a good point: Dothraki are terrifying, and Daenerys is a little bit trigger-happy when it comes to crucifixion. Jaime follows up with Sam Tarly’s dad Randyll, who may be a horrible dad and kind of an ass, but could possibly serve as a major player in the Lannister battle plans.
Qyburn never takes a day off, and has been hard at work making a weapon that can kill a dragon. The thought of any of the final three dragons in existence dying is as heartbreaking as when direwolves are killed. But if Qyburn can figure out how to take out the dragons, that might be just the thing to ensure Cersei’s victory over Daenerys. Too bad that dragon fire could be REALLY helpful against the Night King and his icy army.
And finally, as Game of Thrones gives more and more positions of power to women, it’s great to see that Nymeria has in her own right become the Queen of the North.