Game of Thrones S7 E2: “Stormborn”
Directed by Mark Mylod
Written by David Benioff, Bryan Cogman, George R.R. Martin, and D.B.Weiss
“I am not here to be queen of the ashes.”
The official list of characters for this show grows shorter every week. Sometimes I wish for calmer, quieter, slower episodes of Game of Thrones, because more of the people I like are likely to survive. The conventional wisdom holds that never, ever like a character on GoT: that’s a sure way to get somebody killed. Sometimes, however, it’s even worse when characters do survive, because being captured in the land of ice and fire proves the old adage that there are some things worse than death. In addition to updating the body count and laying the groundwork for more of the kind of horrifying captivity unique to GoT, this week’s episode included pus, boobies, burning ships, and a giant bone-shattering crossbow. No wonder it’s the most popular show on television.
Our story begins at Dragonstone, which is likely to provide the locus for much of the action in the next few episodes. Daenarys spars with Varys over his flip-flopping loyalties. Not for the last time, Daenarys comes up against the less savory aspects of her legacy. Yes, her father ruled the seven kingdoms by right. He was also a raving psychopath who liked to set living people on fire just so he could watch them burn. Like many people of a certain age in Westeros, Varys served Daenarys father. Also like many people of a certain age in Westeros, Varys conspired against Daenarys father. He also has conspired against her. Despite his vacillating loyalties, Varys earns the right to live and the right to advise Daenarys by convincing her that he’s on her side because she’s the best of the available choices. For all of Varys’ scheming and plotting, like Daenarys, his deepest desire lies in using power to make things better for people. Westeros is not a place where that constitutes a widespread sentiment. Having found their commonality, Daenarys accepts Varys as one of her key advisors. She also takes advice from Melisandre, she of the magical anti-aging jewelry and the wildly inaccurate psychic visions. Melisandre suggests that Daenarys should form an alliance with John Snow. Though Daenarys prefers that John Snow work under her rather than with her, she sends him an invitation to explore the possibility of fighting Circe together. Her proposal arrives at about the same time as Samwell Tarly’s information that Dragonstone sits on top of a huge supply of Dragonglass, which must be made into weapons and distributed if anyone is ever to survive the Army of the Dead. John Snow decides, against the unanimous sentiment of his clans and against Sansa’s fear that it’s a trap, that he will meet with Daenarys. Daenarys currently contemplates retaking the seven kingdoms; John Snow will have to persuade her that there is more at stake. He must convince her that reclaiming her heritage will mean nothing if everyone who survives the squabbles of men fall to the Night King in the coming war with the dead.
I never noticed before that Circe bears a striking resemblance to Melania Trump. Both women share the same high cheekbones, slightly aquiline noses, and full lips. They say that beauty is all a matter of proportions – perhaps all unusually attractive people bear a resemblance to one another. Similarly to the Trump administration, Circe attempts to rally her support among the families who have sworn loyalty to the Tyrells of High Garden by preying upon their xenophobic fears of outsiders. She incites terror that the Dothraki and Unsullied will run amok, raping and murdering and enslaving the citizens of Westeros. It’s not exactly loyalty she’s asking for, just a pragmatic recognition that her reign may not constitute the worst outcome. Jamie even dangles a generalship and a position as Warden of the South to Lord Tarly to try and gain allies. In addition to shoring up week alliances, Circe also explores upgrading her weapon technology, particularly as it applies to dragons. Her advisor, Qyburn, demonstrates a super crossbow that he has had built in secret (like a Roman “scorpion”; it worked against Smaug in The Hobbit movie). The former king and Circe’s first husband kept the skulls of the dragons that used to belong to the Targaryen family. Some of these dragons were much bigger than Daenarys’, which suggests that her victory is far from certain. Qyburn invites Circe to fire this crossbow. He has heard that one of Daenarys’ dragons was wounded, so perhaps they are not the invincible weapons they are thought to be. Circe’s crossbow bolt easily pierces the biggest skull. I always worry as much about the animals on GoT as I do about the people. I feel such trepidation whenever there appears to be a threat to them. The animals on GoT die just as frequently and as horribly as the humans.
Arya Stark meets up with some former friends as she travels toward King’s Landing to kill Circe. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Arya happens to walk into the one where her old pal Hot Pie works. As she helps herself to foods intended for someone else, he catches her up on all the news. She learns that the Boltons are dead and that John Snow has reclaimed Winterfell and become King of the North. Arya puts her plans for Circe on hold and heads back towards home. On the road she meets another old friend. Long ago when Arya was a child she and her brothers and sister were given Dire Wolf pups. All of those other pups grew up to be adult wolves, and all of them were killed. Alone in the woods, a pack of wolves surrounds Arya, led by a giant Dire Wolf. It’s Nymeria, Arya’s pup, all grown up. She recognizes Arya, but she doesn’t go with her. Their lives have grown apart. Arya never expected to see Nymeria again, but she has. Now she really never expects to see Nymeria again, but she might. There are many battles to come, and these two may yet cross paths again. As with the dragons, I fear for the wolf’s future.
Daenarys, like Circe, must convince some reluctant allies to go along with her plans. Rather than jump right in and take the obvious path of attacking King’s Landing, Daenarys proposes laying siege to King’s Landing using the Dornish and Tyrell armies. She plans to split her forces and send the Dothraki and the Unsullied to take the Lannisters’ home, Casterly Rock. Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes and Olenna Tyrell approve of her plan, but not before Olenna warns Daenarys about taking advice from men.
Meanwhile, one of the Unsullied gets a little sullied. Missandei and Grey Worm acknowledge their feelings for each other on the eve of their separation. Though Grey Worm no longer possesses a standard equipment package, he demonstrates that there is more than one way to tune an engine, thus providing HBO with one of its obligatory, gratuitous sex scenes. Bloodshed and sex provide two extra draws to pull in viewers, just in case good storylines, tons of action, exquisite production values, and consistently decent acting do not provide enough incentives for viewers to tune in every week.
This week we have the addition of a gross-out factor! At the Citadel, Samwell Tarly steadfastly decides that he is going to help Jorah Mormont cure his grayscale disease even though it’s against the rules, highly unlikely to succeed, and might result in his own contraction of the infection. He instructs Mormont to bite a stick while he cuts away all the poor man’s diseased skin, which draws a parallel to the Boltons penchant for flaying their enemies alive. Hopefully Mormont will actually survive the operation.
When Jon Snow leaves to meet with Daenarys at Dragonstone, he leaves Sansa in charge of the North. The dippy teenybopper we met way back in Season One now reigns as the de facto ruler of one of the kingdoms of Westeros. Like her sister Arya, Sansa must reconcile a person from her past. That Bastard Baelish (new official character name) spoke in this week’s episode. Usually that results in the death or the deaths of some of those characters we don’t dare grow to like. He clearly still plans to claim Sansa for himself, remain the last man standing, and become king of all the Seven Kingdoms. John Snow jacks him up but, alas, does not kill him. We will all regret that in the episodes to come.
As Yara and Ellaria sail the Iron Fleet and the Dornish army towards King’s Landing, Euron launches a surprise attack in the night. Yara and the Sand Snakes fight as fiercely as they can, but Euron sets all of her ships on fire. Euron boards her flagship. Though stabbed in the groin, Euron kills two of the three Sand Snakes and takes Yara and Ellaria prisoner. Euron dares Theon to save his sister, but poor Theon, the GoT poster child for what captivity is like in Westeros, dives off the boat and into the water and away from the fight. Euron has won the first battle against Daenarys. Rather than wait for Daenarys to attack, Circe has struck the first blow in a fight that will eventually turn out to be the mere prelude to the real war with the Night King and the White Walkers. But Circe is one of those rulers who cares more about her personal power than the survival of her kingdoms or her people.
Only five episodes remain in this truncated season, and only six episodes will comprise the eighth and final season of the series. From here on in, there will be no respite from war and death. No peaceful resolution of these conflicts can arise, and certainly more characters will meet their demise. Despite the attrition of characters and the dwindling of hope in this show which was never optimistic, we are now all held captive until the bitter end.