Season 7, Episode 2, ‘Stormborn’
One of the themes of Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” was that as the expansive story began to contract toward its conclusion, characters who had been long separated or were strangers to one another would begin to come together.
On Sunday that was happening all over the place, as roughly 98 subplots unfolded over lots of conversation and a few flashes of action in a talky, busy episode. Characters we’ve known for years connected either for the first time on the show or in new ways, sharing moments that were by turns touching, revolting, conniving and deadly.
Euron Greyjoy met a couple Sand Snakes, and it didn’t go well for the ladies. (R.I.P., I guess.) Melisandre talked prophesies with Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion. Yara and Ellaria explored new layers to their relationship before getting interrupted by a sea battle. Samwell Tarly’s dad negotiated loyalties with Jaime. Samwell himself treated Jorah and [shudder].
Others felt each other out, like Daenerys Targaryen and Varys, who hashed out six seasons of tangled history in a few pages of dialogue. (And it mostly made sense!) Elsewhere in Dragonstone, Grey Worm and Missandei found a way to make it work.
And we haven’t even gotten to the most momentous meeting of all. That would be the promised one between Jon Snow and Daenerys, which was set up last week with Sam’s dragonglass discovery — Jon wants to mine it, Dany is sitting on a mountain of it — and formalized Sunday with an invitation from Tyrion.
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The letter was met with almost universal scorn from the northerners, who distrust both Targaryens and Lannisters. (Even the stalwart Lady Mormont urged Jon to refuse the call.) The reactions were one of several alliance scenes in this Risk-board setting episode, which also saw Cersei whipping up xenophobic fears in King’s Landing and Dany negotiating infighting, the Achilles’ heel of large coalitions, over whether it is better to rule by winning hearts (Varys and Tyrion) or inspiring fear (Ellaria, Lady Olenna).
But Jon opted to go to Dragonstone, an outcome that was never really in doubt because his departure sets into motion a couple of arcs that have been cued up for a while.
One, of course, involves the meeting of Jon and his Aunt Dany, which could be the most powerful union on the show as well as the latest icky one, if they pair off before figuring out their family connection. (Romance is in the air at Dragonstone.) I’m encouraged by the fact that Melisandre, who has a track record of parsing Jon’s mysteries, is on hand to perhaps illuminate some things. Davos may feel differently, though.
It will be a less powerful Dragon Queen that Jon meets, now that some significant portion of her fleet has been destroyed by Euron’s surprise attack, with Yara, Theon, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes all lost in some fashion. The invasion itself was chaotically rendered, but Pilou Asbaek continues to be a kick as Euron, who arrived on a fanged gangplank that took out some poor sailor. The outcome would seem to be a blow against both Dany’s typically patient strategy and Tyrion’s plan to use nonforeign invaders to counter Cersei’s nativist rhetoric. (He’s a clever man and I’ve known lots of clever men, Lady Olenna tells Dany, perhaps opening a fault line that will intensify with this defeat. “I’ve outlived them all,” she says, because “I’ve ignored them.”)
The other thing Jon’s exit does is place Sansa in charge of Winterfell, which she seems ready to take on but which also leaves her vulnerable to Littlefinger, ever lurking. Will she succumb to his ambitions, which could, after all, secretly align with the values she picked up from Cersei? Or will Arya arrive in time to help her be her best Stark?
I worried about Arya’s emotional well-being last week, after her objectively awesome and also totally ruthless decimation of House Frey. But on Sunday, at least, there were signs of the warmhearted girl we all remember.
Arya was initially aloof as she enjoyed another hot pie with Hot Pie, but when the lad revealed his true narrative purpose — to notify her that Jon was back in charge in Winterfell — it redirected her from her revenge quest to King’s Landing. This conviction seemed to receive another test later in the form of a pony-sized wolf that seemed to be Nymeria, last seen being chased away in Season 1 for her own safety. (You’ll recall that she bit Joffrey’s arm.)
I admit I’m not sure what exactly went down between Arya and the wolves. It seemed that Nymeria was both leading a feral pack and serving as a fangy metaphor for the sort of free-roaming destroyer Arya would be if she lost touch with her own humanity, which was exactly the sort of development she was just then counteracting by returning home to Winterfell.
“That’s not you,” she said, seemingly speaking to herself (though the relationships between the Starks and their wolves are complicated). But as with every other union or reunion of characters in Sunday’s episode, the true significance of the moment is probably yet to be revealed.
A Few Thoughts While We Speak Ill of the Dead
• That was a pretty fitting end for Obara and Nymeria Sand, who showed up Sunday full of big talk about giants they planned to slay only to be hoisted with their own petards by Euron. (Or choked by her own whip, in Nymeria’s case.) The Sand Snakes arrived with lots of fanfare and a killer debut scene in Season 5, but will endure in “Thrones” lore as one of the show’s biggest disappointments. (My list also includes Arya’s time in the House of Black and White, and Mance Rayder’s supposedly unstoppable, 100,000-strong Wildling army.)
• Things heated up this week in the race for Westeros’s Top Maester. Currently in the lead is Qyburn, who already has a reanimated supersoldier and a triumphant wildfire scheme on his résumé. Now it seems he’s worked with King’s Landing artillery craftsmen to perfect a surface-to-air crossbow to serve as the backbone of Cersei’s Dragon Defense Initiative. But don’t count out Swiss-Army Samwell — the book-shelving, bedpan-cleaning, liver-weighing maester-in-training who followed up last week’s dragonglass discovery with a possible cure for greyscale this week. I could have lived without seeing Jorah carved up like a charred brisket, though. Not sure I’ll ever be able to order burnt ends again.
• Also, is this secret cure really just to remove the bad bits and apply ointment? I’m no maester, but that seems pretty basic.
• That said, that was a grotesquely hilarious cut from Sam’s lance to the pie-filling in Hot Pie’s inn, though my wife strongly disagreed.
• Hot Pie convincing Arya to head home instead of King’s Landing was a happy turn of events, though I was less thrilled with his fate-tempting claim that “I’m a survivor.” Hopefully the show will be too busy with everything else to kill him off.
• Theories abounded last week about Euron’s promised gift for Cersei. It appears as if it’s Ellaria Sand, Myrcella’s murderer, and her own daughter, Tyene. Whatever faults he has — and he appears to have all of them — Euron does seem to know just what to get a vindictive queen with a daughter-size hole in whatever remains of her heart.
• Aside from the Sand Snakes, the other big loser in Euron’s attack would seem to be Theon, who apparently cracked up at the moment he was supposed to be saving his sister, or at least making a convincing attempt to do so. (Yara reverse-foreshadowed his flight during her interlude with Ellaria, telling her that when she was queen of the Iron Islands, Theon would be her protector.) But while it seemed like an emotional collapse in the moment, are we sure Theon didn’t make the right decision there? What reasonable chance did he have of saving Yara or defeating his uncle? I imagine he’ll have another chance to earn his red badge of courage before all is said and done.
• At any rate, with Theon, Grey Worm and Varys all having key moments on Sunday, it was a big week for eunuchs.
• What say you? What did you make of the Nymeria meeting? Are Daenerys and Tyrion heading for a split? What menu item did Jorah’s treatment put you off of? Please share your thought in the comments.