-A spoiler filled discussion of Season Seven, Episode Two.
After a mixed premiere, “Game of Thrones” has come back full force, countering all of my issues with a great episode. The show really brings the political intrigue that had been absent throughout the bonkers Season Six, and does a great job in having the slow-paced dialogue scenes with mystery and intrigue, while still closing the episode with a brutal naval scene that really works on all levels. I loved this episode.
After Daenerys ended last episode with “Shall We Begin?” standing next to her battle plans, we spend much of the episode’s opening with Dany and her new allies, working over what their plan is to take Westeros by storm. They mention, in passing, that the thunderstorm outside coincides with why she is called Daenerys Stormborn by some, mainly because her mother gave birth to her during a monstrous storm right before she was smuggled to Essos as a baby.
Before we get her battle plans, we have some allegiance testing, in a very logical conversation between her and Varys. Varys served under King Aerys, but then supported King Robert when he took over as king during the rebellion. It’s obvious that his allegiance is huge, given his vast network of spies and information, but Varys refuses to have an allegiance to one specific person. He gives somewhat of a populist message, stating that he supports what’s best for the people, and believes that it’s Dany. She takes his honest rebuttal to heart, and agrees that his knowledge will be important, but threatens him by stating that betrayal will end with death. Daenerys has one very easy result to resort to, and that’s violence, but she instead tries to reign in her more bloodthirsty tendencies by trusting her counsel. It’s interesting after the meeting when Lady Olenna Tyrell and Dany meet that Olenna tells her to disregard the “clever men” at her arsenal, such as Tyrion and Varys. One thing we do not want is Daenerys to betray her allies and head down the Targaryen path of blood and madness. For some reason, I’ve always felt that a switch could be flipped and she could begin a more chaotic dissent to violence. Only time will tell.
Her advisers have given her good information (for the most part). I agree with her refusal of what is being offered by Ellaria Sand and Yara Greyjoy, essentially that she doesn’t want to leave the Crownlands in smoke and ash. If she wants to be a leader of the people, burning down their homes is not a good start. Tyrion knows that Cersei will use the “foreign invaders” rhetoric to inspire hatred of Dany bringing the Unsullied and the Dothraki to Westeros, so he tries to limit the exposure by sending the Unsullied to take Casterly Rock on the West, and leaving much of the siege on King’s Landing to the local armies, such as the fresh Dornish forces, the Yara/Theon led Greyjoy fleet, and the Tyrell forces behind Olenna Tyrell. One note about this scene is that it’s odd for Tyrion to put trust in the Sand Snakes, as they were responsible for the death of his niece, Myrcella, in Season Five.
The battle strategy, ideology discussions, and character relationships in this opener are fantastic. We get the large assortment of Dany allies all together at one table for the first time after how long it took to assemble this entourage. It took the Sand Snakes to overthrow the Doran Martell regime and take control of Dorne as the leaders, while also aligning with Olenna Tyrell over their mutual hatred of the Lannisters after Cersei killed members of the Tyrell and Oberyn Martell families. Their trust had to be won by Varys, after convincing them that Dany was the right choice, and also showing them that Tyrion Lannister was not like his siblings. The question of how the possibly sympathetic Westerosi lords (we don’t know what happened to the soldiers of the Stormlands after all of the Baratheon line was extinguished and we don’t know what happened to the soldiers of the Riverlands after the Tully line was removed and the Freys were all killed by Arya) will react to the Unsullied and Dothraki inclusion remains to be seen. Much of Cersei’s pitch to get some Tyrell (in the Reach) and Stormland support in a later scene is exactly that: do we want dragons to burn our lands and have foreign invaders sack our cities and rape our women? Dany’s position, although superior to Cersei’s, is still tenuous because she’s from Essos and is a Targaryen.
There’s another really interesting plot thread worth discussing with Dany’s presence in this episode, and that is the arrival of Melisandre to Dragonstone to discuss a possible plan. They welcome in Melisandre because Dany has had aid from a clan of Red Priestesses in Essos, so she lets her speak. Melisandre mentions “The Prince Who Was Promised,” a myth about the savior figure under the Lord of Light who was born amongst salty seas and smoky volcanoes. Missandei, as Dany’s translator, points out that the Valyrian word for “Prince” is gender-neutral, and could mean “Princess” as well. Dany automatically assumes that she is the savior figure, but the scene makes it semi-clear that Melisandre thinks it’s Jon Snow. Both fit the descriptions, and Dany agrees to send a letter to Jon to speak with him, advising him to bend the knee and aid her as the King in the North. She does not know that Jon and her are related, but Tyrion trusts Jon from their friendship in Season One, and admits that his allegiance would be nice. I’ll get to more on this later.
Finally, there’s the scene of Missandei and Grey Worm getting intimate, and it was a necessary step for their characters. I don’t really have much else to say other than that I’ve appreciated the slow build that the show has given this relationship.
In the North:
So, I’ll pick up the Jon/Dany storyline here.
Jon receives the letter from Tyrion, remembering the line he uses about how “all dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes.” Jon (and Sansa for that matter) have some trust for Tyrion, and Davos mentions that getting the allegiance of Dany’s dragons would be huge because of fire’s effect on the wights. Jon then finds out from Sam, after he sent a letter last episode, that Dragonstone is built on a huge pile of dragonglass that they can use as weapons to kill the white walkers. Considering Daenerys’s assets are huge to win the Great War against the Walkers, Jon poses the question to the various bannermen of the North. Not surprisingly, Jon is met by a chorus of ‘nays’ as the Northern lords are naturally distrusting of a Targaryen leader, and do not want Jon to abandon his people so close to the final battles. Sansa is among the dissenters, and Jon states that he understands the risk, but he has to go investigate the two letters himself, as he’s the one who has seen the army of the dead with his own eyes. Jon leaves Sansa in charge, which could spell trouble if Sansa’s intentions are not to be trusted.
In addition to the uncertain nature of Jon’s standing with Sansa, he meets Petyr Baelish down in the crypts while visiting the grave of Ned Stark (his adoptive father). Baelish does something a bit odd, almost antagonizing Jon about his love for Jon’s adoptive mother Catelyn Stark and his lust for Jon’s adoptive sister Sansa. Jon threatens him, strangling him slightly against the wall just as Ned did to Baelish in Season One after he led Ned to a brothel. Baelish’s motives, and how Sansa plays into them, and vice versa, is such an interesting dynamic that I can’t wait to see pay off. With Jon gone, it’s time for Baelish to make a move, and we’ll see how Sansa reacts. Although Sansa has been dismissive of him recently, they had a decent rapport in seasons past, and they both know how to play the deceptive political games behind the various houses. Jon’s part ends with him leaving for Dragonstone with Ser Davos.
In King’s Landing:
Cersei gives a very 2017-esque speech to Tyrell and Stormland bannermen about how they should support her over a foreign invasion. It’s her goal to pry part of the army left from The Reach away from Olenna Tyrell, adding to her forces. Her speech is decent, but the big play is actually made after the meeting is adjourned, where Jaime goes up to Randyll Tarly and asks for his support. The Tarlys have consistently followed Olenna, but I’d be surprised if Tarly’s loyalties don’t end up with the Lannisters. It just seems that their interests are similar. In addition, Tarly is widely recognized as a good battle commander (it was also mentioned by Stannis in Season Five that the Tarly forces gave Robert his only battle loss in the rebellion).
Qyburn, who is Hand to the Queen, Grand Maester, and has his own information network, brings Cersei down to the basement of the Red Keep to show Cersei the skeletons of the fallen Targaryen dragons. He shows her their design to combat Dany’s dragons, an overlarge bow and arrow that could possibly be used to try to wound or kill the dragons by either piercing their armor or shooting them in the eye. I was slightly disappointed with this scene, because when Qyburn mentions that he has a possible solution to the dragons, I assumed it’d be something sinister and magical. Then, when we see the dragon skeleton, I thought they might Mountain-ize (that’s a verb now) the dead dragon and turn it into an undead threat. It appears I was wrong. I’m also in the camp that honestly believes that a dragon or two will be resurrected by the white walkers, and maybe this spear-shooter thing that Qyburn shows Cersei will play into that.
In the Riverlands:
We spend only limited time with Arya this week, but she ends up at the Crossroads Inn near the Neck and orders some foot from Hot Pie, her old friend from Seasons Two and Three. He ended up keeping his job as a cook, and Arya has a pretty silly line about her pie-making skills, after her only experience was serving some Frey pie to Old Walder. Arya’s savage nature is evident in this scene, as she has very little left in common with Hot Pie. I think these scenes with Arya are meant to show her return to something more human, as opposed to just a bloodthirsty assassin.
Later, she is confronted by her old direwolf Nymeria when setting up camp in the woods. When she tries to get Nymeria to go North with her, Nymeria backs away, in a tentative but fairly respectful encounter. Nymeria knows Arya has changed, and Arya says “it’s not you,” meaning that she recognizes the fact that the now horse-sized Nymeria does not want to follow a human around. This sounds like Arya in the beginning of the show, when she refused to be pidgeon-holed into traditional gender roles. This episode did a lot of character showcasing inside Arya’s head. I’m excited to see her back in Winterfell with her family. My prediction is that Arya is the one that ends Littlefinger’s life while under disguise, after seeing him try to manipulate Sansa. Plus, it would make sense for her to have the expensive Catspaw blade as the assassin, after Littlefinger used it on Ned.
We see the Archmaester give an official look at Jorah Mormont’s greyscale, which has progressed onto about half his torso. The Archmaester gives Jorah a day to get his affairs in order and end his life, as opposed to being sent over to the Smoking Sea in Old Valyria with the Stone Men. When Sam presses the Archmaester, he continues to show his close-mindedness, discrediting an experimental procedure that was performed successfully twice by another Maester, instead wanting to focus on a more bland writing of a recent history book. The Maesters appear to be pseudo-intellectuals in that they don’t care about practical application of their knowledge, nor of whatever threat faces the Seven Kingdoms. They instead talk about how they’re only there to be objective and report history, and the pretentious nature of the maesters is beginning to get to Sam. He then, for the second time in as many episodes, seeks the forbidden knowledge, and begins a gross and experimental procedure on Jorah, scraping away his infected skin with a knife and applying some sort of ointment. The person who successfully cured the advance-stage disease later died of greyscale, and perhaps that’s Sam’s fate. He’s told Jon of the dragonglass and possibly saved Jorah. I’m not sure what else he has left to offer. If Jorah is cured, I hope Sam gives him the Valyrian Steel sword that Sam took from Randyll Tarly. He may need it. We’ll see about Sam’s fate, and Jorah’s, soon.
In the Narrow Sea between Dragonstone and Dorne:
Finally, our episode concludes with a massive naval battle between the two Greyjoy factions. After Dany told the Greyjoys to escort the Sand Snakes back to Dorne and prep for an invasion from the South with Olenna and the Tyrells, the ships are well on their way to Dorne. Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand, two sexually open-minded characters, begin flirting, but it is cut short by a huge ship driven by Euron Greyjoy sailing up next to Yara’s. Euron leaps down onto the boat, murders two of the Sand Snakes, and beats the piss out of Yara, taking her captive. His men are able to overwhelm the third Sand Snake (Obara and Nymeria are both killed, Tyene is taken hostage) and Ellaria Sand taking the last two hostage. When presented with a chance to save Yara, Theon panics, reverts back to being “Reek,” and leaps over the edge of the ship, getting left behind as he watches Euron burn the rest of Yara’s ships down. Just like that, after five minutes at the end of the episode, Dany’s big plan from the start of the episode has been smacked aside, and the “gift” that Euron promised Cersei is presumably the two women responsible for the death of her daughter Myrcella. This also marks two straight big mistakes by Tyrion (this and the time he tried to cede some power to the slave owners in Meereen). Dany may want to take Olenna’s advice and listen to no one, we’ll see. Meanwhile, we’ll also see how Cersei handles the “gift” she’ll receive.
Overall, I loved this episode. Not just for the finale, but for the political intrigue of all of the moving parts. It has nicely rebounded from a less-than-great first episode, and also is extremely consistent with the previous seasons, while still maintaining the quicker pace of Season Six.
Episode Score: A