An episode sandwiched by a brutal storm, one literal and one figurative, “Stormborn” was a momentous series of events which has moved this narrative further then many would have expected. As I mentioned last week, the time for economical storytelling is upon us, and so every – well, most – sequences are going to count for a lot, both in terms of moving the story towards the end-point and providing context or closure to previous happenings over the past six years. And that’s really where the strength is going to lie this season; it’s hard to see any episode from here on out not being completely satisfying, as the show is now able to play around with it’s own rich mythology, tie up loose ends and bring certain missing elements back into play.
A special shout out should go to Mark Mylod and the incredibly playful editing which added a bit more character to this episode as compared to the premiere, featuring scene transitions which were hilariously tongue-in-cheek like the penetration of Jorah’s crusty infected skin likened to Arya digging into a hot pie, made by Hot Pie.
Speaking of which, let’s start with Arya. Her returning to Winterfell carries a great deal of emotional fan investment, pent up for years and years. Arya’s arc is finally returning to the centre of the show, locking in as Game of Thrones’ heart and soul after so long stuffing her into an overlong Faceless Man training montage that quickly turned from engaging to slightly frustrating. Her scene with the demoralised Lannister men last episode – with the strangely derided Ed Sheeren cameo – was really the true tipping point here, taking away from assassin Arya and focusing on her human side, the empathetic and vulnerable traits which have made her one of the show’s most loved characters. Arya finding out from Hot Pie that her brother Jon was now King in the North and has taken Winterfell back from the Boltons (speaking of which, that house is entirely wiped out now, right?) was so subtle but was greatly enhanced by a huge emotional payoff.
That was furthered by her fizzled reunion with Nymeria, the now enormous snarling beast who has obvious command over the wolves of the north. I’m glad that she refused to join Arya in heading back to Winterfell, echoing the “that’s not you” phrase (first uttered by Ned to Arya in season one, referring to her being ‘different’ as far as tradition goes) that truly connects the two. They are both rebels but hopefully, now that the show has reminded us of that connection, this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this bond.
Circling back to the start, it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten any substantial material from Conleth Hill and, fuck, what an incredible actor. His back and forth with Dany, who is still fairly naive – something Emilia Clarke sells very well – was great to watch, culminating in a sly little smirk when the Mother of Dragons threatened to burn Varys alive if he ever betrayed her. Tyrion’s worried look conveyed just how much he has come to care for and trust Varys, although it’s quite obvious that the Spider still has some things hidden up his wizard-like sleeve. If anything, the scene was a swift reminder of the uniqueness of Varys and rival Littlefinger in the wider narrative; both are men born into little means but masterful manipulators who have played the game and are pretty much winning – although Littlefinger let’s his supposed lust get in the way. Maybe this dynamic is a comment on how Varys getting his junk chopped off is an advantage: desire ruins things.
Melisandre popping up at Dragonstone may have been dragged out if we were in earlier seasons, but now that the writers are taking certain liberties to move important pieces into place, the lack of world-building is certainly forgivable; particularly when it brings two of the show’s pivotal players closer together. The Red Woman has now explained to Dany the importance of Jon Snow, making the Dragon Queen (and Tyrion) aware of the King in the North while, unbeknownst to them, Sam “hero of the entire show tbh” Tarly is pushing Jon in the same direction. It looks like it’s all going to be happening next episode – the most anticipated meeting of two characters since Tyrion rocked up at Meereen.
Over at King’s Landing there’s a few power moves from Cersei and Jamie as they attempt to recruit various Tyrell bannermen, including Samwell’s father Randall – who no longer has his prized Valyrian steel sword – by appealing to their xenophobia, bringing attention to the fact that Dany has brought foreign invaders – the Unsullied and the Dothraki – to Westeros, a play that Tyrion smartly anticipated seeing as he has a plan to lay seige to King’s Landing using the Dornish army (ferried over by Yara and her fleet) as as not to give credit to Cersei’s fear-mongering.
Of course there are houses that must betray their Tyrell fealty, that would make the most sense since the crown is severely outnumbered and not even hipster-pirate Euron could bolster an army so that it could stand against Highgarden, Sunspear, Dragonstone, the Greyjoy rebels, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and the North. Add Qyburn to that mix and there’s potential for team Cersei to cause some serious damage, seeing as the rogue maester is seemingly mass producing gigantic dragon-killing spear chuckers.
In addition to discovering that Dragonstone is flowing with precious dragonglass, Sam seems to be on a bit of a roll over at The Citadel, spending his time under the stern eye of Archmaester Ebrose. Aside from the entertaining meta reference of Ebrose writing what is essentially A Song of Ice and Fire (well, “Chronicle of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert the First” for lack of a more poetic title), Sam’s scenes work towards a cure for Jorah, whose greyscale has progressed rapidly but won’t completely take over his mind for another six months or so. This hopefully takes these two excellent (honestly Jorah is great, and if you don’t think so I do not like you) characters and puts them on a path to what is soon to be a Jon/Dany alliance.
We’re shown very few steps over at Winterfell but one of those is the very significant passing of the torch from Jon to Sansa, leaving the eldest Stark girl in charge of the North who interestingly looks immediately at Littlefinger when she finds out that she’s to be in charge. Look for this dynamic to ramp up as Littlefinger attempts to grab a bit of Sansa’s power for himself – and if Arya is really heading back to Winterfell, it’s looking like that power play isn’t going to end well for Lord Baelish. This of course also means that Jon has fully committed to giving up his unwilling Kingship and doing what needs to be done, heading to Dragonstone – with the incredibly underrated Davos – to forge an alliance with Dany.
Now of course we have that massive ending, letting us know that it’s going to be all out war now, as Cersei has unwittingly drawn first blood. Euron attacks the absolute shit out of Yara’s fleet, causing chaos and complete destruction plus the death of the two eldest Sand Snakes. This was necessary to highlight just how vicious Theon’s uncle is, and also bring attention back to Theon’s complex arc which sadly involves a heavy, sister-abandoning dose of PTSD (Ramsay may be dead but his legacy lives through Reek). Alfie Allen is superb as the camera slowly focuses in on Theon’s face, really selling just how broken he is, putting some serious doubt into any expected redemption arc by having him abandon his sister and jump into the water knowing that his uncle will kill Yara. Her tear at the end may have not been for her life, but for the realisation that her “baby brother” is too far gone to ever survive in this world. It’s too much of a stretch to think Theon will now go and rescue Yara (she’ll be dead in an episode or two, but I predict we’ll be seeing Ellaria and her daughter’s death first, at the hands of The Mountain).
Unless there’s some massive “you want a good girl but you need a bad pussy” type fuck up this season I highly doubt that any of these Game of Thrones episodes will be disappointing. There’s still so much that needs to happen, and these first two episodes have shown us that the writers are wasting absolutely zero time (okay maybe except throwing Grey Worm and Missandei into an overlong sex scene) here.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Arya finds out about Jon from Hot Pie
- Sam determined to cure Jorah
- Tyrion speaks highly of Jon
- Euron fucks up the Greyjoy fleet
- Varys sticks up for himself
- Nymeria rejects Arya (for now)
- Playful editing adds character to the episode
- Olenna her usual witty self
- Too much time spent with the Grey Worm sex scene
- Jon threatens Littlefinger but there has been very little tension built up between the two characters. There’s implied context, but still there should have been a few scenes to highlight this.
- WHERE IS BRONN?
- WHERE IS GHOST?
- Although the Grey Worm and Missandei scene felt awkwardly long it’s an interesting and very well-done development of the Unsulled soldier’s character (sadly Missandei is relegated to catalyst for now) having expressed his weakness and also his very human vulnerability; you know, the kind that comes being an eunuch.
- I love Yara as a character and really hope she isn’t on the chopping block. As I mentioned above, we’re likely going to see the death of the Dornish captors at the hands of The Mountain and it’ll be spectacularly gory. Yara has much more to offer as a character though, so wasting her fate on gratuitous torture porn will feel cheap. It’s unlikely but I am hoping that Theon somehow saves her, at least somewhere down the line.
- It’s interesting having Jamie so committed to team Cersei, bringing a bit of complexity to the King’s Landing side of things. Remember, we’re supposed to like Jamie now since he’s had his whole redemption arc.
- Sam for Iron Throne please.
Game of Thrones airs at the same time as in the U.S, every Monday at 11am AEST on Showcase, Foxtel. It repeats at 8pm AEST.
Photo: Helen Sloan / HBO