It’s begun. I believe we’re going to look at last night’s episode, “Stormborn,” as the place where the final act of Game of Thrones truly started—where the ball was first set in motion, where the characters took their first true steps toward the conflict that will engulf all of Westeros. And for some of those players, their game is already over.
Like last week’s premiere, “Stormborn” wasn’t much for themes or artistry. But unlike the premiere, the episode wasn’t worried about catching people up as much as it was devoted to getting things done, bringing characters together, wrapping up loose ends, checking off some boxes, and generally getting things started as the series’ end game begins.
That meant most of the characters have started getting stuff done, too. First and foremost, Daenerys and Tyrion have formed their plan to take the Throne—have Dorne and Highgarden lay siege to King’s Landing, minimizing casualties, while the Unsullied attack the ancestral home of the Lannisters, Casterly Rock, and cut off Cersei’s gold (and much of her power). Melisandre comes to Dragonstone and tells Daenerys about Jon Snow, the Prince(ss) That Was Promised, and the Long Night within minutes of her arrival; Dany and Tyrion send a summons to Jon almost instantly so they can all discuss the impending threat of the White Walkers, and, after a quick discussion with his lords, he and Davos immediately head out to meet the Targaryen Queen, and hopefully gain an ally—an ally with both dragon-glass and three fire-breathing dragons, the weakness of both the Walkers and their wights, respectively. Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, Yara, and Theon head out with their fleets to begin the attack. In the Citadel, Sam is already trying to use a forbidden procedure to cure Jorah, a storyline that would have played out over at least four episodes had it been done two seasons ago.
The other side isn’t resting on its laurels, either. Qyburn has already created a weapon that can hurt (and most likely kill) Dany’s dragons: a large ballista which shoots metal spears at such high velocity it can pierce a dragon’s skull, which we know because Qyburn fires it into the skull of the dragon Aegon rode when he conquered Westeros 300 years ago. Jaime asks Randall Tarly, Sam’s dad and noted asshole, to be the general of Cersei’s forces.
And then Euron Greyjoy finds Yara’s and Ellaria’s ships and sets them on fire. All of them. And everyone on board, for good measure.
So yeah, Daanerys and Tyrion’s plan has hit a snag in that its first step failed completely, and they’ve lost most if not all of their fleet. Given the staff meeting Dany holds at the episode’s beginning—where only she and Tyrion want to seize the Iron Throne without getting scores of innocent people killed, and everyone else wants to attack King’s Landing all-out, immediately—Dany might not be done losing allies (lookin’ at you, Olenna). Between this and Qyburn’s dragon-killers, Cersei might actually have the upper hand despite the fact she has half as many troops as Dany, and pretty much everyone in Westeros wants her dead.
Anyone who understands how stories work knew Dany couldn’t take control of Westeros without experiencing great difficulty first, and I sincerely doubt her troubles are over. Given this is Game of Thrones, there’s no way she’s going win—or even survive—without sacrificing others. As usual, Olenna Tyrell knows the score, almost certainly giving Dany the best advice she’ll ever get: “They won’t obey you unless they fear you,” and “You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
(Note: Since the episode had so many unique moments I feel I need to hit them separately, “Assorted Musings”-style. But since they aren’t as superficial as the “Musings” usually are, I think they belong with the recap proper. I apologize if this unexpected irregularity baffles or terrifies you.)
• I’m very glad Daenerys and Varys got to share a scene together, and acknowledge that Varys has not always been on her side: He basically helped sell her to Khal Drogo to get Viserys an army; he sent assassins to kill her under Robert Baratheon’s orders; and he’s betrayed every king he decided was unfit to serve, which is all of them up to now. Varys’ honesty—“Incompetence should not be rewarded by blind loyalty!”—and his declaration that he truly serves the people of Westeros was bold and satisfying, as was admitting he’ll support any ruler that gives the commoners the best chance to live. I’m glad Dany saw the value in keeping him and not having her dragons burn him alive… unless, of course, he ends up betraying her, too.
• Cersei rallies some nobles to her side by fear-mongering, and declaring that Daenerys’ army of foreigners and barbarian hordes will kill, destroy, and rape everything they see in their lands. Given the show’s medieval setting and the lack of diversity in Westeros, I think we can safely guess the vast majority of its inhabitants find anyone or anything foreign to be strange and terrifying, and thus they will be hated. This is probably going to be a problem for Dany.
• Okay, we have to talk about Arya. Arya basically came back to Westeros as an emotionless killer, enacting vengeance on those who hurt/murdered her family, but taking only the slightest of satisfaction from it. You know that theory that Arya was secretly replaced by the Waif last season? I had never believed it—until last night, when Arya met Hot Pie and had no emotional connection to him whatsoever. It was as if she didn’t recognize him (even though she did!) or had no memory of their time together, and I started to wonder if it was someone else wearing her face. But when Hot Pie told her that Jon Snow had retaken Winterfell from the Boltons and was King in the North, Arya got so excited, for the first time in the gods know how long, not only that her half-brother (cousin) was alive but that her home had been reclaimed, it put all my doubts to rest. Arya is Arya. She’s just pretty messed up inside. Gee, I can’t imagine why.
Arya’s other reunion, of course, was with a very large direwolf. I said last night in the GoT discussion zone that I wasn’t sure if it was Nymeria or not, since the direwolf leaves her and Arya sadly says, “That’s not you.” I definitely wanted it to not be the real Nymeria, because the direwolf turning away from Arya was the show’s most heartbreaking moment since that door was held. But last night’s “Inside the Episode” confirms it really was Nymeria, and that “That’s not you” is a callback to Arya telling her dad “That’s not me” when discussing dresses and being a proper lady and such in season one. Nymeria was left alone too long, and no longer has any connection to the Stark family. I’m depressingly confident that means Arya has lost her connection, too.
• By the end of Euron’s utter destruction of the Greyjoy/Dorne fleet, he’s killed at least two of the Sand Snakes, and captured Yara, Ellaria Sand, and also the third Sand Snake, maybe? (I honestly don’t care enough about them to double-check.) Either way, it seems like Dorne’s role is mostly over, with which I am totally fine. However, once Euron has taken Yara, Theon jumps ship and flees instead of fighting his uncle. Obviously, we’re supposed to be upset that Theon has betrayed his sister by being a coward yet again, but 1) let’s all admit that by that point pretty much all of his forces were dead and on fire, meaning he would be fighting all of Euron’s men essentially by himself, and 2) there is no way he could have beaten the Tasmanian Devil of Murder that is Euron in a straight-on fight anyway. Fleeing was his only sensible option. Also, I am pretty certain he’s going to sneakily save Yara later, finally and truly redeeming himself for his betrayal of Robb (and probably dying in the process).
• When Jon leaves Winterfell to meet Dany, he leaves Sansa in charge, which is something she’s somehow surprised by but also not excited by, which is a good sign. It’s also good in that Sansa has a much better grasp of political reality than Jon does. Like all the other lords of the North, she thinks Jon leaving Winterfell is a terrible idea, which on the surface is objectively true—but she can’t wrap her head around the threat of the White Walkers, like everyone who hasn’t seen them, so no one should blame her for that. However, the bad news is that Jon is leaving Sansa with Littlefinger, immediately after briefly strangling and then threatening to kill Littlefinger if he touches his half-sister (cousin). If Petyr hadn’t been planning on pulling something before, he definitely will now that Jon is gone and Sansa is alone. The question is, can Sansa handle him? I bet she can.
• And last but not least, I’ll leave you with the question that I was left with: Daenerys demands Jon come and bend the knee to the rightful Queen of Westeros, but Jon has just been declared King in the North by… well, the North. When they finally meet, they’re going to be at a bit of an impasse, no? Jon needs her forces and her dragonglass if he’s going to stop the White Walkers, but swearing fealty means abandoning his crown, and serving a Targaryen means his men will almost certainly abandon him, as everyone’s still pretty upset that Mad King Aerys burned Jon’s grandfather Rickard and uncle Brandon alive. Either way, someone is about to be very disappointed.
- After Melisandre tells Daenerys about the Prince(ss) That Was Promised, Dany says, “And you think this prophecy refers to me.” Melisandre’s response: “Prophecies are dangerous things. I believe you have a role to play.” Good on Melisandre for learning from her hideous, massive mistakes.
- Daenerys to Melisandre, after Varys gives Mel grief for serving Stannis: “You picked an auspicious day to arrive at Dragonstone. We’ve just decided to pardon those who once served the wrong king” (slowly turns to give Varys the most pointed look ever). That was some Olenna-level shade.
- I love Davos slowly putting the facts together that fire kills wights and Dany has dragons and dragons breathe fire. It was like watching a Muppet on Sesame Street figure out a math problem.
- I wasn’t sure how the show would get Samwell to care about Jorah, so when Sam exclaims “Mormont!” and realizes Jorah is Jeor’s estranged son, I just about smacked myself for not figuring it out sooner. Of course Sam would save the son of the Lord Commander he saw die on the Fist of the First Men. It really made those later scenes where he is literally cutting off Jorah’s stone-infected skin with a knife much more satisfying. Truthfully.
- The transition from Sam hacking off chunks of pus-filled skin into some guy cutting into a pot pie was as obnoxious as it was gross, and it was as gross as it was effective, and it was incredibly effective. Honestly, I was handing the skin-cutting fine, but the pot pie—before I realized it was a pot pie—actually made me want to throw up. Anyone else feel the same way?
- I’ve never been much invested in the Missandei/Grey Worm relationship, mainly because they’re so on the periphery of the main storylines. But I found Grey Worm’s halting speech about Missandei being his weakness moving. I also found their sex scene to be interminable, but good on Grey for treating his lady right.
- I did think there was a good chance that HBO was going to show us Grey Worm’s castrated genitals, though. Not 100 percent sure how to feel that they didn’t.
- Prediction: Arya will kill Littlefinger at Sansa’s request. I’m sure Arya is willing—and probably eager—to kill him all by herself for his betrayal of Ned way back in season one, but I’m guessing Sansa will have some agency in it.
- Samwell Tarly is clearly going to write a history book titled A Game of Thrones, and is thus George R.R. Martin’s surrogate. That tracks on every level.
- I will not lament the probable end of the Dorne storyline, nor the death of at least 66 percent of the Sand Snakes, because they were murderous nitwits right up until end. I won’t say I hate them, because that gets conflated with hating them as female characters, when the real problem is that they were horribly written and narratively superfluous. But I am not sad they’re gone.
- That said, nothing was worse than Dorne’s Ellaria Sand hitting on Pyke’s Yara, then sarcastically questioning Theon what I now consider to be the most terrible line ever uttered on the show during a scene that fills me with hate even as I remember it: “Why are you standing all the way over there, then? A foreign invasion is underway.” I was actively hoping for Euron to attack them at that point to stop that awfulness, and I thanked the gods that he did. Whatever horrors he commits from this point on—and I’m sure they will be reprehensible and many—I am grateful he stopped that shit straightaway.
- Nest week on: HOLY SHIT DAENERYS AND JON SNOW ARE GOING TO BE IN THE SAME ROOM TOGETHER. I don’t care if it’s the final 10 seconds of the episode and they don’t get to say anything to each other until episode four. Seeing them in the same shot for the first time ever is going to be immensely satisfying.