GAME OF THRONES: “Stormborn”

Knowledge is power after all.

As long as I have eyes, I’ll use them.

–Varys

Way back in Season 1 — you remember? Simpler times, back when Jamie still had his hand, Ned Stark his head, and Theon his bits — Littlefinger and Cersei were eyeing each other warily. The former trotted out that old chestnut about knowledge being power, that you can’t hope to defeat your enemies without knowing their secrets and using them to gain allies; the Queen, ever the blunt instrument, simply replied “Power is power.” Five seasons later, she blew up the Sept.

But that kind of power, as even Cersei has to admit now (mostly because she used all her wildfire), is useless in the face of an invasion from across the sea boasting an army of thousands and three big, angry dragons. You have to be smarter. Tyrion was ahead of the curve in drinking and knowing things; neither he nor his sister seem to be doing much drinking now, but Cersei’s rediscovered the value in knowing things. Like how to bring down a dragon, should the opportunity arise. (Shoutout to Dale for loaning out some of their black arrows for the cause!)

“Stormborn,” written by Bryan Cogman, was largely about the exchange of information, ravens and rumors flying across the Seven Kingdoms in equal measure, and watching these characters react to it. Cersei learns about Dany landing at Dragonstone, with Tyrion as her Hand. Dany, Tyrion, and Arya learn about Jon becoming King of the North and the real war up there. Jon learns about Dany, and Tyrion, and about the Dragonglass in Dragonstone. Sam learns about using it to cure greyscale. Everyone takes steps to act on their newfound knowledge, but the real fireworks are yet to come — perhaps as soon as next week.

“Whatever you do, don’t turn on the blacklight.”

Dany’s big plan, as Tyrion relays to their disgruntled trio of allies, isn’t to immediately burn King’s Landing to the ground. It’s what Viserys would have done, sure. But Dany doesn’t want to be “Queen of the Ashes;” it’s important to her that the people of the realm accept her as their ruler without having to suffer massive collateral damage. Like the storm over Dragonstone, she rains on the parade of the vengeful Ellaria and Lady Olenna. They balk at first at the armies of Dorne and the Reach being the only forces to besiege the capital — “They won’t obey you unless they fear you,” suggests the Queen of Thorns, perhaps taking the wrong lesson from her granddaughter’s explosive demise.

The last thing Dany and Tyrion want to do is give credence to Cersei’s fear-mongering about these “foreign invaders” — the Dothraki will rape your daughters, warns Cersei, advocating for an immigration crackdown and a travel ban for dangerous locales like Slaver’s Bay. But if it’s a Westerosi army leading the attack, using the dragons more as a threat and sending the Unsullied warriors to the Westerlands to take over Casterly Rock, so much the better. Tyrion doesn’t have any love left to lose for his family, but the image of him knocking over his own ancestral home on the Painted Table is a striking one, effectively answering any questions about where his allegiance lies. Varys has to answer for his own flexible loyalties, as well — he helped orchestrate Dany being sold into slavery, for one thing — but acquits himself decently enough: “I choo-choo-choose you,” he more or less says, and Dany is merciful because she can’t keep exiling people who did bad things to her in the past.

So far, it’s not much of a homecoming for the Mother of Dragons. First she has to convince her new army that she didn’t bring them along just so she could kick back at Dragonstone, then she gets a visit from Melisandre: by the way, nothing you’re doing matters if you don’t pay attention to what’s happening north of the Wall. In one of the show’s less elegant exposition dumps, Mel also name-drops “the prince who was promised,” which Missandei helpfully corrects to say no, it’s 2017, we use gender-neutral pronouns now. “Prophecies are dangerous things,” Mel shrugs, who knows better than most, and Varys is only too happy to remind her. But Mel’s news of Jon — leaving out the “came back from the dead part,” because I guess that’s gilding the lily — takes Tyrion by surprise. Hey Jon, come out to Dragonstone, we’ll have a few laughs! Also bend the knee, or you’re dragon food. Sorry.

“You can trust me. Just wanted to give you a HEADS up. Ha! Get it? It’s a callback! Sorry, I guess you had to be there.”

Sansa warns Jon as much, invoking the long-dead Rickard Stark when her half-brother cousin decides to head south to meet with Dany. Their grandfather, father, and brother all went south and died. It’s not that they don’t exactly trust Tyrion (though no one else does), but that if Jon’s going to be King in the North, he needs to actually be in the North. This debate, yet again, plays out in full view of all of Jon’s new bannermen — gods, you’ve got to do this before the public meeting — and it doesn’t seem like Jon will be able to thread this needle. Even Lyanna Mormont is against the idea, and if you disagree with Lyanna Mormont, you are wrong. But Jon needs the dragonglass, and believes that, as a self-styled King, he’s in the best position to convince Dany to point her dragons at some White Walkers. (Also THEY’RE RELATED, but no one knows that but Bran and possibly Howland Reed, if he’s even on the show.)

So who will have the opportunity to spread her wings and lead a kingdom as the interim Stark in Winterfell? Sansa, of course, who may have copied Cersei’s hairstyle but is less likely to blow up the godswood in a fit of pique. And who is suddenly very interested in sticking around, creepily? Littlefinger, who gets a little too honest with Jon in the crypt, admitting that he’s super into Sansa. “Touch my sister and I’ll kill you myself,” says Jon, after some light strangling. But you must be present to win, Jon! There was a lot of debate after last week’s episode about how Jon played the situation with the Karstarks and the Umbers; I still think he did the right thing, or at least it doesn’t seem like he’ll suffer consequences for that particular decision. But Jon’s insistence on taking the long view here — good for the realm, bad for him — starts the clock on his Kingship, provided it’s even his to lose for much longer.

A lot of pieces are on a collision course now. Jon and Davos are heading south to meet with Danaerys. Jamie is trying to poach Tyrell bannerman Randyll Tarly, dangling the title of “Warden of the South” if he’ll do what Tarlys don’t usually do and break his oath. We already know about the Three Amigos, Sandor Clegane, Beric, and Thoros, moving to meet the Night’s King at Eastwatch. The Unsullied are heading west to cut off Cersei’s only avenue of support. Grey Worm, who I hope isn’t doomed, finally risks it all with Missandei, delivering a heartfelt romantic monologue (“I was always [the] bravest, until I meet Missandei…Now I have fear.”) and finding out that, okay, he’s missing some parts, but she seems cool with it. Just a couple of crazy kids in a mixed-up world, trying to make it work.

“And you’ll have to take a pen name, something extravagant, like ‘George R. R. Martin.'”

Indeed, all’s not dead on the romance front, as Jorah Mormont gets interrupted writing his semi-annual “I failed again, Khaleesi” letter by some good news. Well, sort of. Sam thinks he can stop Jorah from turning into The Thing, because of something he read in a book last week and the internet helpfully screenshot. Archmaester Ebrose doesn’t want to hear about it (too busy fueling another Reddit theory, that Samwell is going to pull a Samwise and be the real writer of the Song of Ice and Fire saga, which…fine, whatever), and says Jorah only has about six months before he loses his mind so there’s no point. But Sam knew Jorah’s father, the late Lord Commander, so who cares that he’s never operated on anyone before? Bite down on this, because if you scream, we’re both screwed. So Sam gets to it, scraping the pus-filled scales off Jorah’s manly chest as precisely as he can manage. It’s hideous, but it also provides the GREATEST SCENE TRANSITION OF ALL TIME to the Arya story, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Meanwhile, the Greyjoy fleet heads south to collect more soldiers from Dorne…but that journey hits a bit of a snag. First, the Sand Snakes appear on screen (and the episode was going so well!). Second, they’re suddenly attacked by Euron, who t-bones Yara’s ship and rides a ramp down to the deck like a Scandinavian rock god. Small-scale chaos ensues; it’s dark, it’s mostly all medium shots, director Mark Mylod’s doing the best he can, but he does get to kill off two of the Snakes (Spear Girl, with a spear, and Whip Girl, with her whip) so it’s not so bad. Ellaria gets nabbed; turns out she’s “the gift” Euron alluded to last week, which makes a ton of sense, because Tyrion’s already played that part and Thrones isn’t about to introduce magic horns this late in the game.

The fate of the third Snake (Dagger Girl) is unclear, as is Yara’s, but it doesn’t look good. RIP Sand Snakes; you died as you lived: pointlessly. Theon, however, answers his uncle’s challenge by taking a look around and promptly diving into the sea. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with weak. But if I can take a moment to say one thing, it’s that Euron is rocking it. Glad the writers (as well as Pilou Asbækfigured him out over the break. If you’re going to have a Chaotic Evil character, he’s got to at least be fun. Two appearances this season and he’s already better than Ramsey Bolton. What’s more, his wild card attack here throws a better wrench in Dany’s plans than Cersei could have ever managed on her own. Now the TarGreyNish navy’s at the bottom of the sea. Solve that riddle, Tyrion.

Again, THE BEST SCENE TRANSITION OF ALL TIME

Euron’s also the only one really living up to his family crest; Cersei is a paper lion, and everyone knows it; Olenna implores Dany to “be a dragon” (and not listen to Tyrion); Jon’s pulling a Jon and lone wolf-ing it again. But it’s Arya Stark who gets to cross paths with the real thing towards the end of the episode, the long-hoped reunion with her long-lost direwolf, Nymeria. And though the wolf and her Paw Patrol don’t stick around, it’s the omen A Girl who is finally, for real, on her way back home needs. Arya had just become the last to know about Jon’s new title, catching up with none other than Hot Pie (still alive!) on her way south to kill the Queen. But news of her beloved big brother throws all her plans of vengeance into disarray, and she takes the road to Winterfell instead. And if she doesn’t do that, she doesn’t reunite with Nymeria, and then what is all this for?

“Come with me!” she asks the wolf, and though Nymeria seems to decline, you have to hope that this won’t be the last we see of her, either. The two remaining direwolves — including Ghost, who we haven’t seen much of lately — must still have a part to play. Like her former owner, Nymeria’s a survivor. When she was separated from her pack, she found a new one. The bad news for Arya is that unless she and Jon cross paths on the road, she’ll have to wait a little longer for that reunion, too. At least she and Sansa will have a lot of stories to share: “I helped poison Joffrey then wiped out the Boltons.” “Well, I learned kung-fu and slaughtered the Freys in their own castle.” “Cool.” “Cool.” And then they’ll high-five, and gaze out from the balcony at a world that doesn’t deserve them.

Next week: Euron leads a parade. Grey Worm leads an assault. And Jon meets his aunt.

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