Okay, right off the bat: this is shaping up to be a fantastic season!
After a premiere that reintroduced us to the plentiful drama that is life in Westeros and set the pieces for the season to come, it doesn’t look like GoT is about to let up on the tension or the drama, and we already got a preview of the action that we’re all expecting in the following episodes.
More importantly, it has significantly picked up the pace. With very few exceptions, we don’t get filler scenes or long meaningless conversations. Everything has a purpose, things are finally moving along, and unlike the unsuccessful motif the show employed in its lackluster 5th season, we visit every important location and follow each of our favorite characters each week.
On to the ups and downs (although I’m happy to report that it’s mostly ups this week):
- Stormborn begins, unsurprisingly, with a storm much like the one during which Daenerys was born. It may be an unimaginative way to start the episode but it’s damn effective.
- This episode is already head and shoulders above many previous installments, if only for one crucial reason: we get to see characters actually address key points that need to be laid out in the open. First up, Dany confronting Varys about his shifting allegiances: he was an adviser to her father, then Robert Baratheon, only to betray him shortly after. Why should she trust him? It’s a valid question, and an explanation is in order.
- Varys’s rationale isn’t anything we haven’t heard before: he came from nothing (I especially loved the cuts to both Missandei and Grey Worm during his monologue), and his loyalties always lie with the people. He did what he thought was best for the realm, and right now the people’s best bet is Dany. They’re the ones she needs to draw to her side. Hearts and minds.
- Throughout Dany’s arc, we’ve seen glimpses of her father’s kind of crazy, but she’s generally always tried to be a kind and fair queen with a decent moral compass. This week she managed to endear herself to me more than she did in six seasons of the show, with her request that Varys tell it to her straight if he catches her failing her loyal subjects.
- I guess it’s pointless to bitch and moan about everyone in Westeros seemingly teleporting from one corner of the continent to the other, so I won’t dwell on the fact that Melisandre has already reached Dragonstone. We’ve been looking forward to this meeting, and although I’m slightly bummed that we didn’t get a chance encounter with Arya in the Riverlands, I was thrilled to see that, for the second time this week and only a few minutes into the episode, there was a significant exchange of information in just a few lines of dialogue. Melisandre no longer offers black-and-white interpretations of what she sees in the flames; as Tyrion points out, she learned her lesson after Stannis. Dany is important, but so is another (Jon Snow, of course). They should join their forces in preparation for the wars to come. It’s about time someone told Dany that maybe whoever sits the Iron Throne isn’t going to make much difference when the threat from the North arrives at her doorstep.
- The second bit of information dispensed feels like tinfoil-bait to me, but still, quite poignant, not only in terms what was actually said, but also what was implied. I loved that the critical piece of information is delivered by none other than Missandei: translated from High Valyrian, the “Prince that was promised” isn’t exactly accurate, as the valyrian word is not gender specific. It could be either Prince or Princess, leaving the door wide open for the various theories that want either Jon or Dany to fit the prophecy. A little too convenient, if you ask me, but it also brings up an equally important point for book readers. If the word for Prince is gender neutral, how about the word for valonqar? We already have plenty of candidates for the role of ‘little brother’, but what if it could also mean ‘little sister‘? I’m definitely partial to this theory, because ARYA.
- Dany may have scored a few points with me earlier but I have to knock a few down when she orders Tyrion to send a raven to Winterfell and invite Jon Snow to bend the knee (she’s the second queen in an equal number of episodes to ask him that; he’s quite the popular bastard, isn’t he?). Is this really the way she wants to play this? Sheer numbers might well be on her side, but, unlike Jon, she doesn’t have the support of the Westerosi people just yet. Sure, the Dothraki are on her side and the Unsullied are her faithful soldiers, but most of the common people in Westeros don’t even know who she is, let alone choose her as their ruler; Jon, on the other hand, was basically elected King by the Northeners. She could learn a thing or two about humility from leaders who rose to their position because they were loved by their subjects rather than through sheer force of intimidation via dragons and armies of savages. Still, this remains in the up column because it’s consistent with her character, who’s been known to be quite arrogant throughout the seasons.
- To further prove the point, Jon is probably the most democratic king we’ve seen to date, running all his decisions by the northern houses pledged to him. He makes his case about the dragonglass in Dragonstone and the need to mine it to produce weapons against the White Walkers and their Wight army, but the one making the most sense is, as usual, Davos.
- Over in Kings Landing, Cersei is quite the public speaker. She spins a nice tale for the Tyrell bannermen, chief amongst them Randyll Tarly, who looks about as much like a cartoon villain as humanly possible. I especially liked the bit of irony when she uses to Frey words to inspire her audience to Stand Together. Well played, writers.
- This episode was full of winks to the viewers, notably the brief exchange between Jaime and Sam’s brother: – Rickon? – Dickon. – That’s it. Yep, I’m a sucker for stupid dick jokes, and Dickon is still hilarious.
- Randyll Tarly has trouble going against Lady Olenna, and I love the little digs at Jaime: The Tarly name means something; they’re not oathbreakers nor do they cut their enemies’ throats at weddings. Nope, they just they threaten their firstborn children with death and make them join the Night’s Watch. Real sweethearts, those Tarlys.
- All the way to the west, poor Jorah looks awful. The achmaester gives him 6 months at most (before he loses his mind – he won’t actually die for a decade or two) and allows him one more night at the Citadel instead of shipping him off to Valyria right away, just because he’s an anointed knight. Poor sir Friendzone.
- There are several references to Dany having no desire to unleash her dragons on Kings Landing, because she doesn’t want to be “Queen of the Ashes“, which looks like it’s a throwback to her visions back during her ‘where are my dragons’ phase in Season 2, so points for that one, and even more points for Olenna’s snarky delivery of these lines:
-Dany: We will not attack Kings Landing
– Olenna: Then how do you mean to take the Iron Throne? By asking nicely?
And just a couple of minutes later, Olenna explains that, while Tyrion is as clever a man as any she’s met in her lifetime, she has outlived them all. “Do you know why? Because I ignored them”. Sometimes the simplest lines of dialogue have the most impact, and this episode was a good example.
- Dany & Tyrion’s plan is good on paper: the Dornish and Tyrell armies will attack from the south, while her Unsullied will take Casterly Rock. I like the use of Aegon’s map room and Tyrion demonstrating with the use of the chess pieces. Along with the updated opening title sequence, GoT is doing an excellent job of helping the viewers get a grip on the Westeros geography this season.
- Back in Oldtown, we get some much needed explanation about the possible cure for Jorah’s greyscale, and why he’s doomed – except, of course, he’s not. We all expected Sam to be the one to save Jorah’s life, so it will suck if this “dangerous (and forbidden) procedure” is unsuccessful, but it’s nice to see that not everything in GoT has to be a curveball that crushes our expectations.
- Hot Pie is all grown up! And browning his butter to add flavor to his pies is actually a good tip, but overshadowed by Arya’s hilarious admission that she’s been making one or two pies herself. More importantly: HOLY F*CK, how is it possible that Arya didn’t know about Winterfell? Actually, scratch that: I don’t even care how she managed to not hear that particular piece of news, because her reaction and specifically her instant change of course the minute she hears about Jon honestly gave me goosebumps. It didn’t hurt that the shot of her turning her horse around and heading north amidst those beautiful trees was absolutely stunning.
- I wanted to love the scene at Winterfell, when Jon announces that he will accept Tyrion’s invitation because they need Dany and the dragonglass, but it felt a bit flat for me. Maybe because Sansa openly challenging his decisions again was a repeat from last week, and I’m liking her character less and less. Maybe because Kit Harrington’s acting seemed a bit off this week. Whatever the reason, it didn’t really work for me, but it stays in the up column solely because of Littlefinger’s reaction to the news that Tyrion is now hand of the Queen. Whatever happened to Lord-know-it-all? Getting sloppy there, Petyr, and I can’t wait for your downfall.
- Similarly, Littlefinger’s smirk at Sansa’s bratty behavior was gold, but, again, it’s basically a replay of last week. Except this time Sansa is left to rule Winterfell while Jon is away – and, miraculously, her protestations seize the minute she hears that. Hm. Liking Sansa less and less, especially her resting bitchface as Jon and Davos ride south, but it was a solid scene, so it gets a reluctant up.
- The following scene, however, gets a much more enthusiastic up from me, although I’d have preferred it if Jon actually went through with it and choked the smirk off of Littlefinger’s smug face once and for all. Still, “You don’t belong here” was great, “Touch my sister and I’ll kill you myself” was even better, and both were delivered to perfection. (By the way, did anyone expect the conversation to veer off to Lyanna and Rhaegar territory while they were standing before Ned’s statue? Or did Petyr’s surprise at hearing the news about Dany and Tyrion suggest he might not be as omnicient as we were led to believe?
- Further south, Arya is slowly making her way home, and the eerie atmosphere of this scene was beautiful. Also, Twilight producers, take note: this is how you make wolves look intimidating. Still, as scary as they looked, surrounding Arya one by one, the sight of Nymeria filling the screen was just awesome, in the literal sense of the word. Less awesome? Her turning her back to Arya and walking away, and Arya’s confusing “that’s not you” line, but even so, it was a fantastic scene.
- Euron’s attack on the Greyjoy fleet gets an up simply because it was a good action sequence, and because his maniacal Joker-y laugh was spot on. Other than that, still can’t stand the guy, so everything else about this scene gets a down.
- When the southern lords express concern about Dany being unbeatable, what with her three full grown dragons and Dothraki army, Cersei gives the floor to Qyburn, who slyly informs them he’s been working on something. Then he and Cersei stroll around the basement where Robert kept the dragon skeletons and Qyburn shows her his ‘secret weapon’, which is, disappointingly, a big-ass crossbow. Sure, it could be effective, but does it really take a disgraced maester to take a rather conventional weapon and supersize it? Such an underwhelming reveal. It’d put this in the up column if it’s intended as a subtle way to remind us of just how delusional Cersei still is, but for now, meh.
- Back on Dragonstone, Dany has called her small council to cook up their plan of attack, and Ellaria is still her obnoxious bitchy self, who not only has zero remorse about murdering Myrcella, but also totally disrespects Tyrion (and gets put in her place by Dany). As much as I almost cheered when she was captured by Euron in the episode’s closing scenes, I feel like this was a lost opportunity to make her somewhat more likable and on the path to redemption, so that her capture would have some emotional impact, so it stays in the down column for now.
- I’m normally a sucker for a sappy romance so I hate to do this, but that scene with Grey Worm and Missandei? Ugh. Is this continuing story arc meant to give those two some agency because death is looming in the coming episodes? I hope not, because I like them both, but the sex scene was completely unnecessary – and confusing. Oh well, at least Missandei’s getting some. I guess.
- While I loved the scene between Jorah and Sam, I’m getting annoyed by the fact that every visit to Oldtown is so freaking disgusting. From the soup and poop smash-cuts last week, to the greyscale and pie ones in this episode, just give us a break already!
- I would have let everything in the down column go if not for the reappearance of the awful Sandsnakes. Did any of us want to see them again? Do they hire different writers for the Sandsnake scenes? Because the dialogue was, once again, abysmal, and the acting was even worse, not to mention that their obnoxious accents get thicker and more distracting with each new season. Seriously, couldn’t they have killed them off offscreen and be done with it?
- Even Ellaria isn’t spared from the horrible dialogue in this scene, as she puts the moves on Yara. “A foreign invasion is underway“? Really? Barf.
- Okay, the Euron scene: I marveled at how impressive his boat was last week, but I hadn’t realized how freaking huge it was compared to Yara’s ships. So, again: how on earth did the Ironborn build these ships in record time, on an island with no timber? Also: how does he get his a dozen times and show NO signs of actually being hurt? How does Theon go from actually fighting alongside Yara and their men to reverting to his cowardly Reek persona and jumping into the water? Weak sauce, Theon. And no matter how hard you try, writers, no one cares about Euron. The fact that he just appeared out of nowhere and is now portrayed as the biggest badass to date is unconvincing and, frankly, lazy.
Despite those few down points (and I’m obviously nit-picking here), this was one fantastic GoT episode. Still not quite living up to the promise that each new episode is going to rival the two amazing hours of television that were the battle of the bastards and last season’s finale, but definitely a great sign for what’s to come. Bring it on, GoT!