In an episode that accomplished a lot, we also got an axe-wielding psychopath smashing up everything in sight.
Watching Game of Thrones dust off the cobwebs in last week’s season premiere was hard, for some (including yours truly), but this week came with a reward for patience. If you think about the show like Qyburn’s giant dragon-targeting crossbow, there has to be a period where the massive bolt is loaded and the strings are pulled tight, increasing the tension that will inevitably propel the bolt toward its target. “Dragonstone” was the loading period, while “Stormborn” is the part where the bolt is sent hurling through the sky, ultimately inflicting maximum damage. We didn’t reach the point in which we have to deal with the consequences of the damage. For a week, we get to just sort of float there, like poor Theon, looking out at the wreckage caused by the clashing of machinations.
Needless to say, “Stormborn” accomplished a lot.
What it most accomplished is the thing Game of Thrones does very well on its best days: the seamless table-setting on one side and simultaneous smashing of another part of the table with a badass axe. From Dragonstone, Team Daenerys (led by master strategist Tyrion) set their conquest of Westeros in motion. In the North, Jon Snow squashes more beef with Sansa and makes plans to meet the Mother of Dragons. Cersei and Jaime call in the banners. And Arya makes decisions about her future. This is all table-setting for the next five episodes worth of carnage. But as is often the case in Westeros, someone is a step ahead and he’s not having any of it. Enter a howling, axe-wielding, fully psychotic Euron Greyjoy and everything goes up in smoke.
Here is my scale of likability for this episode, a quick and dirty version:
1. Jon Snow
This week put some strain on the likability scale in Westeros. At one extreme, you have Jon Snow, who continues to use sound judgment in his quest to protect The North. Should we be worried about a King in the North traveling south? Maybe, but we know that Jon Snow is protected by the Lord of Light’s Valyrian Steel Plot Armor™️. He’ll be fine. Mostly. Probably.
2. Grey Worm
Further down the likability scale, let’s celebrate a win for Grey Worm. For several seasons, the women of Game of Thrones have been on the rise where power is concerned, but who’s really “serving” them in the bedroom? Like Jon Snow before him, Grey Worm is using skills he didn’t know he had in what is, to date, easily Thrones‘ sauciest moment. If this were a movie, we’d be arguing over an NC-17 rating right now. But it’s not a movie! It’s HBO!
3. Theon Greyjoy
As much as a valiant effort to save his sister would have pushed him higher on this list, Theon Greyjoy sits in third because it’s hard not to empathize with his situation. His trauma — seasons long and more intense than any other character — mattered greatly in a moment of pressure. Euron knew which button to push — because he’s an evil motherfucker — and it was heartbreaking for Yara.
4. Euron Greyjoy
Yes, Euron did some horrible things in this episode. For example, he murdered two Sand Snakes with their own weapons then displayed them on the prow of their ship. As an Oberyn Martell loyalist, this should disturb me. Those were The Red Viper’s daughters, after all. But if I’m being honest, this is the cleanest way to end the show’s failed dalliance with Dorne. We’ll always have the true Sand Snakes and their partner in scheming Arianne Martell in the books. Remember the books?
What we get from Euron Greyjoy is a brilliant flurry of menace, the kind we haven’t seen in a while. Even Ramsay Bolton, for all his flaying and jubilant murder, wasn’t as imposing in a wartime scenario as Euron’s armada. When he came flying down on his ship’s clamp thingy, howling into the night, ready for a ballet of axe murder, I was in love. The true successor to Show Oberyn wasn’t his daughters — it was his yang, Euron Greyjoy.
On the bottom of the likability spectrum this week: Creepy McCreeperson, Lord of The Vale. You’d think that in all his years of scheming, Lord Baelish would have learned when to keep his mouth shut. But telling the second coming of Ned Stark, aka Jon Snow, about his love for Sansa was a bad move. Unless he has a trick up his sleeve (he might), Littlefinger is now on the outs with everyone who matters in Winterfell. Not exactly the Three-Dimensional Chess Master That Was Promised.
Below the spoiler warning, some important details to watch going forward.
In its table-setting, “Stormborn” created a number of interesting pairings and accelerated a few storylines. This is the kind of breakneck pace we’d been expecting from the outset of season 7. Some things to watch:
1. Euron found his gift
What better gift for Cersei than to go out and get the woman who murdered her only daughter (Ellaria) and that woman’s only daughter (Tyenne)? As Ellaria proclaimed “Kill us and get it over with,” it was easy to see that her death won’t be quick, easy, or over with anytime soon. With the next episode titled “The Queen’s Justice,” it’s likely that Cersei will make this hurt and be very appreciative of Euron, who got himself a gift while he was out, as well.
2. Sam is probably in big trouble
In season 3, upon meeting Cersei’s future Hand, we learned that Qyburn was expelled from the Citadel for performing forbidden experiments. In the books, the story of Qyburn goes even deeper to reveal that it was a competitive spirit toward Archmaester Ebrose (portrayed in the show by Jim Broadbent) that led Qyburn to dive into the darker areas of anatomical exploration. Now that Sam has (a) stolen books from the classified area and (b) performed a strictly prohibited operation on Ser Jorah, it’s likely that his days in Oldtown are numbered. But he may save Ser Jorah, so it’s all good in the grand scheme of things.
3. Arya is a Stark again, again
The episode took time to humanize Arya Stark again, which is important after last week’s cold open. Her story arc is a constant cycle of going too far afield, then remembering she’s a Stark of Winterfell. This is what her entire time at the Braavosi Academy of Murder was about. This season did the same arc, just in a more efficient fashion.
Efficiency. Remember the word. That’s what’s being unleashed in these final 13 episodes of Game of Thrones. At times, we’re going to confuse efficiency and chaos, but that’s okay. It’s all in service of wrapping up a complex, intensely detailed narrative 6-seasons in the making. To their credit, the Thrones creative team (particularly episode writer Bryan Cogman) are very adept at walking and chewing gum when they want to. Plenty of pieces get moved around the map while other parts of the map are smashed. Even though this episode did not fully answer any of my Unsullied anatomy questions, it was a very good hour of Thrones being Thrones.
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