Aegon the Conqueror, Aidan Gillen, Alfie Allen, Anton Lesser, Arya Stark, Balerion the Black Dread, Ben Hawkey, Carice van Houten, Cersei Lannister, Conleth Hill, Daenerys Targaryen, Diana Rigg, Dragonstone, Ellaria Sand, Emilia Clarke, Essie Davis, Euron Greyjoy, Game of Thrones, Gemma Whelan, Grey Worm, HBO, Hot Pie, Iain Glen, Indira Varma, Iwan Rheon, Jack Gleeson, Jacob Anderson, Jaime Lannister, James Cosmo, Jim Broadbent, Joer Mormont, Joffrey Baratheon, John Bradley, Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, King's Landing, Kit Harington, Lady Crane, Lena Headey, Littlefinger, Maisie Williams, Melisandre, Missandei, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ned Stark, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nymeria, Oberyn Martell, Olenna Tyrell, Pedro Pascal, Peter Dinklage, Pilou Asbaek, Qyburn, Raleigh Ritchie, Ramsay Bolton, Samwell Tarly, Sansa Stark, Sean Bean, Sky Atlantic, Sophie Turner, Stormborn, Television, The Sand Snakes, Theon Greyjoy, TV, TV Review, Tyrion Lannister, Varys, Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy
“Stormborn” picked up where the season premiere left off; at Dragonstone. The weather had taken a turn for the worse as a storm raged all around, which was fitting given the title of the episode. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) immediately brought up the fact that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) was born at Dragonstone on a night like this, and from here we segued into a discussion about whether or not Varys (Conleth Hill) could be trusted given his past discretions.
Varys’ speech about how he serves the realm above all else harkened back to the kind of conversations he would have with Ned (Sean Bean) in season one. I liked the fact that the writers let Varys come across as honest and noble here despite the fact that he’s done horrible things, because at the end of the day that’s exactly what “Game of Thrones” is about. The characters are supposed to be morally grey and the more entertaining ones are able to talk themselves out of difficult spots, so this scene really worked for me. These kinds of interactions are what make the show great and the fact that they’re coming thick and fast excites me.
However, the next scene didn’t work quite as well. In this scene Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrived at Dragonstone with an offer of loyalty to Daenerys. She said that Dany was the prince who was promised and this led to a conversation about her past which included some incredibly transparent exposition. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) explained that the translation of ‘the prince who was promised’ was flawed because this person could be either male or female, thus adding weight to what Melisandre was saying and boosting Dany’s ego.
This scene was similar to the first one except not as good, and in my view it was the low point of the episode. Nevertheless, I’m happy that Melisandre is back because I think Carice van Houten is awesome and for me the character is one of the most intriguing people left on the show; it’s just a shame that in this episode she was used as a plot device. She was there simply to facilitate a storyline in which Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would come to Dragonstone and ask for dragonglass – which is fine – but forced dialogue and unnatural behaviour made it feel ridiculously cheap.
I found it very disappointing that on a show as smart as “Thrones” we had characters vouching for people that they hadn’t seen for years, because although it’s true that Tyrion and Jon Snow grew to like one another in season one I doubt that one would champion the other without a hint of caution.
This kind of disregard for pragmatism happened twice in “Stormborn” as Sansa (Sophie Turner) surprisingly spoke highly of Tyrion when in conversation with Jon. Again she’s right in what she’s saying, and having been with both Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) she probably would think fondly of Tyrion, but this kind of support coming from such a hardened character didn’t feel real. It felt like another scene designed to move the plot forward rather than enhance the characters involved in it, thus coming across as contrived and manipulative.
Thankfully the next scene was much more entertaining as Cersei (Lena Headey) tried to use Dany’s arrival in Westeros to her own advantage. The fun thing about this scene was that although Cersei was exaggerating the truth she wasn’t entirely wrong; the things that she was saying made sense because although Dany has a right to the Iron Throne she aims to conquer rather than liberate. She would’ve wanted to be queen regardless of whether or not Cersei was a monster, so it’s fair to question whether or not her mission is righteous at all.
A later scene involving Cersei in this episode was also pretty good as Qyburn (Anton Lesser) took her to see the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon ridden by Aegon the Conqueror during the War of Conquest. Ever since the series began people have wondered how anyone could fight back against a fully-grown dragon, so the fact that the show is addressing this head on gives me hope that what transpires won’t feel like a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the fact that the writers have bothered to introduce an equaliser, (in the form of a ballista), leads me to think that at least one of the dragons could be killed during Daenerys’ siege on King’s Landing.
I’m also happy to say that Sam’s (John Bradley) scenes in this episode were far better than his scenes in the premiere. He still felt like a plot device but at least this week he achieved something tangible!
After formally meeting Jorah (Iain Glen) and discovering that he was a Mormont Sam felt a sense of duty towards him, (given that Joer Mormont (James Cosmo) was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch during Sam’s time at The Wall), deciding to try to cure him of his greyscale against the advice of Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent). This was a brilliant scene because it showed that when you want to live on a show like “Game of Thrones” you really have to suffer. Jorah wasn’t getting a free pass here – he didn’t get to drink a potion or have his disease healed by magic – he had his affliction scraped off piece by piece with puss pouring from his wounds. It was a gritty moment which did a lot for both characters, making them seem stronger than they did before the episode started.
Back in Dragonstone Daenerys and Tyrion explained their strategy for taking King’s Landing in detail, with an emphasis on causing as little collateral damage as possible. Personally, I was pleased that the narrative took this route because although it was obvious that it wouldn’t work out, (given the fact that this was only the second episode of the penultimate season), it made sense when considering how Daenerys’ character has been built in the past. She’s someone who will get her hands dirty when the time is right, but for the most part she wants to help the helpless and promotes freedom. Killing civilians isn’t her style and the fact that this was taken into account made her feel like a hero rather than just another character.
This was another scene which offered a lot of fan service as characters like Daenerys and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) interacted for the first time and we even got to see Tyrion and Ellaria (Indira Varma) discuss Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) death. Seeing these characters come together as allies is genuinely satisfying after such a long time, and even though this scene wasn’t perfect it was hard not to feel excited for the future of the series when watching it.
Still, I didn’t appreciate Olenna’s attempt to turn Dany against Tyrion. This storyline could’ve been interesting at one point in time, perhaps when Dany and Tyrion first met, but right now it doesn’t feel believable. A degree of trust has been built between the two at this point and frankly I have no interest whatsoever in seeing them disagree. We don’t have enough time for this kind of side plot so late in the game and it doesn’t feel necessary when Jon and Sansa have already teased the fact that their relationship may become fractured by the end of the season. Perhaps the point of Olenna’s advice was to make Jon’s visit to Dragonstone less simple given that it will be Tyrion who tries to support him while he’s there, but for me this scene felt superfluous and wasted valuable time.
Next there was a scene which I’m still unsure about; the Missandei/Grey Worm (Raleigh Ritchie) sex scene. To me this relationship has always felt like filler on a show which is hurtling towards a bloody conclusion, so although it was executed well I can’t say that I enjoyed it. The problem for me is that this moment only serves a purpose if the relationship ends in tragedy, so the fact that it was included makes me think that either Missandei or Grey Worm will die at some point during this season.
Prior to this scene it was clear that the pair had feelings for one another so we didn’t need to see them have sex on screen, and if anything the fact that they weren’t having sex made their relationship more special. In my opinion, seeing them have sex didn’t enhance their relationship or their characters individually, and the inclusion of this scene felt like yet more fan service in an episode which was already full of it.
After the Jorah scene which I already mentioned the episode turned its attention to Arya (Maisie Williams) in the North. Again this was a scene which I didn’t really care for but for different reasons. In this episode Arya had two reunions; one with Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) and one with Nymeria. During the first of these reunions Arya sat and ate with Hot Pie whilst he apologised for thinking that she was a boy when he first met her. This was okay because it reminded the audience that Arya has changed monumentally since the series began; something which was worth mentioning given that she’s currently on her way home.
My issue with this scene was that, similarly to the Melisandre scene, it was included for expository purposes. Hot Pie told Arya that the Boltons no longer had Winterfell and that it was under the control of Jon Snow, thus leading Arya to change course and make her way back to her family’s ancestral home. This was a necessary piece of information for Arya to discover and I understand why the writers chose to hide it in this scene, but surely they could’ve found a more discreet way of putting the information across? It was a scene which should’ve been sweet and heart-warming but instead it felt forced. I know that Arya isn’t the girl that she was when the pair were friends so it makes sense that she should be a little cold, but having her treat Hot Pie like a stranger whilst he spat out exposition really wasn’t the way to make this scene work.
It feels like the writers are trying to re-humanise Arya after crippling her character over the last couple of seasons, but the problem is that she wasn’t actually de-humanised! Arya’s arc has made the audience believe that she’s a killer but it hasn’t made us believe that she’d treat good people badly. Her interactions with characters like Lady Crane (Essie Davis) last season and even the soldiers in the previous episode made her seem like a friendly, warm, gentle person, so it doesn’t feel earned when she treats people like Hot Pie with such a palpable level of indifference.
Her scene with Nymeria was much better, although the fact that the direwolf was shown on the teaser for the episode somewhat ruined the reveal. This scene was more emotional than I anticipated and again it served to show how much Arya has changed since the series began. Nymeria acted as a physical representation of Arya’s childhood leaving her behind, and although the audience has watched this happen over a prolonged period of time it was still powerful to see the character realise it for herself. Maisie Williams’ acting was perfect as she portrayed what Arya was feeling through her facial expressions without needing to cry or over-emote, and it was refreshing to see a scene play out which didn’t feel like it had to happen for the plot to progress.
Elsewhere in the North, Jon decided that he would indeed travel to Dragonstone for an audience with Daenerys. Again it was interesting to see how the people of Westeros felt about Daenerys and her inevitable attack on King’s Landing, with many of them sharing Cersei’s view on the situation. This was a scene which had to happen and it was obvious that Jon would leave Sansa in charge during his absence, but I was surprised that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was so forthright in voicing his intentions to Jon. The fact that he was arrogant enough to enter the crypts of Winterfell and tell Jon that he was in love with Sansa was baffling but also very entertaining, and it’s about time that Littlefinger showed his true colours again. Part of me wanted Jon to strangle him to death right then and there, but it’s probably better that he be allowed to linger in Winterfell with Sansa for the foreseeable future.
The fact that Jon is going to be gone for a couple of episodes leaves Sansa vulnerable, and I’m looking forward to seeing Littlefinger try to isolate her from her allies as much as possible. However, all signs point towards a Stark reunion at Winterfell in which the lone wolf will die whilst the pack survives.
Finally, “Stormborn” ended with a brilliant sequence which undoubtedly elevated the rest of the episode. After last week it was clear that Euron (Pilou Asbæk) was going to disrupt Daenerys’ plans somehow, especially given that those plans relied heavily on travel by sea, but I didn’t expect him to be quite as aggressive as he ended up being. I think we all knew that he was going to make a nuisance of himself and perhaps kidnap one of Daenerys’ allies, but I personally didn’t expect him to deliver as much damage as he did.
Euron brutally murdered two of the Sand Snakes, captured Ellaria and Yara (Gemma Whelan), mentally scarred Theon (Alfie Allen), and set Daenerys’ fleet ablaze. The show is positioning him as a real threat this season and I appreciate that because we need someone to hate now that Ramsay is dead. Cersei could be that person but she’s a schemer and she doesn’t get her hands dirty as often as characters like Ramsay did, so it makes sense that someone crazy like Euron should take centre stage.
This sequence was intense, brutal, and beautifully shot; it made an impression and left me wanting more, so although there were parts of the episode that I didn’t enjoy my overall feeling towards it was positive when the credits rolled. The fact that Theon basically reverted back into Reek made the scene all the more impactful and generated intrigue as to what will happen next with the character, and I’m also fascinated as to how Daenerys will react when she finds out what happened.
On the whole I did have a good time watching this episode and this final sequence enhanced my opinion of it greatly. There were parts of it that I didn’t like and for me there was too much exposition, but the best scenes of the episode were also the longest and the most memorable. There’s too much going on at the moment on the show and this makes it feel disjointed, but I’m excited to see where the story goes from here and I expect the standard to steadily improve each week.