How does such an epic sea battle, with fire and blood and chaos on the decks of multiple ships seem so anticlimactic? We’ll get to that, as Game of Thrones latest episode, “Stormborn” eventually did. But first: exposition and further foulness in The Citadel. Plus, one anticlimax so disappointingly unimaginative it invites ridicule. Only too happy to oblige.
Episode 2 resumed where “Dragonstone” left off, at…well, Dragonstone. A storm reminiscent of the day Daenerys was born rages, while inside the castle Dany grills Varys about his ever-shifting allegiances and his role in attempting to have her murdered back in Essos. Dany wants to know why she should trust his pledge of loyalty to her, after he betrayed both her father, Mad King Aerys Targaryen, and his successor, King Robert Baratheon. Saying that incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty, Varys pledges to act always in the interests of the People, and to tell Daenerys when she loses sight of their interests. Daenerys accepts his pledge, but advises she’ll burn him alive if he crosses her. “Like, duh!” says Varys.
Melisandre interrupts their meeting, requesting an audience to suggest Daenerys (after a conveniently revised translation by Missandei) may be the “Prince(ss) who was Promised.” (Told you, didn’t I?) Melisandre is notably less definitive in her proclamations this time than she was with either Stannis or Jon. Her crisis of faith remains. She also tells them Jon Snow is King in the North. Considering all the important people in that room, it beggars the imagination to believe that none of them would have heard this rather old news, but I guess dramatic effect trumps sensibility, sometimes. Varys tries to warn Dany of Melisandre’s charlatan ways, but having just recently been chastened, he backs down when she rebukes him.
Melisandre and Tyrion speak of their admiration for Jon, and Dany invites him to Dragonstone to discuss allying against Cersei. Oh, and to “bend the knee.” Although Lady Olenna urged her to “be a dragon,” Dany’s insistence that the entire world bow before her is becoming a bit worrisome. Let’s not forget: Cersei made the same demand.
Remember a few seasons ago when Varys said Littlefinger would burn the entire country just to rule over the ashes? Tyrion is trying to keep Daenerys from making the same hasty mistake. Advising against full-bore dragon attack that would win King’s Landing, but at a terrible cost, Tyrion lays out a plan to send only Westerosi—the Ironborn, the Tyrells and the Dornish—to isolate the city. He knows Cersei will stand on her followers’ patriotism, and sending foreign fighters against the capital would bolster her message. The foreign forces of Dothraki and Unsullied fighters will lay siege to Casterly Rock, the seat of the Lannisters and the only of the high houses of Westeros that the show has not yet visited. Of course, by the end of the episode, we witness the fatal flaw in the plan. But first, other stuff.
Although Grey Worm says Missandei has given him reason to fear something for the first time in his life, the two of them nevertheless cement their relationship before he leaves for the siege. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.
For her part, Cersei is doing exactly what Tyrion said she would. Calling Daenerys “The Mad King’s Daughter,” she tells the few remaining loyal lords of Westeros that Dany crucified hundreds of noblemen (which is true) and that when she grew bored of that, she fed them to her dragons (which, as far as we know, is not true). The invaders, she says, will loot and burn their villages and rape their women, and they must be stopped. She conveniently forgets, of course, that supplicants came to Ned Stark asking for justice when Gregor Clegane committed these exact atrocities while acting in the name of the Lannisters. Foreign village-burning rapists must be worse than native ones.
Jaime tries to win Randyll Tarly to the queen’s cause, but Tarly is noncommittal, since his house is pledged to the Tyrells. He may not care that brown-skinned savages are on Westerosi shores for the first time in history. The promise to make him Warden of the South, however, may be too much to resist, even though Jaime made fun of his son’s name. Dickon. Ha. It is pretty funny.
When Lord Tarly expresses doubt about beating an army led by three full-grown dragons, Qyburn assures the assembled lords that they are working on a solution. In the basement of the Red Keep, we witness the first test of the secret weapon. So, what has the brilliant sorcerer of science who reanimated the corpse of The Mountain and aided in the destruction of the Sept of Baelor conjured to defeat the flying, fire-breathing menace from Essos?
A crossbow. No kidding. Well, it's a ballista, actually. But that’s pretty much just a damn big crossbow, all the same.
Don’t get me wrong; it might work, if you can get one of the dragons to land right in front of it. Surely it will work, because it’s TV, and the balance of power has to shift. But, man. I was hoping for some inventive, almost mystical apparatus that would have occurred to no one but a mad scientist. Qyburn’s big idea was a modified spear-chucker. Zero for wow factor on this one. At least we got to see a spear shoot through the skull of a dead dragon. That’s the closest thing to action in King’s Landing since the emerald explosion at the sept.
Jon and an Inducement he can’t Refuse
Little more than talk and training is happening up north, either. John seeks Sansa’s counsel concerning Tyrion’s invitation to Dragonstone. The message includes the line, “All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes,” a clever means of assuring Jon that the letter did, in fact, come from the little man who stood atop the wall with him and peed off the edge of the world. The notion of an ally with fire-breathing children to help in the war against the Night King intrigues Jon. Still, he decides against going. That changes when a later message from Sam advises that Dragonstone sits on enormous deposits of dragonglass, which they desperately need for the coming battle.
As has become a pattern, Sansa argues publicly against Jon’s decision. His announcement that he’s leaving her in charge while he is gone assuages her objections. It also raises Littlefinger’s creepy eyebrows. In the crypts, Jon puts a hammerlock on his throat and promises to kill him if he touches his sister. What is with Littlefinger interrupting the Starks’ solitary meditations among their dead, anyway? Although it was gratifying to see the conniving weakling in mortal fear, you have to believe he got exactly the reaction he wanted. He is luring Jon into a misstep.
Another Mission Deferred
The timing of Jon’s departure is unfortunate. Arya stops at an inn, where she acts oddly feral and indifferent in a reunion scene with Hot Pie, until he tells her that her half-brother is King in the North. Restored somewhat to human pleasantries, she wishes him well as she departs. He assures her, “I’m a survivor.” We all know he’s doomed for sure, now.
Curtailing her plan to kill Cersei, Arya heads for Winterfell instead. On the way, a wolfpack surrounds her, led by a wolf roughly the size of a quarter horse. It is Nymeria, the direwolf pet that Arya drove away years ago so she wouldn’t be euthanized for biting Joffrey. She and her pack have become something of a legend, mentioned at random times around the Riverlands. Arya wants her to be a pet again, but realizes it is not meant to be, saying, “That’s not you.” Arya has her mission, and the wolf has hers. Surely, the wolfpack did not continue to exist in the background for seven years just to give us this brief, touching reunion. Like Chekhov’s gun, they must ultimately serve a purpose. GRRM has indicated as much, saying, “You don’t hang a giant wolf pack on the wall, unless you intend to use it.”
Sam the Savior
Sam has been discovering and expanding his purpose since making his first appearance as a hopeless, bumbling conscript to the Night’s Watch. This week, he defied Archmaester Marwyn and the law to perform a dangerous and painful procedure in an attempt to save Jorah Mormont. The debridement of the fallen knight’s greyscale was among the more gruesome things we’ve seen on the show, which is a thing of some distinction. Is trying to save Jorah a diversion from Sam’s purpose? Or somehow a part of it?
Battle of the Greyjoys
The Greyjoy sea battle shows us two things. First, we learn what “priceless gift” Euron plans to bring back to Cersei. Second, we learn that the redemption arc for poor Theon is impossibly steep.
Below the deck of their ship as it sails for King’s Landing, Yara has rather ironically anointed Theon her protector. As she is just beginning to get friendly with Ellaria Sand, Euron attacks their fleet. The chaotic scene includes a tremendous entrance as the mad uncle rides a toothed gangplank down onto the deck of Yara’s ship. Fire falls from the sails as the two sides wage bloody hand-to-hand combat. Euron dispatches two of the three Sand Snakes (hey, did you know that a whip is a terrible weapon in close combat?), while his men capture their sister, Tyene, and their mother, Ellaria. Myrcella’s killer will make a fitting tribute to Cersei, no doubt.
Euron moves on to battle his treasonous niece, and when he has her subdued with a blade to her throat, he goads Theon to come save her. Theon the Protector flashes through post-traumatic stress scenes of becoming Reek, and he jumps overboard, to the maniacal laughter of his mad uncle. The last picture shows him swimming behind the burnt husks of the ships. No character redemption today. If he intends to die, he’s out of luck. We know from preseason publicity that he faces an encounter with Jon before the season is over (unless that’s one of the famous “fake scenes” they filmed to throw paparazzi off the trail).
So, how will he be saved? Here’s a possibility: Gendry rowed up this same coast four years ago. Maybe Theon can give him directions so he’ll get home at last.
Apart from the dark-screen eye candy and the demise of two of the three (albeit, the least offensive two) Sand Snakes, do we care that the evil Euron squashed Yara’s fleet and took prisoners? Yara has her fans, sure. But the only bedrock character on board was Theon, who has been tormented enough, already. Yet he’s fortune’s fool again. Euron looked more formidable, and previews suggest he’s due some adulation as he parades the captives through the streets of King’s Landing. But he’s not long for the show, and we all know it.
I guess we care because it will alter the fortunes of Dany, Tyrion and the other characters who revolve around them. But I couldn’t help feeling oddly unfulfilled. And I still can’t get that ridiculous, pathetic, uninventive crossbow out of my mind.
The big sell for episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice,” is the long-awaited audience between Jon and his aunt Daenerys. Let’s see how insistent the dragon lady is on his subservience. She is again insisting, “I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and I will.” There’s that nagging birthright talk, again. Maybe Jon will soften her. Of course, the title could be referencing Cersei, as well. Or, if you want to stretch a bit, even Sansa. There’s some fodder for beyond-a-big-crossbow imagination for you.
In his meeting with Daenerys, Jon will:
This poll is closed
Bend the knee and pledge loyalty to her.
Convince her to delay her quest for the Iron Throne to join his cause.
Anger her and get thrown in the dungeons.
Threaten Melisandre’s life in open court.
Other (explain your guess in the comments)
Poll closes at 8:00 CDT Sunday. No cheating!