A lot has happened in Westeros in the last few years. The War of the Five Kings ended with all five Iron Throne hopefuls dead. New players have positioned themselves on the board in Game of Thrones, and alliances are shifting and settling. “Stormborn” moves some characters forward on the path they’ve already chosen, while others find themselves taking an unexpected turn. “Stormborn” reminds us that even when things appear calm, they’re always in motion.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has established herself at Dragonstone. Hand Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) counsels his Queen to consolidate power by aligning with the lords of Westeros who are looking for an alternative to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). There are other ways to take power besides raining down fire.
Daenerys interrogates Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) about his loyalty. After all, he was the one responsible for sending an assassin after Daenerys. As he tells Daenerys that he came from nothing and was sold as a slave, the camera rests for a moment on Grey Worm and Missandei. Varys’ true loyalty lies with the people who suffer under despots and prosper under just rule. Daenerys demands he swear to tell her when she’s failing the people, rather than conspire behind her back. Daenerys may be the Mother of Dragons, but she’s also the Breaker of Chains. It’s a tall order, confronting the Dragon Queen when parts of who she is are in conflict.
Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrives at Dragonstone in order to urge Daenerys to summon Jon Snow so that she may learn what he has experienced firsthand. Through Melissandre’s visit, we learn that the prophecy of the Lord of Light—”the prince who was promised will bring the dawn”—can be translated as Prince or Princess. Good to know. Melisandre has been humbled by her misinterpretation and suggests only that Daenerys, along with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), will have a role to play in combating the coming darkness.
Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) come to Dragonstone to serve as a war council. The four powerful women are allied against Cersei Lannister. Tyrion is clever enough to realize that attacking the capital with foreigners will only reinforce Cersei’s position among the people. House Tyrell and the Dornish will surround King’s Landing, while the Unsullied take the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock. After the others leave, Daenerys assures Lady Tyrell she will bring peace, but Lady Tyrell knows that peace never lasts. Lady Tyrell advises Daenerys, “The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.“
Daenerys Targaryen’s allies and supporters are motivated by vengeance, power, desperation, or veneration. Each hopes that Daenerys can bring what they desire despite some having very different goals. Is she destined to become a benevolent ruler or a fear-inducing potentate?
War involves strategy, but it also involves saying goodbye to those who may never return. When Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) comes to say goodbye to Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), the passion finally flares. The actors skillfully portray the tension, longing, and fear felt by the characters. When they disrobe, their nudity only makes them appear more vulnerable. There is no discussion of pillars and stones, only a moment of intimacy between two people who, before becoming free, would’ve never dreamed it possible to love another.
Cersei hopes to gather power by comparing Daenerys to her father, Aerys Targaryen, even though no one has come to resemble the Mad King more than Cersei herself. She tells the assembled lords, “You all remember the Mad King. You remember the horrors he inflicted on the people. His daughter is no different. In Essos her brutality is already legendary. She crucified thousands of noblemen in Slaver’s Bay. And when she grew bored of that, she fed them to her dragons.”
While Cersei uses the Dragon Queen’s exploits in Essos to stir up fear, her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) attempts to bring Lord Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) into the fold with the specter of the Dothraki horde in Westeros and an enticing title. Despite being a committed monarchist, Lord Tarly’s reluctance is owed as much to the Lannister’s alarming actions as it is his loyalty to Lady Olenna Tyrell. He tells Jaime, “I’m a Tarly. That name means something. We’re not oathbreakers. We’re not schemers. We won’t stab our rivals in the back or cut their throats at weddings.” Yet, the Tyrells’ power is waning and Jaime hopes the title of Warden of the South is enough to sway Lord Tarly.
It turns out that allies aren’t Cersei’s only weapon. Qyburn (Anton Lesser) has developed a giant crossbow that can crush a dragon’s skull if targeted correctly. Perhaps this battle is not yet lost for Cersei.
Jon Snow receives ravens from Sam about the dragonglass at Dragonstone and from Tyrion summoning him to come and see the Queen. Jon announces his decision to travel to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys to the Northern lords. Obviously, Sansa (Sophie Turner) was going to disagree with his decision, but even his most ardent supporter, Lady Mormont, protests: “Winter is here, your Grace. We need the King of the North in the North.” Jon is determined to go because he is keenly aware that they need allies if they are to survive the army of the dead. He leaves Sansa in charge, which surprises her and pleases both Littlefinger and Brienne of Tarth.
Littlefinger tries to gain an advantage with Jon while he prays in the family crypt. When Petyr confesses his love for Sansa, Jon violently warns that if he ever touches Sansa Jon will kill him. First Sansa disses Littlefinger, then Jon threatens him. This approach seems like a poor way to keep their most powerful ally. Even though Littlefinger betrayed Sansa by marrying her off to Ramsay Bolton, Jon Snow’s display of anger is surprising. It feels a little excessive, but Jon does place more of a premium on honor than most. The last time Littlefinger was in the Stark crypt he was telling Sansa about her Aunt Lyanna. Littlefinger may be one of the few who know of Jon’s true parentage, making him that much more dangerous.
The Archmaester (Jim Broadbent) exams the greyscale-infected Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) while Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) assists. Ser Jorah is to be shipped off to Valyria the following day to live out his years with the stone men. Sam tries to talk to the Archmaester about possible treatment options, but he’s focused on academic pursuits.
Sam takes matters into his own hands, bringing the forbidden treatment to Ser Jorah’s room, telling him, “I knew your father. I was with him when he died. You’re not dying today, Ser Jorah.” What follows is one of the most disturbing scenes we’ve seen on Game of Thrones as Sam begins to remove the outer layer of tissue on Ser Jorah’s torso. Even though we had our eyes closed most of the time, we are still squirming just thinking about it. Let’s just hope Jorah passed out. This just reaffirms that Sam Tarly is far from craven. It’s not clear how long Sam has been at the Citadel, but he’s certainly not averse to breaking the rules. Sam may be on a path that could eventually lead to being ostracized from the Maesters, like Qyburn. On the other hand, he could learn how to cure greyscale.
We cut from Jorah’s skin to a pie being eaten at the Inn at the Crossroad. It was done so artfully we may never eat pie again. Arya reunites with her friend Hot Pie and they talk about making pies. With Varys and Tyrion serving the ever-serious Daenerys, Sam and Arya are the only ones providing comic relief on the series. Despite her sojourn to House Frey, Arya has no idea that Jon is at Winterfell until Hot Pie mentions it. When she leaves she tells Hot Pie to not get killed, and he responds, “I won’t. I’m like you, ‘arry. I’m a survivor.” The scene is hopeful and touching, enhanced by the musical cues indicating how we should feel. Back outside, Arya makes the decision to head north towards Winterfell. First, a giant crossbow, and now her assassin turns back—it feels like things are starting to look up for Cersei.
Back on the road, Arya’s horse is spooked and suddenly Arya finds herself surrounded by wolves. We wouldn’t be worried if they were people, but wolves can’t be manipulated so easily. The pack has an unexpected leader—her old companion Nymeria. After carefully approaching the dire wolf, Arya tells a growling Nymeria she’s returning to Winterfell and asks the direwolf to join her. When Nymeria leaves, followed by the other wolves, Arya resignedly whispers, “That’s not you,” realizing that Nymeria is wild now and can never go back to living at Winterfell and being her companion. Let’s hope this sentiment doesn’t influence Arya, because we’re eager for more Stark reunions. It already appears that she’ll miss Jon as he heads down to Dragonstone. Maisie Williams played this scene with great expression, making it a surprisingly powerful moment.
The Narrow Sea
Yara and Theon Greyjoy are escorting Ellaria Sand back to Dorne to gather forces when they’re attacked. Just when you think an episode is winding down, Game of Thrones gives us a surprise. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) attacks like the swashbuckling pirate he is. Between the fireballs and all the men coming aboard, Yara’s fleet is quickly overcome. Not only are the Sands defeated, Euron kills two of them with their own weapons. Ellaria and her daughter are taken prisoner—presumably to be offered as a gift to Cersei. When Euron seizes Yara, he calls to Theon. He looks at his sister being held while Euron’s men kill the last defenders of her ship. He looks at Yara with shame and fear, then jumps overboard. Let’s hope that was a strategic move and Theon’s goal is to come back and rescue Yara later. Euron Greyjoy gives a pirate’s laugh as he watches his nephew flee, while Yara’s face expresses nothing but disappointment. All three of these actors skillfully displayed the emotion befitting their characters, which turned an exciting scene into an affecting one.
There were several strong moments in “Stormborn,” including the scene at Inn at the Crossroads, Daenerys’ war council, and an unexpected ship attack. So much for preparing for war—Euron Greyjoy isn’t one to wait. With Yara’s ship being boarded and the on-deck fighting, it was a proper pirate scene.
Even though everyone has returned to Westeros, the scope of the series remains large.”Stormborn” showed us where all the major players stood in this complicated Game of Thrones saga.