After a surprisingly enjoyable season premiere, Game of Thrones is back in form this week with “Stormborn,” an episode full enough of the show’s worst failings to more than make up for its predecessor’s relative inoffensiveness. There are a couple of decent scenes tucked in here, but it’s an overall disaster of deeply silly dialogue, baffling character motivations, ridiculous plot developments, a seemingly complete lack of understanding of (or commitment to) setting on the part of everyone involved in making the show, and a hilariously awful sea battle sequence to top it all off. I was not nearly drunk enough for this shit last night, and watching it entirely sober today did not improve the experience.
**Spoilers ahead, obviously.**
The episode opens in classic Game of Thrones fashion with a weather shot that’s so dark and gloomy it’s impossible to tell what’s going on, but that’s okay because the answer to what’s going on at Dragonstone is “not much.” After reintroducing the place last week with a gorgeously melancholy tour of the inexplicably empty greater Dragonstone area, this episode finds Daenerys already itching to get out of there, dully intoning, “I always thought this would be a homecoming. It doesn’t feel like home.” The thing is, it’s not clear what we’re supposed to be feeling here. Dany’s return to Dragonstone was the opposite of triumphant, what with the place being completely abandoned (which makes no sense, but whatevs), but it was quietly impactful and succeeded in communicating something approaching the ambivalence and apprehension Daenerys might feel at returning to the land of her birth. With no dialogue, however, it was easy enough to project onto the sequence a whole lot of feeling that in hindsight was likely not justified. At the very least, anything communicated by last week’s Dragonstone sequence is undercut by Dany’s impatience here.
Much of the Dany/Dragonstone material in “Stormborn” is dedicated to discussing the upcoming war against Cersei and the Lannisters, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense that none of this was planned in advance. While it’s not obvious in the show, Dragonstone isn’t far from King’s Landing, which makes it an unlikely staging place for the type of long and slow war Daenerys is envisioning. As Tyrion explains—because of course he does—they’re going to besiege King’s Landing using Westerosi troops from Highgarden (never mind that Olenna has no legitimate claim there; in a society that practices male primogeniture like Westeros does, the deaths of her son and grandson would have created a succession crisis and opened the lordship up to claims from more distant male relatives and ambitious lords) and Dorne (where Ellaria also has no legitimate claim to leadership) while for some reason sending the Dothraki and Unsullied to the other side of the continent to capture Casterly Rock, a place so irrelevant to the plot and strategically unimportant to anything that it hasn’t managed to be seen on screen even once in six seasons of the show (or on page in five novels). It’s a nonsense plan that will take months (at least!) to enact and completely sacrifice any element of surprise they might have been able to leverage to their advantage, all while Cersei’s new ally Euron has a fleet of a thousand ships basically a stone’s throw away from Dragonstone.
When the Dragonstone crew isn’t laying out one of the worst game plans in history, there’s time for Daenerys to randomly interrogate and chastise Varys for his past actions before coming to her service, for Melisandre to show up to preach the gospel of Jon Snow, and for Olenna and Dany to have some girl bonding time. The Varys conversation starts off well enough, addressing a major issue that’s been glossed over for a full season. Sure, Daenerys ought to have questioned Varys before now about his complicity with her father and Robert Baratheon and his early support of her brother, but better late than never I suppose. It’s too bad it’s ruined by Emilia Clarke’s deadpan delivery of every line, followed up by an equally deadpan threat to burn Varys alive if he ever betrays her. Dany’s interactions with Melisandre and Olenna are marred by a similarly robotic performance, which only works to compound the other problems with these scenes: the inexplicable orgy of Jon Snow love and Olenna’s bizarre lack of self-awareness, respectively. And this is without even commenting on the ways in which Dany’s authority is constantly undermined by Tyrion and the ways in which she increasingly functions as his puppet (even literally repeating Tyrion’s rhetoric at one point).
In the books (I swear I’m trying not to compare!), much of Daenerys’s journey and character growth have to do with internal conflict, but none of that comes across in the show. While some gestures are made that suggest the show’s writers have at least read the source material (like how Dany’s pensive walk through Dragonstone suggested her ambivalent feelings about the place and the concept of “home”), Dany’s dialogue is poorly written, she’s constantly deferring to her male advisors, and she moves and talks like a fucking fembot. This wooden delivery of bad lines is characteristic of other major characters on the show (I’m looking at you, Jon Snow), it’s especially pronounced in Daenerys, and I am increasingly certain that it’s entirely on purpose. Dany’s break-up with Daario last year seems intended to have been a major turning point for the character, and she’s now so completely emotionally shut down that it’s basically impossible to understand what she might be thinking at any given time. I’m pretty sure that this is what Benioff and Weiss think is the ideal of female empowerment: a broken soulless husk of a woman, capable of no emotions except vague magnanimity and ill-justified desire for vengeance. (#FEMINISM, #WOMENONTOP).
Missandei and Grey Worm
If there is a high point of “Stormborn,” it’s the consummation of Missandei and Grey Worm’s relationship when Missandei comes to say goodbye to him before he leaves for Casterly Rock. Jacob Anderson and Nathalie Emmanuel have a nice chemistry, and their characters’ relationship has been seeded over the last season in a way that few things on this show ever are. By comparison to all the other nonsense that happens in this episode, this scene feels wonderfully organic. It also helps that Missandei’s nudity is shot with a minimal amount of camera leering. While it’s not a flawless scene (What even is Grey Worm’s accent?), it’s a nice payoff on a relationship that many fans of the show have been rooting for.
We arrive at Winterfell this week at the same time as Tyrion’s message to Jon Snow does, which should be weeks later than the events of last week’s episode but which feels like pretty much the same afternoon. Jon and Sansa have a nice talk about how cool Tyrion is, and Davos points out that Daenerys’s dragons could be useful for dealing with their imminent ice zombie problem, but Jon initially refuses to entertain the idea of actually travelling to Dragonstone. This changes when he receives another message, this time from Sam Tarly, who sends word about the mountain of dragonglass that lays beneath Dragonstone. It’s now imperative that Jon leave ASAP to meet Daenerys himself—because “only a king will convince her” for some reason—even though the other Northern and Vale Lords and Sansa all think this is a terrible idea. In any case, Jon is leaving, and, after giving a speech about how he never wanted to be king in the first place so the other lords only have themselves to blame for Jon’s bad decisions since they practically made him do it, he’s leaving Sansa in charge while he’s gone. But not before roughing up Littlefinger, who follows Jon down to the crypt beneath the castle to try and talk to him about… something? Basically, Littlefinger starts off talking about how much he loved Catelyn Stark, then moves on to needling Jon about how Cat never liked her husband’s bastard child, and then makes a gross creepy remark about Sansa. For a guy who is supposed to be a master manipulator, Littlefinger sure doesn’t seem capable of keeping his foot out of his mouth by not saying exactly the most awful things he can think up at any given moment.
At King’s Landing
Cersei is still Queen in King’s Landing, and she’s called together the remaining loyal-ish lords from the parts of the Seven Kingdoms that are still at least nominally under control of the crown for a sort of white nationalist rally where she threatens them with the specter of Daenerys’s foreign hordes coming to destroy them all. Because the several years of wars that have already wrecked the country under Lannister rule were no big deal, but an army of brown guys is what the people of the Seven Kingdoms should really be afraid of. Jaime is completely recovered from whatever misgivings he might ever have had about his sister being Queen, and he’s game to spout the same white nationalist rhetoric in order to try and convince Randyll Tarly to join the Lannister, well, not cause, but something like that.
This is an exceptionally lazy writing decision that feels calculated to capitalize on real-world current events for ratings without actually being a meaningful commentary on those real-world events. It’s not edgy or insightful, and it doesn’t have any foundation in any of the political or cultural dynamics the show has shown us so far. It’s possible to infer or assume white supremacy from the demographics of Westerosi nobility, but the in-world explanation for the overwhelming whiteness of Westeros is simply that it’s a remarkably homogenous place and the ugliness of sentiment that Cersei and Jaime use here to try and sway the lords to their side reflects a sort of xenophobia and hate that hasn’t been expressed before now in the world of the show. Rather than a part of coherent worldbuilding, the decision to have Cersei and Jaime go full-on white nationalist feels like a cheap shorthand to paint them as definite villains, which is jarring after six seasons of pretending as if this is a show about moral ambiguity and the grayness of these characters. It could be that the writers don’t consider white nationalism to be unambiguously evil, and I don’t think we can rule that out as a possibility, but that doesn’t make any of this any less problematic.
Last week it looked like Jorah was being kept prisoner at the Citadel in a sort of asylum for those who have greyscale. This week we learn that he’s only kind of a prisoner and there because he was hoping to find some treatment for his well-known incurable and deadly affliction. Archmaester Broadbent examines him nonetheless, but the prognosis isn’t good; Jorah may live another ten or twenty years with the disease, but it’s only a matter of months before he’ll lose his mind. If Jorah was a poor, the Archmaester would ship him off to Valyria right away, but since Jorah is a knight he’s got a whole extra day to get his affairs in order and—**looks meaningfully at sword**—stuff. This is convenient, since Sam recognizes Jorah’s name and decides he must find a way to save him. Sam uses the extra hours to research a potential cure that he is definitely going to try even though the Archmaester says it won’t work, and he shows up to Jorah’s room in the middle of the night to cut away all the greyscale skin and apply a kind of medicated ointment. Considering that a solid quarter of Jorah’s body is covered with the disease and there are no antibiotics in Westeros, this seems like a horrible idea, but it’s mostly just boring. The most notable thing about any of this sequence is that the medical gross-out of Sam cutting away the greyscale transitions into a shot of someone digging into a bowl of food, which is probably the most viscerally disgusting thing this show has ever done. It was truly vile.
I almost added “Arya runs into Hot Pie again” to my list of Season 7 predictions as a joke, but I thought better of it because I genuinely considered it too absurdly silly to happen and too obvious as a joke to be more than groanworthy.
In this episode, Arya runs into Hot Pie again.
And Hot Pie is better informed about current events in Westeros than literally every other character on the show. Somehow, Arya managed to be in a castle full of scheming Freys and then have dinner with a group of Lannister soldiers and then travel some more towards King’s Landing without even once hearing any news from the North. Okay.
Obviously, Arya turns her horse Northward as soon as she learns that Jon is now the King and ruling from Winterfell. Before she teleports the rest of the way there to find out that Jon is gone and Sansa is in charge, Arya meets her dire wolf, Nymeria, in the woods. After a tense moment of Arya asking Nymeria to come with her, Nymeria doesn’t say anything (because she’s a wolf, natch) and just turns around and goes back into the woods. This was surprisingly effective—like, I legit cried a little and not just because I was two thirds of my way through a bottle of wine—but then Arya says, “That’s not you,” as Nymeria leaves, and it’s a somewhat baffling line until you hear the showrunners’ explanation for it in the supplementary material after the credits roll.
So, back in season one, there’s a scene where Ned Stark is blue-skying for Arya what her life as a great lady might be like, and Arya responds to him, “No. That’s not me.” And this line to Nymeria is supposed to echo that. Because Arya couldn’t be tamed into a lady, an identity that she was ill-suited for at best, and Nymeria isn’t supposed to be a wild wolf, even though she’s literally a wild animal, and Arya knows Nymeria’s true soul or something. It’s a specious justification for the line, which is just different enough from the original to not quite be a recognizable reference without it needing to be explained. In the moment, it’s just baffling and somewhat ruins the poignancy of the moment as one is forced to wrack one’s brains trying to figure out what Arya is even talking about.
The beginning of the end of “Stormborn” starts off with the Sand Snakes bickering amongst themselves about who gets to murder which of their various enemies when they get to King’s Landing, which makes me wonder if these women know what a siege is. We then get a scene of Ellaria and Yara drinking together with Theon, which quickly devolves into Ellaria trying to seduce Yara because two bisexual women can’t possibly be in a room together without being overcome by lust. Ellaria is trying to coax Theon into an incestuous threesome when they find themselves under attack. Yara runs out of to the deck of the ship, where we find out that it’s the middle of the night, and everything is completely black so it takes a few moments to figure out that Euron has already caught up with his errant niece and nephew.
What ensues is one of the worst, most poorly lit, deeply silly and extremely boring battle sequences on the show to date. Euron arrives being theatrically crazy. There’s fire falling from the sky and destroying everything, although it never manages to provide enough illumination for a decently-lit shot of the action. Obara and Nym are both killed with their own weapons. Ellaria and Tyene are captured. Euron himself manages to subdue Yara. Theon supposedly has the opportunity to try and save his sister, but he instead drops his weapon and leaps into the ocean in such a perfunctory way that it’s every bit as unintentionally hilarious as Tommen’s suicide last season. The episode ends with Euron’s ship sailing away into the night while Theon watches, floating on a piece of wreckage in the wake of the carnage.
I’m not sure which part of this sequence I hate most, but the random total incompetence of all the female characters is probably the worst thing about it. There’s so much else that’s wrong here, though. How did Euron even find them? It’s possible that he could have caught up with them if he knew where they were, but there’s no way he would have known. Why would Euron wantonly destroy the whole fleet instead of capturing the ships? The Ironborn (and Euron in particular) are basically pirates, and ships are expensive. Plus, the Ironborn tend to follow strength, so it seems likely that many of the ships’ crews would transfer their loyalty to Euron if given half a chance once he’d captured Yara. Or, if Euron has a thousand ships and Cersei has a dragon-killing weapon, why don’t they just head straight to Dragonstone to wipe Daenerys out immediately?
Don’t answer that.
- Also lazy: Cersei getting to shoot a huge crossbow. It’s a heavy-handed and far too on the nose callback to Joffrey’s crossbow obsession.
- Where is Ghost?