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July 27 2017

Be a Dragon.


EW – Game of Thrones delivered on its promised faster pace of season 7 with an episode so crammed with major events, reunions, a riveting battle, deaths, and twists that it almost played like a season finale — yet this is only episode 2! After last week’s foreboding and stately premiere, “Stormborn” floored the narrative pedal, with nearly every scene delivering some kind of major consequence for our characters, setting the stage for a cross-section of battles and major power-player meet-ups. We start with:


Dragonstone: It was, quite literally, a dark and stormy night. Daenerys unexpectedly grills Varys about his loyalty because, let’s face it, on paper, his resume admittedly doesn’t sound very reassuring. That he’s a far bigger fan of King Robert than he was of her father doesn’t help either. “Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty,” shoots back Varys, in what sounds like a rare bit of modern political commentary from GoT. “You wish to know where my true loyalties lie?” he continues. “The people.” Tough to argue with that, and Dany doesn’t — though also threatens to burn him alive if he ever betrays her.


Hey, speaking of burning people alive, here’s Melisandre! She was last seen banished by Jon Snow and told to head south for killing Shireen. She went south all right, straight back to her former home that she used to share with Stannis Baratheon. I wonder if she still has some clothes there she wants to pick up.


The Red Woman is brought before Dany. She fills her in on the prophecy of Azor Ahai — a messianic figure in her Lord of Light religion; lived thousands of years ago, forged a flaming sword which he used to defeat evil; he’s prophesied to be reborn as the Prince That Was Promised, etc. etc.


Or perhaps it’s Princess That Was Promised? Experienced translator Missandei corrects Melisandre’s prophecy description.


Melisandre explains she thought Stannis was The One. Then she thought it might be Jon Snow. Now she’s not ruling out Dany either. For being some powerful Lord of Light sorcerer, Melisandre’s less confident in her Azor Ahai theory than most Game of Thrones fan blogs. Not to mention, Stannis would be so pissed if he died because of a grammar mistake.


Matchmaker Melisandre successfully gets Dany’s curiosity up about Jon Snow. Tyrion notes that he’s a decent man. She has Tyrion pen a letter to the King in the North requesting to see him and ordering him to “bend the knee” (and the Jon-Dany shippers lean forward). As much as I’d love to see Dany and Jon Snow meet, anything that Melisandre suggests based on prophecy I’m inherently wary about.


Winterfell: But not as wary as Sansa! Jon gets Tyrion’s letter — yeah, just like that. I’m pretty sure Westeros is now using FedEx instead of birds. There’s a subset of fans who always pay very strict attention to how much time characters should realistically take to get from one place to another (they’re still annoyed about Varys getting from Dorne to Meereen so fast last year). But if you try to apply your own Waze travel time estimates to characters in Westeros you’re going to go nuts. It’s probably best to just roll with it and appreciate that we’re not seeing a lot of horse-riding and campfire scenes this season.


Jon talks to Sansa about whether he should go and see her. Sansa says he shouldn’t do it, because Sansa is wrong about everything now (I kid — if we didn’t know Dany, we’d be rather wary about meeting her too; after all the fatal Stark blunders in recent years, “pulling a Stark” is probably Westeros slang for getting yourself stupid-killed).


At first, Jon is talked out of going. But then he gets another r-mail, this from Samwell, informing him that tons of precious dragonglass can be found at Dragonstone (which sounds like one of those facts that you hear and immediately feel stupid for not knowing it already).


Given the chances of scoring loads of White Walker kryptonite, Jon tells the lords in the Great Hall his plan to meet Dany. Everybody hates this idea, especially Sansa, who channels Admiral Ackbar to trap-warn him. Even cute Lyanna Mormont, who everybody loves every time she speaks, yells at Jon for knowing nothing.


Jon won’t be swayed. Frankly, he probably wants to get the hell out of there and have some new adventures anyway. He’s been looking miserable moping around Winterfell making tough political decisions while Sansa explains how stupid he is.


He does leave Sansa in charge, though, which seems to please her. One suspects this decision disappoints all the lord-bros who hang around that hall drinking all day because you know she’s going to make some changes around there.


Before he goes, Jon pays a visit to the family crypt. In slinks Littlefinger, who starts purring sweet nothings in Jon’s ear, and you can see him getting increasingly annoyed. Don’t think for a second Jon hasn’t noticed the conniving twerp’s smirking and eye-rolling in the back of his class.


Then Littlefinger creepily goes, “I love Sansa as I loved her mother,” which triggers the protective big brother in Jon to slam Baelish up against the wall and warn him to never touch his sister. Now it’s the Jon-Sansa shippers who lean forward (you pervs).


Jon Snow mounts up and takes off. We’re not sure if he’s ever going to see Winterfell again. But we’re confident now that Jon will meet the Dragon Queen who is also — we are led to assume from last season’s Bran-guided flashbacks — his aunt. This seems pretty important. Can’t Bran send Jon a letter since everybody else is sending him letters?


The Citadel: Ser Jorah isn’t doing so well. His greyscale has spread and the maesters aren’t very helpful. Sam tries to convince the grumpy Arch-Maester to let him try some radical treatment, but he won’t approve anything without several phases of successful FDA trials and suggests Ser Jorah just go kill himself. He explains this along with a bunch of facts and logical reasoning but I’m really starting to hate this guy despite being played by congenial Jim Broadbent; he’s like the epitome of an Ivory Tower out-of-touch elite.


Sam tries to cure Ser Jorah anyway because he’s awesome and believes in actually trying to do things. What follows is one of the grossest scenes in Game of Thrones, which is saying quite a bit. Sam peels off the greyscale with a knife in a procedure that looks super painful and pus-squirting disgusting. (I wonder why Sam doesn’t give the man some Milk of the Poppy; surely they have some of that laying around?) Sam finishes, but it’s unclear if this experimental Dr. House M.D-evil operation was successful. Perhaps every episode this season will have Sam tacklin some new revolting task, like a Westeros edition of Dirty Jobs.


Riverlands: Arya stops by a tavern and runs into a character we never expected to see again — Hot Pie! He’s arguably the luckiest person on the show. Everybody else is scheming and plotting and fighting and dying, while Hot Pie just continues riding out the action and making his meat-filled pastries You would think this is the last dish Arya would crave after chopping up Freys and baking them into a pie herself, but hey, a girl’s gotta eat.


Hot Pie also has a side gig as a Game of Thrones recapper, and he fills Arya in on seasons 2 through 6 (he does a decent job, though I would have thrown in Tyrion’s trial and Oberyn Martell’s arc because those parts were really cool). Arya is unsurprised about Cersei’s season finale mass-murder plot, while Hot Pie marvels at Arya, who’s now all hardened and gulping wine. “You’re pretty,” he coos, and Arya looks slightly struck; she’s not used to getting compliments.


But it’s learning that Jon Snow is back at Winterfell that really throws Arya for a loop. You can see her brain-gears turning: Hmm, murder Cersei or return to my home and reunite with my family after being kept apart for years? … That’s a toughie.


Later, Arya is accosted by wolves, but not just any wolves. Is it…? It is. Nymeria! Her long-lost direwolf who bit Joffrey that she was forced to chase off in the first season. They regard each other. “I’m finally going home; come with me,” she pleads. But Nymeria just looks at her impassively like a dog at a human who doesn’t have any snacks. Nymeria and her pack turn away.


“That’s not you…” Arya says, which is such a great line. Because the direwolf is Nymeria (and Arya knows it) but it’s also very much not Nymeria, because so much time has passed and the direwolf has changed so much. So has Arya, as we just saw in the scene with Hot Pie. The scene not only answers a long-time fan question but, even better, is used as a metaphorical mirror for Arya. As the episode’s writer Bryan Cogman says in this week’s interview with Williams about this scene, “they’re both lone wolves” (interview links are at the end of the recap).


So Arya continues her journey home. You know if she actually makes it to Winterfell, she’s going to be super pissed if Jon is gone and she’s stuck with Sansa.


King’s Landing: Cersei summons her lords for something she’s not typically very good at: trying to win people over that she considers beneath her. It’s a bit like Hillary Clinton trying to hang out with local voters in a swing state diner; this isn’t really her thing. Present are Randyll and Dickon Tarly — Samwell’s jerk father and his sorta-okay brother — whom we first met last season (Dickon was recast, by the way: Freddie Stroma played him in season 6; Tom Hopper stepped in for season 7). I love that Jaime mistakes Dickon’s name for Rickon, as if even Jaime Lannister have a tough time keeping all these damn character names straight.


Cersei smartly brands Daenerys as the return of homicidal Targaryen crazy, just like ol’ Mad King Aerys II. Sure Dany’s got a huge army and three dragons, but she’s also nuts and will kill everybody if they don’t stand up to her. Cersei is basically doing a negative campaign ad: Vote Lannister or the Targaryen Will Burn You Alive. Of course, Dany hasn’t hurt anybody in Westeros (yet) while Cersei blew up a Sept full of church-goers and her daughter-in-law. If anybody has been playing the role of Mad Queen around these parts, it sure ain’t Dany.


Mad scientist Qyburn takes Cersei down into the dragon skull room. This gorgeous set is a terrific treat for readers of George R.R. Martin’s novels. This room is described in detail in the very first A Song of Ice and Fire book, A Game of Thrones. The show didn’t have the budget to portray this in the first season, but it does now.


Qyburn reveals they have a dragon-killing secret weapon, a large spear-firing crossbow-like device that, if aimed just right, can pierce through a dragon’s eye into its brain — sorta like how that guy in the disappointing Hobbit trilogy took out Smaug. Cersei just found a way to potentially even the playing field.


Dragonstone: Daenerys has a strategy meeting with her advisors, the Greyjoys, Olenna, and Ellaria Sand. Hot-headed Ellaria wants to wipe out Cersei in King’s Landing, but Tyrion has warned against that strategy. He’s thinking that sending dragons to nuke a city probably isn’t the wisest course of action to rally the great houses to their side, and Dany agrees.


Instead, this is the idea: Strike the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock with the Unsullied and Dothraki army, thereby seizing Cersei’s homeland while she’s holed up in the Southern capital. Also, send the Greyjoys and Ellaria to lay siege to King’s Landing to starve out Cersei into surrendering (thereby avoiding the apparently lousy PR optics of having “foreign” forces attack the capital).


This sounds like great plan! Too bad it all goes to hell in just a few minutes. But great!


Olenna and Dany share a nifty scene together where she warns the queen against putting too much faith in clever men like Tyrion. “Commoners won’t obey you unless they fear you,” she warns. “The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” Olenna is an upper-crust blue-blood who believes you need to govern with strong-arm tactics and crush your enemies at any cost. Dany is trying to break the wheel as a reformist. But Sansa would totally retweet everything Olenna is saying.


As Tyrion said, Dany in “the great game” now. But the same could be said for nearly all our favorites. After six seasons of watching characters try to rule — and fail miserably — the core cast have gradually all stepped up into leadership roles to make the big decisions. We wonder if they’ve learned the right lessons.


Meanwhile, Missandei and Grey Worm might never see each other again. This leads to an extremely touching scene whereby stern Grey Worm finally opens up emotionally to Missandei about his feelings for her. “You are my weakness,” he says. Missandei appreciates that, but also wants more than nice words — she wants to get physical. The Unsullied commander is hesitant. This is like being asked to joust without a lance, so to speak. But he overcomes his shyness to lay with her. As Nathalie Emmanuel says in our interview, “amongst this chaos they’re like this beacon of something sweet and pure and beautiful.” We hope they are as satisfied as they can be given the limitations involved.


Greyjoy Ship at Sea: We get a moment with the Sand Snakes bragging about who they’re going to kill. This moment plays a lot better after you know what’s about to happen. Then it’s Ellaria and Yara flirting in a cabin. Theon tries to leave, but Ellaria wants to make him stand there and watch. Poor Theon, everybody always wants him to be an awkward voyeur for some reason.


Then… disaster. Euron has found them. What follows is a thrilling sequence from director Mark Mylod. One of my favorite things about GoT action scenes is they’re always unique from one another; this frantic fiery ship battle plays like nothing we’ve seen on the show before. The energy feels like a reflection of Euron, who gets one helluva entrance: His ship The Silence pierces the side of the Greyjoys’ vessel, then a manic screaming Euron rides its jaw-like walkway that clamps down on the ship, both preventing the ship from escaping and providing a way to board.


It’s apparent from the outset that the Greyjoys are being overrun. Euron is a bloody nightmare of psychotic rage-joy. Ellaria and her daughter Tyene are captured below decks, and Ellaria’s request for death is denied while Obara and Nymeria fight Euron (yes, the Sand Snake played by Jessica Henwick is named Nymeria… only Game of Thrones would have two characters with pivotal sequences in the same episode who are both named Nymeria).


Their fight is raw and brutal, with Euron turning their signature weapons against each other, piercing Obara with her spear while strangling Nymeria with her whip. Two of the three Sand Snakes are down, their bodies left to decorate the ship.


Euron also captures Yara despite her Glow-like flying pro-wrestling leap down on top of him. Theon spots them, and Euron tries to bait him into attacking. Euron has no fear. Theon is full of fear. Hot Pie and Nymeria the direwolf aren’t the only long-lost characters to return this week. Reek is back. And Reek does what Reek does — he flees, jumping over the side. Yara is heartbroken at the betrayal. But it was probably Theon’s wisest move given Euron’s fighting skills. Theon rushing at Euron would totally be pulling a Stark.

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