If you were one of the Game of Thrones viewers who thought the Season 7 premiere was slow, then you probably loved this week’s episode. While “Dragonglass” arguably spent too long re-establishing characters and situations we already understood, “Stormborn” wasted no time changing the game.
Dany makes her move
A storm is brewing at Winterfell, but Dany and her advisors are safe within Dragonstone… at least for one scene. Now that the gang has officially made it to Westeros, it’s time to shore up their forces and come up with a plan. (Apparently, everyone was too seasick to do this on the long voyage over?) The first item on Dany’s to-do list: Ensure Varys can be trusted.
At the beginning of the scene in which Dany questions Varys’ decisions over the last couple of years — decisions that included using her as a bargaining chip to ensure Dothraki support and sending an assassin to kill her — I wasn’t sure Dany wouldn’t kill or at least banish Varys for his wobbling ways. Instead, Varys delivers the exact speech he needs to in order to ensure Dany’s trust. He recontextualizes his past: His loyalty has never wavered. It has always been to the people. He follows the king or queen who give the common folk the best chance at survival and a decent living situation. Sometimes, all the choices are bad choices. In this case, Dany is maybe the best choice he has ever had in that she wants to be better. She asks Varys not to scheme behind her back should she become bad for her people, but rather to tell her to her face. A novel idea!
Varys’ speech is one that we have not heard often in the Game of Thrones universe. We’ve seen the will of the common people represented in some ways, via the Brotherhood Without Banners or even the actions of the Sparrows., but, largely, this story is concerned with aristocracy. Dany may be one of the best leaders Westeros has ever had, she may be concerned with the will of the people, but she is still an aristocrat.
Is Varys’ speech a hint that Game of Thrones’ endgame might not be for one person to end up on the throne, but for the throne to be abolished altogether? Perhaps not, but Varys’ certainly reminds us that the common folk of Westeros have been the ones who have suffered the most during this game of thrones. One need look no farther than the farmer and his daughter from last week to know that. Though, to be fair, Hot Pie seems to be doing OK.
Varys isn’t the only relatively unstable piece in Dany’s leadership puzzle. In the best scene of the entire episode, Dany conducts a war council with Tyrion, Olenna, Ellaria, and Yara. #DreamTeam Seriously, if I ever conduct a war, I want this crew in my corner.
The strategy session exposes the personal styles, grudges, and knowledge bases of the group. Yara and Ellaria want to attack King’s Landing. Tyrion advises Dany to instead place the city under siege using the Westerosi forces available to her. Olenna thinks Dany should do whatever the hell she wants. Ultimately, Dany takes Tyrion’s advice. She does not, she says, want to be the Queen of the Ashes, perhaps taking Varys’ devotion to the common people to heart.
Euron makes his move, too
It’s a good plan, especially given that Tyrion’s suspicions that his sister will attempt to rally support by playing up fears of Dany’s foreigner army are valid, but one that is ultimately waylaid by Euron Greyjoy. The pirate rocker swoops in to attack Dany’s Westerosi force before it can make it to King’s Landing. His forces kill two of the Sand Snakes, and take Ellaria and Yara hostage. Euron tries to goad Theon into attacking him by holding a knife to Yara’s throat, but he embraces his inner Reek instead, jumping over the side of the ship to relative safety.
The move breaks Yara heart, and makes Euron laugh, but I can’t say I blame Theon. It’s not a particularly admirable decision, but it is an understandable one. We all like to think we’d be Captain America in this situation, but, be honest, many of us would be Theon Greyjoy. Theon leaves his sister with a knife at her throat, their beautiful fleet falling in flames from the sky. Queen of the Ashes, indeed.
Grey Worm departs for Casterly Rock
Part of Dany’s master plan involves sending the Unsullied to take Casterly Rock, a conquering that seems inevitable given the current state of Yara and Ellaria’s fleet. Before he leaves, Grey Worm goes to Missandei to tell her that she is his weakness. This is basically the Unsullied way of saying, ‘I love you.’
Grey Worm and Missandei’s sex scene was immensely moving, especially for a show that has had so many superfluous, shallow sex scenes in the past. This is as much about intimacy as it is about pleasure. Grey Worm is terrified of being vulnerable, but Missandei teaches him how to be afraid.
Arya heads North
“That’s not you.” Arya’s parting words to Nymeria, the direwolf she saw after years apart. They’ve both grown up since Arya chased her off in Season 1 to save her life. Though we haven’t followed Nymeria’s path since Season 1, one can only assume it’s been nearly as tormented as Arya’s (though decidedly less lonely). Nymeria’s got a crew.
When Nymeria first chooses not to come with Arya back to Winterfell, the Stark is sad. Hot Pie’s mention of Jon seems to be the first time she’s ever allowed herself to hope for something resembling family or home for a long while. Nymeria’s reappearance in her life plays into that nascent hope. The direwolf ties her back to a time when Arya was relatively innocent, when she had her family and she thought she was safe. She thought the world was safe, and her biggest problem was how annoying her sister was.
As it’s mentioned in the post-episode featurette, “That’s not you” is a callback to a scene in Season 1 when Ned understands that his youngest daughter is not meant to lead the life of a traditional noblewoman. Arya seems to remember this moment as Nymeria slips away, and it makes her smile. Perhaps not only because she now knows that the direwolf she lost so long ago is OK, but because, when she thinks of her father in this moment, she is remembering his love, not his beheading. For the first time in a long, long time, Arya dreams of home.
Jon heads to Dragonstone and leaves Sansa in charge
If you need any more evidence of both how quickly this episode moved and how Season 7 is making more callbacks to what has come before than any of the previous seasons, look no further than Hot Pie, who pops back up in the story to serve Arya a tasty meal and mention that ‘Oh, yeah. Your favorite brother is King of the North.’
Of course, if and when Arya arrives in Winterfell, Jon is probably not going to be there. After receiving Sam’s raven about the dragonglass under Dragonstone, Jon decides he must try to make Dany understand the urgency of the White Walker danger. Sansa and many of Jon’s bannerpeople (including the wise Lyanna Mormont) argue against it. The last time the King in the North left Winterfell, he was murdered at a wedding. But Jon is the only one of their number who has seen the army of ice zombies heading their way. If the world of the living doesn’t get their act together fast, then there will be no more terrible weddings at which to be murdered at all.
Team Winterfell’s worries seem assuaged by Jon’s declaration that he will leave the North in competent hands: Sansa’s. Like Dany’s war council before, this moment was not only incredibly empowering, but also well-earned. Sansa is just as qualified to rule the North as Jon Snow is, and Jon recognizes that. Sure, some of this may have been to keep Sansa from questioning him further, but it is also a tremendous show of faith and support from one brother to his sister. Jon may be a man and, therefore, immune to the kinds of injustices and assumptions girls and women get subjected to everyday, but Jon has always been judged by the presumed circumstance of his birth. He understands the frustration of being underestimated.
Cersei learns how to kill a dragon
While Dany plans her siege, Cersei learns how to kill a dragon. She knows that, in order to get the kind of support she needs to have any hope of defeating Dany, she needs to figure out a way to deal with those dragons. Dr. Qyburn Frankenstein has some ideas! He leads Cersei into the underground chambers where Robert kept the skulls of fallen dragons. There, he shows her a massive crossbolt capable of killing dragons. Um, they’re going to need more of those.
Sam becomes a surgeon
Game of Thrones has had some pretty gruesome scenes in its history, but watching Sam chip at, slice away, and remove Jorah’s skin may be the grossest this show has ever gotten. This was another scene that reminds us how small the world of this show has gotten — in the best possible way. Sam seems to decide to try to help Jorah at least partially because of his father’s immense influence on his own life. Also, he’s just kind of a softie. Book capers last week and secret surgeries this week! Sam is turning into quite the rebel.