Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril
Sadly, Taylor Swift didn’t cameo this week as a tavern wench, so there goes my idea for a sequel to last week’s review. (The Seven Kingdoms were going to sing ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ to each other)
Ah well, shake it off. Let’s move around the map of Westeros and see how the various players in the great game fared this week:
The Narrow Sea
Such dirty tactics on the part of Euron Greyjoy to do this mere days after Dunkirk. We scrape through the German onslaught by the skin of our teeth, and this right after? We never stood a chance.
If my memory serves me correctly, Euron’s devastation of Yara’s fleet marks the first naval battle we’ve seen since the Battle of the Blackwater all the way back in Season 2. The show has grown in style and budget since then, so this was a step up – visually at least. From the ominous emergence of Euron’s ship through the fog, to the terrifying sight of Euron himself striding down a giant beam, to the battle sequence lit exclusively with firelight – Stormborn continues Game of Thrones’ tradition of staging the most beautiful and memorable battles in television history.
It may be the Battle of the Grey Joys, but it might as well be called the Battle of the Fiery Sorrows, because the consequences are immense. The ships are destroyed. Two of the Sand Snakes are dead. Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand are Euron’s hostages. Remember that the latter poisoned Princess Myrcella, so she may soon become the present that brightens Cersei’s future. Tyrion’s plan of using Dorne and Highgarden to take King’s Landing is now literally dead in the water. The only bright spot is that Theon Greyjoy relapses into his PTSD and abandons ship, living to fight another day. I can only hope his Neville Longbottom moment comes someday.
Exciting developments, but I have a slight bone to pick with the showrunners here. I got the distinct impression from earlier episodes that Yara and Theon had made off with the best of the Iron Fleet. Even if Euron made up for quality with volume, should Yara have been so easily and thoroughly routed? Up until this point, the odds seemed to be hugely loaded in favour of Daenerys and her allies. I understand that the playing field needed to be leveled to raise the stakes for the final battle, but one sneak attack by Euron leveling an entire navy seems too convenient and unlikely to me. And how quickly is the guy travelling to and fro between Pyke, King’s Landing and Dragonstone, anyway? Gone are the days when Game of Thrones would have characters take entire seasons to change geographies – an episode is all it takes now to traverse a continent or an ocean. The task of making time, space and circumstances match for hundreds of characters is an onerous one, and it is one of the principal struggles that has delayed George R R Martin’s books. I am perfectly fine with the show’s decision to play it slightly fast and loose with locations and timelines to move the story forward, but I suspect some of the finer details won’t hold up as well as they do in Martin’s novels.
Anyway, the upshot of Stormborn is that Dany may fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, she may defend her island whatever the cost may be, she may fight on the beaches, she may fight on the landing grounds, she may fight in the field and in the streets, she may fight in the hills – but she won’t be fighting on the seas and oceans anytime soon.
Geography isn’t the only thing Weiss and Benioff are playing around with – biology also takes a hit this week, as the man without a worm – Grey Worm – gets hot and heavy with sweet Missandei. Is it physiologically possible for a castrated man to “feel fear”, as good old Grey Worm so euphemistically put it? I genuinely want to know this. I think I’ll be spending an hour or two on incognito mode in Google Chrome tonight.
Jokes aside, I enjoy the Grey Worm – Missandei romance, although I’m not sure what it achieves in the larger scheme of things. Is it just filler to get in the obligatory nudity? A trick to build sympathy for characters so we’ll feel bad when they die? A way of showing us that Dany has truly liberated the people whom she freed? I’m curious to see how it unfolds.
In other notable observations, the war room at the start of the show comprised Daenerys, Tyrion, Varys, Oleanna Tyrell, Yara, Ellaria, Grey Worm and Missandei – five women, two eunuchs, one man. It just had to be the man who suggested the disastrous strategy, didn’t it?
The Lannister allies are so scant that Jaime is attempting to bribe Randyll Tarly (Sam’s dad) to abandon his oath to the Tyrells. Tarly proves surprisingly loyal, but you can see his resolve weaken when Jaime says ‘Warden of the South’. Remember that Valyrian steel sword that Sam stole from his dad? I wonder where that will figure in the scheme of things.
You just know that Maester Qyburn (Oh crap, Hand Qyburn now) was the kind of kid who boiled frogs and dissected live puppies, don’t you? After he tried some unconventional things at the Citadel and got booted out by the maesters, he ended up in Cersei’s employ, where he resurrected Mount Neverest. This week, we find out that Qyburn has designed a weapon that can pierce a dragon’s skull. It’s basically a giant crossbow and doesn’t exactly look like it can be churned out on an assembly line, but it’s something to keep a nervous eye on.
Meanwhile, the Hufflepuff version of Qyburn is also trying unconventional things at the Citadel in a last-ditch effort to save poor Jorah Mormont. Never mind that a man with literally no genitals just got action before Jorah did.
Jon Snow still doesn’t understand the concept of aligning on action items with his team members before sharing the same with external stakeholders. He tells the northern lords and ladies of his plan to head west and kill two birds with one Dragonstone: Mine the hidden mountain of dragonglass, and seek to enlist fire people in the war against ice people. Sansa is outraged that he hasn’t run this past her, but is mollified when Jon tells her she will be in charge while he’s away. Littlefinger does what Littlefinger does best, and smiles creepily whilst leaning against a wall. Next week, I look forward to a tasty Davos-Melisandre confrontation, and to Jon and Dany sharing a “Mera bhi til hai” moment.
The Road to the North
My favourite moment of the episode came courtesy Arya Stark, a character I’d cooled off on over the last couple of seasons. I’ve felt that Arya’s arc had become quite one-dimensional and excessively focused on her list. It was genuinely touching to see her emotion on learning of Jon becoming King in the North, and I swallowed hard when I saw her turn her horse away from King’s Landing and point it North. She has seen her father beheaded, and her brother and mother meeting a similarly gory fate. She has lost friends and mentors, and encountered scores of other travails and horrors along her journey. She has killed on multiple occasions, and it all but seemed that she had turned into some sort of soulless assassin fixated on revenge. Yet as she sat across the table from Hot Pie, for the first time in what felt like eons, you could see the little girl who had played at swordfighting with the stepbrother she was so fond of. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, but there must also always be a Winterfell in every Stark. Today, we saw that Arya hasn’t lost her Winterfell.
The Lannisters and their allies are consolidating. The Starks are headed for a reunion. Dany tried to split her ranks, and it ended in catastrophe. The events of Stormborn seem to suggest to the surviving characters on GoT that they band together tightly. In that beautiful scene in the forest, we see that Nymeria has understood, and Arya is realizing too, the wisdom of Kipling’s words:
Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars