'Game of Thrones' Recap: Prophecies, Plans, and Daenerys' Terrifying Future
This week's Game of Thrones, directed by Mark Mylod and written by Bryan Cogman, picked up where we left off last week: Daenerys has come home to Dragonstone to plan her conquest of Westeros… but can she do so without becoming a destructive queen? There are three factions in Westeros that currently have the power to stand on their own: The Lannisters, The North, and the new power of the Dragon Queen biding her time. Luckily, "Stormborn" offers plenty of foreshadowing and theory fodder. There's a plan afoot for Daenerys....
The biggest shadow looming over all the the Houses in this week's episode is the reputation of House Targaryen. No one can forget Aegon I taking the Seven Kingdoms with his three dragons, or the manner in which Aerys II killed both Brandon and Rickard Stark to start Robert's Rebellion. Now Daenerys Stormborn sails to Westeros with a Dothraki horde.
For those of us who enjoyed what little bit of Daenerys and Tyrion ruling Meereen last season offered, the first half of "Stormborn" witnesses a series of high stakes planning sessions with the big players of the Targaryen alliance: Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, and Missandei. Also in the room are the allied powers of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, Lady Olenna representing House Tyrell (as one of the last living members), and Ellaria Sand representing the Dornish.
Of course the Tyrells, Greyjoys, and Sands advocate for a quick and immediate attack to take King's Landing; none of those houses have ever risen to take the Iron Throne and have little experience leading. Olenna, who Dany recognizes as having the most experience, was unable to keep a Tyrell within throwing distance of the throne despite all of her guile and skepticism over clever men (although didn't she conspire with Littlefinger to poison Joffrey?). The two Greyjoys haven't actually ruled the Iron Islands, with Theon having not even grown up there, and having a disastrously short occupation at his old home, Winterfell, in Season 2. Ellaria Sand might have the loyalty of the Dornish people, but only because she dared to avenge Oberyn Martell, not because she's been a good ruler.
Daenerys contends with her family's history in Westeros. The Targaryens united the Seven Kingdoms under the Iron Throne using the force of dragons. Remember: that iconic Throne was constructed from the melted down blades of those who opposed them. Then, of course, there's her father the Mad King, who doesn't have a great reputation beyond Ser Barristan Selmy (RIP). That's why she decides against becoming what Tyrion and Varys say will be a "Queen of Ashes." The alternate plan: her Westerosi soldiers will lay siege to King's Landing while her foreign faction devastates House Lannister by attacking their ancestral fortress, Casterly Rock
The most interesting twist on the Targaryen story this week: Melisandre shows up at Dragonstone (where she previously burned people alive and took sexually intimidating baths) to let the gang know that Daenerys might be the "Prince Who Was Promised" a.k.a. Azor Ahai incarnate! He's a Beowulf-like hero endorsed by the Lord of Light, and if you want more on what exactly that theory is and means for the rest of the series, you'll need this full-on explainer.
Apparently the prophecy is genderless, although Melisandre isn't clear at this point if Jon Snow or Daenerys is the Prince she's been searching for, only that the bastard son of Ned Stark plays a pivotal role in this tapestry of conquest. Missandei's translation corner aside, the nature of the Azor Ahai prophecy continues to be vague. Melisandre doesn't totally trust the prophecy, but she tells Dany and Tyrion to at least recognize Jon Snow as a powerful ally, which he will become, next week... when he finally gets to Dragonstone.
Some of the early Targaryen planning sessions seem to be moot, though, given the events at the end of the episode. With the rebel Greyjoys and the Sand Snakes apparently unable to take King's Landing after the Tyrells take on Casterly Rock, strategies might have to shift. Or, maybe a grand entrance under the threat of being the "Queen of Ashes" can go a long way. Let the Dothraki loose on one city, because why not?
It was a big week for people without testicles on Game of Thrones! Big enough that we can split them into a separate category based on the two eunuch characters who get moments to shine this episode: Varys and Grey Worm (I'll get to Theon in a second). Early on in "Stormborn," Dany questions Varys after having supported the Targaryen restoration to the Throne back in Season 1. Sure, he had to pass on his info to King Robert, who didn't have the highest opinion of the Targaryens, but Dany decides not to hold it against him as Varys has downgraded his doing it for "the realm" to just doing it [chest pound] for the "people of the streets." In a very James Comey sort of way, Varys manages to side-step pledging individual loyalty to Dany, instead pledging to tell her to her face if she stops serving the people. Tyrion doesn't look enthused about this, but hopefully that's not foreshadowing. Conleth Hill as Varys has been great, and his frank speech to spare his life here is almost good enough to serve as a counterpart to Littlefinger's "The Climb" speech.
Grey Worm, it turns out, is still sexually useful. Game of Thrones' early seasons were filled with what was nicknamed "sexposition," or superfluous female nudity during scenes meant to simply move the plot along. Latter seasons of Game of Thrones have pulled back on the nudity throttle, or at least tried to find character and plot justified reasons for nudity. Who hasn't wanted Grey Worm and Missandei to hook up? We gotta like that. The downside is that it's going to be three times as sad now if Grey Worm is killed in one of Dany's upcoming power grabs for Westeros, which seems almost inevitable.
The Lannister scenes in this episode exist mostly to plant the the allegiance of Sam Tarly's father Randyll and brother Dickon with the Queen's bannermen. Jaime even gives Randyll a prominent position in his army, which is actually a reversal of the House's history as Tyrell family bannermen. It's clear why Randyll plans to switch sides: casual Westerosi racism. Last season, when Sam brought his Wildling girlfriend home, Randyll was rude enough to prompt Sam to steal the family sword and run away. The patriarch can't be happy with Daenerys Targaryen bringing Dothraki across the Narrow Sea, certainly not given Cersei's description of what could happen (the burning, the raping, the pillaging, and so on). Then Jaime promises to make him Warden of the South (running The Reach and Dorne and whatever Baraetheon scraps are left).
As to why the two other male members of House Tarly have re-entered the narrative? Well, we're going to need to care about both armies in the upcoming battles, and each army is going to need one or more proxies. Having Randyll and Dickon on the same side as characters like Jaime and Bronn means we can track battles and invest in our favorite characters… and still kill some people with names. House Tarly will not be added to the list of people who might win the Game of Thrones, even if Randyll or Dickon get the rewards promised to them by Jaime, because Sam took the house Valyrian steel and, well, the White Walkers are coming. It's going to be interesting to see what turns the Tarlys against the Tullys, or if that just happens off-screen between episodes.
Speaking of Tarlys: the lowest rung on the Oldtown ladder might get the MVP award this episode for not giving up on poor Greyscale-affected Jorah Mormont. Despite the warnings of Archmaester Ebrose, Sam went experimenting on Jorah's encrusted skin in a storyline that aims to be the gross-out theater of this season. Between the "Poops and Scrubs" montage last episode, and the "Greyscale cure," which looks a lot like torture, we can barely keep our dinner down.
This might be the procedure that finally gets Sam kicked out of the Citadel, and the only reason it seems likely is with a cured Jorah Mormont free to go, Sam could easily follow him to Dragonstone. Jorah wants to return to the Dragon Queen now that he's found the cure he was "commanded" to find, and Sam has just alerted Jon that there's dragon glass at Dragonstone. They're destined to be traveling companions.
They could head to Winterfell; Jorah is likely to believe Sam about the White Walkers, and could realize that Jon Snow and the Khaleesi are necessary allies (like Melisandre). Either way, Sam seems to be accumulating knowledge fast enough not to be necessary as a plot device at the Citadel much longer.
Maybe you've heard of Chekhov's gun. Now we have Qyburn's dragon-felling ballista. Kept down where Robert used to bring his whores, where the dragon skulls are stored, Cersei gives us a taste of the battle ahead by firing a giant bolt through the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, the ride of Aegon I and the dragon who melted the Iron Throne into place. Basically tons of foreshadowing that, yeah, the Lannister Army is going to come into conflict with a dragon and maybe have the power to wound or kill one when that happens.
Jon Snow is a one-issue king. He just can't keep bringing up how the war between the living and the dead takes precedence over all previous history of Westeros -- that includes years of mistrust of Targaryens from Northern lords. Sure, the Dragon Queen represents a great threat to Westeros, and could stomp the North in order to reunite the Seven Kingdoms under the Targaryen banner, but Jon Snow is still all about that sweet, sweet dragon glass. According to the King in the North, the war between the living and the dead is all important, and of course Daenerys is going to instantly see that, right?
Jon leaves Sansa in charge of Winterfell, which makes sense, though it also leaves her open to the problems of any Westerosi leader with a Southern Style. Sansa needs to keep peace in Winterfell during Jon's little jaunt -- a jaunt that could very well lead right up to the series' final battle in Season 8 -- which seems possible given her lessons in manipulation from previous seasons, and with Brienne of Tarth still at her side.
However, with Arya heading towards Winterfell, Sansa is about to learn that she's the only living non-magical Stark left in the North. That's not a great position to be in to boost one's self confidence, and Sansa doesn't seem to be good at hiding her feelings when she disagrees with people's decisions. In Season 1, Sansa's poor decision-making was motivated by her youth and inexperience. Now she's dealing with a tight-lipped Jon, who always manages to surprise her with his decisions in the Great Hall -- a dick move in all ways. Neither of these Starks is good at the finer points of making allies.
All it took for Arya to turn back toward Winterfell, it turns out, was a recognition of what it seemed like she had learned during her time in the House of Black and White -- a girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. Who better to help her along than her old friend Hot Pie, who managed to survive capture in Harrenhal? This is most likely Hot Pie's exit from the grander narrative of Thrones, though he might resurface to serve a similar purpose in Winds of Winter (should George R.R. Martin ever see fit to publish it, given this week's meandering update). In both the show and the books, Hot Pie is left by the Brotherhood Without Banners at the Inn at the Crossroads to make bread. With Hot Pie's news that House Stark is having as much a resurgence as possible up at Winterfell, Arya turns North on the King's Road to finally return home.
After two episodes on a side quest for vengeance, assuming she was the last of the living Starks, Arya needed to turn inward this episode and recognize her current feral state (Nymeria ascendant!). When feral Stark met feral direwolf, the stage was set for Arya to turn back towards her namesake as a stronger killer. Her last line "That's not you" doesn't mean that her Direwolf friend has gone completely wild, but that Arya understands that becoming travelling companion of Westeros' shortest mass murder simply isn't the style of a direwolf that has formed her own wolfpack in the middle of the map. (In the books, we've constantly seen the world through Nymeria's eyes, as Arya shares a dream connection to her pet that the show has chosen not to adapt).
None of this is really a surprise as promotional material for the show teased the reuniting of some of the Stark clan. Eventually, Arya gets some Northern garb and, according to HBO promotional material, will somehow come into possession of the Catspaw Dagger, an Easter egg highlight in one of Sam's Citadel books last episode. The last time we saw the dagger in detail, Littlefinger admitted to owning it until he lost it in a bet and it's very possible it is still in his possession up in Winterfell. With Arya and the Catspaw in the same location, the question pivots to how the mystical assassin of House Stark gets her hands on it.
Things are not going well for Littlefinger up North. His attempt to profess his feelings for Sansa as a manipulative way of -- pardon the Lord of the Rings reference - "Wormtongue-ing" Jon before he takes off for Dragonstone does... not go well. It seems like a bad choice to tell a serious dude like Jon Snow you loved his mother and now you love his sister. On the other hand, he's still at Winterfell where Sansa needs his Knights of the Vale, and he's had much more experience manipulating the new queen than cracking the stone that is Jon Snow. Maybe he can use the truth of Jon's assault against him somehow?
Baelish is better positioned to have influence with Sansa running Winterfell and Jon continuing to sow unrest amongst the traditionalists in the North with his laser-like focus on The War to Come. You could see it in the way that he smiled when Sansa was left in charge of the North. His biggest obstacle now is Brienne and Sansa's own wariness of Littlefinger's intentions. Sadly for Lord Baelish, there are two more Starks on their way to Winterfell that are more likely to be loyal to Sansa. To make it worse, they both have magical powers. Sometimes the best move is to lay low, and Littlefinger needs to stop being so obvious when trying to pour poison in the ears of Stark children.
The Sand Snakes
Not a great night for the Sand Snakes, as predicted. Separating them out from the Greyjoy infighting that ends the episode, let's pour one out for two key character deaths on this week's Game of Thrones: Obara and Nymeria Sand. It's okay that you forgot their names -- the show never had much for them to do. Either because of budgetary reasons or side-character overload, the number of Sand Snakes that appear in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire tomes was reduced to three, and like stock ninja characters, each Snake was given a weapon instead of a personality. They all are basically the same surly tomboy with great bodies, and the show even reinforces this in "Stormborn" by making their last on-screen conversation about how the one who lives (Tyene) likes Ellaria (who also lives) more than the other two (who die).
The moral of the story seems to be: love your mother, because Obara, master of the spear like her father Oberyn, gets horrifically impaled by Euron. Also Nymeria, Queen of the whip like Indiana Jones without a revolver, gets strangled by Euron. At the very end of the episode, we see them displayed on the prow of the ship as some trophy figureheads (and yes, it's prow, not bow -- Google it before you go sailing). Ellaria and Tyene are still alive, but are going to be Euron's "gift" to Cersei. If you have a local Game of Thrones death pool, pro tip: put a Sand Snake on there.
Euron makes a big entrance through a storm (making him the second person the episode title could apply to, since he is "the storm, brother.") and on his ship -- which we'll assume is also named "Silence" like the one in the books -- crashes into the ship carrying Yara, Ellaria, and Theon. Pirate Euron upgrades from his emo-band appearance last week to a battle-ax, Sand-Snake-Slaying, crazy-laughing uber villain. No one wants Euron to win, so it sucks when he murders some Sand Snakes, but when Yara looks around and realizes most of her fleet is alight, it sinks in: the inter-Greyjoy rebellion is over.
"Stormborn" could have gone out as Euron v. Theon: Dawn of Justice, but the violence of Euron's raid triggers the Reek inside of the Greyjoy brother, who jumps overboard to live another day. Euron takes Yara hostage, which is striking, as Yara isn't a part of Euron's "gift" deal, so it's unclear who gets to keep whom when Euron parades his trophies through the streets of King's Landing. Cersei will want to hurt Ellaria and Tyene for their parts in Marcella's death (which Tyrion reminds us of early on in the episode, so we won't feel too horribly when Ellaria dies), but does she have any use for Yara that's worse than what Euron would do to her? Theon may have doomed his sister for the last time... though probably not himself.
If Gendry can row for several seasons, surely Theon can swim back to Dragonstone by next week.