‘Game of Thrones’: Narrative Branches Are Chopped Off In ‘Stormborn’ (Review)

Stormborn

There were several more war councils and strategy meetings in”Stormborn,” the second episode of Game of Thrones‘ abbreviated and penultimate seventh season. But unlike the premiere, which acted as an extended prologue, there was a significant amount of forward momentum to the plotting and a big action scene to signal war in Westeros (again).

The later seasons of HBO’s fantasy hit can be described as the “great narrowing.” Beginning with season 5, the show’s narrative contraction began in earnest, cutting content and combining characters at a much greater frequency. One thing that accelerated that process was the failed introduction of Dorne, the characters of which were shunted aside save for two scenes in premiere and finale of season 6 and summarily dealt with tonight in service of the war between Cersei, Dany, and Jon.

The first battle of the renewed war is fired by the psychotic Euron Greyjoy against the collective fleets of the Dornish, under the command of Ellaria Sand and her three daughters the Sand Snake, and his rebellious niece and nephew, Yara and Theon. Euron of the books is a dark messiah, a Lovecraftian abomination in human skin, methodical and psychotic at the same time.

Euron of the show is the Joker, minus the methodology, and much more driven by his impulses than his calculating (and magic-obsessed) counterpart in the novel. His brutal murders of Obara and Nymeria Sand was both a way for the showrunners to finally wrap up Dorne’s role in the series and a way to ingratiate Euron further into the story, given that his character’s arc has been altered quite a bit. Pilou Asbaek fills the unrepentant and unsympathetic evil role vacated by Iwan Rheon’s Ramsay with gleeful bloodlust.

Par the course for show’s charting their ending, the references to the early seasons, particularly the first, were plenty in this episode. Amidst the collisions, continuances, and conclusions, the name Robert Baratheon was thrown around for the first time, both by Varys while pledging his loyalty to Dany and by Cersei while plotting dragon death with her Hand Qyburn.

And later, Arya had a nice moment with Hot Pie (still baking away at the Riverlands inn aka the nexus of the universe) and discovered her brother was King in the North (nada on Sansa though, natch). She also runs into her fully-grown direwolf Nymeria, driven away early in season 1 to spare her from Cersei’s wrath. The wolf has its own pack now and tragically refuses Arya’s pleas to return to Winterfell with her. Will Arya take Nymeria’s decision to heart and return to her quest to kill Cersei? Or does it reinforce her desire to see her family again, even if she knows she’s not meant for life in a noble family?

The biggest setups were for next week’s meeting between the show’s two overtly prophecized protagonists – Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Those two are as close as the show gets to “Chosen Ones,” which is a high fantasy novelty the show eschewed for years in favor of politics and realism. Melisandre has spent her time on the show looking for the right Chosen One and bounced from Stannis to Jon (whose resurrection is not getting nearly the attention it deserves) and now to Dany, with her teleportation from the North to Dragonstone. One of the most compelling arguments for the overall arc of the series is that is shows how a medieval world reacts when the “magic comes back” in the form of dragons, zombies, and ice demons. It is the violent transformation of a recognizable world into a high fantasy landscape.

Before Euron’s surprise attack, Dany and her allies put into motion a plan to defeat Cersei, with their Westerosi armies laying siege to King’s Landing and the Dothraki and Unsullied capturing the Lannister home base of Casterly Rock. Tyrion also advises her to invite Jon Snow to Dragonstone for an alliance. Dany agrees but counters that the King in the North will have to bend the knee. Dany’s request, coupled with Sam’s letter about the dragonglass on Dragonstone (who woulda thunk), makes me feel he has no other choice but to accept, to the disagreement of his allies, including Sansa, who is so politically savvy she has publicly undermined her brother the last two weeks. Personally, I blame the writing rather the character, as Sophie Turner is consistently great at communicating Sansa’s understandable frustration. Of course, Jon confirms that Sansa will rule the North while he is away, eliminating the distance between them before he jets off with Davos South, as his father and brother before him.

People who didn’t have a great time this week were Littlefinger, who apparently equates creepy pining for a young girl with bonding with the King in the North (who is also her brother). Nonetheless, he is right when he points out Jon wouldn’t have won the Battle of the Bastards without his Knights of the Vale. Meanwhile, in Oldtown, Sam has discovered that dragonglass is not only the only weapon that works against White Walkers, but the only cure for greyscale, citing Stannis’ daughter Shireen who survived because her father lived on Dragonstone. What a versatile mineral. Unfortunately, the treatment is quite painful and involves Sam cutting away Jorah’s inflected flesh, which extends over most of his torso at this point. Is it gross? Yes, so of course the show spares no detail (although I hardly blame the show or Iain Glen for wanting to get use out of the long makeup process). It’s also a nice moment for another callback to Jorah’s father Jeor, who mentored Sam and led the Night’s Watch until his death in season 3. Sam honors that relationship by trying to save Jeor’s son, whom Jim Broadbent’s Archmaester has diagnosed as terminal.

As cool as the final sea battle was and seeing the pieces move across the board, my favorite scene was the extended moment between Grey Worm and Missandei, two underrated supporting players who have consistently added depth to the show since joining at the beginning of season 3. Jacob Anderson made me tear up with his admission that he was a fearless killing machine – until he fell in love with Missandei. And despite the fact he was gelded as a child during his hellish training, Missandei sweetly asks to see his whole body, comforting his misplaced sense of shame and inexperience with affection. Game of Thrones was criticized recently for its lack of positive sex scenes, so it felt both prescient and timely that the writers took the time for these characters, given the limited time remaining.

What did you think of ‘Stormborn?’ Better or worse than the premiere?

About Sam Flynn

Wasting oxygen since 1992, Sam thanks the gods he doesn't believe in everyday his parents didn't discard him as an infant. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
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