As promised, Game of Thrones is waging war more quickly this season and the first evidence of it comes out of “Stormborn,” which begins with such promise for the queen for which the episode gets its name but ends in a fiery, concerning conclusion for those of us on board that very side, Team Dany.
It’s simple math why this penultimate season needs to move action forward faster. It has taken 60 episodes, over six years, to get to this climax and now there’s 13 episodes (max) to unveil how the great war ends. So, just as last week’s premiere ended with Dany at the head of the stone table in Dragonstone asking, “Shall we begin,” this week’s episode opens in a rainstorm with an epic flyover shot of the same place, zooming in on a dim light in the tallest tower in the distance where the queen and her advisers are weighing their battle plans. (And it’s no wonder Dany’s having a hard time feeling at home.)
The plan, a simple divide and conquer approach involving a two-pronged attack to secure Westeros with minimal unwarranted carnage. Yara Greyjoy and her iron fleet will lead the armies of Dorne and Highgarden into King’s Landing to have Cersei Lannister surrounded, while, simultaneously, the Unsullied will sail for Casterly Rock and take the Lannister stronghold.
That, coupled with a long-anticipated meeting with Jon Snow (to bend the knee to her, not to, you know, elope) that’s waged the same night (and promised in the preview for next week’s episode), garners significant excitement — too much to be comfortable with.
The meeting will happen, but all that goodness in the span of a swift 10, 15, 20 minutes was too much. (Standby for sports reference.) It’s The Big 3 coming to Miami! No.
Dany and Tyrion’s divide and conquer approach suffers a fiery, debilitating defeat by the episode’s epic end, at the hands of Euron Greyjoy.
(Long side note here: What the hell? Does anyone else smell something fishy going on? Was it luck, or how does Euron know where to find Yara’s fleet? How does he know Ellaria Sand — no doubt his gift for Cersei — and her daughters will be aboard? Moreover, how is Cersei so well versed in the movements and alliances Dany has made? Qyburn’s little birds? Someone on the inside for Euron and/or Cersei? What the hell?)
Euron’s fleet intercepts Yara’s in the middle of the night, while Yara and Ellaria are below deck sucking down pints of ale and fooling around and the men are seemingly asleep. Euron’s fleet launches fireballs and jumps aboard Yara’s ship. The rest of the fleet is burning all around them. They’re overwhelmed. Ellaria and youngest daughter Tyene Sand are cornered and captured. Nymeria and Obara Sand are killed and left staked and hanging from the front of the burning ship.
Head-to-head with her uncle, Yara is defeated and assumed also taken away with Ellaria and Tyene. Theon, being taunted by Euron as he has his blade at Yara’s neck, is panicked and so reverts back to the shattered psyche of Reek. He jumps ships and the episode ends with him treading water watching the fleet burn.
So, Cersei, by way of Euron, draws first blood in this great war, dealing Dany’s regime a significant blow.
All of this after there was some disagreement around Dany’s stone table as how to proceed in her pursuit of the iron throne.
And therein lies the greatest conflict of this week’s episode: Loyalty and trust. Up to this point, save for the Sons of the Harpy, Dany has been able to unify her people. But now in Westeros, how do you unify families who’ve hated each other for generations? How do you gain their loyalty and trust? We know dragons are convincing and the Dothraki love it when Dany comes out of flames unscathed, but this is a different game. Dany’s picking up allies all with their own aspirations — Yara just wants to kill her uncle and take back her homeland, Ellaria and Olenna Tyrell want revenge on Cersei and the world rid of Lannisters (complicating how they feel about Tyrion’s advice to Dany).
Dany is very smart and understands her new allies’ motivations may be different than the allies she gained on the other side of the Narrow Sea. She knows Olenna isn’t in the room because she steadfastly supports her claim to the throne.
It’s no different everywhere else in the world, like in King’s Landing. There, Cersei has called in her remaining lords, including Randyll Tarly who’s conflicted. Tarly will fight for his queen, of course, but he knows Dany’s coming with three dragons and he’d kind of like to stay alive.
The same conflicts are being waged in Winterfell, where Jon announces his intent to ride to Dragonstone and parlay with Dany to form an alliance. She has the dragon glass, number of men and dragons he needs to combat the coming zombie army. But it’s made clear by his supporters, including his sister Sansa, that a.) He should not be leaving the North at a time like this and b.) He should not be leaving to go befriend a Targaryen who’s been getting a skewed, over-exaggerated reputation in Westeros about the things she’s done to get there.
This kind of conflict between his rationale and the conflicting opinion of his people is what got Jon murdered is season five. (See: wildlings)
Dany’s playing the game, rightfully trusting most in her longest-tenured advisers and prepared to press the rest to find out how loyal they really are. And if someone is not, well… as she tells Varys, she won’t hesitate to burn him alive.
. . . . Arya adjusts course for Winterfell, instead of King’s Landing (bummer…), after hearing that her brother, Jon, took it back from the Boltons. On the road back, she’s surrounded by a pack of direwolves, the biggest of which is her long-lost Nymeria. That familiarity saves her life, though Nymeria turns away and the pack goes with her.
. . . . Sansa’s left in charge of Winterfell — a dangerous proposition? After being threatened by Jon, Littlefinger may be even more motivated to influence Sansa in a way that’s a sharper departure from their already conflicting views on leadership and strategy.
. . . . Back at King’s Landing, we see what Qyburn has in store for Dany’s dragons, a huge spear gun, or crossbow.
. . . . Sam goes to work on Jorah’s greyscale using a forbidden treatment.
. . . . Melisandre arrives at Dragonstone and convinces Dany to propose a meeting with him. But remember: Jon and Davos, the two coming from Winterfell to meet Dany, banished Melisandre not long ago.
. . . . There was no movement this week from Bran, The Hound or White Walkers.