Monday, July 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Daenerys and Tyrion Plot Their Battle Strategy While Arya Meets an Old Friend in 'Stormborn'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 7.02 "Stormborn"

Daenerys receives an unexpected visitor. Jon faces a revolt. Tyrion plans the conquest of Westeros.

Game of Thrones had an excellent season premiere last week. And yet, it was easy to criticize Daenerys and Tryion's plan to sail to Dragonstone in order to craft their conquest of Westeros instead of going straight to King's Landing and striking while Cersei wasn't prepared. The Khaleesi has amassed an impressive army, assembled a number of powerful allies and has three dragons. She can easily take over the city with one very powerful show of force. "Stormborn" sees Daenerys and Tyrion trying to rationalize their decision. They are trying to lead through diplomacy. This is a show that respects diplomacy and the desire to usher in a new era of peace. And yet, that won't be that dramatically satisfying to watch as a viewer of television. So, it was always bound to be a decision that would come back to hurt them. The extent of that damage doesn't take long to actually play out in the story either. So, it could be seen as a stalling technique in order to keep Daenerys off of the Iron Throne for a little while longer. It also leads to a number of great action moments that show just how chaotic and deadly this war is going to become. The opening battle has been fought and proven that this won't be an easy victory for the Mother of Dragons.

Of course, that moment of action doesn't happen until the end of the episode. Up until that point, the purpose of the hour seems to be the characters all understanding the power of allies in the wars to come. Everyone needs to assemble the biggest army armed with the most powerful tools in order to emerge victorious. Cersei and Daenerys are waging their war for the Iron Throne. Cersei is making her xenophobic appeal to the lords of the South in saying that Daenerys - the daughter of the Mad King - has brought savage foreigners and mindless warriors to Westeros for the first time. They will rape and kill everyone they love. And then, she will punish the lords in the most vicious and brutal ways possible. It's powerful and timely rhetoric that does seem to appeal to one familiar face - Randyll Tarly. His family may be loyal to the Tyrells but he cannot support Lady Olenna on her quest for vengeance. Plus, Qyburn presents Cersei with a new crossbow weaponry that can be used to hurt Daenerys' dragons. Those creatures really tip the outcome of this war in Daenerys' favor. And now, the show is at least doing what's necessary to at least give the perception of it being a more fair fight. It seems unlikely that it will lead to Cersei's victory. But it could compromise the dragons just when they are needed to battle the White Walkers in the north.

Meanwhile, Daenerys has assembled quite a collection of misfits and unconventional leaders as allies. They are either women or men who are mutilated or looked down upon by society. It's empowering to see these individuals unite in order to overthrow a tyrannical person in power who wishes to silence them. Tyrion has devised a solid strategy to fight this war with the least amount of casualties as possible. Daenerys wants to win without needing to burn down her kingdom in the process. She wants to unite the kingdoms against Cersei while also stopping any allies from helping her. It's a good idea to listen to Tyrion because he has proven himself as an effective strategist in military operations. His plan to attack Casterly Rock sounds very enticing because after being discussed for most of the series' run it will finally be seen on the show. And yet, Lady Olenna has a point as well in her private conversation with Daenerys. Tyrion's advice is sound but it doesn't live up to her reputation as a dragon. The people need to fear her in order to follow her. The people of King's Landing loved Margaery. And yet, she still died in a brutal way. Olenna is still alive because she's cunning and not afraid to strike in a vicious way when necessary.

Elsewhere, Jon is sent two ravens that confirm that he will need to meet with Daenerys in order to form an alliance that will be in both of their best interests. The raven sent from Dragonstone is signed by Tyrion. Jon and Sansa don't know if they can trust him after everything that has happened. Of the Lannisters, he's the best one because he's not as cruel. But it's still hard to trust a Lannister and a Targaryen because of their family history. But the raven from Sam in Oldtown confirms that Jon needs to head to Dragonstone because of the mountain of dragonglass that needs to be mined in order to fight the Night King's army. This is conflicting information. But it's a decision that Jon makes himself and then tells the rest of his allies. It's the first instance where Lady Mormont doesn't support his position. The lords and ladies still remember the Mad King's rule and question whether or not there is any truth to the existence of three dragons. Sansa also objects because Jon needs to be in the north in order to protect it from the impending arrival of the Night King. But Jon is undeterred. He's determined to go to Dragonstone because it's the only way to ensure this alliance. It's something he believes needs to happen now. Him placing Sansa in charge of the north is a very sweet and heartwarming moment as well - even though Littlefinger is also pleased by it and trying to figure out how to manipulate it to his advantage.

The show is also setting the stage for the big Stark reunion at Winterfell. The audience has been forced to question whether or not Arya was too far gone in her quest for revenge. Her journey across the world has been a very entertaining and compelling story across the seasons. But now, her actions are just as cruel as the villains the audience is meant to cheer against. She not only killed Walder Frey but forced him to eat a pie made of his sons. She lured the rest of his family into a trap in order to poison all of them. She's capable of being just as vicious as Cersei. It's the tragic nature of her journey. She has to become like the people she wants to kill. But is that desire more powerful than her wanting to reunite with what little family she has left? Whenever she tried to reunite with another Stark, it has always ended in disaster. Her father was beheaded in front of her while her mother and brother were killed before she got to reunite with them. Jon taking back control of Winterfell is wonderful news. It's so rewarding to see her change course as a result. It proves that she is still a Stark. She still wants to be a part of that family. And that leads to one of the more interesting scenes of the episode. The Starks all got Direwolves at the start of the series. Most have been killed by now. Arya's was sent free early in the first season. So, it's incredible to see the beast reappear here. It's an encouraging sign that should remind Arya of her roots. It does accomplish that even though the two of them have changed dramatically. Arya is returning to her home but her direwolf won't be joining her. That's not his home. It's not his destiny. Arya accepts that even though she's surprised to reunite with this creature. She wants the reunion to be even bigger but understands that things have changed too much to be as simple as that.

"Stormborn" concludes with an epic sequence that proves just how chaotic and unprepared everyone is for war as well. This season has featured a lot of talking and political maneuvering. A lot of that is excellent. It's wonderful to watch Daenerys confront Varys about all the people he has supported and betrayed over the course of his life in his desire to protect the realm. That's a compelling scene. But this war won't be easy for Daenerys. Her plan isn't going well. It's all because of Euron Greyjoy and his new Iron Fleet. He vowed to give Cersei a gift. And now, he plans on delivering on that promise. He attacks Theon, Yara and Ellaria as they sail to King's Landing to form the blockade of the city. It's an unexpected attack. It's not one of the best action sequences the show has ever done. It's a little confusing because both sides come from the same region and are wearing similar clothing. It's dark and fire is literally reigning down upon the ships. Plus, there are no major characters of consequence. Yes, Theon has been on the show since the very beginning. His death would be significant. But it doesn't have strong emotional stakes to it where it's intense in the uncertainty over who lives or dies. There is death in this moment. It's just hard to muster up too much emotion over the passing of the Sand Snakes. It's more intriguing that Yara and Ellaria are taken prisoner in order to be delivered to Cersei while Theon decided to jump overboard to save his life. It's the latest act of cowardice by Theon. That proves that he is still a defeated man unsure of his actions. He's not a good protecter of his sister. He flees. It may ultimately be a good decision as he can help Daenerys regroup. But it's also important to note that he won't be the man trusted to lead anyone into battle. He's still the coward broken by Ramsay. He still isn't the leader this war needs right now.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stormborn" was written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Mark Mylod.
  • The archmaester believes that nothing can be done to cure Jorah of his greyscale. And yet, Sam is willing to try something very dangerous because of what Commander Mormont did for him when he first joined the Night's Watch. It's a nice bit of history that informs the character dynamic so well. Odds are Sam will be successful, right?
  • Of course, there has to be more to curing greyscale than simply pulling the infected skin off of the body? Yes, it's a brutal sight. And yes, Sam also has a special ointment he plans on applying to the skin. But if it was that easy, a cure would be more commonly applied throughout the world.
  • Melisandre has arrived in Dragonstone to be an advisor to Daenerys as well. She returned to this place in order to advise the next person she believes fulfills the prophesy of the Lord of Light. And yet, Jon and Davos are heading to Dragonstone now. So, a confrontation with her seems likely - unless she can help with the alliance with Daenerys.
  • Hot Pie returns! He's the person responsible for informing Arya that Winterfell is no longer under Bolton control. It's weird that she didn't already know that given her travels. But it's also great to have this familiar character deliver the news. Plus, it shows just how much she has changed since the last time he saw her - which was when she was pretending to be a boy.
  • Euron Greyjoy's fleet is very impressive. The shot of him boarding Theon and Yara's ship is very intimidating and shows that death is about to reign down on them. And yet, the question still persists on how he and the Iron Islanders were able to build these ships so quickly?
  • Missandei and Grey Worm's romantic dynamic has been developing for awhile now. Of course, questions always remained on how intimate they could be given his mutilation. However, the show still puts in the effort to prove just how hot and sexual things can get between them once the clothes do come off.
  • A good memory of the history of this show is very much rewarded throughout this episode. It plays on the strength of Jon and Tyrion's conversation on the Wall in Season 1, the loss of Arya's direwolf, Robert Baratheon wanting to hide the dragon skulls but not destroy them, Varys' role in the assassination attempt on Daenerys, and Littlefinger returning Ned's remains to Catelyn Stark.