STORMBORN PICKS UP THE PACE AS GAME OF THRONES RAMPS UP THE ACTION
Last week’s season 7 premiere of Game Of Thrones (Dragonstone) was a masterclass in how to make an hour long “previously on…” compelling. Serving up loads of exposition amongst a recap of where all our favorite characters stand on the human side risk board known as Westeros, the premiere handled a lot of table setting as we prepare for the final two seasons of the show.
The slow approach has never been something series show runners David Benioff and D.B Weiss have shied away from in the past especially to begin seasons but with only 13 episodes split between season 7 and 8, one has to wonder if a sense of urgency is required. Given the fact that the show is constantly juggling several intertwining storylines, questions concerning the show’s ability to stick the landing are inevitable. For we have seen shows in the past struggle with this very problem in the past (cough LOST cough) but whether HBO sees this more as a potential opening for spinoffs and prequels as rumored remains to be seen.
Thankfully the second episode (Stormborn) does do well in easing some of these concerns pushing the pace and as usual shifting the power dynamics across the seven kingdoms. So where do we stand with our major players?
Daenerys / Tyrion
In poker, there is a term called slow rolling wherein a person with a monster hand (usually Aces or Kings) takes an unreasonably long time to make what should be a snap decision. Frowned upon by the community, those who slow roll are often cursed with bad karma from the other players.
Given the events in Stormborn, one has to wonder if Dany’s decision to slowroll with her massive holding will come back to haunt her. For one, she holds the most power among all the factions with her many alliances, unsullied army and three dragons at her disposal and two, Jon Snow and the North is at least partially distracted by the oncoming white walkers while the Lannisters are rallying loyalty in their fragile grip on the iron throne. Theoretically, this would make this the optimal time to make an aggressive play against the crown no?
In any case, Dany opts for the passive approach as Tyrion justifies such action as the proper way to gain the loyalty of the people, therefore, ensuring Dany’s seat on the throne is more permanent than temporary (well..as permanent as things can get in Westerns I suppose). Such a strategy is hesitantly agreed upon by the other major parties aligned with Dany but as Olenna Tyrell ominously warns: “Do not trust clever men (AKA Tyrion)”
Choosing not to seize the throne makes sense from a narrative perspective however as it allows for the long awaited meeting between Jon Snow and Daenerys. For now, Dany still holds the most power among her competitors though such an advantage may be short lived as the balance of power is constantly in flux.
Cersei / Jamie Lannister
No more is that more evident than in King’s Landing where Cersei goes full Trump and through a combination of fear mongering, lying and appealing to the 1% manages to consolidate far more power than what we saw last week (#MakeWesterosGreatAgain?). Helping her cause is the recruitment of the elder Tarly (Sam’s father) who is poised to turn on the Tyrells like Kyrie Irving is poised to turn his back on the Cavs.
Outside of the campaigning, it seems that Maester Qyburn has found other hobbies outside of making real life zombie / Bane hybrids concocting an anti dragon device which he proudly gives a live demonstration for. The nitpicking asshole in me has to wonder though, haven’t those dragon skulls wasted away over time? How is that an accurate representation of a real life fire breathing dragon?
After her mass slaughter and singing tour with Ed Sheeran last week, Stormborn sees a much less involved Arya. As she makes her way to King’s Landing she reunites with Hot Pie who parlays some vital information about Jon’s triumph in the Battle of The Basterds.
**Like Captain Shang in Mulan, I would start to question Hot Pie’s sexuality just a little bit as he declares Arya pretty (which she is) but the only difference between Arya now and the last time these two met was a change in hair length so either Hot Pie is a little bit gay or at least bi or he is just blind. Just because it worked for Peeta though doesn’t mean that baking will win you the heart of the badass though. Unlike Katniss who somehow had time to balance a love triangle amidst a rebellion, Arya doesn’t have time for your shit**
Anyway upon receiving this news, Arya alters course and heads towards Winterfell (cue the Skylar Grey song) where she encounters another old friend in the form of her old dire wolf Nymeria. There is a bit of ambiguity on her “It’s not you” statement though I took it to be a metaphorical reflection as the wolf in many ways represents her transition from puppy/child to savage killing machine. I am however still holding out for an Arya / Nymeria Princess Mononoke style team up in the future.
Jon Snow / Sansa
In Winterfell, Jon notice of the existence of Dragon Glass in Dragonstone from Sam and receives a request from both Dany and Tyrion to travel to Dragonstone. How convenient. This news causes friction in the North as Sansa and Jon once again fail to keep their disagreements behind closed doors debating the pros and cons of embarking on such a trip.
For Sansa, Jon’s departure signifies a weakened front against a potential attack from the Lannisters but the primary concern for Jon has always been the oncoming white walker army making his trip imperative.They do end up forming a semi united front however as Jon hands over power to Sansa in his absence. How well Sansa holds onto this control remains to be seen however with Littlefinger whispering into her ear.
An interesting note that is featured in both the Arya and Winterfell segments tonight is the transfer of information and how it comes to be. The show has often employed the use of the ravens as an ex machina to get information across quickly but how this transpires and when it does for each character remains a small yet critical part of the show. After all, information is vital when the pieces on the board change so rapidly so how this element is handled as the pieces come closer and closer together is essential.
In the most exciting segment of the second episode, Euron Greyly delivers on the promise he made Cersei last week by attacking Danerys’ fleet (with Sand Snakes in tow). The objective besides weakening Dany’s offensive is to capture Ellaria Sand. Famously responsible for the death of Cersei’s daughter, it is presumed that Ellaria’s head will be on a spike outside King’s Landing in the near future.
From a technical perspective, I had some issues with the execution of this scene as it felt poorly done in comparison to some of the major battles Game of Thrones has done in the past. This particular scene felt rushed and out of the blue wherein the action was poorly edited, the pacing was inconsistent and there was no real sense of who was fighting for who in the action. Typically this show does much better in displaying these set pieces but perhaps it’s saving its budget for some of the more important battles down the line.
Overall I found Stormborn to be a solid continuation of the table setting put forth by the premiere. Things are still moving along slowly relative to where our characters are but with Jon on the move and Euron setting up to be this season’s big bad there is never a dull moment in Westeros.
GOT Power Rankings
Cersei / Jamie – Big Week for the Lannisters as they go from a fragile position last week to a much more positive outlook this week. Securing Turncoat Tarly will be key. Questions regarding that weapon though
Tyrion – Despite Olenna’s warning it was a pretty good week for Tyrion as he shows his worth to Dany and remains second in command (and perhaps the person she trusts the most)
Grey Worm – My dude finally gets some action (how that works remains unknown given his status as an unsullied but there are other ways to please women as he knowingly employs)
Euron – A successful raid and capture should be enough to present as a gift to Cersei. One has to wonder who wants to marry into THAT family, however.
Dany – Despite some minor setbacks, she is still the top dog, though questions remain as to the loyalty of those around her
The Bottom 5
5. Theon – This guy just can’t catch a break. Everywhere he goes bad luck trails.
4. Jorah Mormont – Good news: Sam has a cure for Greyscale Bad News: It involves cutting offpretty much all your skin so you look like you are REALLY into your Attack on Titan Cosplay
3. Samwell Tarly – Last week he was scooping poop, this week he’s scraping off pus filled skin. At least your dad’s not an asshole….wait….
2. Hot Pie – Joining Jorah in Team Friendzone is Hot Pie, It’s okay dude, you can eat your feelings away. Also, your name is Hot Pie
1. Ellaria Sand – So two of your daughters are dead. Your other daughter is captured alongside you, you have to face whatever sadistic punishment Cersei has planned. Not a good week for the Sand Snakes.