Theon. Buddy. I know Ramsay Bolton left you a little… uh… short, but do you really have to act like it at every possible opportunity?
The Worst Greyjoy’s latest dick move (pun possibly intended) capped off “Stormborn,” the second episode in Game of Thrones‘ seventh season. The gripping naval engagement that pitted Yara and Theon against Uncle Euron, leading their own Iron Fleet, was a burst of activity in an hour of TV that was otherwise occupied with backroom machinations and medical oddities.
This is what qualifies as the calm before the storm in a place like Westeros: rallying cries and anguished grunts. The armies of the seven kingdoms are gathering, the dead march ever-forward in the snowy north, and the seas are awash with the blood of former friends and allies.
What did the critics think?
Mashable‘s own Laura Prudom extracted the silver lining from “punk rock ruler” Euron’s bloody naval assault: he solved Game of Thrones‘ “Dorne problem.” The books dive deep into Dorne’s politics, establishing Oberyn’s “bastard daughters” as bona fide badasses, but “in streamlining the Dornish storyline for TV,” the Sand Snakes lost “what made [them] so badass their agency.”
While we hate to see any show killing off female characters (especially women of color), on this occasion, it seems like there’s just not enough narrative real estate left in the show’s final 13 episodes to give the Sand Snakes the treatment they deserve, so while we lament what the trio could’ve been, we’re not entirely mad about their fates on the show.
Elsewhere on the internet, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Josh Wigler praised the Battle of the Greyjoys as the first real shot in what promises to be a bloody march to the looming series finale next season.
Euron and Yara’s battle was a likely outcome for this week, given how close Dragonstone and King’s Landing are to one another. If Euron’s “gift” to Cersei (Lena Headey) was going to be delivering or conquering the rest of the Iron Fleet, then it was always going to be a quick leap toward that conflict. In the season premiere, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) warned Cersei that they looked like the losers on paper. … Consider Euron’s gift delivered, then, as he’s severely undercut the Mother of Dragons’ campaign to take the Seven Kingdoms. And consider the cast’s promise of season seven’s epic battle sequences already fulfilled and we’re only two episodes deep at this point.
You had Sansa, stepping in for Jon while he heads south to (finally) meet with Daenerys and Tyrion. Cersei, preaching hate in a rather drafty throne room. The Dragon Queen, of course, determining whether or not Varys is a simple opportunist or a true threat to her rule. And then Olenna, Ellaria, and Yara pondering the ethics of war and the need for an iron fist. Olennas warning that pure politics alone leaves a leader vulnerable felt like the counterargument to Varyss calls for populism. They wont obey you unless they fear you, she told Daenerys, entreating her to be a dragon, not a sheep. But as a leader, Dany has always understood that simple fear alone wont cut it. True allegiance needs to be based on respect, too, and that can only be earned, not taken by force.
The Guardian‘s Sarah Hughes took note of Stormborn’s parallels with real world matters Cersei’s anti-Dothraki firestarting and Varys’ “‘power to the people’ speech,” but she cautions against getting too caught up in drawing lines. Game of Thrones‘ real strength, she contends, is its ability to surprise.
There was gentleness amid the violence as Grey Worm and Missandei finally shared a bed in a tender scene and a sweet reunion between Arya and Hot Pie (who continues to excel in his small but vital role of providing key information to characters at crucial moments) as well as a sadder one between Arya and a pack of wolves. Best of all though was the scene at the very end when poor broken Theon faced off against his uncle as he held his sister captive. In a different (lesser) show Theon would have broken free of his paralysis and either saved Yara or died trying but Game of Thrones greatest strength has always been its clear-eyed acceptance that not everyone can be a hero. The episodes final scene in which Theon floated on a piece of driftwood gazing up at the dead bodies of Obara and Nymeria Sand as hell burnt all around him was a brutal, bleak reminder that some things are simply too broken to mend.
(Pssssst. Arya’s reunion with Nymeria the direwolf had layers, not all of them sad.)
Over at A.V. Club, Myles McNutt reminded those who would backseat drive Jon Snow’s dominion over the north: he has seen some shit. “None of you have seen the army of the dead,” Snow reminded his subjects as they grumbled over his plan to meet with Daenerys Targaryen at Dragonstone.
Similarly: McNutt pauses to remind us all that perspective matters. What we see is not necessarily what individual characters see.
Jon is one of few characters who has a long view of the events of Game of Thrones thus far. As viewersand readerswe have the ability to see the big picture, knowing whats happening in every corner of this story. We know the threat beyond the Wall is greater than any threat in Westeros, and even know that Jon should trust Tyrion given his kind words about his former traveling companion to his queen. But the Northern Lords dont know this in the same way that we do, much as no one but Bran knows that Jon is Danys nephew, and much like Arya Stark had no idea that the Starks had retaken Winterfell.
The Washington Post‘s Alyssa Rosenberg gets to the heart of what makes this series tick. The “game” of throne-hunting only takes you so far; winning, and then actually ruling, is another matter entirely.
Say the worst happens: Qyburns (Anton Lesser) giant crossbows kill Danys dragons, Euron destroys her fleet, and Euron and Cersei share the Iron Throne. Their victory would quickly turn not merely to ashes, but to ice. They arent people who think of tomorrow, or of what theyll do with power once theyve secured their own persons and destroyed their enemies. The real twist in Game of Thronesis thatruling a country, as opposed to winning one, isnt a game at all. The people who act as if this is only a matter of moving pieces around on a chessboard may be left with the spoils.But it will literally be spoils if they cant think of how to rule: Winning that way doesnt get you anything that feels like an actual victory.
And hey, let’s excerpt one more bit of insight from Ms. Rosenberg. She touches on Samwell Tarly’s gruesome effort to beat back Jorah Mormont’s struggles with Greyscale, and in the process highlights what may well have been one of the smartest cinematic flourishes to date on Game of Thrones.
I appreciate the series commitment to funny grossness in his storylines this season. Though the episode doesnt really explore whether Sams experimental treatment of Jorah Mormonts (Iain Glen) greyscale is leading Sam down the path that Qyburn took, the cut from Jorahs mortified flesh to the contents of one of Hot Pies (Ben Hawkey) creations, was pretty terrific.
We’ll see you next week when we assume Cersei extracts sweet revenge on Ellaria in Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice.”
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