Monday, July 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 2: Stormborn (Meetings and Reunions)

The second episode of season 7 is an episode of meetings and reunions. Some of them are happier than others, as lies in the nature of things, and they are all fraught with tension, even when there is hope to be had.

On Dragonstone, the great war meeting is underway. Olenna Tyrell, now the Matriarch of her house officially and not just behind the scenes, is mobilizing her troops, but her bannermen prove restless. Ellaria Sand brought her daughters and the promise of the armies of Dorne to the island. Varys brings his own intellect, and the Greyjoys some sorely needed fleets.

However, the alliance is on edge. Daenerys doesn’t know if she can trust Varys, who has betrayed two kings for a shadowy agenda of his own, and is only won over when he takes a passionate plea for the people, and swears to Dany not to murder her without giving her a chance at reform, which is a big commitment coming from Varys. The Dragon Queen also visibly asserts her independence from her councilors, even of such distinguished ones as Tyrion.

This makes Olenna’s warning and advice a bit superfluous and cryptic: what exactly does she mean by “be a dragon”? It sounds an awful lot like something a Trump advisor would say, and not exactly like sane advice, an uncomfortable callback to Sansa’s adoration of Cersei in the first episode. In its usual way, the show sells it with great committed actors, great lighting and camerawork and stunning visuals, and yet, it leaves me queasy. What exactly is the lesson here that the show seems to give about politics? I sincerely hope this will become clearer as the season progresses.

The battle plan follows the usual logic the show has since deployed for military maneuvers, which is to mean none at all. At this point in its progression, one has to simply accept this. I have to say, the idea that the Dornish and the Ironborn are “the Westerosi” is funny, but apt considering the coalition Dany brought to Westeros.

There are still meetings to be had on Dragonstone, though, because the Lady Melisandre arrives, whipping the command of her native High Valyrian as an instant cudgel to convince Dany that she knows things, informing her that she is the “Prince Who Was Promised”, while being honest enough that she’s not exactly sure what this does mean other than she’s important. It’s a bit of a moot point to make given the dragon-y nature of Dany’s kingship, but her wartime coalition is now largely in place.

However, a meeting in King’s Landing is a bit out of the question, because Dany does not intend on bringing Fire and Blood to the people (taking a cue from Tyrion here, who borrows her old daddy’s line of being a “king of ashes” to great effect) and so needs to use more time-consuming manners of warfare. There, in turn, require more allies. And so Tyrion can meet with his old pal Jon Snow and his ex-wife Sansa, albeit it only as pen-pals at the moment, inviting Jon to Dragonstone and not making too big a fuzz of the whole “bending the knee”-thing that Dany demands. I’m sure that will be absolutely no point of contention going forward.

However, the strategy Tyrion pushed Dany into accepting may backfire spectacularly. While Yara and Theon set sail to ferry the Dornish troops over to King’s Landing, Euron rudely interrupts the sexy-time Yara enjoys with Ellaria and smashed the whole fleet, killing the Sand Snakes and taking Ellaria and Yara in the process. Theon, confronted by his uncle, is enveloped by another old acquittance of his: the PSD given to him by Ramsay comes back with a vengeance, leading him to abandon his sister instead of reciprocating on her rescue attempt, and joining the dead and the wreckage that Euron left behind. With one stroke, Dany’s alliance has lost two of its three members. It may be time for more drastic measures.

One of these might be waiting in the North, where Jon is urged to stay instead of go to Dragonstone, in turns by the memory of old Aerys’ treachery towards Rickard Stark and in turns by the desire to have the king here to take matters in hand. Jon is having none of it, leaving the North to Sansa and departing with his anthropomorphic good sense, Davos. Judging from Littlefinger’s smile, who took up his old hobby of needlessly antagonizing Starks by telling them that, yes, he really wants to fuck Catelyn and Sansa, this is not a stable situation.

The last reunions of the episode are reserved for Arya. She consciously seeks out her old buddy Hot Pie, who is baking the best bread in Westeros, who tells her that Jon is King in the North now. The spark of humanity that she gained by breaking bread (and hare) with the Lannister soldiers in the last episode grips her in this emotional, tear-jerking revelation, as she – equally consciously – either delays or entirely absconds her reunion with Cersei to instead seek the one that matters. Little does she know that Jon will not be there, but at least, Sansa will be.

In Oldtown, Samwell Tarly meets Ser Jorah Mormont, linking his story with Daenerys’ as well as Jorah’s with the Night’s Watch’s tale. The meeting leads Sam to instinctively take high risks to help out the son of his former Lord Commander. We will see if any good comes out of it.

Before Arya can reach the North, though, another rather unexpected reunion happens. Nymeria and her wolf-pack meet her, but they don’t join. It’s not clear why. But the wolves also don’t kill Arya, they simply leave. It is as if the two of them had recognized the change they went through. Is this a departure forever, or is it temporary, until they find each other again? It’s left ambiguous.

1 comment:

  1. In retrospect it should have been clear that this was going to be the only scene with Olenna and Dany. It has the air of "final advice" to it. Clearly this is a setup for Dany to just cut the Gordian Knot once all the machinations fail. But like you said, I'm not sure exactly what the thematic reasoning for this is. Clearly going "full dragon" will ultimately be necessary In Show, but why exactly was it the "right" or the "smart" thing to do in the first place? Dany seemingly keeps getting punished for being humane or strategic, and here her logical plan to use her overwhelming forces cautiously to minimize deaths only fails because the showrunners place a thumb on the scales of the opposition. It's nowhere near this bad, but it kind of reminds me of when you and Sean talk about how The Walking Dead is always reminding viewers that exercising humanity and restraint is just dumb naivety that gets you and your family killed in the end.

    All gripes aside, it's a compelling watch and paced very well. This is a very cinematic season so far.