Book-Reader’s Recap—Game of Thrones, Episode 702—”Stormborn”


Spoiler Note: This post is intended for those who have read the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. As such, the post itself and the comments will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, you can discuss this episode in our non-book reader (Unsullied) recap. Thanks!

Welcome to our book-reader’s recap of “Stormborn,” aka The One Where Everything Started to Blow Up. The producers promised us an accelerated pace this season and this episode started to deliver it. But not immediately. Actually, not until the end. Most of the episode is more steady build-up in the style of the premiere, and I’m here for that.

The first scene picks up at Dragonstone, where the last episode left off. Director Mark Mylod sets the tone first by showing us a furious rainstorm. I like that. It shows off the show’s always-ample special effects budget, it serves as a bookend to the fiery sea battle at episode’s end, and it provides an excuse to talk about how Daenerys was born during a storm, hence the title. Look at how much use the show got from a little sky water!

The thrust of the scene is a conversation between Dany and Varys, not something I would have expected. She’s wondering how she can trust a man who betrayed King Robert by clandestinely supporting Viserys’ claim to the throne, and who tried to have her assassinated. That doesn’t seem like a conversation he can win, but he shoots back with a clear-headed defense of his philosophy: he’s a pragmatist who does what he thinks best for the people, rather than for whatever queen or king he’s serving at the moment.

What I like here is that we’re getting a closer look at the real Varys. His tough talk in this episode little resembles the obsequious flatterer we met back in season 1. Like any good actor, Varys takes different tacks with different people, and he seems to respect Daenerys enough not to hide behind artifice. He tells her straight-up that he’s in favor of betrayal if it’s good for the realm, and she rewards him by being forthright in return, making him swear to bring his concerns to her directly under punishment of getting burned alive. It’s not a normal workplace dynamic, but I think it’ll work for these two.

The other takeaway from these scenes is that Dany is in full game-face mode. This isn’t sensitive Dany or waffling Dany or even angry Dany. This is dead-eyed, staring-into-the-middle-distance-to-show-you-she-means business-Dany. It’s the face she puts on when she doesn’t want people to know what she’s thinking, and it’s the face she uses when she greets Melisandre, who’s stopped by for a visit in the Dragonstone Throne Room.

Melisandre has her game face on, too, the one she used to wear 24/7 before her personal pet project Stannis Baratheon went down in flames and she had to reevaluate everything about her life. She’s announced as coming to Dragonstone specifically to see Daenerys, which is interesting. Did she see a vision in the flames? Did she just hear about the dragon lady taking residence in her old stomping ground and thought it sounded interesting? It’s unclear.

But she’s here now, mainly to deliver a message on behalf of the producers: summon Jon Snow to see you. On the one hand, it’s obvious what the writers are doing — the prospect of seeing Jon and Dany in the same room is enough to give fans heart palpitations — but over the course of six seasons, they’ve laid enough groundwork that this development makes sense. Tyrion did know and like Jon Snow, and Melisandre would have good reason to join up with a fire-loving slave liberator — the stage is set.

I also liked the bit where Missandei weighed in on Melisandre’s recitation of the Prince That Was Promised prophecy, clarifying that, in High Valyrian, it more accurately translates to “the Prince or Princess That Was Promised.” As Tyrion points out, that’s not something you’d put on a bumper sticker, but why let that stand in the way of good PR?

Later, Dany meets with her war council to discuss the ravishing of King’s Landing. It’s a well-written back-and-forth between the hawks (Ellaria, Yara), the conciliators (Tyrion), and a bunch of people who stand in the background looking sheepish while Lady Olenna spews forth golden spurts of sass. “How do you mean to take the Iron Throne?” she asks Dany when the Dragon Queen, siding with Tyrion, opts to convince the lords of Westeros to support her rather than attack King’s Landing directly. “By asking nicely?” It’s not like that zinger is particularly brilliant, but as delivered by Dame Diana Rigg, it kicks like a fly-bitten horse. Let’s treasure her, shall we?

Anyway, the plan is to use the armies of Dorne and the Reach to surround King’s Landing while Grey Worm and the Unsullied take Casterly Rock. (The Dothraki will just hang out, I guess?) The pulsing music tells us that this last bit is important, and I look forward to seeing it live on tee-vee, but for now we have a queen-on-queen convo to harken to, as the Queen of Meereen chats up the Queen of Thorns.

Olenna gives Dany a bit of advice worth transcribing in full:

"He’s a clever man, your hand. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon."

Is this good advice? Terrible advice? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely compelling advice. Dany has her game face on right now — she’s listening to counsel and managing her various alliances. But as with Varys, it may be better for the realm if she dropped it. I can see this conversation coming back to help, or haunt, Dany in the future. What would a Daenerys Targaryen unburdened by Tyrion’s moderating influence look like?

Before we leave Team Dany for the week, we have a Missandei-Grey Worm sex scene. I’ve been slow to get on board with this plot — the stakes always seemed so low — but as with a few of the other storylines (I wasn’t a huge fan of all things Sam starting out), I’ve come around.

And this scene, warts and all, is part of the reason why. It lands, I think, in large part because of the emotion we see in Jacob Anderson’s face. He is Unsullied. All questions have been taken from him. He’s basically a medieval robot. But dammit, we’ve watched him slowly show flashes of feeling over the last few seasons, from growling about killing the masters to looking too long at a bathing Missandei to sharing a kiss with her after nearly dying at the hands of the Sons of the Harpy. None of those moments quite worked for me, but now that I see they were all leading to this, I buy the moistness in Grey Worm’s eyes, and the quavering in his voice. I was moved by the tender way the pair stripped down, and how they found enjoyment in each other’s bodies even though they didn’t have all the necessary equipment. Sure, the camera lingered a little longer on Nathalie Emmanuel’s breasts than I would have liked, but it is a sex scene, and I bought the connection at the heart of it.

Not to make this all about Daenerys, but Missandei and Grey Worm finding happiness is an endorsement for her actions on Essos. Missandei and Grey Worm were dehumanized slaves. Dany helped give them a chance to reclaim that humanity, and they have. I’m now more invested in them than I have been before.

Traveling north, we pick up with Team Jon as he receives Dany’s invitation to come to Dragonstone. Because of course she sent it. She lets Tyrion write the communique for her, though. He mentions what he said to Jon in the pilot — that all dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes — as proof of his identity, but although Sansa acknowledges that Tyrion is by far the friendliest of the Lannister, she and Davos still feel that acting according to the summons is “too great a risk.”

This is one of a few points in the episode where I feel like the writers were doing dialogue gymnastics to justify conflict. The best (read: worst) part is when Davos slowly — oh so slowly — intuits that, hey, maybe fire-breathing dragons would be good to have against murderous ice zombies. Ya think? The pairing between Jon and Daenerys makes too much strategic sense to be ignored. I have trouble believing there’d be this much resistance to it.

But resistance there is, particularly after Jon receives the letter Sam wrote last week — the one about there being piles of dragonglass under Dragonstone — and unilaterally decides that it’s worth it to make the trip…in front of the lords of the North. Without consulting Sansa. Again. Considering how poorly that worked out last time, you’d figure he might take a different approach, but neither Starks nor kings are known for their prudence.

Jon’s decision to travel south meets resistance from all quarters, including Lord Glover, Yohn Royce, Lady Mormont, and Sansa. But Jon’s mind is made up, and he placates Sansa, at least, by giving her what she’s wanted for a while: control over the North, at least while he’s away.

Sansa’s little nod of assent is an effectively emotional moment, although I’m honestly not sure if that’s because of the scene or because the Stark theme starts to play in the background. Littlefinger’s slimy little half-smile is decidedly less emotional.

Next: an odd scene between Littlefinger and Jon in the Winterfell crypts. Jon is looking at Ned’s statue when Littlefinger saunters up behind him and starts lying about how he was “sorry” when Ned died and how Jon is the “last best hope against the coming storm,” as if he hadn’t been trying to poison Sansa against Jon for a season now. Jon looks freaking FURIOUS that this rancid armpit of a man is talking to him about this stuff in the sanctity of the crypts, and thoroughly loses it when Littlefinger mentions his love for Sansa. Jon throttles him against a wall. “Touch my sister and I’ll kill you myself.” Then he heads into the courtyard, gives Sansa a wistful wave goodbye, and rides off into the A plot.

First of all, let’s point out that this isn’t the first time a Stark (or Stark-like human being) has throttled Littlefinger in anger. Remember when Ned did that back in season 1?

And that, of course, didn’t turn out well for Ned, so I’m not prepared to call this moment a victory for Jon, honor, and America.

I found the scene odd because I wasn’t sure of what was driving Jon and Littlefinger. Jon’s been around the block enough times to know not to strangle a man who, however despicable, helped you win an important battle and who has powerful soldiers under his command. I suppose he hasn’t forgiven Littlefinger for turning Sansa over to the Boltons, but I dunno…if she can deal with Littlefinger, surely Jon can stomach him for propriety’s sake.

As for Littlefinger, if Jon really hates him that much, I don’t know what he thought he’d gain by playing the flattery card. But with Jon gone for the time being, Littlefinger will surely redouble his efforts to exert control over Sansa, however angrily Jon puffs his chest in Littlefinger’s general direction.

Down in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister has Dany on the brain. She’s gathered several of the great lords of Westeros, including several from the Reach, INCLUDING Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner), Sam’s jerk-off dad, in the Red Keep Throne Room. Showing admirable restraint, Cersei does not say “Join me or I will kill you and everyone you love,” but rather makes fairly cogent arguments about how the daughter of the Mad King is a few blocks short of a castle wall herself, what with her crucifying Meereenese noblemen and feeding them to her dragons when she got “bored.” So what if it’s not the whole truth? She sells it like it’s 50% off, and the lords are buying.

I particularly liked her argument about the Dothraki and Unsullied, because it rang true. Of course Westerosi lords wouldn’t want to fight alongside yucky topless foreigners with no penises and long unkempt hair. Tyrion and company worked that prejudice into their battle plans when they pointedly did not want use the foreign fighters to surround King’s Landing. But Dany brought these pieces onto the board, and Cersei is free to use them against her.

The foreigner argument may even bring Randyll Tarly to Cersei’s side, which is impressive. When I first heard about this development, it struck me as stupid. Randyll is such a steadfast, loyal man — both in the show and in the books — and I couldn’t see how he’d turn away from the Tyrells without betraying his character. But as Jaime pointed out, he said an oath “to the Crown” as well as to the Tyrells, and may love Westeros more than he loves serving his liege


lady. That should make his inevitable defeat more satisfying, because it comes from a genuine place.

Later, Qyburn gives Cersei a tour of the catacombs under the Red Keep, the ones where Robert stored the skulls of the Targaryen dragons. It’s gotten a serious visual upgrade since Arya was there back in season 1, but that’s beside the point. The point of the scene is for Qyburn to show off his massive anti-dragon crossbow, which shoots a huge spear right through the skull of Balerion the Black Dread and HOW DARE YOU DESTROY HISTORY IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM.

Just kidding. Life in Westeros isn’t nearly boring enough for it to need a museum yet. I’ll consider the building of one a mark that the place has finally shaped up.

Over at the Citadel, everything is gross. This is where the gross stuff lives this season. First the poop montage and now this. Seven save us.

I’m stalling. Sam and Archmaester Ebrose are surveying a shirtless Jorah Mormont, whose chest is crawling with stony, charred chunks of greyscale. Sam meekly suggest that maybe, possibly, perchance could they consider thinking about hypothetically curing him? If you don’t mind? John Bradley’s line readings always crack me up.

Ebrose poo poos the idea (sorry), but not before Jorah lets slip his family name. Sam, being a standup member of the Night’s Watch, recognizes Jorah as the son of his former Lord Commander, and like last week, decides to fuck procedure because he’s a hardcore metalhead rebel who ain’t about to let some ancient Oscar winner tell him not to do experimental surgery, consarnit.

Sam finds an old, forbidden procedure for curing advanced greyscale written by a maester named Pylos (which was actually the name of the guy who took over for Cressen in the books, but it looks like they’re just borrowing it here) and decides to perform it on Jorah at night, in secret. The way Ebrose tells it, the procedure was forbidden because there was too great a risk the maester who performed it would catch greyscale, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that Sam, who is hereby christened Maester Knievel, lives for.

As you can see above, the scene where Sam actually treats Jorah is disgusting. It looks like that, but there’s a lot more whimpering from Jorah, and gallons of pus. And it goes on for a while, because sometimes directors just wanna play with goo. And then the scene cuts directly to a dude at the Inn at the Crossroads cracking the crust of a pie and spooning out the creamy yellow filling within. “Thinking of watching something else?” Benioff and Weiss ask from behind the screen. “Bull. You’ll watch whatever revolting stuff we show you because the next scene involves Arya and you want to see that, don’t you?”

We do. Because not only is the next scene involve Arya — it’s a terrific scene involving Arya. Her plotline lost momentum for a bit when she was scrubbing floors in the House of Black and White, but it’s roaring back with a vengeance this year.

Arya’s first scene of the night involves a reunion with Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey), who’s still working at the Inn. They fall right back into easy conversation, although it’s obvious that Arya’s experiences as a serial murder have changed her much more than Hot Pie’s experiences as a line cook have changed him. “You’ve been making pies?” Hot Pie asks her after an offhand comment. “One or two.” Would that she have told him that story.

Plotwise, the point of this scene is for Hot Pie to reveal to Arya that Jon Snow is now the King in the North, news she absorbs with disbelief that gives way to confusion. Who is she, after all, if not the Girl With The List, the angel of death who checks off her names one by one? Can she postpone her vendetta against Cersei to reunite with her family? Can she give it up?

Like last week’s scene with Ed Sheeran’s Lannister battalion, we’re being reminded that Arya, however hard her exterior has become, is a warm, loving person who craves connection. She resists it in the scene with Hot Pie, but he breaks through and charms my eyes out of their sockets in the process. “Friends don’t pay,” he tells Arya when she tries to buy the pie she basically stole. “Can’t believe I thought you were a boy. You’re pretty!” And he still calls her Arry, the name she went by in season 2. You can see the walls around her heart start to crack in this scene.

And those walls slide right off in her next scene, which may well be the best sequence of the episode. Arya is in a clearing in a wood, making a fire. Her horse is spooked, she hears a noise, turns around, and bam: wolves. Several of them, and leading them: a giant, majestic and huge.

It’s Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf, the one she chased off to spare her from death by Cersei in the second episode of the show. It’s a beautiful full-circle moment as Arya asks her long-sundered companion to join her on a journey north to reunite with her family. But Nymeria, who’s been apart from Arya for far too long, turns and leaves. “That’s not you,” Arya whispers, and my heart breaks a little.

In the Inside the Episode featurette, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss explain that this is a direct callback to when Arya said something very similar to Ned Stark back in season 1 — Ned explained that Arya would grow to have children and run a household, but Arya was pretty damn sure that wasn’t for her. That reference works for the scene, but I actually like the line better as something more formless, an extemporaneous prayer Arya offers up to herself and her lost friends without knowing why, something that allows her to let go of the killer she was becoming, and to make peace with letting Arya Stark the vulnerable girl back into her life. Whatever it is, it was beautiful, man.

In any case, this is likely as much as the show will give book-readers of the Nymeria-and-her-wolf-pack-terrorize-the-Riverlands plot. I thought it was enough.

For our finale, we take you to the open seas off the coast of Dorne, where Yara is using her ships to transport Dornish soldiers to King’s Landing so they can get to besieging the place. The Sand Snakes, arrayed in hammocks and bickering about how many people they’re totally gonna kill, are among them. It’s nice they get to low-key annoy us one last time before two-thirds of them die. God, these wastes.

Ellaria, who’s getting drunk and flirty with Yara in another cabin, fares better, but only just. There’s some cute dialogue about a foreign invasion into Yara pants, and Yara gives Theon an adorable “Leave a sock on the door” shrug, but mostly it’s just a prelude to when Euron’s fleet bursts out of the night to rain on everyone’s parade.

How did Euron find Yara’s fleet? I’m not sure, but he’s brought flaming catapults, an industrial-strength gangplank shaped like a kraken, and several cases of rageahol. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an action sequence.

As Game of Thrones action scenes go, it’s pretty good, and not something we’ve seen before: a man-to-man fight fought on ships and lit by flaming masts spread across the ocean. Euron’s battle implements are great. The kraken gangplank crushes a dude, and his kraken axe makes a good show of splitting heads. And while Nymeria and Obara Sand never made an impact on fans, they at least get to go out with some splendor. Euron impales Obara with her own spear, and Nymeria even makes a passable showing of using her whip before Euron strangles her with it. Later, the two of them are displayed on the prow of one of the ships, the closest we’re likely to get to Euron tying Aeron to the prow of Silence in The Winds of Winter.

I will say that the whole thing is cut awfully fast — more wide shots would have been appreciated — but it’s fun as a novelty. And it has an emotional center in Yara, who sees her fleet going up in smoke and leaps from the upper deck like a superhero to carve her (n)uncle a new face. “Give your uncle a kiss!” he says. Don’t be weird, Euron.

Overall, Pilou Asbæk does a terrific job of justifying his addition to the cast. I wanna say he’s not the Euron from the books, but really, who is Euron in the books? When I think of him, mostly what I see are his physical accoutrements — the eyepatch, the blue lips…Asbæk doesn’t have those. But he does have crazy bug eyes, a maniacal laugh, and a lust for blood. He’s not subtle, but neither was Joffrey or Ramsay. I’m enjoying what he brings to the show, and am looking forward to Yara tying him to a mast and sinking the ship or something down the line.

But for now, the battle ends in defeat and tragedy. Euron gets the better of Theon, and taunts the “cockless coward” to come at him. Theon, seeing devastation all around him, starts to regress back to his days as Reek, and I marvel, not for the first time, at what an impressive, transformative actor Alfie Allen is. He jumps overboard, leaving his sister to the whims of their uncle.

We end with Theon clinging to a piece of flotsam, his sister lost to him, him lost to himself, perhaps for good. It’s a dark, bold ending, and great setup for the next and probably final leg of Theon’s journey.

Oh, and Euron also captures Ellaria and Tyene Sand. I hope you enjoy your gifts, Cersei.

Next: Watch the trailer for 'The Queen's Justice,' the third episode of Game of Thrones season 7

Odds and Ends

  • I enjoyed Varys’ monologue to Daenerys, but couldn’t help but guffaw when he told her “I choose you.” Having lived through the Pokémon fad, I can never take that phrase seriously again.
  • I also liked how much shade Dany was throwing at her “cruel, stupid and weak” brother. She turned on Viserys a long time ago, but it’s always nice to get a reminder of how incredibly dead he is to her.
  • Notice that Tyrion looks up at Dany like a well-fed puppy when she parrots back his line about her not wanting to be Queen of the Ashes. It’s good to like your job.
  • There was some dialogue in the first scene that seemed to exist purely to move along the conversation. “But you didn’t serve [King Robert] long,” Dany says to Varys. “You turned against him.” I mean, he served him for over a decade, but I’m not here to tell you the proper definition of “long” as it pertains to time. Your Grace.
  • Along those lines, how in the hell did Dany and Varys not have their conversation during the long trip over from Meereen? And if Stannis knew there was dragonglass under Dragonstone, why didn’t Davos tell Jon? Why does Sam need to discover it? Why, it’s almost like the writers are ignoring logic to create drama. For shame!
  • Melisandre thinks that Dany has a part to play in the wars to come, “[a]s does another, the King in the North, Jon Snow.” Yeah, she isn’t qualified to speak for Jon Snow, a man who doesn’t know Daenerys from a pile of hay, but Mel would hardly be the first salesman to engage in puffery.
  • Benioff and Weiss just couldn’t resist making Tom Hopper pronounce his character’s name out loud, could they? Dickon. His name is Dickon.
  • Jaime to Randyll Tarly: “I can think of no better man [to be Warden of the South] than Randyll Tarly.” Show immediately cuts to Sam Tarly. Neat.
  • Actually, the editors may have been having too much fun with this episode. I also enjoyed they cut from Missandei’s mounting orgasm to a shot of Archmaester Ebrose putting his hand on a book, which looked a lot like someone in the throes of passion gripping a headboard. It’s a party in the Game of Thrones editing bay.
  • Ebrose gives a shoutout to Maester Cressen, Stannis’ old maester, during his scene with Sam and Jorah. #NeverForget. Actually you can totally forget. It was nice to hear his name, though.
  • Ebrose: “If you’re going to write histories, Tarly, you have to do the research. If you want people to read your histories, you need a bit of style.” All the meta references, like the gross stuff, are happening at the Citadel.
  • I’m not sure how vigorously this is being debated, but I think Theon bailing on Yara is perfectly in keeping with his character. It’s not his proudest moment, but if we thought he had really put Reek behind him after spending years getting broken down psychologically by Ramsay, we were fooling ourselves. You don’t just kick that to the curb.

So what happens next week? Does Yara survive being Euron’s prisoner? How will the inevitable meeting between Jon and Dany go? And most importantly, what disgusting thing will Sam do next? Showering in vomit? Digesting toenail clippings? Something with boogers? Look, I don’t want to be thinking about this stuff — the show is priming me!

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