Monday, August 14, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.2: "Stormborn"

Read the previous entry in the series here. 
Read the next entry in the series here.

7.2 Stormborn
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Mark Mylod

The tone of this episode is kind of all over the place, and I think it’s a function of some seriously uneven writing. There are several major flaws in characterization, some seriously irritating deification of Tyrion, a bit of just plain bad writing, and then a couple of actually kind of nice scenes.

The issues with Daenerys not being the actual person in charge, but rather taking on whatever personality the men around her tell her she has, continues in this episode. The problem is that “the men around her” is now Tyrion, and it’s making Dany feel very much like a puppet-queen rather than an actual leader. Her own impulses, when not directed or controlled by Tyrion, still tend to be fire and blood, which doesn’t bode well for her reign at all. And either the way Emilia Clarke is playing the character or the way she’s being directed has her so incredibly emotionless that it makes her seem even more insane.

So we open on Dragonstone, which is in the grip of a furious storm, giving Tyrion and Varys an excuse to remember why one of Dany’s nicknames is “Stormborn” (and letting them give a reason for this episode’s title, because there isn’t another one anywhere else in the episode). Dany is less than impressed with the storm or how Dragonstone doesn’t feel like home. Forget the whole epic nostalgia scene from last week; she’s sick of Dragonstone and wants to get off of it ASAP. She remarks that in her position, Viserys would have taken King’s Landing already, and Tyrion yanks her leash to remind her that utter destruction is bad, and she’s “not here to be queen of the ashes.” But Dany’s not done being a Targaryen, and turns on Varys to demand to know what exactly he’s up to. After all, he was instrumental in getting Aerys off the throne, then Robert, and what if he doesn’t like Dany? What kind of a servant just up and goes on the hunt for a better ruler when the current one doesn’t suit him? (It’s kind of a fair question.)

Varys replies that he feels for the smallfolk because he spent time as a beggar, a thief, a prostitute, and a slave, and he will always serve that side of the realm. This would have been a really good place for Dany to point out that Viserys was called the Beggar King and she also has known serious, crushing poverty in her life, but we’ve apparently decided to forget that part of Dany’s background. We’ve also chosen to forget that she regards her marriage to Drogo as a form of slavery; she was sold to him in exchange for his horde. Instead, Dany orders him to promise that he’ll come straight to her first if he thinks she’s failing the smallfolk (fair), and that if he betrays her, “I’ll burn you alive.” Yep, she’s gonna be a great queen. Just like her daddy. For some reason, though, Varys finds this admirable and says he’d “expect nothing less from the Mother of Dragons.”

Speaking of fire, Melisandre has arrived to attach herself to yet another power figure who may or may not be the Prince Who Was Promised. Missandei assures Dany that the word in Valyrian is gender-neutral and thus can refer to a prince or a princess. Melisandre has learned her lesson about prophecies, it seems, and demurs when asked if she thinks Dany is said Prince, but suggests that an alliance between Dany and Jon Snow would be a good idea. Tyrion’s startled at the mention of Jon Snow, but tells Dany Jon’s a good man (he knew him for like four days when he was still an idealistic little boy) and she should talk to him. Dany does what she’s told and has him send a raven “inviting” Jon to Dragonstone, where he’ll swear fealty to Dany.

A few days later, the women of Dany’s alliance gather to discuss strategy and it would be a much more powerful feminist message if three of the four women weren’t pushing for utter destruction and a campaign of terror and the fourth wasn’t parroting what her single male advisor told her. Yara and Ellaria want Dany to unleash the dragons on King’s Landing immediately. Olenna says being loved is all well and good, but everyone loved Margaery and now she’s dead, so now she’s come around to Cersei’s way of thinking apparently and insists that fear is the only way to rule. Ellaria yells at Tyrion about Oberyn’s death, and Dany shuts all of them up, demanding that they show Tyrion some respect, and says she’s not here to be queen of the ashes. Does this woman have an original thought that isn’t fire blood burning kill kill kill?

Dany starts to lay out their plan to lay siege to King’s Landing, and Tyrion interrupts her when she stops to take a breath, and she literally takes a step back to give him the floor. Their plan is to not put the Unsullied and the Dothraki (where are they, by the way? How are they dealing with having sailed across an entire ocean? Is Dragonstone big enough for all of them?) within sight of King’s Landing, because that would give Cersei political leverage to yell about foreigners invading their soil. Instead, the Dornish and the Ironborn are going to lay siege to King’s Landing (because it’s not like anyone sees the Dornish as barely Westerosi or the Ironborn as ravening pirates) while the Unsullied and Dothraki take Casterly Rock. Tyrion tries to sell it as Casterly Rock being an important symbolic target because it’s the seat of House Lannister, but none of the remaining Lannisters seem to care about Casterly Rock anymore, and it’s not a strategic spot that would help with taking the rest of Westeros in particular, so it felt to me very much like this was Tyrion’s idea because he wants Casterly Rock. He’s wanted it since Jaime became a Kingsguard, he demanded it of Tywin, and now he has the opportunity to take it by force and become Warden of the West, or at least Lord of Casterly Rock while he serves as Hand of the Queen.

The rest of the plan is needlessly complicated: Yara and the fleet will take Ellaria back to Sunspear, where they’ll pick up the Dornish armies and shuttle them back up to King’s Landing. There’s no explanation as to how the Unsullied and Dothraki will get to Casterly Rock (which is on the complete opposite side of the continent). The other women seem to think this is all a perfectly good idea, though, except Olenna, who tells Dany that listening to clever men is all well and good, but she needs to be a dragon. Because, yeah, let’s ignore the advice of people who know what they’re talking about (I don’t necessarily think that includes Tyrion, but clearly they do, so) and go on sheer instinct instead. Because that never ends badly.

One thing the Dragonstone plot does give us this week is a really sweet scene between Missandei and Grey Worm that only has a couple of minor missteps that probably wouldn’t even have been noticeable if it weren’t for this show’s terrible track record with nudity and sex. Missandei comes to see Grey Worm because he’s going to be leaving to attack Casterly Rock and they don’t know when they might see each other again. They’ve been adorably awkward around each other up to now due to the obvious limitations on their relationship. Grey Worm tells her that she’s his weakness, that as an Unsullied warrior, he had all fear, doubt, and pain conditioned out of him, but now that he’s no longer a slave and he’s been allowed to have a relationship with Missandei, he knows fear. The scene that follows is one of the healthiest and sweetest sex scenes ever done on this show, but it suffers a bit for being primarily focused on Grey Worm and his response to Missandei seeing him for the first time. There’s several intense close-ups on his face during the disrobing process, and he’s clearly confused and afraid. Meanwhile, Missandei (who apparently doesn’t wear any underwear under her dress), doesn’t get the same emotional exploration. Instead, the camera spends a lot of time looking at her breasts. Her one reaction shot (as opposed to at least three for Grey Worm) isn’t shot at the same close-up as his is; instead, it’s from this overhead angle that looks over Grey Worm’s shoulder and down her naked body. Then, of course, the camera’s focused pretty exclusively on her as they find ways to be intimate that don’t involve penetration. It could have been much, much worse, and by the standards of this show, it’s really tame, but it continues the issues with sex, women, and nudity the show has had since the get-go.

The Tyrion-worship continues up at Winterfell, where Jon shares the note with Sansa and Davos. Interestingly, Tyrion has left out the whole thing about swearing fealty and seems to instead be offering an equal alliance. That’s probably going to come back to bite someone. Jon asks Sansa what she thinks, since she knows Tyrion better than any of them, and she says he’s actually pretty okay for a Lannister, and at least he was nice to her. Davos isn’t thrilled about the implied threat in the mention of the Unsullied, Dothraki, and dragons, but he does point out that dragons breathe fire and fire kills wights (which apparently Jon needed to be reminded of), so an alliance shouldn’t be off the table.

A few days later, Jon receives Sam’s raven from the Citadel telling him about the dragonglass, and that makes up Jon’s mind. This time, he doesn’t ask Sansa her advice beforehand, because why should he do that when he’s about to make an enormous decision? He tells his court about the summons from Dragonstone, emphasizing that he trusts Tyrion because he’s a good man (again, they knew each other for like four days), then about the dragonglass, then that he himself will be traveling to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys. Sansa yells at him in front of everyone again, and for once even Lyanna thinks that Jon’s had a bad idea. Jon says he has to go because only a king can treat with a queen (what?), and that he’s leaving Sansa in charge of the North as the last Stark in Winterfell (let’s see how long this lasts when Bran finally shows up).

Before he leaves, though, Jon goes to visit Ned’s grave in the crypts. Petyr saunters down like he totally belongs here and tries to sweet-talk Jon, who’s having none of it. Petyr mentions that he loves Sansa “as I loved her mother” (gag), and Jon puts him up against the wall like Ned did back in season one, threatening to kill him if he so much as touches Sansa.

In King’s Landing, Cersei’s trying to get more of the kingdoms under her control by playing the “foreign invader” card, as well as the “insane Targaryen” card. The problem is that she’s not wrong; Dany did bring foreign armies to Westeros, she did crucify hundreds of Meereenese masters, and she did feed one of them to her dragons. Cersei’s not even really exaggerating; she doesn’t need to. Dany hasn’t shown that she can be a stable or sane leader. Randyll Tarly is concerned about the dragons, and Qyburn assures him they’re working on something (that something, we see later, is a ballista). Then Jaime works on Randyll, offering him the position of Warden of the South if he abandons his allegiance to the Tyrells and backs Cersei instead. Randyll says he’ll think about it.

Down in Oldtown, Ebrose and Sam are discussing Jorah’s greyscale infection, and Ebrose says it’s too far advanced to cure by this point. He gives Jorah one more day before he has him removed and shipped off to Valyria to live out his days with the stone men, and what he does with that day—meaningful look at Jorah’s sword—is up to him. Sam argues for a couple more options, but Ebrose shuts him down. Sam offers to notify Jorah’s family, which is when he learns Jorah’s a Mormont. Sam’s not giving up, though; he keeps pestering Ebrose about possible treatments, and Ebrose points out all the reasons why those treatments won’t work. The whole Citadel storyline again denigrates intellectuals and “clever men” in favor of instinct and blind luck; it doesn’t matter that Ebrose has all this experience and all these books, he’s just wrong because Sam needs him to be. Granted, Martin wrote the maesters as a bit myopic about some things and a lot hidebound about other things, but as usual, the show takes that to the nth degree.

Sam takes the exact remedy Ebrose told him would not work (which of course means it will) and was expressly forbidden by the Citadel and gets to Jorah before he can do more than write a letter to Dany (addressed “khaleesi” because of course it is) and look vaguely in the direction of his sword. Sam explains that a) he’s a member of the Night’s Watch, knew Jeor Mormont, and was there when he died (Jorah has surprisingly little reaction to this); b) he’s not letting Jorah die on his watch; c) this might actually not work, but will hurt and Jorah should try to keep from screaming. To help with that, Sam hands him rum like he’s doing battlefield surgery and doesn’t have access to milk of the poppy or something, then starts literally slicing the affected tissue off Jorah’s chest.

They cut from pus pouring out of Jorah’s chest to a couple of guys at the Inn at the Crossroads stabbing into a gravy-filled pie because that’s not disgusting and it’s not like pot pie is one of my favorite foods or anything, so thanks Mylod. Arya’s at one of the tables, and Hot Pie comes in. Arya seems surprisingly uninterested in seeing him and just steals some food off his tray and starts gobbling. He asks if Brienne found her and she says yeah but doesn’t elaborate. He asks what she’s doing here and why she’s not back in Winterfell. Apparently the miraculous psychic powers everyone else has to know what’s happening elsewhere in the kingdom haven’t kicked in for her yet and she didn’t know about Jon and “the battle of the bastards” (which, can we not call it that in-universe, please? It’s just ridiculous). She perks up and becomes a lot more personable when she finds this out, actually treats Hot Pie like a friend for a second, then goes out to the crossroads and turns north instead of south.
Out in the countryside, she builds a fire and tries to get warm. Her horse is super antsy, and she hears wolves. Soon, she’s surrounded, and from behind her appears a massive grey-and-white wolf, who she recognizes as Nymeria, who we last saw in season one. Arya tells her she’s headed north and invites Nymeria to come with her, but the wolf turns and leaves because that’s as much wolf footage as we could fit into the CGI budget. Arya’s devastated for a second, but then smiles and says “that’s not you,” echoing her comment to Ned in season one that being a wife and mother and managing a castle is “not me.” In the “Inside the Episode” featurette, Weiss says that “Arya’s not domesticated, and it makes sense that her wolf wouldn’t be, either.” The choice of words (you don’t domesticate a person, and it’s even more problematic when applied to a woman) bugs me, but the sentiment makes sense. If only we’d spent more time on the wolves=Stark connection to the north theme, or with Arya’s wolf dreams, or anything that would have made Nymeria’s appearance less out-of-nowhere.

The final sequence in the episode left a really bad taste in my mouth for a lot of reasons. Yara’s fleet is on its way south, and in one of the bunks, Nymeria, Obara, and Tyene are arguing about who gets to kill who when they take King’s Landing. Nym and Obara twit at Tyene for constantly quoting Ellaria, and Tyene yells that maybe she’ll kill both of them and then she won’t have to share kills. Super healthy dynamic between these young ladies. Over in another area of the ship (I don’t know ship terminology well enough to be more specific than that), Ellaria, Yara, and Theon are drinking. Through some small talk, Ellaria discovers that Yara is bisexual, and since they’re two women interested in women in the same room, of course sexytimes have to occur. Ellaria asks what Theon, as Yara’s protector, would do if someone got too close, proceeding to get too close and note that Theon’s doing a bad job because there’s “a foreign invasion” happening right now, which is gross on so many levels. It again goes with the oversexed woman of color thing, as well as playing female sexual interaction to the male gaze, and falling into the oversexed bisexual thing. Not to mention it’s just terrible writing.

Thankfully, consummation is halted by Euron’s fleet attacking, pulling a Black Pearl appearing out of the mist. The ensuing fight is a mess, lit only by the ships on fire from the fireballs coming out of . . . somewhere, with no clear leadership from anyone. This would have been a good time to showcase Yara’s leadership skills and make Euron actually frightening by showing how his chaotic approach overwhelms Yara’s more organized approach, but instead it’s just a free-for-all mess. Obara and Nym attack Euron and he kills them both in ways that show just how ridiculous their choices of weapon are (and thus makes Jaime and Bronn look even more incompetent in retrospect).

Yara and Euron finally face off, and he ultimately overpowers her, then taunts Theon to try to save her. Theon, completely triggered by all the blood and violence around him, instead jumps into the water while Euron cackles. Silence sails off with Yara, Ellaria, and probably Tyene prisoner on board, leaving Yara’s ship with Nym hanged from the prow with her own whip and Obara staked to it with her spear; the camera work gives us a good long look at them, then Theon’s reaction, then them again. This show loves nothing more than gratuitous female nudity, but dead women are a close second. In the “Inside the Episode” bit, Weiss admits that while they were writing this episode, they “realized” that trauma isn’t just something you “get over,” and so Theon would understandably be having trouble here. If only they’d figured that out before giving us Yara’s completely disgusting pep-talk last season. Meanwhile, according to Benioff, Yara feels betrayed by Theon failing to save her, because it’s not like Theon was weaponless and Euron had his axe to Yara’s throat and thus there was nothing he could do but get killed or get her killed.

This show is trying so hard to be better and fix some of its mistakes, but there are a lot of clear blind spots that they don’t even seem to realize are problems.

Nymeria Sand
Obara Sand

Next week: Fire meets Ice. Cersei gets revenge. Olenna tells Jaime a secret.

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