That’s Not You
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The arrival of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was intimately tied to the success of her marriage to Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa), a marriage that was designed to deliver her brother Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) the Iron Throne of Westeros. That plan fell apart rather quickly and in the show’s universe at least, the lens of Varys (Conleth Hill) and Illyrio Mopatis (Roger Allam) turned quickly towards Daenerys. For six seasons, her journey was building towards her arriving on the shores of Westeros, a queen coming home to liberate the Seven Kingdoms from the tyrannical and frankly, stupid rule of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). That was a journey predicated in part on Daenerys’s belief that her father was a just ruler who was deposed in a violent coup by men who simply wanted to plant their arses in what may be the most uncomfortable throne in fictional history. That fiction was brutally broken by Ser Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) before his untimely demise and then Daenerys suddenly had to face the historical reality that her father was the one who was despised and that Robert may have been a hero. Suddenly Daenerys had to take stock of the entire lineage of the Targaryens and what that represented to the people she aimed to rule. She had to face a reality that her family name and the symbol of the red, three-headed dragon may not be the symbol of prosperity at all. The Targaryen name might not mean anything at all.
“Stormborn” is an episode where family ties are often simply not that relevant when several threats are converging upon a chaotic world. It is an episode where alliances must be forged merely to survive, even if such alliances have the potential to go up in flames. Varys is a man who exemplifies this worldview. He grew up in the most morbid, horrifying conditions in a mutilated state. Slowly he realized that the contents of a man’s letters were more important than the contents of his purse, but what his experience overall taught him was the plight of the common man. One of the weaknesses of Game Of Thrones as an adaptation of A Song Of Ice and Fire is that it has not had the firm grasp the novels have had on the plight of the common man, the broken man that formed one of the most famed speeches in George R. R. Martin’s texts. The show has touched upon those themes from time to time and here Varys brings it to light. He did what he had to do to survive, to make a living for himself in which the only people that seemingly had an easy existence were the aristocrats enshrined within their stone castles. He knows what it means to be a commoner in a world where commoners are used by those aforementioned aristocrats, from their labor to their lives. He does not care for the Targaryen family ties, for he knows what the Mad King was capable of. He does not care for the Baratheon family ties, for he knows what Robert was incapable of. He cares for the people and if Daenerys fails, then his allegiance to her would break.
Daenerys finds herself impatient on the shores of Dragonstone, waiting to make her next moves and wipe out her enemies. Yara (Gemma Whelan) suggests that she immediately move onto King’s Landing, while Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) counteracts that suggestion, noting that a multiple-pronged attack would be more strategic. Yara and Ellaria (Indira Varma) would travel to Sunspear to prepare the Dornish army and the Tyrells would prepare their soldiers from their seat at Highgarden. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), meanwhile, would lead the Unsullied and attack Casterly Rock. A mutliple-pronged siege of King’s Landing in Tyrion’s reasoning would be more effective than a direct attack on the capital. Daenerys, Tyrion warned with a prescient note, did not want to become the Queen of the Ashes. She agrees to the plan and so do her councilors, but Daenerys perhaps takes note that Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) is the most intelligent individual in that room. Lady Olenna’s advice echoes that of Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) when she noted that Daenerys’s best moments were when she took a moment to believe in herself. Clever men are useful, she wryly notes, but she outlived them all by being a rose with the thorns attached. Daenerys is a dragon and she must be one if her desire to sit on the Iron Throne was going to be embraced.
In the North, Jon (Kit Harrington) must look past the familial ties that keep him bound to his fiefdom at Winterfell and towards the great war, as he is so often fond of noting. Daenerys, at the behest of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and her council, decides to send a raven to the North, inviting Jon to come to Dragonstone and bend the knee. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and even Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsay) are against the decision and understandably so as the history of Northern leaders going south has arguably had a fairly poor track record. For Sansa at least, there was some semblance of a memory where she remembered her own departure from Winterfell and the horrid roads that journey took her down. But Jon, overriding the objections of essentially everyone, agrees with Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) and prepares for a journey to meet the Dragon Queen. His reasonings, however, do make sense. Sam’s (John Bradley) letter notifies him that Dragonstone was built atop a mountain of dragonglass and it appears to be a more logical solution than hunt for all of the remaining Valyrian steel swords in Westeros. As Ser Davos also helpfully notes, dragons breathe fire. Daenerys may proclaim herself to be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, including the North, but Jon also does recognize that there simply are not enough men to fight the White Walkers if they come south. He simply has to set aside those familial bonds for now in favor of addressing the larger battles to be fought, handing over the reigns of Winterfell and the entire North to Sansa as he does so.
Arya (Maisie Williams) is set to avenge her familial ties by going south to kill Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) and in a metaphorical moment that lacks subtlety, she runs into Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) at the Inn at the Crossroads. There’s his famed bread but a key piece of information for her as well, that the Boltons were defeated in battle and that her darling half-brother Jon is now King in the North. An instant light flickers in Arya’s mind. She was moving beyond the North but a certain part of her had had to have wondered if she would go home and when she would do so. In an instant, the memories associated with Needle begin flooding into her mind, memories associated with the relationship that was arguably the closest to her heart. She stands at a fork in the roads, looking southwards once before deciding that her love for Jon was more important than her hatred of Cersei. At a quiet forest clearing, suddenly Arya sees a group of wolves appearing around her. She waits with baited breath and then Nymeria appears in all of her glory. Maisie Williams is Emmy-worthy in this sequence as her visage immediately melting into a cacophony of grief, regret, and an unabashed, genuine love, the likes of which she has not felt in a significant amount of time. She asks Nymeria to come along with her to Winterfell, to come home, but Nymeria rejects those requests. Arya in that moment realizes that Nymeria was not domesticated, could not be domesticated, in a line that is a direct callback to when she insisted to her father Eddard (Sean Bean) that she could never be a lady.
Euron (Pilou Asbæk) delivers the whopping climax to what was largely a table-setting episode, albeit one with a fantastic series of character interactions. He launches a surprise attack against the Greyjoy and Martell portion of Daenerys’s fleet, landing on their primary ship as if he were coming straight off of a heavy metal concert. Euron proceeds to butcher a plethora of Ironborn with an admittedly wicked kraken axe before Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Nymeria (Jessica Henwick) attack him. Never getting much, if anything, in the way of character development, they at least garner some fantastic fight choreography in their final moments. Ellaria and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) are captured as the presumed gifts from Euron to Cersei and this portion of Daenerys’s fleet lies in flaming tatters. After a brutal fight, Euron takes the ass-kicking Yara (Gemma Whelan) captive and goads Theon (Alfie Allen) to come and rescue his sister. As a nod to book lore, Euron’s pirates are cutting off the tongues of the defeated Ironborn and all of this bodily mutilation brings Theon’s PTSD as Reek flooding back into his mind. Yara’s expression is of sadness, grief, and regret that she couldn’t truly save her brother from what he had undergone. It is worth noting that there was not much he could do in that moment, but Alife Allen nevertheless does a great job selling the internal conflict he is struggling with in that moment. He jumps ship, landing in the embers of the water as Euron’s maniacal laugh rings throughout the chilling air. The silent ending as Theon looks upon the fiery ruins in hopelessness and shame, is perfect. The Silence, for now at least, reigns supreme.
+Daenerys realizing that Varys’s allegiance to the commoners of Westeros is more important than his allegiance to the Targaryen Dynasty,
+“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty.”
+“That gender has no noun in High Valyrian.”
+Jaime’s expression at Cersei referencing the Mad King was perfect
+Thank goodness for anesthesia
+“Touch my sister, and I’ll kill you myself.”
+The scene between Missandei and Grey Worm was genuinely touching and brought a tear to my eye. I will defend their relationship in the show to the bitter end.
+Cersei rallying the bannermen of House Tyrell is a smart move
+/-I’m not sure how I feel about the dragon harpoon gun just yet
-I sincerely don’t understand the point of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) anymore. He’s sincerely useless at this point.
-The treatment of Dorne will always be the most significant disappointment in this adaptation for me. I understand the complexities that lie within the adaptation process, but it is no excuse for serving the Dornish with such sloppy writing. It just hurts a little bit more that the house that received the worst writing was the only one led by people of color. That being said, the actors did a fine job with what they were given. My hats off to Keisha Castle-Hughes and Jessica Henwick. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.
Episode Title: Stormborn
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Image Courtesy: Vox
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