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‘Game of Thrones’ Review: Did ‘Stormborn’ Bring an Early End to Daenerys’ Reign?

Game of Thrones Stormborn Review
HBO

Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Season 7’s Latest, “Stormborn”:

If last week’s premiere offered another meandering hour in the expansive world of Westeros, “Stormborn” was much closer to the Game of Thrones fans want from Season 7. Not only did we have one of the show’s first major sea battles (claiming two familiar characters in the process), but also the return of two fan-favorites, and several notable Daenerys meetings. The overall pace isn’t slowing down one bit either, as Jorah may already have an answer to his greyscale, and Arya has quickly shifted course from murdering Cersei at King’s Landing to reuniting with her family at a reclaimed Winterfell.

The reason “Stormborn” mostly works is the arrival of Daenerys in Westeros reverberating through other, disparate stories. We see Cersei spinning some of Daenerys’ own exploits against her to recruit loyal houses like the Tarlys (and putting Qyburn to work on the dragon* problem), while Jon Snow now has another queen inviting him to bend the knee. In that case at least, we’re left to wonder what Jon might think of Daenerys if not for Sam’s raven alerting him to the need for dragonglass. Nevertheless, the Stark in Jon will always put necessity before politics, and it’ll be interesting to see how Sansa fares under the burden of northern rule in his absence; yet another female ruler ascended to the throne.

*We got one prediction right last week, and one doesn’t introduce anti-dragon armaments without at least one of them suffering the consequences.

Game of Thrones Stormborn Review
“Okay, but how did we get this *down* here?”

There’s a lot to be said of appearances shaping politics that “Stormborn” gets to play with. Both Cersei and Sansa have trouble separating Daenerys from her mad, pyromaniac father, and Cersei is particularly devious to emphasize that Daenerys would crucify noblemen (as opposed to calling them slavers). In the same way, Tyrion has enough foresight to avoid the image of Daenerys burning Kings’ Landing to the ground while a Dothraki horde sacks the city; preferring to surround Cersei with armies of her own realm and force her surrender. Whether Cersei would ever concede defeat is another matter, but it’s an effective contrast to see Daenerys borrowing Tyrion’s own words for her strategy, where Cersei needs Jaime to iron out her message after the fact.

That’s just the political side; “Stormborn” had plenty of satisfying personal moments as well. Grey Worm and Missandei finally consummated (ish) their relationship in a manner that clearly spells doom for one of them; two* Sand Snakes bit the big one, and Theon seemingly abandoned Yara to die at Euron’s hand. The battle in particular wasn’t the series’ finest; chaotically lit and jumping all around the action, while dispatching Nymeria and Obara Sand with the same one-episode indifference as they’d given the men of Dorne last year. Season 7 is racing to build up Euron as our most immediate human threat, and a Mother of Dragons who can go toe-to-toe with Varys, Lady Olenna and Melisandre clearly needed at least some defeat.

*Like the last Iron Fist star who returned a season after their relevance, the writing was more or less on the wall for Jessica Henwick. Still, taking out both Sand Snakes with their own weapons was either an inspired, or hilariously vindictive end.

Game of Thrones Sand Snakes Death
“Aww, I liked that one. I think. Wait, which one survived?”

And maybe that’s why the destruction of Yara’s fleet doesn’t quite have the impact it should. Game of Thrones struggles more and more to balance the scope of its story with TV realities; weighing our need for closure with arguably superfluous returns like Hot Pie or Nymeria, so long as they steer Arya back toward Winterfell. By the same token, Sam’s tenure in Oldtown has so little patience that he ignores the Archmaester’s commands for a second week, presumably to shuffle Jorah back to Daenerys and drop any dead-end pretense of greyscale’s significance to the overall story. Unless, you know, Jorah died from the treatment after all. What a story, then!

There’s no one right way to trim six seasons’ worth of international storylines for a final thirteen episodes, and I suspect we have plenty more gratuitous cameos and expedited crossovers before the real endgame begins. In that regard “Stormborn” was still a tad all over the place, but with arguably more exciting setup. And in the Game of Thrones world sometimes just the appearance of momentum is a good place to start.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Conleth Hill got to play Varys at his most honest all series, to answer for his betrayals of various leaders while promising to tell Daenerys if she failed the people, rather than desert her over it.
  • Of course, we can’t overlook Melisandre reiterating the same “Azor Ahai” Prince/Princess talk that fans have debated for years.
  • You know there’s trouble when Lyanna Mormont isn’t necessarily on Jon’s side.
  • I … weirdly don’t hate Randyll Tarly anymore?
  • Only Olenna Tyrell could make the equivalent of “be your spirit animal” sound like sagely advice.
  • Great work by Maisie Williams making Arya seem like a hard, changed person from the last time she saw Hot Pie.
  • What was Littlefinger thinking, to tell Jon he wants his sister?
  • Yara repeatedly coming to Theon’s defense at Ellaria Sand’s taunts was a nice way to make Theon’s cowardice sting later. Then again, what exactly was the sound tactical play he could have made there?

Game of Thrones Season 7 will continue next Sunday with “The Queen’s Justice,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.

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