Just as the second episode of its last season brought back the show’s most beloved character, Game of Thrones’ newest episode has brought back the show’s most dreaded: the Sand Snakes. However, in the most surprising turn of all, it was not a bad scene.
Director Mark Mylod delivered — although I still haven’t forgiven him for killing Ser Barristan Selmy off with some pitchfork-wielding peasants in a back-alley — the Greyjoy-on-Greyjoy action set-piece was stunning, and Obara, Nymeria and Tyene Sand gave their best performances in the entire series.
Euron Greyjoy’s epic entrance on Yara’s vessel was perhaps his first real entrance in the show as Euron, and not just a deranged clown. As he took down each of the Sand Snakes and his niece Yara, we saw actor Pilou Asbæk finally come into his own in his role as the greatest pirate in the world.
If only it had not had such an awkward start. It’s hard to believe that Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand had no warning that the fleet was under attack until they were already being burned and boarded, especially when Yara had previously expressed knowledge that Euron was out there and after them. Surely they would have taken precautions: lookouts with warning horns, maybe? If only they had, we could have also avoided the painfully awkward seduction scene below deck; Ellaria Sand’s “foreign invasion” line proves once again that Dorne can always be relied upon for cringeworthy dialogue.
So where does this leave Daenerys? Two of her Dornish allies are dead, the other two captive with Yara, presumably imminent gifts to Cersei Lannister. Her Iron Fleet has been overcome, but the Tyrell and Martell armies are still on standby to lay siege to King’s Landing.
Tyrion will probably lead the assault on Casterly Rock with the Unsullied and the Dothraki, and claim it as his own. Tyrion’s strategy is not dead yet, and is more likely to fall by Olenna’s words than by the hands of Euron Greyjoy: conflict is beginning to mount between her quiet counsel and the Imp’s. Dany’s obvious pleasure at the Queen of Thorns’ urges to rule more ruthlessly warns of devolution into Mad Queenship and terror rule.
After seven years, Emilia Clarke is still struggling to be convincing as Daenerys. Her character was given several big political scenes this episode, and she failed to deliver in all of them. Conleth Hill as Varys and Carice van Houten as Melisandre both gave their all in their exchanges with the queen, but Clarke’s wooden delivery held the scenes back from being as powerful as they were written.
The standout actor in Stormborn was undoubtedly Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. Her scenes with Hot Pie at the Crossroads Inn and Nymeria in the woods were both extremely strong, with touching callbacks to previous seasons; one old friend reminding her of her home in the North, the other reminding her that she no longer belongs there. And how great was Arya’s comment about making pies?
There were more callbacks to previous seasons elsewhere: Jon and Tyrion remembering each other and recommending allegiance with each other was precious.
A more disturbing homage occurred in the crypts of Winterfell: it would have been satisfying to see Jon get Petyr by the throat if it wasn’t obviously what he had wanted, proving that Jon has the ‘quick temper and slow mind’ of his uncle Ned, who Petyr had provoked into choking him in the same way in Season One.
Littlefinger’s plans for when Jon is away are a mystery, but I have only one question regarding Jon’s meeting with Daenerys: why bend the knee when you’re both unmarried? There is a way for you to both remain monarchs in Westeros…
Quick thoughts from a book-reader:
—Will Qyburn’s crossbow play the role of Dragonbinder in the show? Or will it prove effective against Dany’s dragons, and kill one for it to rise from the dead as a White Walker dragon?
—Nice name drop of the phrase “Master Plan” by Dornish Ellaria Sand in the War Room, an effort at homage to Martin’s butchered storyline as Dorne conspires with Daenerys Targaryen.
—REEK! Ellaria’s teasing proved correct: Theon is too damaged to be of much use to his sister anymore. If he drowns in the sea (and the fan theory of Gendry picking him up in his row boat proves false), could the Drowned God revive him and bring him back stronger than ever, to play a Victarion-like role?