The pieces are finally moving and the game is better than ever!
Where the first episode of the series is tasked with reintroducing us to the faces and stories we might have forgotten over the extended break, the second episode can take us straight back into the action. Without an Ed Sheeran cameo in sight, “Stormborn” is a much stronger offering than the season opener. It finally feels like the pieces in this elaborate and bloody game of chess are moving, and it is thoroughly satisfying to see the single strands begin to overlap to form a more cohesive narrative.
WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW.
Picking up where last week left us, we get to spend a lot of time with Daenarys (Emilia Clarke) and her recently assembled council as she struggles to feel at home in Dragonstone. Frustrated at the lack of progress for her claim to the throne, there are tensions in the Targaryen camp as the alliance of Dothraki, Unsullied, Greyjoys, Tyrells and Martells weigh in with their opinions. Choosing to follow the reliable advice of her Hand, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Daenarys formulates a plan to siege King’s Landing by starving them out rather than an all-out assault.
This gathering of familiar faces from across the Westeros families presents new and interesting opportunities for interaction, and in particular there is a great exchange between the always wonderful Olena Tyrell (Diana Rigg) and the young Queen. With years of wisdom and experience behind her, the initial frosty attitude of Olena gradually fades to one of genuine warmth and honesty, and this is a relationship it would be great to see develop across this series.
Another familiar face returns as the Red Woman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrives at Dragonstone. Conversing with the Khaleesi in High Valerian, she informs her that the long night is coming, and the prince who was promised will bring the dawn. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) points out that in High Valerian, the word “prince” is genderless, so could also mean “princess”. Melisandre mentions Jon Snow and his possible claim to the throne. Deciding he would make a more powerful ally than enemy, Daenarys sends a raven to Winterfell. The much anticipated meeting of two of the shows favourite characters now seems closer than ever, and it will be really interesting to see this dynamic finally play out after so many seasons of anticipation.
The King in the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) informs the assembled Northern Lords that he has received word from Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) about the mountain of dragon glass underneath Dragonstone. Knowing this is an essential requirement to forge weapons if they are to stand a chance of defeating the army of the dead, Jon also informs them of the second message he has received from Tyrion Lannister, requesting his presence at Dragonstone to meet Daenarys. After silencing the protests of the Lords who lived through the Mad King’s tyrannous reign and fear the same may happen again, Jon leaves Sansa (Sophie Turner) in charge, and rides out.
En route to King’s Landing, Arya (Maisie Williams) meets a blast from the past in the form of her old pal, Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey). There a number of great callbacks to earlier seasons in this episode in fact, including Tyrion referring to his first meeting with Jon Snow way back in season 1, and it is great to see the show’s creators have not forgotten about some of the minor players as well as the major ones. Hot Pie does in fact have a major role to play in this episode, informing Arya that Winterfell is no longer under the Bolton’s control and Jon Snow is the new King in the North. Arya decides to return home to Winterfell, but put away those banners for the Stark reunion for now as Jon has already left for Dragonstone and Arya is as yet to arrive back home.
Also on her way home she meets another familiar face from the past in the form of Nymeria, her once-pet Direwolf. Now a wild wolf, very much large and in charge of a fearsome looking pack, Arya tries to reconnect with Nymeria and whilst it appears the Direwolf recognises her old friend and spares her life, she returns to the wild rather than joining Arya on her way home. Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of the Direwolves however; that increased budget for this season partially used to make Nymeria huge and imposing was undeniably effective.
There isn’t much action in King’s Landing this week, and perhaps quite deliberately, more focus is being afforded to those outside of the Capital as the plans to overthrow Cersei (Lena Headey) and the Lannisters come into play. Nevertheless, Cersei continues to be a force to be reckoned with, attempting to form an alliance of houses to stand against Daenarys, who are understandably a little fearful of the Dragons by her side.
Her Hand Qyburn (Anton Lesser) leads her into the depths of King’s Landing to show her a weapon which can defeat a dragon, and it seems the Lannisters are not prepared to go down without a fight. Whilst the Lannisters are certainly not to be ignored, their story is becoming less interesting than some of the others at present, but there is no doubt that the action will heat up pretty soon. Quite literally in fact if the dragons are going to make their presence known in King’s Landing!
Maester-in-training Samwell Tarly, along with Archmaester Embrose (Jim Broadbent) discover that Ser Jorah’s (Iain Glen) greyscale is too advanced and too widespread to treat, with the Archmaester declaring it all but a lost cause. The ever-determined Samwell however believes he has found a cure, and due to his fondness for Jorah’s father, Jeor Mormont, he begins the process of curing the greyscale. Game of Thrones has never shied away from blood and gore, but the scene of Sam trying to cut away the greyscale is truly wince-inducing; particularly with the stroke-of-genius cutaway it then makes to a pie being cut into. Make sure you’re not eating your dinner when you watch this episode!
The Narrow Sea
Whilst aboard their ships, Yara (Gemma Whelan), Theon (Alfie Allen), Ellaria (Indira Varma), and the Sand Snakes are attacked by the Euron Greyjoy (a wonderfully manic Pilou Asbæk). A ferocious and bloody battle ensues, and once again the production value of this series seems to get better and better. The battle is dynamically and beautifully shot, with the constant rain of fire providing a suitably dramatic backdrop. Euron captures Yara and Ellaria, and once again given a chance to redeem himself, Theon still haunted by his tortured past, instead jumps ship rather than continuing to fight.
Euron continues to be one of the most interesting new characters, and with him at the head, the Greyjoys should definitely not be ones to overlook as the seasons goes on.