… I wish we had a release date for Winds of Winter.
We open with a huge storm. Lightning flashes, waves roll, and I have no idea what’s happening or where we are, because it’s too dark to see anything.
But then we see Dany, looking out of the window of Dragonstone, with Tyrion and Varys beside her. “On a night like this, you came into the world,” Tyrion expositions to Dany, like a) she doesn’t know and b) that has any relevance whatsoever. “All the dogs in King’s landing howled through the night,” Varys adds, because I guess it’s unnecessary backstory time. Dany says she wishes she could remember it. She wishes she could remember… being born? In a storm?
She says that she always thought coming to Dragonstone would be a homecoming, but it doesn’t feel like home, and this really sums up Dany’s tragedy, doesn’t it? She’s looking for a home, but she doesn’t have one. She will never have one. She can travel and conquer and go back where she was born, but no where will ever feel like a place that she entirely belongs. She has built up Westeros in her head as her homeland, but now she’s here, it doesn’t feel any more right than anywhere else she’s ever been.
Varys tells Dany that Cersei is failing, and the lords of Westeros despise her, but Dany cuts him off. “They call out for their true queen?” she asks. “They drink secret toasts to my health? People used to tell my brother that sort of thing, and he was stupid enough to believe them.”
Varys doesn’t seem to pick up on the whole “don’t lie to appease Dany right now” thing, and tries to tell her that everyone’s rebelling because they believe in her. Dany challenges him on betraying her father and working for Robert Baratheon, but her advisors STILL don’t see the danger signs. Tyrion joins in the attempts to butter her up, talking about how he heard of a queen in the east so he went to find her to serve her. And Dany is so not having it. She’s been used and manipulated so many times, and like hell is she going to let it happen again. She asks Varys if his spies told him that Viserys was “cruel, stupid and weak”. “Would those qualities have made for a good king, in your learned opinion?” Varys admits he they wouldn’t, and that he knew nothing about Dany.
“So you and your friends traded me like a prize horse to the Dothraki.” “Which you turned to your advantage,” Varys says. And then Dany goes in for the kill. “Who gave the order to kill me?” When Varys insists it was Robert, she clarifies: “who hired the assassins? Who sent word to Essos to murder Daenerys Targaryen?”
This is a weird scene to open with, too expositiony by far, but I do love how it underlines that Dany is not an idiot. She’s been forced to be a fighter, ever since she was a child, and she’s not going to let anyone mess with her now. I’m not entirely sure why she’s challenging Varys about this now, rather than sometime before they got to Dragonstone and started properly planning their war. It seems like the scene would be a whole lot more emotional and believable if it happened either soon after she met Varys, or after some kind of set-back, when she starts doubting her allies and her path.
Dany makes Varys swear not to conspire behind her back, but to tell her how she’s failing the people, and swears in return that if he ever betrays her, she’ll burn him alive. I really hope this comes up again later in the series, because otherwise… what is this scene for?
They’re interrupted by a message — the Red Priestess has come to see her. It’s Melisandre with her old message: “the long night is coming. Only the prince that was promised can bring the dawn.” Missandei expositions that the noun has no gender in High Valyrian — it could be prince OR princess — and Melisandre tells Dany she has a role to play, along with King in the North, Jon Snow.
So here’s the thing about this moment. Melisandre never says that she thinks Dany is the Prince that was Promised. She implies it, with Missandei’s help, but she doesn’t actually say it. That, and her bringing up Jon Snow, makes me think that she really believes that Jon is the prince, and Dany just has a role to play in his story. But telling Dany that probably wouldn’t help her case here.
Tyrion is shocked by the news that Jon is now King, and Dany comments that he sounds like quite a man. And that’s before anyone mentions the whole “back from the dead” thing. Both Tyrion and Melisandre advise Dany to summon Jon Snow — Melisandre because of the prophecy, and Tyrion because he knows that Jon is a good man, and would make a good ally. Dany agrees to send him a raven, with a caveat: he must bend the knee to his queen.
Interesting stuff is happening here, but I can’t help thinking there’s a fundamental problem with how Dany’s presented now. Conquering Queen Dany just isn’t as sympathetic or likeable as Dany was in earlier seasons. As much as this sucks to say, characters are more interesting when they’re off-balance and struggling. Narratively, being in a position of power and arrogance isn’t as appealing, and although Dany is still struggling here, she speaks with so much assurance and power that we don’t feel it. I think it would be better if we explored more of Dany’s vulnerability and uncertainty here, but she doesn’t really have anyone to explore that vulnerability with right now. Hopefully Jon will take up that role when he shows up, because I want to enjoy Dany’s scenes. She’s an interesting and nuanced character. She’s just not great to watch when all she’s doing is saying “I am queen, bow to me.”
We jump to Winterfell, where Dany’s raven has arrived. Jon asks for Sansa’s opinion on the letter, since she knows Tyrion better than any of them. Sansa says that Tyrion isn’t like the other Lannisters, but it’s too great a risk to go. Yet Davos realizes that she has dragons… and fire kills wights. They need her alliance.
Down in King’s Landing, Cersei is talking to her lords about Dany and her army. She says Dany is no different from the Mad King. “In Essos, her brutality is already legendary. She crucified hundreds of noblemen in Slavers’ Bay, and when she got bored of that, she fed them to her dragons.”
Here’s what I love about this: it’s all true. I think Cersei and Dany both have their moments of madness, but I don’t think Dany is cruel in the way that Cersei is. Or at least, when she’s cruel, she believes it’s in defence of others, whereas Cersei is only ever cruel to help herself. But if you look at Dany’s story out of context, she could seem as cold and cruel as Cersei, if not more so. It’s all about perspective, so of course Cersei is going to spin her as the Mad Queen that Dany does have the potential to be. A better queen than Cersei, for sure, but still not exactly great.
One man steps forward to answer Cersei. It’s Lord Tarly, Sam’s dad, and he wants to know how they’ll possibly fight three dragons. Cersei’s answer is basically, “We’re working on it,” which is basically what we’ve been hearing about Brexit here in the UK for the last two years, and look how well that’s turning out.
After the meeting, Jaime corners Lord Tarly, and asks him to be his general, but for all his faults, Lord Tarly isn’t yet ready to sink quite that low. “I’m a Tarly. We’re not oathbreakers. We’re not schemers. We don’t stab our rivals in the back or cut their throats at weddings.” But Jaime doesn’t want him to do anything evil. He just wants him to murder an elderly woman in cold blood.
And god, I am so sick of Jaime. He’s completely unlikeable here. He’s basically as unlikeable in this moment as he was at the start of the show, seven seasons ago, except now he has even less charisma than he had then, so… good job on the character development there. They took “villain who becomes morally grey and interesting” and turned it into “villain who becomes really boring,” and… yeahhh. Sorry, Jaime. Brienne can do so much better.
Meanwhile, in Oldtown, the Grand Maester and Sam are tending to Ser Jorah, and he is in really bad shape. He’s absolutely covered in greyscale. Jorah asks how long he has, and the Maester says it’ll be years before it kills him. Maybe 10, maybe 20. Then he adds: “your mind? Six months. Maybe fewer.”
The Grand Maester really needs to work on his bedside manner.
The Grand Maester would ship him off to live with the stone men immediately, but since Jorah is a knight, they’ll give him one more day. So generous. A whole day of care! Sam looks really bothered by the whole thing, and then he learns that Jorah is a Mormont, and so a relative of the old Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Sam looks like he’s struggling over whether to say more to him, but he’s summoned away before he can speak.
We jump back to King’s Landing, where Cersei and the Evil Maester are exploring the dragon-skull-filled caverns under the Red Keep. Evil Maester shows her the huge skull of Valerion the Dread, the dragon Aegon the Conqueror rode when he took Westeros. This dragon was far, far bigger than any of Dany’s. And even this one, Evil Maester says, with a sassy smile and a sassy turn of his torch, can be killed.
His solution to the three dragons is… a ballista. The music goes all deep and dramatic as he asks Cersei to kindly pull that lever, sending a bolt shattering through the Valerion’s eye socket.
Which is great and all, but I doubt Dany’s dragons will sit still for them to shoot at.
Back at Dragonstone, Dany is having a council meeting with her new allies, including Yara and Theon Greyjoy, Olenna Tyrell, and Ellaria Sand. And I have to admit, I’m disappointed to see Yara and Ellaria again. These are the characters I kind of hoped would fall through the cracks between seasons. I just can’t bring myself to care about them. They have no depth or complexity of character. They’re so different from their book counterparts that they’re basically new characters, and they’ve had no consistent characterisation or plotlines in the show, so… why are they here? How did they all get to Dragonstone? What is happening??
Dany refuses to attack King’s Landing. She still wants to be loved by the people. Olenna Tyrell points out that the people loved Margaery too, and now all that’s left of her is ashes. “They won’t obey you unless they fear you.” “How do you mean to take the Iron Throne?” she snarks. “By asking nicely?”
Dany intends on a siege. Yara will escort Ellaria to Sunspear to get the Dornish army, which will then siege King’s Landing with the Tyrells. Meanwhile, the Unsullied will attack Casterley Rock. The random group of allies are down with this, but Olenna is still wary. She advises Dany to be a dragon.
I’m sure if someone told Olenna to be more like a rose, she’d snark them out of existence.
Meanwhile, in Oldtown, Sam is helping the Grand Maester collect books off the library shelves. “If you’re going to write histories, you need to do a bit of research,” the Grand Maester tells him. “If you want people to read your histories, you need a bit of style.” Random bit of good writing advice there amongst all the scheming and murder. See? Game of Thrones has something for everyone. Sam pipes up that he may have found a way to cure Ser Jorah, through the power of BOOKS. But although the Grand Maester is sympathetic, he quickly puts Sam in his place. The procedure he found is far too dangerous for everyone involved to perform, and so it is forbidden.
Of course, Sam takes this to mean “do this procedure in secret despite having no experience, because that’s bound to go great”. And thus begins my own personal torture. My notes on this scene are a descent into madness, as I prayed that the show wouldn’t actually show the procedure of removing the cursed skin from all over Jorah’s body. I paused this scene a lot, because I was terrified of what might happen or what I might see next, and although I closed my eyes, I couldn’t close my ears, and it sounded horrific and disgusting and went on forever.
So, I mean, I assume Jorah didn’t die in that scene. I cannot confirm. But I’d be grateful if we never went back to Oldtown again.
I’m not even going to look for a picture to illustrate this bit. Let us never speak of it again.
Luckily, Arya is here to save us. And she’s in Hotpie’s pub! She stuffs her face will Hotpie tries to find out anything about what the mysterious Arry has been up to. Making one or two pies, she tells him, which… eww. She tells him she’s going to King’s Landing, and he’s confused why she isn’t off to Winterfell. The Bolton’s are dead, he says. Jon Snow is King in the North. She calls him a liar, but he insists it’s true.
Outside, she gets back on her horse. She watches a cart heading off to King’s Landing, and then looks back the other way, to Winterfell. After a moment of hesitation, torn between family and revenge, she spins her horse around and sets off at a canter, heading for home.
Jon is in the hall at Winterfell, making another rather uninspiring speech to his bannermen. There’s a mountain of dragonglass under Dragonstone, and Daenerys Targaryen has invited him to visit. Then he looks straight at Sansa as he says he’s going to accept Dany’s invitiation. They need dragonglass. They also need allies. They can’t defeat the White Walkers on their own. They need to persuade Dany to fight with them.
Sansa is furious. “Have you forgotten what happened to our grandfather? The Mad King invited him to King’s Landing and roasted him alive.” Dany claims to be queen of the seven kingdoms, and the North is one of those kingdoms. It’s not an invitation, but a trap. Jon agrees that it’s possible, but he doesn’t think Tyrion would do that.
“You’re abandoning your people,” Sansa tells him. “You’re abandoning your home.” And although I’m siding with Jon on this one, you’ve got to feel for Sansa here. He’s not just abandoning the castle; he’s also abandoning her. Jon is the only family member she has left, as far as she knows. If he leaves for Dragonstone, she may never see him again.
But Jon insists. “I’m leaving both in good hands.” “Whose?” she asks. “Yours. You are my sister. You are the only Stark in Winterfell. Until I return, the North is yours.” Sansa looks distressed. On the other side of the room, Littlefinger looks scheme-y. Davos looks serious. Then Sansa nods, accepting the responsibility.
I’ll leave out my rant about how Winterfell should already be Sansa’s. You guys know how it goes by now.
Later, Jon stares at the statue of Ned in the family crypt. He clearly wants to be alone, so of course Littlefinger shows up. “I delivered his bones myself,” he says. Shut up, Littlefinger. Why aren’t you dead yet? He claims he was sorry when Ned died, like he didn’t scheme the whole damn thing himself, and then starts going on about his love for Cat. “She wasn’t fond of you, was she? Well, it appears she vastly underestimated you.” Jon gives him the world’s most dangerous side-eye. “You don’t belong down here,” he says.
But Littlefinger pretends he’s oblivious to this not-so-subtle hint. “We have never talked properly. I wanted to remedy that.” Jon has nothing to say to him. He tries to walk away, but of course Littlefinger is Littlefinger, so he has to get the last world. “Not even thank you?” He swears he’s not Jon’s enemy. “I love Sansa,” he says, “as I loved your mother.”
And omg, Jon’s face here. Punch him, Jon! Break his nose! Someone’s got to do it to that fucking creep. And apparently the Game of Thrones gods are listening, because he does. He turns around and shoves Littlefinger against the wall, choking him. “Touch my sister,” he says, “and I’ll kill you myself.” Maybe Jon should kill him now instead. Just to be safe.
But Jon is still all good and noble and all that crap, so he just releases Littlefinger and leaves. We see him heading out for the horses with Davos. He looks back and sees Sansa watching on the ramparts. She waves, and he smiles back, before riding out. And Sansa is left alone again. At least she has Brienne. Once Jon is gone, Sansa blinks after him, looking worried and sad, and then the focus of the camera shifts from her to Littlefinger, looking up at her.
When will he just be dead already??
Elsewhere in Westeros, Arya is tending a fire, trying to fight the freezing weather as she heads north. Suddenly, her horse starts freaking out, and I start freaking out too. Is it Nymeria?? I really hope it’s Nymeria! I don’t know what makes that thought immediately pop into my head, but as soon as I think it, I desperately want it to be true.
Arya grabs her sword and looks around as a huge wolf pack surrounds her, snarling. A huge white-grey wolf appears behind her, and I’m SO HAPPY. NYMERIA, NYMERIA!!
My notes for this section literally say “NYMERIA NYMERIA OMG OMG I’M SO HAPPY,” so… yeah.
Arya slowly recognises her. She approaches, then kneels and puts down her sword. “Nymeria,” she says, “it’s me. Arya. I’m heading north, girl. Back to Winterfell. I’m finally going home.” She holds out her hand. “Come with me,” she says, and then she says it again, practically begging. Nymeria looks at her, and then slowly walks away, and for a moment, Arya’s heart seems to break. Then her face fills with understanding and resolve, as she says “that’s not you.”
And I’ll admit, I did not understand this moment at all. I started wondering if she meant it literally, like this was another direwolf in the forest that coincidentally also won’t attack Arya for some reason. But Google says it was supposed to be a callback to S1, when Arya told Ned that getting married and being a lady “wasn’t her.” Nymeria is a wild creature, and she doesn’t want to go home… but Arya, after years trying to be wild herself, does still crave her family, so they must go their separate ways.
It’s a shame that didn’t really come across without some after-the-episode googling, though.
While I’m recovering from my NYMERIA freakout, we jump to Yara’s ship. The Sand Snakes are arguing over who they’ll kill in the battle at King’s Landing, and I so don’t care. Meanwhile, Ellaria Sand and Yara are drinking, and totally looking like they’re going to hook up. When Theon tries to leave them to it, Ellaria holds out her cup to Theon, asking him to bring her more wine. He’s not your servant, Ellaria!! Yara says the same, but Theon says it’s fine. He’ll do “whatever his queen commands.”
Ellaria Sand’s main flirting technique seems to be mocking Theon, and she brings it out in full force here. Yara tells her to leave him be, but she doesn’t seem to mean it at all, and I remember why I just had no investment or interest in Yara. Her brother was captured and brutally tortured and she just… kind of doesn’t care? Jerk.
Luckily(??), they’re interrupted by Euron and his Iron Fleet, attacking their ship. He boards their ship with a lot of evil pirate swagger, and Yara, Theon and the others rush into battle.
They fight. There’s fire. Death. Screaming. Dramatic music. Typical fight scene stuff. And I feel ever-so-slightly bad for wishing death on these characters, when first one Sand Snake and then the other gets brutally killed by Euron. I didn’t really mean for them to die. Just… not be around any more. Euron’s men find Ellaria and her daughter below deck, and she asks them to kill them both now to get it over with, but the guy refuses.
Theon turns in the fight to find Euron standing with a sword to his sister’s throat. “I have her,” he says. “Come and get her.” Theon freezes. You can see the flashback in his eyes. He begins to shake. He hears the screaming around the ship. He sees someone mutilate another man… I think he cuts out someone’s tongue, but I can’t quite tell, because I’m looking away from the screen again. For a long moment, Theon doesn’t move, overwhelmed with terror and the trauma of Ramsey Bolton. Then he jumps off the side of the ship into the water.
Now, see? Theon is an interesting character. Theon has a complex emotional backstory colouring his actions. Yara and the Sand Snakes fight for their lives, and it looks cool, but I didn’t feel any emotional attachment to the scene. Theon does what’s objectively the cowardly thing, and runs, abandoning his sister… and it’s a hundred times more interesting and sympathetic, because we know Theon now. We know what he’s been through and what’s going through his head. And this is a super interesting set-up for his arc for the season.
Yara watches him jump away, tears of despair in her eyes. Euron displays the bodies of the Sand Snakes on the prow of the ship, and Theon looks back up at the dead as he floats in the water. The ships sails away, leaving him lost in the water, fire all around him. Sad violins play.
And that’s all for this week! There was a lot of interesting character stuff in this one, but also a lot of just… expositioning through what’s going to happen and moving people into place for the story to continue. I can’t wait for Arya to get to Winterfell. I can’t wait for Dany and Jon to meet. I can’t wait to see where Theon’s story goes. But that’s all for next week.