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Monday, 24 July 2017

Game of Thrones S7E2: Stormborn

Game of Thrones
Series 7, Episode 2

This episode could probably just as easily have been called 'people discuss forming and/or not forming alliances,' because honestly, alliances and people pondering them really are the bread and butter of this episode. People considering alliances, people struggling with alliances they have, people breaking alliances, pirate attacks, people forming informal alliances, and people encountering alliances and failing to form alliances with those alliances.

In another series, that probably wouldn't work that well, but Game of Thrones has its particular structure and way of pacing: Politicking (interspersed with small fights) leading up to big battles leading to a changed status quo leading to more politicking and so on and so forth, and the fun of watching comes in large part from seeing who teams up with who and how different agendas and failings within specific alliances cause those team-ups to start breaking down. Its slowest series have often been its slowest because they've lacked those elements.

What it also means is that the major theme of this episode -- possibly not even intentionally -- is loyalty, and specifically a disparity between perceived loyalty and actual loyalty: Cersei leans on the disloyalty of other people's allies in the hopes that they'll make loyal allies for her; Jon rests his hopes on the loyalty of Sansa and his lords, not realising that he's been steadily eroding their loyalty to him; Daenerys queries the loyalty of her allies, but their unification in a shared goal makes them easily the most loyal alliance in Westeros right now; Arya has to choose between loyalty to her family and loyalty to her revenge, while Nymeria chooses between loyalty to Arya and loyalty to her pack; Sam prioritises his loyalty to the deceased Jeor Mormont over his loyalty to the living archmaester to save Jorah, who in turn perceives himself to be absolutely loyal to Daenerys but prioritises his own right to die over her command to him.

(Speaking of, was that Gendry in last week's episode?)

Arya will be happy, if it was.

So, this week's episode picks up shortly after last week's. At Dragonstone, Daenerys encounters Melisandre and issues a summons to Jon Snow, before she and Tyrion embark on a daring plan -- to have the Dornish and Tyrell armies lay siege to King's Landing while the Dothraki and Unsullied take Casterly Rock -- ultimately meeting with their first failure when Euron Greyjoy attacks Yara's fleet, taking Yara and Ellaria prisoner and cutting the Dornish off from the mainland. At Winterfell, Jon receives messages from both Tyrion and Sam, prompting him to decide to visit Daenerys, leaving the North in Sansa's hands as he does so, while in the Riverlands, Arya learns that Jon is King in the North, and sets off for Winterfell, encountering Nymeria along the way. In King's Landing, Cersei attempts to win over the lords of the Reach, while Qyburn unveils a weapon for taking down dragons. Meanwhile, in the Citadel, Sam decides to try a dangerous -- and forbidden -- treatment for greyscale on Jorah.

We'll address my biggest bugbear with this episode first: The Grey Worm/Missandei sex scene. I'm all for giving these characters more screentime, but in true Game of Thrones fashion, the sex scene was just more awkward than anything (listen, writers, you're really bad at those scenes, please stop) and it just would not stop. I kept waiting for something to happen that wasn't essentially just groaning and flesh-slapping, and it never did.

Sam's storyline is also pretty heavily flesh focused, albeit in a slightly different way.

That said, I actually mostly really liked this episode, which leaves me with not a lot to actually say about it. It's definitely a slower-paced episode than most -- to the point where, surprisingly, Sam's sections were the highlight of the episode, even taking into account the fact that I don't care about Jorah -- at least up to its last sequence, where Euron suddenly appears and wrecks Daenerys' plans.

I'll admit, I don't much like Euron as a character -- perhaps more than any of the other characters, he comes across as extraneous, a character who really exists only to nudge the plot along and then to eventually die, and to that end I don't much see him lasting beyond the end of this series (although I don't much see Cersei surviving this series either, since it seems likely that the final series will focus mainly on defeating the White Walkers). He's used to great effect here, though, showing up out of the blue and proceeding to lay waste to Yara's fleet.

There's a sense of genuine, frenetic confusion to the whole thing, with it difficult to tell the factions apart and with everything lit up mostly by fire, making it almost impossible to tell what's happening in the battle as a whole other than 'a lot.' In that respect, it's the opposite of the Battle of the Bastards from the last series, which got its mileage out of rather exactingly showing what was happening in the battle.

Dragonstone does have the nicest, if also the draftiest, war room.

It makes sense for Theon to flee, but I admit, I did roll my eyes when the only character to get away was also the only named male character, while all the other named characters on Daenery's side either died (in the case of the Sand Snakes), or were kidnapped (in the case of Yara and Ellaria), with their deaths almost certainly penciled in for the next episode.

Next week, it looks like the action is going to focus mostly on King's Landing, Dragonstone, and maybe Casterly Rock (? I can't tell if Daenerys' army is invading Casterly Rock or King's Landing there), as Jon arrives at Dragonstone, Euron returns triumphantly to King's Landing, and Grey Worm does some kind of invasion thing somewhere.

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