Game of Thrones Revisited: 7.02 Stormborn
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with season seven's Stormborn, as the war between Daenerys and Cersei begins...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven.
The arrival of Daenerys at Dragonstone in the season seven opener is a huge catalyst for change in the show and Stormborn - one of the many titles of the Dragon Queen herself - deals with that change with startling pace. No longer are characters going to spend a while season moving from one destination to another; in season seven, the first half of Game of Thrones' endgame, things move far more quickly.
After the tense interrogation of Varys's intentions by Daenerys and his pledge to support her to the end, she receives the first of many memorable faces to Dragonstone. Red Priestess Melisandre's arrival is an auspicious moment, revealing to the queen and her council the prophecy that the prince or princess promised with the dawn is Daenerys herself. Melisandre's belief that the queen, like Jon, has a role to play in the war to come, sets up the connections that will develop between these two heroes as the season progresses.
More familiar faces follow; seeing Daenerys in the same room as Olenna Tyrell, Ellaria Sand, Tyrion Lannister, Varys and Yara Greyjoy is a wonderful moment, a true convergence of all the different storylines running over the course of the last few seasons. The thrilling pace set by her arrival continues with the plan to ferry Ellaria to Dorne on Yara's ships, gathering the Dornish forces in the war against Cersei, though it call comes to a tragic, violent end by the episode's climax. Diana Rigg continues to have all the best lines too, telling Daenerys that she is not a sheep like all the Westeros lords, but a dragon and needs to act so.
One of the unfortunate downsides of Game of Thrones's grit and realism is it's often use of gratuitous sex scenes. This episode features the physical, emotional final night of Missandei and Grey Worm as they give in to their feelings on the night before he sails to Casterley Rock. Their farewell is tender, exposed and sensitive and doesn't feel designed to sensationalise or shock. Their romance is one of the sweetest, loveliest relationships on the show and this farewell is the moment they cast aside their fears and embrace one another, for the first time in their lives.
It's interesting too see the impact of Daenerys's arrival on the other characters of Westeros. Jon receives her message to bend the knee, and despite the counsel of Sansa and Lady Mormont to remain in the north, the discovery of dragon glass beneath Dragonstone, courtesy of a message from Sam and the fact that she has Unsullied, Dothraki and three dragons that could be used in the upcoming war, heads off in what will become the biggest meeting of two worlds yet. Of course, his departure sees Littlefinger start to worm his way into Sansa, setting up another nefarious storyline that will run through the rest of the season.
While Daenerys gathers her own allies to Dragonstone, the battle lines are also drawn in King's Landing. Cersei might summon every loyal man to her side, but the threat of three dragons is enough to scare even hardened men like Sam's father Randyll Tarly, who arrives in King's Landing with Dickon and is quickly promised the title of Warden of the South by Jamie in exchange for breaking his vows to Olenna. Unfortunately for Daenerys, the nefarious Qyburn also has his own plan to deal with her dragons, demonstrating a dragon-slaying weapon that might aid Cersei's own war.
The meeting of Sam and Jorah in the Citadel is another unexpected meeting of two worlds; the greyscale inflicting Jorah has grown terrible, resulting in a bittersweet farewell letter to his Khaelessi. But once more Sam proves his worth, seeking out a cure even the other Maesters have dismissed and treating Jorah with a secret treatment. It is not a scene for the squeamish; you can feel Jorah's pain as the puss and greyscale are cut free.
Cutting from this scene to the man scooping out cheese pie in the inn is both disgusting and brilliant. It is here Arya has a reunion with Hot Pie on her way to kill Cersei in KIng's Landing and where she learns that Jon Snow is in Winterfell. It's another huge turning point in her journey, stepping away from her path of revenge to a family reunion. And while she doesn't reach Winterfell this episode, she does meet an old face in direwolf Nymeria. The encounter with the wolf pack is tense and while Nymeria leaves Arya behind, I wonder if this is another set up for the eighth and final season.
Season seven is packed with action and episode two kicks off the next phase in the war with the dramatic night attack of Yara's fleet by Euron's. The imagery of his ships, black sails in the night is not lost and the fight that follows is bloody, brutal and frantic. If there's one thing to be thankful for, it's the way the irritating sand snakes finally leave the show, two of them at Euron's hands himself. And amid the fire, bloodshed and slaughter, it's Theon's cowardice that wins through once more. With Ellaria a prisoner and Yara held with a knife to her throat by their pirate uncle, Theon jumps overboard rather than try to save his sister from Euron. It's a disappointing turn of events, but one not unthinkable of the broken Greyjoy son.
The dramatic sea battle caps off a strong episode of Game of Thrones that really ups the ante in the meeting of worlds. From the citadel to Dragonstone, we start to see characters encounter others for the first time, making this world both smaller and grander in equal measure. There might be three episodes less this year, but the pace of season seven easily packs ten episodes' worth into its seven. And Stormborn is no different.