Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted Thoughts on Game of Thrones s7e2, “Stormborn.”
— Naming the episode after Daenerys’ very first bestowed title is telling: Now that she has returned to Westeros, many of the events that take place are tied to her decisions and perceptions. Her interrogation of Varys, council with her allies, audience with Melisandre, and invitation to Jon are varying expressions of her power as well as her judgment. As much as she is here to claim her birthright, she is also working to prove her worthiness to stay on the throne after her conquest.
— It’s a very effective bit of theater to have Tyrion lay out the strategy on the map, especially when he cements his loyalty to Daenerys in front of their Lannister-mistrusting allies by decisively declaring to sack his own family’s estate. Both Tyrell and Sand matriarchs seem particularly impressed as much by the plan as they are by his lack of hesitation in delivering it.
Olenna, ever the Queen of Thorns, remains the wild card in this room. I think it’s fair to assume that Daenerys will sooner trust the man she named her Hand than not, but the conversation had here will one day prove formative. When Olenna tells Daenerys that she should be a dragon, she is herself obeying the dictates of her own flower-sigiled house, planting seeds that will one day blossom.
— While circumstances and distance have ended the series of delightfully barbed verbal battles between Varys and Littlefinger, this episode nonetheless reminds us of how different the two men are in their use of context, language, and persuasion.
For all of his soft-spoken slyness, Varys has consistently shown that the core of his being is a wish to do what is right by the Realm–although he has perhaps also internalized the notion that his survival and machinations are themselves right for the realm, meaning that his interest for self-preservation is entwined with his interest in the realm’s welfare. Daenerys, for her part, seems to see both sides of the Spider, and her willingness to provisionally forgive him for the attempts he made on her life is to understand that he is useful not only for his cunning but for the empathy he has with the people she intends to rule.
Petyr Baelish, on the other hand, finds himself in the unfortunate position of having his usual methods of manipulation showing diminishing returns. Jon Snow is not Eddard Stark, and cannot be played the same way–he has seen too much, has survived (in a manner of speaking) being betrayed too harshly. Littlefinger’s overture in the Stark family crypt is tentatively handled. He probes Jon with an appeal to honor by mentioning his delivery of Ned’s remains, an appeal to his spite by mentioning the frost between him and Catelyn, and finally an appeal to obligation by demanding gratitude for the timely arrival of the Vale’s army. It is hard to say in this moment if Littlefinger’s indelicate description of his love for Sansa being equal to his love for Catelyn was a misstep or a deliberate attempt to see how angry he could make Jon get (very angry indeed, it turns out).
Varys saves his own skin by making a case for the value of his adaptable nature, indicating that he is useful to whomever holds power over Westeros. Conversely, there are limits to what Littlefinger can accomplish in his mode of single-minded ambition, relentlessly climbing power’s ladder. While this ferocity allowed him to clear away many of the obstacles to his own ascension and survive the chaos that he then created, it was also forged in the paradigm he has now destroyed. He does not speak the same language as the children of the last series of wars. He is not ready for the ways that they will surprise him.
— As his enemies have doubtless done many times before, I feel I have grossly underestimated the level of guile within Euron Greyjoy. Last week I assumed that he had offered to bring Cersei her wayward brother Tyrion to gain revenge for the death of her father. Now it seems more likely that he will be bringing back Ellaria and Tyene Sand, and that Cersei will force Ellaria to witness the death of her own daughter as revenge for Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella. (How Cersei chooses to do this, however, could easily broaden the rift that has emerged between her and Jaime. He will be more compelled, if anything, to watch Ellaria Sand punished thusly, but should Cersei choose an especially cruel execution for Tyene, it will surely trigger in him the memory of Mad Aerys’ sadism.)
For a moment during the Greyjoy Family Naval Dispute, I found myself asking if Daenerys had been betrayed, and that Euron’s surprise attack was the result of having received vital intelligence on the plan to retrieve the Dornish army. But nobody who was in the room when Daenerys’ plans were discussed has any motivation whatsoever to side with Cersei, even if they had an inclination to work against Daenerys. Euron simply determined that this would be the most logical use of Yara’s fleet and countered accordingly. And when the attack has become focused on the battle of wills between him and Theon, he understands well enough how little it now takes to break his nephew.
When people say the phrase “crazy like a fox,” they’re talking about men like Euron Greyjoy.
— The love scene between Grey Worm and Missandei was so tenderly rendered and sad, a portrait of two people damaged by human savagery and still not free of its wake who have grabbed what may be the only moment of real happiness they can be allowed. Following last week’s sober depiction of the Hound’s regret, it seems as though the series may be trying to shock us in an altogether unusual manner–triggering our compassion instead of merely our horror.
— Then again, there was also that one cut between Jorah’s greyscale treatment and Hot Pie’s hot pies.
— Arya making the decision to point her horse back north to Winterfell was a moment that I vocalized both relief and joy. It’s notable that it wasn’t so much “The Boltons are dead” that makes her change her mind as it is “Jon is King,” since Jon was the one who understood her best.
Ironically, Jon will not be there when she arrives. Instead it will be a much-changed Sansa, the sister who Arya had a less-than-sisterly relationship with when last they saw each other. If after all the misery each of them has been through, they somehow arrive at an accord with each other, it might be the closest thing to a heartwarming resolution we can expect from the show.
— I do not think we have seen the last of Direwolf Nymeria (as opposed to Sand Snake Nymeria). We will see her and her pack again when all battles are well and truly joined, whether in Arya’s presence or not.
— The decisions and arguments that Jon makes in front of the Northmen show an evolution in the fortunes of House Stark–although he was not present, Jon seems to have learned through other means about the missteps of his brother Robb, while also remembering the decisions he made as Lord Commander that led to his own assassination. He is still in a position of having to make the best decision from a bundle of bad options, but he makes those decisions with greater authority, and supports them with strong decisions such as showing his complete confidence in Sansa.
— The Arch-Maester continues to make my spine tingle; this week it’s his rambling obsession with the work and legacy of past Maesters and his declaration that he intends to write something for which he will be remembered.