Monday, July 17, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Dragonstone

Well Game of Thrones is back. Did you miss it. There are only seven episodes this season, the penultimate. I'm glad to see some storylines ending and eager to learn if some of my theories pan out. Walder Frey is at the Twins. He has ordered yet another feast. All of the important Freys are there, the ones who helped to plan or carry out the massacre of the Starks and Tullys at the Red Wedding. Is this a flashback or something? Walder is his normal officious odious self. He has ordered very special wine for everyone and gloats over the horrific events which took place at the Red Wedding. But Walder himself does not drink and prevents his wife (?) from drinking. Walder's tone changes from celebratory to accusatory and sarcastic as he reminds the assembled Freys of their "bravery" in killing pregnant women and unarmed people who trusted them. He urges his kinsmen to drink deeply. People are starting to look at Walder strangely. Walder smiles evilly. Freys start to drop dead. The wine is poisoned. Walder remarks that as evil and thorough as the Freys were they made a mistake in not killing all of the Starks. Because as Walder matter of factly states, as long as one wolf is still alive none of the sheep are safe. "Walder" pulls off his face to reveal that "he" is actually Arya Stark. As the last Frey man keels over dead, Arya tells the shocked Frey women to tell everyone who asks that the North remembers, that winter came this day for House Frey.

Up North we see the Night King and his army of White Walkers and reanimated dead, including giants, heading South. Bran and an exhausted Meera show up at Castle Black where Edd lets them in once Bran proves his identity by revealing he knows things he shouldn't know. At Winterfell Jon and Sansa are presiding over a war council. Jon is very comfortable leading. He's no dictator but he is a leader and king. He explains to everyone that dragonglass (obsidian) kills White Walkers so if anybody has some that would be a good thing. Over some objections he determines that the North should ensure that everyone from ten to sixty gets some sort of military training. And when Jon says everyone he includes women and girls as well. Some traditionalists are a bit taken aback by this but little Lyanna Mormont glowers at them and they back down. Jon also asks Tormund and the remaining Free Folk to man Castle Eastwatch. People who used to fight the Night's Watch have become the Night's Watch, something that amuses Tormund. A more serious dispute arises when Jon, being pragmatic, merciful and likely tired of killing and vindictiveness refuses to punish the remaining Umbers and Karstarks, now led by children, for their families' treason against the North. Some of the other Northern lords don't like this. Sansa is very much against Jon's decision. She says the lands and castles of the Umbers and Karstarks should be given to more loyal families. Jon disagrees but Sansa continues to publicly question and almost berate him on this. Losing patience Jon whips out the I'm the big brother and you will do what I say I'm the king and you will do what I say card and Sansa finally zips it.

Later on Jon asks Sansa not to challenge him in public. It's bad for both of them. They need to present a united front to both supporters and detractors. Of course in private she can disagree all she wants. Sansa rears up and asks Jon if he thinks he's Joffrey or something. Jon appears hurt by this and says as much. Sansa backs off of that comment but states that Jon has to be smarter than their dead father and brother. There's a message from King's Landing from Cersei ordering Jon to do homage. Jon is dismissive of this but Sansa says that Cersei is not to be underestimated and will not stop trying to punish her enemies even if it is winter. Cersei kills her enemies. Jon is a bit worried that Sansa is too admiring of Cersei. Sansa says she learned from Cersei. And she wants Jon to stop trying to protect her. Cersei is standing on a floor with a room size map of Westeros. Jaime enters. You can tell that he thinks his sister has got more than a few screws loose. Jaime doesn't even know what they're fighting for any more. All of their children are dead. And even if open incest by non-Targaryens was tolerated Cersei is likely too old to have any more children. So Jaime doesn't understand what dynasty Cersei is talking about.
A stately version of the Rains of Castamere is playing during this scene. Cersei lists all of their enemies, including the soon to be arriving Daenerys. Jaime says they need more allies.  Since it's winter it's not time to fight and anyway they need to talk about what happened to Tommen. Cersei chides her brother for excessive caution and reminds him that she is also Tywin's child. She has a plan.

Cersei's plan is to ally with Euron Greyjoy. She has invited him to King's Landing. Euron Greyjoy wants to marry Cersei and offers her the Iron Fleet in return. Jaime is against this idea. Jaime reminds Euron of Euron's past treachery against the Iron Throne, which includes launching the Iron Islands rebellion by attacking the Lannisters. Twisting the knife even more Jaime also asks if Euron remembers that it was Jaime who helped suppress the Greyjoy led rebellion. Jaime put in some work back in the day. Evidently unbothered by this Euron responds that he was impressed by Jaime's swordwork back then even if Jaime was killing his relatives and retainers. But that was then and this is now. And anyway Euron still has two hands (ha-ha Jaime), which he would like to put at Cersei's service. Both the Mountain and Jaime look as if they would like to kill Euron. Cersei declines Euron's offer, saying that Euron is untrustworthy. Euron promises to bring back a gift to win Cersei's trust. And then they can ally to kill their faithless relatives, Yara, Theon and Tyrion. And Euron can get himself a Queen to marry.

At the Citadel there is an impressive sped up sequence showing Sam's monotonous life as a maester in training. He's low man on the totem pole and does all the dirty work which needs doing. This includes but is not limited to serving food, washing dishes, organizing the library and retrieving and emptying bedpans of the sick and dying. Over and over and over and over again. The actor playing Sam looks like he has dropped a few pounds. Or maybe he's just added some muscle. In any event he looks a little less pudgy and a little more solid. Less overweight and more football player. Sam is despairing of doing the work he wants to do-that is to find any relevant information on White Walkers. He's curious about the books that are behind the locked gate in the library. As he's attending an autopsy with the Archmaester, Sam asks for access to that area. The Archmaester responds that that area is restricted to actual maesters and asks if Sam is a maester yet. No? Ok then there is your answer. Sam talks about seeing White Walkers and how important it is to stop them. The Archmaester shows that he believes Sam's story. But everyone facing horrible things has always believed that it's the end of the world. And yet here we are. The Wall still stands. Life goes on. It always will. The world keeps on turning. And the Archmaester's answer is still no. Later on Sam steals the keys. As he's studying the books later on with Gilly and her son, Sam finds information that Dragonstone has a mountain of dragonglass (obsidian). One would have thought perhaps that someone might have figured that out without having to search in secret books but better late than never. Sam intends to send a message to Jon. Hey that place named Dragonstone has a mountain made of dragonglass. Wow. How cool is that bro? Who would have guessed it? That there book learning sure does pay off!

As Brienne and Pod are practicing swordplay in the Winterfell courtyard, Tormund stops by to smile at Brienne. Meanwhile Littlefinger pops up out of nowhere to creep on Sansa. He tells her that he wants her to be happy and safe. Sansa responds that she is safe. She is home and has Brienne as a personal bodyguard. Littlefinger asks what about happy. Having apparently turned down Tormund's offer, like any good retainer Brienne apparently senses her mistress' distress and comes to Sansa. And like any good villain Littlefinger vanishes in a cloud of smoke. Well not exactly but you get the idea. Brienne curtly asks Sansa why Littlefinger is still here. Sansa replies that they need Littlefinger's army but that she knows exactly what Littlefinger really wants. Arya is riding through the Riverlands and comes across a group of Lannister soldiers singing. In a welcome reminder that not everyone in Westeros is a bunch of incestuous pyschopaths who rape babies and kill puppies in their spare time the soldiers offer her food and drink without any hidden agenda. They talk of how they miss their families and friends and of how King's Landing is even a worse place now that the Sept of Baelor has been destroyed. They are curious as to why a young woman is traveling alone to King's Landing. Quite deadpan, Arya replies that she's going there to kill Queen Cersei. Everyone thinks this is a joke.

The Hound, Thoros , Beric and the Brotherhood without Banners come across the same homestead that The Hound and Arya visited before. It's the place where The Hound robbed the man, justifying his action by saying the man was too weak to survive and would be dead soon anyway. The Hound feels some discomfort and guilt over his actions. This turns to outright sadness and regret when the men enter the empty home and find the corpses of the father and daughter. They evidently committed suicide rather than continue to starve to death. The Hound can't stand the seeming arbitrariness of life. He challenges Beric to explain why he keeps coming back from the dead. Beric can't explain that. Thoros tells The Hound to look into the fire that he was built. The House sees the Army of the Dead marching past Castle Eastwatch. Beric says that to fight the Army of the Dead must be why the Lord of Light wants them alive. Later on, after everyone is asleep, Thoros wakes up to discover that The Hound is burying the father and daughter. The Hound says it's the right thing to do and that they deserved better. Thoros realizes that The Hound knew these people but is thankfully too tactful to ask how. Thoros merely grabs a shovel and helps. 

In the episode's ending scene, which is almost entirely wordless and more impressive for that, Daenerys arrives at Dragonstone, the place of her birth. Reminiscent of King Canute, she drops to her knees to grab the sand on the beach. She enters the throne room and pulls down Stannis' banners. She silently walks though the castle. As the episode ends she looks at her councillors and warriors and asks "Shall we begin?"

What I liked

  • Arya's revenge against the Freys. Unlike last season's rushed Frey Pie or murder of Walder, this actually felt a bit more cathartic and thought out. I loved the "As long as one wolf is alive" line.
  • I appreciated that Jon and Sansa have taken different lessons from their horrible experiences. Jon learned to be in charge. He doesn't shirk from violence when need be but his first choice is usually to try to avoid conflict or violence. Sansa has never been able to be in charge. She is eager to wield power, maybe even too eager. Having been terrorized and exploited by the Lannisters, the Boltons and Littlefinger, Sansa might be chomping at the bit to dole out some payback, even to people who might not deserve it. These different views could be a source of conflict between the siblings cousins. 
  • Cersei standing on a map of Westeros perfectly captured that character's resentments and inflated sense of self.
  • Euron Greyjoy. The actor even resembles his "nephew"  Theon (Alfie Allen) His little dig at Jaime's loss of his sword hand and implied impotence was pretty good.
  • Not much Bran.
  • The fact that it took two men of the Night's Watch to haul Bran when Meera was doing it by herself. Funny.
  • Sam's work at the Citadel and his brief encounter with Jorah Mormont, Ser Friend-Zone himself, who seems to have almost fully succumbed to greyscale.
  • Tormund. A player's got to play. There's no shame in his game.
  • The Hound showing that even as he tries to hide it there is still a bit of decency left in him.

What I didn't like

  • Sansa saying that Jon has to be smarter than Robb and Ned rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps Sansa has forgotten her eagerness to marry Joffrey or her willingness to marry Ramsay on Littlefinger's say so? She's not exactly shown herself as the family brain trust. She is at least considering sleeping with the man who betrayed her father and murdered her aunt. Even if she thought that about her father and brother, it still seemed churlish to say that out loud.
  • I think there needs to be some sort of explanation given for the North to accept, even if he is publicly known as Ned Stark's son, a Lord Commander of the Night's Watch leaving his post to lead the North. Do people know that Jon rose from the dead? That is pretty f****** big news. People start religions over such things. If the Northern warriors do know then they would follow Jon anywhere. Does Sansa know? What about Littlefinger? We know that Tormund knows because he was there. Hasn't he told anyone about this? I mean if I saw someone rise from the dead I think I might mention that to a few folks. Do people believe it? Seriously this is important given that one of the major roles of the Starks is to EXECUTE deserters from the Night's Watch. 
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