Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
I kinda hate when people write sentences one word at a time, separated by periods, to make an emphatic point, and yet I have this irresistible impulse to write that
WINTER. CAME. FOR. THE. RAT. PEOPLE.
What a blistering opening scene! It was the highlight of a solid episode, it finally brings Arya back into action after a semi-boring, semi-interesting apprenticeship at the House of Black and White, and it kills a bunch of human weasels after a sweet lecture about bad behavior. Honestly, the only drawback is that all the Freys are dead now, and it happened so fast. We got to enjoy Walder’s death last season, but this was almost too quick. For what it’s worth, I think Benioff & Weiss should invent more Freys just so Arya can really take her time and enjoy the hunt. Who wouldn’t want to see an hour episode of her stalking and killing people named “Bilberon Frey” and “Pervy Walder,” or whatever?
(Side note: Do we actually understand what Arya learned in Braavos? Has it ever been explained why she can put on a face that has presumably been carved from a body, but then her whole body and voice are also that other person? Is it supposed to be just magic? If it’s just magic, did she really need to spend years washing dead people and fighting blindly with sticks in the alleys of Braavos?)
But alas, Arya moves on, meets Ed Sheeran in the woods, and gets them to laugh at a classic joke about killing Cersei Lannister. And our other characters have moved on as well—like many first episodes, “Dragonstone” was a table-setter, catching us up on all our favorites. Dany is at Dragonstone, Sam is in the Citadel, the Hound is moving north with the Lord of Light crew, Jon and Sansa are experiencing the start of minor tensions that could blossom into something else at Winterfell (egged on by Littlefinger, of course), and Jaime is starting to lose all remaining faith in Cersei, the newest, maddest queen.
Let’s start with Sam. Remember the famous scene in A Clockwork Orange when they use the so-called “Ludovico technique,” a course of aversion therapy involving a bizarre snuff film, to make Alex become severely ill at the thought of violence? I feel like that’s what happened to me during Sam’s training montage, except instead of hating violence, now I will picture pots of liquid shit in my mind’s eye every time I see a book. Why did they have to inter-cut those two very unrelated objects? I know you’re trying to distinguish your show from George R.R. Martin’s books, HBO, but there’s no need for this kind of literary psychological terror.
Regardless, Sam’s story felt satisfying, and critical—he needs to help Jon get some of that sweet, sweet dragonglass—and I’m looking forward to seeing whether he can help poor Jorah cure his Greyscale. I also enjoyed Jorah’s technique of trying to get news about Dany, which was to shoot his Greyscaled hand out, zombie-like, as though the best way to win friends at the Citadel is to threaten your only point of human contact with Westeros’ answer to leprosy.
Less enjoyable? Petry Baelish, our boy Littlefinger, who continues to be one of the worst characters in the show. This is a personal hobbyhorse, but I’ll risk repeating myself—compared to the book version, TV Baelish has no cunning, no intelligence, and very little in the way of sound strategy. All he can do is brood and make the most obvious sinister overtures, and basically everyone hates him. I wish we could skip everything that happens with him this season, and go straight to his death. Because let’s be honest—even the writers know the Baelish experiment hasn’t worked, and are basically just running out the clock. (Sansa’s parting shot at the end of their convo, “no need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish, I’ll assume it was something clever,” is essentially a refutation of the entire weak sauce character. He should have just jumped off the balcony then and saved us some time.)
I wasn’t thrilled with Daenerys, either, Josh. She’s on Westeros now, but her essential pattern hasn’t changed:
1. Stare into the distance with a little smirk.
2. Say something dramatic as the music swells.
Is she all image? Now that she’s at Dragonstone, will she finally start kicking ass? I hope so, because it’s been a dull ride lately for what should be one of the most captivating characters on the show. Plus, she’s got Tyrion and Varys with her, two of the most fascinating characters—if those two can’t inject some electricity into her storyline, nobody can.
But the best duo of the episode, by far, was Jon and Sansa. It warmed me to my heart to hear Sansa admit that Ned and Robb lost their lives not just because of a dishonorable world, but because they made a series of stupid decisions. Jon Snow has the respect of his people, but as we’ve seen over and over again, from the mutiny at the wall to the near-disaster that was the Battle of the Bastards, he’s got a lot of his “father” and “brother” in him when it comes to political strategizing. If Sansa has learned to be a bit more savvy, he should listen to her.
(However, it’s less heartening to hear that Sansa’s model may be Cersei, who is equally moronic in the leadership department, and currently managing to destroy an entire kingdom while hatching enemies in new and unexpected places.)
I’ll leave it there for now, Josh, and I haven’t even touched on brand new villain Euron Greyjoy or the Hound’s flame-visions. Overall, I thought it was a solid start to season seven, with an unbelievable cold open and a couple causes for mild concern. What did you think?
While I agree that the opening speech from Arya in a Frey mask was stunning (David Bradley playing Arya playing Walder Frey was a thing of beauty), the highlight of this episode for me was the look Tormund Giantsbane gave his future wife Brienne when she was training Podrick. That it distracted her so much that Pod finally got a hit in made me literally pump both fists in the air. I don’t think I really understood the concept of “shipping” TV characters until these two entered my life.
But no, I don’t think we’ll ever learn the magic behind the face swapping. The repository of faces under the Temple of the Many-Faced God seems kind of unnecessary if you can peel them off the living as needed. But I guess a training montage of face-peeling wouldn’t have been as interesting as stick beatings and temporary blindness.
Arya’s encounter with the ordinary pop-star soldiers was the scariest thing about this episode for me. You’ve never met a nicer bunch of Lannisters, who were kind of over-the-top in their friendliness and general decency, going out of their way to talk about how they were needed back at home. They even offered the sacred gift of hospitality, but still, I was worried we were going to see Arya riding away from a pile of dead bodies the next morning. I just want her to be a killing machine who keeps a sense of mercy and humanity. Is that too much to ask?
The Hound’s continued redemption story has also been a joy to watch. It’s been hard enough earned to not feel the least bit sappy when he buries the father and daughter who’d sheltered him. Sandor Clegane has one of the best character arcs in a show filled with great ones. His cynicism, humor and gruffness just make his eulogy for the innocent all the more potent.
It did seem like Daenerys Targaryan’s return to her ancestral home was meant to be as epic as possible, but the end result was rather boring. And shouldn’t all of the women and children and servants that Stannis left behind still be there? I know he took his wife and daughter with him, but it seems strange that Dragonstone would be completely abandoned.
So far, I like Euron Greyjoy as Cersei’s latest ally. He’s got the right balance of charisma and insanity for a top-tier Game of Thrones villain. I can only assume the gift he’s planning on getting for the Queen is Tyrion’s head, though, and that would be the biggest blow the show has dealt its viewers. They wouldn’t really do that to us, would they, Shane? Of the big six, I think Tyrion is now in the most danger of not making it through Season 7.
I’m looking forward to scenes of Samwell Tarly in the Citadel with more Jorah Mormont and less runny shit. And the upcoming family reunion between Bran, Sansa and Jon. It was a solid, enjoyable opener, and it’s hard to believe that we only have six episodes left this season.
So Daenerys is going to be anxious to attack King’s Landing immediately, and I’m guessing Tyrion will talk her out of that, but why? If you’re the Hand of the Queen, what’s her next move? And will Jon prepare for war on two fronts or will his obsession with the zombie horde be his undoing? And will my dreams of giant babies from Brienne and Tormund ever come true?
I didn’t touch on him too much in my first email, but I think there’s an argument to be made that the Hound is the best character on the show right now. Everything he does is either moving, funny, or thought-provoking, and his gruff relationship with Beric and Thoros is the kind of thing I could watch indefinitely. But when you think back, we’ve said that about every interaction the guy has had. He and Arya together? Gold. He and Septon Barth? Gold. He and Sansa, way back in season one? Unsettling, but also awesome. It was even fun when he was the one guy totally unintimidated by Joffrey, and he had one of the best one-on-one fights of the whole against Brienne. Everything this guy does is fantastic, and while the writing deserves credit, a big part of the character’s success is Rory McCann, who might be the most underrated performer on the show. And you’re absolutely right—the scene where he digs a grave for the father and daughter who sheltered him, and whose silver he stole (the gravedigging is a nice nod to the books, btw), was the most moving part of last night’s episode.
The Lannister soldiers were way, way too nice. So nice that I’m convinced they’re all going to die, whether it’s by Arya’s hand or otherwise. It would be kind of amazing if after that heartwarming night where she supposedly had a refresher in the goodness of man, the next episode started with her wearing Ed Sheeran’s face and making her way to King’s Landing. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but those soldiers are doomed anyway. If you’re going to be “nice” in this world, it has to be a kind of hard-won “nice,” Hound-style, that is preceded by murdering butcher’s boys and years of mental agony. These dudes are clearly soft, and if that’s an indication of what the larger Lannister army is like, Cersei is in big trouble.
Speaking of, I enjoyed Euron. In the books, he’s the most genuinely frightening character yet encountered, scarier by a factor of two than even Ramsay Bolton. In the show, they’re (unsurprisingly) going for a more over-the-top Daario-but-more-evil type depiction, but hey, it works so far. I loved the look Jaime gave him after the “two good hands” jab—Jaime is one oft he most ruthless verbal pugilists in the seven kingdoms, but he reacted like a pearl-clutching grandmother who just saw a pair of teenagers make out in church. And this was my favorite line, for the way Pilou Asbaek smiled generously at the very end, like it was nothing but a trifling worry:
“They stole my best ships and ran…it’s nothing compared to the treason you suffered at the hands of a family member, from what I hear. But still…it bothers me.”
Not to mention his response when Jaime tries to shame him for enjoying the sack of the Iron Islands and the death of his family: “The place was getting crowded.”
Basically, Euron is going to be a fun psychopath, which is never a bad thing on this show. When he told Cersei he was going to bring her a gift, I half expected him to slice off his own ear then and there. Instead, he’s probably going to attack Dragonstone.
Two quick questions on that front, playing off your “why is Dragonstone totally isolated?” query:
1. Why aren’t they sending anybody to defend Dragonstone, if everybody knows that’s where Dany is headed? I mean, it’s really, really close to King’s Landing.
2. How did Euron build such an impressive fleet so quickly on an island with no trees?
I agree that Tyrion’s head is the logical “gift,” and wow, what a terrible end that would be for one of the show’s best characters. But truthfully, by making Euron a swaggering braggart, they’re already diminishing him. Fun as he might be, you can already tell his role will be relatively small, and I can’t imagine this is the guy who will deliver the mortal blow to Tyrion. Then again, Ilyn Payne killed Ned Stark, so who knows?
As for Brienne and Tormund, I’m totally with you in shipping that relationship, and I’ll go a step further: I want a really romantic sex scene, full of candlelight, set to Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. Does that make me a hero? Probably.
But yes, let’s get down to business—what exactly is Dany’s next move? In theory, those dragons give her an incredible psychological weapon. She could engage in fly-by-night attacks against the Lannister army or King’s Landing itself, or she could mobilize the Dothrakis and make an attempt on the capital right away. Couldn’t she basically burn Cersei alive in the Red Keep before anyone could stop her? Westeros has no air defense, and if I were her, I’d go right for the quick kill. Something tells me this won’t happen, though—it’s too easy. But I will say this: So far, all of her advisors kinda seem incompetent, and Tyrion screwed up a whole bunch in Meereen. It’s time for him to prove himself here, and ditto for Varys.
I’ll throw it back to you with this question: If you were Dany, and you had five free kills—as in, you name five people, and they all die—who would you pick in order to clear the path for world domination? Cersei is probably a given, but I’m curious who your other four would be.
Either Cersei learned too late that Daenerys was headed to Dragonstone or she decided she didn’t want to split up what paltry army she had remaining. What I don’t understand is why anyone didn’t claim Dragonstone the second Stannis Baratheon left it for the seagulls. Seriously, big fortification that not one ruler in the Seven Kingdoms thought, “Hey, it’d be cool to have this castle just off the coast of the Crown Lands.” Cersei should have been first in line to claim the castle as soon as Stannis rounded the southern tip of Westeros.
And I guess Euron built those ships the same way the Iron Islands ever builds ships: using someone else’s trees. Either that or the desolate rocks the Iron Islands keep getting described as is hyperbole. When Theon landed, it was a little greener than I expected.
If I was Tyrion, I’d tell my Queen that yes, it’s time to take the Iron Throne. The only reason Stannis couldn’t take it from Dragonstone is some clever maneuvering from Tyrion and a last-minute rescue from Tywin Lannister. But Stannis didn’t have dragons or Dothraki, and Cersei is much weaker than she used to be. She no longer has Tyrion, Tywin or Uncle Kevan to rely on for military prowess. Maybe Tyrion knows something I don’t, but I don’t think she needs to wait on Dorne or Highgarden. Of course, the episode is called “Stormborn,” not “The One Where Dragons Eat Cersei,” so anything is possible.
As far as who Daenerys wants dead, most of her wishlist is already in the grave: Tywin Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark. Among the living (or living-ish), I’d say Cersei, Jaime and Gregor Clegane top the list (for vengeance’s sake) with Euron and whoever holds Casterly Rock rounding it out. The Stark children would be on there, but I doubt she holds them responsible for daddy’s sins against her father, considering her father had plenty of sins of his own.
By the way, it just dawned on me that Jon Snow got some quality time with his great-great-uncle Aemon before his death. For that reason alone, I hope he learns his true origin story. But next week will be primarily about the Mother of Dragons, and she’ll probably be doing more than touching dirt, climbing steps and looking pretty.
Check back for further emails from Josh and Shane. Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.