Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
I just intercepted a raven from Dragonstone, and the note it carried contained the minutes of the meeting held in the Dragonstone war room in the aftermath of their entire fleet being destroyed by Euron Greyjoy. It was apparently a short conversation—full text below:
Daenerys: Okay, everybody, gather round. I’m not going try to spin this, gang—that was a bad night for us. Really bad outcome. A fleet of enemy ships came upon us in the night, fucked up our whole armada, maybe cost us our Dornish alliance, and put a major kink into our conquest plans. So let’s look in the mirror and do an honest post-mortem. My first question is an obvious one: What could we have done differently?
Tyrion: I can’t think of anything, my queen.
Varys: Same. I’m coming up empty.
Olenna: You could have used your dragons.
Daenerys: Okay, that’s a relief to hear that, because I’m drawing the same conclusions—this one was impossible to prevent. Sometimes you just have to accept defeat.
Tyrion: A true queen knows when to take a lesson from inevitability.
Varys: The people shall sing of your wisdom!
Olenna: One dragon. You just needed one dragon, and you would have won. Even if they had the element of surprise, why did you just let them sail away after? Do you remember that episode in Meereen where your dragons basically destroyed an entire navy? You should have done that again!
Daenerys: Now, moving on to intelligence—is there any way we could have known this was coming?
Olenna: Can anyone hear me? What is happening?
Varys: Some things are unknowable, my queen.
Tyrion: The learned man admits when his knowledge has met its end.
Olenna: RIDE AROUND ON YOUR FUCKING DRAGON! YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN THE SHIPS! TAKE A DRAGON FOR A SPIN INSTEAD OF STARING AT PEOPLE FOR HOURS ON END! YOU ARE THE MOTHER OF GODDAM DRAGONS! USE THEM!
Daenerys: Great, we’re done here. Let’s hope things break our way next time.
Olenna:: I AM IN HELLLLL!
Now Josh, perhaps I’m being too hard on Khaleesi. Euron Greyjoy is one bad mother, and it should come as no surprise that the pirate king of the Westeros laid waste to a smaller and less experienced force. Still…call me what you will, but I would’ve liked to see some dragons in that battle.
I’ll stop being Annoying Plot Hole Guy now. That battle was savage in the best ways possible, and Pilou Asbaek is terrific as Euron. (Side note: I randomly came across the Danish political drama Borgen this past weekend, in which he stars, and the first season is amazing.) From his entrance atop the falling Kraken mouth-mast, to his gleeful laughter when Theon turned coward and jumped overboard, this man commands the screen. He personifies the Ironborn reaving tradition dialed up to feverish levels, and the battle was total electric madness.
Now, aside from that centerpiece? I wasn’t completely thrilled with this episode. I give medium-high marks to Dany’s confrontation with Varys, mostly because it’s kinda weird that the two haven’t spoken yet, and I think I believe Varys that the people are his primary concern. I think Daenerys believes him, too. (Don’t worry, book readers, I still maintain hope that we’re in for a crazy Blackfyre conspiracy plot when George RR Martin finishes TWOW in 2026.)
Everything else? A bit meh. There was a lot of humdrum table-setting, with Cersei consolidating her army, Jon Snow hosting the fifteenth King in the North debate to convince everyone of something obvious, which even contained the same exact beats as last time—Sansa undermines him publicly, the two idiot lords grandstand stupidly, Lyanna says something dramatic, Littlefinger gives three or four shifty looks, Davos seems anxious, Jon gazes a melancholic gaze. Then you had the fan service scene, which have only been growing in number since HBO ran out of source material: The much-maligned Sand Snakes dying, the return of Hot Pie, the semi-touching but kinda pointless Missandei-Grey Worm sex scene. (Though it certainly beat the uncomfortably sudden Yara—Ellaria sex scene, which was almost certainly written by a very horny man who has never had sex before.)
All of that, rough as it was, still topped the strategy talk at Dragonstone, which made no sense (why can’t a dragon just hit an isolated target? What good is Casterly Rock?), or the weird crypts of Winterfell scene where the writers were like, “oh, shit, we haven’t had Baelish and Snow talk yet,” and wrote a hasty scene in which Jon reverts to “mindless angry Stark” mode. Can I admit something, Josh? I don’t trust Littlefinger, but he probably did deserve a “thanks” there.
That said, there were one or two standout scenes before the battle. It took way too much build-up, but I’m down to watch Sam and Jorah anytime, and I was surprisingly okay with the disgusting grayscale surgery scene. And Arya’s reunion with Nymeria had a quasi-spiritual quality that was reminiscent of the quiet, ethereal mood this show captured so well in its early seasons.
I’ll send it back to you with this, Josh—along with your impressions on the overall show, I want to know what you think it will take to redeem Theon. The writers won’t kill him, but they won’t stop piling shame on him either…the dude remains the most wretched figure in the seven kingdoms, and I was genuinely moved by his anguish at the battle’s end.
I appreciate your inability to suffer foolishness from smart characters, but I think you buried the lede here.
I agree this episode ended the streak of undiluted excellence from the show, but there was still a lot to like here, especially the turn of goofy innocence in the form of a baker who knows you’ve got to brown the butter before making the dough. I’m happy for anything that humanizes Arya now that she’s back in Westeros. I actually thought that scene was more touching than her encounter with Nymeria. And no part of me dared to hope that she’d choose her family over vengeance and head north, but I can only imagine that’s a good thing for her soul.
The Battle of the Greyjoys was as brutal as anything we’ve seen and elevated Euron to Full GoT Badass. Cersei’s reign was looking pretty shaky by the end of last season, and everything about this episode was meant to even things up and build up a believable resistance to the Targaryan Invasion. A weapon to kill dragons? Check. Division among the southern kingdoms and distrust of the foreign invaders? Check. A severe blow to Daenerys’ navy? Check. Taking the Iron Throne no longer looks like a simple task.
But I still don’t understand why Tyrion would have hesitated to use the full might of his army (and dragons) against King’s Landing, while having no problem with sending Unsullied to invade his own home in Casterly Rock.
And as much as I love Samwell Tarly, I’m looking forward to scenes in The Citadel that don’t involve so much bodily fluids. He’s breaking more rules than Ferris Bueller these days. I guess once you’ve killed a White Walker, you don’t abide authority too well.
Theon’s redemption took a pretty big setback, but that was a lot to ask of someone with that kind of PTSD. He’s going to wash ashore somewhere with very little purpose or strength left. I think we’ll see plenty more of his arc. Maybe he’ll be drowned at sea and resuscitated on some Dornish beach, reborn without cowardice.
Two characters’ bids for Prince(ss) Who Was Promised got a boost in this episode: Daenerys, thanks to Missandei’s not-so-subtle translation (probably a misdirection) and Jorah after possibly getting healed from his grayscale. Can you give the official oddsmaker’s lines on the most likely candidates?
Finally, with Jon away, will we still get a Stark reunion next week that includes Sansa, Arya and Bran? Those three weren’t ever particularly fond of each other, at least not like Arya and Jon. I’m still wondering how Arya will reconcile her life as a super-assassin with her alter ego as Sansa’s little sister.
As I woke up this morning, still pondering the mystery of why Dany didn’t use dragons when the Kraken struck, I realized my stupidity: The fleet was no longer anchored at Dragonstone, but was already on the way to Dorne. Oops! This is probably my dumbest moment as a GoT reviewer yet, and I accept the shame and scorn that is coming from the Internet. I haven’t checked my Twitter yet, but I’m already shuddering in fear.
So, moving on, pretending that never happened—I agree that the less we see of greyscale from here on out, the better. Also, I could do without some of the more disgusting segues, like “cut from disgusting greyscale body to dude eating pie.” Luckily I had already had dinner by then, because damn…that was awful. And speaking of Hot Pie, there was a time when I would have flipped out to see him again, but it’s been so long at this point that I found myself staring at my TV, a little puzzled, and then standing up, reaching out my hand to him, and finally shaking my head and saying, “no…that’s not you.”
Oh wait—that was Arya and Nymeria. I think the reason I liked that scene, which is open to a few interpretations, is that I took it to mean she had lost touch to some degree with her inner wolf. She has been through so much, and her identity has been warped by necessity to such an extreme degree, that she is nowhere near the same “Arya Stark” that rode south on the King’s Road and lost her direwolf years ago. And even though we know where her loyalties lie, it’s questionable whether she’s even a “Stark” anymore, at least in the spiritual, wolf-like sense of the word.
We could say the same about Jon Snow, who has been changed by death, and if anything, this comparison tightens the already-strong connection between him and Arya. Which is why, like you, I love her choice to head to Winterfell. It means she’ll miss him, if course—he’s on his way to Dragonstone—but with any luck there will be a reunion later this season. Plus, I’m getting the sense that Sansa might need a friend now that Littlefinger has free reign to scheme. (Though it would be funny if they started bickering again immediately).
Look, Tyrion’s strategy makes no sense. Dragons are good at making targeted strikes on people, and there’s no reason Dany has to burn thousands of Kingslanders in order to take the city, or even to make an impact on the war. Me? I’d be going on midnight assassin runs, and then dropping a bunch of coins from a dragon to the commonfolk to make them love me. Taking Casterly Rock is fine, but a Dornish naval siege is a waste of time and resources, especially when Yara and the others should know that Euron is out there waiting, and water supremacy is far from assured. Dany needs to be actively kicking ass at this point, and instead she’s choosing the Westerosi equivalent of refusing to campaign in Wisconsin.
As for odds on the Prince(ss) Who Was Promised, Josh, you asked for this:
Jaime Lannister: 100%
Everyone else: 0%
No, the serious answer is that Jon and Dany probably have even odds at this point, Jaime is third, Jorah Mormont is further down the list, then you throw in the other Starks (Bran, Arya, Sansa), and finally there may be a remote prayer of the honor going to a dark horse like Sandor Clegane or an even darker horse like Theon. Then again, it could be some combination of the two, or nobody—as Melisandre said, prophecies are tricky.
So, Josh, we’re two episodes in, and I think it’s time for a death watch. Game of Thrones is know for killing its darlings, and as we wrap up, I’d love your analysis of which of the following “good guys” is most likely to die this season: Bran, Arya, Sansa, Jon, Dany, Sam, Tyrion, Hound. Even knowing what this show can do to us, I’d still be shocked to lose one of the core eight…but we have to, eventually, right? I turn to you for guidance, ser Jackson.
The problem with Tyrion’s strategy are many, but chief among them was that it depended on naval dominance and they knew Euron was somewhere out there with a superior fleet. This episode was disastrous for Daenerys, and it needed to be to keep any tension in her quest for the Iron Throne. But it’s a shame when you have to make clever characters act uncharacteristically stupid in order to move the plot along.
I don’t know if someone major is going to die this season, but we’ve already had plenty of minor deaths, including all male Freys and two out of three Sand Snakes. Of the eight you mentioned, I’m not expecting any of them to die before Season Eight, but I’d say that Tyrion, Bran and Dany are the safest, followed by Jon, Arya and Sansa. That leaves the Hound and poor Samwell Tarly vulnerable, but that’d be like killing off a pregnant woman on her wedding night and what writers would be so cruel?
So to recap, this episode was a bit frustrating with a lot of set up for future conflict, but I still enjoyed it more than most things on TV. When an off episode can still have a speech like that delivered by Varys to his new queen, it’s doing something right.
Please don’t get infected with greyscale, Samwell Tarly.
Check back next week for more from Josh and Shane. Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.