The power of the fiery winter continues its climactic ascension in episode two. Tides are changing and courses are being redirected with every moment, move, and misstep. As the show builds its unimaginable lust for what’s to come, it holds the world breathless with the reveal of each precious, new scene.
Wasting no time, “Stormborn,” picks up from the end of the last episode with Daenerys addressing her small council at Dragonstone. The scene illustrates an important delineation of character for two of the key players in the wars to come: Lord Varys and the Mother of Dragons herself. Albeit an uncomfortable place for Tyrion, Daenerys unleashes a relentless interrogation of The Spider, calling into question his loyalty. She’s keen in noticing his shifting devotion throughout the reign of previous rulers and the role his homage has played in both the success and demise of these rulers.
Now that they’ve arrived in Westeros, everything is becoming as real as the stone they stand on, and she’s set on having those around her with unwavering devotion and not jump ship when the winds blow in a difficult direction. Lord Varys’ response is indicative of his growth and perhaps represents an integrity that he’s never displayed with those he’s served before. He’s always bended the truth to appease and please his former kings, crafting delicately spun webs in which to operate, but it seems that with Daenerys he’s willing to be more vulnerable in that he’s not pledging his blind allegiance to her. His truth and her need for authenticity make for an unfamiliar combination in a royal regime, one that’s as unique in the Seven Kingdoms as it is significant.
A recently deserted Dragonstone finds itself to be occupied by not only new inhabitants that have crossed the Narrow Sea, but also residents of old as the Red Woman, Melisandre finds herself on the shores of the castle. Failing with Stannis Baratheon and being banished by Jon Snow, she continues to try and fulfill her servitude to the Lord of Light through delivering a champion who’ll defend against the Long Night, which is finally upon the living.
Daenerys receives Melisandre, particularly due to the aid her priestesses provided in the calming of Mereen, and their meeting proves to be fortuitous. Bringing the news of Jon Snow and his campaign provides critical information to the great Khaleesi as well as her Hand, Tyrion. It is her journey that births the path for the royal Targaryen encounter/reunion. It’s hard to ignore the magic of Melisandre’s one, true god. Through death, life, and resurrection, her fanatical journey has provided highly-powerful results in the lives of those around her and the lives of those whose roads she intersects.
Meanwhile, word has spread to the King in the North of Daenarys’ presence in Westeros. There’s slight skepticism regarding the validity of the raven sent from Dragonstone, but Tyrion’s clever placement of the line, “all dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes” ensures Jon’s trusting of the information enclosed. Sansa, Davos, and Jon all have mixed sentiments regarding the summons, but this scene shows their regard for Tyrion as a benevolent figure as well as the obvious benefit of allying with a queen who possesses three dragons. Beasts who just so happen to contain the ultimate weapon against the long winter – unrelenting fire.
And while the Queen in the South and the King of the North come closer to a pertinent joining, seemingly intensifying the forces working against Cersei, she isn’t as far behind as the realm may think. Although she’s destroyed hundreds, if not thousands, in the burning of the Great Sept of Baelor, squandering great allies in the process, she remains as cunning as ever in her strategy and manipulation. Despite Jaime’s doubts, she still has her brother’s allegiance along with that of the demonic Mountain and mad scientist turned Hand, Qyburn.
Among her small, yet deadly council, she has a psychotic suitor with the most powerful armada in Westeros pining for her hand-in-marriage and Cersei is steadily convincing the lords of Westeros to join her cause through carefully sold propaganda against the Targaryen name. Not to mention the colossal crossbow constructed in the depths of the castle with the sole purpose of slaughtering dragons, one whose success may be certain, as its power is displayed on the skull of Balerion the Black Dread. Cersei, through her own voice and the power of those in her court, is slowly mobilizing; slowly, but as surely as ever.
In a place that concerns itself not with the political agendas of the aristocracy, a young warrior continues to build a unique strength of his own using more brain than brawn. Samwell Tarley, now under the tutelage of Archmaester Ebrose, finds himself inspecting Jorah Mormont’s advanced greyscale affliction up close. A cure seems far out of reach as the Archmaester provides Jorah with a hopeless diagnosis. Sam, being the diligent thinker he is, brings up the Princess Shireen, suggesting that her success in stopping the spreading could potentially be a model for Jorah’s recovery. He’s, of course, shot down immediately, right before his teacher gives Jorah one more day to remain at the Citadel out of respect for his knighthood. Without blatantly stating it, Archmaester Ebrose suggests suicide, as a means to prevent the psychosis that’s yet to set in. As the suffering patient’s doomful future fills the room, Sam offers to send word to his family, only to discover that the knight who sits before him is Jorah Mormont, one and only son of Jeor Mormont, former Lord Commander of the Knight’s Watch.
We see later in the episode that shortly thereafter his visit to Jorah, he’s since researched The Study of Rare Diseases by Archmaester Pylos. Upon finding two documented cases of advanced greyscale being cured he approaches Archmaester Ebrose about the matter. Albeit being told that the man who effectively cured the two cases died from the disease as well – in fact the procedure has since been forbade – Sam still decides to risk everything in an attempt to save Jorah Mormont’s life. Sam’s weapon is knowledge, and the practice of it. He’s a seeker, and fearless to apply the things he’s learned. Appropriately, in this scene, the cuts from his blade save. Not kill.
As Sam risks everything to preserve a man’s life, a man who’s only desire is to return to his Khaleesi and serve her, that man’s beloved queen discusses military strategy with an unlikely group of allies across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys, now allied with the Dornish (represented by Ellaria Sand), House Tyrell (Lady Olenna), and a partial sector of the Iron Fleet (Yara and Theon Greyjoy), is receiving strong input from her council. The majority of her forces urge her passionately to attack King’s Landing now, with the power of multiple armies and the rare weapon of dragon fire. While the women show tenacious and ruthless drive, Tyrion seemingly concerns himself and his queen with the outcome of casualties resulting in an immediate attack. It appears the Dragon Queen has taken heed to her trusted Hand’s advice and has devised a plan to lay siege to the Iron Throne using the Dornish army while the Dothraki and Unsullied take Casterly Rock.
While Daenerys has the commitment of her allies to the plan she’s forged, it’s clear that Lady Olenna’s cunning assessment of her strategy doesn’t scream approval. In a private moment, Deanerys decides to speak with her in regards to her allegiance, knowing it’s not so much pledged to her, but more so dedicated to the destruction of Cersei. In promising Lady Olenna her revenge with the prospect of peace resulting after, House Tyrell’s strongest force gives Dany some sharp words of advice.
“Peace never lasts, my dear. Will you take a bit of advice from an old woman? He’s a clever man, your Hand. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
Blood will be spilled in this war of hers, whether it’s approached with caution or immediate intensity. Lady Olenna encourages the Mother of Dragons to unleash her fire so that it drips the blood based on her instinct, and not that of the mere men who rode on the back of her wings to the position of power they’re in now. Her prophetic wisdom chills as it rings the cautionary sirens of truth.
After the news is publicly announced that the Unsullied will set out on an immediate mission to take the rock, Missandei and Grey Worm realize the very real possibility of never seeing one another again. In a richly vulnerable scene, the two reveal their deeply matured love, both emotionally and very physically as well. Poetic in its intimacy, a man who’s used his body solely for war becomes enveloped in a woman whose mouth is used only to broker peace. As Grey Worm delivers to her a specialized eroticism using his body and tongue, Missandei doesn’t need to say anything at all while they feel the pleasures of physical love and not war, for the very first time.
While Daenerys plots her military takeover of King’s Landing and the destruction of the queen on the Iron Throne, Arya presses south with her own aspirations of slaughtering Cersei Lannister. The further she goes on her journey, the further it seems she’s losing self and an unmitigated bloodlust takes hold. This is well illustrated as she runs into a once-treasured friend in Hot Pie at a tavern on her journey. Albeit a delight to see him crafting warm loafs of delicious bread, still alive and managing a respectable job, Arya seems to be unfazed by running into her former companion. However, and ironically, a friend breathes humanity back into her soul as Hot Pie informs her of Jon’s victory against Ramsay Bolton in the “Battle of the Bastards” in the north. A precious jewel of information she had not been privy to. Learning of Winterfell being reclaimed by her believed to be half-brother is enough to jolt her out of the killing hypnosis and inspire change. It’s time for her to go home.
Arya, with her course now redirected, finds herself on a path home to the north. Long travel demands that camp be made, so she does, preparing to combat another evening alone in the wilderness. Her horse begins to spook and after initially dismissing the warning, Arya realizes something’s not right. A group of wolves surround her and her frightened travel companion with aggression, teeth bared. While she processes the danger circling around her, a giant direwolf approaches at her back. As Arya turns to the beast, she comes to the chilling conclusion that this magnificent creature is in fact her beloved Nymeria, who’s grown as wild and fierce as she has over the years.
The energy shifts as Nymeria recognizes her once mother-guardian, the person who cast her aside as a pup, not fully aware of Arya’s intention to save her life through dismissal. And although Nymeria’s hostility diminishes upon realizing whom she and her pack have encountered, she has no allegiance left for the girl who cast her aside, the one who now pleads for her companionship. As Nymeria retreats back into the forest Arya comes to a bittersweet conclusion: like herself, the direwolf she once cared for is an untamable force, one meant to live a richer and more powerful life than one of domestication. As she softly remarks, “That’s not you,” she draws a deep parallel between herself and the beautiful direwolf, finding solace in the fact they were both meant for far greater than what was originally planned for them. Several years previous, her father, Ned Stark, told her she were to be a lady of the court. When Arya replied, “That’s not me” it was her symbolic first step into the woods.
Ironically enough, and common to the energy of the show, while Arya prepares to get back to her family in Jon Snow, he receives critical information regarding the dragonglass from the Sam at the Citadel that makes it impossible for him to stay. Now possessing the knowledge that a mountain of dragonglass lies beneath the place that the Queen in the South has beckoned him to come to, a place where there are thousands of potential allied troops and three dragons, there’s no question whether he’s to go or not. His announcement to leave Winterfell is met with opposition from not just the northern lords, but his sister Sansa as well. They question his loyalty to the people and the quality of his kingship, but the truth is, Jon’s the most honorable man to hold the title yet. Even as he gives himself all the grief about not wanting the position in the first place, he’s doing what he’s always done – what’s best for his people and mankind.
Jon’s decisions have all been valiant up to this point and leaving the north to the rightful heir of Winterfell in Sansa is no different. It is a commanding moment when he announces the news, news that most surely stirred fire within Little Finger, a man who’s titillated with the notion of power and blue-eyed redheads. As Jon pays his respect in the crypts before his departure, Lord Baelish approaches him. And in Baelish’s natural style, he presents himself as a hero to Jon, referencing his aid in getting Ned’s bones back to Winterfell, his part in defeating the Boltons, as well as the love he had for Catelyn and now Sansa. Jon knows the game all too well and can sense the slime in men. He knows Little Finger has only vested interest in himself and has played many parts in the horrors that have plagued his family. In flexing another Kingly muscle, he ensures Lord Baelish that a misstep or mishandling of his family, particularly his sister, will result in his death. The fire roars powerfully from within the wolf.
The conclusion of the episode opens with the Sand Snakes squabbling about who’ll kill who once they arrive at Blackwater Bay. A premature confidence seems to plague that entire family, a lesson that must be learned time and time again. And while the girls argue down below, a pair of women seem to be getting along just fine in the upper decks of the ship. Yara and Elleria, two figures thirsty for battle and pleasure, develop a sultry interest in one another while Theon observes painfully.
It seems that their lust is escalating towards a crescendo when a crash of a different variety is felt on the ship. Yara demands that Ellaria stay below as she surfaces to discover that Euron has invaded their armada with a powerful one of his own. A firestorm of blood and death disseminate upon Yara’s fleet as many are slaughtered. Led by the axe of the raving Euron, the eldest Sand Snakes, Obara and Nymeria, are killed, and Ellaria along with the youngest of the Sand Snakes, Tyene, are taken captive.
In the final scene of the episode, Euron holds Yara’s neck to the axe as he taunts Theon to play the protector. It appears as though the death and destruction are too much for him to bear as he shows visible signs of triggered trauma upon observing the carnage. In this pivotal moment, Theon decides to jump overboard, seemingly abandoning Yara in her ultimate time of need. But is this really the case?
Theon may have very well realized that the most pertinent way for him to help his sister is by his escape, so that he can inform the Mother of Dragons of the attack. This may be a showing of his true courage and understanding that his mental capacity can now be much more effective than what he can combat with his physical strength.
Was Tyrion aware of this possibility, potentially counting on it? He tends to play a long game, based on his specified skill set, and may be playing at rallying the loyalties of both Yara and Alleria’s followers after capture. At present moment it seems that Cersei has struck first blood, and with every passing moment the plot grows more intense in its mystery and complication. As the artfully-crafted season continues, the more tantalizing the style and narrative become as we get closer to the truth of who will survive this great game of thrones.