All credit to the ‘Game of Thrones’ writers. Even seven seasons in, the show still has the ability to drop a bombshell that disrupts the entire narrative.
At least, I assume that this week’s big plot twist comes from the TV show’s writers and not from George R.R. Martin. I believe the series has moved well past the books at this point.
It was a dark and stormy night. Really, that’s how the episode begins. A major thunderstorm rolls in over the Targaryen castle. Daenerys, Tyrion and Varys strategize their next steps to take over the Seven Kingdoms. Tyrion counsels that sweeping in, destroying everything and slaughtering everyone in sight is not smartest the way to go, because it will leave Daenerys with nothing but ash to rule and will turn the people against her.
Daenerys questions Varys’ loyalty, pointing out that he betrayed two kings before her. In explaining why he did that, Varys makes a pointed political comment that, “Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty.” (Hmm, I wonder what the writers could really be talking about here?) Varys is able to win her over, but Dany warns him that she’ll have her dragons burn him alive at the first sign of disloyalty.
Later, Daenerys is paid a visit by the Red Priestess Melisandre, who was recently expelled from Winterfell (though she of course neglects to mention that). When she starts talking about the legend of the Prince Who Was Promised, Dany’s translator Missandei explains that the original wording was non-gender-specific and could mean either Prince or Princess. Daenerys is pleased by this. Tyrion is surprised to learn that Jon Snow is now King in the North. Melisandre recommends that Daenerys should summon him for a potential alliance. Tyrion approves this suggestion. Daenerys agrees to send an invitation, on the condition that she expects him to bend the knee to her rule.
Next, Daenerys convenes a meeting of her new allies: Yara and Theon Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand, and Olenna Tyrell. They’re all eager for war and revenge, and want to sack King’s Landing as soon as possible. Daenerys, however, heeds Tyrion’s advice. She doesn’t want to be a “Queen of Ash.” Her plan is to lay siege to the capital but not invade it. Importantly, the army that does this must be made up entirely of Westerosi people (i.e. all the Greyjoy, Sand and Tyrell forces), not foreign invaders. The Unsullied will instead seize the Lannister seat of power at Casterly Rock.
After the others leave, Olenna has a private chat with Daenerys and warns her against following every suggestion Tyrion makes. She says that Daenerys is a dragon, not a sheep. “Be a dragon,” she advises.
That night, Missandei stops at Grey Worm’s quarters and asks if he planned to say goodbye to her before leaving for Casterly Rock. He did not. Grey Work tells Missandei that he never had fear of anything, until he met her. She’s his weakness. They have a moment and he finally gives in and kisses her. Missandei disrobes and pulls off some of Grey Worm’s clothes. He stops her at the pants. He doesn’t want her to see his castration. She continues anyway and draws him to the bed. They make love as much as they’re able, which is a lot more work for Grey Worm than for Missandei. For a eunuch who’s been sheltered from any experience with sex his entire life, he has no problem figuring out what women like.
With the nature of the way that time is compressed in this story, it seems like Jon Snow receives the invitation from Daenerys quickly, even though weeks or months may have passed. Sansa is skeptical and thinks it’s a trap. She can’t trust a Targaryen. As much as Jon acknowledges her concern, he believes Tyrion to be a good man. He’s also very intrigued by the stories that Daenerys has three dragons. He points out that fire is one of the few things that can kill White Walkers, and “What breathes fire?”
Jon Snow later receives another message, the one Sam sent to inform him of the mountain of dragonglass beneath the Targaryen castle. He gathers the brothers of the Watch and other supporters to announce that he’s going to Dragonstone to meet with Daenerys. Sansa once again publicly objects to his plans. The men of the Watch are upset, and even Lyanna Mormont accuses him of abandoning them when they need him in the North. Nonetheless, Jon Snow persists. They need the dragonglass, and could use the support of a powerful army. He has to go himself because the queen will not accept an emissary. While he’s away, he’s leaving Sansa in charge. Littlefinger smiles slyly at this news.
Littlefinger finds an opportunity to get Jon alone before he leaves. He tries to assure Snow that he’s not an enemy, and insists that he is genuinely in love with Sansa, just as he had been in love with her mother. This was not wise (or perhaps Littlefinger is intentionally trying to get a reaction out of him). Jon slams him against a wall and strangles him, threatening to murder him if he ever so much as speaks to Sansa again. Somehow, I doubt Littlefinger will heed this warning.
Wasting no time addressing one of her threats, Cersei summons the lords of the Reach and puts the fear of god in them that Daenerys Targaryen is as deranged as her father, the Mad King, and that her Dothraki hordes will rape and pillage their way through all the kingdoms. When one of the lords asks how they’re supposed to fight against dragons, mad scientist Qyburn claims that they’re working on something to deal with that.
Jaime pulls aside Lord Randyll Tarly (Sam’s dickish father) and asks him to commit his troops to the crown. In return, he’ll make Tarly his ranking general in the army. This presents a conflict for Tarly, who is a sworn bannerman of the Tyrell family. Tarly knows Olenna Tyrell well and respects her. He’s averse to betraying her, but Jaime lays out the case that she’s on the losing side.
Qyburn brings Cersei to the Red Keep basement to look at the dragon skulls that Mad King Aerys formerly used as decorations in the castle. King Robert had saved them as trophies after the rebellion. Qyburn claims that dragons are not invincible, and unveils a new prototype of a giant crossbow cannon. He invites Cersei to pull the trigger. Sure enough, it launches a powerful arrow that pierces right through one of the skulls.
Looking over the extent of his greyscale infection, Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent) informs Jorah Mormont that he will probably live for a few more years, but the disease will take his mind in less than six months. When Sam interrupts to mention that Shireen Baratheon was cured of greyscale, the Archmaester dismisses the possibility, owing to the advanced state of Jorah’s infection. He tells Jorah that he can only stay one more night, and should think about what he wants to do with that time – not so subtly hinting that suicide would be a smart idea. As he and the Archmaester are leaving, Sam is startled to learn Jorah’s last name, which he of course immediately connects with the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Sam continues to press the matter with the Archmaester and does his own research into another known greyscale cure. Losing patience with him, the Archmaester tells Sam that the procedure is too dangerous (the only maester who attempted it later died of greyscale himself) and is forbidden.
Of course, that doesn’t stop Sam. Late that night, he intrudes into Jorah’s room (just as he’s writing a goodbye letter to Daenerys), explains that he knew his father, and gets right to work on the cure. “I’m afraid this is going to hurt,” Sam warns, and begs Jorah not to scream as he pulls out a scalpel and begins flaying his skin to remove the scales. The only anesthetic he can offer is a bottle of rum. It’s not enough.
En route to King’s Landing, Arya stops at the Crossroads Inn and is reunited with her friend Hot Pie, who still works there as a baker. He’s very excited to see her and turns very chatty even though she’s a little cold to him. When he asks if she’s heading to Winterfell to see Jon Snow, Arya is shocked to learn that the Boltons are dead. She had no idea that her half-brother was still alive, much less that he’s now a king. As she leaves, she diverts course from her mission and rides toward Winterfell instead.
On the way, Arya has to stop and make camp for the night. She hears noises in the woods and draws her sword, upon which she’s quickly surrounded by a ring of growling wolves. The leader of pack arrives last, a giant direworf. Arya recognizes it as her old direwolf, Nymeria (the one who bit Joffrey back in Season 1). Arya lowers her sword and speaks to the wolf, asking her to join her. Nymeria gives her a sniff, but then turns and leaves, bringing the other wolves with her. Arya’s old life is truly dead now. Will this experience turn her back towards King’s Landing after all?
Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes sail with the Greyjoy fleet toward their siege on King’s Landing. Ellaria flirts with Yara and taunts Theon about being her protector. Yara dismisses Theon, but just as the two women start to make out, the ship is violently rocked by an explosion. Yara runs up to the deck and sees a terrifying ship twice the size of her own emerge from the fog. It’s her deranged uncle, Euron. His ship rams Yara’s, and a scary-looking gangplank swings down and latches to her deck.
Euron leads the charge himself as his troops board Yara’s vessel. A bloody clash ensues, and the other ships in Yara’s fleet are set ablaze, their flames lighting up the night sea. Euron personally kills two of the Sand Snake girls. Ellaria and her other daughter are captured. Yara charges at her uncle and desperately fights him off, but Euron overpowers her.
Theon is distracted with his own fight when he hears Euron calling his name. He has an axe to Yara’s throat, and taunts Theon to come rescue her. Theon panics, looks around at the battle being lost, and cowardly jumps over the side of the ship, leaving behind his beloved sister that he swore to protect.
Floating among the debris, Theon watches the fleet burn. From the bow of the flagship, he sees one female body hanging and other impaled. The scene is very dark and the corpses aren’t terribly clear. My first assumption was that they were Yara and Ellaria, but this wiki claims that they were Ellaria’s Sand Snake daughters, Obara and Nymeria. (Yes, that’s two different Nymerias in this episode.) I can only assume that Euron will keep Ellaria and Yara alive to present them as gifts to Cersei.
So much for the great siege on King’s Landing. Daenerys’ plan there is already shot to hell. I certainly didn’t see that coming. Although this quick defeat is probably not as huge a game-changer as Robb Starks’ murder at the Red Wedding, it similarly comes from out of nowhere and will have plenty of repercussions that shift the balance of power in the region.
Euron Greyjoy is suddenly a real force to the reckoned with in the story. He also fills the “evil psycho sonofabitch” vacuum left by Ramsay Bolton’s death. That’s a role he’s happy to play.
This episode is very cleverly deceptive. The first three-quarters are extremely talky and, though interesting, appear to follow more of the slow build-up from the season premiere – only to pull the rug out from viewers at the end. That’s a trick ‘Game of Thrones’ has mastered at this point, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t still continue to work.