The second episode of the season continued the theme of Daenerys-related episode titles: the first, “Dragonstone,” was named after her birthplace and the site of her return to Westeros, while this episode, “Stormborn,” calls back to her birth itself.
Daenerys was born during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against her father, the Mad King Aerys II. Her mother was sent to Dragonstone to give birth before King’s Landing was attacked, and a storm ended up destroying what was left of the Targaryen fleet. This helped speed along the defeat of the Mad King’s forces and the ousting of the Targaryen dynasty.
The circumstances of her birth and the events surrounding it are particularly important to understand on the cusp of her return to Westeros. Fittingly, “Stormborn” largely features the Westerosi reaction to an imminent Daenerys Targaryen invasion. She has never known Westeros, and they have never known her. She is stormborn, born during both a literal storm and a familial tragedy, yet she bears the nickname proudly. Will the bad omen of her birth come back to haunt her?
Note: Apologies for the delay in posting. Due to this season’s summer schedule, this episode and the next fall in the middle of my vacation. I will still post something for next week, but it will either be delayed or limited to the “Other Thoughts” section, depending on what I can pull off. Thanks in advance for sticking with me through these couple of weeks! I’ll be back in full form for the episode airing August 6.
In King’s Landing, Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime try to recruit more noblemen to their cause against Daenerys and her Westerosi allies. Obviously, the Lannisters have the greatest stake in discrediting Daenerys; Cersei twists some facts in order to make a persuasive argument against the would-be queen.
She urges many powerful, but lesser, lords (including Lord Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father) to affirm their allegiance to the crown. Many of them are vassal houses to the Tyrells, who teamed up with Daenerys after Cersei murdered Margaery and Loras. Cersei needs their troops and their supplies if she hopes to repel the coming invasion (the lands of the Reach are the most fertile in all of Westeros), so she reminds them of the facts (that suit her cause): Daenerys had hundreds of noblemen crucified and some fed to her dragons. Then, she appeals to their fear of the unknown, speculating that Daenerys’s foreign troops of Dothraki and the Unsullied will rape and pillage their lands, destroying Westerosi life as they know it.
Though it’s an alternative view of the facts, with no mention of the fact that the noblemen Daenerys killed were brutal slavemasters who had themselves crucified children, Cersei and Jaime are likely able to convince these noblemen, who would want to preserve their lives and livelihoods above all else.
It’s also not clear that the Dragon Queen would be welcomed by the people of Westeros, either; until this point, Daenerys has spent much of her time liberating and ruling over formerly enslaved people. The Westerosi are not enslaved. Though the lower classes may welcome a change from their current overlords, Daenerys is still yet another queen, and the offspring of a madman, no less.
Throughout the history of their rule, Targaryens have been known to have a particular strain of madness in their bloodline. Many Targaryens suffered from delusions; one even drank wildfire because he believed it would turn him into a dragon. Viserys, Daenerys’s brother, was full of rage and jealousy over his sister, and threatened her and her unborn son.
The Mad King, Daenerys’s father, was notoriously cruel and paranoid. He executed people on a whim and tried to blow up King’s Landing with wildfire so he could rise as a dragon from the ashes. Before that, he had ruled erratically and violently. When his son (and Daenerys’s brother) Rhaegar supposedly abducted Lyanna Stark*, Lyanna’s eldest brother, Brandon, went to King’s Landing to demand her release. The Mad King arrested and ransomed him to his father, Rickard Stark. When Rickard arrived at King’s Landing, the Mad King executed them both in a brutal, public display. Brandon was placed in a contraption with a noose around his neck and a sword just barely out of reach, so he strangled himself trying to fight. His father was burned alive inside his armor with wildfire (the same substance Cersei used to blow up the Great Sept).
*(Lyanna may have gone with Rhaegar willingly, out of love, but that is not the official Stark/Baratheon story. Jon Snow is likely a result of their union, therefore making him half Stark, half Targaryen, and Daenerys’s nephew.)
Therefore, Westerosi skepticism about Daenerys is not unfounded. The Northern houses are particularly wary of her, given how much they had suffered under the Mad King. When Jon Snow agrees to meet with Daenerys at Dragonstone, Sansa objects, thinking it might be a trap, having grown up with the knowledge of the brutal trap the Mad King laid for her uncle and grandfather. Jon, however, trusts Daenerys’s Hand, Tyrion Lannister, who ended his raven with “all dwarfs are bastards in their fathers’ eyes”– a line he shared with Jon when they first met at Winterfell. Jon plans to head to Dragonstone in order to secure her help in the fight against the White Walkers, particularly in mining the dragonglass on her island. Ser Davos also says that she would be a good ally in the coming war with the undead, particularly if tales of her three dragons are to be believed (fire works well against wights). Jon leaves Sansa in charge as queen regent of the North, which seems to pique Littlefinger’s interest.
Later, in the catacombs under Winterfell, Littlefinger finds Jon alone before Ned Stark’s statue. Jon is agitated with him from the start, but especially after he admits to loving both Catelyn and her daughter, Sansa. Littlefinger’s love for Catelyn was always romantic; he lusted for her, though she never returned his affections, so it is not a stretch to see that the love he feels for Sansa is not the paternal kind. He obsessed over Catelyn– or, at least the idea of her, because he has so easily transferred that obsession to Sansa. Through her, he believes he could acquire the status, lands, and power that he has craved all his life, to forever put the circumstances of his low birth behind him. Jon is rightfully disturbed by this revelation, and immediately puts Littlefinger up against the wall, threatening to kill him if Petyr touches his sister.
Hopefully, Sansa will not be alone with Littlefinger for long; her little sister Arya turned north when she learned that her beloved half-brother Jon is back at Winterfell. She hears the news from Hot Pie, who traveled with her through Seasons 1-3 after she joined Yoren’s recruits for the Wall in order to escape King’s Landing after her father’s execution (she originally posed as a boy in order to hide her identity, which Hot Pie makes reference to in this episode: “Can’t believe I ever thought you were a boy; you’re pretty!”). Swelling with emotion, Arya decides to leave Cersei for later, heading for a home she thought she might never see again.
As she sets up camp in the snow, her horse grows spooked by something approaching. Suddenly, she is surrounded by a pack of wolves, who are led by her long-missing direwolf, Nymeria. This reunion, long hoped for by book readers and TV viewers alike, was not the one most would have imagined. After my glee wore off, while Nymeria continued to show no warmth towards Arya, I began to seriously worry if her own direwolf was going to kill her (it suddenly seemed a very Game of Thrones-like thing to do). After all, the last time Arya saw her, she had to throw a stone at her in order to scare her off, in order to protect her from the Lannisters, who meant to kill her. Thankfully, Nymeria gets her wolves to stand down, but does not accept Arya’s invitation to return to Winterfell. Instead, she withdraws back into the Riverlands with her pack while Arya looks on sadly, saying, “That’s not you.”
This line was confusing, at first, because it clearly was Nymeria (she’s most likely the only other direwolf remaining in the land, besides Ghost; their litter of direwolves were the only ones found south of the Wall in hundreds of years). As the showrunners Benioff and Weiss explain in the episode’s after show, this line is a call back to an earlier scene Arya shared with her late father, Ned. In it, she asks if she can be a lord of a castle, and Ned says that she will marry a high lord and rule his castle, and her sons will be knights, princes, and lords. “No, that’s not me,” she tells him, before continuing to practice her sword-fighting. Nymeria, too, is destined for something other than what she was born into (serving the Stark family). She is truly Arya’s direwolf in spirit, if not in possession.
In Oldtown, Sam and the Archmaester Ebrose continue to treat Jorah Mormont’s greyscale. In examining him, Ebrose remarks that Jorah is beyond saving. Normally, most of the infected commonfolk would be sent to live with the stone men, who are expelled from society to live in the ruins of old cities in Essos. This is where Jorah originally contracted the disease, when he was traveling with Tyrion through the ruins of Old Valyria. Ebrose implies that, as a high-born knight, Jorah would be given one more day to kill himself before otherwise being exiled.
Sam is unwilling to accept the Archmaester’s prognosis, in part because he has learned that Jorah is the estranged son of Jeor Mormont, the late commander of the Night’s Watch and a major inspiration to Jon and Sam. He tries to convince the Archmaester to save Jorah’s life, arguing that Stannis Baratheon’s daughter, Shireen, was cured of greyscale, and that he’s learned of a Maester Pylos who successfully treated advanced cases. Ebrose remarks that Pylos contracted the disease and died, refusing to attempt the same for Jorah.
Later that night, Sam decides to treat Jorah himself. “You’re not dying today,” he tells him, revealing to the old knight that he served under his father with the Night’s Watch. He uses books to help guide him in removing the layers of greyscale, with much pain for his patient. With luck, Jorah may yet be able to return to Daenerys’s side as she takes back the Seven Kingdoms.
Back on Dragonstone, Daenerys meets with her small council to discuss the plans for taking Westeros. Tyrion’s core strategy is to not leave Westeros a pile of ashes, knowing Daenerys would rather have happy subjects to rule over than grabbing power for power’s sake.
Daenerys grills Varys for his having served many kings who were later betrayed with his help, including her father. Varys is honest about his dislike for her father, the Mad King, once again reminding us of the brutal recent history of Targaryen rule. Daenerys is wary of his ever-changing allegiances, but Varys refuses to back down on his conviction that incompetent rulers do not deserve blind loyalty. She relents to this assertion but insists that he counsel her through mistakes she makes, rather than conspiring against her, showing her willingness to grow and improve, in order to better serve her people.
Melisandre ends up on Dragonstone to greet Daenerys, still shaken by her misreading of the Lord of Light’s messages in the flames. She tells the would-be queen that she believes she might be the Prince(ss) who was Promised– the one who is prophesied to save the world from the coming darkness. Originally, she believed that it was Stannis who was this Warrior of Light, but had her faith shaken when her prophecies proved to be misinterpretations of the flames. Now, she believes that both Daenerys and Jon Snow are important pieces to fulfilling this prophecy and saving the world. When Tyrion vouches for Jon, Daenerys asks him to be sent for so that an alliance can be formed, and so that he can “bend the knee.”
In preparing for the coming invasion, Daenerys adds Yara Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand, and Olenna Tyrell to her war council. All of them advise, in their own way, for a direct assault on King’s Landing, though Daenerys insists on maintaining Tyrion’s strategy and refusing to become the “queen of the ashes.”
Instead of using Daenerys’s Dothraki and Unsullied forces, Tyrion proposes using Tyrell and Dornish soldiers to lay siege on King’s Landing, much to Ellaria and Lady Olenna’s dismay. He insists that foreign invaders would only rally the noble houses to Cersei’s cause, despite their inherent dislike for her. The women grudgingly agree when Tyrion proposes that Grey Worm leads his Unsullied forces to invade Casterly Rock instead. This is a major betrayal of his family, but Tyrion believes it’s important to cut off Cersei’s hope for retreat and deal a major, surprising blow to the Seven Kingdoms. Finally, Tyrion says that the Greyjoy fleet will bring Ellaria and the Sand Snakes back to Dorne so that they can rally the Dornish troops and head back to King’s Landing for the siege.
In a private conversation with Lady Olenna after the meeting, Daenerys admits that she knows that the older woman is not motivated by Daenerys’s cause so much as by revenge for the deaths of her grandchildren. The Queen of Thorns (Olenna’s appropriate nickname) does not deny it. She pushes back when Daenerys says that all she wants is “peace,” for as Olenna sees it, there was never much peace under Targaryen rule– especially not under the Mad King– and she’s lived through more of their reign than most. She warns Daenerys about listening to Tyrion and other “clever men,” saying that she’s lived so long by ignoring their advice. In her eyes, Daenerys must be a dragon in order to rule over the sheep of Westeros.
Lady Olenna’s warning echos in the air as, later in the episode, Tyrion’s plan goes awry almost from the start. As the Greyjoy ships sail to Dorne with Ellaria and the Sand Snakes, they are ambushed by Yara and Theon’s uncle, Euron Greyjoy, and his fleet.
A fierce battle ensues, lit only by the sparks and flames of Yara’s burning ships. One of the Sand Snakes, Tyene, retreats below deck to protect her mother while the others fight Euron on the deck. Euron kills the other Sand Snakes with their own weapons, while Tyene and Ellaria are taken captive down below.
Towards the end of the battle, Yara fights her uncle, but is overpowered. As Euron holds her hostage, he taunts “little Theon,” whom she had just named her “protector” before the battle broke out. Theon sees Euron’s men mutilating the wounded on deck and immediately flashes back to his torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. To Yara’s dismay, and Euron’s delight, Theon chooses to jump overboard rather than try to save his sister.
Yara is taken hostage, with the two Dornish women, to be presented to Cersei as a gift of proposal, alongside the all-but-total crippling of Daenerys’s naval fleet. It’s a fitting end for an episode titled “Stormborn” after the storm that wiped out the Targaryen fleet upon Daenerys’s birth. Her bad luck continues…
Other thoughts on “Stormborn”:
- Will the failure of the initial part of Tyrion’s plan lead Daenerys to be more likely to heed the women’s advice, and attack Cersei directly? She has not always reacted well to set-backs… One of the biggest problems with a direct assault on King’s Landing is that she will be likely to use the dragons in the effort, and in this episode we saw Maester Qyburn’s dragon-slaying invention in action. What is unclear is how well it will work on moving, live targets covered in armored scales. Will her three dragons make it to the Wall to help in the fight against the White Walkers (if she even agrees to aid Jon in the first place)?
- Speaking of agreeing to aid Jon, I don’t see her being overly convinced of Jon’s plea. If she expects him to bend the knee, she’s likely to be very disappointed; I don’t see Jon giving up his claim to the King of the North, after knowing the hope and trust his Northernmen have placed in him. He may eventually bend the knee to get her help, depending on how desperate he is, but I don’t see it yet.
- Even if Jon does bend the knee, I don’t think he’s likely to convince Daenerys of the threat of the White Walkers. Remember, much of Westeros still does not believe that they actually exist, much less a woman who has never lived there. Even people in the North (including Sansa) don’t fully understand their threat, and therefore aren’t adequately focused on it. Daenerys is on the cusp of achieving something she has fought for for years; she will not be easily diverted. The only hope for Jon is if someone can help convince her of either the seriousness of the threat, or the trustworthiness of his word. Tyrion trusts Jon, but he does not believe in White Walkers, despite being very well-read and highly-educated. Back in one of the first episodes of the series, Tyrion made fun of Jon’s romanticism on his way to the Wall: “Ah yes, yes, [the Night’s Watch protects] against grumpkins and snarks and all the other monsters your wet nurse warned you about. You’re a smart boy. You don’t believe that nonsense.” Melisandre, if she’s still around, could help illuminate what she meant by the “common enemy” she says that they all are going to face, but she’s not exactly a trusted advisor yet.
- So who can convince Daenerys, if anyone at all? I think it’ll be Jorah Mormont. Now that he’s met Sam, and Sam will likely be the one to save his life and allow him to return to Daenerys’s service, she will be somewhat indebted to the young Maester-in-training. I think Jorah will tell Sam that he means to head to Dragonstone, once he learns Daenerys is there, and Sam will tell him about the much-needed cache of dragonglass on the island. He’ll likely try to convince Jorah of the threat they face, appealing to his knowledge of the North and the Wall (thanks to his family’s connection via his father, the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jeor Mormont). Jorah will then arrive on Dragonstone with news from Sam, and Daenerys will be moved by the accounts of one of her oldest and best counselors.
- I liked the callbacks in this episode, particularly the fact that both Jon and Ned have grabbed Littlefinger by the neck and pushed him up against a wall for supposed impropriety against the Stark women (in Ned’s case, he believed Littlefinger was lying about Catelyn’s whereabouts when Littlefinger brought him to one of his brothels, saying she was there). Also, Ser Davos clearly reads the note from Tyrion Lannister, a sign of how far he’s advanced in his literacy since the late Shireen Baratheon encouraged and taught him to read.
- Jon says that dragonglass kills both White Walkers and their army of undead wights, though this wasn’t the case in the books. Dragonglass is only supposed to kill White Walkers (the blue-eyed leaders), while fire kills the wights (their body parts will still be animated even if cut off, so fire is the only known method). It appears that the show has changed this fact.
- The brief scene with Sam and Archmaester Ebrose collecting books had an interesting nod to the Game of Thrones novels. Ebrose says he is working on a book titled A History of the Wars Following the Death of Robert I, and Sam remarks that the title could be more “poetic.” This is likely a nod to A Song of Ice and Fire, the “poetic” title of the book series the show is based off of, which also chronicles the history of the wars following the death of Robert Baratheon.
- Slowly, Arya has been shedding the identities she has taken up over the years since her father’s execution. First, she assumed the identity of a boy and took different names to hide from those who would do her harm. Ultimately, she refused to become “No One” in her training with the Faceless Men, and ever since then has been trying to rediscover her identity as Arya Stark. Hot Pie calls her “Arry” in this episode, the name that she used when she posed as a refugee boy, but when she meets Nymeria later, she says, “It’s me, Arya.” As she continues north, she is closer and closer to reclaiming her identity as Arya Stark of Winterfell.
- Is this the last we’ve seen of Nymeria? I’m not convinced, though I’ve been known to get my hopes up over relatively minor plot points in the past. I’m still holding out hope of seeing Nymeria return to Arya’s side someday, especially since I think Arya has some level of warging ability like her brother, Bran. I think it’s part of the reason why she makes such an adept Faceless assassin. But, this week’s scene felt pretty final with regards to Nymeria’s status on the show…
- I will die happy if we get an Arya and Sansa reunion, though Arya is notorious for having near-misses with her Stark family members (the worst being the Red Wedding, when she was right outside the Twins about to reunite with her mother and brother when the murders took place). Knowing the bleakness of Game of Thrones, I’m not sure they would allow us the joy of this mini-reunion of two sisters who used to hate each other back when life was simpler. How much they’ve grown since they last saw each other!