Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have no knowledge of what is to transpire in this story. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
Since the end of last season, one thing was clear: Winter Is Here. Now, just as quickly, war is here. The premiere episode last week more than set the stage and made clear the alliances that were being formed in the war to come. Just one week later, first blood has been drawn and the war is officially on. The first battle came rather abruptly and it is clear that there will be several more battles to unfold before this war is decided. And while the epic sea battle might be what is most remembered from this episode, there were several other significant developments, from Arya turning back for Winterfell to Sam Tarly attempting to save the life of Ser Jorah. Another consistent theme throughout this episode was past events and relationships affecting present day decisions, from Jon Snow’s decision to head to Dragonstone because of the relationship he developed with Tyrion in the first season, to Samwell’s willingness to risk his life to cure Jorah because of the relationship he had with Jorah’s father, Lord Commander Mormont. The dots continue to be connected as characters continue to move closer and closer towards one another. And as these characters continue to be pulled towards one another, the stage is set for several key reunions and also some powerful first meetings.
The episode opens up at Dragonstone as a powerful storm sends waves crashing upon the towering Targaryen castle. It is this storm that the episode, entitled Stormborn, derives its name from. The opening dialogue of the episode have Varys and Tyrion talking about the storm 20 years ago that came across Westeros as Daenerys was birthed at Dragonstone. Now, 20 years later, another storm is upon the land as Daenerys and her advisers plot their next move. Daenerys shifts her attention to Varys and attacks him for the manner in which he has conspired behind the backs of previous rulers. In response, Varys delivers an impassioned speech to defend his actions, telling that he has always been a man of the people who refuses to pledge blind allegiance to incompetent rulers. Daenerys seems to work past her distrust of Varys after he pledges his loyalty and promises to tell her directly if he ever disagrees with the manner in which she rules.
Moments later, The Red Lady, Melisandre, arrives at Dragonstone to speak with Daenerys. We saw her last in season six, ordered by Jon Snow to ride south after having learned about the role Melisandre played in sacrificing and burning Princess Shireen. Ironically, it was Jon Snow’s order that would send Melisandre to Daenerys, where the topic of conversation would be Jon Snow himself. Melisandre tells Daenerys that she believes she is the Prince (or Princess) That Was Promised. As we’ve discussed before, The Prince That Was Promised is a prophecy in the religion of the Lord of Light, which says that the ancient warrior, Azor Ahai, who fought back the White Walkers during The Long Night, will eventually be reincarnated to fight back death and darkness once more. At first, Melisandre believed Stannis was the Prince That Was Promised, which turned out to be incorrect. Since then, many have argued that it will either be Daenerys or Jon Snow that will turn out to be TPTWP.
Beyond this, Melisandre tells Daenerys of Jon Snow and how he is now the King in the North. She also tells Daenerys of how Jon Snow has done something nobody else has ever done — he let the Wildlings south of The Wall and successfully united the Wildlings with the great houses of the North. Melisandre encourages Daenerys to summon Jon Snow to come to Dragonstone so that she can hear first hand of the things that Jon Snow has seen. So, while Jon Snow may have banished Melisandre, in reality, it is Melisandre who is advocating for Jon Snow and setting up the meeting between the two. While she often slips off our radar, it is important to remember that Melisandre, perhaps more so than any other character, is well aware of the war against darkness that is coming and will do anything within her power to win it. She knows that Daenerys and Jon Snow must meet, and thanks to her actions, it seems as though this will happen sooner than later.
Right on queue, Jon Snow receives not one but two ravens, each carrying an important message. Samwell Tarly has passed along the valuable information that Dragonstone is built upon a cache of Dragonglass — an important material that they will need to turn into weapons to battle the White Walkers. This message is juxtaposed perfectly against the next, which is raven from Tyrion, inviting Jon to meet Daenerys at Dragonstone. To no surprise, his supporters react adversely, stating that neither a Targaryen nor a Lannister is to be trusted. What they do not realize is that Daenerys and Tyrion are outliers — they are not typical Targaryens or Lannisters. Jon Snow argues that he must go to Dragonstone, as they are in great need of both Dragonglass and a powerful ally. So just like that, after six years of Thrones, in just one episode, Daenerys is made aware of Jon Snow and Jon Snow is made aware of Daenerys. What neither of them have been made aware of yet is that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt and Jon is Daenerys’ nephew. Of course, Jon is not yet even aware that he is half Targaryen. But, with the way ravens have been flying around and dropping knowledge in these first two episodes, it might not be much longer until he finds that out.
As I often try to do with these recaps, let’s dig a little bit deeper into this plot-point and acknowledge some of the amazing development that has led us to where we are today. Rightfully so, the Northerners argue against Jon Snow going to Dragonstone as they do not trust a Targaryen or a Lannister. But Jon Snow does not listen to any of them, not even to Lyanna Mormont who has been his strongest advocate to date. Why doesn’t he listen? Sure, in part, it is because he knows the threat they are facing and is willing to take a risk to acquire the Dragonglass and the powerful ally that he needs. But it is more than that. It is also because he trusts Tyrion, the very man who sent him this raven. And six years ago, we witnessed the establishment of their relationship, the very basis for why Jon Snow will decide to trust him and head to Dragonstone six years later. In the very first season, Jon and Tyrion travel to The Wall together and develop a real bromance. In many ways, they were both bastards, even though in fact, neither actually are. At the time, Tyrion empathizes with Jon Snow and tells him, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes.” Six years later, these are the same words he adds to the raven he sends to Jon Snow, referencing the connection they made many years back. Now, at the time, not a person in the world could have thought the casual trip they made together could have had any sort of significant impact upon the future. But as we’ve seen time and time again, it is this kind of development that makes the Thrones story so beautiful and ingenious. That George R.R. Martin had this kind of foresight to establish a relationship between the two unlikeliest of characters, only for it to turn out to be extremely meaningful so many years later, is nothing short of brilliant.
So now, Jon Snow is headed to Dragonstone, despite the pleas of everybody around him, including his own sister. Sansa reminds him of what happened to their grandfather the last time a Stark was summoned by a Targaryen. She is referring to an event that was the catalyst for Robert’s Rebellion. After Rhaegar Targaryen “captured” Lyanna Stark and rode off with her, her brother, Brandon rode to King’s Landing to demand her release. The Mad King arrested Brandon for treason and sent raven to Lyanna/Brandon’s father, Rickard, demanding that he ride to King’s Landing to answer for his children’s crimes. When Rickard arrived at King’s Landing, he was also arrested and then burned alive, while his son Brandon was forced to watch, before eventually being strangled to death. With this in mind, it is no surprise that Sansa does not want Jon to RSVP ‘yes’ to the next invitation that has been extended to a Stark by a Targaryen. But Jon knows the odds they are facing and departs for Dragonstone, leaving Sansa in charge of Winterfell. This of course leaves the door wide open for Baelish and whatever his next move might be.
At King’s Landing, Cersei continues to develop her army and has assembled many of the powerful lords to the Throne Room. She manipulates them with a fabricated story of another mad Targaryen that is coming to bring destruction to Westeros, and asks them to join her fight against Daenerys. Most of these lords have pledged fealty to House Tyrell, so while they may be willing to join Cersei’s side to oppose a Targaryen invader, this will by default also position them against House Tyrell. One man that appears unwilling to break his oath is Randyll Tarly, father of Samwell. He is a proud and powerful man who has known Olenna Tyrell since birth. Jaime tries to persuade him to join their side by offering to appoint him as a key general of the Lannister army, and also offers him position of Warden of the South after the war is won. It’s unclear whether Randyll will join or not, but it seems as though he can be convinced. Separately, we see Dickon Tarly, Randyll’s son and Samwell’s younger brother. He is heir to House Tarly and will likely have an important role to play. Again, this is another example of sides being chosen, and this decision will have interesting implications down the road. One thing we know is that Samwell will not be on the side of Cersei, and it is entirely possible that at some point, Samwell will come face to face with his father and brother, potentially in a time of war.
Randyll is not the only Tarly who has a critical decision to make in this episode. Again proving to be one of the more knowledgable characters in the story, Sam shares with the archmaestar his awareness that Princess Shireen was cured of her greyscale disease as a baby. However, the archmaestar dismisses Sam and gives Jorah one more day before sending him off to Old Valyria to join the others afflicted with greyscale. Looking over at his sword, Jorah considers taking his own life before accepting the archmaestar’s scenario, and we see Jorah preparing what was likely a goodbye letter to his Khaleesi. But then enters Sam, with a plan to perform a risky procedure to save Jorah’s life. Once again, we see a relationship from many years ago having significant impact upon the decisions being made by characters in present day. Years ago, Sam joined the Night’s Watch and served under Lord Commander Mormont, for whom he developed tremendous respect and admiration. When Sam learns that Jorah is the Lord Commander’s son, he is willing to risk not only being exiled from the Citadel, but also his own life, in the attempt to save Jorah’s. We do not see how things play out, but it seems as though Jorah may have found his lucky star and could be back in action sooner than later.
At the end of last season, when Samwell finally reached the Citadel, I wrote an interesting piece about the significance of the Citadel and what Samwell’s role could be in the future of this story. You can read more about that here. In that piece, I explored the idea that it is possible that it is in fact Samwell that is the narrator of the entire story we are being told today. First, we know that Sam is obsessed with books and storytelling, so if there is any character that recognizes the importance of recording and retelling history, it’s Sam. His arrival at the Citadel only strengthens this theory, as this is the very place where history is recorded and eventually retold to those who care to listen. When you consider this, coupled with the fact that we know the war against darkness is coming, this theory starts to seem even more possible. If you are open to the idea that it is possible that the humans lose the war against darkness, or at least a large percentage of humanity is wiped out, then it follows that somebody will need to be around to tell the story we are seeing today. Who better than Sam? And, in this most recent episode, there was another tidbit which strengthens this theory. When the archmaestar told Samwell of the book he was writing about Robert’s Rebellion, Sam responds that he would personally choose a title that was “a bit more poetic.” Perhaps something like “A Song of Ice and Fire” or “Game of Thrones.” As we have seen time and time again, there is no coincidental dialogue in Game of Thrones — things are said for a reason, even if we don’t find out that reason for many years to come. The writers would not choose to randomly include a line in this episode where Sam comments on the title of a story which recounts the events of recent history, unless it was supposed to mean something. I believe that this is a subtle hint which points to Sam eventually recording and retelling the story that is unfolding before our eyes today.
THE WOLVES REUNITE
On her way for King’s Landing to take out Cersei, Arya stops at the inn where she last split with her good friend Hot Pie. The relationship that developed between the two many years ago would prove to be quite valuable, as Hot Pie informs Arya that the Boltons no longer occupy Winterfell. He tells her of how Jon Snow defeated Ramsay and reclaimed Winterfell. Learning she now has a home to return to and family possibly waiting for her, Arya looks ahead at the road to King’s Landing, before deciding to turn back to head home. This moment again speaks to the ongoing development of Arya’s character and the question of who she wants to be. Is she Arya Stark of Winterfell, or a cold-blooded assassin whose sole purpose is to cross names off her list? With each episode, it appears more and more that she is some combination of the two. In this episode, we see that she values being Arya Stark and returning home to Winterfell more than she does the pursuit of avenging those she has lost.
In one episode, Arya reunites with her old friend Hot Pie, and the information he presented her with now presents the opportunity for her to reunite with her family. But the reunions did not stop there. Sitting over a fire in the woods, Arya is surrounded by a pack of wolves. She is outnumbered and out of luck, until the leader of the pack emerges. Two or three times the size of all the other wolves, this must be a direwolf and Arya immediately recognizes her to be Nymeria. Nymeria was Arya’s direwolf who she set free all the way back in the first season after Cersei ordered for Nymeria to be executed for biting Joffrey. For many years, Arya and Nymeria have been separated, and just like Arya has emerged a much more powerful version of herself, so too has Nymeria. Demonstrating the clear connection the Starks have with their direwolves, Nymeria appears to recognize Arya and looks deeply into her eyes. Arya pleads with Nymeria to come back to Winterfell with her, but Nymeria backs away with the rest of her pack. Arya whispers “That’s not you,” maybe trying to convince herself that it was a different wolf, but we all well know that it was in fact Nymeria. And though they did not immediately join together, Nymeria is out there, with a pack of wolves and it’s a safe bet that we’ll see them again.
“BE A DRAGON”
At Dragonstone, we see Tyrion’s role continuing to grow by the week, as too is his influence over Khaleesi. Tyrion tells her that she is not meant to be the queen of the ashes, a line that she directly repeats to the Greyjoys and Martells who are encouraging her to attack King’s Landing now. And when these allies question her, it is Tyrion that puts forth their military strategy. His strategy is for the Tyrell and Martell armies to surround King’s Landing, while Greyworm and the Unsullied attack the Lannister stronghold, Casterly Rock. The Greyjoys, Martells and Tyrells are amenable to this plan and it appears to be a sound strategy. But while Tyrion continues to put forth a more diplomatic and peaceful plan, Lady Olenna has other advice for Khaleesi.
Sitting alone, the wise Lady Olenna tells Khaleesi that Tyrion is a very clever man and that she has been around many clever men in her life, all of whom she has managed to outlive. She has done so by simply ignoring these clever men, a strategy she is subtly encouraging Khaleesi to employ with Tyrion. More explicitly, she tells Khaleesi that all the others are sheep, but that Khaleesi is a dragon. She tells her to “Be a dragon.” As usual, Lady Olenna shows her wisdom and offers a new vantage point. Khaleesi has been so concerned with being a fair, peaceful and diplomatic ruler, that she has perhaps suppressed the dragon inside of her. While nobody wants to see her repeat the madness or cruelty of her father, at the same time, it is important that Khaleesi remembers who she is. She is the Mother of Dragons, and to get to where she needs to be, she will have to be willing to embrace the fire, even if that fire produces ashes.
WAR HAS BEGUN
Without warning, battle breaks out and the Cersei vs Khaleesi war has officially begun. As the Greyjoys and Martells follow Tyrion’s plan and ride to Dorne to bring the Dornish army back to King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy attacks and all hell breaks loose. Suffice it to say, nobody does battles scenes like Game of Thrones, and the last few minutes of this episode delivered heart-pounding action. First, it was very cool to see a landless battle. We’ve all seen dozens of portrayals of battles that have taken place on land, but much less have we seen battles that have taken place on the sea. It was powerful to see Euron’s fleet descend upon the unsuspecting Greyjoy fleet and the all-hands-on-deck (pun intended) battle that would ensue.
We got first look at Euron’s fighting skills and see that he not only talks the talk, but can walk the walk. He takes down dozens of Ironborn, followed by taking out two of the three Sand Snakes. He was badly wounded several times, but continued fighting and seemed to embrace the bloody chaos — a true pirate. We also saw the Greyjoys, both Theon and Yara, show off their fighting skills. Below deck, Euron’s men surround Ellaria and the remaining Sand Snake, at which point Ellaria begs for death. But Euron has other plans for her, and she will likely be the gift that Euron promised to bring Cersei. Above deck, Euron has his blade to the throat of his niece, Yara, giving Theon the opportunity to protect his sister as he has pledged to do. As he looks around and sees death and destruction all around him, he is reminded of the torture he inflicted at the hands of Ramsay. He reverts back into his oldself — Reek — and jumps overboard.
And just like that, Euron has delivered the decisive first blow, weakening Khaleesi’s position. In one battle, Khaleesi has lost both of her Greyjoy supporters, their Iron Fleet, as well as her Martell supporters. Tyrion’s proposed strategy is now in serious jeopardy. They do not have the ships to bring back the Dornish army, nor do they have the Martell leaders to lead the Dornish army. Additionally, she’s lost the Greyjoy support and ships she had. Nobody is feeling too bad for Khaleesi with her three dragons and thousands of soldiers, but this definitely was not the start she wanted. As the episode comes to a close and Theon floats away like a piece of driftwood, Lady Olenna’s advice rings loud and true. Khaleesi must be wary of listening to the wise advisers around her and instead must embrace her inner dragon.
- Missandei and Greyworm finally get together. Not sure what this is about.
- Qyburn has worked up another one of his mysterious inventions and shows Cersei a giant dragon-killing weapon.
- Through two episodes, we’ve still not seen much from Bran, other than his brief arrival to The Wall.
- Last, but certainly not least, there is a very significant reveal in the season seven intro segment. As you can see in the pictures below, The Wall was built to span the entire width of Westeros, blocking off the White Walkers from traveling north to south. There are seas to the east and west of the land, where the Night’s Watch has castles to ensure the White Walkers cannot pass by water. But now that Winter Is Here, the White Walkers have actually frozen over the seas, allowing them to simply walk around The Wall. This revelation can be seen in the new opening segment. (See below) The White Walkers have brought winter and frozen the entire sea!! This is what The Hound saw last week in the fire when he said “It’s where The Wall meets the seas. The dead are marching past it. Thousands of them.”