‘Game of Thrones’ recap: In ‘Stormborn,’ the battle for the Seven Kingdoms truly begins

You know how sometimes watching “Game of Thrones” — particularly during the last couple seasons — can leave you muttering “yes, yes, get on with it!” when all the characters we know are eventually going to cross paths are still continents away from one another? Well, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be having any more episodes like that. “Stormborn,” Season 7’s second episode, was satisfyingly overstuffed with everything you could want — scheming, fighting, threatening, killing, graphic sex, even graphic surgery. There’s only 13 more of these to go and it seems like it’s full-speed ahead. A not-so-brief rundown…

Daenerys draws up her battle plans
We’ve got to start in Dragonstone, where Daenerys is plotting her takeover of King’s Landing. Not only is she in Westeros — finally! — but she’s there with Tyrion, Varys, Ellaria Sand, Olenna Tyrell, Yara and Theon Greyjoy. But before battle plans are laid out, Dany puts Varys on notice and wants to know where his true loyalties lie. She notes that he served her father, but also the man who overthrew her father. She notes that he helped marry her off to the Dothraki and went along with the plot to have her assassinated. Tyrion steps in to defend Varys from Daenerys’s accusations, but Varys is well-equipped to handle them himself.

“As long as I have my eyes, I’ll use them,” he says. For Varys, his smarts and cunning are what have allowed him to make it this far. He tells of his upbringing, sold as a slave and “carved up” as an offering. His true loyalties lie with the “people who suffer under despots and prosper under just rule.” He dedicates himself to her quest for the Iron Throne. She tells him that if he ever thinks she’s failing the people, just come up and tell her instead of conspiring behind her back. And then she leave him with this: “If you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive.” There is something concerning about the daughter of the Mad King threatening to burn people alive…

Speaking of burning people alive, Melisandre shows up at Dragonstone, adding to the collection of characters finally on screen together. Dany and Melisandre exchange pleasantries in Valyrian and Varys points out that here’s another person who used to serve another king, in fact, the very king who last inhabited the castle they are in right now. Melisandre is here to talk about the Prince Who Was Promised, one of those ambiguous titles that gets all the fan theory people seriously worked up. (Pick a character, any character, and there’s probably someone on the Internet who thinks s/he is the Prince Who Was Promised.) Melisandre says this prince will be the one who brings the dawn and defeats darkness. Daenerys would love to help but if it’s a prince you’re looking for, she is not the one. Ah, but then Missandei helpfully explains that the noun Melisandre used to describe this Prince Who Was Promised has no gender, so the translation was muddled. (Gender pronouns, problematic in any universe at any time.) So could Dany be the One Who Was Promised? Mayyybe, says Melisandre. She at least has a role to play, as does Jon Snow.

Melisandre speaks of Jon Snow’s impressive resume — former Lord Commander of Night’s Watch, King in the North, united wildlings and men. She leaves out some of the other stuff — came face to face with the Night King, died and was resurrected — because she wants to leave him with some fresh material for when he comes to visit Dany. Tyrion speaks highly of Jon and his character, and notes that he would be a valuable ally and that he has every reason to hate Cersei more than anyone. Dany agrees to meet with this Jon Snow and sends a raven with an invitation to Dragonstone — where he will be expected to bend the knee.

Back at the battle table, Dany’s conquering plans are laid out, but not before some internal bickering. Yara wants to attack right away. Tyrion shoots that idea down, saying the tens of thousands of dead is a nonstarter. Ellaria Sand very much agrees with Yara’s quick-strike idea. “My greatest regret is that Oberyn died fighting for you,” she says to Tyrion, dredging up that awful memory of Oberyn getting his face exploded by the Mountain during Tyrion’s trial-by-combat for the murder of Joffrey. Dany doesn’t want to be “queen of the ashes,” and Olenna pipes in noting that no queen was ever more beloved than her daughter but what of Magaery now? A pile of ashes where the Sept of Baelor once stood. “They won’t obey you unless they fear you,” Olenna says.

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Here’s what Daenerys and Tyrion have come up with: It won’t be an all-out attack. They will lay siege to King’s Landing, cutting off the line of food and supplies. Cersei will try to rally the lords against foreign invaders, which is exactly why there won’t be foreign invaders. Yara and her fleet will take Ellaria back to Dorne to raise the army that will then come back to invade King’s Landing; meanwhile the Unsullied will attack Casterly Rock to take away the Lannisters’ seat of power.

Everyone agrees to support the plan, but Olenna pulls Dany aside for a breakout conversation. No aides, no translators, a secret meeting — imagine such a thing. Olenna recommends that Dany trust her own instincts, more so than Tyrion. She admits he’s clever, but she’s known many a clever man and she’s outlived them all. “You’re a dragon, be a dragon,” she tells her.


Daenerys’s battle plans are immediately destroyed

The first part of the multipronged approach to taking King’s Landing seemed like it would be the most simple — Yara and her fleet sail back to Dorne with Ellaria Sand (and the Sand Snakes) and raise the army that will be key to invading King’s Landing. The Sand Snakes hang out below deck trying to figure out who they’d most like to kill, Ellaria is using the trip as an opportunity to get to more intimately know Yara — it’s a pretty relaxed atmosphere.

That is until there are shrieks from above and fire blasts incoming. It’s Euron, and his fleet has successfully launched a surprise attack. It’s a typical GoT battle scene in that it’s very dark, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on and there’s an occasional incredibly gory death. One Sand Snake is impaled by Euron; he chokes another to death. (Very few tears are shed by viewers, I imagine.) Euron and Yara spot each other and have at it before Euron gets the upper hand. But Theon to the rescue. But wait a second. That’s not Theon …. By god, that’s Reek! Surrounded by violence, confronted with vicious torture right before his eyes, ridiculed by his uncle (“come on you c—less coward!), Theon takes the cowardly way out and dives into the water.

So Euron (and Cersei) has won the first battle of the war, and now he has a couple valuable hostages. Not just his niece, Yara, but also Ellaria Sand. The same Ellaria Sand who poisoned and murdered Cersei’s only daughter, Myrcella. Ellaria would make a pretty good gift to the reigning queen, wouldn’t she? (Note: There may be one more surviving Sand Snake? But honestly who cares and hopefully not?)

Jon Snow makes another unpopular decision
Jon Snow has been known to make unpopular decisions before. There was that time he decided to let the wildlings past the Wall, against the wishes of his Night’s Watch brethren, because he knew that alliance was important. That decision, of course, got him killed. Yes, he was resurrected, but still — killed. Now it’s time to ponder another alliance and his decision-making prowess is being questioned again.

The raven with Daenerys’s invitation arrives in Winterfell, and Sansa thinks it’s a trap. Jon doesn’t; Tyrion includes a message to Jon from their time together traveling to the Wall (waaaaay back in Season 1), as a kind of signal that he’s on the level. Davos is skeptical of this invitation as well — what’s there to trust about someone with a Dothraki horde and three dragons. While most everyone is concerned about worldly issues of who and who not to trust, Jon is more focused on the army of undead that are marching his way. Dragons have fire, fire kills wights, that’s one step closer to defeating the White Walkers. (And brings us one step closer to the inevitable — disappointing? — Dragons vs. Zombies end game.)

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Another raven (this one from the Citadel) brings another message that Jon Snow shares with the lords of the north. Samwell — “a man I trust as much as anyone in this world” — writes to Jon about that convenient stash of dragonglass buried under the mountain at Dragonstone. Jon tells everyone of his invitation by Tyrion — a hated man in the north, on account of being a Lannister — and they disapprove of his intention to take the meeting. Jon explains very plainly that they need the dragonglass to destroy the White Walker army. They also need allies, and what better allies than one with an army and dragonfire.

Sansa cries out that it’s a trap. Lord Baelish stands smirking in the corner; honestly it may have been a recycled shot from last week’s episode. The lords weigh in and none of them support Jon, not even reliable Lyanna Mormont who says that winter is here and they need the king in the north in the north. Jon looks pained but sticks to his plan. He gets a little whiny and emo — I never asked to be king, you made me do it! — but reminds everyone about the whole army of undead marching south and that they are not presently equipped to take them on. Jon will head to Dragonstone and he will leave Sansa in charge of the north.

Before departing, Jon visits the crypts of Winterfell, perhaps for some inspiration from his “father” Ned Stark. He’s met down there by Lord Baelish and it’s no surprise they don’t exactly hit it off. The always-pouting and morally centered Jon Snow with the always-smirking and morally bankrupt Lord Baelish. Baelish speaks of his love for the late Catelyn Stark and mentions that she never was quite so fond of Jon, which dredges up some bad memories for him. Jon tries to get rid of Littlefinger, but he just wants to chat, since they’ve never really chatted before. Littlefinger thinks he deserves a thank you for saving Jon at the Battle of the Bastards. Jon isn’t really having it. Littlefinger says he loves Sansa like he loved her mother and that makes Jon react exactly as Littlefinger thought he’d react — a choke and a threat. “Touch my sister and I’ll kill you.” And with that Jon and Davos depart Winterfell for Dragonstone. I’m sure Littlefinger will be on his best behavior with Jon away.

Cersei and Qyburn cook up more chaos
Queen Cersei knows her grip on power isn’t very strong and she’s trying to rally the lords to support her. She speaks ill — but, ultimately, accurately — of Daenerys, saying that her brutality is legendary and she’s already crucified hundreds in Slaver’s Bay and fed others to dragons.

But more so than the lords, it will be Qyburn that will be her saving grace. Their work together is already legendary — turning a brutal, killing machine such as the Mountain into a zombie-fied and even more vicious killing machine, blowing up the Sept of Baelor (and all of those within it) with wildfire. Now it’s time to kill some dragons. On a tour of the Red Keep, Cersei and Qyburn come across the skulls of old Targaryen dragons. They are powerful but not invincible, and Qyburn heard that one of them was wounded by spears in the pits of Meereen. “If they can be wounded, they can be killed,” he says. “If it bleeds, we can kill it” — logic that applies across cinematic universes.

And with that, Qyburn unveils his latest devious invention, the one that will help kill the almighty dragons! It’s … just a really big crossbow, though. Honestly, I thought he was going to do better than that. Step your game up, Qyburn. You’re better than this.


Arya is hitting the bottle

Arya has thankfully ditched Ed Sheeran, but she’s on her own now and seems to be in a dark place. Perhaps that’s what happens after you murder a few dozen people who weren’t even on your kill list. She stops at the Inn at the Crossroads and runs into her old friend, Hot Pie, who’s still living up to his name. (He makes pies.) Arya seems less interested in the pie and more interested in chugging ale, which doesn’t seem like a positive development.

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But then Hot Pie breaks some news to her. The Boltons are defeated and dead; Jon Snow won the Battle of the Bastards and is king in the north, ruling from Winterfell. This news makes Arya change her travel plans, ditching the whole idea of murdering Cersei and instead riding back home, where she hasn’t been since leaving with her dad and sister back in Season 1.

During Arya’s solo travels back home, she senses danger when her horse gets spooked. Oh no, it’s John Mayer, not this again! No, it’s actually long-lost Nymeria, Arya’s direwolf who she let loose into the wild back in Season 1 after she bit Joffrey and would have been killed as punishment. (Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, met that fate instead.) Nymeria shows her teeth at Arya but doesn’t attack. Arya tries to calm her, telling her that she’s finally going back home and asks Nymeria to come with her. But the direwolf instead goes back into the forest, leaving Arya alone once again. Did Nymeria not recognize her because Arya is no longer Arya, but a cold killing machine? Should Arya give up on her dream of returning home?

Sam the surgeon
It is indeed Jorah Mormont, whose greyscale-infected arm we saw reach out at Samwell Tarly last episode. Archmaester Marwyn gives Jorah his diagnosis — 10 or 20 years before the disease kills you, but only six months max until you lose your mind. Sam thinks he can find a cure in the books in the Citadel, but Marwyn says the disease is way too advanced and Jorah will be shipped off to Valyria to live out his life with the rest of the stonemen in the glorified leper colony.

Sam doesn’t want to let Jorah go that easily; he feels an obligation to help partly because the kind treatment Jorah’s father, Jeor, gave Sam when he was lord commander of the Night’s Watch. Sam has scoured the books available to him and discovered a controversial and complicated procedure that could save Jorah’s life. And this magical procedure is … literally just cutting off all the infected skin. Really, you needed ancient books and an archmaester to figure that out? That would have been my first idea, maybe I missed my true calling as an archmaester. It’s a truly disgusting scene, watching Sam chisel away at Jorah’s infected torso. And we don’t yet know the outcome.

Grey Worm and Missandei have their moment
There was a whole lot of nudity in the early seasons of “Thrones.” This is not a revelation. Lots of people died and lots of people were naked. That’s what made it a hit, let’s be real. But the show has become much more respectable as it draws closer to its conclusion, and scenes like that one early on where Littlefinger trains his brothel workers on how to please are a distant memory. (“I can’t believe you watch this medieval porno,” is what my wife used to say when it was on; she got hooked by Season 2.)

So it was a little surprising to see such an extended sex scene like the one between Grey Worm and Missandei. Of course this wasn’t the classic “sexposition” of the early seasons — this was the culmination of a years-long romance, one that was pure because it had to be emotional since it was basically impossible for it to be physical, given Grey Worm’s eunuch status as a member of the Unsullied. But with Grey Worm about to ship off for battle at Casterly Rock, the two finally consummated their relationship as best they could.

PREVIOUS SEASON 7 RECAPS

Episode 1: “Dragonstone”

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