Overall, I found last night’s episode somewhat underwhelming. I think my main issue with “Stormborn” has to do with its pacing. In my Dragonstone review I wrote that I expected the season to be quite fast-paced, given that the end of the show is drawing near and there is still so much to cover. It’s clearly moving in the right direction, and we are seeing a lot of storylines coming together. I think a lot of loose ends will be tied up in the form of violent deaths, because it’s an easy and exciting way to finish a plot-thread and get everything more streamlined for next year’s finale season. That certainly seems to be the case with those two Sand Snakes that got so horrifically butchered and mangled at the end. However, given that we are now more than a quarter of the way into the season, I feel like things should be moving just a little quicker. I didn’t feel particularly on edge during this episode, even during the battle at the end. The pace didn’t seem to build on the solid foundation of “Dragonstone”, and the episode seemed to drag on. It felt like a sequence of scenes that didn’t quite coalesce together structurally to form perhaps the most important and desired aspect of storytelling, which is its ability to create tension. My roommates felt similarly disappointed and upon completion of the episode there was an echoed “Huh” around the room.
Take the scene where Arya reunites with her old direwolf Nymeria. Yes, the wolves are beautiful and majestic, but for me that was precious screen time that could be spent elsewhere. I’m hoping the wolves come back at some point and that the point of the scene was to plant the seed for some important scene later in the season, because otherwise it was a waste of our time. Hopefully I am wrong and the scene will turn out to be significant, but at the moment it just feels like their thinking was “Ooh, people like direwolves, so here’s a direwolf to gawp at”. As it stands it just amounts to a pointless cameo that doesn’t add any character development of relevance to the overarching narrative. But, perhaps later in the season the significance of this scene will be revealed, and I hope it does, because every minute of screen time is precious.
I think a big part of the reason I was waiting for a hook that didn’t come was the fact that the “Next Week” trailer as well as the extended trailer shown at Comic-Con spoiled a lot. There’s a shot in the latter of Euron celebrating in King’s Landing, and in the corner of the frame you can see Ellaria, Tyene and Yara tied together to the back of his horse. Whilst the trailers are exciting, they took the tension out of the battle. Yara’s defeat felt like a formality. Given that such important details were shown in the trailers, I figured that there had to be something else waiting in the episode, some twist or something to flesh out these scenes. But the battle just kind of happens and nothing is really revealed that can’t already be gleaned from the trailers.
I know they only had so much time, but I felt confused as to how Euron’s fleet won so easily against Yara’s. I get that he built up this armada designed specifically to take her down, but I felt like his success should have been mitigated in some way. There was no twist in the manner of Tyrion’s use of the Wildfire during the Battle of the Blackwater that would have explained why the battle was so easily won. He just kind of emerges from the fog and rams the fleet’s flagship vessel of all vessels, and then proceeds to burn the entire fleet. Surely Yara must have been prepared for such an eventuality? This aside, I felt like the scene was superbly shot. The ambience and atmosphere was excellent, and it really captured the intensity of a bloodthirsty naval battle. It was very well choreographed and thoroughly entertaining. I just wish the events weren’t basically confirmed by the trailers, and that there had been a little more build up to make it more exciting. Yara is one of my favorite characters in the whole show, so even though I was rooting for her, I understand the need to balance the scales out of Dany’s favor. It does seem kind of dumb that Dany separated her forces, leaving each of the components weaker. I know they justified it with the strategy of isolating Cersei and starving her out, but I also strongly suspect that this was due to them wanting to prolong the conflict and keep Cersei’s demise as close to the ultimate conclusion of the series as possible.
I know this review is mostly negative in tone, but I am actually quite optimistic for the rest of the season. They have set things up moving forward, and though at times the narrative felt a little contrived, I am hopeful that episode 3 will be the best this season has to offer yet!
What was the best scene?
For me, even though it was gross, the most intriguing scene was Samwell’s experimental surgery on Ser Jorah. The acting from John Bradley was great and I found his facial expressions hilarious throughout the scene. And we all know Iain Glen is one of the most talented and nuanced actors on the show. This old school Shakespearean thespian always brings such stage presence to every scene he is in. It was great to see two amazing performances opposite one another, and it’s one of the storylines that has me guessing. I’m wondering what role Ser Jorah has to play and how his and Samwell’s threads will now feed into the greater narrative, especially now that Sam has fulfilled his purpose in supplying the location of all the Dragonglass. Will we see Sam cross paths with his father again? We know that things are going to kick off at the end of this season at Highgarden, so perhaps Sam and Ser Jorah will somehow end up in the battle we know is coming at that location between the Lannisters and the Dothraki. If that doesn’t happen, then I think the two of them will sail over to Dragonstone and reunite with their two closest friends, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryan respectively.
A close second to the Samwell-Ser Jorah scene would be the Grey Worm and Missandei scene, which was beautiful. It was nice to have one couple we are rooting for, and a nude scene that was tender- which I felt like we haven’t had for a while. Plus it’s always nice to see the more peripheral characters given more depth.
What was the worst scene?
I think my main gripe with this episode is how the pieces fit together, not the individual pieces themselves. The direwolf scene was beautiful and I don’t think I would have had an issue with it in seasons past, or even in a full-length season. But ultimately it didn’t really add much to the episode and it felt like a drawn out, crowd-pleasing cameo.
What do I think will happen in the next episode?
For certain we will see the fates of Ellaria, Tyene and Yara as they are paraded around King’s Landing and presented to Queen Cersei. This is the gift that Euron said he would deliver in the season premiere. I don’t see what benefit either Euron or Cersei has in keeping them alive, save to bleed them (literally) for information on Dany’s plans. Yara is a threat to Euron’s claim to the Iron Islands, so he stands nothing to gain by keeping her alive. I have seen some fans say that Cersei will try and turn Yara to her side and dispose of Euron, placing her in charge of the Iron Islands instead. Personally I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think Cersei is charismatic or savvy enough; although she is cunning, she is not the subtle charmer that Margery was. It’s also a huge risk. As for Ellaria and Tyene Sand, I expect them to be executed for the poisoning of Myrcella- something surely at the forefront of Cersei’s thinking, who is perhaps the most vengeful character in television. I wouldn’t be surprised if she murders Tyene to mirror what happened to her own daughter, and leaves Ellaria alive to suffer the grief that she went through.
What do I hope will happen this season?
We already know that there will be two big battles at either end of Westeros this season- one at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea between Jon Snow’s wildling garrison and the Night King’s wights, and one at Highgarden between Dany’s Dothraki screamers and Jaimie’s knights. I’m personally hoping for Dany’s dragons to burn the entire Lannister army and leave Cersei completely isolated. I know it would probably be too easy and I fully expect 2- if not all- of the dragons to die before the end of season eight. The real interesting thing will be who does Cersei in- I’d be happy with Jaimie, Arya or Drogon doing the deed. It won’t happen this season though. But we are already seeing a lot of parallels to past events- it’s not even subtle. The characters discuss it outright. There is a sense of history repeating itself, and it would be intriguing to see Dany’s story take a dark, fatalistic turn in which she tries consciously to avoid slipping into the madness that consumed her father, only to become every bit the tyrant he was and who everyone fears she might be.