Welcome friends! The breathtaking pace of Season 7 has left us gasping for breath and generally a bit discombobulated. Are you feeling the same way?
We are using that as our pretext for our late season start, anyway. That and some technical issues in the ravenry.
Join three fans with different perspectives as we catapult forward and think about “Dragonstone” and “Stormborn.” Rosalyn Claret, who has read the books yet says she “forgets” how many times; Laura Fletcher, a casual fan of the television and book series; and Cheryl Collins, who does not read.
How did it feel to plunge back into the world of Westeros as the show begins to wind down?
Roz: I was super psyched to get back into it. It was a comforting episode for me. It wasn’t super challenging, and it had some crowd-pleasing moments. It was fairly predictable, but I was happy to pick up with some of the characters.
Laura: Cheryl, you mentioned you thought the first episode was kind of disappointing?
Cheryl: I felt like the pieces are being put into place much more quickly than in the past. We’re at a Mexican telenovela pace! It was nice to see the characters, but I didn’t feel stimulated; I wasn’t intrigued. It seems like we’re rushing through plot points and there wasn’t a lot of character development.
Roz: The change in pace was very jarring to me, for both episodes. It’s definitely an adjustment.
Cheryl: The best part for me was the “prequel,” which was very well done. The way that the last episodes of last season were set up seemed to be a focus on the siblings: Sansa and Jon, Jaime and Cersei, Theon and Yara. And the winds were shifting.
Laura: Like Roz, I was psyched to get more episodes, even though it was essentially table setting: “Here’s where everyone is.” They’re obsessed with showing maps this season: Dany at Dragonstone, and Jon with his map out, and Cersei commissioning that beautiful map on the ground. So I get it, they have to keep reminding us of where everyone is, because it’s going to matter. But they were hitting you over the head with it.
Obviously you got the big Arya revenge scene at the opening, and you also got back to her fun face trick. It was good fan service. It was satisfying TV.
I am intrigued by how they’re setting up Jon Snow. We know he left the Night’s Watch — he got off on a technicality! So they’re setting him up as a reluctant leader, which seems like a good thing. That’s another theme that I’m seeing a lot. Daenerys is like “I was born to do this, I was born to do all these things,” but she’s not coming to conquer for the sake of conquering, she really does want to lead the people. And Jon doesn’t really want to lead the people. There’s some parallels there that they’re setting up for a good reason. Neither Jon nor Daenerys know they’re related. She’s technically his aunt.
This show is notorious for doing whatever the hell it wants with timing. I thought it was interesting that they bothered to point out, for example, the order in which Jon Snow got those ravens. Didn’t Sam send him a raven? Where the fuck is that raven? “Ok, I just got it, and two days ago I received another one.” It is very telenovela.
Roz: My take on the premiere was “unsubtle.” I enjoyed the lack of subtlety sometimes, like with the cheering-Arya-on part at the beginning — which was just closing the biggest plot upset in the show and the book, bringing that full circle — so that had to happen. But I found the rest of the dialogue and the parallels they were setting up really heavy handed.
In particular, I didn’t buy it when Sansa tells Jon, “You don’t know Cersei. She’s going to come for us, she’ll destroy and murder everyone.” Jon says, “You sound like you admire it,” and she says, “I learned a great deal from Cersei.” That seems so out of character to me. It served the plot and some of the parallels they’re trying to draw, and again hitting us over the head that Sansa’s maturing and coming into her own. But there were a couple lines like that, that just sort of thudded for me. It sounded more like plot than like a character speaking.
Cheryl: And her sister Arya is going down to kill Cersei. Maybe this is a good segue to the second episode. It reminded me of the rules of the Faceless Men: they’re not supposed to be driven by vengeance, right? Yet Arya was using her skills for that purpose.
Laura: I guess my take on Sansa’s line is that she was trying to be kind of wry and sarcastic, but she didn’t really sell it. I think she was trying to say that she’s learned how evil people can be. She didn’t mean that she has learned a lot.
On Sansa’s relationship with Littlefinger: she keeps saying “I know exactly what he wants.” Well then tell me, because I don’t understand! He doesn’t just want her physically and he doesn’t just want to be in charge: he wants something nefarious, and I feel like the show keeps doing wink-nod things with that, and I don’t know what I’m supposed to get out of it. Unless it’s that whole “ladder of power” speech from an earlier season.
But we did get a good contrast with him and Varys in the second episode, when Varys was talking with Daenerys, so maybe we can come back to that.
Cheryl: I also remember from two seasons ago that Littlefinger made a pact with Cersei to be Warden of the North. I keep wondering if that’s going to rear its head.
Roz: Littlefinger is just an untrustworthy asshole. I’m tired of all the shots of him lurking against the wall in council chambers!
His dynamic with Sansa is interesting. It’s recognizable to me. I don’t think she likes him, she doesn’t trust him, but they’re sort of bonded now because they’ve spent so much time together. He’s the only person who has witnessed half of what has happened to her. Yeah, he missed out conveniently on the worst trauma when she was with the Boltons. I feel like she would rather not be connected to him, and yet is. She recognizes that he’s been trying to use her, and she’s maturing into playing that game as well; but she’s bitter, and she’s angry. It’s an interesting dynamic.
Cheryl: The fact that they can’t get rid of Littlefinger is reflective of the fact that the North has emptied out. The whole of Westeros has emptied out. The show keeps referring to this visually. When Cersei’s talking to her court, there’s almost nobody there anymore; in Winterfell, kids are being trained to shoot arrows. The North needs the Knights of the Vale because they need warm bodies, and we’re told this repeatedly. So strange bedfellows are created.
I remember feeling last season that Sansa is going to be queen, and this is her court now. That seems to be what’s happening now.
Let’s talk about the scene with Arya and Nymeria. Or, the not-real Nymeria. Or the Unclear Whether It Was Nymeria.
Laura: By the way Maisie Williams delivered that line — “That’s not you” — it’s clear she meant something. I just don’t understand what.
Cheryl: I assumed that it was not Nymeria.
Roz: The “Behind the Episode” mini-feature afterward talks about that scene. What they said it means was not how I interpreted it. I thought their explanation was pretty tortured, actually.
They said it was a throwback to one of the early episodes in Season 1. Ned is still alive. He sits Arya down and he’s telling her: when you grow up, you have a place, a role to play as the daughter of a noble house, you’ll marry a lord, and you’ll carry on. He’s trying to make her feel more comfortable with her lot. But she just looks at him and says, “That’s not me.” And she walks away. So the showrunners said that scene is what they were directly channeling.
Nymeria’s been running wild and has formed her own life. Arya’s also been running wild. Arya was able to articulate early on when she was a little girl “that’s not me,” and she recognizes the same impulse in her wolf, supposedly: “That’s not for you. That’s not you. That just doesn’t fit you, to go home and be a companion again when you’ve built your pack in this wild woods.”
I don’t see how anybody could have ever grasped that, in that moment. Yet that scene was so resonant, and the actress did a great job, so I had many thoughts about it … but none of those thoughts were the showrunners’ explanation.
Laura: There did seem to be a connection between the two of them, and I couldn’t figure out why Nymeria walked away.
I felt like Nymeria was disappointed with her. I felt it was like a judgment of what Arya was doing. And I was trying to unpack that.
Roz: I had some similar thoughts, Laura. I did think it was Nymeria, because how many direwolves are there in the woods — who will also recognize Arya, who have also been established to be running with a wolf pack? So it was interesting the way it set up: this could potentially be another super crowd-pleasing, fist-pumping, cheering-Arya-on moment that could also close a loop that was laid in the first episode when they all get their direwolves. We’ve been wanting this reunion, especially since Nymeria was involved in one of the first rifts between the Lannisters and the Starks, causing Arya to send the wolf away.
So it’s all set up for the reunion to be wonderful and emotional, and you see that on Maisie Williams’ face. When Nymeria turns away, I thought Arya was going to break down finally — being offered something so close to home and Winterfell and being deprived of it — and then she steels herself against it, and says: “That’s not you.”
I took it really literally, but in a different way. Nymeria is a mirror of Arya. They were supposed to have this supernatural bond. Nymeria can tell enough to not eat Arya for lunch, but beyond that . . . nothing. What should be a reunion, becoming whole again, is instead only half-recognition: Nymeria responds as if Arya is part friend, part stranger.
And so we wonder: who is Arya now? She’s been running wild for as long as Nymeria has. Arya gets this examining look from the wolf: Are you still someone I can recognize?
Cheryl: And there was no affection. Nymeria didn’t lick her. It links to that reunion with Hot Pie, when he says, “What’s happened to you?”
The process of transformation and alchemy is a big part of this show. Arya’s not what she was. Something has changed her. Like a stone into a sword, a metal that’s been forged into something else. And Hot Pie could recognize that.
However, she was still pulled by the familiar bond back to Winterfell.
Roz: That struck me as really significant too, Cheryl. That scene with Hot Pie and her silence really hit me. “What’s happened to you?” She can’t even say. She doesn’t even know.
Then she turns her horse back to Winterfell. For me, that’s part of Arya’s overarching arc, which is: where’s her humanity? Her quest for revenge has turned her into this really strange tool. Ostensibly it’s still motivated by personal and familial reasons, and remember, Jon was her favorite sibling so it’s no wonder she’s unable to resist heading north — but does she know where home is? What’s happened to her?
The question of whether she still has a human soul has risen in my mind. She’s the show’s only true “lone wolf” operator — everyone else is ensnared in plots or rallying allies and armies — but when she turns her horse back to Winterfell we see she’s not this too-far-gone vengeance machine. It really seems like a turning point.
Cheryl: Right. Especially since so much for her was about vengeance. At the end of the first episode, Sansa talked about the great Houses that were occupied by people who betrayed them and that they should be cast out. It seemed much harsher, while Jon was the much softer, almost beneficent leader. He was not interested in vengeance.
Connecting what you are saying Roz to what happened to Theon in the battle with Euron: we’re reminded about the question of his nature and his transformation. His old conditioning and training resurfaced at the worst possible moment.
Laura: What you’re saying about Arya’s identity makes me think possibly of Jon and Sansa’s identity as Starks, too.
Sansa has been married against her will twice, and even though she was born a Stark, that’s not how it works for women in the family. You grow up, you marry a lord, and you become something else. Her mother wasn’t originally a Stark, her mother was a Tully.
In Arya, we’ve got the complications of the Faceless Men, where she was literally told to forget who she was.
Jon has just never been a Stark, because he’s a bastard. As we’re soon to learn, his only Stark blood is through his mother anyway, which because its matrilineal doesn’t count.
So again, none of them are Starks! I’m hung up on what the fuck that means.
Cheryl: There’s no there there. There’s an empty hole in the center of Winterfell and the negative space is being filled in by what’s left around it: by the women, the children, and Jon.
And Melisandre shows up in Dragonstone.
Roz: The meeting between Dany and Jon is basically what I’ve always thought of as the entire point of the series, and yet I don’t trust Melisandre as the messenger. What’s she up to?
Laura: She’s there to remind them that there’s this prophecy. Oh, did we mention? It could be a prince or a princess?
And it gave her a reason to write to Jon Snow. She seems like just a convenient person to hook the two up.
Roz: It was an “lol” moment about Missandei as the translator in that scene. She’s just been standing in the scenery for multiple episodes and all of a sudden: Translator Moment!
Cheryl: It was about something crucial, too. The person in the prophecy could be male or female.
I thought it was interesting that Melisandre looked much less red. She didn’t have that bright red lipstick. She looked more chastened to me, more modest, less flamboyant. I don’t know if it’s because of what’s happened to her — that she got cast out of the North and Stannis’s death — but she seemed to have toned it all down a bit.
Roz: Throughout the episode, it was very jarring to have so many major players at the same place at the same time. The shift in pacing was startling. It’s fun, but it’s been so drawn out for so long, it’s a little hard to adjust to.
Laura: Like at Dragonstone, when all Daenerys’s allies are talking in the war room.
Cheryl: One coupling that happened was between Grey Worm and Missandei. I put my hand over my face because I found it painful to watch.
Laura: I don’t know if there was any purpose for that scene. I’m glad they’re giving the characters something to do. It wasn’t a coincidence that Missandei managed to actually translate something, for once.
The only thematic thing I think might matter from that is that there’s so little romance in this show. None right now. Is this the one love there is, except maybe Jorah for Daenerys, which is clearly one-sided?
Roz: Grey Worm and Missandei’s scene was not a particularly significant plot point, but they’ve built those characters out in the show more than they have in the book. It made sense in terms of how long they’ve been teasing it.
I thought it was really well acted. I also thought they’ve already made several excuses to have that actress take off her clothes (or her body double), and so they did that again.
At the same time, Grey Worm is this cipher of a character who I think has been acted nicely. And it was a really painful emotional moment, too, clearly, which I thought was displayed well.
Cheryl: Those close-ups on his eyes. He was so afraid of how she was going to respond. They did that part well.
Roz: You want them to be happy, as much as they can be. His explanation of her being a weakness was true to form for someone who’s not speaking his first language and who was raised in this extreme way.
I’m not enough of a cinema buff to really have an angle on it, but I was wondering what they were going to do, in this show of all shows, with a sex scene involving someone who’s been castrated. And interestingly, they focus on Missandei’s face and by extension even on her pleasure.
Laura: Not to sound like a feminist scold (but I am, so whatever): so much of the nudity and sex in this show has been very male-gazey. Right? Male fantasies, looking through holes at whores and whacking off. So this is definitely a reversal of that. I wonder how much of it is conscious choice by the showrunners to do something different because they’ve been hung out to dry about this stuff.
Also, there was gratuitous lesbian kiss, which was literally interrupted because we can’t actually have women making out for pleasure, but we can have them making out if men are watching!
Roz: That’s why I was distressed by this episode (as much as I am annoyed by the Sand Snakes and now they’re out of the picture). We’ve waited so long to get all these characters in the same place, and get all the characters firmly established. I wanted to see them actually interact with each other a little more! Instead, Yara and Ellaria start flirting, and then WHOOPS EVERYBODY DIES or is captured.
Cheryl: Going back to the thing with Missandei’s pleasure: first of all, I thought that sex scene was way too long.
Roz: It was very long.
Cheryl: The thing about the focus on her pleasure seemed to be reflective of the whole episode, which was women’s empowerment, women ruling, women being in control, and the men serving the women.
That small, short, annoying interaction with the Sand Snakes: it’s almost like they had to write them in the most annoying way possible so we were happy when they died.
And when Ellaria was at the map table at Dragonstone, we see she’s still so pissed off at the Lannisters and at Tyrion, she still wants to kill them and take them down. She’s still consumed with her rage. I thought, that means she’s going to die soon, perhaps her vengeance consumed her and will kill both her and the Sand Snakes off.
Laura: I agree that they just brought the Sand Snakes back so we could kill them off and it would be satisfying.
Roz: Another interesting thing about that war room at Dragonstone: the episode began with Daenerys and Varys: her sizing him up — showing that flattery isn’t gonna work, making it clear that Varys better toe the line — and Tyrion watching it all unfold. Basically the episode starts with Dany trying to signal to this newcomer that his typical ways with other leaders won’t work with her. She faces him down when he starts into his usual tricks.
Later, I wondered what’s the difference between advice received from Varys and Olenna? Here Dany lays out her whole plan with Tyrion, gets everyone to agree. It should be a win. And then Olenna calls her aside afterward and says: “No, don’t do it.” Why is Dany prepared to listen to her more than to Varys, at that point? Rather than just continuing to emphasize that she’s in charge. What is the difference between the advice she decided to accept and reject?
Cheryl: She did take Tyrion’s advice, in that they’re going to Casterly Rock.
Roz: It was pretty clever. Tyrion’s smart. He totally had Cersei pinned down with the Lannister appeal to ethnocentricity. That was an essential part of his plan, predicting that. Dany got everyone to agree. Things are good, right? But what does it mean: “Be a dragon and ignore all that?”
Cheryl: Ignore what the men say.
Roz: What about Theon’s scene?
Laura: Poor Theon. Over and over again.
Roz: In my mind, what triggered Theon and set him off was not so much the fighting. He was swinging his sword around earlier on! I think it was more Euron’s sadism. The games he was playing more than just the violence and the fighting.
Ramsay used to make people believe that they might escape, to goad them into action. I thought that Euron was going to goad him into action and then kill his sister. I wondered if Theon recognized that on some level, and in jumping overboard, he opted out — and managed to save her, intentionally or not. Just sensing the game and thinking, “FUCK. I cannot win this! He’s just gonna kill her for fun, if he thinks it’ll hurt me.”
Cheryl: That’s a really excellent point, Roz. The look on Yara’s face was, “You’re weak.” She did not perceive this point of Theon’s choice. Because Euron was channeling Ramsay. Theon really did realize there’s no way to win this.
Also in this episode: When leaders were trying to bring people together, they all talked about how their enemies are different. Dany did this. Cersei spoke of the bad queen, the daughter of the mad king, coming with the Dothraki hordes: that they’re very different from us. “We have to stand together.”
There was that ethnocentrism you mentioned. Up in Winterfell, this came up too: “those southerners are different from us.” Jon stressed that we have to stand together, especially when they’re going to fight the advancing hordes of the dead.
Roz: Jaime was backing up Cersei in that, too. Cersei had made her attempt at inspiring people. She had a tough crowd, and it’s not really her strong point. We’ve seen a lot of inspirational leader speeches; hers did not seem great. It was funny because Jaime sort of ended up in this de facto Hand of the Queen role — rushing to try and do what she didn’t, securing Tarly’s loyalty. He doesn’t seem very comfortable with it all either, but that’s still how he made his point, that foreign people are coming.
Cheryl: What about Jorah and Sam?
Laura: That was really fun! Of all the character meetings that I wasn’t expecting, that was a good one. It was gratuitously gross. (Why does Sam keeps getting the gratuitously gross scenes? Bless his heart.) If they’re bothering to show him at this point, something is up.
Cheryl: When Jon decides to leave Winterfell, there were many shots between Brienne, Sansa, and Lady Mormont exchanging looks. This made me wonder how Lady Mormont and Jorah are going to fit in together, if they will.
Laura: I want to see Sansa become Queen of the North when Jon’s gone. That’ll be interesting.
Cheryl: And of course Jon will not bend the knee, so I’m interested to see how that plays out.
Roz: In fact, three different people made a point of reading and interpreting Tyrion’s message differently. Aaand, he didn’t seem to include the “bend the knee” part! I wonder if it’s because he knew what would get Jon Snow to Dragonstone, and just assumed that Jon would be captivated by Dany regardless — as he has just watched happen with Varys, as he has been himself.
Cheryl: I had the same thought. Tyrion was very diplomatic in that message. It didn’t send an imperious dictum. It was something softer. It’ll be interesting to see how they interact.
- Did you catch the little GRRM meta-joke when the Archmaester is in the library with Sam? The Archmaester says he’s writing a history of all the events following Robert’s Rebellion (that is: the entire book/show to date) and offers up an extremely wordy working title. Sam suggests something more “poetic.” Like, oh, maybe … “A Song of Ice and Fire”? Eh? Eh?
- Woohoo, Jon punches Littlefinger and it is rather satisfying. But throughout this interaction I kept thinking about what a very Ned Stark-y moment it was for Jon (even aside from the looming Eddard effigy presiding over the scene). Jon literally says “You don’t belong down here” and tries to walk away as Littlefinger tries to draw him into his schemes. Well, Ned also tried to just walk away from the game or opt out with honor. As Sansa recently reminded us, the Stark children have got to be smarter than that to survive.
Editor’s note: It was a very Ed Stark-y thing to do!