The season premiere of “Game of Thrones,” while a bit slow, precursed a series of building, unfolding plotlines. The second episode of the season, “Stormborn,” picks up where the last left off: in Dragonstone with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her ragtag team of allies, which now includes Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) from Highgarden and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) from Dorne.
While Olenna is still very much in mourning, the loss of her entire family in one fell swoop has done little to rob her of her wits and spirit. At last, she and Ellaria are on the same page regarding revenge — they both want it. They come head to head with a Dany who, influenced by Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), seeks a peaceful transition of power. While Olenna and Ellaria distrust the idea of peace, they relent and agree to Tyrion’s strategy: while their fleet and army besiege King’s Landing, Dany’s own troops will open fire upon the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock. Perhaps it is the thought of a Lannister massacre that prompts the mourning matriarchs to offer their support.
This support, however, is far from the blind loyalty Dany has perhaps come to expect. After the meeting, Dany meets Olenna in confidence, with the former promising the latter vengeance against Cersei in an attempt to curry authentic favor. Olenna takes this opportunity to express her equal disillusionment with the concept of a peaceful takeover and of Dany’s Hand. While Olenna admires Tyrion’s savvy, she is still largely unimpressed. “I’ve known many clever men,” she reminds Dany. “I’ve outlived them all.” In the end, she leaves Dany to ponder just how dependent she should be on her Hand.
Dany and Tyrion’s strategy also challenges Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Dany’s translator, and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), commander of the Unsullied, however for different reasons. Having recently embarked on a romantic relationship — the first the former slaves have ever experienced — the impending militaristic maneuvers require Grey Worm to leave Missandei’s side indefinitely. Although his stony silence at first seems callous to Missandei, Grey Worm reveals that their romance has stretched the seasoned warrior to feel fear for the first time. This admission touches Missandei, and with their inevitable separation looming heavily over them, the two finally consummate the spark felt between them soon after their very first meeting.
Although she has placed implicit trust into the hands of her vital allies, in speaking with Varys (Conleth Hill), Dany reveals a more cautious, suspicious facet to her that we haven’t seen recently, given the rapidity of her ascent to power — going over his history of rooting for and abandoning various kings and hopeful leaders, Dany makes clear to Varys that she requires his full allegiance. After asserting that his flightiness comes from a devotion to doing what’s best for the people of Westeros, rather than personal capriciousness, Varys figuratively bends the knee. But his silver tongue does little to disguise his nervousness to work with such an obstinate ruler.
After promising to burn Varys alive should he waver in his support for her, Dany meets with another character who has more than the usual amount of expertise at human combustion: Melisandre of Asshai (Carice van Houten). Dany is the latest in Melisandre’s ever-growing list of prospective “princes who were promised,” and the Red Priestess urges her new messianic hopeful to meet with Jon (Kit Harington) — her previous favorite, who currently needs literal firepower to deal with the White Walkers, enemies to R’hllor and humanity (i.e. Lena Headey’s Cersei) alike. Dany, with Tyrion’s urging, agrees to send a raven to Jon, but is abundantly clear in her expectation that they will operate as lord and vassal, not as equals.
Dany’s raven (written by Tyrion’s hand) is met with bewilderment from its addressee and suspicion from Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) — now his trusted advisors. Eventually, Davos recognizes their need for Dany’s dragons and the dragonglass beneath Dragonstone — which they learn about in a raven from Samwell Tarley (John Bradley) at the Citadel — as weapons against the wights. Sansa, citing Rickard Stark’s death following a fraudulent invitation from Dany’s father, refuses to abandon her suspicions, even rallying the other Northerners behind her. Nevertheless, Jon unilaterally decides to leave and meet with the Dragon Queen, much to Sansa’s dismay — although he does make her Warden of the North in his absence, much to the delight of Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen).
In a moment foreshadowing possible later conflicts, Jon is ambushed by Littlefinger the crypt while paying his respects to his (so-thought) father. When the known manipulator waxes lyrical about his longstanding love for both Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and Sansa, Jon loses patience, slamming him against the crypt wall and threatening death if he ever speaks of Sansa again.. Jon leaves a shaken and humiliated Littlefinger behind, but Petyr’s history with his adversaries suggests that this might not bode well for the King in the North.
Back at King’s Landing, Cersei also expresses her doubts in the Dragon Queen, albeit via a fearmongering speech to her Lords and court. While Cersei has slid out from the shadows and into the commanding seat of the Iron Throne, her pugnacious twin has continued his foray into caution and subtlety. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) tries his hand at diplomacy as he requests the powerful Randyll Tarly’s (James Faulkner) services as a military general. When Tarly hesitates due to the Lannisters’ flirtations with backstabbing, Jaime sweetens the pot by offering him the South to add to his dominion, a negotiation that has the Lord of Horn Hill considering the position.
Randyll’s son, meanwhile, continues his education at the citadel, finding himself increasingly at odds with the stubbornly pedantic archmaester (Jim Broadbent). Despite the older man’s experience that prompts him to refuse Sam’s request to attempt an experimental greyscale cure on Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Sam proceeds anyway, proving that he is stronger than his father gives him credit for. He completes the painful-looking procedure, but only time will tell whether he helped or harmed Jorah. Time will also have to tell whether Sam’s intimate dalliance with the grotesque disease resulted in his contraction of it, an outcome the archmaester had hoped to avoid.
Continuing on her journey to King’s Landing, Arya (Maisie Williams) comes across Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey), an old friend who informs her that the Starks have successfully taken the North back from the Boltons. And where the House of Black and White presented Arya the choice between giving up her family identity for the sake of becoming an assassin, this new news presents her with a similar dilemma — whether to follow her heart back to her home and family, or whether to soldier on towards Cersei in her assassination mission. The heartrending, tender rendition of the Starks’ theme playing as Arya leaves on her horse makes her decision clear enough.
Like Winterfell itself, Arya has not seen her direwolf Nymeria since the first season; the latter pair are able to reunite sooner, as Nymeria and her gang of wolves surround Arya with sinister intentions. Once Nymeria recognizes her best friend from puppyhood; however, she backs down. The heartwarming moment, sadly, doesn’t last long as the direwolf leaves Arya once more, valuing her own freedom over the security and familiarity of Winterfell. Although Arya is heartbroken, she tearfully respects her direwolf’s decision, one she might have made herself.
Facing more immediate issues with their family are Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara (Gemma Whelan), who, after leaving Dragonstone to collect the Dornish army, meet their bloodthirsty pirate of an uncle at sea. Euron (Pilou Asbæk) and his men attack Ellaria, taking her and two of her daughters prisoner. They soon make short work of the remaining Sand Snakes, as well as much of the army the younger Greyjoys mustered up in their defiance of him. Frighteningly unhinged, Euron, with Yara at knifepoint, taunts Theon in the middle of the battle, egging him on to save her. The younger Greyjoy, evidently not over all the traumas he’s been through, panics and jumps overboard, surveying the carnage from the water.
The headcount is already up, and the fight for the Iron Throne has hardly begun; just in time for winter, it seems, the war has already arrived.
Contact Sahana Rangarajan at [email protected].