‘Game of Thrones’ Analysis | ‘Stormborn’: The alliance and the individual

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The seventh season of “Game of Thrones,” thus far, has been heavily involved in the formation and testing of alliances — and especially, the effects individuals can have on these bonds. After the immense setup work done by the first episode, “Stormborn” takes the time to focus more on individual characters, making for some interesting developments in their personalities and their allegiances alike.

In the North

Both beginning in Winterfell, Jon and Sansa have had inverse plotlines. Jon began as an underestimated bastard, advanced through the Night’s Watch, built his confidence gradually until he became the Lord Commander — at a very young age largely because of his increasingly apparent ability — and, after an assassination attempt gone wrong, cemented his “King in the North” status even more strongly than before.

Sansa, meanwhile, was proudly betrothed to the future lord of the Seven Kingdoms and brought to King’s Landing, where she soon lost everything save for a shred of her own dignity. Through a number of mostly disastrous, prematurely ended political marriages punctuated with escape plots, however, she grew a thick skin and a keen sense for people and politics. Now that their two paths have crossed, the opposing viewpoints between the half-siblings (but-actually-cousins) are clearer than ever in their leadership styles.

Because Jon has found success in the classic staunchness of Northern justice and was literally stabbed in the back when he appeared weak in a decision, he now hesitates to play any other way than by the book — and insists that any disagreements must be presented in private. Jon’s fear of mutiny directly butts heads with Sansa’s growing desire to be heeded — by now, she has seen many men on all sides of the conflict for the Iron Throne both rise to power and fall from glory; the last thing she wants is for one of her last remaining family members to meet his demise through his refusal to adapt to different times.

Although Sansa suspects that Dany will harm Jon as soon as he sets foot on Dragonstone, danger to his life could also come from closer to home: from Littlefinger. Sansa has spent the most time with him, going from his daughter figure to his personal project to the object of his very one-sided affections, and although she has learned from him, she no longer trusts him.

Jon doesn’t have these insights to Petyr and is currently blissfully unaware of just how much harm Littlefinger can cause to a person. Unfortunately for Jon, this could put him in danger, especially given he has now physically attacked Petyr for vocalizing his feelings for Sansa, threatening to kill him if he pursues Sansa further, but, critically, letting him walk free this time.

Jon and Petyr on HBO's Game of Thrones

Photo by Helen Sloan, courtesy of HBO.

This could prove a fatal error; rather than twice shy once bitten, Petyr usually comes away twice provoked. With Sansa thoroughly disenchanted with her temporary guardian and sitting in a position of power, perhaps only she can save the illegitimate brother she so disparaged as a child, should Petyr choose to seek revenge.

At Dragonstone

Dany, meanwhile, awaits Jon at the prompting of Melisandre, mostly. Without Melisandre’s prodding and Tyrion’s admission of trust, she would most probably not have bothered with the North, seeing how far it is from her goal at King’s Landing. Melisandre’s determination to have Dany meet with Jon stems both from the White Walker invasion (against which Dany’s dragons will be most useful) and from the “prince that was promised” prophecy that Dany’s late brother Rhaegar was so obsessed with.

Dany, along with a number of Red Priestesses, believes that she is R’hllor’s messiah. Melisandre’s favorite, however, seems to be Rhaegar’s son. Of course, none of them are yet aware of Jon’s paternity, but the confusion will probably only increase if Dany and Jon discover that they are actually aunt and nephew, and thus both Targaryen heirs. Until then, the Red Priestess at least will have the satisfaction of bringing together the ice and fire of the prophetic song.

Up to this point, we have a pretty clear understanding of Dany and Jon’s leadership styles, which contrast about as much as the fire and ice that they each represent. Where Dany has made herself a reputation by burning cities and taking names, Jon’s fame stems more from his slow, deliberate style, which has earned him loyalty from the more stiff-necked northerners.

But their similarities are also unmistakable, from their dark horse rises to power to their willingness to assimilate underdogs into their establishments (the freedmen in Dany’s case, and the Wildlings in Jon’s). Dany’s much stronger faith in her birthright could be harmful to Jon should she discover that his blood makes him a threat to her claim, even if he is not trueborn (which hasn’t been entirely confirmed yet).

To Jon, then, Tyrion’s presence could be vital, as he has already proven his ability to discourage Dany from blindly pursuing the vengeance she so desperately craves. He and Jon took a liking to each other from the start, with the former respecting the latter despite his crippling self-doubt, and with the latter trusting the former despite his Lannister status. With Dany perhaps about to grow more distant from Tyrion at Olenna’s warning, plus the concerning hints that she is coming to admire — or at least respect — her forebears’ violent impulsivity, an alliance between Jon and Tyrion might be essential to keep the Dragon Queen’s wings safely clipped.

In King’s Landing

Although Cersei habitually builds distrust for Dany in her people by reminding them of her sadistic father, she herself has come remarkably close to the tendencies of the mad king Aerys, especially with her wildfire stunt at the end of the sixth season. With mad scientist Maester Qyburn by her side with his questionable arsenal of inventions and necromancy experiments, all Cersei needs to do at this point is roast some Starks over an open fire to be an official Targaryen. Jaime is painfully aware of his sister’s similarity to the mad king, what with his steadily developing moral compass. Perhaps, should she go too far, he will have to once more assume the role of Kingslayer.

Cersei on HBO's Game of Thrones

Photo by Macall B. Polay, courtesy of HBO.

Jaime might have an even harder time reining in his ambitious sister following the sudden appearance of Euron, who mocks the knight and makes a bid for the position of Cersei’s partner. Theon, too, is challenged by the presence of Euron, whose reappearance in his life makes fresh the wounds of traumas, particularly the torture he underwent at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Still reeling from his sense of cowardice and lack of self-worth, Theon seems sheepish when Ellaria mocks the notion of him defending his very able sister, Yara.

When challenged again — albeit much more ominously — by Euron, who takes Yara hostage, Theon jumps overboard, unable to deal with the panic that descends upon him under stress. Given Euron’s promise to Cersei to bring her a gift, though, Yara still has a chance at survival — what better gift to give than a live enemy princess with valuable secrets? Theon also has a chance to come to Yara’s rescue, as she did for him when he was under the thumb of the Boltons. He has a chance still to redeem himself in his own eyes; hopefully he will be able to stomach it.

The stakes are high for Theon to succeed, as being given to Cersei as a diplomatic gift would probably not end well for Yara, especially in light of Cersei’s propensity to use her Franken-Mountain for torture. Cersei’s level of ruthlessness has long gone unmatched, at least by her contemporaries. She might, however, have found an equal in Euron.

Should the exchanging of the “gift” go well, his chances at being her king consort could improve, increasing the chances of a pair of psychopaths sharing the Iron Throne. However, while we know that Cersei is untrusting from our time with her since the beginning of the series — we know nothing of the sort about Euron. Where Cersei strikes with precision, Euron ravages with reckless abandon; this incompatibility could prove fatal to any potential alliance, with an equal possibility of one displacing the other. On the off chance, however, the two could react well together, with Cersei keeping Euron in check and Euron imbuing Cersei with his berserker spirit of violence.

Already, the plot threads have begun to draw together. Should everything continue as planned (which, admittedly, it rarely does), a lot of meetings a long time in the making will finally happen. Next episode, Dany will meet Jon, and hopefully Bran can finally find the other remaining Starks now that he’s on the same side of the wall as them. Arya, meanwhile, will return to Winterfell and perhaps to Sansa, and Cersei must soon face the revenge plots of several different families. With only five episodes remaining in the season and a good amount of plot to cover in every realm of Westeros, the next few episodes will likely be jam-packed with plot action.

Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].