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Game of Thrones “Stormborn” 

Game of Thrones “Stormborn”
Photo Credit: HBO

Game of Thrones has a villain problem.

Photo Credit: HBO

It’s clear that this season’s “big bad” is Euron Greyjoy, the insufferable uncle of Yara and Theon. He blew in at the tail end of season six, a menacing figure shrouded in mystery. And although he’s somehow proved himself a capable conqueror (I find it incredibly unbelievable that he found Yara’s fleet easily and without no one noticing, managed to kill everyone with some strangely sophisticated firebombs, and did it all while hamming it up for whoever is watching. And when did all those ships get built? What the hell is the timeline?), he’s boring.

Another mustache-twirling bad guy, with no depth, no nuance, no reason to be the way he is. Before Euron, we had Ramsay, a similarly one-note villain, who had at least a bit of shading in his desire to finally be recognized by his father as a Bolton. Before him we had the petulant Joffrey, who’s youth was the one thing that made him especially terrifying.

Photo Credit: HBO

Although Game of Thrones has struggled to make the villain on this show feel like three-dimensional characters, it wasn’t always like this. Case in point: Cersei. Cersei was an incredible villain, one who was infinitely hateable, but understandable. She was cold, manipulative, and bitter, but we knew why. She was a constant defender of her children, willing to go to murderous lengths to protect those that she loved. I say “was” because even Cersei has been dulled this season. One of the most complex characters in the Game of Thrones universe now has her motivations blunted. Although it was entertaining to see her persuade some Tyrell banner men to join her cause with an all too modern method of instilling the fear of foreigners, there isn’t any heart to it. We want her to lose. We’re not torn.

That’s why much of “Stormborn” left me cold. There isn’t enough internal struggle for the audience. And on top of it, although I appreciated the surprise of Euron’s attack, the chaos of it all made it a bit of a chore to watch. I felt nothing of slaughter of the Sand Snakes, who were just a reminder of what a failure the Dorne storyline was. Plot wise, Theon’s regression was the one compelling spot in the mess of the battle. Theon’s post-traumatic stress from his time enslaved by Ramsay is an interesting direction to go in if only because it feels like it should have happened earlier. It’s incredibly in character and has lots of potential for repercussions, especially since for all we know, he’s the only one of the fleet that survived.

Photo Credit: HBO

The pieces that did work in “Stormborn” were appropriately those surrounding Daenerys. The brief conversation between Lady Olenna and Daenerys, where Olenna tells her to be a dragon, was excellent, and the kind of reminder someone like Dany needs. She is someone who has struggled to balance the desire to be fair and the desire to be a successful ruler. But judging by the way she confronted Varys, systematically recounting his betrayals before judiciously accepting his support with the caveat of fiery death if he crosses her suggests Daenerys might not need extended guidance.

Photo Credit: HBO

This week’s Stark stories were mostly middling for me. Jon Snow knows about the mountains of dragonglass in Dragonstone, and since Daenerys already wants to see him at the urging of Melisandre, and he’s been requested personally by Tyrion, he’s ready to ride south and leave Sansa in charge. Much of Jon Snow’s drama at Winterfell is already feeling stale, though I suspect it’s because the scene in question was almost a total repeat of last week’s with the minor exception of not having Lady Mormont’s support. Otherwise, the only exciting scene set in Winterfell was of Littlefinger creeping around the Winterfell crypts, proclaiming his love for Catelyn and Sansa to Jon, inciting an unusual amount of rage from Jon Snow (Note: his attack bares quite a bit of resemblance to Ned choking Littlefinger way back in season one). Littlefinger always has a plan, and he knew Jon would react poorly, so the question is, what’s his angle?

Arya meets Hot Pie (yay!) and he informs her that Winterfell is controlled by the Starks again, highlighting once more how completely out of touch Arya is with the rest of the world. It’s enough to make her turn back and head north, putting her plan to murder Cersei on hold. In a weird scene that I had difficulty interpreting, Arya gets surrounded by a pack of wolves, only to see that one of them is her direwolf, Nymeria.

I completely forgot that any of the direwolves had a chance to be alive, and a bit of research informed me that we haven’t see Nymeria since episode two of season one, which is an impressive callback at this point. But Nymeria doesn’t remember Arya, or rather, does but doesn’t care. She leaves with her pack, and Arya smiles a bit and says “That’s not you.” This could mean a few things: It could be a tongue-in-cheek comment to Nymeria, since she’s being unlike herself. Or it could be a comment to herself, implying Arya is no longer the girl that Nymeria knew.

I did look it up and saw that show runners Benioff and Weiss explained the line in a behind-the-scenes interview. It’s apparently a reference to when Arya said “That’s not me,” in response to Ned saying she’ll one day wear a pretty dress and marry a lord. Nymeria isn’t interested in doing what’s expected of her either. This makes sense and is close to the latter interpretation I had, but I’d be surprised if someone could parse that detail out by themselves.

“Stormborn” definitely wasn’t short on its attempts at theatrics, but the desire for excitement and story progression can’t come at the price of realistic character development and attention to detail. Becoming invested is the only way we can experience a solid payoff, and it’s not happening with the Euron/Cersei plot. The saving grace is with Daenerys, who must soon the fallout from her first major failure in her effort to take the Iron Throne.

Other notes:

-Match cuts seem to be a big thing this season. They have also been consistently revolting!

-I have been trained to expect danger when things are going well, so I was waiting for someone to get killed during the Greyworm/Missandei sex scene. Instead, it was sweet and tender, and a upsetting once you realize they may never see each other again.

-I’m hoping one of the rumored Game of Thrones spinoffs is a Hot Pie cooking show.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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