Episode 2 of Season 7 not only sets up more action to come, but it offers a few thrills, gasps, and “aw” moments of its own. First of all, Arya’s long-awaited reunion with Nymeria finally happens. Wonderful. After some frustrating stagnation at the Citadel, Sam finally acts with a truly grotty scene that demonstrates his deep loyalty to Lord Commander Mormont, his now departed Night’s Watch commander.
Cersei continues to chill us — Qyburn gives her a means to destroy Dany’s dragons, war machines that could immolate half the Army of the Dead in one breath.
And, a huge strategically vital part of Dany’s army is destroyed. Not to mention, HBO aired what I believe is TV’s first sex scene with a transgendered person in it (or somebody who represented somebody who is arguably transgendered).
When the episode opens, it’s a wet, stormy night – perhaps, appropriate for Dany’s home coming and effective rebirth given that’s the kind of night this “Stormborn” princess came into the world. Dany is sitting at the war room table plotting strategy with three other powerful women, a dwarf, and a eunuch.
Dan Weiss pointed out how fresh it feels to have four female powerbrokers in a room – and he’s absolutely right. But, this scene wouldn’t have been possible if GRRM hadn’t made the imaginative leap and decided to portray his combination of Alexander the Great, Henry VII, and Elizabeth I as a woman. And, frankly, it’s pretty frigging cool that he did that.
In some respects, the women at the war table are torn straight from the pages of the history of some of the Middle Age’s most powerful women. Olenna Tyrell resembles nobody as much as Eleanor of Aquitaine, a fierce power broker and survivor in her own right who lived to the astoundingly ancient age of 82 — well, ancient for the middle ages.
And, Yara, is like none other than Grace O’Malley.
After her war council, Dany learns that Melisandre has arrived. Melisandre urges Dany to meet with Jon Snow, who is now king of the North. After hearing Tyrion’s praise of Jon, she dispatches a raven urging Jon to come and bend the knee.
As we learned in the last episode, Dragonstone is destined to be a crucial location in the wars to come. Dragonstone sits on a huge mound of dragon’s glass (aka obsidian in the real world) and this is a vital weapon against the white walkers – in fact, it and fire – two things Dany possesses in abundance– are the only things that can kill the white walkers and stop the Army of the Dead.
One of Game of Thrones’ appeals has to be how many audiences it reaches. Over the last decade, society has become much more aware of LBGT issues. People like Caitlyn Jenner have publicly discussed her transition to womanhood. And shows like Showtimes’ Billions have created characters without gender, such as the financial genius Taylor Mason (portrayed by non-binary gender Asia Kate Dillon actor) whose character uses the personal pronoun “they.”
Perhaps, one of the reasons Game of Thrones resonates is because it reveals that a timeless quality underlies many modern-day issues. In episode 2, Missandei and Grey Worm finally do it. I believe this is the first time a transgender – if you can characterize the eunuch Grey Worm that way – has ever been depicted on television. What was so rewarding about this scene was the way it revealed that love doesn’t have to take a conventional path.
Eunuchs having sex is hardly without historical basis. Throughout history, some boys were selected to become eunuchs due to their physical beauty. Some of these eunuchs leveraged their own sex appeal through relationships with powerful men. Undoubtedly, some of these couples fell in love and not all of these relationships would have been transactional. I’m not trying to draw a comparison between Grey Worm and these real-world sexually exploited eunuchs. That’s not my point. Rather, what I’m trying to say is that, while it might seem obvious, sexuality is still possible among those whose sex organs are missing.
Queen Cersei, realizing she is in danger, attempts to “rally the troops” and get the few remaining nobles who could possibly be loyal to her, firmly on her side.
Among the nobles in the audience is Sam’s dad, Randyll Tarly – reputedly one of the greatest warriors of his generation and the only one who beat Robert Baratheon at the Battle of Ashford. If he gives Cersei and Jaime his supports, the other southern lords will surely follow.
After Cersei’s speech, Jaime tries to persuade Tarly to swear fealty to Cersei, but as he points out, he is also sworn fealty to the Tyrells who are now – surprise, surprise – at war against the Lannisters thanks to that little explosion Cersei orchestrated at the Great Sept.
It’s a classic situation from the Wars of the Roses when great magnate nobles assembled their own private armies – stocked by loyal supporting lords – and declared war on kings: Who do you support – your liege lord or the crown?
What’s interesting here is what is being set up: At some point, Randyll Tarly’s likely going to realize that his son Sam really does make him proud with Sam’s bravery and leadership against the white walkers and would have been a fit heir. Then Randyll will likely join Sam in the fight against the Long Night. But, what if Randyll is already committed to Cersei or the Tyrells? Will he bring their forces with him?
Meanwhile, Qyburn — King’s Landing’s resident Dr. Frankenstein cum Macgyver (or da Vinci) — leads Cersei down to the Red Keep’s lower level where King Robert Baratheon stored the dragon skulls of his Targaryeon predecessors. Qyburn has built a huge crossbow like the ballista from Ancient Greece. With a touch of her hand, Cersei sends massive bolt through the skull of Aegon’s biggest dragon, Balerion the Dread.
And, I should mention that the ballista isn’t my catch — some quick-witted person on Wikia noticed it. (Dragon, are you out there?)
In the North
Jon receives two ravens: one from Tyrion at Dragonstone asking him to come “bend the knee” to Dany and the other from Sam Tarly informing him about the hoard of dragon glass under Dragonstone.
While Jon knows Tyrion wrote the raven — he closed with “all men are bastards in their father’s eyes” — and Jon trusts Tyrion, it’s far from clear if Jon would be walking into a trap if he goes to Dragonstone.
Sansa reminds him that when their grandfather received a summons from Dany’s father it ended with the mad king burning their grandfather alive. What’s to say whether the mad king’s daughter will be any different?
When Jon announces to his men that he intends to go Dragonstone with Davos, they don’t take it well. They want him to stay, fearing what will become of them if their leader dies. Jon leaves Sansa in charge. She wanted a voice and now she certainly has one. She looks wary and apprehensive when Jon makes the announcement.
It certainly wasn’t unprecedented for medieval kings to leave their women in charge while they were gone. When William the Conqueror was away, he left his wife Matilda in charge. While Henry VIII campaigned in France from 1512-1514, he left Catherine of Aragon as his regent.
Before Jon leaves for Dragonstone, he goes down to the crypt where his Ned Stark’s bones rest to pay his respects. Littlefinger seeks Jon out there. Littlefinger waxes on about how he presented Ned’s bones to Catelyn, but Jon isn’t fooled. He has Baelish’s number. When Baelish announces his love for Sansa, Jon throttles him and hisses that if Baelish so much as speaks to Sansa, Jon would kill the man.
After discovering an old text in the Citadel that explains how to treat advanced cases of greyscale, Sam decides to try it on Jorah. Now, this is quite a risk. Not only is this procedure banned because it is too dangerous, and not only is Sam almost completely inexperienced with surgery, if Jorah dies or Sam gets caught, he could get kicked out of the Citadel. Not only would this crush his dream, it would also jeopardize his ability to find a way to stop the Night King.
So why does Sam take this huge risk? He was there when Jorah’s dad died; Sam was loyal to and fond of the Night’s Watch commander.
The procedure is truly gruesome. Sam has to pick and cut off Jorah’s calcifying grey skin. Underneath it is some nasty, cream colored crust.
And then comes one of the grossest and funniest scene transitions of the decade. The show cuts right from Jorah’s puss-filled skin to an extreme closeup of a creamy flaky pie a guest at the Inn at the Crossroads is eating.
Riverlands, The Inn at the Crossroads
Having left the Lannister soldiers (presumably alive), Arya now arrives at the Inn at the Crossroads where she encounters her buddy Hot Pie. Arya had numerous adventures with Hot Pie and Gendry at fun places like Harrenhal — possibly inspired by Castle Pontefract. Way back in Season 3, she parted ways from Hot Pie when he chose to stay behind at the Inn at the Crossroads so he could become a cook.
Now that Arya meets Hot Pie again, her gives her some delicious bread. The secret is browning the butter. And, with a dollop of wry bit of humor — an inside joke to herself — Arya replies that she didn’t do that when she made some pies recently. And, we all know what pies she is referring to.
As has become tradition at the Inn at the Crossroads important info is revealed. Hot Pie informs Arya that the Boltons are dead — and her favorite brother Jon is now King of the North at Winterfell.
Arya leaves immediately.
That night, when Arya ties up her horse and builds a fire to keep her warm through the night, Nymeria and her wolf pack appear. It takes a while but Nymeria finally recognizes Arya. When Arya asks Nymeria to go with her North, the direwolf lowers her head and trots away. Its a sad moment. We all want this reunion. But, as Arya says, “That’s not you.” Like Arya, Nymeria is far from domesticated.
The line is a reference to Arya’s reply to her dad in Season 1 — she didn’t want to be a great lady: “That’s not me.”
What’s interesting here is that all Stark direwolves are symbolic and have symbolic names. The wolves echo their owner’s spirit as well as their fates — and take on various symbolic aspects.
In this case, like Arya, Nymeria has been lost. Now that Arya is making her way home, she is reunited with Nymeria. But, I would argue that Arya hasn’t fully righted herself. After getting revenge on the Freys, she has let go of some of her anger. But, she is still somewhat lost. I don’t think we will see Arya and Nymeria reunited until this young warrior comes into her own.
On the Narrow Sea
The final scene in the show comes when Yara and Dany’s Armada is attacked by Euron’s massive fleet. But, not before we see Yara and Ellaria Sand start to get it on and the Sand Snakes plot fantasize about blood and violence.
One of friends could not figure out the timing of this sea battle. How did Euron catch up with Yara’s fleet so quickly? Euron probably left King’s Landing a week or two before Yara left Dragonstone — and they probably met somewhere in the Narrow Sea (past Dragonstone).
Euron’s nocturnal sneak attack appears to have annihilated Yara’s ships. Euron’s men have captured Ellaria and one of her daughters (Tyene?). Euron has captured Yara. And, in a PTSD moment, Theon has fled, diving overboard rather than face psycho Euron.
Personally, I practically cheered when two of the Sand Snakes bit the dust. In a nearly pitch perfect TV show, the Sand Snakes were absurd pieces of two-dimensional cardboard that could never make music.
Game of Thrones is set in a world that sort of parallels the late Middle Ages, a time when ships were the ultimate war machines. You could argue that ships in the Middle Ages were perhaps even equivalent to a tank or a bomb in the speed and destruction they could deliver. Late medieval ships could ferry soldiers up and down the English coast in a day — far, far faster than any army could march on foot.
When Euron smashes Yara’s fleet into matchsticks, it strikes a huge blow to Daenerys. Sure, she has her dragons, but unless her allies give her ships, she no longer has such a big advantage over Cersei. Dany has lost the ability to rapidly move her soldiers around Westeros — whereas Euron’s massive ironfleet will be able to rapidly move his men and Cersei’s around Westeros in Viking style lightning raids. And, like the Vikings, it will be hard for Dany and Cersei’s other enemies to see these coming.