Beginning on a sequence of thrashing waves and thunder clouds over Dragonstone that’s too dark to really make anything out, we move swiftly on to some exposition about how there was a similar storm the night Daenerys was born (so that’s why they called it that). But now she’s well and truly back and getting ready to start on some conquering, by which I mean deliver lots more exposition.
She has it out with Varys over his, shall we say, wobbly loyalties – a discussion they could probably have had on the long boat trip, but which has been a long time coming given that he literally put out a hit on her way back in series one. He insists she’s a much better ruler than Mad King Aerys, who was a madman and went around burning people alive. She tells him if he ever crosses her, she’ll burn him alive.
After that, Melisandre shows up at the door, so they can have even more exposition about the mythology of the world, and how The Prince That Was Promised might – due to a translation error – actually be a princess, which is certainly what I’d tell Daenerys if I’d jumped ship from Team Stannis after his ignominious death and was looking for a better option, or rather an option the writers clearly prefer. Melisandre has turned up mainly to prod Daenerys in the direction of an alliance with Jon Snow against the white walkers, a move that’s sure to please all the fans who have spent the past year getting all gooey at the thought of it. Oddly, the fact that last series he literally came back from the dead never comes up.
Then, finally, it’s time for Team Targ to plan out how exactly they’re going to invade Westeros. in which her overwhelming numerical advantage and her three dragons get downplayed quite a bit – to be fair they want to minimise civilian casualties, which falls a bit flat when they suggest starving King’s Landing into submission. Tyrion suggests they take over Casterly Rock – you know, the birthright his awful yet charismatic father had denied him, so there may be an ulterior motive here. Nevertheless, it’ll be good to finally see the Lannisters’ big gold mountain fortress on screen. Olenna takes Daenerys aside afterwards and suggest she be more merciless, which seems like unnecessary advice after her earlier threat to burn Varys alive.
Before the gang head off on their respective exciting missions, Grey Worm and Missandei have a genuinely sweet scene together where he tells her that she’s his one weakness. It’s fumbling and it’s awkward, but damn it it’s sincere. Given they’re both former slaves who’ve basically had nothing but their respective jobs until recently, you can forgive it for being reminiscent of a twelve-year-old with a crush. Then, this being Game of Thrones, there’s a sex scene – doubtless lots of people on the internet will be distastefully speculating about the precise logistics of this, but they’re by far the most overshadowed members of team Daenerys. Let them have this.
Cersei, perhaps sensing the danger, is quick to respond, gathering a bunch of the Reach’s nobility and insisting that they forgo their oaths to the Tyrells in favour of their oaths to the crown. Which should be an easier thing. At the risk of being the ‘well, in the books’ guy, most of the Reach’s biggest houses always resented the Tyrells for getting the top job after the ancestral kings of the Reach, the Gardeners, were wiped out in the Targaryen conflict. But then, as Randyll Tarly (remember Sam’s awful father?) makes quite clear after the meeting, they have plenty of reasons to turn their noses up at the Lannisters too.
In a radical move, Cersei takes more notice of the actual dragons a few miles offshore than Daenerys does, possibly because she’s living over a basement full of dragon skulls. Qyburn, the resident Frankenstein-style mad scientist, unveils a plan to shoot them with giant crossbows. It works fairly well against the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, but then that was helpfully staying still rather than flying around and breathing fire.
Up North, Jon and Sansa are mulling over the letter from Tyrion inviting them to talk. Initially they’re reluctant, but that all changes when they get the letter from Sam about how Dragonstone was built on a vast deposit of anti-white walker plutonium. So they take the matter before their assembled bannermen – who seem to just be living in Winterfell now – and completely fail to learn a lesson from last week when they had a very public sibling squabble. Most of the lords say not to trust the Targaryens, with good reason. Sansa suggests they send an envoy, Jon insists only a king can treat with a queen, and since everyone’s on team Jon and Daenerys team up, it turns out Jon’s off to Dragonstone, pausing only to threaten Littlefinger for being creepy, just like his dear old dad once did.
The obvious question, though – why on earth is Littlefinger still here? He’s nominally in charge of the troops from the Vale, but his authority there stems entirely from the poor decision-making of Robin Arryn, who we haven’t even seen since early in series six, and it’s mainly Bronze Yohn Royce who actually speaks for the Vale at Winterfell. Littlefinger just hangs around, talking about his unrequited crush on Sansa and looking sinister. Since Jon’s left Sansa in charge, maaaybe Littlefinger’s going to wheedle his way back into her favour and be the resident evil counsellor, but given the way she’s been sassing him lately it would be a bit of a turnaround.
Arya, still on the way to King’s Landing on a kamikaze mission to bump off Cersei, stops at an inn and runs into an old friend, Hot Pie, who gives her a feed line for a groan-worthy reference to her own recent experience with Frey pies. He also reveals to her that the Boltons are dead and Jon is King in the North, which, between that and reuniting with someone she hasn’t seen in years, you’d think Arya would be a little cheerier. Yet she was ten times happier chilling with the Lannister soldiers in the previous episode – and while I don’t want to dump on the Ed Sheeran cameo as so many did, you could hardly be surprised if it turned out Maisie Williams had insisted on getting to meet Ed Sheeran. It’s certainly how it came across on-screen.
Still, at least more comes of Arya’s meeting with Hot Pie than her much-anticipated reunion with Nymeria, her direwolf. Now on the road north to Winterfell, she stops to camp and is surrounded by wolves, only to find Nymeria leading the pack. There’s as much of a reunion as can really be achieved between actor and CGI, and then Nymeria wanders off, with Arya saying ‘that’s not you’. Given that we haven’t seen Nymeria since the first series, this is asking for confused reactions from casual viewers. Of course real fans will recognise it as an echo of Arya’s statement ‘that’s not me’ when Ned told her she could marry a great lord, also way back in the first series.
Down at the Citadel, we get the anticlimactic reveal that it was indeed Jorah in that cell last week, if the voice and the greyscale and his obsession with Daenerys didn’t give it away. The maesters are obliged to send him off to the ruins of Valyria immediately, but because he’s a knight, they’re willing to give him a day in which to do the decent thing – who doesn’t love a ticking clock? Sam’s mentor says he’s writing a history of the recent wars, and Sam suggests a more poetic title, possibly ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Sam mentions how Stannis’s daughter Shireen had her greyscale cured, and that he’s read an account of a maester who successfully treated it twice – his mentor offers the counterpoint that the maester then died of greyscale. But someone has to turn life at the Citadel into a wacky, Animal House-style farce, so Sam sneaks into Jorah’s room to perform surgery that has been judged far too dangerous. We then get an extended scene of Sam peeling Jorah’s infected skin off, in what seems to be an attempt to be more disgusting than the two-minute chamberpot montage in the last episode.
Then we’re back with team Daenerys – the Greyjoy kids are ferrying the Dornish party off home, to gather their armies. You might ask why they needed to come to Dragonstone in the first place, but Yara and Ellaria quickly move from talking strategy to kissing and mutual touching-up – or, as Ellaria terms it, a ‘foreign invasion’ – so mystery solved. Luckily, or unluckily depending on why you’re watching, they get distracted from their foreplay when another ship rams them, and kicks off the first big battle scene of this series. After some shaky beginnings in which he was elected king after running on a platform of having a big cock, Euron turns up in fine form, riding the boarding plank down onto the deck while jigging about like it’s a glam metal show rather than a battle scene and then going absolutely mental with an axe.
The battle itself leaves something to be desired. Whenever it doesn’t have Euron’s gleeful little face to focus on, it tends to fall into the all-too-common problem of having too many cuts and being far too dark to really work out what’s going on. However, we do have the catharsis of Euron killing two of the Sand Snakes with their own weapons – which isn’t an impressive victory, since their main achievement so far has been murdering an innocent little girl, but given that you could forgive the audience if they were rooting for Euron in this one. His men capture Ellaria and the last Sand Snake – again, something the fans are unlikely to be broken up about – and Euron himself takes Yara hostage and tries to goad poor old Theon into rescuing her. Surrounded by post-battle mutilations and having a visible attack of post-traumatic stress, Theon opts to jump overboard and escape instead.
Predictions for next week
– Jorah will be cured, or he won’t. – Arya’s heading towards the same neighbourhood as Sandor Clegane – maybe another reunion? – Euron’s going to do something awful with his newfound prisoners – he was always billed as ‘even worse than Ramsay’, so he sort of has to. – Cersei is tyrannical, Jaime is exasperated (again). – and the big one, the one you’ve been waiting for, Jon and Daenerys are of course now on a direct collision course.