- SPOILERS AHEAD … AND DRAGONS, WEIRD MARRIAGE PROPOSALS, AND A REALLY POOR (OR GREAT, DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE) VINTAGE
Game of Thrones has always been a BIG show.
A big, epic, grand, expansive show that took in the entirety of the lands of Westeros and then some, a multitude of characters, death on a cataclysmic scale, and more vaulting ambition that you could poke an Iron Throne at.
And while “Dragonstone”, the geographic arrival point for Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) along with entourage of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Varys (Conleth Hill), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) in Westeros, kept things big and sprawling, it also began to draw things tighter and tighter together.
In turn, we were reintroduced to the remaining contenders for the throne over which much blood has been spilt, evil unleashed, good done, ambitions foundered and soared, and which, with the White Walkers led by the icily-cold Night King (Vladimir Furdik) on a relentless march towards the living, is beginning to look ever more like a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Let’s start with good old Cersei (Lena Headey) and her brother/lover/chief military consort Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who stand in what’s left of King’s Landing – OK there’s quite a bit left in fact; it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way with the likes of the Red Keep a pile of smouldering rubble – plotting how “the last of the Lannisters who count” will dispatch their enemies to the north, south, west … and well, let’s just say there’s a shit ton of them and none of them are looking to play nice.
To even the odds somewhat, Cersei, who ever the pragmatist, seems to be coping with the loss of all her children just a little too well – being semi-drunk on power will do that to ya I guess; still not a Mother of the Year look really though – has invited the usurper of the Iron Islands throne, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) to put his case forward for marrying her.
It’s such a romantic proposal – I’ll give you 1000 ships and a mysterious present which the cheeky court interloper who seems unfazed by the power and might of the Iron Throne is intent on delivering with no spoilers, if you let me share the power of the Iron Throne.
Of course, by the time Euron makes it back to King’s Landing, there may be no Cersei on the throne, but given her survivability so far, which has surpassed cockroaches living beyond a nuclear apocalypse and beyond, I would put some serious money on the woman who has had a map painted of Westeros in the courtyard for fun, real-life strategy planning, to still be there and kicking.
But in power? Ah, there’s the rub.
For while Cersei is determined to hang onto power – Jaime looks rather more ambivalent but then in lots of ways he always has – there are plenty of people looking to take it off her.
Apart from Daenerys who did little more than arrive grandly into abandoned Dragonstone before declaring in grand episode-ending fashion “Let’s get to work!”, the King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are readying their forces to defend Winterfell, the Wall and all the lands around them, knowing full well that this is where the first battles with the Night King will be fought.
There’s tension of course but not fatally so, with Jon and Sansa working reasonably well together, protected by Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and the leader of the Wildlings Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), who continue to URST their way through things – lovestruck Tormund more than Brienne naturally – with “Little Finger” Lord Petry Baelish (Aidan Gillen) doing his best to worm his way back into Sansa’s affection (actually, he was never there so count that as a fool’s errand).
With the Night King on the march – one lone sequence sees him leading an unnervingly large column of the rotting undead, including three soulless Giants, across the icy wastes – there’s much to do including mine the hell out of any Dragonglass mines, manning the forts along the Wall and ensuring that Jon Snow’s reign isn’t the most shortlived of all the Starks.
Rather cleverly, and this speaks to how intelligent a man, both emotionally and intellectually, Jon Snow is, he pardons his former enemies including the Carstarks, all too aware that what’s needed now is some good old-fashioned unity, sealed shut with some fear of God (or the Night King, same same).
While he’s plotting all this, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arrives back at the Wall with Meera (Ellie Kendrick) looking exhausted on just about every possible level, almost reuniting what’s left of the rulers of Winterfell.
But where you ask, and frankly it’s a damn good, question, is Arya (Maisie Williams)? Why killing off all of Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) family with poisoned wine in the same hall that witnessed the bloody betrayal of the infamous Red Wedding.
As vengeance goes, this was gold standard best-served-cold, with the Frey’s gone, baby, gone, and the Riverlands given notice; job done, and these days Arya is cool as a freaking cucumber, not to mention a dab hand at playing dress-ups, the young woman who mostly does have a name sits down for dinner with Ed Sheeran.
OK not actual Ed Sheeran as Ed Sheeran, thought he does sing a bit, and unsurprisingly rather nicely too, but as a Lannister soldier come to keep the peace.
As is the way of modern social media, his appearance in the show has been ripped apart as badly-acted tokenism, but frankly, as always, this is nothing more than online bullying, and Sheeran, given his small but limited role, acquits himself well.
Haters might be gonna hate, but really it gets them nowhere and achieves nothing, and while his appearance doesn’t set the episode alight, it doesn’t diminish it either, and people should frankly worry more about the intractable conflict in Syria or Trump’s cancerous presidency than whether a pop star gets a cameo in the world’s biggest show right now.
Far away from all the jockeying for power but rather integral to it all the same is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) who is spending his time at the Citadel studying to become a Maester, under the tutelage of the Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent) himself.
You could be forgiven for thinking that it was more about emptying bedpans – Bradley does a fine job of acting retching that should be given an award of some kind – and cooking food and putting away books than studying but that is the price of climbing the rungs of learning right?
Maybe, but Samwell, still adorably in love with Gilly (Hannah Murray), is a determined young man, and turns out to be rather adept at some below-the-radar educational skullduggery, going into the maester-only books section and doing some research on the White Walkers, whom most of the people in the Citadel believe to be figments of Sam’s yet to be maestered imagination.
Success! He finds out that’s there a mountain, yes a mountain, of dragonglass underneath Dragonstone – could be a bit of an issue getting to it what with Daenerys now smugly ensconced there – and sets off a note to Jon Snow to skedaddle and go get it.
It’s refreshing to see Sam again, given he is one of the few characters in the snow who is genuinely pure and kind and of noble intent; even better, it looks like he will play a pivotal role in saving Westeros, if indeed it can be saved, or more importantly, should be saved, from the frozen menace to come.
“Dragonstone” is, on the whole, a jigsaw puzzle set-up, readying Westeros and the titanic battle to come, but it does it damn well, even giving us a look at Sandor “The Hound” Clegane who’s still somewhere in the mix, with that one harrowing shot of the Night King and his undead kin framing all the other power struggles being set into play.
It’s a reminder that, in the end, all the jockeying for position may amount to nought, and that everyone should be doing what Jon Snow is doing and getting ready for a messy battle for sheer survival now that winter has well and truly come.
- There’s more drama, intrigue and bloody Machiavellian posturing in the next episode “Stormborn” but then you’d expect nothing less than that right?