Epic Clashes and Tender Moments

Can there really only be five episodes of Game of Thrones left this year? Can there really only be 11 episodes left ever? It feels like the story is just getting so good, but also that there is so much left to do.

That’s why the show can’t take its foot off the gas, even for a moment. Even in a quieter episode, like “Stormborn,” the show had to accelerate the pace. In seasons past, the episode would have raised the stakes and tension, and let you sit with it for a week. But in this brave new world, as we hurtle toward a conclusion, even an expository episode like “Stormborn” contains an epic action set piece.

I am part of a fantasy football league full of Thrones fans, and where each team represents a great house. As part of our process for setting draft order, we make predictions about the show. Last year, it was about what would happen in the finale. This year, due to the timing of the season, it was about what would happen in the first four episodes. Given the previous patterns of the show, many of us were conservative in our guesses on what would transpire in these first four hours.

But that battle at sea, where Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) brought his full forces to bear on his niece, Yara (Gemma Whelan), and nephew, Theon (Alfie Allen), it was clear the pace of the series, and the pace of our expectations, needs to change. And that, too, is thrilling. So much could happen at any moment that no longer do we fret about episode nine (heck, there is no episode nine this year), but rather have to re-adjust to the idea that anyone could go at any moment.

As Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) said in the recently released Comic-Con trailer, “Everyone is your enemy. Everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once.” That’s what makes it exciting and, at times, tough for fans.

It reminds me of an episode of Band of Brothers, another great HBO series that followed the true story of a group of paratroopers in World War II. Each episode started with an interview with one of the real life survivors remembering the events. Prior to an episode titled “Replacements,” one of the survivors said, “It got to where I didn’t want to get to know any of them because I didn’t like it when they’d get killed.”

I don’t mean to diminish that statement for the real-life heroes of Easy Company, but I thought of that during last night’s episode. We’ve spent six years getting to know these characters, and quite literally thinning the heard. And more is to come. And with it comes some tension about the idea that I’ve grown to love many of these characters, and I fear for their safety in a world this cruel and violent.
Yara is alive, for the moment. So, too, is Ellaria (Indira Varma) and her daughter Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers). But for how long? And what of our other favorites? No one is safe in this world. That is thrilling and exciting, but it’s also daunting.

Last night’s epic conclusion, a terrible blow to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) army, was a reminder that things are moving fast, and the stakes are incredibly high. For the next five weeks, we won’t be able to take a breath between 9 and 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday nights, no matter how tranquil an episode appears.

But last night’s episode was also a great reminder of what we love about Game of Thrones. Though the stakes were high and we’ve got plenty of plot left to chew through, the show has a place for tender and beautiful character-building moments. And last night had two that really moved me.

First, the tender exchange between Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm ( Jacob Anderson). In a lesser show, this is a story thread that could easily have been dropped. But we’ve seen these two grow closer in small beats over the course of the past few seasons. Last night’s tender moment wasn’t just about a love scene, the vulnerability and character building was beautiful.

Call me a softie, but I was moved by the speech Grey Worm gave about fear and weakness, and what that meant for him as a solider on the eve of this great conquest we’ve been building toward for so many seasons. And this was another pull for me at what I referenced above — I love these characters; I’ve grown attached to them; and I, too, fear what might happen.

Grey Worm and Missandei could easily have been characters that faded into the background behind the brighter bulb of the “stars” of the show. But the beauty of Game of Thrones has been the way these characters have been given three-dimensional depth, and have captured the audience. And last night’s scene wasn’t just a payoff for their relationship, it was a payoff for years of audience investment. And as we move at a rapid pace toward the conclusion of this series, I hope we continue to see more of this.

But anyone who read my recap last week, or has read some of my reviews in the past, can probably identify my favorite scenes from last night. And they involved Arya (Maisie Williams). We all supposed that we’d see a reunion between Arya and Nymeria, her dire wolf set free way back in season one. And that came last night. It felt like HBO was even teasing that out in promos, practically promising it would happen. It was a sweet and emotional moment, though maybe not the warm reunion some had hoped for.

But my favorite moment in last night’s episode happened a bit earlier, as Arya reunited with her friend Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey). When we saw Arya in the premier, it was fair to wonder if she was headed toward serious darkness. While I won’t weep for the legion of Freys that met their end, their was a coldness to Arya that was a bit unnerving. Then, when she met up with Ed Sheeran, um, I mean the Lannister soldiers, it seemed clear she was bent on her mission of vengeance.

But in catching up with Hot Pie, Arya learned that her brother, Jon (Kit Harrington), was not only alive and well, but had bested the Boltons and reclaimed her home. It was such a moving and beautiful moment, and some of Williams’ best acting. And it all came from a look on her face. A hopeful expression that we’ve not seen from Arya in quite some time. Last week I was moved by the sequence with The Hound (Rory McCann) and his seeming move toward redemption. I felt similarly moved by that glimmer of hope for Arya this week as she turned away from Cersei (Lena Headey) in King’s Landing and toward her home.

Now I don’t expect the assassin is gone, nor would I wish that. But I doubt I’m alone in pining for the Starks to, once again, be united. Arya moving toward Winterfell is a move in the right direction.

Last night’s episode also featured the setting in motion of a few things. First, we see Sam (John Bradley) continuing to learn and grow, and continuing to flaunt the authority at the Citadel. It will be interesting to see if this has ramifications for Sam, who in the previous episode borrowed keys to the restricted part of the library for a little off-the-books research. But, of course, no one will complain if Sam’s rogue actions can restore Jorah (Iain Glen) to health. And, of course, for the second week in a row Sam had by far the most unsettling sequence. Last week it was bed pan duty. This week it was peeling diseased skin. This is just a friendly reminder that you should eat dinner before the week’s episode.

Sam also set something else in motion. Early in the episode Daenerys learned about Jon Snow. Thanks to Sam, Jon got the extra motivation to make a trip to Dragonstone to meet with the Mother of Dragons face-to-face. This, too, feels like a great acceleration toward the end game.

I didn’t touch much on King’s Landing this week, but I have a feeling that will be key to next week. Speaking of which, it’s time to look ahead.

With all that happened to close the episode, and all that’s on tap, it’s easy to almost gloss over the amazing first meeting that will happen next week. (We know it will because it was in the scenes). Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen will actually meet in person. THIS. IS. HUGE.

We also know next week’s episode is called “The Queen’s Justice,” and features the cryptic description that Cersei returns a gift. I’m pretty sure the gift is going to be Ellaria, the woman who killed her daughter, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a partial return. I see Ellaria’s head doing some travelling. Some have guessed it will go to Dragonstone and Daenerys. But I have this sneaking suspicion it could go to Lady Olena (Diana Rigg) in High Garden. We’ll likely know the answer in six days.

I also have a few questions and thoughts based on last night that I’ll lay out rapid-fire bullet style:

Is Euron in trouble. Clearly in the battle he got cut by the Sand Snakes. We know in the past they have been famous for poisoning their blades. Could this be a bad sign for Euron moving forward?

How long will Yara last? My prediction is that she stays alive at least a few more episodes. I think it will get drawn out a bit more.

Are we going to see the four remaining Starks together? Arya is headed to Winterfell. Bran, when last we saw, was headed to Winterfell. Sansa is in Winterfell. Jon will be back at some point. I think it happens, albeit briefly, before this season is over.

That’s it for this week. Have thoughts, a favorite scene or predictions? Hit me up in the comments.


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