[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn.”]
Family has meant nearly everything in the world of “Game of Thrones.” The reputation of notable houses, the legacy of rulers and great men that line those history books have done as much to guide the actions of these characters as their own instincts. But after the events of “Stormborn,” that guiding principle of using the past to help shape the future looks to be as outdated as it’s ever been.
Take Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King whose very nickname casts a shadow on Westeros’ coming war, even after his successor’s successor’s successor has been wiped from the throne. In Dany’s new stronghold of Dragonstone (introduced at the top of this episode like Xanadu or some Transylvanian castle from a pre-code monster flick), Varys’ past allegiances are the first to be questioned. Dany’s short learning curve as a leader has meant a careful weeding out of untrustworthy advisers and inner-circle members. Rulers may be judged by actions, but Dany’s verbal sparring with Varys across their ancient carved Risk board shows that she’s preparing in much more ways than army size. An immediate, post-Drogo era Dany might have let Tyrion finish his monologue. But not this version, a queen who demands allegiance by penalty of death.
She’s also a queen who may just be the subject of a prophecy, thanks to Missandei’s sharp linguistic observances. (Bless this show for making the concept of a non-gendered noun a vital turning point in the trajectory of this character’s arc.) Dany may well be the “princess who was promised,” but as she describes to her assembled board of trustees using a borrowed phrase, she does not desire to be a “queen of ashes.”
Thus, she overrides some of her Dragonstone compatriots’ objections and summons Jon Snow to join her and swear fealty. It’s a decision met with plenty of pushback on both sides of the raven, especially at Winterfell, where even the people’s champ Lyanna Mormont disapproves of Jon leaving his people.
But both decisions — to send the message and to answer it in kind — both show how the fate of these rival factions may be guided by their willingness to shake off the restrictive nature of these family alliances. Jon counters the additional invocation of the Mad King by professing his trust for Tyrion, a mutual admiration that makes this impending meeting possible. Tyrion is no more bound by the bloodthirsty actions of his siblings than Jon is by the parentage he doesn’t yet truly understand.
This blind tethering to history gets thrown off in the land of King’s Landing, where Randyll Tarly faces the same crisis of allegiance that plagues most of the movers on the Westerosi chessboard. Randyll’s decision: break with childhood friend Olenna Tyrell and his family’s bond with her house or defy the queen whose brother is giving him a military commission. It’s indicative of the chaos that this fight for the throne has made out of all who are currently fighting for it. As free agents in a mad army scramble, it’s a tumultuous time that’s giving many individuals the choice between honor or survival.
In his own way, Randyll’s son faces a similar challenge at the Citadel. Though his decision to help rid Jorah of the greyscale that’s left the latter with half a year tops before he descends into the primitive world of the Stone Men is motivated by a family connection, it’s Sam’s personal sense of loyalty and admiration that drives his decision to try his hand at amateur dermatology.
By operating on Jorah, against orders, Sam’s actions might be the “Game of Thrones” way of showing that mercy still has value in this world. Dany’s decision to spare Varys and Melisandre for their past employers, even Arya’s decision to leave The Hound alive may prove to be worthy in the long run.
Continued on the next page: Cersei brings out the big gun and the season’s first major deaths