This week’s trip to The Citadel also gives the writers a chance to be self-reflexive. The words of the Archmaester (all this screen time spent with Jim Broadbent in Season 7 has already felt like a comforting hug), that push back on the idea of presenting history with stylistic flourish almost seems like an olive branch to viewers. With a firm end-date in sight, the series has an obligation to present all the pieces of this power struggle and keep the audience well informed of their movements. When the show can occasionally pause to include a telling character moment with some relish, it seems like the show is following Sam’s advice.
One satisfying detour in “Stormborn” is Qyburn literally bringing out the big gun as a means to combating the three dragons that Dany has at her disposal. With Varys and Littlefinger now dispatched to distant lands, this one scene not only establishes him as the new preferred sneaky dispenser of useful knowledge, it gives the sniveling former maester a chance to prove his worth as Hand of the Queen. Shooting that arrow straight through the skull of the enemy that threatens the Lannister grip on the Iron Throne is another chance for “Stormborn” to literally put an arrow through history.
And in the same episode that proves why family bonds might not be worth the banners their sigils are printed on, the action-packed finale drives a literal and figurative stake through some of the series’ most notable familial connections. As Yara and Ellaria make their way back to Dorne to gather additional forces, their armada is sabotaged by the octopus-emblazoned fleet of Euron, who quickly overrun their opposing forces, even with the Sand Snakes waiting patiently below deck.
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In what might be the show’s dimmest major scuffle since Blackwater, Euron’s forces slash through the hull and the ship’s inhabitants, lit by the fire of the target vessel’s burning mast. After a protracted faceoff, Euron stabs Obara and Nym, leaving the ship without its strongest line of defense. Down below, Tyene staves off as many attackers as she can before she and Ellaria are whisked away by Greyjoy minions.
As Dorne’s most underutilized characters met an undignified end, the episode ends with the apparent death of Theon, overtaken by the dormant impulses of Reek. Faced with the chance to save his sister from the ravages of their homicidal uncle, he hops overboard and watches the ships sail away back to King’s Landing.
In this fateful turn, the words of Olenna ring true throughout the rest of the episode. (After “You’re a dragon. Be a dragon,” Diana Rigg can go ahead and book her plane ticket to LA for the 2018 Emmys.) This is no longer a world where the history of actions past can be used as a barometer to predict the future. Clever men with the wisdom of ages on their side are no match for what the intuitions of individuals can suss out just as powerfully. Dany and Tyrion’s plan, sensible as it may have seemed, relied on too many uneasy alliances, even if those ships had arrived at their destination.
Their saving grace is that Cersei’s course of action also hinges upon the good fortune of a newly made alliance. Now we know what Euron had in mind during his unconventional marriage proposal at King’s Landing in the season premiere. While some predicted that his returning gift might be a person (that smash cut to Dany in the “Previously on” was a quality fake-out), but rather than Tyrion or Olenna, it appears the most significant surviving Dornish citizen will be the present that may sway Cersei’s favor.
In the meantime, the stage is set for a sibling reunion promised at season’s start. Dany and Jon are in line to meet at Dragonstone, where the Song of Ice and Fire is about to get its loudest verse yet. And when they do, family matters will be the least of their worries.
“Game of Thrones” Season 7 airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go.