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Game of Thrones

Last Night’s 'Game of Thrones' Had a Gory Sea Battle and Cunnilingus

While much of the episode was bogged down by boring war councils, it offered some powerful scenes with big payoffs.

by J. W. McCormack
Jul 24 2017, 4:22pm

All photos courtesy of HBO.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

For Daenerys Stormborn, no place feels like home. Not the foreign shores of Pentos or Qarth or Meereen, and certainly not Dragonstone, her family's ancestral seat of power. Instead, she's on a quest for the Iron Throne in King's Landing. Season Seven's second installment, "Stormborn," finds her inching closer to that goal. We first see her with her cabal of good guys as they catch one another up on what's been happening in the series. And boy, does it go on for a while.

Daenerys wonders aloud if she can trust Varys (you can trust Varys!). Melisandre shows up and tells Tyrion and Daenerys that there is a new King in the North (it's Jon Snow!). Tyrion tells everybody who Jon Snow is. This causes Daenerys to look directly into the camera and say, "He sounds like quite a man" (he is, and wait till you dig his summer style!). She then wonders if he can be trusted (you can trust Jon Snow!). We also learn, via Daenerys's translator Missandei, that the "prince" in "prince that was promised" prophecy is gender-neutral and can be construed as "the prince or princess." Nice herstory, Missandei.

Now that that's behind us, we can move on to the—but nope, it's time for more recaps. The next one is courtesy of Jon Snow, who receives a raven from Tyrion telling him that Daenerys has come to Westeros (yes, we know, it took six years of our lives!). Snow then asks Sansa if Tyrion can be trusted (you can trust Tyrion!), after which Davos observes that she's got a Dothraki horde, a legion of Unsullied, and three dragons. Of course, dragons breathe fire and ice zombies hate fire (it's so crazy, it might just work!).

Meanwhile, in King's Landing, we have another war council. This time Queen Cersei warns the lords of the great houses of the mainland—where things clearly haven't been all tits and wine—to side with her against Daenerys. Cersei frames Stormborn as the daughter of a mad despot who consorts with heathens and has a history of crucifying those who disagree with her. But Randyll Tarly, father of Samwell and Dickon and owner of a truly epic speaking voice, is not swayed. He needs Jaime to flatter his manhood for a while before he is willing accept a promotion from background actor to actual character on Game of Thones. After all, the Tarly name means something! (I looked it up. According to Urban Dictionary, Tarly means exceeding "the accepted limit of gnarlyness." So he's got that going for him.) Finally, Qyburn takes Cersei into the bowels of the Red Keep to show her that the secret way to kill dragons is by firing a giant arrow into their head, which is something that kills every living thing in the world.

Queen of the Assholes

Hey, did somebody say "war council?" Because that's what we've got back at Dragonstone, where Daenerys receives her allies, Ellaria Sand, Olenna Tyrell, and Yara Greyjoy (Theon's with them too but only in the sense that Ringo Starr was "with" the Beatles) in front of Stannis's old RISK board. The various factions propose a series of maneuvers that won't work out because, if they did, it'd be a short show. And so Daenerys rejects Yara's scorched-earth strategy, saying she doesn't want to be "Queen of the Ashes" (I misread the subtitles and thought she said, "Queen of the Assholes.") Olenna, saucy as always, stays on for a tête-à-tête with Daenerys and utters a line that would be pretty funny out of context, "He's a clever man, your hand." She then asks the Khaleesi "Are you a sheep?" Honestly, she may be the Queen of Thorns, but Diana Rigg would be a badass children's television host, and she's already on the right network.

Game of Thrones has had many sex scenes, but "Stormborn" gives us one hell of a love scene on the eve of war. About the stunningly tender torch-lit rendezvous between Missandei and Grey Worm, the episode's highlight, I have only two observations: First, it's pretty touching that Grey Worm's character arc has been building toward cunnilingus (still the only reason a person should ever wear their hat backward). And second, I didn't see or hear Missandei close the door. A little privacy please?

And in Smugtown, Jim Broadbent's Archmaester Ebrose asks Samwell if he can think of a more poetic title for his forthcoming fantasy epic A Chronicle of the War Following the Death of King Robert I. How about A Gamble of Chairs or Naked Lunch? How about we swear that if the show ends with Old Samwell reflecting on his life's work and saying, "Or, as you know it, A Game of—" we all solemnly swear to deny that we ever watched this show, just like we did with Lost? All metafictions aside, Sam sneaks into the cell where Jorah Mormont is slowly being devoured by Greyscale and gives him an arduous, gooey chemical peel that is the episode's other best scene because it does not involve a war council, and it makes a dramatic, visceral moment out of somebody getting a tattoo. Except, er, in reverse. Ewww.

We transition from Grey Worm and Missandei to a shot of a hand reaching into a crevasse between hardcovers, and then we transition from Sam lancing a pus-filled boil to a Ricky Jay–looking peasant stabbing into a creamy shepherd's pie. What if the whole show had been like this? A kind of exquisite corpse a la Mr. Show or Monty Python? Maybe then we would be spared watching late-in-the-day expository sequences like Arya learning from Hot Pie that her brother Jon is, sigh, King in the North. And so Arya rides off to where the plot bids her, bumping into a giant, janky-looking CGI direwolf on the way. I'm glad we're saving the budget for full scale battle scenes, but surely Andy Serkis could have nipped this one in the bud.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Sand to Snake

Since we've had two scenes without a war council, how about a war council? What is with all these war councils? At this war council, Jon Snow learns from a Sam-a-gram that there is a bunch of dragonglass in a mine under Dragonstone—which seems like it should have been clear from the name, but this is a show where "I read it in a book" is increasingly treated like a big plot twist. Jon decides, against the advice of his whole war cabinet, even future Best Actress (and current Worst Witch) Lyanna Mormont, to accept Tyrion's invitation, leaving sister Sansa in charge of things at Winterfell.

It sure feels awkward watching the Stark's little family disagreements play out in public view of their vassals. It's like watching a couple bicker and makes me feel like I shouldn't be here. This really isn't how you respectfully air discontent before your lieutenants. This is how you respectfully air discontent before your lieutenants. Before he leaves, Jon Snow visits the family crypt, where he does something that too few people have done in six seasons of Littlefinger's creepy, fawning, obvious machinations—he wallops him. Good lad. Jon Snow is said to know nothing, but he appears to know one thing: When people say everything in a weird affected voice that occasionally breaks into an inexplicable Irish accent, they are probably lying.

Speaking of inexplicable accents, we cut to the Sand Snakes having some inane patter about mothers and matricide as they sail with Ellaria and the Greyjoy siblings. But don't worry. Since we've been such a good audience, the planned war council has been canceled in favor of a huge, effects-filled sea battle with an unprecedented scale and body count for a season's second episode. It's scary too, with Euron (who, it has been observed, appears to have been recast as the same actor) interrupting a steamy encounter between Yara and Ellaria with a phallic surprise attack.

Game of Thrones's battle-scenes have often depicted the pure, disorienting mayhem of war. While the swathe Euron cuts through the armada is hard to follow, it feels convincing in its nonlinear havoc. Theon flees and floats away (is Alfie Allen made of wood?) as his sister is taken prisoner with Tyene and Ellaria Sand. The other two Sand Snakes die viciously, with Nymeria learning at last why you should never bring a bullwhip to a knife party. The Sand Snakes weren't the most popular characters, but surely we never wanted this. What's worse, Ellaria and Yara are both in a position to give up valuable information about Daenerys's plans to attack Casterly Rock.

All would appear to be lost—but the preview for next episode promises that the inevitable moment, 63 episodes in the making, is at hand. Jon Snow is scheduled to share his intel with Daenerys. The war council giveth, and the war council taketh away. Praise be to the war council, for the war council is eternal.

Recent work by J.W. McCormack appears in Conjunctions , the Culture Trip , the New York Times, and the New Republic.