Last week’s premiere of “Game of Thrones” set the show off to a slowly rolling start, and I’m not quite sure if the second episode, “Stormborn,” picks up the pace. We’re at that point in the series where all of the titular characters are meeting: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is heading home; Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is about to meet Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke); Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) are forging the same alliance with Daenerys. And they’re all against Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who presumably will meet the aforementioned Mother of Dragons.
And yet, even though multiple plot points have been set in place with these meetings, the series still feels like it’s struggling to find its speed. This may be because fans of the show have already been keeping up-to-date with each individual’s history. We’ve followed Jon Snow’s trek past the Wall, and we’ve seen Daenerys accomplish the impossible across the Narrow Sea.
So while these characters are still trying to understand each other, we already do, which makes the wait even more agonizing. For fans, there is no mystery as to who Jon Snow is, even though Daenerys is skeptical about her nephew (and they don’t even know they’re related). There are about a million questions that need answers, like: Is Daenerys going to trust Jon? What will Jon’s reaction be if the Red Woman sticks around? And how will Sansa (Sophie Turner) react to Arya’s return and new persona? The faster these characters meet and the faster they answer these questions, the faster the ever-looming threats of Cersei and the White Walkers will push the series’ to its natural, chaotically-built pace.
When the characters do meet, it’s not always successful. One of the more anticipated reunions of this episode was the one between Arya and her old direwolf, Nymeria. When Nymeria approaches Arya’s campfire in the woods, Arya hopefully asks her to be her companion to Winterfell. Nymeria leaves, and Arya is heartbroken but understanding. She says “That’s not you.” Were this a foreshadowing to Arya’s potential disappointment in Winterfell’s transformation from her childhood home to a place of scarred torment and worry, this scene would make more sense. A symbol of more peaceful times, Nymeria leaving could have been the perfect representation of this natural reaction (if it were to happen).
But because of those three words—"That’s not you"—I’m confused about what character arc the writers are trying to develop in Arya. “That’s not you” is an allusion to season one, when Ned Stark explained to Arya what her role as a lady would be like: marriage and childbearing. “That’s not me,” Arya said. Back at time when we were unsure of who Arya was, this was fitting. Fast forward six seasons, and we know that Arya is not a lord-marrying, childbearing lady. She’s Arya Stark of Winterfell, who cuts up murderers into pies and poisons a whole room of them, sparing the innocent.
And Arya knows who she is too. So for her to say “That’s not you” to Nymeria at the beginning of the seventh season raises a character arc that was already settled, and complicates the ongoing one. Yes, Nymeria is a wild creature who won’t like the confines of a castle. So is Arya. But she’s not going there to be confined—she’s going there to see her family, which Nymeria has in her pack as well. So what does “That’s not you” mean in this new context? It’s unclear, but the answer will hopefully come to light in later episodes.
Farther north, more trouble is brewing in Winterfell. Jon hands off the power to Sansa as he rides to Dragonstone to meet Daenerys. Sansa is smart, but all the while, Littlefinger lurks closeby.
Will there be a power struggle between Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys in future episodes? Perhaps, but right now the Khaleesi has other problems on her hands. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) foils her clever strategy of laying siege to King’s Landing by ambushing Ellaria and Yara Greyjoy’s (Gemma Whelan) ship. In this scene, both Alfie Allen (who plays Theon Greyjoy) and Whelan excel. When Euron has Yara, he gives Theon a chance to save her. But Theon decides to jump ship, abandoning his sister. Allen’s eyes are wide with fear and shame, while Whelan’s face twists in disappointment.
Another notable performance comes from Jacob Anderson (who plays Grey Worm, a castrated soldier). Grey Worm professes his love to Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and save for a few uncomfortably cheesy lines, the scene is tender and heartwarming. All of the Unsullied are eunuchs, which Missandei knows as she moves to take off his clothes. It’s here when Grey Worm tries to stop her, and that’s when Anderson’s brilliant acting comes through. Grey Worm looks like he’s on the brink of crying, which is entirely suitable for his character in this scene. Anderson’s performance helps save the poor dialogue, making his love and embarrassment feel more real than lines like “You are my weakness” ever will.
“Game of Thrones” has talented actors, but some lines of this particular episode made it difficult, even for them. Some examples: “You’re a dragon. So be a dragon,” “I choose you,” “If you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive,” “I would expect nothing less from the Mother of Dragons.” Cue smirk. The dialogue is delivered uncomfortably because they feel tacky and unfitting—like the writers know that these will be quoted in gifs and beyond on the Internet. This approach never makes for good writing.
Regardless, “Game of Thrones” has always performed best later in its seasons, when all the pieces are put into place and gears are in motion. The next episode’s synopsis seems promising: “Daenerys holds court; Cersei returns a gift; Jaime learns from his mistakes.” Is the gift return Ellaria’s dead body? What mistakes are they referring to? We’ll only know when “The Queen's Justice” premieres next Sunday.
—Staff writer Grace Z. Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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