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The “Queen of the Ashes” and the Queen of Thorns

In one of the most satisfying Game of Thrones scenes in some time, Team Targaryen’s Dream Team assembles in the Dragonstone map room to plot their war. Daenerys Targaryen. Tyrion Lannister. Varys. Grey Worm. Missandei. Olenna Tyrell. Ellaria Sand. Yara Greyjoy. Theon Greyjoy. Watching these clever minds assembled under such unlikely circumstances is a thrill. This disparate group of people are all here to support a new queen, but their motivations for doing so run the gamut. For many of them, they don’t love the mother of dragons as much as they hate the Lannisters. But you know the old saying: the enemy of my enemy…

While this crew bickers and sneers and makes it very clear what they think of one another, Daenerys reveals the game plan. The Greyjoy fleet will take troops from Dorne to conduct a siege of King’s Landing. Meanwhile, Unsullied forces will slip around to the other side of the continent and take Casterly Rock, the seat of House Lannister. It’s a bold move, one that will take Cersei out of the game completely. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

It’s when the room clears that another wrinkle enters the picture. Daenerys, never one to turn down guidance, has a one-on-one with Olenna. The wise and witty leader of House Tyrell warns her against trusting Tyrion, noting that clever men end up dead. Whether this is an old woman who has seen it all sharing some honest advice or part of a grander plan to do to House Lannister what they did to her family remains unknown. All we do know is that the dream team is in flux. For every advisor who sees a relatively peaceful path to victory, there are those actively encouraging the “Queen of the Ashes” route that Tryion strongly advised against.

As the season sprints ahead, Daenerys has a difficult choice to make: how much of the Seven Kingdoms will she need to destroy if she wants to claim them for her own? After all, every act of violence can be a tool wielded against her, a reminder of the Mad King’s reign of terror. “Stormborn” takes its title from Daenerys’ name (Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen), granted to her after being born in the midst of a massive storm. But it also refers to the storm that is brewing right now. How big will that storm be? And where will Dany direct its destructive powers?

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The Translator and the General

In an episode of television so devoted to wheeling and dealing and planning a massive war, “Stormborn” also found time for one of the most tender moments in the show’s run. Grey Worm, the eunuch slave soldier, and Missandei, the freed slave-turned-translator and advisor to Daenerys Targaryen, consummated their long-simmering relationship in a sequence that was sweet and soulful and erotic. Quite frankly, it’s the kind of sex scene that Game of Thrones could have used more of throughout its run, a scene where the pleasure of simply being with the one you love is the focus.

Grey Worm’s shame in revealing his mutilation, and Missandei’s acceptance of it, are genuinely beautiful moments. And the nudity, Game of Thrones‘ speciality since day one, feels less exploitative and more about two people finding the courage to be intimate with one another. It’s a sequence that doesn’t bode well for their survival (aren’t all lovers in fiction doomed?), but it’s necessary. Characters we love are about to start biting the dust very soon and moments like this are a reminder of why we love them. And why it hurts when they’re chewed up and spit out by the game.

Oh, and while Missandei is certainly not winning the game of thrones this week, she does quickly learn that Grey Worm is more than capable of taking care of her in bed despite his mutilation. So maybe she’s the real winner this week?

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The Maester-in-Training and the Knight

I’ve written before about how satisfying it is when disparate Game of Thrones characters collide in unexpected ways and how watching two completely different characters with such compelling and complex backstories interact is the kind of magic trick that only a show this huge could pull off. It’s entirely possibly that Jorah Mormont and Samwell Tarly may be the greatest unexpected pairing in all of Game of Thrones.

The unspoken links between these two are incredible. Jorah Mormont, the knight who served Queen Daenerys until he was exiled and accepted back into the fold and then sent to find a cure for the greyscale that will drive him mad and then kill him. Samwell Tarly, the sweet and intelligent “coward” who was sent to the Wall and then to the Citadel. Jorah, who was exiled from Westeros by Eddard Stark, the (adopted) father of Sam’s best friend, Jon Snow. Jon Snow, who wields the sword of Jorah’s father, the late commander of the Night’s Watch. And who now commands the North. And is counting on Sam to learn how to repel the White Walkers. Sam, whose curiosity and compassion leads him to attempt a dangerous procedure to cure Jorah’s greyscale, one that looks like it will put the knight through extraordinary pain if it doesn’t kill him.

An aging knight and a heavyset thinker. Bound by fate and coincidence and secret bonds. Sam was there when Jeor Mormont was killed by his own men and couldn’t stop it. Isn’t he bound to help his son? Meanwhile, up in Winterfell, Jon is interacting with Lyanna Mormont, one of Jorah’s relatives, on a daily basis. This twist of connections and relationships makes Game of Thrones complicated, but it also makes it great. This ensemble is bound in ways they do not yet understand (and may never understand). But we do. And decoding the complexities, examining how they came into contact with each other, is such a pleasurable puzzle.

Oh, and Sam’s experimental greyscale treatment may be the single grossest thing to ever happen on Game of Thrones and that’s saying an awful lot. Yeeech.

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The Traveler and the Baker

After wiping out House Frey and emerging as the champion of last week’s game of thrones, Arya took a bit of a break and met up with an old friend this week. It’s been a few years since we saw Hot Pie and “Arry” has changed an awful lot since he made her a loaf of bread shaped like a wolf. Yet, we see a flash of the old Arya when she encounters her old friend while stopping at a tavern. The young girl, the innocent tomboy who dreamed of being a knight, has become a murderer and a living weapon. But she’s still Arya. She is not “no one.” So seeing a friendly face is a pleasure. Hot Pie escaped the frying pan, but he didn’t follow his friends into the fire. He’s happy to be alive and working and baking all day and man, it sure feels nice to see someone just being happy for once on this show.

For the plot, it’s also useful exposition. It’s through Hot Pie that Arya learns that the Boltons have been defeated and that Jon is King in the North. After finishing her delicious (and presumably hot) pie, Arya’s plan to head south toward regicide is postponed in favor of heading north toward a family reunion. With Bran finally south of the Wall, it won’t be long before the Starks are reunited at home. Hopefully. Maybe. Knowing Game of Thrones, a boulder will fall on one of them at some point.

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