by: Geoffrey Golia and Michael Shields
With the commencement of Game of Thrones seventh season comes the return of Across the Margin’s GOT Guru, who week in and week out makes sense of the madness in Westeros now that Winter has finally arrived!
G.G.: It’s good to be back as ATM’s resident Game of Thrones expert (#GOTGuru). As I continue to wait for George R. R. Martin to complete The Winds of Winter, I did seriously ask myself if I was going to watch this season. We are now, officially, beyond the books, and it’s rough to process and integrate the spoilers coming from the show. One consolation, which is perhaps wishful thinking, is that the show and the books may diverge in such a way that I can retain some level of surprise and satisfaction when book six finally comes out. And yet, we have already seen dramatic departures, by degree rather than kind, between the show and the books, which had given me hope. And besides, being able to contextualize these stories, while adding my own quips and theories, is a real joy for me. I hope you enjoy it too!
MCS: Wow, it feels good to be back talking all things Westeros. I have had July 16th circled on the calendar for some time now, and the next month and a half are going to be a hell of a time with Thrones fever run amok.
But let’s dig right in, and where better to start when discussing an episode entitled “Dragonstone” than in Dragonstone, where the episode concluded when Daenerys and Co. touched down in the land of her birth and appeared to be setting up shop in her effort to unite the kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne. While Dany returning to the ancestral throne of the Targaryens, a place her ancestors used as the launching platform for an invasion of Westeros (how fitting!) is remarkable in itself, I must admit that I felt the conclusion was a bit anticlimactic due to the fact that – well, no one was home when she arrived. Now, I know that Stannis called Dragonstone home from seasons two through four, and it’s clear when and why he moved on, but could you make sense of Dany arriving to a vacant castle at the closing scene of episode one for us?
G.G.: Clearly, there’s a strong symbolic significance to Dany returning to Dragonstone and making it her base from which to launch her invasion of Westeros, not to mention a strategic advantage to doing so. Foremost, it is, as you said, the only surviving, extant home of House Targaryen. Two centuries before the Doom of Valyria, Dragonstone was settled as the westernmost outpost of the Valyrian Freehold. About a decade before Valyria fell, Aenar Targaryen, in a prescient move, relocated his family there, along with their dragons and all of their wealth. Centuries later, Aegon The Conquerer, along with his two sister-wives and their dragons, launched their successful invasion of Westeros from the fortress of Dragonstone (with the exception of Dorne, a story for another time). And, of course, Dany herself was born there (perhaps “amid salt and smoke”) before being cast into exile along with her douchey older brother. Thus, Dragonstone, and her landing there, represents a powerful homecoming for Dany, though – and we will explore this in a bit – the moment doesn’t last long, as the final scene from last night’s episode shows her eye is clearly focused on Westeros, proper. She’s legit been waiting her entire life for this.
Additionally, Dragonstone is strategically well-placed for any military assault on Westeros, generally, and King’s Landing, specifically. It is almost ridiculously close to the Crown Lands, so much so that many book readers initially wonder how it could remain a stronghold for Stannis even after his ill-fated invasion of Westeros and retreat to the Wall. Clearly, it possesses both physical and psychological barriers to repel an enemy attack, including an unforgiving terrain, a reputation for Valyrian sorcery, and the historical mystique of its dragons and their riders – as you can see from the show, it is well-fortified and decorated with dragon iconography which, to the common, superstitious soldier, could be quite daunting.
It also, however, has, at least according to a few canon sources, a population of smallfolk and a culture of its own, which is why I have beef with the show’s portrayal of Dany landing on a seemingly abandoned island. I’m reminded of the time the Simpsons return to their Springfield home from Cypress Creek – Hank Scorpio’s company town where they briefly relocated – to find Otto and his girlfriend squatting in their living room and the Denver Broncos practicing ineptly in their front yard. The point is that people don’t just leave cool-looking castles empty! Anyway, I suspect the writers brought Dany and her brain-trust to an empty island to make the scene more dramatic. There certainly was a crescendo developing through that sequence, but I think you’re right to suggest it was somewhat anti-climactic.
Nevertheless, Dany is done with sentimental things. She dumped Daario (2.0), dispensed with revisionist history, and accepted her father’s grievous errors, and is ready for the Game of Thrones. Why would she spend more than a moment enjoying this homecoming when she has some serious work to do?
MCS: Dragonstone is, as Sam discovered in this episode, a place where dragonglass (which can be used to take out White Walkers, much like Valyrian Steel) can be mined. We know that Stannis knew this, but how well known is this crucial piece of information? Once Sam sends word to Jon about his discovery, it could truly change everything (#hope), and could lead to that highly-anticipated meeting between Dany and Jon.
G.G.: I don’t think the zombie-killing properties of dragonglass are very well-known outside of a small handful of people, many of whom do not seem to either believe or be particularly concerned with the army of the dead fast approaching the Wall. I think it’s clear that the Night’s Watch knows, as well as our new King in the North, Jon Snow, who has communicated this knowledge to the Northern lords (as well as Littlefinger and his vassals from the Vale). From Sam’s acceptance into Hogwa – The Citadel – we know that a few Archmaesters have some sense of the threat of the White Walkers and have read that dragonglass may be effective against them, but as we say, even an Archmaester who seemingly understood all of this was curiously insouciant regarding the risk and the potential remedy. (Granted, the books point to a conspiracy of maesters doing their best to suppress magic and dragonlore and so forth due their own rationalist agenda – call it “Sorcery and its Discontents,” if you will…)
Indeed, this could be a device to connect Jon and Dany. I found myself wondering what Dany’s reaction is going to be to the reality of the Night King and his army of the dead. Sure, she’s seen some shit. But is she going to repurpose her life’s goal to conquer the Seven Kingdoms, and put petty squabbles aside (at least temporarily) to link up with the disparate forces of the living to fight this potentially civilization-ending threat? Will she even take the threat seriously? In the preview of the next episode, we hear some Northern lord (I think Robett Glover) argue with King Jon over “trusting a Targaryen,” so clearly some communication is going to take place. At this point, it’s wait and see.
MCS: One final thing about Dragonstone, and this is in regards to the castle itself. I have heard from many book readers that the architecture described in the books is truly remarkable. That it is shaped, and please tell me if I am wrong, like a bunch of three-dimensional dragons? If this is the case, the appearance of the castle must have been fairly disappointing for some viewers…
G.G.: Yes, in the books the castles and other keeps are shaped like dragons themselves, and are also decorated with all kinds of dragon-like creatures. Dragonstone, or perhaps just the castles and keeps of the island, are described as being forged in dragonflame, sorcery, and all kinds of Valyrian specialties. I wasn’t particularly disappointed, as my expectations of the show versus the books have been tempered since I first saw that hilariously small Iron Throne in Season One. I haven’t gauged fan reaction, but I do know there have been a few snarky “Great Wall of China” jokes about the walkway to the keep.
MCS: It’s time we talk about Euron Greyjoy – who now surely shops exclusively at John Varvatos – as it seems that this twisted soul is going to have a huge part in the season moving forward as he attempts to team up with the Lannisters in King’s Landing. I know we spoke about him briefly in last season’s deconstructions, but let’s refresh our readers some about his history, and his warped sensibilities. What can you tell us about Euron, and would a partnership with the Lannisters be a good idea for each side? Would that combination result in a formidable force to contend with the adversaries Cersei has to the north, east, south and west?
G.G.: I’m no author or screenwriter, but Euron, to me, is a difficult character to transition from page to screen. In the books, he is dramatic, arrogant, dastardly, and a real piece of shit, but not someone to be underestimated – as he also possesses guile, political charm, and worldly knowledge. Additionally, the Ironborn arcs in the books are far more fleshed out than in the show, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, given the show, by nature, has to be more limited in scope. And while we can lament the lack of Victarion, Euron’s brooding warrior brother, or Aeron “The Damphair,” the religious zealot of the family (who appears in the show in a more toned down manner), this question is about the “poor man’s Lemmy with short hair” who appears both lame and underwhelming while trying to woo Cersei in front of what’s left of the royal court.
In the books, Euron emerges during the Kingsmoot, a very ancient custom among the Ironborn, where captains from all the Iron Isles come from far and wide to Nagga’s Bones to select their king. To give a sense of timeframe, the last Kingsmoot on the Iron Isles occurred between two and four thousand years prior to the events of the books (maesters disagree on the exact date). Asha Greyjoy, called Yara in the show, who seeks the Seastone Chair in her own right, suspects that Euron murdered his brother Balon Greyjoy, the sometimes lord/sometimes King of the Iron Isles, who we all know as the understanding and loveable father of Theon and Yara.
Euron is the black sheep of the family, having been exiled for either raping or seducing his brother Victarion’s wife. According to Euron, he spent his years in exile sailing all over Planetos, including to some of the mythical places referred to again and again throughout the books like Ashai and Qarth. His return to the Kingsmoot sets in motion a series of events where King Euron, along with Victarion and the Iron Fleet, invade the Westerlands and the Reach. Asha/Yara flees with her loyal companions and a small portion of the Iron Fleet. Euron, who possesses a horn he claims can control dragons, sends Victarion to Mereen to try to woo Dany on his behalf – but Victarion has revenge on his mind, and resolves to seek Dany for himself. So the books and the show set up two terribly under-qualified suitors for powerful women, and the general consensus is that both are toast, figuratively or literally.
In the books, Euron has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes him more formidable and charismatic, though universally vilified. His portrayal on the show thus seems anemic and out-of-place, both in dress, speech, and strength of arms. It’s hard to gauge the size or strength of the Iron Fleet, especially when Euron complains that Asha/Yara took the best ships of the fleet, and he needs to basically rebuild from scratch. Therefore, it’s easy to predict that Euron, in the show, and Victarion, in the books, will both end up as lunch for Drogon (though my money’s on Rhaegal). Given the pace of the show, and the superfluity of Euron in the grand scheme of things, I’m betting on a quick and humiliating defeat for him and his forces in the Narrow Sea.
MCS: While the North is uniting around Jon Snow, the power struggles between him and Sansa (who admitted that she learned a great deal from Cersei!) are coming to the forefront. Is there a historical precedent for their beef, or is it just recently that they have both come into their own simultaneously? I fear this could lead to some real problems for the Starks.
G.G.: It’s not even subtle: Littlefinger says his heart’s desire is to sit upon the Iron Throne with Sansa by his side as Queen. Jon, rather than Sansa, is crowned sovereign in the North. And every time they disagree, Littlefinger gives Sansa that look like, See, you don’t belong here; they really don’t need you…but I do. Still, I think it’s a mistake to assume this dissension will necessarily lead to internal strife with the Starks, particularly with Bran (and his knowledge) making his way back to Winterfell. I have a feeling Bran will come in at just the right moment to bring the family together, and reveal Jon’s true identity…but, of course, I could be wrong; we’ll have to keep watching.
It’s hard to cite a specific precedent for this situation, but history books are replete with family in-fighting, competing objectives, rival claimants, and so forth. And the histories of Westeros, as well, speak of similar intrigues, and worse – of which the Blackfyre Rebellion is but one dramatic example. As a Sansa loyalist, I feel strongly that she has the best claim to Winterfell, even over Bran, who has a distinct responsibility as the new “Three-Eye Crow” (which is called the “Three-Eyed Raven” on the show) which, I believe, precludes him from governing the North.
Sansa has the pedigree, temperament, and education (so-to-speak) to govern the North as Queen or Lady or Madame Secretary or President. I think Jon will, by virtue of his identity, move on to something bigger, leaving the North for Sansa, who will be a loyal and qualified ruler of the region.
MCS: Arya isn’t fucking around at all any more. That opening scene was something else! Any thoughts on where her storyline goes from here? She clearly has Cersei in her sights at this point.
G.G.: Arya is now a shape-shifting ninja who has mastered the art of murder, and she’s good at it. I’m concerned that she is far too traumatized and bent on revenge to ever return to a “normal” life, including being able to have meaningful relationships with the family she has been avenging. And yet, something (like, I don’t know, the preview for Episode 2) tells me that she may run into an old friend who may be a touchstone for her emotional healing.
Circle back for next week’s deconstruction of Episode 2, “Stormborn,” at Across the Margin!