by: Geoffrey Golia and Michael Shields
MCS: I apologize about the two Seinfeld references in the tagline for this article, but I just couldn’t help myself. Anyways, I feel I am burying the lead here some (Nymeria!), but I believe we should start with Euron, King of the Iron Isles, who made quite an entrance in Sunday night’s episode, cock-blocking his niece, taking out Sand Snakes with zest, and finally answering the lingering question of exactly what his “priceless” gift(s) to Cersei would be. It was fascinating to finally see the manic, axe-wielding Euron in action on the high seas, but I am wondering now if you believe Cersei will be impressed with Euron’s offering, and if Theon – obviously battling a severe case of Ramsey-inflicted PTSD – can find any measure of redemption for leaving his sister, Yara, high and dry at episode’s end?
G.G.: It’s funny you mention Seinfeld because I half-expected Yara, upon seeing said ax-wielding uncle, to say under her breath, “Hellooo, Euron,” as a slap-bass leads us to an outro…but seriously, I’m just relieved that Euron isn’t going to get his filthy pirate hands on one of Dany’s dragons, which some fans and friends were suggesting may be the gift he promised Cersei. Alas, it’s just the de facto Princess of Dorne that Euron has captured (there are no kings or queens in that kingdom), and a rival claimant to the Seastone Chair so, yeah, Cersei is going to be happier than Jerry scoring an uncontaminated chocolate babka. We’re talking about Cersei getting her hands on the rulers of two regions that are in open rebellion against the Iron Throne and who are major bargaining chips.
The real question is, does this actually change the balance of power between this newly emerged field of warring factions? The answer, as always with Game of Thrones, is an unsatisfying “sort of.” On the plus side for Cersei, Euron has interrupted Dany’s (or, more precisely, Tyrion’s) strategy, while also strengthening his position, both in the Iron Isles and in collaboration with the Iron Throne. Ellaria was sent back to Sunspear to initiate a Dornish invasion of the Crownlands, and lay siege to King’s Landing. (No word on what the Stormlords have to say about this, by the way…) Cersei has, at least, delayed the siege while, through Euron, scoring a massive maritime victory that, to the extent that we can tell, destroyed the faction of the Iron Fleet loyal to Yara. So this is both a symbolic victory, buttressing Cersei’s claim to the throne and demonstrating some military acumen, and a strategic victory, perhaps saving King’s Landing – and Cersei’s crown – from a slow, starving death.
But while this defeat, as it were, is a bad look for Dany, it is not necessarily devastating to her overall strategy or prospects. Yara’s faction of the Iron Fleet, while impressive and effective, most likely wasn’t going to determine the fate of Dany’s campaign. And while Dany was counting on Ellaria Sand to galvanize and lead the Dornish siege, if we’re correct to assume that Ellaria’s desire for war and revenge more adequately represented the Dornish people’s’ hopes and dreams (as opposed to Doran Martell’s dithering, “wait and see” strategy), her capture and possible torture and death may further rouse the Dornish to attack King’s Landing in the service of the Mother of Dragons. And what an irony that would be, to see Cersei’s power crumble, as King’s Landing is sacked in much the same way that the Lannister’s ended the Mad King’s reign a generation ago. Besides, Dany has goddamn dragons and the Dornish siege and Yara’s assistance were merely a part of her “conservative” military strategy. At any point she can change her mind and go full-Aegon, and just light up the joint.
But let’s not go overboard (get it?). We should focus on the only other topic, aside from Grey Worm and Missandei’s erotic adventure that people were talking about, post-episode: what in the seven hells happened to Theon? I mean, he literally jumped ship! Initially, it does seem as though there is some kind of traumatic reexperiencing going on with him, that Euron triggered some deep, dark shit from Theon’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days as Reek. But consider this: Yara and Theon are the only two, true-born children of Balon Greyjoy, the late ruler of the Iron Isles. While heredity can be negated by pure, naked aggression (and, apparently, studded leather clothing), Yara, with Theon’s support, has the best claim to the Iron Isles. If they’re both dead or captured, then Euron, at least to the extent that we can know, becomes the unchallenged ruler of the Iron Born. Theon has worked hard to regain his emotional stability and identity, and his seemingly cowardly actions appear unacceptable as Yara feels completely betrayed, but maybe she simply can’t see Theon’s long-game, but I can…and I’d be willing to bet a six-pack of beer that he’ll be making a big splash (sorry!) in the near-future.
MCS: Craft beer or some cold gold, I must ask?! But, let’s talk direwolves, as the emotional peak of the episode for me was Arya coming face to face with her former “pet” Nymeria, only for Nymeria to turn a cold shoulder to Arya. This re-introduction of Nymeria feels poignant, in that I feel it is setting up a big moment for Nymeria and her pack in episodes to come. I read recently that George R.R. Martin in an interview with Mashable hinted to big things with the direwolves in the books to come, saying “You don’t hang a giant wolf pack on the wall unless you intend to use it” (an allude to the Chekhov’s Gun principle). What did you think of that moment, and do you believe – as many do – that the direwolves have been underrepresented in the series, and it is possible that that could change in regards to Nymeria?
G.G.: The lame excuse I’ve read is that the CGI needed to create direwolves, and other magical creatures like giants, is “too expensive” (whatever that means for HBO and perhaps the most popular television series ever) and that, really, is the only reason we don’t see Ghost (Jon’s direwolf) more, among other beloved creatures. It’s funny because I’m reminded of the notorious Season 1 “hunting party” scene, when King Robert, Lancel, and Barristan Selmy are walking – WALKING – during that fateful boar hunt. Medieval hunts were huge, wild affairs, with dozens of hunters on horseback, dogs, and a lot of bloody action! To see these dudes in full armor, and Lancel with his wineskin walking through the forest was, for many of us, hilarious. It turns out, by that episode, the show had exhausted its “horse budget,” and had to settle for, well, that…but I digress.
While we all hoped that Nymeria would join Arya on her return to Winterfell and the North, it was not to be. This is a powerful moment for both characters, because it shows the healing power of reunion, but also the reality that those who were once close sometimes, by will or circumstance, move towards different paths. Let’s consider another scene from Season 1, where Ned Stark is speaking to Arya about her future as a lady, wife, and mother. Arya responds by saying, “That’s not me,” which is both true and prescient. Circumstances, and her wild disposition, dictated that Arya’s path would be different. In the same way, circumstances – i.e. the deeply satisfying but ultimately tragic attack on Joffrey – forced Arya to send her direwolf away, leading to Nymeria’s path as the leader of a ravenous, and enormous, pack of wild wolves that stalks the Riverlands and the Neck, mauling and killing basically anything that’s edible. Actually, in some ways, their two fates are not dissimilar. And, yet, as I’ve said, they most likely will not live out their years together in Winterfell; as Arya said, “That’s not you.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that what is described as a truly massive pack of wolves, led by an enormous direwolf, won’t make another appearance. And whether they’re mauling Lannisters or fighting an army of the dead, it will be a fucking beautiful sight to behold…if HBO can get somehow get the cash together.
MCS: While I thought Qyburn’s ace of his sleeve in the oncoming battle against dragons would be more than a giant crossbow, I love that scene in the subterranean depths of King’s Landing, as it brought us face to face with a few monstrous dragon skulls. Anything you can tell us about those dragons, the war in which they were killed where their skulls were taken as trophies, and the chances Cersei’s army has against Dany’s three fire-spewing beasts?
G.G.: So much could be written on the dragons of Valyria and Westeros. In fact, a lot has been written, by both Martin and fans, as well as in scrolls and books mentioned (and sometimes quoted) in the books and show. Tyrion, for instance, is a noted expert on dragons, which has led to speculation that he may be one of many potential secret Targaryens. For the sake of this scene, and the fate of the dragons in the series, I’ll provide some brief commentary:
Obviously, the most dramatic dragon skull in the collection is that of Balerion “The Black Dread,” Aegon the Conqueror’s dragon, who made Aegon (and his sisters’) relatively quick conquest of six of the seven kingdoms possible. From what I’ve gathered, Balerion was the largest dragon hitherto known in all of Planetos. You’ll notice, of course, that there were other dragon skulls of varying size, including some rather small ones, in the collection. Initially, Targaryen (and non-Targaryen) dragons continued to hatch and grow to enormous sizes, allowing Targaryens to consolidate their control over the Seven Kingdoms (including Dorne). These dragons also exacerbated the brutality and general awfulness of the Targaryen civil wars, particularly “The Dance of the Dragons,” in which Targaryens and Valeryons vied for the Iron Throne in a civil war that saw dragons fighting dragons in the skies above Westeros. This war not only laid waste to much of central Westeros, but also led to a sharp decline in the number of dragons.
By 131 A.C. (“After the Conquest”), the number and size of dragons was greatly reduced, and those that did hatch were often small and sickly, with most dying very young. While there is no definite explanation for the decline of the dragons (some point to a “Maester’s Conspiracy”), it became a metaphor for the diminution of the Targaryen line; while Aegon was seen as a kind of demigod, riding Balerion like a goddamn badass. Later Targaryen rulers (with a few exceptions) began to lose their mystique, and often turned to sorcery and superstition in vain attempts to hatch the dragons that they hoped might restore their former glory. Alas, it was not to be, with the last dragon (before Dany’s), reaching a size no bigger than a dog, dying in 153 A.C. during the reign of King Aegon III, known from then on as “Dragonbane.”
Now Drogon, the largest of Dany’s dragons, is no Balerion (at least not yet), and it is true he was injured, both in the book and the show, by a spear, though this was hardly a serious wound. It may be the case that there is some foreshadowing happening here, but the notion that one or more of Dany’s dragons would be killed by a spear released from a giant crossbow perhaps into a vulnerable area on its body is, frankly, a little too on the nose, given, you know, that THAT IS THE EXACT SAME WAY THAT BARD KILLS SMAUG IN THE HOBBIT. I’m all for homages to Tolkien, as he is the entire reason that any of this storytelling is happening, but as much as Martin’s series can be seen as an anti-war tome, and given his description of dragons as akin to nuclear weapons, it may be preferable to the smallfolk of Westeros that they do all eventually die. But like every decent human being who hates seeing animals die in movies (and in real life), I’d really hate to see Dany’s dragons bite the dust.
MCS: As expected, a meeting between Jon and Dany has been arranged, and so off to Dragonstone Jon heads to potentially “bend a knee” in order to get his hands on the bounteous reserve of dragonglass he so covets. How do you foresee this meeting going? And a touch off topic, but Jon-related…what was Littlefinger thinking professing his love for Sansa to Jon? I have always thought him as far more intelligent than someone who would reveal emotional attachments to a foe, unless there was more to that discussion than meets the eye, particularly with Sansa at the helm of Winterfell for the time being!
G.G.: For the sake of literally everyone in Planetos, I hope the meeting goes well. You know, once again people are second guessing Jon Snow. First, the men of the Night’s Watch couldn’t wrap their brains around Jon’s progressive and inclusive Wildling policy. (They will become a huge army of dead people who want to kill you!) Now, his bannermen who, as he reminded everyone, basically voted for him to be King in the North, can’t seem to understand that Dragons and dragonglass could actually spell a human victory in the War for the Dawn. There’s a reasonable argument that could be made for Jon sending an emissary instead of himself, given the shared, intergenerational traumatic memory of Brandon Stark, Rickard Stark, Ned Stark, and Robb Stark all being killed after marching South (the former two being sadistically killed by a Targaryen). But all of this “never trust a Targaryen” bullshit is literally ridiculous given the odds the North is up against, both from the White Walkers and from Cersei on the Iron Throne. So, I hope Jon and Dany meet, fall in love, do some sex stuff, and save the world…but probably they will both contract genital greyscale somehow (“I got it from the privy”) and die, because it’s GAME OF THRONES AND OF COURSE EVERYTHING BECOMES DEPRESSINGLY TERRIBLE.
Interestingly enough, the one time I think Jon acts stupidly happens to also be in this episode, with that completely unnecessary spat with Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (whose first name is actually pronounced “Puh-TIRE”). Littlefinger is a guy who knows what he wants and tends to get what he wants. Kill Ned Stark. Become Lord Paramount of the Trident. Spirit Sansa away to the Vale. Take over the Vale. Save the North. And now that he’s one hundred percent committed to his problematic Humbert Humbert fantasy (Thanks, Krissy), he’s going to pull out all the stops. Notwithstanding Sansa’s self-determination and consent, and the general creepiness of his plan, Petyr does a strangely earnest thing in letting King Jon Snow know that he “loves” Sansa. Even if this thought completely grosses Jon out, and clearly it does, he played this so wrong. Jon knows Petyr is at least partly responsible for the knights of the Vale saving Jon’s ass. He also knows that Petyr is a schemer and is not shy about using dirty tricks. Why alienate this guy, make him your enemy, and then leave your realm while he stays behind trying to manipulate your sister, who also happens to be your Regent? I tend to think Jon, and particularly Sansa, will be fine…until I remember another scene from Season 1. The last guy who choked Littlefinger happened to be Ned Stark, and shit did not end well with him at all.
Circle back for next week’s deconstruction of Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice,” at Across the Margin!