“DRAGONSTONE” felt very much like exactly what it was: the beginning of the end. The pieces are moving, the old plot threads are coming home to roost.
Overall, I liked this episode. I did. It set up the remaining six episodes of the season, it had some memorable scenes, and generally moved pretty smoothly.
Here’s what I really liked.
The Citadel, to begin with! From the crappy montage (ha ha) to Sam sneaking into the Forbidden Section without an invisibility cloak, the Citadel scenes did something great: captured the spirit of the books’ Citadel scenes without relying on exposition. From the montage, we get the feeling of uselessness and smallness that Citadel acolytes (like Pate, in the books) feel in their jobs. We also understand immediately that there is a secret section of the Citadel library where they keep the Good Shit. Granted, there’s no secret Faceless Man trying to find his way into the deep vaults – but I appreciated all that they did with the time and budget they had available. And Archmaester Slughorn encapsulated that “grey sheep” mentality that Pate, Marwyn, and soon Sam struggle with at the Citadel.
I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I also liked the throne room scene with Euron, Jaime, and Cersei. Now, show-Euron isn’t that exciting to me. In the books, his mysticism and spookitude really sell the character; his braggadocio is just icing on the cake. In the show, he’s all icing, so to speak. But I enjoyed watching the throne room scene; I liked the dialogue, I liked the interplay between the characters.
My favorite sequence, though, has to be the Thoros/Beric/Sandor scene. It has everything you could want! We get a loaded connection to a prior moment of characterization for Sandor – the dad and daughter from season 4. We get some classic blue humor from Sandor. We get Beric Dondarrion, period. Beric is great. More Beric please. We get setup for later plot points and movement – it seems as thought Sandor sees Eastwatch-By-The-Sea, which is also where Tormund is heading.
But we also get that most wonderful side of ASOIAF/GOT: the marriage of the mundane and the magical. Sandor Clegane hates fire because when he was a child, his brother Gregor, a psychopath, shoved his face into a brazier just for playing with his toys. Sandor Clegane is now seeing mystic visions in fire, and is traveling with a man who has been reanimated seven times by a fire god. THAT’S WHAT A FANTASY STORY SHOULD SOUND LIKE. You get this very realistic, personal side of the story – Sandor’s tragic past – and marry it to actual magic. That’s arguably the whole point of the fantasy genre, and they absolutely nailed it tonight.
That’s the stuff I liked. Now some stuff less enthralling.
There’s a certain amount of wholesomeness-whiplash I got from this episode. For one example – suddenly-woke Winterfell. Jon is absolutely right in everything he says (of course); they should be arming every able-bodied person in the North, and not continuing to fight familial conflicts. Sure. But it’s hard to buy the easy way with which Robett Glover gives way to little Lyanna Mormont, to be honest. Not when we saw last season how stubborn he was in refusing to bend the knee to actual Starks. It’s hard to swallow this pill, I think, because the show has done such a bang-up job establishing Westeros as a land where shit sucks for a lot of people regardless of who you are. I think what’s happened here is, for simplicity’s sake, they’ve made the Good Guys Good. Robett Glover doesn’t revolt over arming women because, well, he’s on the Good Guy Team now, and Good Guys have progressive social policies.
Now, I understand: there’s only, what, thirteen hours remaining in the show? Fifteen if we get long episodes next year? There’s not really time to have a whole subplot about the North rebelling because Jon continues to be a progressive candidate in a conservative world. And that’s ground that’s already been covered, absolutely – the wildling assimilation plot already happened. AND let’s face it, it’s pretty dope to have the medieval fantasy good guys pushing for cool stuff for women. I get it, I do. This by itself is no indictment of the episode. But this plus….
The scene with Ed Sheeran and the Good Ol Boys also struck me the wrong way, and here’s why. It was a fun scene, well-acted, good dialogue, sure. But it was so on-the-nose wholesome! “Aw, my wife just had a baby, and I’m two days away from retirement, and I should be fishing with my dad now.” Not one of these soldiers was a bitter, vulgar, cruel person. And sure, groups of nice people exist in the real world and yes it would suck to have everyone be negative all the time but damn my teeth hurt after watching that scene. It’s a far cry from the actual soldiers and smallfolk we’ve seen on screen, season after season – when Jaime and Brienne are on the run in season 3, every farmer is a potential danger, every stranger a potential enemy. Arya sits right down and hangs out, and the soldiers aren’t even suspicious of this well-armed, well-dressed teenage girl riding alone through the woods.
I guess I just got some whiplash from these examples of suddenly-wholesome life in Westeros. I’m sure things will get darker as the season goes on; Euron promising to give Cersei a “gift” can’t mean anything good.
Real quick, a few other notes:
- Dany landing on Dragonstone. It was a nice scene. Nothing will ever match the splendor of Dragonstone in my imagination, but the throne room and the beach were definitely suitably spellbinding. Although I was a little surprised they didn’t have all of the characters take turns peeing on Stannis’ banner.
- Jon and Sansa? I do wish Littlefinger would just screw right off. But they made the right choice by just letting Jon and Sansa talk and talk together; it was good interplay. I do resent that they make all of Sansa’s arguments seem ridiculous; she argues against helping little children, and then tries to convince Jon that Cersei is going to somehow march several thousand miles through the snow to Winterfell, something that the writers scoff at in the after-the-episode behind the scenes stuff. I think Sansa’s arguments would carry more weight if she was more correct than Jon sometimes.
- Bran entering the Wall – this is another of the Good Guys do Good Things moments. Bran says a bunch of stuff that identifies him as a shaman, but not as Brandon Stark of Winterfell. But Dolorous Edd, because he is a Good Guy, lets them through the Wall anyway. Of course, this is a small complaint; I am looking forward to Bran and Meera heading south again, and I’m glad they didn’t drag out their North-of-the-Wall adventures much longer.
- The vision of the Night’s King – it’s a vision of the future, right? There’s a reanimated Wun Wun in the vision, I’m pretty sure, and Wun Wun died at Winterfell.
- I guess Arya killed a bunch of Freys? It was a “fun” scene, but honestly didn’t stick with me that much. You would think a teenager murdering a ton of identically-dressed goons would leave more of an impact.
Finally, some (small) predictions for next episode:
- The trailers have teased a big naval battle. With Euron departing King’s Landing, going shopping for a gift, and the line in the trailer from Team Dany about how they should strike at King’s Landing now, I have to think that big naval battle might be coming up next episode as Euron and Yara clash on the high seas. Let’s hope it’s cool!
- There’s a quick shot in the trailer of Arya looking up at a snarling direwolf. NYMERIA? You don’t just hang a wolf on the wall in act 1 if it’s not going to go off in act 3.
- We’ve also seen scenes of Littlefinger getting shoved up against the wall by Jon Snow in the Winterfell crypts. The question is: is Littlefinger just needling Jon about Sansa’s better claim, or is he needling Jon by mocking his parentage? Distasteful as it sounds to many people, the show seems to have set Littlefinger up as a guy who might know Jon’s real parentage, or at least might have guessed it. I’m a million percent certain that Jon will find out about R+L=J this season; could it happen in episode 2?