A Perfect Plan is Just That: Game of Thrones S7E2 Recap
A Game of Thrones is a constant fluctuation of power. As different leaders gain control of the spotlight, all of their decisions are put on display for us to judge and wonder, what makes a good ruler? Often the easier question is answered, what makes a bad ruler, where you can point to pretty much anything Joffrey has ever done. In this episode we not only ask what is the best way to rule, but what is the best way to acquire that power?
Daenerys has learned throughout her years in Esos that conquering a city is the easy part. The ability to maintain and coerce one to thrive is the difficult part. In Esos, she struggled to keep control of cities rooted in the monstrous philosophy of slavery. She was constantly told that she doesn’t understand the culture and that she is an outsider. Now, she has finally made it to her birthplace, still cast as an outsider by her enemies. Plagued by the atrocities of her father, Aerys II “The Mad King,” she has to not only demonstrate why she is fit to rule, but that she is her own individual not bound to her family name. This is a notion that we encountered last episode with the handling of the Umbers and Karstarks, and one we will see more of later in the episode. If she took the advice from her newly formed alliances, she’d fly into King’s Landing, burn it all to the ground as her father planned, and pronounce herself queen of whoever and whatever is left. The manner in which you conquer will be reflective of the manner in which you rule. This is something Tyrion understands, and he cuts deep into this strategy stating,
“Conquering Westeros would be easy for you, but you’re not here to be queen of the ashes.”
Holding off on the rest of that scene to stay on the topic of war, we jump to Yara who voices her’s (and the audience’s) opinion that now is the time to strike. “Cersei and the Lannister army are weak let’s take them out! What’re we waiting for?” Ellaria and Ollenna, fueled by revenge, agree. So what’s the hold up?
That idea is entirely nearsighted and overlooks the message being sent by that attack. If the Dothraki and the Unsullied attack King’s Landing then they fall into the trap of Cersei’s propaganda against Daenerys. The solution is to use westerosi troops (gathered by Yara’s Iron Fleet from Dorne) and joined by the Tyrells to surround and starve out King’s Landing. With King’s Landing surrounded, the only remaining backup for Cersei is those at her ancestral seat of Casterly Rock. This is where the Unsullied will strike, away from Cersei’s mind games, to block off any hope for a garrison coming to her aid. It’s a strategically crafted plan, brilliant on paper, and just like the majority of attacks planned it does not account for what happens when things go wrong.
There are internal battles for this team as well. A bit overdue, Daenerys confronts Varys for his role in her attempted assassination under King Robert’s orders. It’s the same reason she banished Jorah from her service, twice. There were other emotions involved in that decision, but apparently Varys has proven his loyalty and is absolved of his mistakes by bringing the Dornish and Tyrell armies to her cause. Rightfully so, she probes him further to gain confidence in its extent, sparking him to speak about his guiding values,
“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty. As long as I have my eyes, I’ll use them. I wasn’t born into a great house, I came from nothing. I was sold as a slave and carved up as an offering. When I was a child I lived in alleys, gutters, abandoned houses. You wish to know where my true loyalties lie? Not with any King or Queen. But with the people. The people who suffer under death spots and prosper under just rule. The people whose hearts you aim to win. If you demand blind allegiance, I respect your wishes. Greyworm can behead me or your dragons can devour me. But if you let me live I will serve you well, I will dedicate myself to seeing you on the Iron Throne because I choose you™, because I know the people have no better chance than you.”
Daenerys stands out from her father, and more importantly Cersei, in the understanding of when to make an example of someone and when to show grace. Fear is not a stand alone tactic to employ as it reaches a point where the afraid band together against you. Being able to do both is what makes Daenerys such a compelling ruler. She has no shortage of people offering up advice on how she should lead. Ollena provides a back handed compliment and a humble brag by saying,
“He’s a clever man, you’re hand. I’ve known a great many, clever man. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No, you’re a dragon. Be a dragon”
Usually I’m quick to agree with Ollena, she has made bold decisions to be a part of schemes, like the murder of Joffrey, and outlived her son and grandchildren. Her perseverance has not come by chance and her words are quite valuable. With that, Ollena has no insight into the details about Daenerys’s journey. In her eyes she sees a man pulling the strings, something she has every right to oppose when she has outsmarted all the men in her life. Constantly listening and observing, Daenerys will take these words to heart and keep them in mind as she continues to develop into the Queen she thinks is best.
Melisandre arrives to bridge Daenerys’s cause to take the realm, and Jon’s to save it. Varys is rightfully skeptical of Melisandre based on her previous mistakes and his own encounters with magic. It’s ultimately decided to send a raven to Winterfell to have Jon come and make his offer himself. A cornerstone of Daenerys’s agenda has been bringing together groups who hate each other in order to form a powerful alliance of diverse skill sets. Tyrion and Ellaria, while having some brief banter, coexist and are able to agree on a battle strategy, demonstrating that “an enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We will see how this continues to play out when Jon and Davos make it to Dragonstone and come face to face with Melisandre so soon after her forceful departure. There will still be tension between the three, regardless of the fact that she violated Jon’s orders to never return to the North.
Comfortable on the Iron Throne, Cersei is calling upon the Lords of the Reach, south of King’s Landing and just north of Dorne, to rally their men and join her army to prepare for battle. These are men loyal to the Tyrell’s in the way the Mormonts are loyal to the Starks. These loyalties become murky when the king or queen of Westeros has orders that go against the Warden of their region. Most notable of these Lords is Randyll Tarley, Sam’s father who we will get to in a moment. Cersei attempts to appeal to these men using nativism and portray Daenerys as an invading force with foreign soldiers that don’t belong in Westeros. They understand this but have one major fear on their mind, the dragons. Cersei can no longer claim they are apocryphal hearsay and passes that onto Qyburn to say “Let’s stick a pin in that and come back to it.”
Jaime takes Randyll aside afterward to proposition him to join them as ranking general, severing ties to the Tyrells and offering up the position of Warden of the south as reward when the war is won.This is the common moral conundrum in the show that I just mentioned. Which oaths are stronger? The one to my resident Lord, or the one to the Lord of the Realm? Walder Frey mentioned this in his initial meeting with Cat. It’s summed up best by Jaime when held captive by her;
“So many vows… they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.”
In the dungeons, Cersei and Qyburn are taking a look at the skull of Balerion, the dragon of first king of the Targaryens, Aegon I, founder of King’s Landing and the creator of the Iron Throne that Cersei sits today. Dragons scales get more impenetrable as they grow up to the point where no weapon can pierce them. We’ve seen Drogon, Daenerys’s largest dragon, penetrated by spears in the fighting pits of Meereen. The three of them have continued to grow since then but even a full grown dragon still has a weakness that has been discovered in the past, and displayed here as well: their eyes.
We find Jon and Sansa in a similar place as last episode in front of the lords sworn to their cause. Jon has received two letters; Tyrion’s, asking him to come and meet with Daenerys, and Sam’s informing him that Dragonstone has a stockpile of dragonglass to be mined. If they’re going to have a fighting chance against the White Walkers they need men, and they need dragonglass. It’s that simple, Jon has to go. Sending anyone else would be an insult. In addition to that, he is the only one who has seen the White Walkers, as he’s one to point out, giving him the leverage he needs to persuade Daenerys to heed his warning. The others in the room are blinded by the previous mistakes of Daenerys and Tyrion’s ancestors and cry out their disapproval. Why Jon hasn’t held small council type discussions with only a few trusted advisors is beyond me. He continually sets himself up for these barbaric shouting matches where in the end, he’s just going to do what he wants anyway. Tough to argue with a man who died and came back to life. Kind of like the senile grandfather who insists on ordering his own dish at family style restaurants, you just let him do what he wants.
The murder of Rickard and Brandon Stark, Ned’s father and older brother, by the Mad King is why Sansa voices such strong opinions about the Targaryens, so her fear is not misplaced. Concerns about Tyrion are strictly based on his family name, and if they stopped to think about how he murdered his father, I think they would be more willing to come around to him. These family grievances are a double-edged sword. In some ways they have united the houses of The North together, and in others they create wedges between coming together for a greater good. With Jon headed south, he leaves Sansa in control of the people and land she rightfully deserves. She appears nervous, casting sideways glances at Little Finger, but her traumas and peers have sculpted her for this moment.
Before Jon departs, he spends some time in the Stark family crypts only to be interrupted by Little Finger. Jon doesn’t hide his disdain for him, putting no thought into choking Little Finger against the wall when he mentions his feelings for Sansa.
Little finger has been emasculated before and it has been part of what defines him. He challenged Ned’s brother Brandon who was originally betrothed to Cat to a duel years ago before Robert was king. Brandon annihilated him, leaving him with a scar from his stomach up to just below his neck that nearly killed him. It is the combination of his low birth and frailness that lends him to be continually underestimated and overlooked by other lords, just not by viewers of the show. I hate to admit my fear that Sansa still needs protection and am thankful that Brienne is there to watch her back.
Arya arrives at the infamous Inn at the Crossroads, meeting up with her old friend Hotpie. As they talk he stares at her and says,
“What happened to you Arry?” (The name she was going by when they were held captive together to pretend she was a boy, and not a daughter of a noble house)
It’s not only her who has changed, every character has evolved in some way, either into a manifestation of their worst trait, molded to their surroundings, or developed into someone else fueled by the adversity they have experienced. Hotpie, who always has the hot dish, gifts her with the important scoop that the Boltons are dead and Jon Snow is now in charge of Winterfell. With that new information, only 200 miles from King’s Landing, she turns course to reunite with her family that at times she has tried to not be binded to, becoming her own person, or no one.
Juxtaposed against Arya changing course to be with her family, is a reunion with her direwolf, Nymeria, who we last saw running away on Arya’s command, spurred by fear of her being killed after biting Joffrey. She chooses to stay with her new pack she now leads.
“That’s not you”
Arya whispers, a smile forming on her face, as Arya isn’t who she was when they departed either. She’s created her own path. In a world without the tragic events of the show she would have been married off to a prince to strengthen ties between two noble houses. Arya has been battling against what is expected from her throughout her journey, but even she can’t escape the desire to be with the family she has fought to avenge.
In Oldtown, our grizzled veteran Jorah is given a death sentence of 6 months at most before he goes insane like the stonemen who gave him the disease. The Arch Maester allows him one more day before he’s shipped off to join them, insinuating it may be best for to use his sword and take matters into his own hands. When Sam finds out that his Ex-Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jeor Mormont, is Jorah’s father, he decides that he can’t leave him to die, defying the Arch Maester a second time, to attempt to treat this infectious disease.
Later that night, Jorah is writing a letter to his love, Daenerys, eying his sword. Moments later, in walks Sam. Jorah’s left arm, the majority of his torso, and potentially down his legs are covered with greyscale, and it all needs to be flayed off and treated. It isn’t a proven cure but we all wonder if he would have been better cutting off his forearm when it was first infected. Fortunately, we only have to witness a few square inches removed. Judging by Jorah’s reaction it’s going to be a long night. They’re going to need something a lot stronger than rum.
Below deck on the SS Unbent, Unbowed, Undrowned, the Sand Snakes banter over who to kill, and how to kill them upon arrival at King’s Landing. These types of conversations help us tap into the psyche of some of the realms most skilled fighters, but the promises of lannister-killing vengeance feel heavy handed. There won’t be a smooth sail to vengeance with that much unchecked confidence. The tragedy of Oberyn’s death at the hands of the Mountain warns us of this. Over on the Greyjoy side of sibling back and forth, Yara is the undisputed woman in charge. What better way for her to assert this authority than by dispelling any notion that Theon will be joining her and Ellaria Sand’s sexual endeavors. Let’s be clear: Yara is a charming presence very much in the vein of their Sand Snake shipmates, so there was little in the way of competition for Ellaria’s affection. Whatever sibling rivalry may exist between her and Theon was epitomized by Yara’s “better luck next time” eyebrow-cock directed at her jettisoned brother. The honeymoon was short-lived, and the lopsided result of this sibling dispute pales in comparison to what the Greyjoy/Martell fleet endured moments later.
Last week’s scene-stealing rocker pirate rocked the boat yet again, only this time his swagger was backed by violence and the pure ecstasy that it brought him. This is our first real sea battle on the show, excluding the battle of Blackwater Bay, which did not have much fighting on the actual ships. Prior to this moment ships were only ever seen as modes of transportation. Euron proved otherwise by attacking at sea and devastating Daenerys’s meticulously thought out plan.
The battle rages on, Yara looks around to see her ships burning and sinking into the sea as the mast of her ship is struck by a fireball. She knows she’s lost, but she must fight on. Obara and Nymeria step up to take on Euron while their sister Tyene moves to defend their mother below. This is a losing battle, despite their skills, as they are outmatched and outnumbered. It’s not long before Euron finishes off the two sisters, and Tyene and Ellaria are taken captive below. Next up to take him on is his Niece, Yara. The adrenaline he’s running on, the joy this battle is bringing him, it appears to give him unstoppable strength making it hard to imagine anyone defeating him in this moment. He takes Yara by her neck with a blade to her throat; challenging Theon to fight and save her. Up until now Theon seems fine, occasionally shuttering at an offhand comment or a little too quick to retake on the role of a servant. But could we have actually believed that he really is fine? That he could have simply gotten over the way Ramsey tortured him into a sub-human state. Flaying and mutilating his body and his mind. The show reminds us that certain events can’t be easily forgotten and left in the past. Yara realizes this, tears streaming down her cheeks, and Theon flees overboard while Euron lets out a laugh that solidifies him as a deranged evil villain.
Euron sails away with his precious gift for his queen, the woman who murdered her daughter, leaving Theon to float among the wreckage and the dead sand snakes ornamenting the bow of their sinking ship. It was all such a brilliant plan on paper. Just like Theon we are left to wait, floating through the dark abyss of the work week, him clinging on to scrap wood, and us to the metaphorical flotation device that Sunday will bring us more of the show we crave the way the shipwrecked crave to be rescued.