Gore, sex, set up, serve up in any order and pretend it’s still innovative. The Game of Thrones formula that I’ve found wearing a little bit thin in recent seasons, and Stormborn seemed to just be another episode of that. I know that there’s something to be said for tuning into a show and knowing what you’ll get, but wasn’t the whole point of GoT that the story was new and exciting? It feels almost like the story’s been coasting since the Red Wedding, which was over three seasons ago now. Honestly, what do we feel like we’ve seen achieved in that time? Sure, Jeoffrey died, and the white walkers finally showed up again (for all of two minutes), but it’s not really felt as dynamic as those early seasons. The problem may be with the source material, which also drags heavily at the same period (looking at you A Feast For Crows). Though this series has stepped it up in a couple of minor areas, including some fantastic shot transitions, it’s failing so far to capture the old magic that the earlier seasons enjoyed.
In this episode Arya really personifies the whole issue I have with the series, she’s going one way, so close to getting to King’s Landing and murdering Cersei; all of a sudden she’s going the other way, so she gets absolutely nothing done. There’s a kind of nice moment where she comes across her direwolf Nymeria for the first time in years and offers to take her to Winterfell but the wolf refuses, it’s a cool bit of subtle symbolism that annoyingly makes everything she’s done this episode pointless. I hope the next time we see her she’s at least in King’s Landing, or Winterfell, which would invalidate her epiphany there and not surprise me in the least at this point.
Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, Jon and Sansa continue to have meetings in that one room, and Littlefinger continues to prove he’s actually really really bad at politics when he’s not dealing with someone who’s refusing to play, his only successes have really been betraying Ned when Ned wasn’t paying attention and pushing a woman with mental health issues through a trapdoor. Approaching Jon in the Stark family crypt; reminding him his adoptive mother hated him; basically saying “I want to bang your little sister because she reminds me of her mum”; truly, he’s a suave master of court intrigue.
Speaking of which, Varys and Daenerys have a bit of a falling out this week. To be fair to Daenerys, he did try to have her killed, and betray at least the mad king and Robert (also probably Joffrey and Tommen); he’s not exactly got the best record for ‘loyal servant’. This exchange ends on another flip-flop, starting with Daenerys practically ready to execute Varys and ending with her trusting him completely again because he ‘works for the people’ it feels more like an excuse to set Daenerys up as a benevolent ruler who deserves to rule because she wants to be told she’s wrong sometimes than anything of actual value. I understand she’s the inevitable victor here, what with the big scaley nukes she has, but really that’s kind of a problem for me, setting her and Jon Snow up as ‘fair and benevolent rulers’ through these kinds of exchanges (and Jon gets his own this episode too) only makes them feel bland, they’re not actually doing anything, but they’re supposed to be the heroes and are set up to prove it in *whichever council chambers* by talking to *antagonistic member of council*.
Finally for this episode, we’re treated to the first of the fights we were promised for this season. Set on a boat, with dizzying cinematography to highlight how chaotic it is, and lit by torchlight this fight is a stark contrast to the Battle of the Bastards last season. Where Battle of the Bastards was chaotic and claustrophobic, this just feels cluttered and at times disjointed. Euron Greyjoy has replaced Ramsey Bolton as the token ‘crazy and evil’ character, and he joyfully cackles his way through the fight, with his special tentacle axe (that does look really cool to be fair); culminating in yet another step back from character development by Theon, the fight largely left me cold, though there was a moment I thought was about to transition into another goddamn rape scene and I was gratified to find didn’t. Theon really doesn’t have any other course of action to the one he chose, but still, in a series where no one’s character has had any lasting change, except the ones who died, it grates on me to see it happen to every character.