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Dragon, roar! 5 thoughts on Episode 4 of ‘Game of Thrones’
From the time they were just a gleam in their mother’s eyes, and a souvenir in her saddlebags, the dragons of Daenerys Targaryen have been a little bit like our own children.
We’ve seen them as cute decorative eggs and we’ve seen them hatch, albeit improbably by contemporary standards, out of a funeral pyre, along with their mother. We’ve watched them grow into playful adolescents and fretted about what would become of them.
And now, following Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” episode — spoilers coming! — these once adorable flying reptiles of myth are fulfilling their destiny as great marauding beasts that can do unthinkable physical and even more psychological damage, even as they rather openly test the limits of pay-cable-budget CGI capabilities.
Sunday’s, you probably know, was the GoT episode that was leaked early online in a hack, a breach suggesting HBO’s cybersecurity defenses might have been in the hands of the network’s Tyrion Lannister equivalent. (We kid Tyrion, but, really, he’s been terrible this season.)
But what happened in our world — people watching “Game of Thrones” on Saturday night, for instance — didn’t matter much in Westeros. There, it was all about the Stark family reunion (remaining members edition), the flirtation in the dark of Jon and Dany, and Dany riding a dragon bareback into battle.
Fed up with Tyrion’s plans for conquest-by-siege and with twiddling her thumbs on Dragonstone, Ms. Targaryen, Mother of Dragons Etc., unleashed her scaly progeny on the great Lannister army, fresh off defeating Tyrell forces. The final tally had the dragons winning on the battlefield and in the hearts of green screen manufacturers.
But now the battle is joined as Dany attempts to take the Seven Kingdoms before Cersei Lannister takes the Seven Kingdoms to “re-establish control over this continent and every person on it,” as Cersei charmingly put it Sunday.
Which queen will reign supreme? How will Arya Stark, now at home in the north, muddle one or both plans? And will Littlefinger’s head finally just explode from all the mental calculation he wants everybody to see him doing?
Here are five thoughts recapping “Game of Thrones” Season 7 Episode 4, the One that Really Was Well Short of an Hour:
1. The reunion of the Stark children gives them more power in avenging their father’s death.
Ned and Catelyn Stark (d., Seasons 1 and 3, respectively) had five children. Ned presented a sixth, Jon Snow, at Winterfell, the family keep, as his bastard, but viewers (and son Brandon Stark) now know that Jon is really the son of Ned’s sister Lyanna (d., before the series started) and Rhaegar Targaryen (d., ditto), the much older brother of Daenerys.
The Starks’ eldest, Robb Stark, was killed along with his mother in the infamous Red Wedding. The youngest, Rickon, died in the Battle of the Bastards. So that leaves Sansa and Bran, already at Winterfell, and the globetrotting young ‘un Arya, who fled King’s Landing in the chaos after King Joffrey Lannister had her father beheaded.
Sunday, Arya was the one who knocked, which is kind of her thing, metaphorically speaking. When she arrived at the Winterfell gate, a pair of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern guards attempted to bar her entry, apparently convinced this was just another tween girl who wanders northern forests and attempts to enter strongholds by showing up at the front door.
Arya got by them, of course, and reunited with Sansa in the family catacombs, under the watchful eye of their late father’s sarcophagus. Sansa hugged Arya right away and got not much human emotion back, just like when she hugged similarly long lost Bran upon his return last week.
But they talked, they really talked. Arya told Sansa that being Lady Stark suited her. Arya dished about her little list, the one “of people I’m going to kill,” and Sansa, now a bit of a baddie herself, laughed a little. Then they hugged for real, and Sansa told her, “Bran’s home too (asterisk).”
Time to go find Bran. He was, of course, out by what we’ll call the Keebler tree, the one with the friendly cartoon face where Bran goes to connect with his Three-Eyed Raven self, an identity that makes him (asterisk) not fully Bran anymore.
“I remember what it felt like to be Brandon Stark. But I remember so much else now,” he told Meera this week, as she departed Winterfell (the series?), with only a perfunctory thank you for sacrificing her brother and probably a couple of toes to frostbite in protecting Bran.
Bran showed off the Valyrian steel knife that Littlefinger had given him, and Sansa warned her siblings about the price of Littlefinger’s favors. “He’s not a generous man,” she said.
Overall, Bran seemed less annoyingly cryptic than last week until his screen time ended and you realized he still had not told either of his siblings the rather significant news that Jon, the King in the North, was not, in fact, their brother. In journalism, we call this “burying the lede,” and it remains buried.
2. But Bran knows all about Littlefinger, which is probably a mixed blessing.
Bran delivered one of the most chilling lines of the season, a stone-cold gaslighting of the conniving Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. Baelish gave Bran the sword that had been meant for Bran’s throat (possibly in a plot paid for by Baelish), and he tried to sympathize with the paralyzed young northern royal over all the chaos in the world.
“Chaos is a ladder,” Bran responded to Littlefinger, and the older man’s face froze. It was a direct quote from a private conversation the manipulative one had back in Season 3, a famous soliloquy where he outlined his theory for using sticky situations to improve his lot.
“Chaos is a ladder,” Littlefinger said then, that “some are given a chance to climb. … The climb is all there is.”
In other words, Bran was telling Baelish, I’ve seen you speak those words, and you can therefore assume I’ve seen your multiple offenses against the Starks: being part of the fatal plotting against Ned, selling Sansa in marriage to the rapist Ramsay Bolton (d., Season 6), and even, it is likely, arranging for the knife-wielding assassin to try to kill Bran after Jaime Lannister pushed him from a tower window, paralyzing him back at the start of Season 1.
The takeaway? Somebody needs to make sure our Raven is protected from Lord Baelish, who now has every reason to want Bran dead. Probably should keep an eye on Arya, too, because Baelish watched too intently her demonstration of her otherworldly fighting skills against Brienne.
3. I guess Daenerys is more confident than we are that Jon Snow didn’t do those “cave paintings” himself.
Way down on Dragonstone, the castle of the Targaryens, Jon and Dany have been trying to come to terms, if you know what I mean. Ser Davos even marked this, telling Jon, “I noticed you staring at her good heart,” nudge, nudge.
“There’s no time for that,” responded the ever serious Snow.
With seriousness, Jon gave Dany wise counsel, urging her not to use her dragons “to melt castles and burn cities,” no matter how frustrated she was by her military setbacks.
As it stood, she brought dragons back to Westeros, leading people to believe “you can make other impossible things happen,” Snow said. If she were to use them in a fiery rampage, “you’re just more of the same.”
And then Jon got Daenerys alone in a cave — to show her dragonglass that he’ll mine for the coming fight against the White Walkers and their zombie army, the ones who are warned of in the series’ constant refrain that “Winter Is Coming.” (NB: Winter is now here.)
But wait, there was more: Jon wanted to show her the archaeological desecration he was about to commit once he started the mining.
On the walls were cave paintings Jon said were done by the Children of the Forest, an early sentient species in Westeros, showing them fighting alongside humans, the First Men, against the White Walkers up north.
This was good enough to satisfy the skepticism of Dany about that battle, if not viewers’ own musings that maybe, just maybe, Jon might have a little charcoal on his fingers. Anyway, she told Jon, “I will fight for the North, when you bend the knee” — in loyalty to her.
That situation was left unresolved, but one easy way to bend the knee, of course, is in a proposal of marriage. Just saying.
4. Dragons are potent in battle, we learned, but they are not invincible.
In the big assault by one of Daenerys’s dragons and her Dothraki horsemen against the trailing edges of the Lannister army — not against castles or cities — the producers gave us not one, but two fakeout deaths of major characters. Which is a lot.
First, Tyrion’s old pal Bronn, now working with Jaime amid the torched battlefield, made his way to the mega-crossbow Cersei’s maester, or wizard, prepared for fighting Dany’s dragons.
He put a steel bolt into the chest of the one Dany was riding, and it plummeted toward the Earth. Oh, no, would the presumptive Queen of the Seven Kingdoms die just like that?
Of course not. The animal pulled up, back in control, just before splatdown, returning her safely to the ground. Daenerys immediately jumped off to try to pull the weapon out of its body. Fakeout death No. 1.
Seeing this, Jaime Lannister seized on the chance to pull a big victory out of this defeat. He charged on horseback toward Daenerys until the injured dragon turned his head and blasted flames at Jaime. And did he die?
Of course not. Bronn somehow jumped onto Jaime with enough force to knock him off his speeding horse and into the water, sparing him from joining the hundreds of his men who had been fire-roasted earlier. If you’re scoring at home, that’s one fewer burning man and fakeout death No. 2.
But these — cheap? Yes, cheap — manipulations aside, it was a pretty potent battle scene. It delivered the significant information that the dragons are not invulnerable. It tipped the power balance back toward Daenerys a little. And it left in question the fate of Jaime who, when the episode ended after only about 50 minutes, was underwater ducking dragon flame, surrounded by enemies, weighed down by his armor.
5. We’ve crested the hill of the season, and the view from here looks bloody.
There are three episodes left this season, and then only six more in a forthcoming final season. So producers have to move fairly quickly, and it’s been kind of exhilarating for viewers used to this series’ more typical pattern of mimicking the pace of a Nirvana song: slow, slow, fast. With the slight exception of Episode 2, this one’s been paced more like straight-up punk.
We’ve got the Starks all together in the north, just waiting to learn from Jon on his mission to ally with Dany, and from the Night King and the White Walkers, who were said to be on the move in the first episode but haven’t hit radar screens yet. (They are slower, even, than the zombies in “The Walking Dead.”)
Dany and her crew, after being initially outwitted by Cersei and Jaime Lannister, are now on the comeback trail. She’ll have to get her Unsullied army of fanatical eunuchs back, of course. But her Dothraki troops, horsemen from the east with hooked swords and heavy eye shadow, proved themselves more than a match for western forces.
Despite his defeat, Jaime was able to deliver the Tyrell gold back to King’s Landing, which means the Lannisters will be able to pay off the debt they racked up in recent seasons. Cersei extracted a promise from the Iron Bank to fund her attempts to unify the kingdom.
And Tyrion, watching his brother’s army get routed and his brother almost die, is clearly having mixed feelings about having turned on his family — which he did after Cersei accused him of murdering Joffrey, and he killed his own father. You wonder if Tyrion’s loyalty to Daenerys might soften just enough to be dangerous.
Jorah Mormont is out there as a free agent devoted to Dany. Beric Dondarrion and his Brotherhood without Banners are working against Lannister interests. There are the two Stark direwolves that remain. And then, somewhere in the land is Gendry, the last remaining bastard child of King Robert, Cersei’s ex-husband, and therefore another kind of threat to her rule.
But really, as things stand, it seems like so much depends on Bran. Once he lets it slip what he knows about Jon Snow’s birthright, all the chess pieces will have to align anew.