The Red Badge of Theon (Game Of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2: Stormborn)

Game of Thrones (HBO) Season 7 Episode 2 "Stormborn"

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2 “Stormborn” (HBO) signals the official start of the war for control of Westeros.

Euron grabs his prize for Cersei and throws a major wrench into a "clever" man’s battle plans, Arya changes course, Sam plays doctor, and Jon Snow heads for Dragonstone.

Remember, if you haven't watched Season 7 Episode 2 of Game of Thrones *Spoiler Alert*

Treason or Intelligence?

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Daenerys starts episode 2 off by asking some pretty fair but pointed questions of “Lord” Varys (he did, after all, once send assassins after her).

He responds by admitting that he hasn’t always been the straightest shooter with the monarchs that he has served but, in fairness, he only turned on his employers when they started to betray the interests of the people:

“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind obedience.”

At the core of Game of Thrones, deep in its bones, has always been a belief that politics follow a natural order of hard-core Morgenthau-style realism and Varys has always been the shows clearest speaker for its point of view.

Rulers do not survive because of the divine right of Kings (Robert) or because they are just or kind (Ned), according to this theory of politics, rulers survive only because they maintain the power to rule combined with the wisdom and strength to use that power when necessary.

When you have to be brutal to maintain power, you must be brutal. When you need to show grace to maintain power, show grace.

In this sense, Game of Thrones is about demystifying and shattering many of the traditional tropes of the Fantasy genre. Even if you get crowned by a magical elf and bequeathed a legion of magicians, your continued rule will depend on correctly assessing the facts on the ground and applying the correct (meaning successful) political and martial solutions at the right time.

Mess up in the Game of Thrones and you die.

The Dornish suggest to Daenerys that they should assault King’s Landing now, with all of their combined forces, while they have the decided advantage.

Tyrion responds that attacking with Dothraki hordes and unsullied would only destroy King’s Landing and turn the rest of Westeros against them, “You are not here to be Queen of Ashes.”

Instead of a full on assault, Tyrion suggests a politically intelligent and crafty plan for taking King’s Landing without an assault. The plan includes using only the Dornish and Tyrell troops to surround the capital n an attempt to starve the defenders out.

But there is Another character present who is well-versed in political realism and that is Lady Olenna Tyrell. After hearing Tyrion’s battle plan she, in a private moment with Daenerys suggests that, while Tyrion’s plan is “clever,” she has survived most of her life by “ignoring the advice of clever men.”

She also mentions that her daughter had been well-loved by the people but still ended up as a pile of ashes.

Lady Olenna follows up this cautionary tale with a great piece of advice to Daenerys (if you understand the POV of the Game of Thrones universe):

“Be a Dragon.”

In the Game of Thrones universe, delaying when you have a clear advantage is never rewarded. Be brutal when you have to be brutal and kind when you have to be kind.

If you are stormborn, be the storm.

Daenerys chooses to take Tyrion’s advice, but I suspect Lady Olenna and Team Dorne are right when you have the advantage (especially against Cersei) you should take full advantage.

Meanwhile, Cersei is busy doing Cersei things, rallying the lords of the realm to defend Kings Landing against the invading alien hordes etc. (including Sam’s Dad Lord Tarly who is about to turn on Lady Olenna Tyrell, complicating Daenerys and Tyrion's plan even further). 

Oh and Mellisandre shows up on Dragonstone and suggests that Daenerys reach out to Jon Snow (who she clearly still thinks is the “Prince Who Was Promised").

We will have to wait a bit longer to see what she meant by what she said at the end of the trailer that was released at San Diego Comic Con (see above).

Can You Ever Really Return Home Again?

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Jon Snow is not starting out to be a very good King.

Sansa, to be fair, is not a particularly diplomatic strategic advisor either.

The “Ask the Maester” column last week was spot on wondering why Sansa and Jon don’t ever talk strategy before edicts (most rulers in Westeros generally take advantage of a “small council” where such matters are hashed out prior to making official pronouncements).

Anyway, Jon is obsessed with the White Walkers to the exclusion of nearly everything else and he also seems to be haunted with a strange desire to be an even better Ned than Ned was (and which, as everyone remembers, ended up with Ned beheaded).

What was Ned’s biggest problem in the Game of Thrones universe? He always did what was right regardless of if it was strategic for him to do it.

What has Jon done over and over again in virtually every leadership situation?

Exactly the same thing.

All Jon sees is what he thinks is his duty.  In historical and academic discussions of leadership styles, it has often been suggested that the best leaders have no ambition to lead, I think Jon Snow may serve as a "Stark" reminder of why ambition could be a necessary leadership trait.

So, Jon proclaims that he is personally taking off for Dragonstone with Ser Davos in order to meet with Daenerys in hopes that she will, for his pledge of fealty, let the North mine Dragonglass at Dragonstone.

For some reason, he is convinced that she will come North with dragons to help him fight White Walkers despite her imminent war with the Lannister’s (I suppose it is possible).

For some reason, he is also convinced that threatening and assaulting Littlefinger was a good idea (exactly the same thing Ned did and we all saw how that ended up). Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them?

Jon may end up being the Prince that was promised, but I am starting to seriously doubt it. He is turning out to be the least Dragon-like Targaryen on Game of Thrones to date. (more emo than dragon IMHO). 

Sansa is clearly right, not about Daenerys wanting to kill him, but about the efficacy of making a pact with invaders and personally heading off to forge the agreement instead of sending emissaries.

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Jon leaves Sansa is in charge (with Littlefinger).

Everything we have seen this season suggests that Sansa might be exactly the kind of Queen who does well in the world of Westeros. She seems to have learned many of the lessons of being around many ruthless leaders but also seen their weaknesses.

Some people might not like the “new Sansa” but I predict she will be an effective leader (by the criteria explained above). I also suspect this means that she will eventually betray the wildlings, the Wall, and maybe even Jon. But, I suspect she might survive Winter.

So the Sansa now rules her ancestral home, and she might soon be joined by the sister she hasn't seen since they both used to torment each other as children.

Arya’s course changes drastically after she runs into her old buddy Hot Pie (who left her merry band of travelers several seasons ago because he wanted to make food not war). Anyway, Hot Pie informs Arya that the Boltons are dead and that Jon and Sansa are at Winterfell, so Arya immediately heads North.

On the way to Winterfell, Arya has a second reunion, she runs into her long-lost Direwolf Nymeria (for a few seconds I honestly felt like there was a real chance Nymeria and her band of wolves were going to eat Arya).

Arya drops her sword and connects with Nymeria who seems to remember her but chooses not to leave the pack and follow Arya to Winterfell. Showrunners Benioff and Weiss suggested in the after show comments that Arya, in her departing comment, was suggesting that Nymeria no longer wanted to live a life of domestication (not that the Direwolf was not Nymeria).

In other words, you can never really go home again.

The Red Badge of Theon

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One of the problems of the plans of "clever men" is that they are often too clever by half (couldn’t resist).

For Tyrion's plan to work, the Tyrell forces and the forces of Dorne have to encircle Kings Landing.

Euron apparently knew that Daenerys, in order to lay siege to KIngs Landing,  would have to sail her troops to Kings Landing. So, he sets an ambush, I assume predicting that Theon and Yara would us the quickest sea lane to Kings Landing (since they had no knowledge of the new quickly, almost magically, constructed Iron Fleet).

Euron totally surprises the original Iron Fleeters totally routing them.

Sadly, when confronted by his Uncle Euron (who has Yara captive), Theon chooses to flee (jumping over the side of the boat instead of fighting for his sister's life).

Doh!

We have been watching Theon survive unspeakable horrors and humiliations for years, so I suspect that eventually, he will redeem himself (otherwise, what exactly was the point of making us endure all of this?).

Heck, he might even kill Euron and take back the Driftwood Crown (dare to dream).

The real sad part is that Yara has done nothing but fight for her brother throughout her time on Game of Thrones.

Theon might redeem himself in the end, and he has suffered some incredible trauma, but I am not sure there is anything he could do that would allow him to recover from the look in Yara's eyes after he dives overboard.

I do also have a few objections to the battle itself.

The Iron Islanders are VIKINGS. They are COASTAL RAIDERS. They did not have battleship style boats, they had longships. They don’t engage in broadsides like privateers. Yes, Euron himself had ONE such boat but both sides seem to be floating western style armadas.

In addition, the entire Dornish army is on these boats, once the ship-to-ship fighting started this shouldn’t have been a rout.

Yes, the Iron Islanders are much more prepared for sea battles, but remember all of the ships Yara and Theon control would also be "crewed-up" with experienced Iron Islanders.

On one side, Iron Islanders on the other side, Iron Islanders + Dornish fighting forces.

Anyway, I will let this go, but it just seems like another example of Benioff and Weiss trying to wallpaper their own historical interests onto the already rich tapestry of the Game of Thrones universe (think the Roman legion tactics in the Battle of the Bastards).

Is it thrilling to watch? Of course.

Does it make sense for the characters in the context of the show universe? Not so much.

Last week, I suggested that Euron was going to get the Dragon Horn (as his prize for Cersei). It turns out Cersei's prize will be Ellaria Sand, one Sand Snake, and Yara Greyjoy.

Don’t worry, no need for the Dragon Horn, Maester Qyburn has a plan involving what looked like Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Giant Crossbow” design. I do remember this being discussed by Tyrion in the books (he grew up studying Dragonlore) but how Qyburn ended up with it, I have no idea?

Anyway, in defense of my theory, in the books, Euron had the Dragon Horn, so it made sense.