Okay, considering we are unlikely to do this for about 18 months (or so) and I did NOT watch this episode early, here we go:
What I liked:
Queen and Mother of Dragons: Rhaenyra’s emotional roller-coaster crystalized the import of this episode: everything all at once. We first see Rhaenyra have to deal with the loss of her father, then loss of her child, then the loss of her realm. As she struggles with what to do (Spoiler: it was always war), she must both command and protect – her realm and her children. Then, just when she thought she was at her safest, her husband physically assaults her (or as they call it in Westeroes: Thursday). She is not safe and cannot keep anyone else safe. And when that finally reaches a boil she looks us dead in the eyes and announces that she will burn them all. Yes, that look was a wee bit over-the-top but it was well-earned. The story of this Queen is how her life is split between her children and her realm and how she is both attacked and forced to defend both. This is much like Viserys, but different: Viserys could afford his vacillations; he was never at war. His daughter has no such protections: she will spend the rest of her life at war.
Oh, and I loved that coronation.
Storm’s End’s Beginning: I liked everything about Storm’s End; I liked Lord Baratheon (and his apparent illiteracy); I liked the high-stakes game; I liked that Luke (or whichever one he was) was both unprepared but also serious; I liked how it was a constant storm and I loved that fucking seat. No King should sit comfortable and, as usual, the Baratheon’s turned it to 11, This is not a seat that will simply take an oath and be like “Yeah, we said it so guess we will follow it blindly.” No, that’s House Stark’s job. Anyway, I liked this visit to the last of the realms.
Oh, and I liked that Luke seemed overwhelmed by everything. I think its an incredible pivot from the trope that merely because a child has had a few lessons or has a nice person to hang out with that they somehow become quick witted, able swordmen, and masters of the Game of Thrones (but enough about the last 2 seasons of GoT). Instead, they have a script, they try to stick to it and then they do what they can, but they are NOT in control. Luke acted like … a little kid. And that worked.
A Dance of These Two Dragons: That was bad-ass!!!
…. Okay, just kidding. Yes, it was bad ass but I think we saw – in stark terms – how dangerous actually fighting with dragons will be. And that not all dragons were created equal. Just like that, one dragon, Arax (I think) is dead. Poof… or Puff… look, I’m trying … The point being that they can be slain just like anyone else and just like that. Oh, and that Aemond and Vahgar are bad asses.
But I also think it showed how susceptible- and unpredictable – the dragons are to the emotional state of their riders. The dragons either acted on instinct OR because they are tapped into the sub-conscious of their riders and acted the way they thought their riders would act. And that can make it so the dragons don’t do what the riders … “wanted” them to do. We think. Free will is suddenly more uncertain than a prophecy.
But even Aemond one-eye seems … upset by this. And I get that but a part of me wants to as … “What did you think was gonna happen?!” Chasing Arax around Storm’s End will likely lead to, at best, lead to a confrontation and that, by definition is uncertain. What would have happened if wings got clipped or Arax zigged when he should have zagged? Or, you know, they start breathing fire? I get that the excuse will be “I didn’t mean it…” But you meant to go out there on a dragon and zoom past another dragon… Intent follows the Maw.
The Table: Painted Table was brought into greater relief with fire. An improvement over Stannis’ “It’s a fucking Table; we sit around it!” Actually… Regardless, it was a great touch.
War Council Paying Attention: I liked that the talk of troops and territories was trumped by “We have dragons.” Done and done. That is vastly more important.
What I am on the fence on:
Camera Closer… Closer … CLOS… We are in Rhaenyra’s Tonsils: This was the most high-concept episode in terms of the use of the camera and it was … fine… fine … ish? The camera seemed to always be tight and looking up at the character and the characters … seem almost to know it. Lots of characters with their backs to the camera; staring off at the scenery. This, to e, was too passive use of the camera for what we were actually witnessing. This was a calm within the storm, not before it. I think the camera use was misplaced.
What Were You Going To Name This One: So that dead baby got a LOT of screen time, huh? Now, with that said, I think it was portrayed REALLY well and had a lot of emotional weight. She did a great job and it was pretty good. Also, kinda gross.
Daemon: Starting to think he’s JUST an asshole.
The Meeting on Dragon Stone … Part II: So, Otto shows up… again… on Dragonstone to face Daemon. And what did he learn from the first one? I kind of feel like that meeting could only have ended two ways – with the Hightower contingent to leave emptyhanded OR dragon roast. I feel like there was nothing else that could have happened. Don't get me wrong; I love me some Otto, but what was he hoping would happen? Unconditional surrender? Feel like they don't learn from their mistakes.
And this time.. she is not on your side . . .
What I Did Not Like
Doubling Down on Dumb: So, in this episode, the story tried tried TRIED to justify Rhaenys’ absolutely stupid decision to not kill Aegon et al. They had her say “This is not my war.” Like her grandchildren are NOT standing a few feet away. Just ridiculous. Then we have like 15 shots of her standing in the background and not kneeling and basically trying to send the message that she is above it all. Then, the Sea Snake shows up… I guess… and he says “We will sit out this war!” And Rhaenys says, with a straight face, we can’t.
FUCKING PICK ONE! Either she gets to sit on the sidelines and justify her decision Not to kill Aegon OR she gets to say how just she thinks Rhaynera is the rightful queen and throw in on them. But she cannot do this whole “One-foot-in-one-foot-out” hokey-pokey.
And this NONSENSE that she did not know this would lead to war or that this is not HER war just ash to go. Its as if the showrunners did not see how dumb this was, wanted the spectacle and then realized “Oh, shit, this makes literally no sense… LET’S DOUBLE DOWN!” And they TRY to make it seem like it’s a close call OR she is undecided OR that she is above it all.
Its never was; she isn’t and she’s not.
And when Corlys says that he will declare for nobody, she says that Rhaenerya is the only one holding the realm together. Showing restraint…
Oh, and she killed like 100 people. Down the memory hole with you!
To me, this represents something I am ready, willing and able to overlook, but I am also not going to pretend it didn’t happen. Its like a bruise that will stain. You can look past it if you can, but you cannot pretend it’s not there.
What a great season. What an absolutely incredible correction of what we had left for dead under the Bells. This was 10 episodes of rebuilding good will with the fans and trying to reintroduce us to this land and these people. The acting was as great as anything in GoT; each episode had incredible import; the fissure started as a small crack and has since grown into a massive chasm that will swallow this realm and we all buy it.
These are great characters involved in a fantastic conflict and one that is being handled with care, understanding, craftmanship and intelligence. We are lucky to have it.
Oh, and Paddy should get the Emmy.
Awesome season, 9 out of 10; just terrific. Loved it and will watch again.