We knew they’d throw a wrench in at some point.
After a season premiere that saw Game of Thrones carefully prepare its chessboard for a pair of inevitable Westerosi conflicts, the second episode, "Stormborn," complicated nearly everyone’s plans. Two pawns have been wiped off the board in Obara and Nymeria Sand, who were annoying ("Momma!") to the very end. Arya ran into not one, but two of her old pals, and news of Jon’s ascendancy in Winterfell caused her to change travel plans on the fly. Jon still hasn’t learned how to keep disagreements with Sansa behind closed doors, and two letters convinced him, over the objections of his bannermen, to sail south to meet Dany. Melisandre arrived in Dragonstone to tell the Mother of Dragons that she may soon be able to add "Princess that was Promised" to her long list of titles. And Yara, Tyene, and Ellaria are in the hands of Game of Thrones’ newest Big Bad: Euron Greyjoy.
"After this season, Ramsay’s gonna look like a little kid," Pilou Asbæk, the actor who plays Euron, told Empire magazine in June. Euron has a long, long way to go to surpass the unchecked depravity of Ramsay Bolton, and for everyone’s sake, let’s hope he never gets there. Ramsay was a rapist, a murderer, and took the meaning of the word "sadistic" to grotesque levels. He just plain sucked.
Euron, based on what we’ve seen of him so far, is a more elevated — if equally diabolical — type of foil. He arrived in this episode by falling from the sky onto some poor foot soldier’s head, cackling like a madman. The King of the Iron Islands whipped his battle-ax with chaotic glee, dancing around the deck of Yara’s ship as embers burned around him. He’s the pirate Salladhor Saan always should have been. As Cersei sits safely on her Iron Throne and the Night King does whatever it is he’s doing beyond the Wall, Euron, in the thick of the action, is the villain this season needs.
Make no mistake — Euron could and probably will turn out to be cold-to-the-bone evil much like Ramsay, and we do not endorse any of the unchecked atrocities committed by either of the two. But Game of Thrones is a spectacle, and at least we know that our pirate king can put on a show. This is the type of cartoonish villainy Joffrey would have aspired to if Joffrey weren’t such a wuss (and if he’d had a chance to live past puberty). If the Comic-Con trailer is anything to go by, Euron will ride into King’s Landing next episode like a rock star.
We now almost certainly know what Euron’s priceless gift is, and Ellaria’s capture will greatly complicate Dany’s plans moving forward. (To say nothing of Yara, whose fleet, now likely in disrepair, was crucial to moving the Targaryen host around Westeros.) As Tyrion reminded everyone this episode, Ellaria (and by association, Tyene) is responsible for the murder of Myrcella, Cersei’s daughter. Cersei may put Ellaria’s head on a spike immediately, but the end result could be the same: The Dornish were supposed to be the force to lay siege to King’s Landing — with no other obvious leader to succeed Ellaria, it’s hard to see what would now compel them to leave their relative safety in Dorne to fight for a queen they’ve never met. Dany and her crew will have to draw up new plans for their Westerosi invasion. Though she may have Dragonstone, it will be quite some time before the Khaleesi can mount any kind of real conquest.
Though Euron’s success in capturing Ellaria represents the greatest surprise of the episode, Dany’s plotline was already becoming more muddled well before he appeared onscreen. She began the episode by questioning Varys’s loyalty, and even as she made the correct move to keep him on the team, she still couldn’t escape shades of her father when she threatened to burn him alive. Dany has consistently channeled the Mad King a few times a season — Barristan even warned her about it back in Meereen — and it’s fair to question whether this is misdirection by the show or whether she is more of a tyrant than she lets on.
Dany could no doubt learn a thing or two from Olenna Tyrell, who counsels her to never trust clever men. But the Queen of Thorns will soon have trouble of her own: Randyll Tarly seems convinced by Jaime’s offer to betray the Tyrells. We may finally see Highgarden this season, but that could be when it’s getting sacked by the Tarlys. If the Reach falls, it’ll impede Dany’s progress all the more. And should Dany play her trump card — dragons — she’ll have Qyburn’s giant crossbow to deal with. That thing cut through one dragon skull like it was nothing; Drogon shouldn’t come in its sights. For having seemingly no allies last episode, the Lannisters are suddenly doing incredibly well for themselves.
Meanwhile Missandei and Grey Worm finally, uh, connected (in a scene that was probably too much) and Sam found an experimental procedure for Jorah’s greyscale (in a scene that was definitely too much! Gross!). Littlefinger got owned again, though much less gracefully than Sansa’s clap back in the last episode. This time Jon just went straight for his throat in the crypts of Winterfell. If Petyr Baelish is trying to drive a wedge between Sansa and Jon, it isn’t working. But with Jon likely on the move, the old creep will have a chance to get in Sansa’s ear right as she’s been put in command of the North.
With an abbreviated, seven-episode season in store, it was easy to worry that this season would move too quickly from essential plot point to essential plot point. With "Stormborn," Thrones has shown that it won’t rush headlong into a dragon vs. ice zombie war just yet.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.
An earlier version of this piece misidentified the Reach as the Riverlands.