Opening and exiting on thunderous moments, our return to Westeros continues in breathless fashion. Following last week’s stellar season premiere, “Dragonstone”, the seventh showcase for HBO’s flagship fantasy drama presses on beautifully, as second outing “Stormborn” further defines the developmental battle lines, in addition to texturising characters already believed to be fully rendered.

Game of Thrones is infamous for throwing its devoted viewership through a loop; pulling the carpet from under our feet, turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Episode Two furthered such traditions – both thematically and tonally – as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to superbly bridge the gap between George R.R. Martin’s fiction, and their own interpretation of the Seven Kingdoms.

The Title: “Stormborn”

What Does It Mean?

This week’s story begins with the booming crashes and piercing lights of a thunderstorm. The waves surrounding Dragonstone – former Westerosi seat of House Targaryen, and now docking station for Daenerys herself – pound against the rising rocks. “On a night like this, you came into the world,” says her Hand, Tyrion Lannister. He’s right; she isn’t called Daenerys Stormborn for nothing. It is a fitting introduction to a character whose growth and development has been as exciting and surprising as the aggressive weather display.

However for Dany, Dragonstone doesn’t feel like home, and it is most evident that she intends to move on swiftly; sour news for Queen Cersei Lannister stationed up in the King’s Landing sunshine. The rain on Khaleesi’s welcoming parade has seemingly dampened spirits, as she begins to probe Lord Varys, questioning his loyalties. We all know the eunuch is slippery – much in the same manner as Littlefinger – but he makes his intentions, and therefore allegiances, known in spectacular style. Varys proudly states that he will not allow mere loyalty to stand in the way of incompetent or vindictive leadership. Pretty noble and direct for a former Master of Whisperers.

Most Shocking Moment:

Tension is brilliantly weaved into Bryan Cogman’s screenplay from the get-go in this second hour. Dialogue unfolds with a chill, and audiences are just waiting for that sucker-punch to swing with full force. We have to hang around until the climatic ten minutes for the blow to arrive, but when it does, it leaves an almighty bruise.

Our most shocking moment of “Stormborn” unfolds when Yara and brother, Theon Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand, and her Sand Snakes come under attack from good ol’ Uncle Euron. So sudden is the Iron Fleet’s infiltration, that it actually interrupts a sexual encounter between Yara and Ellaria, as cupbearer Theon awkwardly watches on. Euron’s armada board the vessel and start slaughtering those who defected to House Targaryen. His men simply decimate their fleet; slicing, stabbing, and disembowelling every member of the opposition. Two Sand Snakes fall after putting up a valiant fight, and both Ellaria and the third member are imprisoned by a particularly charmless gaggle of rogues. Initially suspicions led us to believe that Euron’s “priceless gift” for Cersei was Dragonbinder, or maybe the head of loathed sibling Tyrion, but perhaps the Dornish and a certain other in royal custody will suffice.

Euron takes Yara hostage, holding her at knifepoint as flames roar, and the last of the crew is finished off in brutal fashion (a close-up of some bad dentistry among the cruellest). The altercation proves all too distressing for Theon, who is called upon by Euron to “come get” his sister. Instead he favours his chances in the deep blue, and throws himself overboard in the ultimate act of cowardice. Whilst Theron’s actions are infuriating, they are also entirely logical, and pay dividends to a character of much emotional complexity. He suffered years of horrendous abuse at the hands of a madman, and he sees such evil in the eyes of his deranged uncle. The psychological scars left by Ramsay Bolton are rooted far deeper than any sense of family loyalty.

Biggest Agenda:

A number of major moves were played across the titular game this week. Perhaps the most notable outside of our selection being the merciless Cersei and her demented Maester, Qyburn burrowing under the Red Keep to reveal the way they intend to keep the Lannister throne: a gigantic crossbow, with the power and projectiles to penetrate even the most sizeable of creatures (Daenerys’ three dragons). However we’re venturing North to Winterfell, where we find an apprehensive yet determined Jon Snow.

He’s received word from Tyrion that Dany is in Westeros, and has invited him to meet at Dragonstone, where he shall bend the knee. His loyal council – a compilation of Stark bannermen, Wildlings, and members of House Mormont among others – object to Jon’s decision to accept; least of all sister Sansa, who is appointed Queen in the North during he and Ser Davos Seaworth’s absence (finally, Sansa takes the seat!) Jon takes a quiet moment in the Stark crypt before departure, but is quickly interrupted by a familiar, and unwanted, face: Littlefinger.

Baelish approches, and Jon declines, stating there is nothing he wants to say to him. “Not even thank you?”, Littlefinger replies. It’s a coy, but ultimately fair, point. Without the Knights of the Vale, the Boltons would still hold Winterfell, and Jon would almost certainly be dead. Littlefinger has the tendency to linger – almost as much as scheme – and Snow is quick to pick up on such hovering. There’s only a single thing worth waiting for here in the Northern chill, and that’s Sansa. Instantly, Jon sees red, and slams Baelish into the wall in a chokehold just like his father (well, maybe father…) Ned Stark did mere days before he had his head chopped off. The lesson to be learnt is simple; don’t ever underestimate, or worse, cross, Littlefinger. Jon’s just as likely to return home to find he’s lost the North and therefore his only chance at defeating the Army of the Dead.

Best Overall Moment:

As one Northerner leaves home, another looks set to return. Arya Stark stops over in the Riverlands for shelter and sustenance. Here she runs into long-lost friend, Hot Pie (finally she’s reunited with someone from her ‘Arry days; not Gendry, mind). Hungry and tired, she devours a meal as the twosome catch up. Prior to eating, her goal is clear: ride South to King’s Landing, and kill Cersei. However, with a fuller belly, and new information in her ear, perhaps her route has altered.

Hot Pie informs Arya that Jon Snow is now King, and the Stark banners hang from Winterfell once again. Ramsay is dead; the Boltons defeated. Up until this point, she has been so consumed with rage and vengeance, that any thought of her family has been suppressed. The Stark name now only carries sorrow, loss, and pain, but perhaps change is in the Winter’s air. She climbs upon her noble steed, and makes a U-turn.

Venturing through a darkening forest, noises begin to stir within the decrepit foliage. Arya draws Needle, and prepares for the worst. The sounds intensify; moving in closer, as if predators are ready to pounce upon their pray. For a handful of moments, this seems entirely the case, as she is surrounded by a pack of snarling wolves. They are angry and hungry, and she’ll make for a good meal, but there’s something interesting about the pack leader: it’s a frosty face that’s all too familiar. After six seasons – yes, seriously – Arya Stark is finally reunited with her direwolf, Nymeria. All the Stark children were issued a hound – face of the family sigil – in the introductory episodes. We’ve seen the journeys and fates of the others, but Arya’s remained a mystery.

In a beautifully bittersweet exchange, she asks Nymeria to join her as she rides for Winterfell. “I’m heading North, girl…I’m finally going home,” she calls, but the offer is declined. In this moment, Arya came face-to-face with her past. Her scene with Nymeria exits as she murmurs “That’s not you.”; a direct reference to her exchange with Ned back in Season 1, as they sit in the Red Keep hallway and discuss her future. Ned wants a traditional, happy life for his daughter: marriage, security, children. Knowing herself even then, she looks at her father and simply says, “No, that’s not me.” Initially disappointed by Nymeria’s rejection, Arya quickly realises that, just like her, the direwolf is not meant to be tamed. It is more than loyal mutt; it is a wild beast – a hunter, an animal. Changing Nymeria’s course, and removing her from the pack, is manipulating her nature.

The Verdict:

Following proudly in the footsteps of “Dragonstone”, this second outing of Game of Thrones Season 7 provided a tremendous and riveting exploration of the Seven Kingdoms. We are finally getting to see the meeting we’ve all longed for, as Ice and Fire unite, and the delicate building of relationships and war games will undoubtedly make for thrilling payoffs as we venture deeper into the forthcoming episodes. On a random side note, this current trend of gross-out transitions is a stroke of genius, too. Watching Samwell Early peeling away Ser Jorah Mormont’s pus-laden Greyscale before cutting to a spoon plunging into pie was gloriously revolting…