From a bloody feast to Daenerys finally returning home, “Dragonstone,” Game of Thrones’ seventh season premiere, more than lives up to its status as the opening episode in what will be the epic fantasy series’ final act. Like past premieres, “Dragonstone” is primarily concerned with setup work for the rest of the season and as such, there are very few action-heavy moments outside of the incredibly bloody scene that opens the episode. If this was a normal season of Game of Thrones, I think it would be easy to criticize “Dragonstone” for its overall lack of forward momentum but since there are only seven episodes in total this year, we won’t have to wait long for things to really get moving. So what’s new and exciting in the mad, violent world of Westeros? Let’s check in on the major events that happened this week.
Arya Wipes a Family Off the Map
When Game of Thrones does a cold open, you know you’re in for something special. Case in point: the jaw-dropping scene that opens “Dragonstone,” which features Walder Frey hosting an impromptu feast with his family at the Twins. Of course, this isn’t really Lord Frey and even though this quickly becomes apparent, the scene waits just long enough to show Arya taking off Walder’s facing to let the carnage she has wrought really sink in. This ends up being such a great send-off for actor David Bradley, that I wasn’t even really too concerned with the question of how Arya could possibly imitate his voice so perfectly (either wearing someone’s face gives you their voice or Arya is really good at impersonations). While this scene does feel a bit too neat and tidy for Game of Thrones — Arya eliminates not only an entire family but a whole storyline in one fell swoop — it’s such a well-executed moment of catharsis that I really can’t find much fault with it.
Jon vs. Sansa
One of my favorite things about last season’s finale was how it teased a potential rift between Jon and Sansa, as the latter saw her bastard brother declared King in the North when she by rights should have been declared Queen, being the true-born daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark and all. To my surprise, we didn’t have to wait long to see this conflict play out, as the siblings (well, cousins technically) have very different ideas for how to rule the North. Where Sansa thinks that the treasonous northern houses who turned against the Starks should be punished for their crimes by having their castles taken away from them, Jon argues that the Karstark and Umber children should not be punished for the crimes of their fathers.
What I really like here is how much Jon’s ideology contrasts with that of both his sisters’. We see Arya take very much the opposite approach, murdering every (male) member of the Frey family for their actions at the Red Wedding — to be fair, the family as a whole seemed to be fully on board with the idea of betraying the Starks — and though Sansa is perhaps a little less extreme in her views with how to deal with traitors, she still takes Jon to task for his actions and warns him not to be stupid like Ned and Robb. In this way, Jon is still aligned with the Starks’ reputation for honor above all, but Sansa and Arya’s actions suggest that this may not be the right course to take anymore in a world where good values seem to get you killed. I don’t necessarily see Sansa getting to the point where she outright betrays Jon, but it seems clear that if he is to have any hope of surviving the war ahead, he would do well to start listening to her council.
Jaime is Worried
While Cersei is very much on board with the idea of establishing a Lannister dynasty that will last a thousand years, her brother Jaime has his doubts. Jaime was once the most fascinating character on the show, but his development seemed to hit a wall over the last couple of seasons. Fortunately, things appear to be back on track as “Dragonstone” left me most interested to see what’s going to happen with the Kingslayer over the course of the season, as you can tell that Jaime is uneasy with almost every decision his sister makes here.
Although Cersei is certainly aware of the threats looming on the horizon, Jaime recognizes that things don’t look good for the Lannisters at this point and is very much the voice of reason among Cersei’s increasingly insane retinue of advisers and allies; a group that now includes deranged killer pirate Euron Greyjoy. At this point, Jaime is looking for the door out of crazy town and it will be interesting to see whether he ultimately sticks by Cersei’s side or ends up being the one who plunges the knife in her back.
Euron Makes a Promise
For whatever reason, I spent so long thinking of Euron Greyjoy and Cersei Lannister as two separate threats to Daenerys that I never really considered the idea of the two joining forces, so I was actually a bit surprised to see Greyjoy ships sailing into King’s Landing. While I still don’t quite buy the idea that Euron is going to be some sort of all-time memorable villain, his scene here goes a long way in making him into a credible threat not just for Daenerys, but potentially Cersei as well down the road. I fully expected Cersei to accept Euron’s marriage proposal, leading to all sorts of jealousy from Jaime in subsequent episodes, but Cersei is no dummy and recognizes how foolish it would be to trust a treacherous, murderous pirate without a show of faith first. Thus, Euron is prompted to prove he can be trusted and promises to return with a great gift, which could take many forms.
My money is on Euron kidnapping Tyrion, as seeing her little brother brought to her in chains would surely make Cersei relent to a proposal from any suitor, but there’s a chance it could be Daenerys or even one of her dragons. After all, in the books Euron is said to possess a horn with the power to control dragons and though we haven’t seen him make reference to this horn on the show yet, he may very well be waiting for an opportune time to bust it out and steal one of Dany’s ‘children.’ This scene has me simultaneously excited and nervous to see how the upcoming naval battle between Euron and Dany’s forces plays out.
The Hound Digs a Grave
While Arya heads south to King’s Landing, we see her former travel companion Sandor “The Hound” Clegane heading in the opposite direction alongside the Brotherhood Without Banners. In a nice callback to a scene from several seasons ago, we see the group take shelter at the same house where the Hound and Arya once visited. In case you don’t remember, that encounter ended with the Hound dooming the poor family to starvation by stealing their silver, justifying his actions by claiming that they wouldn’t survive the winter anyway. Though the Hound’s near-death experience hasn’t left him any less surly, it’s obvious that he’s wracked with guilt over the poor family’s fate, as Thoros of Myr discovers him desperately burying their bodies in the middle of the night.
In the larger context of the series, this scene really doesn’t add much outside of the Hound’s vision in the flames, which sees Eastwatch by the Sea — the same castle that Tormund volunteers to go defend earlier in the episode — being overrun by White Walkers, but I enjoyed how it highlighted the ongoing costs of war on a micro level. Unfortunately, with Westeros yet again about to be engulfed in war, things are only going to get worse for the poorest citizens of the Seven Kingdoms and I hope the series features more scenes like this in the future to help illustrate that.
Samwell Tarly: Maester of Poop
Alongside deadly feasts and uneasy alliances, “Dragonstone” checks in with our old pal Samwise Tarly, whose maester’s training is off to a stinky start indeed. The montage of Sam cleaning out chamber pots, restocking books and just generally not having a good time is easily the episode’s most humorous scene and also illustrates how arduous the process of becoming a maester is. Of course, Sam doesn’t have time to spend years cleaning up poop soup, what with the White Walkers on the march, and expedites the process by sneaking into the Citadel library’s restricted section to try and find more information about dragon glass.
Sam’s discovery that there are large quantities of the stuff sitting right underneath Dragonstone is hardly surprising, but does offer up a clue for how Jon Snow and Daenerys will meet, which we already know happens later this season. I really do hope there is a little more to Sam’s story here than just telling Jon what to do next but even if there isn’t, this scene is still a treat, not least because it features the always great Jim Broadbent as the Citadel’s Grand Maester.
I actually enjoyed the scene where Arya encounters a group of Lannister soldiers camped out on the road to King’s Landing, mostly because it was such a stark (heh heh) contrast to her earlier scene at the Twins and showed that despite basically being a full-time vengeance machine at this point, Arya still has some humanity left (assuming she doesn’t butcher the whole group of soldiers in the next episode, of course). Unfortunately, this scene has one big thing going against it in the form of guest star Ed Sheeran who, if you didn’t know, is a world-famous musician. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Game of Thrones featuring a cameo from a big-name celebrity if done properly, Sheeran’s role here ends up feeling distracting and completely unnecessary.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Sheeran’s performance necessarily, but more for the fact that he’s really just playing himself in Lannister armor, as we see him singing a song for all of his compatriots. I’d be willing to forgive the show if it had just stopped there but then we get Arya asking Sheeran’s character what song he’s singing, to which he replies “It’s a new one”). While we (thankfully) don’t hear one of Sheeran’s actual songs, it all sort of plays out as if HBO owed Sheeran a personal favor and had to give him a plug in its most popular show. Again, it’s not a deal breaker by any means, but this was definitely my least favorite scene of the premiere.
Dany Walks on Familiar Ground
Daenerys’ long-awaited return to her ancestral home certainly felt grandiose and set the stage for her upcoming conquest of Westeros, but it also felt like it was treading familiar ground. This is pretty much the same scene we got at end of the Season 6 finale, just with Dany and her retinue now standing in a castle rather than on a ship. As cool as it was to see Dany making the long climb up to the throne room, I was more distracted by the fact that Dragonstone looks to be totally abandoned. I get that Stannis took his whole army north, but did he really not leave anyone behind to occupy the castle?
That being said, I appreciated that the scene was completely devoid of dialogue until the very end when Dany asks Tyrion, “Shall we begin?” as it really helped emphasize the gravity of the situation: after six seasons, Daenerys is finally ready to make her moves and even though we’ll have to wait for later episodes to see how it all turns out, it’s still an effective way to close out a season premiere.
No Dorne (Yay?)
The premiere checks in with nearly every major storyline, but one notable omission is the newly-formed alliance between the Sand Snakes and Lady Olenna Tyrell, though Cersei does make reference to them as “threats to the west and south.” Since its introduction several seasons ago, Dorne has easily been the weakest part of Game of Thrones, but things took a positive turn at the end of Season 6 thanks to the alliance formed between Ellaria Sand and Lady Olenna. Diana Rigg has been an MVP on this show for years, so while I’m thankful that the writers didn’t feel the need to jam Dorne into an already packed season premiere, Rigg’s presence was still sorely missed. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to see what the Sand/Tyrell alliance has planned for Cersei and the Lannisters.
Odds and Ends
Finally, I just thought I’d briefly touch on some of the other scenes from “Dragonstone,” as this was a densely-packed episode:
-Bran and Meera made it to the Wall! The Wall was brought up in conversation a lot in this episode, but this was the only scene in which we actually see it. I’m not really sure what the significance of Bran reaching it is at this point, but at least Meera doesn’t have to drag him around!
-The Night’s King is on the move. It’s felt like the White Walkers have been trying to reach the Wall for years now, but I think it won’t be long now until they do. As mentioned earlier, Tormund is on his way to Eastwatch, which is the closest point on the Wall to Hardhome, the ill-fated Wildling settlement where Jon first encountered the Night’s King. In other words, start preparing your goodbye’s for Tormund because I don’t like his chances …
-How great was Sansa’s shutdown of Littlefinger? I really don’t know where this whole thing with Lord Baeylish is going but right now, it feels like Sansa has him wrapped around her finger.