It’s been a long time since our last visit to Westeros, but finally Game Of Thrones comes storming back to our screens. Here’s what I thought of the first episode of the penultimate season.
We’ve been made to wait since the last episode of Game of Thrones. Season 6 finale “The Winds of Winter” was probably the most monumental (and literally the most explosive) episodes of the series. Cersei became the Queen of King’s Landing and wiped out all of her opposition, with Jaime Lannister by her side, however uneasy he seems. Jon Snow was named King of the North, ruling Winterfell after being reunited with Sansa. Daenerys finally made her journey across the sea to Westeros with Tyrion Lannister, Varys, and the combined forces of Dorne and the Sand Snakes. Plus, we had one of the longest running fan theories confirmed with Jon Snow’s real parenthood being revealed, Sam getting to the library in Oldtown, and Arya showing what she has learned by executing Walder Frey and his sons. I’m still probably forgetting something that happened in one of the most action packed hour (and a bit of) television, and with the confirmation of just thirteen more episodes, we seem to be setting things into place for the final battle for Westeros.
A full year later, we kick off with Walder Frey (David Bradley, who will be playing the First Doctor in the Christmas episode of Doctor Who) toasting all of the Earls of House Frey, congratulating them for their role in slaughtering most of the Starks at the Red Wedding. Most, but not all, as it’s soon revealed that instead of Walder, the person giving the toast is actually Arya Stark using her House of Black and White training, and that the wine is poisoned, giving the youngest Stark revenge for the Red Wedding. For a rather sedate episode, this is a great start, and we get more from her later!
After seeing the march of the White Walkers (now with added reanimated giants) through the latest visions of Bram, he meets up with the Night Watch north of the Wall, and they agree to take him back to the Wall. This is probably leading to a Stark family reunion, although Jon Snow and Sansa are having some disagreements about the correct way to govern Winterfell. While Jon sees the White Walkers to the North as their biggest threat, Sansa knows how dangerous and vindictive Cersei can be, and argues that she is the greatest danger to the Starks. While they begin to train all the men, women, and children in defence of the North (as urged by the awesome Lyanna Mormont, who doesn’t “plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me”), with Petyr Baelish still trying to weave his web, things may not be plain sailing for these Starks.
While Tormund Giantsbane agrees to man the Wall with the wildings (after a return to his flirting ways with Briane), one person heading the opposite direction is the aforementioned Arya. While travelling she overhears a song (by a certain Ed Sheeran) from a group of soldiers. She approaches them warily, eyeing up their weapons and reluctantly accepting their offer of food. As they swap tales of missing home, Arya realises how much she misses her family, but she seemingly has one last name on her list first – go to King’s Landing and kill Cersei Lannister. Young Arya Stark is growing up!
Cersei herself has a pretty quiet episode. Having wiped out the Great Sept, Cersei is now the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms (or as Jaime says, more like 3), and is planning her next move. Like the Starks far to the North, the Lannister siblings are planning their next step and weighing up the many threats to their power. And with their children dead, who are they trying to secure a legacy for? When Euron Greyjoy arrives and offers an alliance, Cersei is not overly interested, until he offers her a great gift. What will that be?
Could it be that he knows the whereabouts of the final main characters we see this episode? After years of waiting, we see Daenerys Targaryen land in Westeros, leading her fleet to Dragonstone, the Targaryen’s family seat. She pulls down the banner of Stannis Baratheon, looks at her throne, and asks Tyrion “Shall we begin?”. Although the scene played for slightly too long (the same line delivered as she steps off the boat would have been more iconic) giving Daenerys the last scene shows just how important the character is to the game of thrones. If I was a betting man, I might say that we have a new favourite in the race for the Iron Throne.
If this episode basically set the table for the rest of the season for our main players, a couple of more minor characters got to show some of their growth. Everyone’s favourite future maester Samwell Tarly is not exactly enjoying his time in Oldtown. In a sequence reminiscent of Preacher’s representation of Hell (living the same terrible day over and over) or one of Edgar Wright’s fast-cutting scenes, we see Tarly slopping out, making gruel, and cleaning up, over and over again. He meets with the Archmaester (the great Jim Broadbent) while helping out with an autopsy, and asks for permission to actually do some research. He thinks he is the only one who actually takes the threat of the White Walker’s north of the Wall seriously, as he is the only one who has seen what they can do. The Archmaester assures him that those at Oldtown have been through winters before and survived, and that this winter will not be any different. Sam isn’t so sure though, and takes some books home to study. He finds a supply of dragonglass (the only substance that can kill the White Walkers) at Dragonstone (lucky that!) and sets about letting his old friend Jon Snow know about the find. Although this doesn’t mean he gets to neglect his other duties, and as he is serving food, a hand covered in greyscale grabs at him and asks if he has heard news of Daernerys. Sam hasn’t heard of her arrival – yet – but after going looking for a cure midway through last season, Ser Jorah Mormont is back in the game.
Iain Glen will be a welcome return to Game of Thrones, I’m also glad that we got to see more of Rory McCann straight away as The Hound. Now that he is travelling with the Brotherhood without Borders, I was worried he might disappear for a chunk of the season while the main characters do their thing. But instead, the Brotherhood stumbled upon the isolated farm that the Hound and Arya stayed at in season 4. Back then, Clegane killed the father and stole from them, as they were weak and wouldn’t survive the winter. Now, he is repentant for his actions, and buries the bodies of the father and daughter in the middle of the night. He also see a vision in the fire of the White Walkers, which would suggest his likely next destination. Although he probably won’t be part of the main plotline in regards to who ends up sitting on the Iron Throne, or even main plotline adjacent, I’m very happy to see the Hound seemingly getting to play out his redemption story to its logical end. Perhaps a face off with the Mountain is on the cards after all. There is still some of that old Clegane charm as well – I particularly approve of his disdain for top knots.
“Dragonstone” isn’t the most action packed episode of Game of Thrones, with a lot of exposition, but these are the episodes that move the pieces into place for the rest of the season. Even with the looming White Walkers, the Starks have some interesting issues to work through, with a bunch of characters perhaps having to choose between Jon and Sansa. Is the biggest threat to Winterfell from the North or the South? What exactly does Cersei have planned next? When will Arya get to King’s Landing? What does Jaime actually think of the events in his absence in King’s Landing? And surely Daenerys, Tyrion, and Varys, with their massed armed ranks and dragons, won’t cool their heels for too long in Dragonstone. Plus the continuing adventures of Sam the apprentice maester and the wanderings of the Hound. All this from one hour of television!
It’s going to be an exciting couple of months in Westeros. See you next week for episode 2 “Stormborn”.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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