After an extended wait, winter is finally here. In the season 7 premiere, titled “Dragonstone,” we get the necessities out of the way early. It’s not the most exciting episode, but it sets up every storyline in a way that won’t require much explanation as this shortened season speeds by.
First off, there is Arya Stark, who opens up the season disguised as Walder Frey in a rare cold open. The intention here is obvious and made even more so by the directing choices. Arya poisons the entirety of House Frey and leaves us with a smile just as she leaves the shot. That final shot was excellent but the entire scene felt unnecessary. It was far too indulgent in fan service and the extended shots of Frey’s choking to death seemed to exist only for service level pleasure. Her reveal last season was very well done and her revenge against Walder Frey and his sons was both satisfying and well executed (get it?), but this opening scene didn’t feel needed. It started the season off on the wrong foot.
Though Arya’s second scene not only redeemed her first but was one of her best scenes in years. The last time she was leaving the Twins and encountered a group of Lannister soldiers, she killed them with the help of the Hound. Yes, we get an Ed Sheeran cameo here, but not even Sheeran can distract from the surprising weight of this scene. Arya is greeted by well intended Lannister men who feed her and talk with her. It humanizes these men in her eyes, especially when one says he hopes he doesn’t have a son because “he’ll be sent off to fight another man’s war.” It’s a very real moment, one that has been denied to the Lannister “redshirts.”
We get a short glimpse of the Night King’s army. The storm rolls in with eerie glimpses of the Night King through the blizzard. The brief shot was one of the high points of the episode. It was beautifully shot with excellent backing orchestration. Oh yeah, giant White Walkers are a thing too apparently. This leads up to Bran appearing at the Wall and meeting Edd. There wasn’t too much to unpack with that short scene, as it mostly existed as a reminder of where Bran and Meera were at.
Speaking of playing catch-up, Sam has been putting in work in Oldtown. We are shown his daily routine of serving, scrubbing bedpans, and restocking the library through a series of fast cuts that really show the monotony of his situation. Things quiet down when he pleads with an Archmaester, played by the always excellent Jim Broadbent, to let him access the restricted section of the library. We said earlier this week that Sam would be the bridge between Jon and Dany. Upon discovering that Dragonstone has a dragonglass mine, Sam sends a raven to Jon. Looks like we won’t have to wait too long for them to meet. Another big revelation from Sam’s side of the world is Jorah Mormont is locked in an Oldtown cell as his Greyscale has spread.
The three main factions are all seen reeling from the major events of last season. In King’s Landing, Cersei has settled into her role as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, though Jaime is skeptical of their future, referring to it as “more like three kingdoms at best.” The tension between Cersei and Jaime is instantaneous but somewhere in Cersei’s delusion, she fails to pick up on it herself. It appears as though the wheels are in motion for Cersei’s demise at Jaime’s hand. Cersei has stricken a deal with Euron, who appears to have found time to balance his seapunk band while leading an army. Euron, despite being a painfully one-dimensional character, is played with all the necessary charisma to make up for it. He is, in a strange sort of way, charming. Pilou Asbaek continues to shine in the brief screen time he is given. Determined to win Cersei’s heart (i.e. power), he sets off to retrieve a gift for her. I imagine that gift is Tyrion and we’ll be seeing a Greyjoy battle here very soon.
In the North, Jon meets with his lords. Sansa and Jon disagree on how to handle the aftermath of the Bolton rebellion. Jon exercises his power and swears in two young children as lords of their household. Lyanna Mormont puts another lord in his place when he balks at women fighting. Bella Ramsey continues to be a standout performer as the new “Queen of Thorns.” Jon is determined to live as his father and brother did, though Sansa is quick to remind him of their fates. It’s never mentioned, nor does he have any lines in the episode, but Davos appearing as Jon’s hand was a deeply satisfying and subtle nod to the fans. Tormund’s crush on Brienne continues to be hilarious, though the showrunners should be careful and not let a joke wear out its welcome.
Littlefinger is under the impression that he is manipulating Sansa, though I don’t believe he’s as successful as he lets on. Everything Sansa says shows she is loyal. The bickering does not come from a place of jealousy but rather one of concern for Jon’s safety. You even see this later on when Sansa talks about Cersei and we see the face of envy. It is an alarming one but bear in mind Cersei, as Sansa knew her, did everything she could to secure power for her family. Littlefinger’s success has been reliant on never revealing his hand. Once everyone knows what it is you’re after, you become a target. If you are shrouded in mystery, it’s harder to do that. That is why Littlefinger has outlived so many other characters. He is just as bold, but is far more secretive. Once it becomes known to all what he wants, his acting upon his goals and his death should not be far apart.
It was unexpected, but the Hound stole the show. The Brotherhood Without Banners trek through the snow on their way north and come across a farm house. But we’ve been here before. Arya and the Hound were welcomed into the house a few years prior and the Hound robbed them, saying they’ll be dead by winter. Well, he was correct. In what may feel like unnecessary dialog, Thoros explains the death of the farmer and his daughter, knowing that the Hound knew these people. We get a rare glimpse of emotion from the Hound when he goes out and buries them in the middle of the blizzard. The bonding between the Hound, Thoros, and Beric, as well as the Hound’s conversion over to the Lord of Light, was an excellent and intimate moment of development for all three characters.
Finally, we see Dany reach Westeros. She arrives at Dragonstone, set to the always amazing “Dance with Dragons” theme. It’s a very subtle and emotional scene. No dialog is spoken and her council gives her space as she feels the sand for the first time, enters the throne room, and sees the great table in the war room. The only line spoken in this scene is directed as much to the audience was it is to Tyrion.
“Shall we begin?”