'Game Of Thrones' Season 7, Episode 1 Review: Dragonstone
Headline: 'Game Of Thrones' Season 7, Episode 1 Review: Dragonstone
Author: Erik Kain, Contributor
Date: Sun, 16 Jul 2017 23:12:00 -0400
Hours Ago: 17
Spoilers through Season 7 of ‘Game of Thrones’ follow.
Often the season premiere of Game of Thrones is a little bit slow. It’s the setting of a stage or a chessboard, so that next week and the week after those pieces can come crashing down.
Sunday night’s episode, ‘Dragonstone,’ fits that bill almost perfectly, at least to some degree. At the same time, it’s one of the best, most engaging season openers that I can recall, filled with brilliant scene after brilliant scene. I missed Game of Thrones. And like Danaerys’s return to Dragonstone, tonight’s episode really drove that fact home.
Four & Twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
The season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones opened to something of a confusing scene. Lord Walder Frey held court over a gathering of his many offspring and sundry relatives. At first I thought it was a flashback.
Then Frey starts saying stranger and stranger things. He calls his men brave. After all, they killed a pregnant woman and a mother of five. It was at this point that I realized this wasn’t a flashback. It was Arya Stark in her magical mask, poisoning and erasing the Frey name, all in one wonderful swoop. What a glorious way to start off the seventh season.
From here we fade into white. Into silhouettes in a pale field. The dead on the march. The Night King and his White Walkers and an army of the dead.
I counted three zombie giants. Zombie giants! Forgive me if this review is filled with gushing. As I noted moments ago, I’ve really missed Game of Thrones, and zombie giants…well…put that in your pipe and smoke it, The Walking Dead.
In the past I’ve broken up my Game of Thrones reviews along the compass. After all, the show and Martin’s books are spread out across a grand geography. In the North Jon goes on an adventure; in the South Ned loses his head; in the East Danaerys burns some poor, arrogant bastard with dragon fire. In the West Euron Greyjoy tosses his brother off a bridge.
In the season 7 premiere we have three Starks in the North. Bran Stark and Meera Reed are greeted at the Wall by brothers of the Night’s Watch, who let them pass. The Wall, it appears, does not fall because of the Night King’s mark on Bran’s arm. (And thus one of my Season 7 Predictions is almost certainly a bust.)
But just because Bran is crossing back into the land of the living doesn’t mean he’s about to reunite with his brother/cousin and sister, Jon and Sansa. He’s at Castle Black now, and that’s enough cause for a deep sigh of relief, but Jon and Sansa are days to the south at Winterfell.
Here they hold court with the lords of the North. Two issues confront the Stark siblings. First, that of the role of women in the war effort. Jon says every able bodied fighter will be needed in the coming war, a notion which at least one Northern lord protests. But the young Lyanna Mormont is quick to shoot back, refusing to be condescended to. Every able body on Bear Island will begin training immediately, she declares. And nobody crosses the young she-bear, Lyanna, who along with Brienne is quickly becoming my favorite female character in this story.
The second issue is more contentious. Sansa argues that the castles of the Umbers and Karstarks, two of the North’s oldest noble families, should be given to Stark loyalists. After all, both Houses joined with the Boltons, fighting against the Starks and betraying their oaths and loyalties. Jon, now King in the North, disagrees, and refuses to punish entire families for the sins of their fathers. He demands loyalty from the children who have inherited their fathers’ betrayals and holdings.
This plays well with the assembled Northern lords, and Sansa tells Jon with all sincerity that he’s good at ruling, but that he needs to be smart. And she’s right when she says that both Robb and Eddard, her brother and father, were good men who made stupid mistakes. Unfortunately their conversation is cut short. I don’t think Sansa was right with regards to the Umbers and Karstarks, but she’s absolutely correct that Eddard and Robb made stupid decisions. Eddard was too honorable by half, with no sense of the titular Game; and Robb was too young and hormonal to be a great general.
Later, when Littlefinger attempts to advise Sansa she dismisses him abruptly. When Brienne shows up and he attempts to get the last line, Sansa tells him he doesn’t have to “seize the last word.” I’m sure it’s something clever, she tells him. The eldest Stark girl has gained a cold, hard edge over the years. It’s quite satisfying to see it cut.
A raven arrives from King’s Landing with a message from Queen Cersei demanding fealty and promising destruction should they refuse. Sansa tells Jon he’s forgotten the foe to the south, so obsessed he’s become about the enemy to the north. “You almost sound as if you admire her,” Jon replies. “I’ve learned a great deal from her,” Sansa says.
And so we fly south, as the crow flies, over the Twins and the hall of dead Freys; over the Riverlands where Arya rides, and the Brotherhood Without Banners buries dead farmers, over forest and field to a land untouched by Winter still. To King’s Landing and the Red Keep. To…
Here Cersei and Jaime finally catch up, and boy do they have some catching up to do. All their children are dead. They are “the last Lannisters that matter” according to Cersei, who seems utterly in denial of anything even resembling an emotion. Jaime is lost for words, torn between his love for his lover-sister and his dismay at her ruthlessness.
Both siblings agree, they are surrounded by enemies. To the north, the Starks have rallied. Jon and Sansa have defeated the Boltons. Walder Frey is dead. To the East, Danaerys and her armada are preparing to land at Dragonstone. To the South, both Highgarden and Sunspear are sworn enemies of Cersei and House Lannister. Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand will never make peace, even though both Jaime and Cersei seem to believe that the ‘winning side’ matters. No, this has all become deeply personal. Strategy and diplomacy are just two more casualties of this terrible, bloody war.
But Cersei has a trick up her sleeve, and it just so happens to be the exact trick I predicted in my Season 7 predictions piece. Damn I’m good. Cersei has summoned Euron Greyjoy and his Iron Fleet, and Euron has come to claim a Queen. But neither trusts one another, and Euron promises a “priceless gift” to prove his sincerity. I think it’s Dany’s dragons. I think Euron has Dragonbinder, the magical Horn that can control dragons, and is setting out to use it against Dany and his nephew and niece, Theon and Yara.
During Euron’s appearance before Cersei he puts on a good show, getting in a few good digs at Jaime and lending some credence to another of my Season 7 predictions—that Euron and Cersei’s eventual unity will ultimately drive Jaime away. Euron tells Cersei that he’s here with his “two good hands” and also tells her that killing his brother was a “wonderful feeling.” It doesn’t get much more blunt than that.
In the past we’ve often flown East, over the Narrow Sea and the Free Cities, all the way to Slaver’s Bay. We’ll go east in a little bit, though not nearly so far. For now let’s ride our carriage north, but not so far as the Twins or Winterfell. We’ll pass the Trident and make our way to…
Two of our favorites travel the the war-torn Riverlands, a land that was once, not so long ago, the seat of House Tully. Catelyn’s home has faced perhaps the worst fighting in both this recent war and during Robert’s rebellion a generation ago. Now that the fighting has died down, the Riverlands remain the realm of bandits, Lannister troops, and noble outlaws like the Brotherhood Without Banners.
The Hound, who met up with Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr and the rest of the Brotherhood in Season 6, travels with them now. They come to the farm that the Hound and Arya traveled to long ago, when Sandor stole the farmer’s silver and left the man and his daughter to die against the protestations of the young Stark. That was Season 4.
Now the farmer and his daughter are corpses, clutching one another in a deathly embrace. And the Hound is wracked with guilt, though he keeps it as close to his chest as possible. That night he sits with Beric and Thoros, telling Beric he’s boring and not special and wondering aloud why he, of all people, has been brought back to life time and again. Thoros asks Sandor, whose face is a thicket of burns thanks to his sadistic brother, Gregor, to look into the flames. Grudgingly, the Hound peers into the fire. He sees the Wall, and he sees the army of the dead passing around it near a castle by the sea.
The same castle Tormund and the Wildlings are on their way to.
Meanwhile, Arya Stark rides from her slaughter of the Freys south toward King’s Landing when she comes upon a band of Lannister men out “keeping the peace.”
This was my favorite scene of the entire season premiere. Far from the murderous Lannisters who slaughtered most of Arya’s family, far from the scheming Tywins and Cerseis of the world, theses are kind and generous men. They sing songs about women rather than The Rains of Castamere. They offer their guest the first bite of meat and a flask of wine. They’re the sons of fisherman and the fathers of new babes. Just men, in other words. Not murderers like Gregor Clegane or bloodthirsty like Joffrey.
Arya tells them she’s going to King’s Landing to kill the queen and they all laugh at the “joke.”
I’m a little nervous she’ll leave the all dead, these good men who wear the wrong shade of red and have lions on their pommels. But for now I can imagine she just enjoys a night of music, rabbit and blackberry wine. Let’s ride south and west to the oldest city in Westeros, to the aptly-named Old Town where we find…
Poor, poor Samwell Tarly. We’ve seen many, many gruesome things in this show but few so thoroughly gross and hilarious as Sam’s adventures as an intern at the Citadel. He cleans the sick, empties their bed pans, and nearly gags as he does his odious work. Then he serves the Maesters their slop and soon the bed pans and the bowls seem the same. In one end and out the other. It’s disgusting and easily one of the funniest moments I can remember in Game of Thrones.
But Sam is on a mission, and he’s impatient to learn something useful that he can use to aid Jon and his epic war against death. He tries and fails to sway the Grand Maester himself during an autopsy (that is far less gross than the bed pans as far as I’m concerned) because the Grand Maester is a student of history, and argues somewhat unconvincingly that mankind has survived one atrocity after the next, so why worry?
Instead, Sam steals an elderly Maester’s keychain and lets himself into the restricted area. And he finds something important: Beneath Dragonstone is a mountain of dragon glass, the one material other than Valyrian steel that we know can slay a White Walker.
And then we see Sam making his rounds among the sick and, just as Sam goes to retrieve an empty bowl, a familiar arm thrusts out and makes us all jump. A familiar voice asks about a Dragon Queen. Ser Jorah Mormont is here, in the Citadel’s hospital, seeking his cure. You can’t mistake that voice.
Sam, alas, has not heard of any Dragon Queen. But we have. We see the ships. We see that vast armada that Cersei spoke of, and they’re landing precisely where Jaime said they would: On Dragonstone, ancestral home of the Targaryens, and former abode of the vile Stannis Baratheon, who burned his own daughter at the stake and who met his end at the tip of Brienne’s sword.
And so finally we come to the place the season premiere was named for…
Much ado is made of Dany’s return to her home. It’s a grand, stony island of grey rock and far shores. The music is sweeping and thematic. Dany very nearly falls to the sand, and all I can picture is Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, arriving in England.
It’s at this point that my girlfriend cracks a Monty Python joke, fittingly enough, about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
But all that aside, it’s a dramatic and somewhat amazing homecoming. Dragonstone was always something of a sideshow to the twisted affair of Stannis and Melisandre. The map of Westeros here is made of stone, not paint like the one Cersei’s commissioned in King’s Landing. It’s the same battle map that Stannis stood at before Melisandre sent her demon-spawn to kill Renly.
Dany and Tyrion and the rest of her retinue enter the room, and the Mother of Dragons says, “Shall we begin?”
Hell yes, let’s begin. What a season premiere.
This was easily one of my favorite season premieres of any season of Game of Thrones. It’s a testament to the show’s staying power and quality that even this far in, a season’s first episode could be so good. So much of it was just setting the stage, and yet I was reeled in, hook, line and sinker, from the opening moment to the closing credits. If the next episode had started up right after I would have kept watching, and I could have kept watching all night long quite easily.
I love the humanity this episode brought to Lannister troops. I love that Arya killed off the entire Frey clan. And I love that Jon held his ground against the “smart” play that Sansa wanted. I’m intrigued by Cersei and Jaime’s new dynamic, and the wildcard that Euron has become. So much is about to happen, it’s almost painful to tear our eyes from the screen, to wait a week—a whole entire week!—for the next episode to air.
What did you think?
Here’s my predictions piece, which I feel pretty good about at this point. I think I’ve gotten some things wrong already, but I think others I’ve pegged pretty accurately. And here’s my “who’s gonna die” piece if you want to roll those dice with me.
More than anything, I’m thrilled to be watching and writing about this show again. I’m sad we only have this and one more season. It’s one of my very favorite things to write about. So shout out in the comments. What did you think about ‘Dragonstone’ and what do you think’s coming? Will Euron steal some dragons? Will Littlefinger cause some serious trouble for our young Starks? Will Cersei murder everyone who crosses her?
(P.S. Here’s a link to all my past Game of Thrones reviews.) Thanks so much for reading and having this conversation with me.