The world waited with bated breath this past Sunday for the season premiere of Game of Thrones, the most celebrated work of fantasy that television has ever transmitted! “Dragonstone” delivered not only the deep belly satisfaction its viewers had been starved for, but did what it does best – creating a maddening lust for the continuation of the rivulets of grand stories, leaving the audience jonesing even harder for episode two. Through a soiree of introductions, a dance took place that mapped out the position of all the players in the landscape of the Great War to come, building the foundation for the finale of our precious Game Of Thrones.
The last time we saw Arya, she had undergone a metamorphosis of sorts after killing The Waif and spiritually reclaiming her family identity. It was through this process that she realigned with her true purpose while solidifying her ascension into a faceless assassin. As a sum total of ruthless skill and undying passion for revenge, Arya makes her way to Walder Frey and delivers him justice, a dish served best cold (and filled with the bits of your enemy’s children).
We catch up with her once again in the opening of episode one, a bone-chilling introduction for the ages. There’s a brief moment of mystery as Walder Frey address “every Frey who means a damn thing,” during what seems to be a second feast held for the family in a single fortnight. Lord Frey adorning his grotesque relatives with two feasts in such a short time was proof enough that this scene wasn’t a mere flashback; but, things become even more clear in their oddity when he starts praising his kin for their “heroics” and then shortly after, a deathly toast.
Arya delivers retribution so poetically as she calls on the vileness of House Frey’s actions during the Red Wedding, wearing Walder’s face for ultimate effect. She makes certain that they all feel her enigmatic presence by shaming the lot for leaving one wolf behind, mentioning that by doing so none of the sheep were safe. After decimating House Frey’s lineage, she removes the mask and addresses Walder’s girls:
“When people ask you what happened here, tell them the north remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.” As she walks over the bodies and out of the fortress she displays a small smile filled with deep satisfaction as the music builds itself into the legendary, opening score.
Arya is seen briefly, later on in the episode, when she comes upon a group of Lannister soldiers. They offer warmth, meat, and tales of caution in regard to her destination, King’s Landing. She sips from their blackberry wine, enjoys the roasted rabbit provided, and even tells them of her travel plans and its reasoning – to kill Queen Cersei. The men take her honest and bold threat as nothing more than an absurd joke.
This scene is most likely an opportunity to illustrate Arya’s current nature. Will she spare this group of soldiers, showing mercy and or naiveté on her part? Or will she take from them what she needs and destroy what’s left? The latter being a lesson learned from her former travel companion, Sandor Clegane, a time long before. Peace generally precedes tragedy in Game Of Thrones, so we leave Arya in this uneasy setting, but her story continues.
The Night King and The Army of the Dead
It wouldn’t be a fitting premiere if we didn’t get a preview of the true storm; the terrible, unfeigned winter that’s coming for everyone. As we peer inside the chilling white veil of swirling death, we see the Night King and his lieutenants marching onward with thousands of dead following closely in line. The terrifying silhouettes of decaying bodies laced with weaponry horrifies in its truest sense, especially when three giants are pictured amongst the ranks. This powerful window, albeit brief, adds greatly to the terror of the Night King’s imminent arrival. He’s added the otherworldly to his demon fleet as his power continues to swell. Perfectly, the terrible blue has now bled into the eyes of the giants as winter continues to press forward, growing upon itself.
As Bran’s power develops, his journey becomes increasingly more treacherous. After losing Hodor, the former Three-Eyed Raven, Jojen Reed, and the death of The Children of the Forest, he’s finally made it to The Wall in the premiere of season seven. By way of Meera’s undying loyalty and a critical and welcomed interference from Benjen Stark, it appears Bran has now reached a place where he can provide invaluable psychic aid within the walls of the Night’s Watch. Interim Lord Commander, Eddison Tollett, receives Bran and Meera at the gate with feelings of distrust. He figures them to be liars and wildlings. Bran overcomes Eddison’s skepticism by displaying the gifts of his sight, mentioning Tollett’s presence at The Massacre at Hardhome and referencing knowledge of the White Walkers’ rise and intention. Through his chilling recount, Bran achieves entry for himself and Meera. At the current moment, they seem to have reached safety, no matter how fleeting this safety may be.
Visually, spiritually, and physically, Sansa has darkened; you can even call it matured, but there’s an edginess to that maturity that teeters either way dependent on the moment. It’s clear that the horrors of her past have not only shaped her new image and demeanor, but have also provided her with a newfound strength. It’s unclear whether this strength will help to solidify her relationship with Jon Snow or be the reason the two are torn apart.
“Dragonstone” showcases a Sansa that isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She questions Jon’s tactics, dismisses Little Finger’s backhanded riddles, and knows her experience of the southern enemy, Queen Cersei, is invaluable. She believes her knowledge demands respect from not only her believed to be half-brother, but everyone in the North who fights under him. It’s important to note the emphasis Sansa places on the raven sent from King’s Landing. Jon seems to dismiss the new queen’s request for allegiance as his mind is consumed with the Night King’s imminent arrival. Sansa reminds him of Cersei’s unquenchable thirst for total power. She insists that he mustn’t forget about the war to the south. Her experience has provided her with a chilling wisdom that should prove important for the northern effort in episodes to come. Sansa is an important player now and demands to be treated as such in her matured state; a maturity seemingly quick to come, as well as worrisome in its potential volatility.
For the sake of the known world, Jon Snow is coming into his own as a military captain and king. We know now that he’s filled with both Targaryen and Stark blood, making him fit to rule with the measure of his noble heart and propensity of his skill. He shows kindness in his diplomacy while demonstrating that he can still make hard decisions in light of winter’s return. The series premiere showcases these qualities throughout his strategy planning amongst the northern lords.
One particular scene that illuminates Jon’s propensity to rule honestly is his declaration to keep House Umber and House Karstark with their rightful heirs despite their respective parents fighting with the Ramsey Bolton during The Battle of the Bastards. Sansa advises against it claiming their parents to be treasonous, but Jon declares justice to have been served as the offending lords died on on the battlefield, and stating he will not strip a family of their ancestral home due to the actions of a small group within. Sansa disagrees, but Jon makes his decision final. Later, as they talk, Sansa inadvertently compares Jon to Joffrey Baratheon, but quickly tells Jon that he’s good at ruling, but then throws in a “but,” which Jon then qualifies the “good at ruling” sentiment moot per his experience with both of their father, Ned Stark. Potential volatility, indeed.
Brienne of Tarth
Lady Brienne remains valiantly faithful to her oath of protecting Sansa in the series premiere, which comes as no surprise given the virtue of her character. Her role is small in “Dragonstone,” but her presence always provides a powerful light in the dark. She continues to offer counsel to Sansa, train Podrick Payne to be far more than just her squire, and, of course, drawing the ever-interested eye of Tormund with every move that she makes. The almost primal-like want he exudes when in her presence is wildly entertaining and nothing compares to the fiendish look he gives when she’s wielding a weapon, showcasing her power, which is surely surpassed by his desire.
Last season’s Game of Thrones births the most dangerous Cersei yet. She has nothing left to balance her cruelty after losing what little she had that made her heart beat with any semblance of empathy. Her children are dead; her brother is weakened by mutilation and sympathy; and every royal council member she once worked with has fled or been burned alive. Cersei seems to have room for only one thing left in her heart: ultimate, all-encompassing power.
Adorned in a warrior’s gown of black leather, Cersei makes her season debut as an observer of a grand painting. A commissioned artist continues to craft a large map of Westeros on the floor when Jaime Lannister enters the room. In this moment, the two share an onscreen dialogue for the first time since his return to King’s Landing. Cersei has always been cold, but it seems that her heart is as black as the Knight King’s now. She contemplates world domination with her brother, who seems to be slowly losing trust in her. It’s important to note that Cersei has either murdered or driven away every one of her allies. She fantasizes about ultimate rule with no one to help her take it. Jaime tries to remind her of the bridges she’s burned, resurrecting emotion over Tommen’s suicide and shake her into a rational, empathetic place, but she’ll hear none of it.
It appears, later in the episode, that she has found a group to potentially align herself with, as the Iron Fleet sails into Blackwater Bay. She’s orchestrated a meeting with Euron Greyjoy without making Jaime privy to any of it. When Euron meets Cersei in the throne room, she’s accompanied only by her brother, The Mountain, and Qyburn, the only counsel she has left. Although she initially declines Euron’s attempt to join their forces through marriage, it’s obvious that Cersei’s intrigued. It seems as though she now has much in common with someone as rutheless as Euron and knows the value in having an armada at her command. She finds Jaime to be soft and holds Tyrion’s escape and all that resulted from it as a significant fault of his. Her resentment and dying flame are obvious as she allows Euron to romanticize vocally the killing of his own brother while urging her to try it some time. Another selling point of Euron is his claim to 1,000 ships and two hands, a cruel stab at Jaime, one Cersei allows with no consequence. There was a time when Cersei would have delivered death to a person making threats to her twin brother, but now it seems her loyalty lies only within herself. And being that as it may, she declines his proposal, but will wait with interest for him to return with the great gift he’s promised her.
We’ve seen such development out of Jaime since his kidnapping and cutting of his sword hand. From shoving little boys out of windows to valiantly protecting Brienne and Tyrion from death. He’s shown, unlike his sister, traces of empathy, rationality, and heroism. In season seven these qualities stand to build a wall between he and Cersei, for worse, or for better in his case.
Jaime’s initial entrance into season seven showcases the first real conversation he’s had with his sister since she set wildfire to the Sept of Baelor. Since then their last living son has jumped from a window and they’ve lost their allegiance with the Tyrells. Cersei’s cold with Jaime, remarking he’s been rather quiet and asking whether he’s angry with her, to which he replies earnestly that he’s not. However, when she asks him is he’s afraid of her, his reply is noteworthy and illustrates his concern for her hardening demeanor as he retorts, “Should I be?” Their discussion shifts to military strategy, and Jaime shows his value through tactical prowess and political counsel. After predicting accurately the landing place of Daenerys’ armada, he insists to Cersei that they need more allies. Winter has come and Jaime knows the reality of sending southern men into battle without proper supplies, and reminds Cersei that she’s crippled relations with former allies who could have once provided them with these resources. Her lack of care is disconcerting to him, not only her blindness to the ramifications of her actions, but her seemingly heartless stance on the death of their son Tommen.
Jaime’s skepticism over Cersei’s Queenship starts to take shape when she informs him that she’s invited Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet to their doorstep, in hopes of a potential alliance. He knows far too well the Ironborn’s propensity for crime and dishonesty and is shocked she’d consider them as partners before discussing the matter with him.
A spiritually ruthless usurper who knows nothing of honor, Euron Greyjoy, enters the fold as a legitimate player in the premiere of season seven. The last time we saw him, his sights were set on a different queen than the one he’s pursuing now. His niece, Yara, has since effectively aligned with his former objective, Daenerys Targaryen, so he’s moved on to a different aspiration, one that’s better suited for a man of his character. Albeit a brief role in “Dragonstone”, Euron’s presence provides powerful influence on the queen he so badly wants, adding a new dimension to Cersei’s reign of terror. Although his proposal is initially declined, it’s obvious he’s intrigued the queen enough with his slick mouth and coveted fleet. His lecherous energy seems to also add to the appeal of Cersei, and he wastes no time comparing his able bodied capabilities to that of her half-handed brother.
Euron, like Cersei, has no love in his heart, only lust for power and preservation. As he leaves the castle, proposal declined, he promises to return with a gift that’ll solidify her trust and win her over, mind, body, and soul. But what’s to give, when a woman seems to have no soul left? The story continues.
Season seven delivers unto its audience a large and rather specific update on Samwell Tarly’s life at the Citadel. He’s begun his maester training and quickly learns that the process isn’t the refined, scholarly one he may have envisioned. In a grotesque, yet artfully structured compilation, Sam’s day-to-day duties are outlined: the changing and cleaning of bedpans and meal pots, the washing of linens, sorting and reorganizing the vastly heavy texts of the Citadel’s library, feeding the maesters and ensuring that they have fresh water. Though laborious, Sam’s ethic remains true and he never loses sight of his focus – to research the true winter in an effort to aid Jon in the Great War to come. The information which he seeks is kept in a restricted area under lock and key, but after speaking with Archmaester Marwyn about his need for discovery, he finds that someone believes in him. This gives Sam the courage he needs to commandeer the texts which he so badly seeks, and shortly thereafter, he attains them; breaking only one or two rules in the process. There are three major notes of Sam’s debut performance. The first is a deep foreshadowing in the Archmaester’s total belief in The Wall. Although he believes Sam’s fears are real in regard to the White Walkers, he remarks that they have always been a threat, and every time winter has come, humanity, with the aid of The Wall, have always prevailed. I believe this is a critical hint of what’s to come – The Wall being destined for destruction. Second, Sam’s discovery of the map of Dragonstone, which leads to the location of a mountain of dragonglass buried beneath the castle. The third note is that we now know the location of Jorah Mormont. He terrifies Sam as he thrusts his greyscale-covered arm from his cell, demanding to know if the Dragon Queen has arrived. Lucky for Sam he’s covered with gloves, and all that’s touched him is fear. Sam replies that she’s hasn’t, but we know her arrival is imminent.
Is it believed that the Citadel possesses the cure for the greyscale Jorah’s plagued with? Will he and Sam’s unlikely positioning align Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen? It will be fascinating to see what comes of their shared location and Sam’s continued research in the episodes to come.
Sandor Clegaine, better known as “The Hound,” may prove to be one of the most pivotal characters in the battle for the living. He’s managed to survive time and time again throughout the long wars and lineage of horrific rulers. He’s developed more heart than one could have imagined in the beginning of this story and remains still, one of the most intriguing characters in all Seven Kingdoms. In the premiere, he rides with the Brothers Without Banners along a snowy road looking for shelter. They come upon the home of a family he had once mugged while with Arya, a family that had shown them both kindness, an act he repaid with thievery and abuse. He’s hesitant to take shelter there because he knows the worst has happened, a fate that he may have helped rush for the father and daughter alike. The dynamic of The Hound is profound in the way it’s managed to grow love within a man that at a time seemed so hardened. He feels true remorse for his actions and shows it by burying the bodies of the deceased family he’d once left for dead. It feels as though he’s found himself with the right people as we see an exchange of values shared between the two. Thoros helps him bury the bodies in which he feels responsible for, and shortly before that Clegaine swallows his unbridled fear and looks within the flames, only to discover a terrifying vision:
“Ice. A wall of ice. The Wall. It’s where The Wall meets the sea. There’s a castle there. There’s a mountain, looks like an arrowhead. The dead are marching past. Thousands of them.”
It appears the Lord Of Light has a plan for The Hound and has made him privy to the fire predictions of the future. Sandor Clegaine remains intriguing as ever with endearing grit that’s comical, at times loveable, and always respects to be feared.
After an entire premiere dedicated to the lives of all those around her, the conclusion of the episode lends the stage for the Mother of Dragons and her revolutionary return to Westeros. With her: Lord Varys, Tyrion Lannister (Hand of the Queen), Missandei, Greyworm, an army of Unsullied, a Dothraki horde, an armada, courtesy of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, and of course her three, ever-maturing, fire-breathing dragons. The return to her ancestral home is highly significant as it shifts the balance of power within the Seven Kingdoms in an unbridled way.
Through the personal discovery of her birthplace, the audience gets to see Dragonstone in a beautiful, new light. When Stannis Baratheon ruled it was grim, dark, and cold. The majesty of the castle was never illuminated in the way that it is through her eyes. The ancestral crests and dragon sculptures reveal themselves, and we see the intricacy in structure details and beauty of the island as if we’d never seen it before. Denaerys Targaryen takes the time to immerse herself deeply in the moment, walking carefully and vulnerably through the place she was ripped from as a child.
Denaerys takes in her new home in a poetic silence and her council ensures she has the space in which to do so. In the final scene, as she makes her way across the war room, she runs her fingers over the strategy table. Everyone waits for her to respond, expecting a delivering of sympathies or emotional moment of clarity, but the Dragon Queen has no time for games and announces simply, “Shall we begin?”
The moment Denaerys Targaryen set foot on the shore and felt the sand beneath her feet, the climate of Westeros was reborn. Up the steps, through the gate, past the throne and into the war room, the true queen has arrived.