This week on the return of Game of Thrones: Arya has zero chill, Jon and Sansa argue; Sam does the poop soup shuffle; Dany goes on a long walk.
Spoilers through Game of Thrones 7×01: “Dragonstone.” Duh.
After suffering through the long winter, and spring, and most of summer, Game of Thrones has finally returned. Yea, I know. I’m the 284746th schmuck on the internet to make that joke, but honestly, how do you even begin a recap of the most popular show on television without referencing its delay?
Thanks to HBO, Game of Thrones has always been quality television, but there’s an improved cinematic quality to the series’ seventh season. I’ve often praised shows like Outlander that take the time to let the camerawork tell part of the story, and while Thrones hasn’t been a slouch by any means, the premiere definitely takes its time in showing viewers the beauty in Dragonstone, the detail in the white walkers beyond the Wall, and the disgusting daily routine in the Citadel. Maybe it’s the absence that has made my heart fonder toward the series or maybe there is actual improvement. Either way, I’m happy Thrones is back.
Enough with the sentimental review nonsense. On with the shenanigans.
The seventh season premiere of Thrones wasn’t anything to write home about. Like most of the premieres in the series’ past, it spends a significant amount of time setting up the dominoes to payoff at a later date. Outside of the cold open with Arya and the Hound’s scenes, nothing sticks out as above and beyond, but the lull is necessary for good storytelling. Not every episode can be “Battle of the Bastards” or “Hardhome.”
Arya Stark’s List Just Got Shorter
Thrones ended last season with Arya finally calling quits on her Faceless Man training and using her powers for revenge instead of for the Many-Faced God. While she doesn’t have a degree from the House of Black and White, Arya has more than enough hours in the study of murder to get the job done. If I were a better person, I might think it was almost cruel to kill the Freys while wearing Walder’s face. I mean, he’s fathered at least 90% of the people living at the Twins so having the father kill the sons seems almost too dark for even Thrones, but…nah. I hate that family for killing my girl Catelyn, so I cheered along with everyone else when the Freys died from poisoning.
Of all the characters considered “good” on Thrones, Arya is darkest shade of grey. Sure, she’s bound by her need for revenge against those who have wronged her and the rest of the Starks, but honestly, how different is that from Cersei? Baby girl Stark’s dark descent is most apparent in her dealings with the singing Lannister soldiers she meets on her journey south. Her instinct is to kill them solely because of the colors they wear, but thankfully, she listens to them, shares their food, and comes to appreciate that not all those don the red and gold are the enemy.
It’s the first real time that Thrones has taken a moment to humanize the enemy in the Lannisters. Sure, Tyrion and Jaime are fan favorites, and there was a moment last season with the play in Braavos, but despite the humanization of the Lannister leaders, the army is still seen as a group of monsters. It’s an important moment that reminds us of Varys’ words:
“Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?”
Winterfell and Beyond the Wall
In the far north, Bran continues his spying routine on the Night King and his army as it marches south for the Wall. Somehow, Bran’s powers have multiplied since the end of last season and now we’re led to believe he’s more Three-Eyed Raven than Brandon Stark? He frightens Dolorous Edd and if the new Lord Commander had any sense, he’d have left Bran outside the Wall. I know it’s been talked about to death, but after Bran inadvertently killed the Three-Eyed Raven, Hodor, AND SUMMER because of the Night King breaking the cave’s protective magic, I kind of just want to see Bran fail. It seems callous to root against the paralyzed kid who kicked off this whole shebang, but there it is. Meera, get the heck out of dodge, immediately.
In Winterfell, the exposition continues, as it does for much of the other areas in the episode. Jon tells his lords that they must begin drilling for dragonglass because it’s the only weapon they can use against the undead army moving perilously close to civilization. He also informs them that they’ll begin training the young ones to fight, including the girls. Lyanna Mormont, patron saint of every Thrones female viewer, gives a loud “fuck yea” and I’m beginning to wonder how long it will be until Thrones kills her universally beloved character.
Jon and Sansa have a spat over how to deal with the Karstark and Umber families since they betrayed Robb and helped the Boltons rise to power. I know that the political climate is different in Westeros but one of the reasons Dany is seen as so successful is because she LISTENS to her advisors. She asks their opinion on any given situation and takes their words into consideration. Jon never asks Sansa OR Davos for an opinion regarding the traitorous houses and because of that, it leads to him getting into a shouting match with Sansa. His humiliation could have been avoided entirely if he had taken the time to brief with his advisors prior to their meeting and also if he had a sassy gay friend.
But seriously, imagine how many problems Jon would have avoided if he’d had a sassy gay friend by his side?
Jon and Sansa discuss their two-front war and Sansa gently reminds him that Cersei won’t take his new rule lightly. Sansa has watched Cersei claw her way out of every bad situation she’s been in and for that, of course, Sansa admires her. Jon kind of heeds his sister’s (cousin’s?) advice but mostly he’s all, “Yea yea that’s great. My problem is more important because I’ve seen it and I’ve never seen Cersei sooooo…” Jon has been shown to be a great leader but his biggest problem is not listening to the issues of those around him. He has an “I’m right, you’re wrong, I’m the leader” mentality that’s already gotten him killed once before. Sansa has learned how to play the political game, so he’d do well to at least listen to what she has to say. Also: Cersei is alive, Ned and Robb Stark are dead. I’m just sayin’.
Also, I’ll fight anyone who talks badly about my girl, Sansa.
But judging by her interaction with Littlefinger, homegirl don’t need my help.
“No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”
All Out Of Children: The Cersei Lannister Story
Cersei Lannister has one goal: Survival. With Tommen committing suicide, Cersei has been reborn as a new ruler, a more callous leader. Before, she played the game to keep her children alive. She dealt with Robert and his rage, she waged war across the seven kingdoms, she made alliances with families she hates, all under the assumption that these actions would keep her children, her reason for being, alive. And every single sacrifice she made on their behalf failed. If her political dealings couldn’t protect her children, why should she continue to do so as the Queen of Westeros?
Anyone who looks at Cersei and her motives would judge her to be insane. Even Jaime can see how unhinged she’s become, so focused on the enemies that surround them at every turn that she can’t see a way out. But I’d argue that now is when she is at her most dangerous. Cersei Lannister has nothing else to lose. Maggy the Frog’s prophecy has come to light and deep down she knows she won’t be long for this world. Which is why she cares only for her legacy. The Lannisters are a proud family that won’t go down without the greatest of fights and it’ll be Cersei who leads the charge. In her mind, she’ll be the one they remember. It’s HER dynasty now. Much like Aerys, Cersei has become the Mad Queen and she’ll stop at nothing to rule.
And it’s that mentality that has led her to entertain a partnership with the equally unhinged Euron Greyjoy.
Rebirth of the Hound
Arya and the Hound were one of the best pairings in Thrones history. Arya brought a bit of morality to the disgraced warrior and he taught her how to survive. The funny thing about them now is that, Arya is the murderer, keen on revenge, and the Hound is the one eying his morality. During his travels with the youngest Stark girl, the Hound robbed a farmer and his young daughter so that he and Arya could survive. Years later, now traveling with Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the rest of the Brotherhood without Banners, the Hound meets that family again, only to witness what his actions have wrought.
Since his interactions last season with Brother Ray and his pacifist followers, Sandor is a changed man. He’s still rough around the edges, but he travels with the Brotherhood because he seems to give a shit. He wants to make Brother Ray’s sacrifice worth it. Because of this, he does the only thing he can to say he’s sorry to the farmer and his little girl: he buries them and says a few nice words over their bodies.
In the abandoned cabin, Sandor questions the Red God and why he would choose someone like Beric over better men who have died and not been brought back. It’s a valid question and one that no one can really answer for the time being. Thoros asks Sandor what he sees in the flames and I think, much like Melisandre, Thoros is a conduit through which the Lord of Light does his bidding. Melisandre clearly had a gift, but she survived because of her tricks and folly to make everyone believe she was more. Thoros has no such pomp and circumstance about his demeanor. He knows the Lord of Light is fickle and that one day he might not grant him the gift to revive his friend. But somehow in this moment he knows that Sandor, a man so terrified of fire he left his post in King’s Landing, will see something important in the flames.
Okay, the reality of the moment is a bit different. Sandor puts his fears aside and sees a genuine 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.”
The best inference from this is that they’ll head to Eastwatch-by-the-sea. Conveniently enough, it’s also the castle that Jon sent Tormund to with the rest of the wildlings. Which, judging by the trailers, is where Jon also goes.
As for the mountain that looks like an arrowhead:
(In all honesty, I am not sure that fight will ever take place. I’m not sure it needs to. With Sandor overcoming his fear of fire, shedding his past, it would be a big step back for his character if he agreed to duel his undead brother.)
Sam Tarly Does The Poop Soup Shuffle
Sam has one of the most significant character arcs in all of Thrones. With his experience beyond the Wall, in the Night’s Watch, and now at the Citadel, he has the potential to offer the heroes of this narrative a wealth of information that could potentially save all of their lives and keep Westeros from becoming the set of the next Walking Dead spinoff. Instead of focusing on the potential of for these developments and being engaged as Sam conversed with Maester Marwyn, the only person to believe him about the impending Winter, I could only see the slop that Sam poured into troughs of feces. I could only hear his gagging as it matched my own during those scenes. Thrones is a series that lacks levity and I know the montage of the poop soup routine was meant to show Sam’s grueling schedule and also infer the passage of time, but…why? Why taint every one of Sam’s scenes, some of which should be so important, with memories that are so disgusting?
Related: I find it incredibly hard to believe that Sam simply wrote off Stannis’ mention of dragonglass, or obsidian, at Dragonstone as unimportant. Jon would brush off a comment like that as nonsense because that dude can’t do anything but be noble and have a gorgeous head of hair, but not Sam. He’s meticulous.
Stannis Had Demon Sex On That Table
Dany arrives at Dragonstone and it’s a beautiful moment for her character. She’s lost two husbands, a child, several friends, her sanity at times, and Jorah Mormont to get to Westeros and now she’s finally arrived.
And she arrives to an empty castle.
I’m not saying that Thrones doesn’t have issues with consistency. A story of this scale is bound to lose track of things or Gendrys here and there. However, Dragonstone being empty seems like a major oversight. With its proximity to King’s Landing, no ruler in their right mind would leave such a castle unattended. In the books, Loras Tyrell lays siege to the keep and even though he’s thwarted a bit by an obstinate castellan, he succeeds in his attack. Cersei would know the importance of the ancestral home of the Targaryens and given recent history, and that it was home to the “pretend king” Stannis, she would have been interested in what he hid there as well. The fact that Dany strides through the castle without even a hint that at least squatters or a 400 year old Melisandre had taken up residency is concerning. Sure, it makes for a less beautiful ending if Dany has to step over the same mess Sam spent the entire episode cleaning up, but Thrones has prided itself on its realism and that moment just didn’t fit into the narrative.
That being said, I still get chills when I hear Dany’s theme and I want so badly for her and Sansa to team up and crush everyone else in the realm.
Ed Sheeran was fine. You people with your pitchforks need to get some more chill.
Do we still think Bran has a mark on him and will be the reason the white walkers bring down the Wall? My vote is yes and he’ll reason away that it’s already happened or it needed to happen for the war to finally end.
Related to Sam thinking Stannis’ words about Dragonstone were unimportant: WHY DIDN’T DAVOS SAY ANYTHING TO JON ABOUT DRAGONSTONE? Surely as the hand to Stannis’ King, Davos would have known that Stannis ordered the mines to be opened. He would know that the house sat on top of a cache of weaponry that could defeat the invaders. Why are all these characters acting stupid for the sake of the story tension?
Jorah managed to get to Westeros and get admitted into the Citadel’s leper colony pretty quickly. I’d imagine the waitlist for something so…specialized would be long.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO at 9pm EST.