Usually, the season premiere of Game of Thrones is a little bit slow. This sets all the pawns in place to be destroyed in the following episodes.
Sunday (7/16/17) night’s episode, ‘Dragonstone,’ falls perfectly within those parameters, at least to an extent. That being said, it’s one of the best season openers that I can remember. I longed for the return of Game of Thrones, and like Danaerys’ return to Dragonstone, this episode really drove that fact home.
The season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones opened to a weird scene. Lord Walder Frey hosted a gathering of his many offspring and relatives. At first, I thought it was a flashback to the horrible Stark murders.
Then Frey starts saying stranger and stranger things. He tells his men that they were 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 at once. I don’t think there was a better way to start off the seventh season.
From here we fade into white. The dead on the march. The Night King and his White Walkers and an army of the dead. Three dead Giants walked among them also, I feel like that’s worth noting.
In the season 7 premiere, we have three Starks in the North. Bran and Meera are greeted at the Wall by brothers of the Night’s Watch, who let them pass.
But just because Bran is crossing back into the land of the living doesn’t mean he’s about to reunite with his brother 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 away in Winterfell.
Shifting focus over to Jon and Sansa, 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, refusing to be condescended to. Every able body on Bear Island will begin training immediately, she declares. And nobody seems to want to cross the young she-bear, Lyanna, who along with Brienne is quickly becoming a favorite 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 goes over well with the 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. However, their conversation is cut short.
Littlefinger attempts to advise Sansa, in which 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.” The eldest Stark girl has gained a cold, hard, clever edge over the years. It’s quite satisfying to see it too!
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 in his ongoings 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 make our way south, over the Riverlands where Arya rides, and the Brotherhood Without Banners buries dead farmers, over forest and field to a land untouched by Winter. King’s Landing and the Red Keep.
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 completely in denial of anything even resembling an emotion. Jaime is lost for words, torn between his love for his 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, Daenerys and her army 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 extremely personal. Strategy and diplomacy are off the table in this terrible, bloody war.
But Cersei has a trick up her sleeve. She has summoned Euron Greyjoy and his Iron Fleet, and Euron has come to claim a Queen. But neither trusts the other, and Euron promises a “priceless gift” to prove his sincerity.
During Euron’s appearance before Cersei, he puts on a good show, getting in a few jabs at Jaime. 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 blunter 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.
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 what could be 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 will 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 half covered in 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 very 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 meets 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 Cersei’s 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 what they believe to be a “joke.”
Let’s ride south and west to the oldest city in Westeros, Old Town.
Poor Samwell Tarly. We’ve seen many gruesome things in this show but few so thoroughly gross and somewhat 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 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 scenes 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 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.
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 right where Jaime said they would: On Dragonstone the ancestral home of the Targaryens, and former fortress of 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, Dragonstone.
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.
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 council enter the room, and the Mother of Dragons says, “Shall we begin?”