Game of Thrones S7E1: Dragonstone
Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Rory McCann, Gwendoline Christie
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Welcome back, GoT! Please don’t kill Arya.
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Season six of Game of Thrones was all about catharsis. After a slow start, a bunch of things that had been a long (loooong) time coming all occurred. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) finally got his well-deserved comeuppance at the hands of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), via the medium of fists and hungry hounds. Sansa’s sly smile as she walked away from a screaming, partially ingested Ramsay was a darkly triumphant season highlight. The alliance between Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) bore fruit in the form of a fleet of ships, delivered by dickless wonder, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Oh and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) turned an entire oppressive religion into a pretty plume of green flame, which was rather wonderful in a ruthless, homicidal sort of way.
Put simply, Season seven has a lot to live up to – so how does the first episode shape up? Let’s have a look at what happens, first.
We open with one of the strongest cold opens imaginable. Walder Frey (David Bradley) is serving an opulent feast for all his dirtbag relatives, most of whom played an integral part in that fan-shocking massacre, The Red Wedding. “But wait,” you – the confused viewer – say, “didn’t that bloke die in the season six finale?” Indeed he did, and after Walder proposes a toast – and everyone drinks – it soon becomes clear that Walder is in fact Arya (Maisie Williams) in disguise and the wine they just quaffed is poison. All the guilty die choking and coughing blood, and Arya informs the blameless survivors that “the North never forgets,” and to tell them that “winter came for house Frey”.
Opening titles and high fives or fist bumps all around.
The next thing we see is the army of the dead, led by the Night King (Richard Brake), heading closer to the realm of man. And what’s that, skeletal-faced zombie giants? It’s like a snowy Slayer album cover and it’s amazing. We move from this vision to see Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arriving at The Wall. He informs those present that the White Walkers are on their way. Bran’s cheery like that. Great fun at parties.
Elsewhere Jon is holding a big old staff meeting. He needs more dragonglass to take on the army of the dead, and starts delegating jobs and positions for the coming battles. Also feminism has hit the seven kingdoms, and man and woman alike will be drafted. Sansa speaks up one time too many and we can see the tension between the siblings. Afterwards Sansa affirms her love for her brother, but tells him he needs to be “smarter than Ned or Robb”. They were both good men, who made terrible decisions and were killed for it. Sansa’s not wrong, being righteous and honourable makes little sense unless tempered with pragmatism. Jon, you’d do well to listen to your sister. You certainly wouldn’t want her as your enemy…
Meanwhile at King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) stand atop a map of Westeros and lament their position. They’re surrounded by enemies on all sides and Cersei has plans to form a new alliance. Cut to: exterior and a fleet of Iron Island ships arrive. It’s Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who addresses Cersei as she sits on the Iron Throne. Euron is a cheeky bugger and manages to throw shade at Jaime, and flirt outrageously with Cersei. Cersei coldly turns down his marriage proposal, but Euron is undaunted. He will return, he claims, with a priceless gift, but what gift? Tyrion? A fleet of ships? A PS4 Pro? It remains to be seen. What we do know, however, is that Cersei is wasting no time grieving for her children. “We’re the only Lannisters left,” she tells Jaime, amending: “the only ones who count.”
Meanwhile Samwell Tarley (John Bradley-West) is finding life in Oldtown’s Citadel library is not quite as bookish as he’d like. In fact, between serving food, cleaning out bedpans and weighing internal organs, he’s rather disillusioned. He asks the Archmaester (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent) when he can read the restricted texts and help save the world, but the Archmaester just smiles and tells him to calm his tits. Humanity has survived chaos before, the Archmaester opines, and it will do so again. The maesters must record everything and keep history alive, basically like a high fantasy Wikipedia. Sam agrees but sneaks some of the restricted books out, reading the GoT FAQ he finds out there is more dragonglass in Dragonstone, which – you know – he probably could have guessed. The clue’s in the name, Sam, have a word with yourself.
Meanwhile Arya runs across an Ed Sheeran in the wild (but doesn’t kill him, what the hell, GoT?!) and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) appears to be on a path to redemption. Both plot strands are fine, but really are just killing time for the episode’s final moments.
In a sequence that is evocative as it is free of dialogue, Daenerys arrives at Dragonstone. She smiles and her dragons fly around the severe-looking castle. Danys touches the ground, walks through the gates, enters the throne room and finally the room where another familiar-looking map sits, gathering dust. Tyrion stands by her side, her other followers outside the room, and finally she speaks, saying: “Shall we begin?”
Dragonstone is a strong episode and perfect for a season return, especially with the cold open and ending. It’s probably not an episode to revisit time and time again, but it economically and effectively reminds us of all the main players, reinforces the conflicts and the stakes, and sketches out an idea of this season’s arc.
It’s an exciting time to be a Game of Thrones fan, with the story reaching its conclusion next season, so we’re expecting big, game-changing, seismic events to occur and we’ll be here to talk about them. Welcome back, GoT! Please don’t kill Arya.