Arya’s revenge spree kicks into high gear, the first cracks appear in an old alliance just as a dangerous new one is forged, and Sam makes a lot of new discoveries, not all of them to his liking. Game of Thrones‘ seventh season kicks off with its foot squarely on the gas and doesn’t let up the entire episode. Find out what what flying in this whirlwind of action right after the break. (and yes, the spoiler warning is in full effect)
We get a rare pre-credit scene to start the season as the recently deceased Walder Frey holds court over a dining hall full of Freys. Is this a flashback to his murder? Did the Red Witch make a stop here and bring back the lecherous old bastard? Nah, it’s just Arya, getting her Frey face on. Turns out, she’s not done with the family that murdered her own, a fact that becomes more obvious as “Walder” goes from urging his family to toast with the finest Arbor Gold (a proper wine for proper heroes) to sardonically reminding them they heroically killed a pregnant woman, a mother of five, and a houseful of invited guests. You should have killed all the Starks, she admonishes them as they choke on their own blood. Tell the world “Winter came for House Frey” she instructs the Walder’s teenage widow.
Later on, as she rides through the Riverlands, she happens upon a group of singing Lannisters. We discover, among other things, that Arya is heading south, towards Kings Landing, not North for that hoped for Stark reunion. We also discover that Ed Sheeran is a Lannister, which is probably one of the reasons Arya didn’t slaughter them on sight. I had thought Arya might take the Lady Stoneheart role her mother took in the books, but the interplay between her and the Lannister soldiers seems to belie that. She seems genuinely moved by their kindness and their longing to be home instead of fighting some other man’s war. It will be interesting to see if she kills them all in their sleep, or if her revenge will be tempered and limited to those who truly deserve it.
Elsewhere, somewhere between the Riverlands and the Twins, the Brothers without Banners are marching through the snow with their newest recruit, the grouchy old bear… er Hound. They stop at an old homestead, belong to the farmer and his child that the Hound robbed and Arya saved way back in season four. They’re dead, of course. The Hound didn’t kill them, but he bears the guilt of their demise all the same. Rory McCann’s Sandor continues to be an excellent, rich character, filled with contradictions; and his interplay with Thoros and Beric Dondarrion here is priceless. “If there was divine intervention, you’d be dead, instead of her,” he grumbles at the often-revived Beric. And you can hear what he’s really saying… if there was divine intervention I’d be dead…
Later, the LoL gives the Hound a vision in the flames, an army of the dead overrunning a castle by the Wall and the Sea… Looks like the Brotherhood have a destination, if not a purpose.
Winterfell and Further North
The episode proper begins with the wasteland beyond the Wall, where the army of the dead marches through the frozen mists. By the way… yes, they have giants. We move to Bran in prophesy mode, and you have to wonder… is he seeing this now or is this a vision of the future? We’re going to have to find out later, as the clanking of gates brings Dolorous Ed and the remaining Night’s Watch to Bran and Meera’s side. The reluctant Lord Commander has Bran and Meera brought through the Wall and who knows what impact that will have on the magic that protects it.
In Winterfell proper, Jon is embracing his new title of King of the North and instructing his Banner-men on how to prepare for the undead scourge. He asks the Free Folk to man Eastwatch, the castle most-likely to be overrun by the dead, and Tormund Giantsbane enthusiastically accepts.
And then things take a turn, because the next castles in line are owned by Karstarks and Umbers, the two houses that betrayed the Starks to the Ramseys. Jon doesn’t believe the sins of the fathers should be fall upon the shoulders of the sons (and besides, we need all the people we can get). Sansa thinks he’s being foolish, and those that betray should be punished. Jon is king, though, and gets his way, but the only one who seems happy about it is Baelish, who wastes no time trying to squeeze his little fingers into any cracks he could find.
The cousins talk it out later, but some damage is already done (not at all helped by Sansa’s hot-tempered comparison of Jon to Joffrey). And the problem is, they’re both right. Jon’s mercy is warranted, they need the Karstarks and Umbers. But Westeros has proven time and time again that showing mercy does not always reap rewards, and Sansa’s plea, that Jon has to be smarter than both Ned and Rob, rings true. They don’t have time before the next big decision has to be made. Cersei has summoned Jon to bend the knee or be considered a traitor. Jon wants to focus on the dead and stay in the north; Sansa reminds him that Cersei won’t stop until she destroys him.
They needn’t worry for the immediate future, for at that moment Jaime and Cersei are discussing their allies (or lack thereof) in the middle of a giant map of Westeros. In an episode filled with gorgeous scenery and great camera shots, this was probably the best, as we see a complete display of how alone the queen is. The scene between the sibling-lovers makes me think even more that Jaime is not going to be the Valonqar that ends Cersei’s life… he has seen her at her worst, heard her blame Tommen for betraying her in death, and knows she killed a church full of people, including Lannisters, to get her revenge… and he’s still there.
And now, apparently is Euron, driving the coolest boat this side of the Nautilus. The squids come to Kings Landing, the greatest armada Westeros has ever known (at least according to the Game of Thrones latest charismatic psychopath). I really love Cersei playing coy here, telling Euron she won’t accept an alliance because he can’t be trusted, knowing it will drive him to take action to support his claim. I wonder what gift Euron is going to bring (a dragon perhaps), and I wonder if Cersei, who’s alliances so often end badly (see Sparrow, High) really knows what she’s getting out of the deal?
Out in Oldtown, Sam is learning that life as a Maester ain’t all book reading and chain-wearing. There’s chamber pots to empty, cooking pots to scrub, and sick people to tend, all served up in a brief, sickening montage that may keep me from ever enjoying beef stew again (why’d they have to make the pots and contents look so similar). There’s also organs to weigh and arch-maesters to convince, which Sam unfortunately is unable to do, not because they old guy doesn’t believe him (he does), but because he doesn’t believe the Wall will fail. Jim Broadbent does an excellent job here, as the guy who has seen and heard it all, and his monologue to Sam is a great metaphor for all those folks who think the old institutions will stand.
Later, after Sam discovers there’s a whole mine of White Walker killing dragon glass underneath Dragonstone, he makes another discovery as a grey scale infected hand reaches from a cell and a desperate voice asks, “Did the Dragon Queen arrive yet?” Sam doesn’t know who this is, but we do, as we see the silhouette of an anguished Jorah Mormont. I’m guessing this means his search for the cure hasn’t gone so well, and his tone – which seemed tinged with lunacy – makes me wonder if his love for our favorite dragon mama might have been overtaken by his disease.
And finally we get to the episode’s namesake, as Dany approaches the ancestral Targaryen home Dragonstone. It’s a fabulous sequence, as Dany lands on the beach, emotionally placing her hand on the wet sand to swelling music. She enters the abandoned castle, contemptuously pulls down a moth-eaten Baratheon banner, and gazes upon the stone throne carved into the rock. Even the music stops, as she and Tyrion enter the war room we last saw in season four, looking in silent amazement at the bas-relief dragons carved into the wall and the maps and discarded pieces strewn across the table, and finally she turns to her council and says, “Shall we begin?”