Welcome, Watchers one and all, to a new season of Game of Thrones! Buckle up and settle in, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride as we encounter mass murder, dueling duos, and a group of characters in search of purpose, as we dive into the season 7 premiere, “Dragonstone.”
Spoiler Note: This is our book reader’s recap, intended for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section may contain spoilers from the novels, whether or not that material has appeared on the show yet. Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you have not read the books yet, we encourage you to check out our non-book-reader recap, by Oz of Thrones!
Just ahead of the premiere, HBO kicked off the festivities by pimping their latest contribution to the glossy sleaze genre, rolling out the trailer for The Deuce. If you missed it, it’s like Vinyl but with porn and James Franco.
Heading into season seven as we are, the Game of Thrones recap video before the new episode is incredibly long, taking us all the way back to season one and shocking me with feels. Yes, even Viserys can inspire those, because this is Harry Lloyd and his refined pout we’re talking about. And then finally, after an amount of foreplay that Tormund would approve of, we finally get to the main event- the season 7 premiere, “Dragonstone.”
Game of Thrones throws us all for a loop with a cold open revealing that the first person we see in season 7 is none other than the recently throat-slashed Walder Frey (guest star David Bradley). Instead of rotting on the floor, he’s living, breathing and monologueing to his gathered kin about their deplorable actions toward the Starks.
It’s Arya, of course, wearing old Walder like a skin suit and throwing out sly lines about winter having come. She leads the assembled Freys in a poisoned toast, dispatching all the men of the house in one fell swoop. “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.”
Despite the gruesome mass killing, the fact that Arya chose to avoid involving the innocent women of the house is a positive sign for the character’s future. Arya has gone down such a dark road since season one, to the point where many fans question whether the girl can ever come back from her life as a killer and be involved with her family in a functional, healthy way. Arya may always be a misfit, but killing is a valuable skill in Westeros, and her assassin’s gifts can be used for her family’s sake. She’s proven she knows how to draw a line and that’s important.
Post-credits we’re treated to one of Bran’s special pants-wetting-inducing visions, with the army of the dead on the move including GIANTS. FUCKING UNDEAD GIANTS. Just mull over that for a minute. And then put it out of your mind because *shudder.*
In real time, Bran and Meera have arrived at the Wall, at long last, to a suspicious welcome from the Night’s Watch. Dolorous Edd, your year just got worse because you’ve got a new Stark to deal with, just when you thought you’d gotten rid of the last one. Bran creeps out the Watch by displaying his omniscience, knowing that Edd was at Hardhome and the Fist of the First Men. But whatever it is, it works- the duo are let through the Wall.
And don’t think I didn’t notice that unnecessary mention of Howland Reed, D&D. A low-grade Easter egg for us nerds, or are they going somewhere with this? The Tower of Joy cameo, now this…just give us the crannogman already!
At Winterfell, Jon Snow learns that kingin’ is hard, guys! He and Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) introduce feminism to the North (because wights will kill you regardless of your gender) by pushing for all children 10 and up to be readied for fighting, including girls. In other business, Tormund and the wildlings are assigned to Eastwatch, the Night’s Watch castle by the sea, and the fallout from the Battle of the Bastards is handled.
Sansa and Jon face off over the matter of House Karstark and House Umber. Both houses lost their leader in the battle, after betraying the Starks. Jon opts for forgiveness and allowing the houses to keep their lands, while Sansa points out that there are no repercussions for wayward houses if they can be disloyal without consequence.
Really, they’re both right. Jon ultimately stands by his decision, basing it on his years of experience in the Night’s Watch and what he learned from his father Ned. (Maybe not father by blood, but father in every way that counts, especially in this episode when Ned’s words are so significant.) But Sansa provides an astute counterbalance, learned through her own bitter years studying with Cersei and Littlefinger.
As the siblings argue about the handling of the tricky subject after the meeting, a raven arrives. Cersei is demanding Jon bend the knee. The new King in the North isn’t worried, as the Lannisters are a southern army, and it’s winter, but Sansa knows Cersei. She will not be deterred.
That damn wig on Sansa, though. It’s Margaery season 2 wig levels of bad.
Down in King’s Landing, the Lannister twins confront the tension in their relationship, but there’s no time for relationship problems when they’re surrounded by enemies on every side. Cersei’s new map will help them plot out their war but what they really need are allies and the queen of the Seven (okay, three) Kingdoms already has a plan for that.
It’s a rad map though. Dig the detail- another Tower of Joy reference!
As for the Crown’s allies, it does make sense that since Daenerys has Theon and Yara on her team, their uncle Euron has decided to join up with Team C. The mad king of the Iron Islands arrives in King’s Landing with his new fleet of ships- and a marriage proposal for Cersei. The queen is amused and irked, and it seems like here is one person whom she may not be able to manipulate so easily.
It’s also refreshing to see Jaime Lannister butting heads with someone besides his sister-wife, as scenes between Jaime and Cersei have a tendency to stagnate and fall into exposition and predictability. Euron knocks Jaime off-kilter with his calculated disrespect and advances toward Cersei, and promises to return with a gift worthy of the queen.
Poor Sam- imagine if you spent countless years dreaming about getting into Yale, and you finally get there- but have to spend all your time cleaning the toilets in frat houses. And your professors don’t believe you witnessed an undead army and won’t let you use the Restricted Section of the dream library.
Samwell Tarly is slogging through his days at the Citadel (shown in a brilliant and hilarious feat of editing), shelving books in the infinite library and cleaning chamber pots. He is receiving some actual education from a philosophical archmaester (Jim Broadbent) who is more receptive than most about Sam’s dire warnings, but ultimately feels the Wall is safe.
“We are this world’s memory,” he tells Sam, and reminds him of the Long Night that came before. The Wall has always stood, and so in their minds, it will continue to do so. It’s a mistake that people often make, believing that things will stay the same forever, never considering that previous issues may have weakened the defenses, heightened the issue, and now it will only take one straw to break the camel’s back.
Back at Winterfell, Sansa watches Brienne and Tormund interact below with comical awkwardness (with the wildling envying Pod and his instructional ass-beating). Littlefinger takes the opportunity to creep up on his former protege. She’s not interested in what he has to offer, however, and reminds him that she’s home now. He’s lost control of her and he doesn’t like it one bit, that’s obvious.
Somehow, I doubt the Lord o’ the Lurk will be so easily deterred from his pet project.
For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm…
After dispatching a sizable chunk of House Frey, Arya hits the road again, heading south and running into a band of friendly Lannister soldiers. Accepting their food and hospitality, she’s lulled into conversing with soldiers she would’ve loathed on sight before. With the men speaking of home and family, and how “girls take care of their papas,” men in lion-sigiled armor become human.
Relaxing among them, Arya announces her intention to kill the Queen. The soldiers stare…..and break into laughter. Arya joins them. These men are safe from her, but Cersei is a whole other issue.
Last seen pondering their offer in season 6, Sandor Clegane has accepted the offer of the Brotherhood without Banners and is traveling north with the rebel band. They come across the farmhouse where Arya and the Hound stayed in season 4, episode 3. Now they find the farmer and his young daughter dead, likely at their own hand as hunger set in.
Having survived his close brush with death in season 4, and seen a community of kind souls be slaughtered in season 6, the Hound has questions- mainly, “Why?” Though as hilariously brusque as always, he’s a more contemplative Sandor Clegane now questioning his purpose in life: why he was chosen to survive, not any of the good or extraordinary men he’s seen in his life. Beric Dondarrion has no answers, despite his own resurrections. Thoros of Myr encourages Sandor to look into the flames, and shocks us all when the Hound truly sees a vision in the fire.
He sees The Wall, where it meets the sea (Eastwatch, where Tormund was just sent), and notes that he sees a mountain that looks like an arrowhead, with thousands of the dead are marching past.
That night, as all the men sleep, Clegane digs a grave for the farmer and his small daughter, the ones he robbed in another life. Finding him at his work, Thoros joins him in burying the pair. The Hound admits he regrets their deaths, and that they “deserved better, both of you.”
With his burgeoning sense of purpose, his abilities and his lifelong connection to fire, the Hound suddenly seems like a much stronger candidate for the role of Warrior of Light.
Having acquired the sought-after books from the restricted area, Sam brings them home to Gilly. (I assume she’s staying somewhere not-in-the-Citadel… and the finances haven’t really been explained yet either.) The couple dig into the old tomes, including Legends of the Long Night, and discover that the Targaryens used dragonglass ornamentally on their weapons, not realizing its abilities. Luckily they did note the existence of dragonglass caves beneath their seat, the island castle Dragonstone.
And yes, D&D, we see the catspaw’s blade in the book, the Valyrian steel dagger held by the season one assassin when he attacked Bran. Call this one Chehkov’s Subconscious Reminder.
Back to his literally-shitwork gig at the Citadel, Sam is handling lunch lady duties for solitary confinement cells when he gets the bejeepers scared out of him: one patient reaches from the cell to grab at Sam. The painfully scaled arm is reminiscent of something, but we don’t have to wonder for long because the unmistakable voice of Iain Glen issues forth!
“Has she come yet…the Dragon Queen, Daenerys Stormborn?”
Sam’s at a loss. But at least we know that Jorah made it to a place with decent medical care and three squares a day.
After decades in exile, the Dragon Queen has indeed come home.
Daenerys and her top supporters come ashore by Dragonstone, as her dragons joyfully explore the air above it. Dany is overcome with emotion, feeling the sands of her homeland and facing the dragon gates of her birthplace. Ascending to the castle, she finds a lingering banner with Stannis Baratheon’s flaming heart sigil- and tears it down. She faces the dragonthrone, and just breathes, taking it all in for a moment, before moving ahead into the war room with the Painted Table. There she says her first words since coming home:
“Shall we begin?”
Oldtown now appears in the opening credits and it’s a gorgeous addition, with the Hightower and the Citadel’s astrolabe-containing library.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: It feels as though we’re finally getting a real sense of Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk). We saw a glimpse of the character’s scariness in his first appearance last season, but then at the Kingsmoot, he was playing to the crowd. I think he’s playing to Cersei to a degree, but we’re seeing much more of the character’s ruthlessness and cunning come into play. He’s a wild card, and that’s what’s needed in the Lannister mix.
I don’t have a problem with Ed Sheeran having a cameo but it was a relief to see that the scene wasn’t dominated by him. And finding a way to slip in Symon Silver Tongue’s song about Tyrion and Shae from A Storm of Swords was a nice touch. Bonus, nice Dragonpit mentions!
Fucking WIGHT GIANTS. Honestly though. If the ice spiders show up, I’m running all the way to Yi Ti.
I think there’s going to be a lot of discourse about Sansa challenging Jon’s decision, and I can feel myself yawning in advance. She was raised to be an intelligent lady, and her mother (the assertive wife of a great lord, with political opinions) was her role model. Staying silent was Sansa’s only option for too long, as a matter of survival. She’s stronger within the walls of Winterfell- and shouldn’t be expected to shut up. She’s used to treating Jon as a brother and equal rather than as a king. And while it may inconvenience him sometimes, it’s a good thing to have an adviser who challenges you to examine your decisions. They’ll get used to the adjustment in their relationship in due time, and things will be less rocky, I believe.
That’s where I stand after the season 7 premiere. What did you all think?