Game of Thrones S7E1 “Dragonstone”
When news broke after season six that the final two seasons would only have thirteen episodes combined, I was slightly apprehensive that we’d be sprinting to a conclusion that didn’t need to be sprinted to. With “Dragonstone” now in the books, we’re down to twelve episodes, but my worries have lessened. Big things are happening yes, with the Seven Kingdoms basically being a free for all, and the white walkers continuing to get ever so closer to the wall, but I don’t get the sense we’re rushing into things anymore. “Dragonstone” made me feel like we’ve actually got a standard ten episode season ahead of us. Excitement isn’t a word we get to use a lot for season premieres and the season seven premiere has the added burden of providing denouement for last season (As great as “The Winds of Winter” was, there was no aftermath taken care of in it). Despite that, “Dragonstone” is a pretty great episode of Game of Thrones and definitely one of the better premieres we’ve seen. In “Dragonstone”, Arya takes care of unfinished business, Sandor Clegane journeys northward with the Brotherhood and runs into a dark memory, Jon begins preparing the north’s defense against the white walkers, Cersei entertains a much needed alliance, Sam breaks the rules and learns something very important, and Dany returns to her ancestral home of Dragonstone. With all of that to talk about, let’s jump right in.
We’ll start things off at the Twins, where we got an awesome cold open. Walder Frey has called every relevant member of House Frey to the Twins for a celebration! It’s only been a week or so since the last feast, that large one with the Lannisters, so it seems out of character for a biter man like Walder to suddenly become a festive guy. If you didn’t pick up that something was wrong at that moment, you probably did as Walder continues his speech and starts listing off the facts of the Red Wedding in a negative light. The Red Wedding was Walder’s greatest accomplishment, why would he be hating on it? Well as you probably figured out, this isn’t Walder Frey. After all of the Frey’s have drank their wine, Walder pulls off his face and we see that it’s Arya. Walder Frey was one of many members of House Frey so while killing him last season was nice, Arya wants complete revenge and she gets it by poisoning the wine of every relevant member of House Frey. Arya turns to Walder’s new widow (who she forbid to drink the wine) and tells her that when she tells people what happened here, her explanation should be that the north remembers and that winter came for House Frey. Arya walks out of the great hall with a smile on her face, having just sent House Frey into irrelevance. Good stuff from our new magical assassin.
As awesome as that cold open was, it might not even be Arya’s best scene of the episode. After her mass assassination is complete, Arya hits the road, going in some indeterminable direction. She passes by a group of Lannister soldiers and for probably the first time in Game of Thrones history, a group of soldiers does not want to rape a girl they run into. Quite the opposite is true, the soldiers actually offer to share Arya some of their lunch. Arya warily sits down and checks out where there weapons are, just in case she wants to kill these guys, they are Lannister soldiers after all. Arya actually gets back in touch with her humanity here though. As she eats lunch and hears the soldiers’ stories, she realizes these are genuinely good people who are just following orders. They ask her where she’s going, and it’s here we get confirmation of Arya’s direction. For all you Jon and Arya reunion fans (totally me), you’ll be disappointed to find out she’s not going to Winterfell first. She’s going south to King’s Landing to kill Cersei. While I have no doubt Arya is completely serious, the soldiers take it as dark humor and they all burst out laughing. Killing Cersei is definitely a tall task, one you would laugh at most people for if they told you that it’s a goal of theirs. Arya as we know isn’t most people though. I’m pretty sure Cersei will die this season, but will Arya get to kill her? She’s got as good a shot as anyone else.
We’ll check in with Sandor next. Sandor along with the Brotherhood Without Banners are riding through the snowy landscape of the Riverlands when they stumble upon an abandoned home. Beric Dondarrion sees it as a great place to spend the night but Sandor is hesitant to agree. You see, this isn’t the first time that Sandor has been here. Back in season four, this was the home of a farmer and his daughter. Sandor robbed them when he was still travelling with Arya and he basically left them for dead. When Beric gets his way and they take shelter in the hut, Sandor comes face to face with his sinful past because the skeletons of the farmer and his daughter are sitting in the corner of the home. Beric figures that they were in a hopeless situation so the farmer mercy killed the both of them. Right you are Beric, if only you knew who put those two in that hopeless situation.
After settling in, Sandor wonders what the Lord of Light sees in Beric to bring him back to life so many times. He doesn’t believe in divine justice so it has to be something. Beric doesn’t know either but Thoros offers an opportunity to find out something. Thoros calls Sandor over to the fire and tells him to look into it. The skeptic Sandor actually looks into the flames and is shocked when he actually sees a clear vision. Sandor sees the night’s watch castle Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and past that he sees a mountain with thousands of undead marching by it. Sandor never will be a religious fanatic but even he has to admit that there is something legitimate about the Lord of Light and if the vision he saw is true, it gives him all the purpose that he needs. He may have been mostly responsible for the death of the farmer and his daughter, but if he marches north to the fight the vision that he saw, he can still redeem himself.
Redeeming himself isn’t going to do anything for the farmer and the daughter though and Sandor is fully aware of that. Struck by guilt, Sandor sneaks out of the hut at night and decides to give them a proper burial. The sound of the digging wakes up Thoros and he heads outside to see who’s out there. Thoros quickly figures out that Sandor did know these people and realizes that this is a big deal for Sandor, so he decides to help him finish the grave. Sandor tries to deliver a religious eulogy but he doesn’t actually remember the words, so he does something just as good. Sandor talks from the heart and apologizes to the both of them for being dead and says that they deserved better. He can never bring them back, but that’s a big step for Sandor. Before Brother Ray found him, Sandor had been treating people that way all his life, and he would never think twice about it. He’s a better person now and he showed plenty of remorse here. Sandor dominated the episode and with the way he’s changed as a character, his arc is going to be more than just bringing him back because he’s such a popular character. Sandor’s redemption arc might be one of the best one’s the show will have done by the time it’s all said and done.
Next up is Sam, who’s learning that being an apprentice at the citadel isn’t as flashy as he thought it would be. He spends most of his days putting away books, serving meals, and emptying bedpans (and cleaning them). It’s a rare use of montage in the show, but this might be the best one that they have done. It gets the point across very well that Sam isn’t doing what he came here to do and it provided wonderful comedic relief. When the montage ends, Sam finds himself helping the archmaester perform an autopsy. Sam reminds the archmaester that he came here to learn about the white walkers and asks if he can gain access into the restricted section of the library. The archmaester declines his request but he is a believer in Sam’s story which is saying a lot because every other maester thinks Sam is making it up. Unfortunately for Sam, the archmaester does not think that the white walkers present an end of the world scenario so he sees no reason to allow Sam access to the maesters only section of the library. If only the archmaester knew how wrong he is.
After asking didn’t work, Sam decides he has to take manners into his own hands. At night, Sam steals the keys off a maester and sneaks into the restricted section of the library, taking a few books with him to read when he gets home. Sam gets to reading the books the next day and discovers a very critical piece of information. One of the books makes mention of the fact that there’s a huge stash of dragonglass on Dragonstone. Stannis Baratheon made a comment to Sam about the very same thing in season five but he either forgot about it or didn’t take it seriously, but now he’s got confirmation. Sam immediately writes to Jon to let him know about this important discovery.
Speaking of Jon, we’ll talk about him next. As expected, Jon’s most urgent issue now that he is King in the North is preparing the North for the white walker invasion. Jon has called in all of the northern lords to discuss his plan of action. Of the utmost importance is finding dragonglass so Jon orders that everyone get to work looking and mining for it. He also knocks down traditional gender roles and orders that northern girls begin training in combat, saying that they’ll never beat the walkers if only half of the north is fighting. Jon asks Tormund to man Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with the free folk and he gladly accepts, pointing out the sheer irony of the free folk basically being the night’s watch. The first castles the walkers would hit if they breach the wall are Last Hearth and Karhold, and that currently presents a problem. Those two castles are owned by House Umber and House Karstark respectively, and they both fought with Ramsay in the battle of the bastards. Sansa chimes in that they should give the castles to families that fought for House Stark as a reward for their loyalty, and the suggestion draws many cheers. Jon isn’t keen on the idea because the lords that did betray them are now dead, so punishing their children wouldn’t be fair. He instead asks the new Lord of House Umber and new Lady of House Karstark (who are both children) to swear fealty to House Stark once again and they enthusiastically agree to do so as cheers break out through the entire hall. Jon seems to be pretty good at this ruling thing doesn’t he?
No ruler can be perfect though and after the meeting, Sansa tries to tell Jon that he’s got to play it smart if he’s going to fare better than Robb did as king. Sansa’s suggestion to play it smarter? She asks Jon to listen to her opinion on matters. While they’re chatting, Maester Wolkan arrives and hands a letter to Jon from Cersei in King’s Landing. Cersei asks for Jon to come to the capital and bend the knee, or suffer the fate of a traitor. Sansa points out that Jon has been so preoccupied with the walker threat to the north that he’s forgotten about the Cersei threat in the south. Jon ominously comments that it sounds like Sansa admires Cersei. Sansa admits that she learned a lot from Cersei as the scene ends. A threat in the making may be emerging though. While I don’t think the conversation between Jon and Sansa here was tense, who knows what will happen if the two siblings continue to ignore each other. And there’s always Littlefinger looking to scheme. He’s up to his usual antics in this episode, trying to get Sansa to admit she wants to be queen so he can turn her against Jon, but Sansa isn’t having it, for now. He’s not going to stop trying so if this Jon and Sansa relationship goes south, Littlefinger is going to try his damndest to destroy it.
In King’s Landing, Cersei shows off her brand new floor map room to Jaime and asks him why he’s been so distant lately. Jaime is irate that Cersei drew their son Tommen to the point of suicide and he tries to confront Cersei about it but it’s really no use. Cersei did love her children and it was her one redeeming quality. They’re all dead now though so getting her to admit she’s done something wrong is a fool’s errand. Cersei doesn’t find Jaime to be without faults either, pointing out that Tyrion is Daenerys’ hand and that never would have happened if Jaime didn’t release him when he was on death row. Cersei turns her attention to the map, saying they have enemies in every which direction now and they’re going to need to destroy them all if they’re going to continue a dynasty. Jaime is dumbfounded that Cersei thinks she can have a dynasty when their children are dead, and doesn’t like their odds in war either because they’ve got powerful enemies and zero allies. Not exactly a great position.
Rest assured Jaime, Cersei’s already working on the zero allies thing. Euron Greyjoy arrives to the capital, wanting to discuss an alliance between the Greyjoys and the Lannisters. Cersei’s got her eyes on the iron fleet but Euron’s only handing it over if she agrees to marry him. Cersei declines due to Euron’s oathbreaking and kinslaying history but Euron’s not out of it yet. Euron promises to return to King’s Landing with a gift that will surely make Cersei reconsider. So for the moment, Cersei still has zero formal allies. Still not looking good for the Lannisters.
Bran and Meera made it to the wall. Dolorous Edd is skeptical of Bran actually being Bran but Bran scares him with his three eyed raven knowledge and gets him to allow them in. Guess that ability has perks to it. Good timing too because the Night King is coming, and his army has giants now!
Jorah’s at the citadel and his appearance genuinely scared me so Sam’s not the only one. Jorah’s arm isn’t looking too great but this is the best place in the world to try and get it healed so I won’t be surprised if this is part of a gross but ultimately successful treatment plan.
Dany making it home is a cool scene, but it’s something that can only really be done justice in the visual medium. Dany’s line “Shall we begin” was the only line spoken by anyone in her story line so there’s not much for me to say. I’ll say what I can though, those shots of Dragonstone looked pretty awesome.
Also in regards to camera work, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Winterfell with the birds eye view before and it looks pretty impressive. I wouldn’t mind that shot becoming part of the lineup.
So we now know that the White Walkers literally bring the storm. As if they needed another scary ability.
Some potential foreshadowing in the map scene. It’s a pretty popular theory that Jaime is going to kill Cersei. If you look at the map scene, you’ll see that Cersei is standing on the region known as “The Neck” while Jaime is on “The Fingers”. Death by strangling maybe?
There’s been a super fascinating juxtaposition going on between Arya and Sandor ever since they’ve gone separate ways. Arya was a good person who’s becoming much darker since their time together and Sandor was a dark person and has been on the road to becoming a better person since his time with Arya came to an end. An interesting role reversal for sure.
I know I said it already but the montage with Sam was wonderful. I was actually laughing by the end of it when you couldn’t figure out whether he was serving soup or cleaning up poop. When was the last time Game of Thrones was actually funny? Probably a while.
The dialogue in the episode was on point. Some standouts include Jaime telling Cersei she’s queen of three kingdoms at best, Euron roasting Jaime at every opportunity, especially the two good hands comment, and everything with Sandor. Very sharply written script.
In the debate of Jon vs Sansa in this episode, I have to give it to Jon. Sansa doesn’t want to show mercy to the Karstarks when Robb showing no mercy and beheading Rickard Karstark is what caused the Karstarks to abandon House Stark in the first place. You can’t say “don’t be like Robb” when you actively wanted to do something Robb would have done. Jon was in the right here but Sansa definitely has useful insight. Hopefully they can work together because that will help Jon rule to the best of his abilities.
More of Tormund looking at Brienne is always welcome, but this may have been the last one ever. Brienne is guarding Sansa at Winterfell and Tormund is going to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. If that’s it, this was the best one sided relationship in the show so far.
Where in the world is Edmure? What awful luck he has if he’s still in a dungeon in the Twins. The entire house was killed by your niece, but your niece didn’t know you were there.
“Dragonstone” expertly balances table setting with character development in a surprisingly normal paced premiere for a shorter season.