July 17, 2017
‘Game Of Thrones’: Season 7 Begins With ‘Dragonstone’ [Recap]
We’ve waited a long time for Season 7 of “Games of Thrones” (at least two WHOLE months later than we usually do), and it’s with much fervor and anticipation that we kick off with episode one, “Dragonstone,” written by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, directed by journeyman ‘GOT’ director Jeremy Podeswa.
It’s an episode that reminds us where we are, and positions the chess pieces into the starting formation, and it also starts off with a big and bloody bang. It reminds us of the themes that run throughout this series, of loyalty, home, and family ties; of the repercussions from death that reverberate through the story and characters, despite the copious bloodshed. This isn’t about dehumanization, but about examining the human condition through these extreme circumstances.
Shall we begin?
Benioff and Weiss do know what to give the people what they want. And what we want is Arya Stark enacting vengeance while using her Braavosi Face/Off powers. As soon as we see Walder Frey invite his men to toast the Red Wedding with special wine, we know it’s got to be Arya, and yes, someone did spike the punch.
As Walder/Arya waxes about the killing of Starks, the men start to choke and fall, while Arya/Walder warns, “leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.” After ripping her Walder face off, she tells a Frey wife, “tell them the North remembers—Winter has come for House Frey.” Check one off that list Arya, and add about 48 more to the tally.
Much later in the episode, Arya comes upon a group of soldiers from King’s Landing on the road, who invite her for songs, roasted rabbit and fellowship, and yes, those are the dulcet tones of one mister Ed Sheeran.
Arya informs these well-meaning, friendly men that she’s going to King’s Landing to kill the Queen, and they of course laugh at her, but it’s an interesting moment for Arya, as she’s forced to confront the humanity of these soldiers, who would be otherwise anonymous enemies to her, much like the banquet hall full of Frey henchmen she just felled. It’s important for the show to acknowledge as well, having decimated so many beloved cast members alongside groups of faceless soldiers last season, to tip the cap at the inner lives of these people.
Way in the North, the youngest surviving Stark, Brandon, arrives with visions of White Walkers and wights dancing in his head, as he and Meera Reed finally make their way to The Wall, frigid and weak. Meera introduces him to the new Lord Commander, Edd, and though Edd is skeptical he’s actually a Stark, Bran’s knowledge of the White Walker threat is enough to convince him to let the peculiar teens in.
It’s a Stark sibling struggle for power at Winterfell, as Jon and Sansa wrestle over whose style of governing is better. Sansa, despite her familial provenance, has unfortunately been reared in the Joffrey, Littlefinger, Cersei Finishing School of Ruling With Deceit and Murder, while Jon still sticks to his code (“a man’s gotta have a code”- Omar Little). He decides not to punish the spawn for the sins of the betraying fathers, and refuses to take a family castle from a family that’s had it for generations (one can imagine that’s a sore subject for him). So he has wee little boy Ned Umber and teenage Alice Carstarck pledge allegiance to him as the King of the North.
There’s all matter of resource allocation going on, as they need all hands on deck for digging up dragon glass and fighting the threat that’s coming from beyond the Wall, and that means conscripting all men, women, boys, girls, and beasts into service. One white-haired codger protests at putting a spear in his granddaughter’s hand, until he gets a patented Lyanna Mormont stare down as she reads him to filth, declaring “I don’t need your permission to defend the North.” Did everyone in your viewing party snap and yell “YES BITCH” or was it just mine?
Jon and Sansa bicker again, and she urges him to strive to be smarter than Ned and Robb, cause they’re dead, remember bro? Is listening to sis so bad anyway? They get a raven with a message from Cersei to bend the knee at King’s Landing and Jon’s like “nah, gotta fight the Night King,” though Sansa reminds him to not count out Cersei’s tenacious sense of vengeance.
This whole question over what’s worse is like thinking about climate change. Do we try to fix the divides in our country or does it not even matter because Greenland is melting? Are the White Walkers are a metaphor for all the frozen ancient diseases that are going to defrost and get us?
Later Brienne and Sansa bond after they have to endure the various flirtations of Tormund and Baelish, respectively. Littlefinger’s still on the marriage plot for Sansa, saying he wants her to “be happy.” Is anyone “happy” in Westeros? Tormund just cocks his eyebrow and slobbers over Brienne absolutely wrecking Pod in sword training.
Speaking of Cersei, she’s putting the finishing touches on her King’s Landing renovation, after demolishing the Sept of Baelor and everyone in it with wildfire. She’s now got a fancy new floor map, all the better for visualizing her enemies and her non-existent allies. Brotherlover Jaime is particularly concerned about the lack of allies, and he’s also pretty messed up over the fact that their baby boy Tommen face planted out of a window and they haven’t even talked about it. Cersei has channeled all of her emotions into pure, distilled vengeance and politicking, just like dear old Dad. The enemy she’s concerned about now is Daenerys, since little brother Tyrion now serves as her Hand. She wants to preserve the Lannister dynasty, and Jaime’s like “all our kids are dead, what dynasty lol.”
Nevertheless, Cersei persists, and yes, she does have an ally lined up, estranged Greyjoy Euron (Pilou Asbaek). He in comes with a cool leather jacket, a proposal and way too much swag. Humble is not a word to describe a man who calls himself “The Captain of the Fourteen Seas,” which is admittedly a great title Though he brags of “a thousand ships and two good hands,” and makes lots of digs at Jaime, Cersei turns down his proposal, so he promises to come back with a “priceless gift” (is it a head? It’s gotta be a head).
Over in the Citadel, Samwell Tarly is stuck with the worst internship ever, shelving books and emptying bed pans (over and and over and over in a nauseating montage—truly the worst thing this show has ever shown us). During a more pleasant task—weighing organs during an autopsy—he complains to Jim Broadbent that no one believes him about the White Walkers. Dr. Broadbent assures him that the Maesters serve as this world’s memories, and says that “every winter that ever came has ended” and “the Wall has stood thus far.” You’ve never seen White Walkers, Jim Broadbent!!!
So Sam decides to steal a book from the restricted area of the library in the dead of night for extracurricular research to speed this process along. Lo and behold, a handy map of Dragonstone Island (Targaryen homeland, Dany’s birthplace, Stannis’ old haunt after the Mad King business) appears to be built on a literal mountain of dragon glass. He gets to raven-ing Jon with the news straight away.
Somewhere Northern and Wintery
The Hound, who has linked up to hit the road with the Lord of Light Burning Man crew, is in the foulest of moods, just the way we like our Hound, super grumpy. When asked to explain his ‘tude, he just grumbles, “experience.” Preach, Hound. He gets some great one-liners this episode, even shouting “you think you’re fooling anyone with that top knot?!” at Thoros of Myr. Lord of Light, please bless and keep The Hound forever.
Ever the skeptic, questioning everything, the Hound does have a transformative experience this episode. While shacking up in the home of a family he happened to have killed last season, alongside their skeletal corpses (worst AirBnB ever), Thoros invites him to look into the flames, where the Hound sees “a wall of ice, the sea, a mountain, the dead heading past.” Trippy.
The Hound, as salty as he is, does seem in a sense, to be waking up to his own humanity, and Thoros finds him outside, burying the family, giving them the respect and closure they deserve. His funeral prayer: “I’m sorry you’re dead, you deserve better,” could be a message to all the dead that have since fallen in Westeros (with some exceptions).
We can’t end an episode without Daenerys, and we can’t have an episode entitled “Dragonstone” that doesn’t go to Dragonstone, so we close out with a scene of Dany landing on her ancestral homeland with her posse in tow. As she explores the deserted castle, the throne room, the war room, the walls engraved with dragons, she seems to feel the weight and power of her own lineage. So she utters just three words: “shall we begin?”
Thoughts on the opening episode of season 7? Drop them in the comments below.