Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1: Dragonstone

The only time I’m giving this disclaimer: All of these recaps will be assuming that you’ve seen the episode and show as a whole.

Welcome back to the Game of Thrones, folks. After almost a year’s wait (and what looks like at least that much time in the show), we rejoin Westeros in the throes of the gearing-up war machine, as power has been consolidated and the threat of the White Walker army looms large over The Wall.

God I missed it. The slow creep of this show towards high fantasy has ruled and that plus an endgame in mind has meant Game of Thrones getting such a shot in the arm as a show. Season 6 was perhaps the best they’d ever done, which means Season 7 has a large legacy to live up to. Do they succeed?

Where Is Everybody? (A quick update on everyone’s story)

  • The Twins
    • Arya takes her revenge on the Freys and murders them all in the most glorious ways. Then she travels south and “Wow it’s ED SHEERHAN” as she takes a brief rest with some Lannister soldiers.
  • Winterfell
    • Jon and Sansa, now back in their rightful place, have a tiff about how best to deal with some treasonous houses. Petyr Baelish keeps it creepy, trying to wedge the alliance apart. Brienne gives some side-eye to Littlefinger.
  • King’s Landing
    • Jaime and Cersei have it out about their enemies and their lack of alliances. Cersei tries to fix it through an alliance with the Greyjoys, specifically Euron Greyjoy’s rogue faction. A hand of marriage is offered, Cersei slaps it away.
  • The Wall
    • Bran and Meera Reed get to the Wall. Dolorous Edd lets them in.
  • Oldtown
    • Samwell Tarly cleans up shit, serves food, and has a montage. It’s real weird. Also, Jorah’s greyscale got real bad.
  • Riverlands
    • The Brotherhood without Banners and Sandor Clegane have a bit of a heart-to-hearth in the house where Clegane once murdered some folks.
  • Dragonstone
    • AND FINALLY DAENERYS GETS TO WESTEROS.

What Worked?

It is important to understand that the purpose of the first episode of every season of Game of Thrones is a placesetter. It will rarely have the thrills of a late-season episode or the stunning wit of a culminating conversation. The openers are here to re-establish the terrain, remind us who our players are, and give us the direction of the season going forward. A place setting. Even with the steady consolidation of the storylines, we still have roughly 10-12 character threads to pull.

So, at the very least, this is likely one of the finest place-setter episodes they’ve done. It clips at a brisk pace (minus one particularly shitty montage) and gives us a lot while not having to do all that much. After the breathless pace of the end of last season, it’s a return to a more calm mode of operation I have a feeling we won’t get much of this season. There’s a clear-eyed view of what has to be ahead.

Not to say there isn’t excitement. The cold open (one of the few the show has ever done) wherein Arya poisons most of the remaining Freys is a thrilling little sequence, as close to justice as Game of Thrones is willing to get. Kudos to David Bradley for selling the slow shift in the scene as well as selling the “Arya is pretending to be this person she hates” vibe. It’s well-staged, and Maisie Williams just looks so badass walking out.

This is also one of the better episodes for the quiet moments in a while. Sandor Clegane is perhaps most interesting for being one of the only characters on this show to have a redemption arc of any sort, seeming to go against the show’s decidedly bleak view of humanity. Him digging the graves of his victims is certainly not a light bit, but it’s an emotional touch (and a homage to his status as The Gravedigger in the books).

It’s also a good episode to remember how great the character work has gotten over the course of the show. The chemistry between these performers is just solid, whether old or new pairings. Jon and Sansa’s vaguely disagreeing but affectionate chemistry is a fun prospect for the season ahead and when they’re making good decisions for Jaime and Cersei, there are few characters more fun to watch.

What Didn’t?

I guess it’s good to address the Ed Sheeran in the room. While Game of Thrones has certainly had its musician cameos before, there’s never been one this blatant from someone this recognizable by face. It’s a weird immersion-breaking cameo, something almost akin to when they used to have guest stars on sitcoms who played themselves.

I get why it was done and it’s a sweet story (a surprise for Maisie Williams, who is a superfan), but it’s a shame almost entirely because it overshadows what is actually an interesting scene. This is a moment of levity the show rarely indulges in, a moment of remembering that humans can just be human, Arya getting to see someone for once not showing overt kindness or evil, but simple normality. It’s also a moment the audience expects to go wrong and is shocked when it doesn’t, showing Game of Thrones still has the capacity to throw us a surprise or two. I just wish it wasn’t so overshadowed.

The other major ding this armor takes is the Samwell Tarly chore montage. Again, I see what’s being done, but it’s just a whiff. The sequence goes on too long and goes past “we are conveying off-putting” to “we are being off-putting.” Too marked a change from the last time we saw him.

Who Got A Win?

  • Arya
    • Finally taking revenge on the Freys and getting a moment of normality? That’s pretty much the biggest victory Arya has had in this whole show. You have to feel good for the poor girl finally getting something that makes things a little less awful.
  • Bran and Meera
    • They’re at The Wall and the people who can start to point them in the right direction to deal with The Night King.
  • Daenerys
    • She’s in Westeros with a hell of an army and retook her ancestral home. Her active role in the War begins.

Who Made A Mistake?

  • Jon and Sansa
    • Look, there’s not enough time for Stark in-fighting. They’ve been such a fractured faction that finally having two competent leaders up at the top is the biggest boon they’ve had in a while. The issues that arise from their varied leadership styles (Jon learned everything from Ned and Robb, Sansa [whether she likes it or not] got everything from Cersei and Littlefinger) need to be hashed out in private, the public show of disagreement only serves to open up an exploitable gap, one Littlefinger is already seeking to pry wide. Whoever you think was right (the answer right now is Jon, who has to strike a different tone from the Lannisters, don’t @ me), they have to show a united front.
  • Jaime and Cersei
    • Contrasted against the Starks, while they’re hashing out their disagreements in private and there is no power to challenge on Jaime’s behalf, the Lannisters are presenting a united front. However, they’re up shit creek without better allies. They’ve lost the Freys and have killed any house that turned on them. There’s not a whole lot of houses willing to play ally, and Cersei isn’t dealing with it quite well enough yet by going to the Greyjoys, who themselves are a divided house.
  • The Freys
    • They’re all dead. Shoulda killed all the Starks.
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