GAME OF THRONES Season 7, Ep. 1 Recap: “Dragonstone”

Valar Dohaeris my friends. Welcome back to a new season of Game of Thrones! Send all questions to @FawkesCulture, @Matwellsays, FawkesDotCom@gmail.com, or post them in the comments section below and Fawkes’ Resident Maester will answer them in throughout the week in a mailbag. You could also catch up with all of Fawkes’ GAME OF THRONES coverage here.

In a show that is as expansive as Game of Thrones, premiers often must be filled with review that allows the audience to remember where in the story we are. However, the limited time Thrones has left to tell its story makes that untenable for these final two seasons. So, the show found a way to revisit last season while also moving decidedly forward in Season 7’s opening scene.

We are now 60 episodes in and  “Dragonstone” managed to begin different than any episode to this point of the series, with a cold open before the opening sequence. It was a breath of fresh air for show-runners Weiss and Benioff to just slightly adapt the formula they are so well known for – and have been so successful with. We returned to The Twins, where last season saw Arya begin her #RevengeTour2017 by baking Walder, Jr. and Lothar Frey into pie and feeding said pie to Walder Frey, the Lord of the Crossing, before slitting his throat. So, when the season started with that very same Lord Walder making a toast, it was clear something was up. From there, Arya – using Walder’s face – toasted the “brave” soldiers who took place in the Red Wedding, while serving them all a round of poison. As they died, Arya recited the events of the Red Wedding where so much of her family and fellow Northerners were slaughtered, before turning to Walder’s young wife to drive home the point of the Red Wedding Part Deux: “The North Remembers.”

However, I was not thrilled with the execution of the scene. I just feel like Arya’s ability to change her face falls flat due to a lack of exposition to how she is actually able to do that. She didn’t seem to exactly complete her training at the House of Black and White. But I digress, as this is probably just an instance of the show trimming some book fat.

More importantly than her face-changing ability, though, is the fact that Arya was able to resolve the issue of the countless male Frey heirs. This episode did not answer, however, who will replace the Frey’s as Lord (or Lady) of the Crossing. We saw Lannister troops heading towards The Twins, but will someone else get there first? There are other possible candidates to take charge.

Later, Arya was seen as taking the King’s Road south to continue #RevengeTour2017, rather than head north to reunite with her siblings. It is entirely possible, though, that she is unaware at this point that Sansa and Jon rule at Winterfell. Yet, in her travels she comes across a band of Lannister troops – some more recognizable than others – on their way to The Twins to quell the newfound chaos in the region. As she joins the band, Arya’s eyes – and the camera – lingered on the men’s swords, giving off the feeling that Arya was preparing to slaughter this group of men for their allegiance to House Lannister. However, as she joins them for some food and wine, their stories of seemingly normal home lives – of their families and children – seemed to lead Arya back to her humanity that seems to be swiftly dissipating as she seeks out revenge in the name of her family. Maybe this moment will lead her to sparing their lives or maybe she’ll get some help from a long forgotten fury friend. Perhaps this band will let slip information on the new King in the North and Arya will reverse course too.

North of the Wall, we then got a look at the Army of the Dead, which appears to be growing by the day. While there still hasn’t been any ice spider sightings, the army now sports wight-Giants, a terrifying proposition. It was unclear exactly where the army was, but you can beat they are slowly descending from the Lands of Always Winter, preparing to launch an invasion of their own on the Westerosi mainland.

One of my favorite decisions of the show-runners in this episode was to have Bran reach The Wall this early. There was no need for more wandering North of the Wall. Meera and Bran were greeted by Lord Commander Dolorous Edd and a few of his other sworn brothers. Now, hopefully we could get that dude Bran into the dope new wheelchair we saw him in the trailer and back to the Godswood of Winterfell ASAP where he can help Jon and Sansa’s prep for the Army of the Dead. 

At Winterfell, while I enjoyed the internal Stark politicking, I do wonder why Jon believes his savvy to be far superior to Sansa’s. Let’s reflect on the fact that Jon’s first stint at as a leader literal led him to be shived by his sworn brothers. Meanwhile, Sansa has been forced to rely on grit and wit (sorry I’m sorry) to survive, learning from some of the savviest – and most ruthless – leaders in all The Realm along the way. As she admits this episode, she learned a lot from the likes of Cersei, and surely Littlefinger as well.

We first see some slight strife come up as Jon and Sansa argue in Winterfell’s great hall about what to do with the castle’s of Karhold (home of the Karstark’s) and Last Hearth (home of the Umber’s). Both families betrayed the Stark’s and fought for the Bolton’s in the Battle of the Bastards. Jon argues that their children should not be punished for their parents’ treason, while Sansa argues for punishing treason and rewarding loyalty, by giving their castle’s to families who fought beside Jon to retake Winterfell. Jon declares his decision to return Karhold to Alys Karstark and Last Hearth to Ned Umber to be final in a tense exchange. They both certainly had a point, and it seems that perhaps there was room for compromise here. Both Ned and Alys are children, and while we have seen some very precocious young Lord’s and Lady’s (I’m looking at you Lyanna Mormount), they seem ill-prepared for the War to come. Why not send older Northern Lord’s that have remained loyal to House Stark to Last Hearth and Karhold, and have Ned and Alys, respectively, serve as wards until they are old enough to rule? This would allow Jon, Sansa, and the North to ensure that both castles remain loyal, while also making sure they are fully prepared for the Army of the Dead.

Afterwards, the two continued their argument on Winterfell’s battlements. Sansa speaking hard truths about her father and brother was a fascinating moment. Too often, noble characters that are loved become idolized after death, and we believe they did no wrong, that there death was unjust yet inevitable because bad things happen to good people. But let me be clear: while Ned was the most honorable man in the Realm and Robb one of the greatest military commanders the Seven Kingdoms has ever seen, in the end both were ineffectual leaders because they made horrible choices. Ned lost the forest for the trees in attempting to do what was right and believing that the truth would save him. Robb lost an army by following his heart and trying to do the right thing, then ran headstrong into the Red Wedding attempting to fix his wrongdoings. If Jon’s reign as King in the North is going to last longer than his reign as Lord Commander, Sansa is right: he must be smarter than Ned and Robb.

Meanwhile, the ever-present Littlefinger did not miss a moment to try to seize on the conflict. Yet, for now, Sansa rebuffed his attempt to try to smooth talk her in the aftermath of her argument with Jon.

Elsewhere in the North, Sandor Clegane, Beric, and Thoros continued their trek North with some lively dialogue. They come across a small home where The Hound is confronted with his passed deeds, finding the farmer and daughter he robbed in seasons past dead. While in their home, Thoros shows Clegane visions in the flames. From what the Hound sees, it sounds as if we may now know the ground zero for the War versus the Dead. What he relays sounds like the Army of the Dead descending on Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the very same place Jon just sent Tormund and the Free Folk. This vision is also corroborated by something Melisandre sees in the novels. For bookreaders, these scenes had other added significance as well, for the subtle nod to the Gravedigger theory of The Hound’s current whereabouts in ASOIAF was also a nice touch. 

Down in King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime try to pick up the pieces after their major alliances have collapsed and all their children have died. Cersei displays some early indications that all may not be well, as she claims Tommen’s suicide was betrayal and had nothing to do with her when she is confronted about it by Jaime. As Jaime tries to bring home the fact that the Lannister’s are without friends or allies, Cersei shows that she may have a trump card in Euron Greyjoy.

In the throne room, Euron offers a marriage pact to Cersei in exchange for his armada. When Cersei disagrees, Euron promises to bring Cersei a present to win her trust and heart. On its nose, this gift seems to signify Tyrion. However, what if it is not? What if in his travels, Euron learned of or found a powerful magic horn, known as Dragonbinder, that has the ability to bind a dragon’s will to whoever blows the horn? Mayhaps, this is the gift he is speaking.

While Euron certainly seemed more menacing in our first glimpse of him this season, his take on a flirty Jack Sparrow fell flat to me. I hope that his role as the sadistic, existential villain he is in the books is somehow brought out more in future episodes of the series.

But all of this buildup was secondary, as the true importance came from the place the episode was named after: Dragtonstone, the ancestral seat of the Targaryen’s, founded two centuries before the Doom of Valyria.

First, at The Citadel, Samwell Tarly snuck off from his day job of cleaning bed pans and weighing organs to steal some books, digging for more information on Dragonglass/obsidian. He found a tome that reminded him of something he always knew: Dragonstone is built on a mine of rich dragonglass deposits. This will obviously play a great deal of importance in Jon Snow’s quest to mine and forge weapons of dragonglass.

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P/C HBO

Then, it was the moment that we’ve been waiting for since the beginning of the series – and that Daenerys has been waiting for as long as she could remember. Say what you will about how ridiculous it is that Stannis, one of the greatest military commanders in the history of Westeros, left a nearly impenetrable fortress totally unguarded, but Dany’s return was as worth the years of hype and detours across Essos. With it’s budget significantly upgraded since the last time we laid eyes on the castle, Dragonstone was turned into a breathtaking set piece. Yet, Daenerys waisted no time for nostalgia upon her return home, turning immediately to the war ahead of her to retake her family’s kingdom. It will not be an easy path, even if she commands the most powerful (living) army in Westeros.

What did you think of the episode? Are you confused about anything that happened or what’s to come? Send all your comments my way in the comment section below or via Twitter @matwellsays & @fawkesculture.

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