Game of Thrones Recap: Season Seven Premiere “Dragonstone”
When Game of Thrones season seven premiere began, we saw a familiar, craggy face staring at us; the raping, disgusting visage of Walder Frey. This was odd, considering the last time we saw this ripe lump of lechery, he was being crossed off Arya Stark’s revenge list with a knife across his throat, the youngest Stark smiling down at him, fulfilling the promise she made to herself that her face would be the last he’d ever see. This was after she’d fed him his two sons in a meat pie. How on Earth Arya was able to kill, de-bone, and cook the Frey boys without anyone noticing is one of GOT‘s mysteries we know we’ll never solve. Somehow the girl with no name (but who always secretly had a name) managed to take a few cooking classes during her years-long revenge slog. God bless her. She’s the best.
So yes, it was clear that this Walder at the outset of season seven’s premiere “Dragonstone” was not the genuine article. As he raised a toast to his gathered family, watched them drink, and began describing their “Red Wedding” crimes, it began dawning on his assorted guests that something was not right. It was too late, of course, as they’d all quaffed the poisoned wine. Poisoned wine, and wine in general, has long been a weapon of choice in Westeros. It was what killed Goffrey during the Purple Wedding, and wine has factored in nearly every major scene involving a Lannister (they might hate each other, but siblings Cersei and Tyrion both love their wine). Watching Arya dispatch the very folks who slaughtered her family in the very room it happened in the cleverest, cleanest way possible was a deeply satisfying, dark thrill. Then Arya peeled off her Walder Frey mask and told the lone survivor (a young girl/wife who Arya-as-Walder wouldn’t allow touch the wine); “When they ask what happened here, tell them that the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey,” and chills went down the spines of millions. Thus concluded arguably the greatest opening sequence in GOT history, a four minute cold open that fulfilled the promise made by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss; season seven would waste no time kicking into high gear. Cue the glorious title sequence and the start to season seven!
In Winterfell’s Great Hall, Arya’s surviving siblings were having an argument in full view of the leaders of the North. Jon Snow and Sansa were in a disagreement on what to do with the castles of the Umber and Karstark clans, the first two that would come into contact with the Night’s King and the White Walkers. Sansa believed the clans deserved a harsh punishment for siding with Ramsay Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards; take their castles, punish the traitors. Yet Jon refuses; he doesn’t believe that a son should have to pay for his father’s sins. Despite having been stabbed to death by his own Night’s Watch, Jon remains surprisingly optimistic about people’s loyalties and fitness for making the right choice.
It’s a telling scene, not least of which because we know, and Jon and Sansa do not, that Jon is not really Ned Stark’s bastard son, and, as Sansa tells him after, she’s learned a thing or two from Cersei Lannister—mercy is something easily exploited. Watching Sansa’s maturation from coddled daughter of privilege to the clear-eyed, commanding young woman she’s become has been a real pleasure, especially considering we had to watch her ceasless torture at the hands of He Who Shall Not Be Named (Ramsay Bolton) for what felt like forty years. Sansa’s not afraid to speak back to Jon in front of the North’s leaders, but then to offer sage counsel afterwards. Here she tells Jon that she misses her father Ned and brother Robb dearly, but that they’d made stupid mistakes, and in order to survive, Jon needs to be smarter than both. Jon’s plan, one that has the backing of the North (after a crucial assist, yet again, from the potent Lyanna Mormont) is to arm every able body, that means boys and girls, and teach them how to fight. What he also understands better than anyone else is that to kill the White Walkers, of which there will be tens of thousands, the North will need a lot of dragonglass. Jon’s firm on his plan, but Sansa senses he’s unsure if he’s right. She tells him that he’s “good at this.” By this, she means leading, and when he tries to shrug her off she repeats it. This is strength; having ceded the argument about the Umbers and Karstarks, and rebuffed Jon’s claim that she was “undermining” him, Sansa is proving that she might have the coolest head of all. Jon’s noble battle to defeat the Night’s King and rebuild the North will require Sansa’s counsel, and eventually, possibly for her to assume the throne. But in order for any of that to happen, they’ll need that dragonglass; but where could they possibly find enough to defeat the Night’s King? That job belongs to one Sam Tarly.
Sam’s education over at the Citadel is a little…more scatalogical than we’d imagined. For the first time in GOT history, we got a swiftly edited montage about soup and poop. In an almost jaunty sequence, we watch poor Sam cleaning bedpans, ladling soup, wretching, back to the bedpans, back to the soup (that the soup looked a lot like what was in the bedpans was part of the sickening joke), back to the wretching. It was a lot. Perhaps too much. I found myself briefly unsure of what show I was watching, as if I’d had some of Walder Frey’s wine. While Sam is being properly hazed by the elderly maesters of the Citadel, he once again proves himself clever and courageous and sneaks himself into a section of the massive library he’s not supposed to have access to, pilfering some key texts to help Jon’s cause. In one of these tomes he finds just the thing he’s looking for (a little too conveniently, but whatever); there is a subterranean mountain in Dragonstone that is full of dragonglass! Will this send Jon to Dragonstone, thus uniting him with Daenerys!? A million hearts and more demand it!
In King’s Landing, Jaime was getting a fuller picture of just how far down the vengeance rabbit hole Cersei has gone. The bloom is definitely off the rose of this relationship. Jaime’s trying to wrap his head around the fact that yet another one of his kids is dead, but all Cersei wants to talk about is revenge. She’s GOT‘s deadly Jan, only instead of being obsessed with some Westerosi Marcia, she’s obsessed with revenge. Wake Cersei in the middle of the night and she’ll shout “vengeance is mine!” When he asks her if she doesn’t think mourning might be a better use of their time, considering all of their children are dead, rather than murdering everyone who ever sneezed at them, Cersei looks at him like he’s just suggested she give up the Iron Throne and take up gardening. She is angry with Tommen, who she claims did her an injustice when he took his own life. She doesn’t add that he did so after she blew up the Sept of Baelor with the love of his life, Margaery, inside it. Jaime tries another approach and points out how the Lannisters now have enemies in every direction, and that in order to advance Cersei’s plan to sit unadulterated on the Iron Throne, they’ll need allies. Cersei’s unimpressed with this argument, too. Not because she thinks its wrong, but because she’d already considered it and has made arrangements. The fan theories that it might be Jaime who kills Cersei picked up some momentum here, considering Cersei seemed this close to telling Jaime to talk to the hand because the head ain’t listening. He seems sincerely aghast at her obsessive quest for comeuppance, a far cry from the thoughtless, cocky child murderer he was when we met him in the series premiere (bedding Cersei during a trip to Winterfell, after throwing Bran out of a freakin’ window). And of all the people Cersei wants to see dead, it’s their brother Tyrion who ignites her most insatiable bloodlust, the very brother Jaime unquestionably loves. I don’t know, this Cersei/Jaime dynamic seems unstable, no?
About Cersei’s partnership…she reached out to Euron Greyjoy, the unsavory, equally ruthless uncle to Theon and Yara. In the books, Euron’s evil incarnate, so god only knows what kind of trouble, good and bad, he’s going to cause for the Lannisters. After seasons of dealing with Ramsay Bolton’s increasingly uninteresting sadism, let’s hope Euron’s a more fun kind of sociopath. The eyeliner would suggest he is. Euron’s performance in front of Cersei, Jaime, the Mountain and the rest of the Lannister’s inner circle is a menacing farce; he insults Jaime (twice), dangerously steps too close to the Iron Throne (the Mountain moves in his direction, stopping Euron in his tracks), and so outrageously flirts with self-destruction, all with a confident, eye-linered glee, that I found myself simultaneously intrigued and annoyed. Who is this mincing degenerate? When it looks like Jaime might charge him, Euron makes Cersei a promise; he will bring her something that proves his loyalty, and his fitness, to be her partner, both in war and the bedroom. What gift might Euron bring back? Might it be Tyrion’s head? Something to kill dragons with? Some of his eyeliner?
The Hound gets a nice sequence, traveling with the seemingly immortal Beric Dondarrion and his crew. They arrive at a farmhouse that the Hound knows all too well; he and Arya were there once, and he robbed the owner of all his silver on the way out. Sure enough, when they decide to bed down there for the night, they find said owner and his daughter’s skeletal remains. It turns out that the Hound pilfering their silver left them starving, and the father killed the daughter, and then himself, rather than starve to death. Ouch. The Hound has always had a soft spot for little girls (not in a gross way); recall him saving Sansa’s life in season one, and his begrudging loyalty to Arya when they were on the road together, but his maturation into a fully thinking, feeling person has been nearly as incredible as Jaime Lannister becoming legitimately sympathetic and Sansa Stark becoming legitimately intimidating. Being back at this farmhouse and seeing the results of his choices, the Hound is irritable and angry and sullen. He wants to know why Beric, of all people, keeps coming back from the dead, while innocents, like that little girl, do not. Beric doesn’t have the answer, but the Hound does find himself beckoned to the fire they’ve started to warm up. Understandably fire averse (see; his half-melted face), the Hound is asked to look into the flames and report what he sees. He does, and what he sees is the army of the dead and the end of civilization as he knows it. Late in the night, while everyone else is asleep, the Hound does what guilt-ridden murderers have done since time immemorial; he dug a grave for his victims.
And finally, we end with Dany, who has arrived at Dragonstone with Tyrion, Grey Worm, Varys and the rest of her retinue. Dragonstone is the former seat of Targaryen power, and a place built using a bespoke Valyrian design that required a magical construction technique that let them “liquefy stone and shape it however they liked,” as Vulture’s Nate Jones points out. It’s the homecoming for Dany after a lifetime of wandering, a lifetime of being the subject of men’s whims and desires until she took matters in her own hands and became the mother of dragons. We viewers have been waiting for Dany to enter Westeros since the show began, and watching her reaction to being back in the world of her Targaryen ancestors was unexpectedly moving; you realize how momentous this is for her, and you recognize how swiftly this show is racing towards its conclusion for us. Dany pulls a Baratheon banner down and eventually turns to us, the viewer, and asks us, “Shall we begin?”
Oh yes, we shall. But we know it’s the beginning of the end.
Here’s the teaser for next Sunday’s episode:
Featured image: Season 7 (2017): Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO