TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

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“Shall we begin?”

Daenerys Targaryen utters these words at the end of the Season 7 opener of Game of Thrones, Dragonstone, marking the start of what is the shows final act. Dragonstone acts as stage setting episode, and after over a year away it’s pretty welcome. The episode begins with what at first appears to be a flashback to a feast held by Walder Frey at The Twins. But, quickly the mood of the scene shifts and it is revealed to be Arya Stark using faceless man magic to impersonate Walder and poison the Freys. In one fell swoop she eliminates their whole house, just another part of the culling of characters and plot lines Game of Thrones has been undertaking as it nears its climax. As Arya leaves she tells one of the survivors to let people know “Winter came for House Frey”. It’s an exciting way to start an episode and a season, and hearing the theme music right after was a great way to get sucked back into the world of Game of Thrones.

From there the story slows down a lot, a necessity when we have to catch up with TV’s largest ensemble. We check in with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark as they hold court in the newly reconquered Winterfell. The seeds of disagreement between the two begin as they differ on how to handle the lands controlled by houses that had betrayed them and fought against them. In the Jon decides to make them swear fealty and allow them to retain their land, over the protests of Sansa who wants to give their land to people who had been loyal to the Starks. After Sansa and Jon talk about how they face trouble from both the north in the form of the army of the dead, and from the south from Cersei. Sansa and Jon reveal their differing views on ruling, with Jon having seen the example of Lord Commander Mormont and trying to model his leadership after him.  On the other hand we have Sansa who has had her worldview shaped by living in Kings Landing and seeing Varys, Cersei, and Littlefinger work their plans. I’m excited to see these two philosophies play out through out the rest of the season.

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In Kings Landing Cersei begins to formulate her plan to take back the rebelling kingdoms now that she is queen. It’s a couple of very strong scenes, especially one where Jaime attempts to have a conversation with her about the suicide of Tommen and what her end game is. Cersei appears to be unraveling, declaring Tommen’s suicide to be a “betrayal” and telling Jaime she is attempting to create a long-lasting Lannister dynasty. That Jaime and her are the only Lannisters left, as Jaime reminds her, doesn’t really seem to cross her mind. In her quest to defeat her rivals she invites Euron Greyjoy to Kings Landing where he proposes marriage to her, she refuses but he promises to go and bring back a great treasure to prove his loyalty and importance. Euron is a lot of fun to watch in this scene, dressed like a pirate and completely bonkers. It’s nice when Game of Thrones leans into its occasional pseudo-soap opera atmosphere, and Euron as a megalomaniac over the top bad guy is perfect for what appears to be our last human antagonist of the show.

In the newly shown Oldtown we are treated to a montage of Sam going about his tasks in the Citadel as he learns to become a maester, this thing goes on way too long. The first time soup is match cut to a used bed pan it’s a little funny but by the third time its gotten a little tedious. In fact the entirety of Sams storyline seemed like a big journey to get to the knowledge that there is dragon glass under Dragonstone. Plus, it kinda wastes Jim Broadbent who shows up for one scene to deliver a great monologue about how the maesters are the institutional memory of Westeros and how they’ll still be here after everything. Hopefully he’ll continue to show up but this is the one part of the episode that really didn’t do much for me.

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We then come to the Hound, in what is probably the best scene of the episode. The Hound along with the rest of the Brotherhood without Banners arrives at the cottage of the family he had previously robbed in a previous season. There he finds the corpse of the daughter and her father, bloodied and with a knife, Beric Dondarrion deduces that the father murder-suicided them rather than freeze or starve to death in the winter. As Thoros builds a fire in the hearth he asks the Hound to look into the fire where the Hound has a vision of the army of the dead marching on the wall. That night the Hound buries the dead while the snow falls in one of the striking visual moments of the episode. Rory McCann continues to be one of the best actors on the show, imbuing his character with little moments of humanity and continuing to build a complex and deep character.

In the other standout scene we humanize the Lannister soldiers as Arya comes across a group of them cooking dinner. Here we get the oft-mentioned Ed Sheeran cameo that to be perfectly honest wasn’t much of a big deal. After singing a song and getting a few lines he moves to the background. Instead it is the other soldiers who tell Arya how they miss home, want to see their wives and children, it may be a bit clichéd, but it’s an important reminder that even though we mostly follow nobles and people of privilege the fighting is done by regular people. It’s quiet moment that doesn’t end in a speech or violence but is content to just be that, quiet. It’s a moment in an episode that has to cram in a lot of information where the show just takes a breather.

Finally the show finishes on a wordless sequence that features Daenerys arriving to and entering Dragonstone. All told visually, and with stunning visuals at that, the sequence is stunning. At the end Daenerys walks past the carved map of Westeros in Dragonstone, mirroring the painted map that Cersei and Jaime Lannister look at in their scenes. At the end of a strong, albeit not perfect, season premiere Daenerys turns to Tyrion and says her only lines of the episode, kicking off what promises to be a great season of TV.

“Shall we begin?”

Rating: 8.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

Directed by  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by  David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

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