Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1 Review: Dragonstone

The wait for a new Game of Thrones season is particularly excruciating, especially how the Season finales seem to always leave viewers gasping for more. And while the show brings for us a diminished and yet delayed Season this year, the wait has ended as the first episode premiered today. It’s going to be hard to review this keeping spoilers away so it’s best you read this after you’ve seen the episode.

Continuing from where we last left off, the episode employs a cold opening with Walder Frey holding a feast for members of the Frey family. However, knowing the fate he suffered in The Winds of Winter, it becomes instantly clear the man, or rather woman behind the mask is Arya Stark herself. Serving poisoned wine to the Freys, she gets rid of them all in one shot with a brilliant speech that concludes with words we’ve been clamoring to hear for so long: The North Remembers.

It’s great to see Arya having come this far and yet seemingly having some humanity left within her. While her training with The Faceless Man is starting to bear fruit, she doesn’t seem to have begun enjoying killing people, as many were speculating could be the case after she coldly slit Walder’s throat. For one, she spares the Frey ladies to tell the story of who did this and why. And while that may not exactly be humanitarian, another scene from the episode has her walk past a few Lannister soldiers whom she joins for a meal and a drink. While initially tempted to slay them and take their weapons, as the soldiers offer her lunch and narrate their stories, Arya sees that serving the Lannister army aside, they’re people with families. Arya’s hopes to kill them by attempting to provoke them with her threat to kill Queen Cersei also fail as the group mockingly dismisses her claims and erupts into laughter. This is also the scene where singer and musician Ed Sheeran makes his much publicized appearance, even giving us an original song in the process (I’ll have to go back and listen to that one again to get the full lyrics though). For all it’s worth, Sheeran has minimal dialogue and doesn’t overstay his welcome.

Speaking of Cersei, we see her driven almost exclusively by power, to the extent that she uses it to camouflage the pain of having lost her only left child. While Jaimie insists on mourning Tommen properly, Cersei brushes it off aside, dismissing Tommen as weak and ignoring Jaimie’s pleas, proceeds to discuss defending the Iron Throne. With the Lannisters now surrounded by enemies on all sides – North (Jon Snow, Sansa Stark), South (Daenerys Targeryn and her fleet of ships and Dragons), East (Highgarden held by the Tyrells) and West (the Sand Snake Sisters), Cersei has invited someone in hopes of forging an alliance with.

Cersei and Jamie Lannister

Cersei and Jaimie discuss the impending enemy threat approaching from all directions

Enter Euron Greyjoy who is every bit as cocky as he was when we last saw him reclaim the Iron Lands. Although it’s a bit far-fetched that Cersei would just invite Euron, whose men Jaimie had slain in the Battle of Blackwater, the scene plays out rather well. Euron is dismissive of the loss of even his own men mirroring Cersei in a strange way and proposes Cersei’s hand in marriage in return for his assistance. Cersei, heeding Jaimie’s advice, rejects his proposal deeming him untrustworthy which sets Euron off on his way to find “a gift” to impress Cersei. A gift we suspect is going to be some captured humans from Daenerys’ fleet.

Meanwhile in The Citadel, Samwell Tarly has been keeping busy serving almost as a caretaker of sorts, collecting and washing shitty utensils (quite literally) in a sequence whose editing seeks inspiration from the cutting style of Requiem for a Dream. We also get to see his interaction with The Archmaester who, while seeming to believe what Sam has to say, brushes him off regardless. Sam finally having had enough, steals the keys to the library to which he was denied access and takes some books to his quarters. In one of these he discovers something that might help explain how the series progress from here on – that present in Dragonstone is a mountain made of Dragon-glass. This is a game changing piece of information that Sam needs to convey to Jon at the earliest and is clearly what should bring Jon Snow to Dragonstone giving us the awaited meet between him and Daenerys.

Samwell Tarly and Gilly at The Citadel

Samwell Tarly discovers a vital piece of information from The Citadel books

For now, Jon is busy getting the warring Houses to unite in the one single war that matters. The Wight Walkers are approaching and Jon, desperate to get as many forces as possible, forgives House Karstark and House Umber in exchange for swear loyalty to the King in the North. Sansa is not particularly supportive of this and tries to explain to Jon to make them pay for siding with Ramsay Bolton in the Battle for Winterfell. However, Jon having seen the Wight Walkers in Hardhome is understandably more concerned with getting as many humans to join forces together as possible. It’s a conversation that is delightful because you see the points of view of both Jon and Sansa and you realize both are right in their own way. While Sansa feels Jon’s nobility equates to stupidity at times and can cost him his head much like their father and brother, Jon sees Sansa embodying the qualities of the Lannister Queen Cersei herself. Which one of these plot points will play off in what way remains to be seen.

Finally, as if a “gift” to the audience, we’re witness to Daenerys set foot in Dragonstone, a place which is fully and lavishly realized thanks to the extended budget per episode the series received when it cut short from 10 to 7 episodes. The moment is powerful and striking with an unprecedented quiet in that there’s no dialogue whatsoever as Dany touches the shore’s soil and along with Tyrion and others proceeds to the castle, gaze at the Targeryn throne and move in to a room with a layout that they’ll obviously use to plan their war strategy in the next few episodes. A glance at the castle walls and you can sense the place has a lot of history in it and makes you really excited about the prospect of those spin-offs that HBO is developing. Daenerys confidently ends the episode with her last words: Shall we begin.

Daenerys Targeryn

Daenerys Targeryn sets foot on Dragonstone in the Season 7 premiere

And begun it indeed has. The end-game is approaching and this episode makes no attempts to shy away from it. In fact it has characters referencing other characters or the major battles that lie ahead numerous times, more so than any other episode I can recall. We see Jon and Sansa openly acknowledging and discussing the threat Cersei poses who is quite vocal about the oncoming Targeryns herself. Perhaps showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and a majority of the cast weren’t lying when they hinted that the remaining episodes are now going to move at a rather frenetic pace though thankfully, they do find the time to spare for the quieter moments. As a bonus, we also get a great scene with The Hound where he comes far too close than ever with his biggest fear – fire. And Tormund giving that look to Brienne was a treat that I never thought we’d see within an episode, let alone the premiere.

In keeping with the tradition of Season premieres, things move slowly in this one despite the explosive two episodes that preceded it. Then again, that was the purpose – to draw viewers back into the world of Westeros after a year’s worth of absence. On the whole, Season 7 is off to a great start and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10