-A recap and review of the Season 7 premiere. (SPOILERS!!!)
“Game of Thrones” is back! After over a year absence in trying to get all of the stars back together and also figure out a way to fit bigger and more expensive set pieces into the final two seasons, television’s biggest show (no, not you “The Walking Dead”) has returned.
In the interest of full disclosure, “Game of Thrones” is my favorite piece of entertainment that I’ve ever been exposed to. I am more of a fan of this show than I have been any movie, any other television series, any band, and so on. So, even though I don’t do a ton of writing on television, allow me to have this space to get all of my thoughts, ramblings, and also criticisms out after watching each episode, while also trying to remain fairly objective about the episodes in analyzing them. This is more for me, the writer, than it is for you, the reader, and I’m not sure that’s a convincing way of telling you to read on, but here goes…
Real quick, my expectations heading into the season are a little mixed. Season 6 was my favorite season to date because of the sheer intensity of it, but it also could be the beginning of the end for what makes the show so unique. It’s been several years and several seasons, and this tends to be the point in a lot of shows’ run-time where things begin to fall off and not represent the initial style any longer. The reason for my reservations go deeper than the timeline, though. Season 6 did away with some of the intrigue that makes GOT the best show on television, instead going deeper into the magical lore (with limited results), the violence, and picking up the pace beyond what we’ve experienced before. Even though Season 6’s last two episodes are arguably the best show has ever been, I hope it’s not a peak in quality, where as they get further away from the political structure that made the initial seasons so interesting, the quality decreases. I was a little unhappy with this Season 7 opener, and my concerns were certainly not quelled. At all.
That being said, there’s still a ton to like. Let’s dig into it.
IN THE NORTH:
Outside of two quick scenes that take place near The Wall, the majority of time in the North is spent with new King-in-the-North Jon Snow, fresh off of his victory in The Battle of the Bastards against the Bolton forces last season. Jon morosely reminds us that his victory is short-lived, and they must get to work in defending The Wall against the White Walkers, who march more South with every passing day. The only glimpse we get of them is a gorgeous foggy shot in the snow, with their army advancing, but the show tends to throw these chilling shots in from time to time to remind us about what’s actually important. The other non-Winterfell scene is Bran Stark and Meera Reed arriving at The Wall and gaining access to Castle Black while meeting Jon’s old friend Edd, who presumably is now Commander of the Watch.
Jon is admittedly not a political figure. He tells the people of The North that they need to start preparing their daughters and wives for battle as well, as they need more than half of the population to defend against the Walkers. Lady Mormont is pretty pleased by this, and it ends up being received well by the crowd, but in reality, the traditionalists are not going to be happy about training their young daughters to sharpen spears. Other than weaponry and personnel, Jon also realizes that the northern-most castles near The Wall need to be properly manned, and Jon lost the support of two big Northern families in the Karstarks (defected after Robb Stark beheaded Rickard Karstark for murdering distant Lannister relatives who were captives back in Season 2) and the Umbers (defecting after the death of Greatjon Umber off-screen). Both the Karstarks’ and the Umbers’ new heads-of-house fought for Ramsay Bolton in the Battle of the Bastards, and both have now died, leaving younger pre-teen cousins in charge.
Sansa and Jon argue in front of a room full of their subjects on how to resolve manning the castles. Sansa proposes removing the Karstark and Umber influence by putting new, loyal houses in charge, but Jon bristles at going against tradition, and gets sworn fealty by the new, aforementioned, young heads-of-house. This is more evidence of an increasingly complicated relationship between Sansa and Jon. Jon is not political, but he could assume the same fate as Ned Stark or Robb Stark if he continues operating with only honor and tradition. He is not taking Sansa’s advice seriously, and Sansa has spent all six seasons maneuvering around the capital and learning political tricks from high-profile people such as Cersei, Margarey, and Littlefinger. Jon is underestimating Sansa, but we also don’t want Sansa second-guessing Jon in front of his subjects. It’s a complicated alliance filled with love and respect as “siblings,” but Sansa will grow more unhappy if Jon doesn’t consider her points of view, especially considering the only reason Jon’s forces won is because of Sansa’s recruitment of Littlefinger and the Eyrie forces during the last Battle. (My advice to Jon would be pretty simple. Just talk to her about your plans beforehand and allow her to give her position so you can consider it!!! Every single person has a counsel to aid their decisions except for Jon, and it’s already got him killed once.)
Speaking of Littlefinger, he makes a few appearances, smirking at the testy exchanges between Sansa and Jon, but also getting rebuffed by Sansa in a private conversation when it becomes more and more clear that Sansa doesn’t trust him. Part of me likes how Sansa has grown, but part of me wonders if Littlefinger is the right guy to piss off, especially when he commands an army that is essentially fresh after staying neutral in the War of the Five Kings conflict from Seasons 2 through 5. We also get a bit of Tormund in this episode, both sarcastically accepting Jon’s decree that the wildlings help guard The Wall, and also doing his episodic flirting with Brienne.
Finally, in some unrelated part of the North, presumably South of Winterfell but North of the Riverlands, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane is hanging around with the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group of religious fanatics who follow The Lord of Light, and also a group who we haven’t seen that often in recent seasons. The Hound is still searching for a purpose, and finally receives one in this episode. His character growth has been interesting, as he’s shown a bit of a soft side underneath his snarling insults and gruff demeanor. In addition to The Hound, the Brotherhood is also searching for a purpose, wanting something greater than just living off the land and opposing the Lannister order. They happen upon an old cottage that The Hound had visited with Arya back when they were traveling together (Season 3 or 4 probably). The Hound stole the farmer’s money and it’s clear that the farmer and his daughter have starved to death in the increasing chill of the long winter. He feels a real guilt, and wakes up Thoros of Myr (second-in-command at the Brotherhood to the seemingly immortal Beric Dondarrion) when burying the bodies of the farmer and his daughter. When they have a very intimate, quite frankly emotive, conversation about their purpose, The Hound sees a vision in the flames; that they should head North to help guard The Wall. The Brotherhood, especially if aided by The Hound, will be a huge asset to Jon and the Northern forces if they can station that group at a castle. They have some magic influence, but they also have one of the handful of best swordsmen in the kingdom with The Hound. He’s such an interesting character, and seeing his journey northbound as a free agent has me begging for a meeting with Jon. This section may the second best part of the episode.
IN THE RIVERLANDS:
We actually open the episode in the Riverlands, with Arya Stark fresh off of her massacre of Walder Frey in a gruesome manner. Arya uses his face and disguises herself, poisoning an entire hall of Frey’s subjects, and essentially wiping the Frey influence off the map, leaving the Riverlands vacant. She gives a great speech, and we pretty much know from the get-go that it’s her in disguise and not a flashback, but this is a fun cold open that sets the stage for the season. Arya is beginning to walk the line over to the dark side, though, and I wonder how much longer she’ll remain likable if she spends all of her time as a savage murderer. The line about how leaving one wolf alive means the sheep are never safe is a line that rings true for a few different reasons. I’ll get to that later.
After Arya leaves, we see her again in a brief scene of her heading South to King’s Landing. It’s possible she doesn’t know that members of her family survive her, but she wants to kill Queen Cersei. She shacks up, ironically, with a Lannister guard, and there’s a pretty unnecessary scene with Ed Sheeran as one of the guards. Celebrity cameos are fine, I don’t care that he was there, and I’m not going to take to Twitter to voice my “outrage.” He was a useless part of the episode, and the scene really only goes to show how unsettling Arya has become. I’m sure we’ll get more of this next episode.
IN KING’S LANDING:
Cersei is building a giant map on an empty floor of the Red Keep, so that she can keep track of movements and geographical preferences for future moves. I found this scene to be pretty funny because we all use the map to keep track of the show, as well.
Cersei and Jaime’s conversation went exactly how you would expect it to, but it was very well-acted and emotionally satisfying. Cersei has lost all attachment to her children, essentially acting as a blank slate when Jaime wants to talk about the death of Tommen by suicide last season. Instead, she wants Jaime to think in the short-term, only about what they can achieve together. Jaime correctly mentions the other big itching question. They are surrounded by enemies on all sides…
Barring a huge shake-up, Cersei should be in line to lose the Crown as quickly as she got it. She has enemies to the South in Dorne with the Sand Snakes, still bitter about Oberyn Martell’s death in Season Four, and Olenna Tyrell will have no problem rallying support to the West to attack Cersei, especially after Cersei was responsible for the death of Olenna’s son Mace, grandson Loras, and granddaughter Margarey. The East will now be occupied by Dany, bringing over three dragons, great counsel, Unsullied warriors, thousands of Dothraki, and more. Then, North of her is Jon Snow and the Stark influence, who will never be friendly, and Littlefinger, who directly betrayed her. When Jaime mentions that they are surrounded by enemies and the only real ally that had was a coward in Walder Frey, Jaime wonders whether Cersei’s proposed alliance with Euron Greyjoy will offer any merit. It’s also a nice callback to the conversation Frey and Jaime had last season, about how Frey can see eye to eye with Jaime because they’re both Kingslayers, leaving Jaime wondering who he’s chosen as his company.
Euron was an unpopular character in Season 6, and I didn’t love the storyline of how the Iron Islands broke into two factions. We recognize that Yara and Theon brought plenty of support to Dany, but now, Euron proposes to align with Cersei. His reason is actually “we both like to murder people.” I can stand repulsive characters, just look at Ramsay or Joffrey, but Euron Greyjoy has limited backstory, limited intellectual capital, and really has just been a huge negative on the show since his introduction. His cringe-worthy scene trying to prove his worth to Cersei and Jaime led to several flat jokes and an overall demeanor that I wish the show would do away with. The one thing that it does give the show as a positive, however, is the ability of it to present tension. He says that he will bring Cersei someone as a gift to show his loyalty, and I have no idea who that is. His random jump-scare pop-up in a few episodes is greatly appreciated, and it does slightly bring me back from pure hatred of his story-line. I just can’t stand his presence.
The final scene of the episode is Dany finally landing on the shores of Westeros. Dragonstone is the castle where her family used to sit, and the entire sequence is a mix of several emotional states. We get the soaring Dany’s theme in the music, but the entire scene is silent and slightly off. That eerieness makes us think about what this place is to Dany. On first look, she wants to believe that it’s home, especially as the gates open to a beautiful walkway and then later to a dragon-style throne. Dragonstone gets such a new personality after only limited exposure when Stannis was shacked up there in the beginning of Season 2. The Targaryen influence at Dragonstone is a haunted one, and somehow the directors manage to get the eerie, haunted feeling of what Dany is about to begin with. When we see her at the planning table, her “shall we begin?” is enough for goosebumps. This final sequence from the shore, in complete silence, to the building music, showcase of the visuals, and then down to business is why we love GOT. It’s amazing. I loved the end of this episode. It was really, really special.
Elsewhere in the South, Samwell Tarly is busy at the Citadel leaning to be a Maester, doing his fair share of reading and dissecting experiments with new addition Jim Broadbent (who’s great). Sam is frustrated of going through comically edited poop-emptying scenes, and wants access to the restricted section of the library to learn more about the Walkers for Jon. He does steal some keys (which could lead to anything from a slap on the wrist to an execution) to access the books, and finds out that Dragonstone holds a ton of dragonglass that can be used to kill White Walkers. In a perfect world, this will be enough to drive an alliance between Jon and Dany, but we’ll see. There’s still a lot to learn from Sam, but I like where his storyline is going. More Broadbent, please. Finally, there’s one bit of his section that I don’t care for, and that’s the infected Jorah Mormont jump-scare. I’m okay sitting a few more episodes and learning where he is naturally, instead of having a bad jump-scare to remind us that he’s sick and is still only thinking about Dany. I hated this two-second interaction, but it was enough to put next to the awful Euron/Cersei interaction in deciding what made this episode less-than-great.
All in all, the episode had some good moments:
-The intrigue within the Jon, Sansa, Littlefinger three-hander is fantastic.
-The growth of The Hound is wonderful, and him joining the North would be nice.
-Dany’s landing was suspenseful, eerie, powerful, and haunting all at the same time.
The bad moments:
-Euron Greyjoy and his foul mouth.
-Jorah the Jump-Scare
EPISODE SCORE: B minus.