It’s been a long time coming, but Winter is finally here and so is season seven of Game of Thrones.
And if the season premiere is anything to go by, showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss are pulling out all stops to lay the groundwork for the final season, next year.
So, at the end of season six, Cersei had destroyed her enemies in a cataclysmic explosion of wildfire and has claimed the Iron Throne for herself. Queen Cersei; the First of Her Name.
Dany leads a fleet of allies across the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. Tyrion and Varys are by her side, while her dragons fly overhead.
Jon Snow has been proclaimed King of the North with Sansa by his side. But she’s perhaps unhappy that her role in the Battle of the Bastards has not been fully recognised.
And after claiming the life of another on her ‘Kill List’ (Walder Frey), Arya is still at large somewhere in the Seven Kingdoms. We can only hope there’s another Stark family reunion on the cards.
All the while, the Night King looms as the most serious threat facing all of Westeros. But only Jon realises what may be unleashed.
This brings us to Dragonstone; episode one of this shortened season of Game of Thrones.
It begins with a bang and the unexpected ‘return’ of Walder Frey, who Arya offed last season. But this is not a ‘flash-back’. This is here and now.
He’s brought together all his men-folk to reveal his plans for House Frey. But it soon becomes clear that not all is what it appears as he begins to list all their questionable ‘achievements’.
“Butchered a woman pregnant with a babe. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home”.
“But you didn’t slaughter every one of the Starks. That was your mistake. Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe”.
As they all drop dead around him, he peels off his face to reveal Arya, who turns to Frey’s young wife and says:
“When people ask you what happened here, tell them ‘the North remembers’. Tell them winter came for House Frey”.
And that’s how you kick off a new season!
After the opening credits roll, we get our first look at the enemy facing all of Westeros. Through the snow, the army of the undead appear. There are giants among them with the White Walkers in various states of decay.
They’ve followed Bran and Meera, who finally make it to The Wall, who’re eventually allowed within the safety of The Wall.
Meantime, Jon Snow is making preparations for what lies ahead: Finding Dragonglass is a priority, as is battle training everyone from the age of 10-to-60.
Repairing and repopulating the Wall are also on the Jon’s ‘to do list’ and the Wildlings under Tormund are to take their place on The Wall in the defence to save humanity.
We also see his uneasy relationship with Sansa begin to emerge as she challenges his authority and decisions in front of his followers.
Sounding more and more like Eddard Stark, Jon refuses her demands to strip the traitorous Umbers and Karstarks of all they own.
There are many who agree, but he tells them while he never flinched from making the hard decisions as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he won’t punish the child for the sins of the father.
“I’m not going to strip these families of their ancestral homes because of the crimes of a few reckless sons. I will not take a family home from a family that it’s belonged to for centuries. That is my decision and my decision is final”.
So he calls up the young heirs of those two houses, who pledge him their support and allegiance.
“Yesterday’s wars don’t matter anymore. The North needs to band together. All the living North. Will you stand beside me, Ned and Alice, now and always”?
“Now and always”.
Sansa has been put in her place. She’s told not to question his authority as King in front of everyone. She somewhat petulantly brings up Joffrey and his style of rule.
“Joffrey never let anyone question his authority. Do you think he was a good king”?
“Do you think I’m Joffrey”?
“You’re as far from Joffrey as anyone I have ever met”.
She tries another tack and urges him to be smarter at the game than their father and Robb. And maybe he should be smarter by listening to her occasionally.
Her advice: think about the threat from the South and Queen Cersei rather than being consumed by the threat from the North.
“You’re the military man, but I know her. If you’re her enemy, she won’t stop until she’s destroyed you. Everyone who’s crossed her she’s found a way to murder”.
Except there’s an army of the undead a lot closer than the Lannisters. But she can’t be told.
Meantime in King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime discuss the state of affairs in the Seven Kingdoms or as Jaime likes to call it ‘the three kingdoms at best’.
Cersei is talking about building a dynasty, but as Jaime points out ‘for who’. Their children are dead. There’s no one but them left.
I suspect she has something up her black leather sleeves.
And while Jaime may be in command of the army, Cersei is not willing to listen to him when he tells her they can’t win a war in winter. And she doesn’t believe him when he tells her they have no support in the Kingdom.
“We need allies. Stronger, better allies. We can’t win this war alone”.
“Do you think I listened to father for 40 years and learned nothing”?
Ah-huh!! Here comes Euron Greyjoy, sailing his Iron-born fleet into King’s Landing.
It would seem he’s decided a marriage with Cersei is his best option now that Theon and Yara have thrown their lot in with Daenerys.
But she’s not so quick to accept. So off he goes to get her a ‘gift’ to win her affection. That could be:
a) A dragon head
b) Daenerys’ head
c) Tyrion’s head
At the Citadel, Samwell is at the very bottom of the ladder as he works to become a Maester to help Jon beat the Night King and his Wight Walkers.
He’s doing it hard: emptying chamber pots, scrubbing chamber pots and serving up food that looks suspiciously similar contents of chamber pots.
The whole scene provides some comic relief in the episode. More than Tormund trying to make eyes at Brienne.
Occasionally, Sam gets to work in the library putting away books. But he’s denied entry to the restricted zone (all very Harry Potter) where all the books on the Wight Walkers etc are kept.
After asking for help during an autopsy being carried out by Jim Broadbent (another Harry Potter alumni), Samwell plucks up the courage to steal a set of keys to gain access to those forbidden tomes.
What he learns is that there’s a whole stash of Dragonglass lying underneath Dragonstone – the ancestral home of the Targaryens. A raven is sent to Jon, which should mean we’ll soon have a Jon-Dany meeting in the near future.
A footnote to the Samwell scenes at the Citadel – as he’s collecting empty bowls, a hand reaches out and stops him.
It’s covered in Grey Scale and a familiar voice says:
“Has she come? The Dragon Queen”.
Jorah Mormont lives! And he’s still pining for his Khaleesi!
Arya has managed to get away from the surviving Freys and meets up with some soldiers on the way. She turns up as one of them sings a song.
Hello, Ed Sheeran. Compared with the others, he’s looking surprisingly clean and well kept. But he handles his scenes well.
And while we’d usually advise staying well away from soldiers out in the country, Arya shares a meal with them and knocks back a drink or two. And they all laugh when she tells them she’s heading south to ‘kill the Queen’.
So, that rules out a Stark family reunion in the north for the time being. Maybe later.
While Arya heads towards King’s Landing, her old travelling companion Gregor Clegane is still riding with Beric Dondarrion, the red priest Thoros and the Brothers without Banners.
They come across a homestead familiar to the Hound. The bodies of a father and child are found within. And the Hound takes the time to bury them and offer prayers for them.
Given he was hideously disfigured by fire as a child, the irony of winding up with a band of ‘fire worshippers’ is not lost on Clegane. Even so, he resists coming closer to the fire to see into the flames.
When he does, what he ‘sees’ could see the band head north. Looking into the flames he sees:
“Ice. A wall of ice. The Wall where wall meets the sea. The dead are marching past. Thousands of them”.
That would be East Watch by-the-sea where Jon has predicted the Night King would target. The vision could see followers of the Lord of Light join the fight.
Interestingly, George RR Martin recently said that the often-revived Beric Dondarrion was actually a “Wight animated by fire, rather than ice”.
The episode closes with Daenerys’ long awaited return to Westeros. Her fleet arrives at Dragonstone where her family used to reside and where, until recently, Stannis Baratheon was based
Very little is said until they gather around Stannis’ stone map table. She looks up and says:
“Shall we begin”?
The theme music begins, the end credits roll and the episode ends.
And what an episode it was. Was it worth the wait? Yes. And the groundwork has been laid for what’s promising to be an extraordinary season ahead.