Waiting for Game of Thrones to return is challenging; its absence from our screens feels almost as long as the coldest of winters in Westeros. Thankfully, after a much prolonged period, our agony has been relieved, with Season 7 surging into our homes with ferocious force.
“Dragonstone” – our season premiere – beautifully maps the political landscape following the vast ramifications of its predecessor, but much like Daenerys Targaryen returning to the titular location, it reminds us just how much we’ve missed the Seven Kingdoms. They are violent, they are uncompromising, and they are laden with dangers and dishonesties, but they’re also home.
With George R.R. Martin’s “The Winds of Winter” firmly in the rearview, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are working from their own script; from their own think tank. If this introductory hour is anything to go by, its safe to presume we’re in for one hell of a ride. So, without further ado, let’s break down Episode One…
The Title: “Dragonstone”
What Does It Mean?
Lingering on the fringes of Westeros, with its lapping waters upon vast shores, is Dragonstone – the original seat of the House Targaryen. Situated among a complex of grand, rising rocks, clocked by a quilt of fresh sea air, it is a forgotten fortress; isolated and neglected at the foot of Blackwater Bay.
Dany has single-handled resurrected her family name, and has a small yet loyal band who have pledged allegiance. These include Missandei, Grey Worm, Lord Varys, and the disgraced Lannister, Tyrion. In Season 6, Khalessi appointed the exiled Imp as her Hand of The Queen; perhaps the most critical asset in her political arsenal, and together they voyage ahead of her expansive Unsullied-Dothraki army in a tiny rowboat.
The rightful heir to the Iron Throne is looking regal as ever – draped in a militant gown, with dragon-decal broach – but Dragonstone itself is a little worse for wear. We follow our foursome through its towering gates, and many dank and decrepit rooms, with only the sound of footsteps and a rousing percussion score. She stands before the same battle map that Stannis stood at whilst Melisandre sent her demon-spawn to kill Renly. This place holds many scars and stories, but now a new era is ushering in.
We share a silent moment here; a scene which solidifies the importance of heritage and history within this world. Barely a breath is drawn until Dany concludes the hour with a phrase surely set to render proceedings: “Shall we begin?”
Most Shocking Moment:
Now technically we’re cheating a little here, because the most surprising – and therefore shocking – moment we’re saving for later on, but fear not; this choice is justified. There are plenty of ways to shock viewers, and Game of Thrones is an expert across all facets, but in “Dragonstone”, we were gifted an unexpected treat in the form of comedy; actual belly-laugh comedy.
We rejoin a bumbling, and extremely unlucky, Samwell Tarly, who’s being put through his paces as an intern of the Citadel. We’ve seen many gruesome and grotesque things across the previous 60 episodes, but watching the man who killed a White Walker pouring watery faeces and vomit from dirty bed pans is amongst the foulest. Gagging as he undertakes this odious work – smarty told in a montage to underpin the frequency of such disgustingness – we then cut to him pouring slop back into a dish as he serves the Maesters lunch. A beautifully repugnant contrast.
It provides one of the few genuinely hilarious and shockingly disarming moments in the show’s memory – a keen reminder that the grass isn’t always greener; no matter how cold and cruel life with the Night’s Watch may be. Interestingly, there is a second surprise and gag to be found as we meet an Archmaester, played by none other than Jim Broadbent. Sam wishes to access particular materials in the library which are off limits to interns, coyly located in the “restricted section”. Sam asks permission to enter, almost in the exact same manner as a certain Tom Riddle (or Lord Voldemort…) did in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; a film which also starred Broadbent, and placed him in the same awkward position.
Also, as a compelling side-note, a familiar voice asks Sam about a “Dragon Queen” from one of the many hospital rooms. An arm, thick with reptilian infection, blasts out from the serving hatch towards him. It’s Ser Jorah Mormont, and his Greyscale is in desperate need of treatment…
From the chill of The North, we fly down South to the Red Keep for “Dragonstone”s most pivotal play. Cersei Lannister – First of her Name, and new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms – stands before a painted map of Westeros. She, and brother Jaime, are commenting on the many enemies their great, yet massively shrinking, family unit faces. They have faced immeasurable losses, made all the crueler by former King Tommen’s suicide at the end of Season 6. Now, their backs are really against the wall. Walder Frey is dead. The Boltons are overthrown. Former allies in Highgarden have disbanded, whilst arch rivals linger in Winterfell, and to add further insult to injury, Dany’s departed Meereen and her armada is heading straight for the King’s Landing sunshine.
But, if there’s ever a character to thrive under pressure, it’s Cersei. Her options are limited, despite being the ruler of the Realm, but there’s one house which could provide the answer: Greyjoy. If you cast your minds back to Season 6, Theon and company neglected to serve under Euron, stealing wood and ships to join Dany’s rebellion. This treachery against House Greyjoy has not been forgotten. Euron, and his infamous Iron Fleet, dock in King’s Landing ahead of a meet with the Queen.
In exchange for his services – which includes the best battalion upon the many waters – Euron is looking for a wife. His proposal to the Queen is quickly rejected, much to Jaime’s relief, and Cersei reminds him of his untrustworthy behaviours in the past. To prove his loyalty to House Lannister, Euron promises to return with a “priceless gift”. The extent of this item is yet to be determined, but given his personal vendetta towards Khalessi, perhaps it’ll be Dragonbinder; the ancient horn, bound in Valyrian, which has the ability to control the mythical creatures. Could the Queen actually score the Stormborn’s most valuable asset?
Best Overall Moment:
Okay, remember earlier we mentioned something we’re saving? Well, here it is. Interestingly, the finest moment of our introductory hour actually unfolded ahead of the legendary title sequences. That was a surprise in itself. Arya Stark – now a fully-fledged assassin thanks to her brutal spell in Braavos under the tutelage of Jaqen H’ghar – is busy striking names off her kill-list. The aforementioned Walder Frey was one of them; slitting his throat in Season 6.
The season premiere opens with Lord Frey. Instead of rotting on the floor, he’s living, breathing, and monologueing to his gathered kin about their deplorable actions toward the Starks. At first it seems like a flashback, but then Walder begins to spurt stranger and stranger things. He names his men brave, and congratulates them for repeatedly stabbing Robb Stark’s wife in the stomach, killing their unborn child. Flagons of wine are distributed across the room, with Frey commenting that a special occasion requires the finest of flavours. Something is definitely up, but whenever the Freys are on-screen, an element of tension hangs in the atmosphere.
But suspicions are justified because this is no flashback at all, and that is not Walder Frey addressing court. It’s Arya – smartly concealed in her mask; wearing his skin – proving Winter has well and true come. She leads the assembled Freys in a poisoned toast, dispatching all the men of the house in one fell swoop. “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.” Some have questioned whether Arya’s desire to fulfil revenge has given her character tunnel vision; that she is blindsided by rage, and rage alone, but a key part of this explosively entertaining scene suggests otherwise. She actively stops an innocent women of the House from drinking a glass, proving their is plentiful honour and positivity still left in this extremely dark and brooding young lady.
“Dragonstone” provided the perfect return to Westeros, ranking among the best season premieres, ever. A terribly embarrassing cameo aside (seriously, that Ed Sheeran appearance was anything but subtle…), this episode was a sheer testament to Game of Thrones‘ thematic and tonal quality. It was rich, absorbing, thought-provoking. Concluding on the most wonderful of beats, this has kick-started was is set to be a biblical season inside the Seven Kingdoms. Begin, we shall.