TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1 “Dragonstone” is nothing but power moves

That was one hell of a way to open up Game of Thrones’ seventh season premiere, wasn’t it? Rarely does the show dabble in cold openers, but an enormously satisfying ribbon-cutter was certainly the perfect way to usher in what is now the final 13 episodes (split into two seasons) of what has truly become the definition of “event television”.

I’m referring to Faceless Arya and her one-fell-swoop of course, an ingenious plan to completely wipe out every Frey “that matters” by poisoning them under the guise of an uncharacteristically generous toast led by cackling shitbag Walder Frey. The great Frey massacre kicked off with ‘Lord Frey’ addressing the men that helped him carry out The Red Wedding, encouraging them all to take a swig of the wine, which turned out to be fast-acting and lethal poison. Arya was behind the mask, finishing the job she started when she sliced Walder from ear-to-ear in “The Winds of Winter”. “Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe”, yep, as if the visuals of Arya walking through aisles of dead Frey men wasn’t enough we also got one of the show’s best-ever one-liners.

In just a couple of minutes the show had given us the type of closure that has been built up for years, not only reminding us that the end-game is near, but also reiterating just how clever and economical the writers have become, working with Game of Thrones’ biggest weakness – having to juggle so many arcs in one episode – and refining it so that any frustration is counteracted by dialogue and visual storytelling that moves the narrative forward in leaps and bounds without ever feeling ‘rushed’. Nothing feels extraneous and yet every scene is richly detailed.

Being so succinct must be a struggle for any television writing team, let alone one that has such an epic scale to deal with. It’s a noticeable talent that really strengthened the majority of “Dragonstone”, quickly moving certain pieces around the chess board to prepare us for what will undoubtedly be a momentous penultimate season. This also meant that a few happenings were easily predictable, but no less exciting to watch unfold, making all the blatant but thoughtful lines of exposition easily forgivable.

It’s important to note that aside from the cold opener the first scene of this episode is the truly terrifying look at the White Walkers and wights marching towards the screen, with even undead giants as part of this fearsome freakshow. The winds are billowing away from the perspective, the shrouding mist is thick and dreadful, and the camera: frozen in place, helpless as this army towers towards the wall. It’s soon juxtaposed against scenes in both the north and the south in which Jon and Cersei, respectively, are musing on the battles that still need to be fought before we even get to the White Walker problem – not that the Queen is aware of that threat as of yet.

A quick check-in with Bran to show that him and Meera have arrived at The Wall and been welcomed in by Dolorous Edd and the Night’s Watch leads us straight to Winterfell, where we follow Jon’s kingly arc, still patiently examining how he handles a shaky leadership while also juggling the knowledge that there’s a threat far greater than anything down south. The main crux of this is pragmatism, throwing tradition aside and calling on bannermen to let their women fight alongside them, a prospect met with only mere seconds of resistance before fiery Lyanna Mormont (if this was a lesser publication the words “kwwwweeeeen yaaaaaaas” would be used) shut any naysayers down.

Though that wasn’t the most interesting development here; the interplay between Sansa – naive but forward-thinking – and Jon – hardy and loyal – made for the real weight of this scene, with Ned’s eldest daughter swiftly undermining King Jon by suggesting that House Umber and House Karstark are replaced at their respective castles as punishment for disloyalty. Obviously we’re going to be seeing much more of this dynamic moving forward, and Littlefinger is going to take advantage of this in some way.

The same kind of military strategy is mirrored in the next leap, way down south to King’s Landing where Cersei reminds Jamie (and the viewers) just how many enemies the Lannisters have made. Jamie is reasonably worried – and probably even scared – but Cersei is quite confident, especially seeing as a planned alliance with the Ironborn and “the greatest armada” in the seven kingdoms will be bolster her forces. This makes way for Euron’s surprise introduction, invited by Cersei off-screen to show that the writers are wasting absolutely no time moving their power pieces into position. The hipster pirate promises to deliver Cersei a gift to convince her to take his hand in marriage, but the best prospect here is more subtly hilarious worldplay rivalry between Pilou Asbæk and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The writers were wise to let two of the show’s best characters nab ample screen-time this week. First let’s talk Sam. Focusing on his less than glamorous time spent serving at Hightower reiterated the obvious point that his arc has a really important part to play in the game of thrones.

His sense of urgency and cunning has put House Stark and Dany, who now resides at Dragonstone, on an exciting collision course with the discovery (or perhaps re-discovery; Stannis had already mentioned it) that dragonglass – the most effective weapon against the white walkers – can be found in abundance underneath Stannis’ former keep. Number one Dragonglass fanatic Jon Snow is surely going to head there, which makes it possible that we’ll be seeing a number of reunions sometime soon: Tyrion and Jon; Sansa and Tyrion; Sansa and Theon – all dynamics with great emotional weight behind them. I hope Davos and Varys become buddies as well.

One person left out of this probable reunion is poor Jorah Mormont, who we discover is literally rotting away in a cell at Hightower. Given the propensity to experiment at The Citadel, and Jorah’s advanced stages of greyscale, could we be on some sort of hybrid arc? Will it turn out that Jorah is impervious to some big important threat, an ability he can use to protect Dany one last time before dying? Though much of Game of Thrones is now on a seemingly predictable path, Jorah is one of the few wild cards left.

Then we’ve got Sandor Clegane, trodding through the harsh cold with the Brotherhood Without Banners as per his new arc which was established in the second half of last season. “You can still help a lot more than you’ve harmed Clegane, it’s not too late for you”: words of encouragement spoken to Sandor last season by Beric Dondarrion, echoing the path of redemption one of the show’s most beloved characters has been treading since we discovered he was a builder for an ill-fated Septon Ray (a guesting Ian McShane).

Bringing him back to a scene of one of his past crimes, now ravaged by death that he most likely directly caused, was a brilliant way to add a few layers to his personal journey. Rory McCann sold it all incredibly well, throwing lingering and regretful looks at the father-and-daughter skeletons of the poor family who died of starvation; the same he robbed and stole from back when he was Arya’s captor.

Of course the nitty gritty of this part of his storyline was also syncing with Thoros’ faith in fire, a fear he put aside for a few minutes only to have a vision of a threat beyond the wall marching past a mountain (symbolism for his undead brother perhaps?). It’s clear that the Brotherhood are now on a mission beyond the wall, which should bring the flimsy night’s watch some much needed muscle – in addition to love-lorn Tormund and his wildlings, who Jon has given Eastwatch by the Sea.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights:

  • Winter comes for House Frey
  • The Hound buries his past misdeeds
  • Tension between Jamie and Euron
  • Jorah revealed to be in The Citadel
  • Sam’s discovery

Lowlights:

  • The Ed Sheeran cameo felt forced; it was hilarious that aside from singing they didn’t really give him many lines. Although the entire sequence was a really nice human moment for Arya, who hasn’t really experienced sincerity since her endearing time spent with Hot Pie and Gendry.
  • No dialogue for Tyrion

Stray Thoughts:

  • Ah, “the gift” Euron has planned to win Cersei’s hand in marriage. What could it be? It needs to happen early this season since the alliance would be better forged sooner than later. That means that it’s unlikely Euron will kill/capture Sansa or Tyrion to impress the Queen; what’s more likely is that he ends up capturing and killing one, two or all three of the Sand Snakes.
  • Not much focus has been put on Littlefinger yet but the trailer does show Jon about to put a hurtin’ on him. I have a feeling he won’t leave the Winterfell storyline alive, although I really do hope the show throws him in with Varys again, just to bring some closure to their rivalry from the first season.
  • Along those same lines: Sandor and Arya. Will they meet again? There’s a great deal of fan investment in this duo, but it seems “Dog” is on the quick path to a heroes death sometime soon (although robbing fans of “Clegane Bowl” would be criminal).
  • White Walkers have giants (including Wun-Wun);  Westeros is fucked.
  • I almost forgot how terrifying the White Walker theme is; that soft, barely-there and incredibly worrying sound floating over a nothing backdrop.

Game of Thrones airs at the same time as in the U.S, every Monday at 11am AEST on Showcase, Foxtel. It repeats at 8pm AEST.

Photo: Helen Sloan / HBO