**SPOILERS FOR GoT SEASON 6 AND SEASON 7 EPISODE 1 AHEAD (duh)**
THRONES IS BACK! It’s been a longer than usual wait for the biggest TV show on Earth to come back but it is here and Season 7 has kicked off with an excellent episode overall.
The episode started with a cold opening which is still an odd thing for Game of Thrones, last time it was done was the beginning of “The Broken Man” (S06E07) but it is used to great effect as Season 7 wastes no time kicking the body count up with Arya (wearing the face of the now-deceased Walder Frey) poisons the remaining Freys whilst chastising them for the Red Wedding. It’s a chilling scene as Arya recounts what the Frey family did to the Starks as they all start to choke on some poisoned wine in a great parallel to the Red Wedding from Season 3. The Starks send their regards. The scene is beautifully done, GoT’s set design remains the best in modern TV history and the chilling dialogue delivered by the always-fantastic David Bradely and Maisie Williams kicks off Season 7 with a bang.
The opening scene also does a lot to set up Arya’s skills as an assassin and Faceless person, she’s progressively gotten stronger over the seasons but now we see just how ruthless and efficient she can be. Arya’s developing into a much more cold-blooded killer now but it’s interesting to see the conflict on her face when she’s talking to those Lannister soldiers near the Twins (featuring Ed Sheeran and his cheeky dialogue). Her murder of the Frey family mirrors the motivation of Lady Stoneheart from the books, Arya is killing all of the people who have wronged or hurt her family but we may see some inner conflict. She mentioned to the Lannister soldiers (which I think will either make or break Arya’s moral compass) that she’s heading to King’s Landing to kill the Queen, Cersei Lannister. It’s a tense scene by the fire but the dialogue of the Lannister soldiers is really well done and nicely humanises them. One of them is a Mumma’s boy and another just had a baby, oh and another is 2 days from retirement, which probably means they’re all doomed. It perplexed me as to why Arya is heading to King’s Landing and not Winterfell but she’ll probably turn around next episode, the preview for Episode 2 shows Nymeria (Arya’s dire wolf) and Arya possibly looking at her so hopefully we’ll get that Stark reunion soon to warm our hearts.
After the opening credits we get an amazing shot of the Night King and the Army of the Dead in the North marching forward courtesy of Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven sight and we see that the Night King has 3 wight (undead) giants. Oh boy, war over everyone, the Night King wins. With Wun Wun now dead, everyone south of the Wall are going to have a tough time taking those giants down. But hey at least they don’t have any giant Frost Spiders… yet. Anyway, Bran and Meera arrive at the wall and Edd lets them through, and that is all we see of Bran this episode but this also speaks to the faster pace of Game of Thrones now that all the filler is out of the way. The pace of the B-Stories is much faster this time around and this episode greatly benefited from that, we got to see more Jon, Lyanna “Baby Badass” Mormont, Cersei and Jaime and Samwell cleaning bedpans, you didn’t know you needed a montage of soup and bedpan cleaning until now so take that.
Samwell Tarly is now training to be a Maester at the Citadel in Oldtown and the storyline kicks off in great fashion as Samwell cleans bedpans, serves soup, sneaks into the Restricted Area of the Citadel library like a Harry Potter wannabe and collects the food bowls from the cells, where Jorah the Explorer is growing a great looking stone arm. It’s interesting how Jorah ended up in Oldtown and how his Greyscale has worsened to the point where his arm looks like a bleeding footpath but hey, it’s always great to hear Iain Glen’s amazing voice as he asks about if the “Dragon Queen” arrived yet. This scene has me worried that Jorah may be going crazy and for a character who has survived since Season 1, I really hope that what time the show has left isn’t devoted to the Adventures of Jorah “the Rock” Mormont as he goes progressively nuts. I love the character of Jorah but now that we’re in the home stretch before the home stretch, I fear it may be a little too much of a distraction from the main plot *COUGH*Dorne*COUGH*.
The rest of the episode was excellent, Lyanna Mormont totally burning Lord Glover was amazing (more Baby Badass please) and the conflict between Sansa and Jon is progressing nicely, their disagreement on what to do with the Umber and Karstark houses was well played out, however I was disappointed that Harald Karstark’s death was off-screen, with Jon mentioning that he died on the field during the Battle of the Bastards last season. We got a satisfying end of Smalljon Umber (having his throat ripped out by Tormund Giantsbane) and Ramsay Bolton, so they could have done something more interesting with Karstark’s death. Also Littlefinger is still just hanging around, his presence is keeping the divide between Sansa and Jon open and complicating matters of alliances (as we’ll see in Episode 2). Killing Littlefinger is complicated as if he is murdered by one of the Starks (I’m betting on Sansa or Arya) the North will lose the support of the Lord Robin of the Veil, whose cavalry saved Jon and Sansa from defeat during the Battle of the Bastards and the Starks can’t afford to lose allies.
Which brings us to Queen Cersei and her giant floor map. Jaime has returned to King’s Landing and Cersei is preparing for war with pretty much everyone, she has enemies to the East (Daenerys at Dragonstone) enemies to the South (the Sand Snakes of Dorne), enemies to the West (Olenna Tyrell of Highgarden) and enemies to the North (King Jon of Winterfell). This scene was confusing for a big reason, Jaime. Jaime seems conflicted about Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor and declaring war on pretty much everyone (his quip about her being the Queen of only 3 Kingdoms instead of 7 was excellent) but then he jumps right in and suggests they take Highgarden. He comes away from the scene seeming more conflicted about Cersei and her actions but he seems to jump back and forth strangely fast. Jaime’s character development from an arrogant kid to an honourable man has been one of the highlights of the show over the years and it’ll be interesting to see how his allegiances change over the course of the season but that scene was a little confused. As soon as he asked Cersei what they’re doing now that their children are all dead, you could see him die a little inside but I look forward to seeing his actions speak louder than his sad facial expression.
Then we have Euron Greyjoy meeting with Cersei and Jaime to talk about an alliance and he brings a wonderfully rendered fleet of ships and nice new haircut. This part of the episode was a low point for me because of Euron, this is only his second episode so obviously they are rushing his character development along a bit. That being said, his original intention to bring ships to Daenerys and marry her has fallen through so now he’s jumping on board with the Lannisters… ok? It’s clear that Euron is in the war to play off of whoever wins and take the throne for himself but switching sides so easily is makes the audience wonder if he thinks that his support is ultimately what will win the war and if he knows that. Also where did all the wood for the fleet come from? I know Game of Thrones has timejumps without telling the viewer how much time has passed but this is definitely the quickest assembly of a fleet ever, maybe Euron sailed to the island of Ikea and learned the secret ways of the Allen Key, but we don’t know that because his character has only been in 2 episodes so his backstory and development are definitely lacking, we just have to take him on his word that he’s a great sailor and leader, but hey Season 7 could use less exposition so depending on how things progress, that light backstory may work well for the show, for now he’ll probably raid Dorne and hopefully kill some Sand Snakes but I’m not holding my breath. From the trailers it looks like he eventually attacks the Ironborn fleet under Yara and Theon Greyjoy but I’m not expecting that to play out so soon but I am open to surprises.
The episode ends with Daenerys and Co. landing at Dragonstone as she emotionally touches some sand, stares emotionally at some giant dragon carvings outside the castle doors, emotionally walks up the long path to the castle, emotionally stares at the throne room chair and emotionally runs her hand along the map table we last saw Stannis grimacing at. It’s a very emotional sequence with no dialogue except for the “Shall we beg-” at the end. I say “beg-” because Foxtel Now cut off the end of the sentence with the preview for the next episode, followed by ads for other Foxtel stuff. Thanks for that Foxtel. Dragonstone looks amazing and I dug the lack of dialogue and Raman Djawadi’s fantastic score, but after 6 seasons of buildup, this wasn’t the epic landing scene I was hoping for with Daenerys but it was well shot, well scored and I may have shed one solitary tear but I can’t help but feel that I wanted more and if I can briefly elaborate on Foxtel Now, the picture was less than fantastic and so was the audio. Foxtel Now has little in the way of quality settings (just High and Low) and I suspect the feed was around 480p that eventually pushed itself up to an upscaled 720p with some major grain problems. But hey that’s the only way to watch GoT legally in Australia without having a Foxtel TV subscription so hopefully they fix the quality issues soon, for $15 a month (minimum) I expect better, lift your game Foxtel.
NOTE: I decided to rewatch the episode whilst writing this review but it appears Foxtel Now has gone down, probably due to high traffic so there you go. Use the free trial but I can’t recommend paying the minimum AU$15 a month for Game of Thrones, the quality of service is too poor at this point.
That being said, the Hound’s storyline was the strongest part of this episode and I’ve been saving it for last so here we go. Sandor Clegane continues his adventures with Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and the Brotherhood without Banners as they make their way up to the North to fight for the Lord of Light. There’s an emotional callback to Season 4 as the Brotherhood take shelter in a hamlet that the Hound and Arya stayed in. It’s a heart wrenching scene for Clegane as Arya stopped him from stealing from them back in “Breaker of Chains” (S04E03) with him remarking that “They’ll both be dead by winter.” We see the human side of Clegane as he discovers their bodies inside the hamlet, with Beric remarking that the father must have killed the daughter to spare her the suffering of starving to death during Winter and then killed himself. At first Clegane appears pensive, but later that night Thoros encourages him to look into the fire after Clegane challenges his faith and he sees a vision in the fire, the army of the dead approaching Eastwatch by the Sea, a nice teaser if a little sudden for the character to be willing to stare at fire (something he is very afraid of thanks to his brother, the Mountain). However the pivotal scene comes as Thoros wakes in the night to find Clegane outside burying the father and daughter, a nice call back to the books where his character is suspected to be a monk Brienne saw digging graves (the Gravedigger theory). It’s a quiet scene with some great one liners but more than that, it shows the Hound changing from the careless thief and murderer he used to be, to a man with honour, similar to Jaime’s character arc.
So that is where we are, the new season has already started with a massive body count, great character progression and a montage of bedpans and soup with nary a naked person in sight. Overall it was a great way to kick off Thrones’ penultimate season and set the war to come in motion, but the Foxtel Now feed was awful and the service going down on the night when most Aussies would tune in? Unacceptable.
Episode Rating – 9 out of 10 Gold Schmeckles
Foxtel Now Rating – 2 out of 10 Free Trials
Episode 2 premieres at 11am, Monday the 24th of July on Showcase and Foxtel Now.