In the “Game of Thrones” season seven premiere, “Dragonstone,” the remaining pieces of the Great Game finally move into their places on the board.
A large part of prestige television — which viewing audiences are drowning in lately — is waiting. That is definitely true of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and also true of Sunday night’s seventh season opener, which broke HBO ratings records. New threads, character paths and a musician cameo are packed into a tight, well-rounded one hour and 20 minutes with something in each scene for every fan.
The three biggest players — Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow — each make small strides in this episode to solidify their claims to power.
Cersei, despotic Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, strides atop a giant painted map of Westeros on the floor of the Red Keep, pointing out where all of her enemies lie on the compass to her brother and on-again, off-again lover, Jaime.
“Three kingdoms, at best,” Jaime corrects her, insisting that they look for more allies.
Jaime suspects that Daenerys — “Dany” for short — will land her fleet at Dragonstone, the ancient Targaryen fortress that has recently been sitting empty. When Jaime brings up their late son Tommen — who threw himself out his bedroom window in the season six finale — Cersei chalks up her son’s suicide as just another betrayal against her.
Cersei’s answer for her lack of allies is Euron Greyjoy, the new king of the Iron Islands, owner of a fleet of warships and the bad boy of Westeros. In the iron throne room, Euron asks for Cersei’s hand in marriage as a sign of allegiance, and Cersei, flanked by her new black and silver Queen’s Guard, promptly declines.
Euron, wearing an amazingly distracting leather jacket and pants that make him look like an emo pirate rockstar, promises to return to King’s Landing with a “priceless gift” that will convince Cersei to marry him. There are many guesses as to what that gift may be, but if he knows Cersei it’ll likely be a person she hates, which could be anyone on a long list of people.
Meanwhile, Dany has landed at her ancestral home of Dragonstone, touching down in Westeros after six seasons, 60 episodes and six real-time years since she started talking about it.
And she soaks it all in — touching the sand, walking silently through the castle, dragons flying overhead. She makes it all the way to the castle’s giant table map before standing dramatically at its head, asking, “Shall we begin?”
The only player who couldn’t be bothered to get a giant map is Jon Snow, mostly because he doesn’t know that he’s playing. Jon and his half-sister Sansa butt heads in Winterfell, as Jon seeks to unite the north against the White Walkers, while Sansa seeks to guard their backs from Cersei and other enemies to the south.
Jon’s friend from the Night’s Watch, Samwell Tarly, has been working at the Citadel in Oldtown — home of the maesters — with the task of finding any and all information on fighting the White Walkers. Instead, he’s mostly been doing chores, shown through a much too detailed montage of Sam cleaning bedpans and serving soup. Quick aside — how many jobs does Sam have? And why is the guy cleaning bed pans and assisting on autopsies also the guy serving soup and placing books back on shelves? And why are the books placed on the shelves pages out? How does anyone in that library find the book they need without going crazy? For a bunch of medieval intellectuals these guys don’t seem so smart.
While Sam chores around the Citadel, we come to learn more than a few things of note. Maester Marwyn, the archmaester of the Citadel, tells Sam that he believes his story of White walkers north of the Wall, though others may not.
“Everyone in the Citadel doubts everything — it’s their job,” Marwyn says.
Sam steals the keys to the restricted section of the library, where he grabs a book that tells of a mountain of dragonglass, one of the only materials that can kill White Walkers, beneath Dragonstone, quickly sending a raven to Jon Snow.
The scenes at the Citadel feel a bit like “Harry Potter,” if nobody at Hogwarts looked each other in the eye and the librarians were also the cooks and janitors. It’s especially hard not to see it considering Marwyn is played by Jim Broadbent, aka Professor Slughorn.
We also learn that Jorah Mormont’s quest to cure his deadly greyscale disease has led him to the Citadel, the intellectual capital of Westeros, with the illness progressing to cover his entire arm. And, if fan theories are to be believed, Sam may have already stumbled on a cure while studying dragonglass.
The rest of the episode contains a good amount of character check-ins but also manages to provide some impending plot information. Bran meets the Night’s Watch and passes under the Wall, which, since the Night King marked him last season, could spell the end of the Wall as we know it. Arya mass murders the Freys using Walder Frey’s face as a mask in a cold open that already puts this season’s body count in the high 20s. Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, travels with the Lord of Light-worshipping Brotherhood Without Banners and has a fireplace vision of the Wall, a castle where the Wall meets the sea and the White Walkers. The Hound buries the frozen bodies of the farmer and daughter that he robbed back in season four, showing real remorse and challenging his otherwise harsh worldview, in a touching pair of scenes that are probably the best of the episode. Varys has somehow met up with Dany and the others mid-voyage, considering we last saw him in Dorne, though there’s no sign of his co-conspirators, Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand.
Also, Ed Sheeran is in this episode, but I mostly forgot because I haven’t stopped thinking about Euron’s jacket. Sheeran sings a soldier’s ditty about lady hands with some other Lannister bannermen, eats some rabbit with Arya and continues a lengthy history of musician cameos on the show.
The episode is a good example of building anticipation, with the three key players poised to converge at Dragonstone sometime soon. Seems like a fitting housewarming present.
- Tormund’s unreturned crush on Brienne remains the best running joke.
- The Hound forgetting the rest of the funeral prayer and settling for, “I’m sorry you’re dead,” then throwing the shovel aside.
- Cersei declaring her son’s suicide a betrayal is the episode’s most shocking detail and seems to show a real shift in her character’s motivations.
- The castle The Hound sees in his vision is definitely Eastwatch, the same castle that Jon has just sent Tormund and the Wildlings to defend against the White Walkers. Are the Brotherhood Without Banners about to become the Brotherhood With Some Wolf-Like Banners?
- I get that Dragonstone is empty because Stannis Baratheon took his whole army north, but why didn’t literally anyone else fill the impenetrable dragon fortress with at least a few scout troops? If this were the medieval video game “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” that place would’ve been filled with leveled bandits by now for crying out loud.
- Sam’s chore montage goes on just too long — I thought it was going to turn into a musical number.