Season 7's premiere, "Dragonstone," felt slow. Regardless of that, it's good to be back in Westeros
Spoiler alert: The following article discusses Sunday’s “Game of Thrones” season premiere, “Dragonstone.” If you haven’t watched the episode, stop reading now.
Whenever a complicated tale lays fallow for a time, its return tends to be marked with a surveying of the field and a bit of throat clearing, some slow patting of pockets and looking around to figure out where we’ve left our glasses. Only after we regain our bearings can we settle into the action again. So: “Shall we begin?”
“Dragonstone,” the seventh season premiere of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” felt a lot like that, as executive producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff jogged our collective memories by catching us up on the remaining Starks, Lannisters, Greyjoys and, at the end of the episode, the last Targaryen. More than a year has passed between the season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter,” and Sunday night’s resumption, which marks the beginning of the series’ end. And wrapping up all of the stories in this sprawling epic is going to be a ponderous task.
There are enough remaining players to merit a moment to catch our collective breath and recall, in detail, where everyone has landed and what they’re up to. Weiss and Benioff’s script juggled a number of these main and secondary plots with aplomb, even allowing for a few entertaining surprises along the way.
To our relief Bran Stark and Meera Reed finally make it south of the Wall, granted passage by Dolorous Edd. The episode checks in with Brienne of Tarth and her relationship with the besotted wildling Tormund Giantsbane — it’s complicated! Arya comes across a cadre of friendly, likable Lannister soldiers that includes singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran. Why is he there? Who knows? Jim Broadbent makes his debut as an archmaester, and frustrates and helps Samwell Tarly at the same time, mostly by assuring him that winter comes and goes, but the Citadel is forever.
And what a delight it was to watch brash, trashy Euron Greyjoy attempt to win Cersei’s hand by riding up with an armada of ships and braggadocio, the Westerosi equivalent of 2 Chainz stepping up to a Daughter of the American Revolution with a fleet of muscle cars. No small thing, but not good enough — and Euron knew it, so he took the opportunity to score a few verbal jabs at Jaime’s expense as he strutted out.
All of this came after the coldest of cold opens — we’re talking icy, gangster-level frigidity — in the form of Arya Stark wiping out the entire Frey clan with a few sips of Arbor Gold wine.
Justice? Sure. Mass murder? Indubitably. The writers even spike the scene with Arya’s version of Omar Little’s famous “You come at the king, you best not miss” line on “The Wire”: “Leave one wolf alive,” she tells the roomful of retching Freys while wearing the face of their traitorous paterfamilias Walder, “and the sheep are never safe.”
“Dragonstone” delivers heavily on fan service even as it shortchanges with regard to primary plots. Some of that is warranted; the hype leading up to this new season included so many teasers about the increasing prickliness between Jon Snow and Sansa Stark that seeing them bicker was hardly surprising. Nor, for that matter, is the chill existing between Cersei and Jaime in King’s Landing, the former so obsessed with securing a dynasty that she can’t comprehend that she’s surrounded by enemies, geographically and politically. Jaime points this out to her as they stand on a gigantic map of the Seven Kingdoms that Cersei is having a resentful looking man paint on the floor. The irony in that moment outweighs the whole damn throne, and it’s delicious.
Nevertheless, “Dragonstone” didn’t take the audience to any new places. That’s fine, I guess, since there are only six episodes remaining in this season. The producers probably have a mandate to milk as much suspense out of the story as possible. Besides, it’s not as if we have a new book from George R. R. Martin to turn to, right? Weiss and Benioff have hardcore Throneys by the tenders here.
Nevertheless, the joy at seeing familiar faces again is undeniable. The settings haven’t changed much since last season, and it’s not particularly obvious how much time has passed. How long does it take for a fleet of ships and dragons to cross the Narrow Sea? (And while we’re asking, how did Daenerys manage to score weather appropriate couture for herself and her entourage during that trip?)