*Episode 1 spoilers ahead*
We see the Hound make fun of Thoros of Myr’s top knot (Clegane literally calling it a “top knot”, presumably having learned the term from his favourte Westeros style blog), Euron Greyjoy debut a new look that was less winter is coming than “autumn/winter is coming”, Ed Sheeran parachute in for a jarring cameo and King Jon Snow/Stark/Targaryen make a big leap for gender equality in the North.
Episode 1 kicked off with a rare cold open, a little coda to the end of season 6 in which Arya impersonated Walder Frey using her half-completed Faceless Man training, and poisoned a substantial amount of the Frey army. It was a fun scene, although it created the potential for us all to ceaselessly question whether every single character from here on out is just Arya in disguise.
After the opening titles, winter billowed toward us: the Night King, legions of wights and even a few wight giants marching South. Bran was privy to this through his visions, and he and Meera finally made it to The Wall, getting the word out about the Night King and probably dearly wishing Westeros had WhatsApp.
Meanwhile in Winterfell, Jon declared that women would be needed in the fight against the White Walkers, earning him a nod of approval from Brienne and the backing of Lyanna Mormont. There was immediate disagreement between him and Sansa, who even hinted at having sympathy with the malevolent Cersei.
You can tell Sansa is going to cause major problems this season: although, interestingly, not by serving as a puppet for Littlefinger – whom she schooled in the episode – but by being ruthless and prideful in her own right.
Over in King’s Landing, newly-crowned Queen Cersei resumed necking wine at an admirable rate and plotting military strategy. Emphasising Tyrion’s allegiance to Daenerys to Jaime, the latter was put in a very awkward situation; you can already see a decision on the horizon in which he has to choose between his sister and his brother.
Later, Euron Greyjoy arrived at the seat of power, mischievously flirting with Cersei and mocking Jaime while pushing for an alliance with the Lannisters against Daenerys.
Cersei and Jaime weren’t persuaded, but Euron promised to bring them a “precious gift” which could sway things (this could very likely be the Dragonbinder from the books, a horn Euron owns which can be used to control dragons – eeeek).
Next in the sub-plot cycle was Sam Tarly, who got stuck in a Harry Potter-esque storyline in the Citadel which saw him sneaking into its vast library at night to break into the restricted section. Here he learned that Dragonstone is home to a mountain of dragonglass – surely a huge revelation for number one dragonglass fan, Jon.
Quick run-through of the other elements: Jim Broadbent arrived as a maester and mentor to Sam, but gave him fairly short shrift when it comes to Sam’s White Walker obsession; Brienne trained Podrick and continued to get eyed up by Tormund; Ser Jorah was seen succumbing to greyscale in a Citadel cell, and Ed Sheeran popped up for an incredibly unsubtle cameo (I’m trying to block it out of my mind but you can read more on it here).
One of the weaknesses of Game of Thrones has long been how quickly it must rattle through plot points. A prime example near the end tonight: the Hound ridiculed the Brotherhood without Banners over their faith, only to briefly see a vision in a fireplace moments later and swiftly do a 180.
There were also some predictability issues with the episode – I definitely had a “She’s going to say ‘Shall we begin?’ isn’t she,” moment seconds before Daenerys did indeed close the episode with the words “Shall we begin?”
It was a thrill to have the show back, and it looked more stunning than ever thanks to its upped per-episode budget. However, “Dragonstone” felt a little like it was going through the motions at times, and I hope the show – as it continues to outstrip the books – can still shock us as we lurch toward this climactic fight in the North.
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