Game of Thrones S7E1 Dragonstone - Review: Winter Was Worth the Wait
As any Clegane will tell you, "Size matters". It’s certainly been one of the biggest talking points in the lead up to season 7. We’re getting less episodes but are we getting more? Although a third of the season's length has been killed off, will we be getting 7 more action-packed and epic installments rather than 10 slower-paced affairs. Has this ideal created expectations that even the show’s vast hordes of gold will struggle to deliver? That would be a no. While this is still very much an expected, “starting positions” episode, everything about it feels bigger and more dramatic than its prior season equivalents. Believe the ravens of hype. Their blades are sharper this year.
Dragonstone – As Daenerys returns to her ancestral island home of Dragonstone, many in Westeros are preparing for the coming wars; whether that’s readying an army or brokering unlikely alliances. Sam is having a crap time at The Citadel while Ayra continues through her list.
Shall we begin? From the stunning Iron Fleet to the Dragons soaring over Dragonstone once more, the episode these key visual moments as a declaration of intent towards the bigger scale of this season. From the elaborate road so far recap (carry on my Westeros son) to the early body count, neither is it wasting any time. The episode has an interesting bridging theme across its different stories of the next generation making their mark. We have Jamie & Cersei creating their own Lanister legacy, Jon & Sansa leading the North in the reflection to their elder family members while Ayra is avenging them, Sam fighting to be heard among older Maesters and of course, Daenerys re-treading the steps of Aegon the Conqueror as a Targaryen landing on Dragonstone with aim to conquer Westeros. Across the map, the battle lines are well-drawn for coming conflicts with a number of nice twists across the episode, keeping things from feeling too predictable.
Immediately, the Winterfell scenes of Jon and Sansa impress by drawing good material from their character’s journeys. Jon may still be a reluctant commander and king but by channelling the principles of his “father” Ned and learning from his mistakes within the Night’s Watch, he looks a formidable and strong leader (“Yesterday’s wars don’t matter anymore”). This leads in well to his tension with Sansa as their well-meaning intentions conflict. Sansa is 100% correct in stating that Jon needs to be smarter than Ned or Rob because they were both defeated by their own mistakes (Ned for his trust and honour, Rob for following his heart). I also like Sansa’s acknowledgement towards Cersei with an air of respect towards her threat, “I learned a lot from her”. It’s nice reflection that our enemies have just as much to teach us as our friends and Sansa still seems to be playing her own game with Littlefinger. We even get another gem from Lyanna Mormont. However, the episode MVP rather surprisingly goes to Euron “he is the storm” Greyjoy. His scene with Cersei and Jamie is an absolute delight as he carries on with a blend of cockiness and nonchalance towards his royal circumstances. His taunts and less expected compliments towards Jamie are a particular highlight as to the outcome of the Greyjoy rebellion. It transitions Euron from being a single purpose character of moderate interest to a wonderful rogue element in the bigger picture.
The only story that did very little for me was The Hound’s. It felt like the kind of scenes that would ordinarily have been picked up in episode 2 or 3 but this year has been rushed to front for the sake of time. While a recap of his new, “bad man trying to do better” arc helps fans that have skipped a few seasons, re-treading previously dull ground is a poor way to achieve this. Similarly, his fire revelations feel an equally forced way of giving the Brotherhood Without Banners an immediate destination. Thankfully, Rory McCann still gets some good lines from Weiss & Benioff’s script to raise a smile but episode should have done much better here. The only other niggle is a passable one. The episode has a lot of ground to cover so understandably some notable (and popular) characters feel more like passengers this episode. For a lesson on how to make your brief time count, see Brienne & Tormund. Similarly, Jim Broadbent’s long overdue show debut is a very memorable debut as Archmaester Marwyn. His light mannered logical reasoning towards Sam has shades of his Professor Kirke from 2005's The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.
Although Ed Sheeran won’t be in the cameo A-Team, I really enjoyed the dynamic of Arya’s camp fire scene the younger guards. Not only did their presence as pull together the “next generation” theme as these young men find themselves now as soldiers but it made for a curious reflection Arya’s drive for vengeance. Although never stated, these are clearly Lannister soldiers who have only ever been portrayed with cruelty on the show; Ayra herself encountering this many times. Yet here, she receives kindness and friendship from them as strangers. Arya has sentenced many names on her list based on their actions from long ago. By showing these young men contradicting her perceptions, it plants the seed of doubt over her future actions. Has she judged some people with a childlike naivety that seems less clear as she comes of age? It looks like her story this season will come down to a dilemma over a significant kill... probably the name she jokingly drops?
It’s not only a solid season opener, it’s a steadying one. It’s an episode that reassures and rewards fans for their faith in the show’s structural changes. One that screams big wars are coming but still keeps that vital on the show’s character strengths. Finally, with multiple people blunting marking out The Wall as stropping the Whitewalkers I’m going to call it..... somebody get Chris Jericho because they’re bringing The Wall down this season.