Game of Thrones, Season 7, Ep 1 “Dragonstone”

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Twins: The episode opens with a cold open before the credits, which is unusual. It seems to be in the castle at The Twins, and… is that Walder Frey? I’m confused for a few seconds, because he’s dead, right? Then my wife whispers, “It’s Arya!” And yes, of course, suddenly this whole scene makes sense, as it continues to unfold with an ominous sense of inevitability.

“Walder” has called his men into the feast room for another feast. He explains that two feasts in a fortnight is unusually generous, but then he’s pleased with the recent successes of House Frey, helping the Lannisters capture Riverrun. He says he’s sharing a special wine, especially good, and encourages everyone to drink up as serving wenches distribute it. Walder’s wife is about to drink, but he says none for her, he’s not wasting good wine on women. She accepts this. Everyone drinks, but Walder himself doesn’t. Walder says how proud he is of his men, slaughtering the Starks at the Red Wedding. Killing the innocent unborn child of Robb Stark, and his wife and mother. The tone turns sarcastic, but the men in the hall are suddenly too preoccupied with choking and gagging as the poisoned wine takes effect.

Soon all the men are dead, and the Frey women are standing dumbfounded in shock. “Walder” rips off his mask to reveal Arya, who did a great job not only of the make-up but also imitating both Walder’s voice and his mean streak. Arya turns to Walder’s wife and says, “Tell everyone what happened here. Tell them: The North remembers.” Arya strides out of the hall full of dead Freys and their men.

Later, Arya is riding through a forested area when she comes across a group of soldiers singing around a campfire. They notice her as her horse whinnies, and invite her to join them for some rabbit. Arya says she doesn’t want to steal their food, and they say they’re offering it, so it’s not stealing. They are jovial and converse readily as Arya shares the food. They ask her where she’s going, and she says King’s Landing. They say that’s where they’ve come from, and are heading north on the Queen’s business. So these are Lannister soldiers. They ask why Arya is going to King’s Landing, and she says she’s going to kill the Queen. There’s a brief silence, before they all burst out laughing.

So it seems Arya isn’t just going to tick off the people on her list. She’s also going to take further vengeance against anyone who helped the marked people. And what will happen at this camp of Lannisters? They’re clearly enemies of the Starks, so perhaps she’ll kill them all as they sleep? Or will she be merciful? I wouldn’t count on it. The soldiers could easily attempt to take advantage of a young woman travelling alone, but Arya deliberately showed her sword as she sat down at the camp, so maybe they’ll think twice. I’m sure if they do try anything, Arya will kill the lot of them.

Castle Black: We see a vision of the White Walkers marching across snowy tundra, and pull out to Bran coming out of a vision. He and Meera have reached the northern gate of Castle Black, which opens and Edd and some Night’s Watch men walk out to greet them. Edd asks if they’re wildlings. Meera says she’s Meera Reed, daughter of whoever her father is, and he is Bran Stark, son of Ned Stark. Edd raises an eyebrow, but asks how he knows she’s telling the truth.

Bran speaks up, telling Edd that he’s seen the White Walkers, and he fought them at Hardhome. Bran seems to be relating things he’s learnt from visions. Edd is a bit unnerved, but orders his men to escort them into the castle.

The next obvious step here is that Edd could send a message to Winterfell to tell Jon that Bran is here. Hopefully he’ll do that. He might also learn some things from Bran about the White Walkers.

Winterfell: Jon assembles a meeting of the heads of the various Northern houses. He begins talking about the castles belonging to houses Umber and Karstark. Sansa interrupts and says that the Umbers and Karstarks are traitors, allying with the Boltons, and their families should be stripped of the castles and the lands given to loyal houses. Jon disagrees, saying that the traitors have all died in battle, and that he won’t punish the children by taking away their ancestral homes. Sansa argues some more, but Jon gets impatient and declares his decision. He calls forward a young boy and girl, apparently the new lord and lady of Umber and Karstark. He says their fathers were traitors, but he is giving them a chance to swear their loyalty to House Stark. They immediately pledge their swords on bended knee. They didn’t really have much option – you could see the fear on their faces. Jon is satisfied, but Sansa fumes quietly, while Petyr Baelish watches the interplay between them carefully.

Jon then starts making plans to defend against the White Walkers. He says they’ll need not just the men, but also the women to be trained to fight. And children as young as ten. Someone stands up to protest, but Lady Lyanna Mormont stands and gives another feisty speech about women and girls being just as useful in battle as men, and that she’ll immediately order everyone on Bear Island to start training. The other Lords are either impressed or humbled into going along. Jon asks Tormund if he’ll take the wildlings to the castle at the eastern end of the Wall, by the sea. Jon also orders everyone to look for dragonglass, and send word for people to try to find any.

Outside, Jon rounds on Sansa, telling her that she shouldn’t undermine his authority in front of others. She says she’s lost her father and brother, and doesn’t want Jon to make the same mistakes. They haven’t really resolved their argument when a message arrives, from Cersei, demanding that Jon travel to King’s Landing and bend the knee to her. Sansa says that by concentrating on the White Walkers, he’s ignoring the Lannisters to the south. She thinks Cersei will be a big threat. Jon dismisses this, saying the Lannisters are a southern army, and winter is here – they could never penetrate this far north.

A bit later, Brienne and Podrick are training in the courtyard. Petyr approaches Sansa on the balcony, watching them. He says a bunch of stuff, which frankly I forget because it was all so slimy and trying to push his own agenda of somehow claiming the throne, and having Sansa accept him. She’s so disgusted by him that she barely bothers telling him off. She needed his help to retake Winterfell, and now he’s starting to demand his payment, but Sansa is resisting. At some point Petyr is going to lose patience, and that will no doubt be terrible to watch. I hope Sansa has some backup when it happens. Maybe Arya will return and take care of him – that’d be nice.

Random place: Sandor “The Hound” Clegane rides with the group of Brotherhood Without Banners through lightly falling snow. They come across a farmhouse, and Beric reckons it’s a good palce to spend the night. Sandor thinks the owners might protest, but Beric points out there are no livestock, and no smoke from the chimney. They enter, and I get the feeling that we’ve seen this place before. Is this the farmhouse where Sandor and Arya spent the night and then left after stealing the farmer’s silver? I remember enough to think that may be the case, but not the details (until reading my own recap of that episode now). The way Sandor acts though, it’s pretty clear that it probably is.

They find the bodies of the farmer and his daughter inside, apparently killed by the man in a murder-suicide to avoid starvation. Sandor realises he probably caused this. He talks to Beric and asks why the Lord of Light would choose him to come back from the dead. Beric says he has no idea why he was chosen. Another guy builds a fire and urges Sandor to come close and peer into the flames. Sandor is reluctant, due to his pyrophobia, but approaches slowly, and is astonished to see a vision. He sees White Walkers approaching the Wall, and trying to go around it at the eastern edge, by the sea.

Sandor appears to be deeply affected by this. It seems that he is opening up to the religion of the Lord of Light, thanks to a combination of guilt for his past deeds and the company of Beric. Later that night, the guy who showed him the flames is woken by a noise outside. He goes to investigate, and finds Sandor burying the bodies of the farmer and daughter. He joins in, helping silently.

This is a strange spiritual journey for Sandor to be taking. It makes me think the Lord of Light has more things planned, especially now that Melisandre is off alone as well. The Lord of Light always seemed to be a fairly minor thing just tacked onto some parts of the story, but it seems to be growing in importance. Also, Sandor’s vision shows a possible way that the undead army can get past the Wall and its enchantments. They don’t go through it, they go around it. Maybe they can just wade through the sea. And now there are two mentions of the end of the Wall – that’s where Tormund and the Wildlings are going to defend the castle there. So assuming the vision is correct, Tormund could be seeing White Walkers well before he’d ever hoped to.

Old Town: Sam has begun his training to be a Maester. Like all good training regimes, it begins with humiliating and unpleasant work designed to “build character”, no doubt ordered by a Mister Miyagi-like figure who seems to just want his fence painted and his car waxed. Or in this case, the bed pans of old infirm Maesters changed, emptied, and scrubbed. In a montage scene we get to see Sam doing this dozens of times, interspersed with Sam trying hard not to gag during the job. Occasionally he gets to go into the library, and shelve books.

In the library he spies a tempting open tome beyond a locked gate – in the Restricted Section. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a cloak of invisibility like Harry Potter, so during an autopsy/dissection of a dead old Maester, Sam asks the Archmaester if he can have access. The Archmaester says it’s only for Maesters, and asks Sam if he’s a Maester yet. Sam despondently says no. The Archmaester has Sam weigh a liver and a heart, and Sam says he has seen White Walkers and wants to find out how to stop them. The Archmaester says he believes Sam, because of the detail in his story, but he says that Winter has come hundreds of times before and the Wall has always kept the White Walkers at bay. This winter will pass like every other, so there’s nothing to worry about.

This doesn’t really comfort Sam, who steals a key off one of the infirm old Maesters, and enters the Restricted Section, borrowing a few nooks to read at home with Gilly and Young Sam. He finds a section about dragonglass, and a map, indicating that there is a huge deposit under Dragonstone. He sends a raven to Jon with this information. So Jon, desperate to find dragonglass, may send an expedition to Dragonstone. This may be a bad idea… as we shall see very soon.

Later, Sam is doing the rounds of the infirm Maesters again, collecting empty dining plates from windows in cell-like doors. As he grabs one plate, a hand reaches through the slot, grasping for him! Sam jumps in fright. A croaky voice from the cell asks Sam is Daenerys Targaryen has landed in Westeros with her army yet. Sam stammers that he doesn’t know. But the voice of the man in the cell… it’s Jorah Mormont! Okay, maybe it’s not all old Maesters here – maybe it’s some form of leper house for sick people? It’s not entirely clear, but obviously Jorah has managed to get a cell here. I guess if there’s anywhere to find a cure for greyscale, it’s in a city full of Maesters, but he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of actually finding the cure. I guess we’ll see more of him soon.

And another thing occurs to me. If Sam is starting this close to the bottom in his training, there’s no way he’ll end up a Maester in just two more seasons of the show. Something must happen to accelerate his training, or else he’s destined never to finish what he’s begun here. It will be most interesting to find out where Sam’s story ends up.

King’s Landing: Cersei is having a huge map of Westeros painted on the floor of a room, as Jaime enters. She says that Daenerys is sailing for Westeros, and wonders where she’ll land. Jaime says it’s obvious that she will land at Dragonstone. The island is abandoned now that Stannis is dead, and it’s where Daenerys was born. He points out that they are surrounded by enemies, with Daenerys to the east, Dorne to the south, Highgarden and the Tyrells to the west, and Jon to the north. They’ve never been weaker, he says. Cersei says that now that it’s just her and him, without their children, they need to be even more ruthless. She says she’s arranged an alliance that can help them.

Euron Greyjoy arrives with his fleet from the Iron Islands. He cuts a Jack Sparrow-esque nonchalant figure in the throne room, with Cersei sitting impassively on the Iron Throne as Euron talks up his fleet. He says together they can conquer Westeros, and all he wants is the hand of Cersei in marriage. Jaime looks worried for a second, but Cersei rejects Euron’s proposal, saying he’s betrayed plenty of people, how can she trust him? Euron says he’ll go and return with a gift. Something priceless that she really wants.

Hmm. That could be a lot of things. Daenerys’s head on a platter would be a good start. But I seriously doubt Euron could manage that. He’s probably set his sights lower. It’ll be interesting to see.

Dragonstone: Yep, this is where Daenerys decides to land. The fleet arrives, and she walks up the beach, pausing to feel the sand with her hand, returning to the place she was born. There is no dialogue as we follow Daenerys and her retinue, walking up steps to a great gate, and then through to an amazing staircase crossing a narrow isthmus to the main island and the castle atop it. It does indeed appear deserted.

They enter the castle, and inspect the enormous rooms. They find a Baratheon banner, and Daenerys pulls it down. They enter the war room, where a giant map table stands by a vast window looking out over the island and the sea. Miniature ships lie scattered on the map table. Daenerys picks one up. She looks at Tyrion and says, “Shall we begin?”

Nice end of the episode, bookending the start of the previous episode in which Cersei prepared for her attack on the Sept in a long sequence without dialogue. This too is a Queen preparing an attack. But on a much larger scale. No doubt by next episode Dragonstone will have been converted from cold and empty to a lively base of operations for her fleet and army. How long she prepares before launching the first attack on the mainland will be interesting. And what will also be interesting is if Jon sends people here to harvest dragonglass… what will Daenerys and Jon’s forces make of one another?

3 Responses to “Game of Thrones, Season 7, Ep 1 “Dragonstone””

  1. Lauri T. says:

    I really like the cold open in this one. I was similarly confused for a brief moment when I saw it for the first time, wondering if it was a flashback, but then I realised it must be Arya wearing Lord Frey’s face. And yes, the farmhouse is indeed the same one that the Hound previously visited with Arya.

  2. Glen says:

    I’ve been waiting on this one, especially the opening scene. I was also confused for a second before realizing it was Arya. There’s an upcoming laconic reference back to this scene which made me laugh the second time I saw it (I guess I must have missed the reference the first time). I was also wondering whether you’d comment on Ed Sheeran’s appearance in the campfire scene, since it stirred up a lot of noise on the internet at the time (a lot of people were bothered, but I thought it was fine apart from the establishing closeup which seemed to be designed to say “hey, it’s Ed Sheeran”); the point of the scene seems to be that rank-and-file soldiers will be ordinary and often decent, people – they don’t have the characteristics of their leaders. However, Cersei was on Arya’s list for a long time; e.g. we hear her listed when Arya is with the Hound and recites her list before she goes to sleep.

    “Meera says she’s Meera Reed, daughter of whoever her father is” – Howland Reed (Reeds are Stark bannermen). He or his House get a couple of passing mentions in the series (which I certainly didn’t notice on the first watch through) and one brief appearance in a flashback you’ve written about but I don’t even recall whether his name was explicitly mentioned in the scene. (Some details like names I tend to recall because when I watch with my son he always puts subtitles on)

    “I get the feeling that we’ve seen this place before.” — you seem to have picked it up a bit quicker than I did; I think I didn’t really realize until they got inside. The guy who calls the Hound over to the fire is Thoros of Myr, the guy who brings Beric back each time he dies … and someone else who was on Arya’s list that she recited when she was with the Hound (I think because the Brotherhood gave Gendry to Melisandre).

  3. Glen says:

    … Sorry, it’s not this opening scene the laconic reference is to, but the preceding scene (end of last series) where Arya kills Walder.

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