Hi everyone and welcome to the first of the weekly episode recaps I’ll be doing for the new season of my favourite television series, “Game of Thrones”. These recaps contain MASSIVE SPOILERS, so please proceed with caution: DO NOT READ if you haven’t seen the episode yet and intend to do so later.
- Episode 1, “Dragonstone”
- Episode 2, “Stormborn”
- Episode 3, “The Queen’s Justice”
- Episode 4: “The Spoils of War”
- Episode 5: “Eastwatch”
- Episode 6: „Beyond the Wall“
- Episode 7: “The Dragon and the Wolf”
The new season starts with a cold opening, and we first think it’s a flashback. Old Walder Frey, who was killed by Arya Stark in the season 6 finale, is in his Hall, giving a feast for his large family. He is also delivering a speech: “The finest Arbor Gold – proper wine for proper heroes. … Butchered a woman pregnant with a baby… But you didn’t slaughter every single one of the Starks… leave one wolf alive, and the sheep will never be safe.”
Walder toasts, everybody drinks the wine he gave them, and we see that something is wrong when they start to breathe heavily, to retch and to fall to the ground. During their last, dying breaths, Walder tears off his face, and Arya tells Frey’s latest young, shivering wife with her own voice: “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
It’s remarkable how very much in character Arya’s Walder performance is; most of the criticism could have been the real man’s, and even more so the line with which “he” refuses to have the new wife drink the wine: “I’m not wasting good wine on some dumb woman”. It all reminds me of Barty Crouch jr. posing as Mad-Eye Moody in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”: he doesn’t need to play his hatred for Draco Malfoy, he does indeed hate him with all his heart: he thinks the Malfoy family are traitors who abandoned his Lord and Master Voldemort.
Later in the episode, Arya rides through the Riverlands and hears someone sing. You may recognize the singer’s voice before you see him and even if you haven’t heard beforehand that he would make a guest appearance: Ed Sheeran plays one of a few young Lannister soldiers who sit by a campfire, roast squirrels and sing. They are a quite friendly lot; poor Lannister foot soldiers are by no means the Lannister family. They offer Arya food and drink. One of them says that his wife just had their first baby, and that he hopes it’s a girl: “Girls take care of their poppas when their poppas grow old. Boys just ride off to fight someone else’s wars.” She tells them that she’s on her way to Kings Landing, and when asked what she’s going to do there, she says: “I’m going to kill the Queen.” After a moment of surprised silence, everyone laughs, including Arya. Seems like the best place to hide something is still in plain sight.
Somewhere else in the Riverlands, the Hound and the Brotherhood camp in the house where Sandor once stole a poor family’s little purse of silver after they allowed him and Arya to eat dinner with them and to stay over night, back in Season 4. Father and daughter are dead, assumedly the father killed both of them before they would starve to death. For the first time, Sandor learns that his careless deeds can have consequences. He still wonders why the Lord of Light keeps bringing Dondarrion back when better men than him stay dead. Instead of a direct answer, Thoros of Myr invites him to look into the flames — with Sandor’s life story it is like asking an arachnophobe to take your pet spider into their hands, but the Hound is a very brave man, braver than even he himself thought, or he may be ridden with guilt over the little girl’s death. So he looks into the flames in earnest for the first time, and he discovers a surprising talent: he can see faraway places and events in the flames, just like the Red Priests, in this case Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the army of the White Walkers. To do what little atonement he can for the poor family, he digs graves in the frozen ground and buries them. He even tries to say a formal prayer over them but can’t remember it properly, so he settles with a heartfelt: “I’m sorry you’re dead. You deserved better, both of you.”
Once again, we can see the endless armies of the Night King, slowly coming closer and closer to the Wall. We find out that we’re sharing Bran’s latest vision when he snaps out of it while Meera and he have arrived at the Wall. Bran tells the new Lord Commander, “Dolorous” Edd Tollett, what the latter already knows. “You were at the Fist of the First Men”, Bran says. “You were at Hardhome. You’ve seen the Army of the Dead. You’ve seen the Night King. He’s coming for us, for all of us.”
Jon wants every Northerner to dig for dragon glass, and he wants every man, woman, boy and girl to train for the war to come. He wants the Free Folk to man the castles at the Wall. The first open conflict with Sansa arises and has Littlefinger smirk with delight — she should have taken attention in Management 101 where they should tell you in lesson 1 that you don’t criticise the CEO in a public board meeting, but pull them aside before or after it to tell them what you really think of their decisions. Unlike Sansa, Jon doesn’t want to strip the Karstarks and the Umbers of their ancestral homes. Instead, he makes clear that he does indeed punish treason with death (and has done so as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch), and asks these houses’ surviving heirs, Lady Alys Karstark and the quite young Lord Ned Umber, to renew their families’ oaths of fealty. As usual, the most impressive performance in the meeting is delivered by young Lady Lyanna Mormont who shuts down Lord Glover over the question whether the latter should put a spear in his granddaughter’s hand, making clear that at Bear Island, all women and girls train to fight just as much as the men and boys.
Privately, Sansa later tells Jon that she still thinks he’s a great ruler, “but…” Jon remembers how Ned used to say that “everything before the word ‘but’ is horse shit”.
As usual, Littlefinger tries to whisper to Sansa, but she’s not having any of it (yet?). “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish – I’ll just assume it will be something clever.” Ouch, the burn.
Cersei sees “enemies everywhere, we’re surrounded by traitors”. Jaime is sure that Daenerys’s forces will land at Dragonstone for a lot of reasons. Jaime says that no one would ever want to fight on the losing side. “Right now, we look like the losing side.” Cersei reminds him: “I’m the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.” But Jaime corrects her: “Three Kingdoms at best.”
Behind his back, Cersei has invited Euron Greyjoy’s armada to Kings Landing. Jaime is not convinced. “How are they different from the Freys? They both broke their promises and murdered their former friends as soon as it suited them.” He also seems distressed about the idea that his twin sister and lover could accept Euron’s hand in marriage.
Cersei reminds Euron: “You murdered your own brother.” Euron encourages her: “You should try it. It feels wonderful.” Even though she might think of Tyrion, the camera shows her other brother, and his look is even more uncomfortable than before.
Euron eventually leaves, but he promises Cersei to come back with a gift. We can only wonder which gift he wants to give her. A dragon? In the books, he possesses a dragon horn that is believed to bend a dragon to the horn blower’s will. That horn has never been mentioned on the show, so maybe he wants to give her a dead dragon’s head instead? Or a dead Lion’s (Tryion’s)?
We are treated with a great, accelerating suite of Sam placing books back into library shelves, emptying chamberpots (retching and nearly vomiting each time) and dishing out soup. Then he admires the restricted section of the library but can’t enter yet.
He talks to the Archmaester who is performing an autopsy, who once again refuses him entry into the restricted section, but believes his tale of White Walkers since he knows a great number of tales about them and doesn’t think that this many tales can be made up.
“In the Citadel, we live different lives for different reasons. We are this world’s memory, Samwell Tarly. Without us, men would be little better than dogs. Can’t remember any meal but the last, can’t look further forward than the next. And every time you leave the house and shut the door, they howl like you’re gone forever.”
Eventually, he takes the key to the restricted section from the sleeping librarian and unofficially lends out a few books.
In the small hours, Sam and Gilly read the books Sam has borrowed, and they learn that there is a whole mountain of dragon glass under Dragonstone. Sam sends a raven to Jon.
When he next collects empty bowls from what looks like the sickbay of the Citadel, a hand reaches out of the hatch, startling Sam. The hand is attached to an arm with greyscale getting worse and worse, and a well-known voice asks for news of “Daenerys Stormborn, the Dragon Queen”, but sadly, Sam doesn’t have any.
Meanwhile, said Dragon Queen lands at Dragonstone with a boat and her inner circle of advisors. In a long sequence without dialogue, they can be seen entering the castle where Dany tears down Stannis’s banner and retakes her ancestral seat. Her only line is the last of the episode: “Shall we begin?”
- Soon, Jon will have to ask Dany for cooperation because of the dragon glass. Davos’s words from the trailer seem to fit with this scenario: “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together we will die, and then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.” (There is also a hint in it that Jon will know about his true parentage by then, which makes sense because Bran has reached Castle Black and will soon continue to Winterfell.)
- Arya hasn’t crossed Cersei off her list yet, and given her recent success in ridding the world of Freys, we can be sure that she means what she says, even though the young Lannister soldiers do not.
- How long will Sansa remain immune to Littlefinger’s whispering? There will definitely be further disagreements with Jon, and Petyr knows how to use something like that. But Sansa has grown up to be a successful player of the game, too, so I wouldn’t cross out the possibility that, one day, she’ll be fed up with Littlefinger and get rid of him.
- What is the gift Euron wants to bring Cersei? Will it impress her enough to say yes to marrying him? And if so, what will Jaime do? Will he fulfill the Valonqar prophecy and strangle her? For a long time, I’ve been sure that he would one day kill her and then himself — but what about Arya?
All in all, a great start to the new season. I’ll give it a solid 4 out of 5 seven-pointed stars. With only seven episodes in this season, you wonder whether they aren’t wasting some time. But on the other hand, Game of Thrones has always been about human interaction. You wouldn’t want a season consisting solely of battles – and looking back at the trailer, we will get quite a few of them anyway. Another small drawback is that this episode lacked true surprises, mind-boggling “what the hell” moments. The only one was in the cold opening when Walder turned out to be Arya wearing his face.