Game of Thrones S7E1 “Dragonstone” review and discussion

Beware: everything that follows after this paragraph contains thorough and unrelenting spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones episode, “Dragonstone.” If you haven’t watched it yet and you don’t want the story spoiled for you, do not read on. You have been warned.

Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1: Dragonstone recap

Arya Stark is now, unquestionably, the most powerful person in Westeros.

It took Cersei Lannister hundreds of pounds of wildfire, weeks (possibly months) of planning, and the assistance of her royal guard to kill a room full of people in last season’s finale. Arya Stark only needed a few flagons of wine to do the same thing in this season’s premiere.

We probably all expected a good amount of setup for the season to come in this premiere episode, but there probably weren’t many among us who were expecting the season to start off with Arya exacting her revenge on the entire Frey family. In one fell swoop, the Freys have been wiped from the face of Westeros, with Arya telling one of Walder Frey’s young, surviving wives, “When people ask you what happened here, tell them ‘the North remembers.’ Tell them winter came for house Frey.”

Of course, Arya uses the skills she learned from the Faceless Men of Braavos to take on the appearance of Walder Frey, making the larger Frey family believe that Walder himself had called them to a feast when, in reality, it was Arya bringing them all together to poison them. This is what makes her the most dangerous person in Westeros. All she needs to do is kill someone and then she can use their face as a mask, getting close to her targets and striking in moments when their guard is down and they are at their most vulnerable. While the various kingdoms of Westeros will attempt to claim victory through massive battles in the theater of war, Arya can shift the dynamic of the country in an instant, and all from the shadows.

In Winterfell, Jon Snow is grappling with the most power he’s ever held as the newly ascended King in the North and it isn’t exactly smooth sailing. The bumps in the road are there largely because of his sister, Sansa, who openly questions Jon’s decision to let the Umber and Karstark families keep their ancestral fortresses, despite the fact that both families sided with Ramsay Bolton in last season’s war for Winterfell.

Sansa believes that those fortresses should be given to families that have stayed loyal to House Stark, even when they weren’t technically sitting on the throne of Winterfell. Jon, however, sees it differently: he is not willing to make an entire family pay for the mistakes of their sons, and asks Houses Umber and Karstark to bend the knee to the Starks once more.

They do, and Jon is now free to focus on the task at hand: arm every capable person in the North – be they man, woman, or child – for war with the White Walkers, and locate as much dragonglass as possible. While the White Walkers seem to be immune to regular steel weapons, weapons made of dragonglass – known as obsidian to those of us here on planet Earth – are capable of killing them.

Cersei Lannister, meanwhile, is discovering that the Iron Throne is a lonely place to be. That’s especially true now that she’s turned half of Westeros against her through her actions in last season’s finale. Her brother, Jaime, seems to understand just how dire their situation is: with enemies on all sides and Daenerys Targaryen about to land in Westeros, what’s left of the Lannister clan may not last much longer.

Cersei, as always, has a plan. There is one kingdom left in Westeros that she can still manipulate: the Greyjoys of the Iron Islands. King Euron Greyjoy doesn’t have much land of value, but he does have one of the strongest fleets (if not the strongest fleet) in Westeros. He, however, wants a queen by his side. What seems like a fair trade to Euron is rejected by Cersei, as she says that he can’t be trusted. It seems that Euron expected this rejection, so he promises that he will bring Cersei a “gift” to prove his loyalty. It’s anyone’s guess what that gift actually is, but I’ll just go out on a limb and assume that it involves a lot of bloodshed.

Of all the people living in this sad, little world, Samwell Tarly probably has the worst of it. Though Jon Snow sent him to Oldtown to become a Maester and look for ways to defeat the White Walkers, Sam isn’t doing much of that. Instead, he’s doing menial tasks around the Citadel – cleaning chamber pots, doling out ladles of soup to all the Maesters and dinner time, and putting books back where they belong.

Though the Archmaester, played by series newcomer Jim Broadbent, tells Sam that he believes his stories about the White Walkers – support that was rare in the North and seemingly non-existent in South – he won’t let Sam access the Maesters’ writings on them, as those books reside in the restricted section of the Citadel’s library.

Since restricted library sections only exist in television and movies to be visited by the very people who are forbidden from them, Sam soon steals the keys to the gate sectioning off that part of the library. He swipes some books, reads through them, and discovers a crucial detail that will help Jon and his soldiers in the north fight against the White Walkers: there just so happens to be a major deposit of dragonglass underneath Dragonstone, the ancestral keep of the Targaryens on Westeros.

Dragonstone has sat empty since Stannis Baratheon’s defeat at Winterfell, but it doesn’t stay vacant for long. The episode wraps up with Daenerys Targaryen finally landing on Westeros, reclaiming Dragonstone as the base for her campaign. She has quite the army behind her too – with thousands of Unsullied warriors, thousands of Dothraki riders, and three dragons, there really doesn’t seem to be a force that can challenge her. The episode ends with her standing in Dragonstone’s war room with Tyrion Lannister by her side, to whom she asks “shall we begin?”

So where do we go from here?

With only seven episodes in this season, don’t expect the others to be quite as exposition-heavy as this one. While previous seasons were content to set up the big conflict over four or five episodes, we’re already moving at a fairly fast pace here.

The pieces were all moving into place in this episode. Arya is on her way to King’s Landing to deal with Cersei. Sam’s decision to go to Oldtown is already paying off. Jon Snow and the minor Houses in the North already have a plan to deal with the White Walkers. Bran Stark is at the wall, and will probably soon be back in Winterfell. Cersei is forging the only remaining alliance she can, and Daenerys is finally , after six seasons, in Westeros and ready to reclaim the Iron Throne.

The odds seem to be firmly stacked in Daenerys’s favor here. She has been spending the last six seasons building power and drawing people to her cause while Cersei – her biggest enemy – has spent those seasons doing the exact opposite. If the battle between the two would have happened at the time of this episode, Daenerys would have decisively won.

Don’t let that distract you from the fact that Cersei is probably the most dangerous she’s ever been, though. After last season’s finale, it’s pretty clear that Cersei has become unhinged, and with her children now all dead, she can be even more reckless and ruthless in her campaign for dominance. If it becomes clear that Daenerys will take the Iron Throne, don’t be surprised to see Cersei try to take King’s Landing with her on the way out – if she has no problem destroying the Sept of Baelor when it’s filled with hundreds of innocent people and her most important allies, she’ll have no problem destroying a city full of a peasants who have only ever shown contempt for her family.

Jon Snow will soon know that the dragonglass he needs lies under the keep of Dragonstone, which means that he and Daenerys are headed for a formal introduction. Meeting Jon Snow will put a wrinkle in her plans; Daenerys will soon learn that with the White Walkers marching north of the wall, she won’t be able to solely focus on taking the Iron Throne. At the very least, she can’t do that if she wants an actual country to rule from that seat. Perhaps Jon will finally find a sympathetic ear in Daenerys?

It’s harder to make predictions about where Arya will end up. In this episode, she tells a group of Lannister soldiers that she’s on her way to King’s Landing to kill the Queen. They laugh at the idea of a person as small and young as her assassinating the Queen, obviously unaware that she just wiped out an entire minor House. There’s no doubt that Arya is going to attempt to ride to King’s Landing, but whether or not she’ll make it is another question entirely.

Final thoughts and predictions

Ever since he’s re-entered the fray, Sandor Clegane has been showing an increasingly human side. His travels with the Brotherhood Without Banners led to one of the best scenes of this episode, with Clegane staring into a fire and seeing the White Walker army departing Hardhome and marching to the Wall. Clegane now knows that the White Walker threat is real, and at the same time, seems to have a new-found faith in the Lord of Light.

We received the briefest appearance from Jorah Mormont, but his roughly 30 seconds of screen time told us a lot. Things aren’t looking good for old Jorah, as his Greyscale has spread to cover at least the entirety of his left arm. We also learn that he’s somehow made it back to Westeros and is currently living in the Citadel, presumably waiting for the Maesters to cure him of his disease. Judging from the appearance of his arm, though, those Maesters better act fast.

Jaime is visibly disturbed by his sister and her determination to win, and that she shows little remorse for the fact that her play for power has been made at the expense of all three of her children and nearly all of the Lannisters’ allies. Jaime has been in this position before, serving a ruler desperately clinging to power as their empire crumbles around them. Jaime saved King’s Landing from being destroyed at the hands of that desperate ruler, Aeyrs Targaryen, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn on his sister for the greater good of Westeros by the time everything is said and done.

Sansa, after spending seasons as a terrorized victim, is finally developing into a strong character who is confident in her convictions. After being subjected to the whims of two of the most terrifying people in Westeros – Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton – she doesn’t seem to fear much anymore, and favors action to inaction. Her patience with Petyr Baelish seems to be running thin, and that gave us one of the best lines of the entire episode: “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish; I’ll assume it was something clever.”

Wrap-Up

This episode largely served to bring us up to speed with the characters who will decide the fate of Westeros. Though it may not be as action-packed as some of the episodes we’re bound to see this season, it did a good job at setting up the various conflicts that now face these characters. There are only six episodes left to go in this season, so expect the pace of things to pick up speed quickly.

What did you think of this episode? Were there any parts that stuck out to you? What predictions do you have for the rest of the season? Head down to the comments section to share your opinions and predictions, and look for new discussion posts like this here on SlashGear each and every week.

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