Game of Thrones season 7, episode 1 review: Winter is here, and so are the Starks
Episode one of Game of Thrones season 7 is titled 'Dragonstone', and as the name suggests, marks Daenerys Targaryen's homecoming to the stronghold of the same name. However, that's not the most chills-inducing moment of this season's premiere.
That moment comes right at the start — with Arya Stark's continued vengeance on the House of Freys. Season six had her (back now from Bravos) cutting the throat of Lord Walder Frey himself, after she had fed him a pie in which pieces of his own sons were baked. As season seven opens, we see that her revenge is far from complete. At a banquet in which she takes on the persona of Walder Frey, she collects the entire family together, thanks them for their 'courage' during the Red Wedding in slaughtering the three Starks, and ensures they all drink a toast — of poisoned wine.
As the Freys choke and die, she tells the one surviving member (one of Walder Frey's painfully young brides) to tell anyone who asks what happened: "The North remembers. Winter is here."
Winter is here indeed.
We see miles of frozen ice plains and a blizzard, and through the drifts, the Night King marching with his army of White Walkers and wights, to whose numbers giants have now been added. They cast a long shadow over the rest of the episode too:
At the Wall, where Bran and Meera have finally made their way and declared their identities.
At Winterfell, where Jon is getting all his bannermen together to prepare for the long winter and an invincible enemy.
At the Citadel in Old Town, where Samwell Farley is engaged in a slog of a search to find out what he can about the Night King and the White Walkers.
And through the north of Westeros, where ordinary folk must brace themselves for a hard, cold winter, and the prospect of starvation.
Winter is here, and it's time for the Starks to show their might against the enemy not just to the North, but also the South.
In two well-juxtaposed scenes we see a brother and sister talking about what their father taught them:
Scene 1: Jon and Sansa are having a disagreement — she believes he should strip the Karstarks and Umbers of their ancestral homes (for having sided with Ramsay) and the castles to be granted to loyal families. Jon says the price for treason has already been paid, with death, and he won't punish the Karstarks and Umbers further. Sansa counters his decisions publicly, and Jon is angry with her for undermining him in front of others. Sansa meanwhile, tells him that while he has learnt to be good from their father, he must be smarter than Ned Stark, and that in looking to the enemy in the North (the White Walkers), he mustn't forget the enemy to the South — Cersei. It's an interesting moment between the Stark siblings: Will Jon take Sansa's advice seriously? What role will Sansa play at Winterfell while Jon is busy being King of the North?
Scene 2: Cersei, standing over a map of the Seven Kingdoms, is having a conversation with Jaime. Now that she is queen, she intends to exert her control over all the rebelling factions in Westeros. Highgarden must be brought back under control, Dorne must be quelled, and the North crushed. And then there is the new threat from the east — Daenerys Targaryen with Tyrion Lannister at her side, and an armada behind her, is nearing Dragonstone, her old family seat. Jaime tells her what they need at this moment, is strong allies — to which Cersei replies that it is a lesson she learnt from her father, and has already acted on.
Her ally, in this case, is Euron Greyjoy. His proposition is simple: he will bring her a 'priceless gift' to assure her of his trustworthiness, and in return have Cersei's hand in marriage. Then, the Iron Fleet will pillage and plague all of the Lannister's enemies along the coast of Westeros. What will Euron's 'priceless gift' be? And will it bring him face-to-face with Theon and Yara Greyjoy, who're supporting Daenerys?
Elsewhere, other characters are converging:
Tormund is headed to East Watch, to help man the Wall against the White Walkers. The Hound is also on his way there, with Thoros and Lord Beric Dondarrion, after seeing a vision in the flames of the Night King's army. Will these agents of the Lord of the Light have a role to play in vanquishing the wights?
Arya, finished with the Freys, is now headed from the riverlands to King's Landing, to 'kill the Queen', as she puts it, to a group of Lannister soldiers she meets. That's a sweet little aside from the grim tone of the rest of this episode as Ed Sheeran makes a guest appearance as one of the soldiers, whose song draws Arya to their campfire. They share food and gossip with Arya, who realises perhaps that many of the people she may be required later to kill, in her quest to reach Cersei, could be just regular folk, going about their jobs.
And Sam, well, after a gruelling routine of cleaning out bedpans and latrines and stacking books at the Citadel, he may have finally found something that will help in the war against the White Walkers — information that could take both him and Jon to Dragonstone, where Daenerys and her fleet have just landed. (Oh, and Jorah Mormont — whose greyscale has spread — is being treated at the Citadel too and is among Sam's charges.)
Dany has an emotional homecoming and we see her walking through the dank, deserted halls of the castle Stannis abandoned. She pulls down the Baratheon banner hanging in the throne room and then walks to the model of the Seven Kingdoms where long ago, Stannis worked out his strategies (and also made that shadow baby with Melissandre!). As she looks at the outline of Westeros — again, a moment that has traces of Cersei's conversation with Jaime from earlier in the episode — she asks Tyrion: "Shall we begin?"
Season six marked the first time that show runners DB Weiss and David Benioff didn't have GRR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books to rely on — and neither did fans. With major character deaths and narrative progression being achieved in the sixth season, this penultimate season of Game of Thrones is going to be all about tying up the many, many strands of the narrative that will lead to the finale next year. For the space of the next six episodes, there's going to be quite a ride in store for readers — if this premiere is any indication.
Will Jon and Dany meet? Will the Starks all reunite? Will Peter Baelish throw a spanner in the works? What is Daenerys' battle plan going to be? And what will Cersei do next?
So our answer to Dany's question is, "Yes, let us begin!"
Game of Thrones season 7 airs in India on Star World every Tuesday at 11 pm. You can stream it on the Hotstar app every Monday at 7.30 am.