The past year or so has been a long one for Game of Thrones fans especially when the latest series only has seven episodes.
But the very lengthy wait is finally over as the opening episode Dragonstone sets things up perfectly for the wars that are still to come for some of our favourite characters.
In a rare cold opening for the series, the episode takes us to the Twins where we see that vile old git Walder Frey still alive and well despite seemingly getting his throat cut by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in the Series 6 finale “The Winds of Winter.” Whilst monologuing to his gathered kin at another feast, Walder begins to talk about the acts committed against the Starks and it soon becomes apparent to us that Arya is actually orchestrating everything.
She leads the assembled Freys in a poisoned toast and is able to dispatch all the men of the house in one fell swoop whilst uttering a quote that will surely become a new fan favourite.
“Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe.”
As despicable as Lord Walder was in the few episodes he was in, it was great to see David Bradley return for one last hurrah and actually make his character just a tad bit more likeable in the process despite the bizarre circumstances.
Nevertheless, those first few minutes set the episode up brilliantly as Arya’s triumphant walkout from the hall* then leads straight to those memorable opening credits and leaves us in a joyous mood for the rest of the installment.
However I will say that the only nitpick of the whole segment was that Arya appears to have forgotten about her uncle Edmure who Walder mentioned was back in his dungeon following the recapture of Riverun last season.
Following on from the many goings-on of “The Winds of Winter”, we have Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and his long-suffering companion Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) finally reach the Wall as they find themselves encountering new Lord Commander Dolourous Edd (Ben Crompton).
It’s a nice little exchange between the characters as Bran freaks Edd out with his awareness of the Lord Commander’s presence at the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. But those events are nothing compared to what the army of the undead is looking like now when we get that creepy shot of the army on the move and now accompanied by wight GIANTS.
Meanwhile, Winterfell is now occupied by the Starks AND the northern lords who come together again for a key meeting with regards to the ‘Long Night’. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is continuing to improve as a leader with the support of other characters like Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and the sharp-tongued Lyanna Mormont (played delightfully again by Bella Ramsay).
However it becomes clear that Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is frustrated by the lack of credit she received for helping her family take back Winterfell especially when the fallout from the Battle of the Bastards is brought up.
Later, the pair argue about who the greater threat is out of the Night King and his undead army or the scheming Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) who Sansa had a lot of trouble with during her traumatising period in King’s Landing. Of course, we all know that she is being manipulated by the slimy Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Aidan Gillen) but from her exchange with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), we know that the red-headed Stark girl will look to hold her own.
Down in King’s Landing, the Lannister twins confront the tension in their relationship but it is clear that there is no time to focus on that when they are surrounded by enemies on every side of Westeros. Cersei is very damning about particular individuals including her brother Tyrion as well as well as making foul-mouthed remarks about Olenna Tyrell and the Martell gals.
But one alliance that does happen for the new Queen is with Game of Thrones’s newest bad boy in the form of Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), the uncle of Theon and Yara. Admittedly, Euron didn’t make much of an impact in his two appearances in Series 6 but his scene in the throne room with Cersei and Jamie suggests that there is plenty more of him to come as he proceeds to boast of his new fleet of ships as well as proposing marriage to the new ruler of Westeros. Unsurprisingly, Jamie is not amused!
Elsewhere, we see Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) struggling in his new role as a trainee maester in Oldtown as he is forced to deal with a lot of ‘shit’ (quite literally) as well as serve soup to the more experienced maesters. The rather vile if amusing montage of Sam emptying chamber pots and his kitchen duty is skillfully edited though certainly not the best scene to watch when eating your dinner!
But the plotline does introduce us to a new character in the form of veteran archmaester Embrose played by the ever dependable Oscar-winning actor Jim Broadbent. There is some strong dialogue between Embrose and Sam as the latter tries to uncover key information that could help win the war with the White Walkers. Ultimately, Sam does gain access to a book from the restricted area but also has a rather scary encounter with a familiar face in Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) whose greyscale appears to have worsened since we last saw him midway in Series 6.
Back in the North, we have Arya travelling south to King’s Landing as she looks to continue her kill list. But her journey is interrupted by a soulful voice that many fans will recognise as she encounters a group of Lannister soldiers led by the popular British musician Ed Sheeran.
Personally, I found this sequence a little jarring when you consider that Sheeran does feel a bit out-of-place in the series although his cameo is nowhere near as awkward as that of David Beckham when he popped up in the recent King Arthur film. It was actually a lot more surprising to see Thomas Turgoose (Shaun from the This is England film and television series) appear in this segment even if his southern accent was a bit distracting. At the end of the day, it’s a nice scene that gives us a different side to the Lannister soldiers and how they are forced to bear arms and leave their families behind which brings Arya back down to her normal level after her massacre of the Freys.
There’s a nice callback to Series 4 when we catch up with Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) and his new companions, the Brotherhood without Banners as the group arrive at the farmhouse where Arya and Clegane stayed in “Breaker of Chains”. Sadly the kind farmer and his young daughter who lived there are long dead and Clegane is clearly troubled by that as he feels bad about the way things ended with the pair during their last encounter. This is played out beautifully in an outdoor scene with Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) as the two of them proceed to bury the bodies in the cold night. But despite the emotional texture of that scene, Clegane is still as mouthy and full of insults towards his new mates as ever as the group look to continue heading north.
It is then that the premiere finally comes to a strong end as Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) her followers and of course, her dragons finally arrive at Dragonstone which was previously occupied by Stannis Baratheon and his crew from Series 2 to 4.
For the most part, there is no dialogue in this lengthy sequence as an emotional Dany wanders through the castle and eventually ends up in the war room with her trusted advisor Tyrion (Peter Dinklage).
It is in that room that she finally says her first words since coming home: “Shall we begin?” There is absolutely no question that this was the perfect way to end a majestic opening episode to a series that promises so much more over the next several weeks.
It may be summer right now but when it comes to Game of Thrones, we can most definitely say that winter is finally here!