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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Is All Ice and Little Fire in ‘Dragonstone’ Premiere

Game of Thrones Season 7 Premiere Review Dragonstone
HBO

Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s Season 7 Premiere, “Dragonstone”:

If there’s one underlying theme of the Game of Thrones premiere, it’s learning from elders as we embrace new responsibility. Sansa articulates it in an attempt to steer Jon from the mistakes that cost Ned and Robb Stark their heads, just as Cersei makes a point of mentioning that she learned from forty years of watching Tywin Lannister that unorthodox alliances win wars. Sam too struggles with learning from the stubborn and bureaucratic maesters of Oldtown, some of which believe his claims of the advancing Night King, but comfort their inaction with assurance that mankind has survived such calamities before.

There’s a larger metaphor to embrace as David Benioff and Dan Weiss assume full command of Game of Thrones from George R.R. Martin’s published writing; that for all the cathartic flourish “Dragonstone” has to offer, this is still Game of Thrones as we remember it. Premieres need remind us of what came before, and catch up with one character at a time, inch by inch. In Sunday’s case, that means Bran and Meera arrive at The Wall with a reminder that the army of the dead continues its advance (with giants!), or that Daenerys and her expansive roster of supporters near-wordlessly arrive at the title island with a message for viewers: “Shall we begin” plotting the series endgame?

To its credit, Season 6 put in significant work to dismantle the walls between such far-flung story arcs. “Dragonstone” continues the practice with Queen Cersei largely up to speed on every current coup (including Arya’s cold-open slaughter of the Freys); Euron* already invited to Kings’ Landing with the thousand ships he’d only ordered built in the final episodes of Season 6, or Jorah having already sought treatment for his Greyscale in Oldtown. There’s a strong satisfaction to all the table-setting as well, between Euron’s delight in driving a wedge between Jaime and Cersei, or Sansa and Jon sparring over rule of the north, but keeping open and honest with one another in their disparate view of pressing concerns. You can see the change in urgency starting to grip this realm, as Jon and the ever-fierce Lyanna Mormont urge northern lords to abandon their sense of medieval patriarchy, and train both genders to fight a coming war that distinguishes neither.

*There’s your sexy, svelte new Euron Greyjoy, as producers seem to have realized his introduction last season as an unkempt usurper made little impression to serve as Season 7’s most immediate human threat.

Game of Thrones Season 7 Premiere Ed Sheeran
Personally, I have my own theories on Season 7’s great menace.

So why does it feel like David Benioff and Dan Weiss haven’t learned from George R.R. Martin’s sprawling narrative, to continue cramming as many storylines into an hour and change as possible? Granted, there’s tremendous ground to cover and reminders to be made (see: the marching dead), but the best scenes “Dragonstone” has to offer live in specificity and layers of meaning. Arya happening upon Lannister soldiers – sizing up threats as she accepts their hospitality – only to humanize them with opinions and home-lives we’ve rarely stopped to consider. Having The Hound return to the farmer and daughter he’d left to die in Season 4; contextualizing his redemption in the process, and leaving us to wonder if Thoros of Myr or Beric Dondarrion knew of their campsite’s significance all along.

Complete and total freedom from the books should feel like a blessing, and I’m certain Season 7 is layering hints in the same manner as other years. This is also the first year we’ve known precisely how many episodes remain in the saga, and there’s an understandable urge for finality that wasn’t present in prior premieres. As I said of the Season 6 finale, political squabbles feel increasingly irrelevant against the coming showdown, and I imagine Season 7 seeks to spread the same message Jon Snow has; limiting traditions and house squabbles of years past no longer matter.

Penultimate seasons historically feel like writers easing off the pedal before the final year, though I’m certainly not about to write Game of Thrones Season 7 off for an unremarkable premiere. The little moments like Sam’s poop-and-soup montage were delightful; I just hope that showrunners take their characters’ own advice not to repeat ineffective ambitions of the past.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • I don’t know how much there is to say about Arya’s opening slaughter, other than returning David Bradley for one last scene, though I wonder if perhaps any suspicious character in Season 7 might turn out to be Arya in disguise.
  • Considering the opening credits gave us Oldtown for the first time, why is King’s Landing still under a stag sigil? At least Robert, Joffrey and Tommen were thought to be Baratheons.
  • Going to quietly file away Sansa’s comparison of Jon to Joffrey, and Jon’s of her to Cersei.
  • All-in for Tormund’s newfound confidence with Brienne.
  • Obligatory Ed Sheeran mention.
  • Nice nod to the book theory that the “gravedigger” was secretly The Hound.
  • I’m admittedly surprised that the Greyscale hand from the trailer was actually Jorah. Seemed like an easy misdirect!

Game of Thrones Season 7 will continue next Sunday with “Stormborn,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.

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