Game of Thrones Revisited: 7.01 Dragonstone
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros as we head into the dramatic seventh season...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven.
There is a real momentum as Game of Thrones heads into its penultimate season. Knowing that this really is the start of the end for the show, this is less about kicking off new storylines and more about bringing characters together and tying up loose ends, ready for the final undead apocalypse to come. The army of the dead make a brief appearance in one of Bran's visions, as he and Meera make it to the Wall and are rescued by Eddison, but the rising dread is keenly felt throughout the episode.
Having disposed or Ramsey and been crowned King of the North, Jon's role now is to unite the people for the oncoming darkness. It's why he is more concerned with restoring peace with then families that betrayed him in order to have a secured North, than exacting vengeance, despite the vocal concerns of Sansa. Tormund heads off to man Eastwatch, the castle that will fall to the Night King in the season finale, while every man, woman and child is ordered to train for the battle to come. A little bit of support from the outspoken Lady Mormont and everyone is ready to fight for him.
Except perhaps Sansa. She has spent years manipulated, mistreated and broken by the machinations of the Lannisters and Littlefinger. Despite the approaching army of the dead, she still counsels Jon over duty and family and is more concerned with the enemies to the south. Jon is even bold enough to suggest she admires Cersei, the woman who made her life a living hell but now sits on the Iron Thrones, and perhaps Sansa does. That darkness hinted at last season sits troublingly in her actions as the series continues.
Her sister Arya also begins her bloody journey home, starting with the season's cold opening at the Twins. Arya killing the odious Walder Frey after feeding his sons to him in a pie, was a deliciously dark piece of revenge and that continues apace with David Bradley making an encore performance as the entire Frey clan are poisoned as Walder pulls off his face to reveal Arya beneath. Wiping out an entire family in one swathe sets the pace for the episodes ahead. I could have done without bloody Ed Sheeran popping up unconvincingly as the Lannister solider she shares a meal with, but then the idea of these soldiers is to show that not every man is a murderous monster.
Travelling with the Brotherhood Without Bannners, Sandor Clegane also faces the actions of his monstrous past; the return to the farm where he stole from the owner finds that poor man and his daughter starved to death. The show continues to do a good job of rehabilitating the Hound while setting up the path into darkness for him, Beric and Thoros. The vision of the Wall in the flames is a nice prelude to one of season seven's greatest set pieces.
Cersei's reign of darkness sees her make a shady alliance of sorts with new King of the Iron Born Euron Greyjoy. The murderous pirate was one of Game of Thrones' last new additions to the ensemble cast and he certainly makes his presence known, proposing his alliance in the throne room with great swagger.
Cersei of course is no fool, setting up demands of her own and she continues to seek bloody vengeance against her enemies. But her passion has also gone with the death of her last child Tommen; the tender conversation with Jamie as he tries to press her on the King's death is met with icy resolve. So fuelled is she with power and vengeance that she has no compassion left; even when faced with the truth of the dead at the season's end, she will continue to find focus in ruling the Seven Kingdoms rather than facing the real threat to them all.
In the citadel, Jim Broadbent also makes his debut as Archmaester Ebrose, as Sam completes his rather unsavoury training to become a Maester by cleaning out bed pans and dealing with the needs to the masters, the hope of learning the secrets needed to stop the Night King close and yet further than ever from his grasp. The most interesting aspect of this storyline is the surprise reveal that Jorah, suffering from greyscale has found himself all the way west to the Citadel to find the cure that Daenerys ordered him to find.
And finally, his queen gets closer than ever to Westeros as Daenerys lands at Dragonstone, her ancestral home and place of her birth. The sight of the three dragons flying over Stannis Baratheon's former citadel is a striking site and the landscape as Daenerys and her people ascend the stairs to the keep is jaw dropping. With her arrival at the map room and announcement to Tyrion of "let's get to work", the mission statement for the seventh season is set. No longer are characters going to exist in isolation. Everything is changing as Game of Thrones enters its end game...