So Game of Thrones is finally back, and it’s still fun. Many of the season openers of years past felt like “setting the table” episodes and this was no exception. As usual, the show makes things exceptionally unclear about timelines, as we have literally no idea how long it’s been for some characters, and others it’s literally minutes since last season.
Let’s break each bit down. Spoilers for the episode “Dragonstone” to follow.
Following up with the recently murdered Walder Frey in front of his gathered Frey kin, it was obvious almost immediately that it was Arya Stark in disguise. I was glad to see actor David Bradley back after being killed off last season, chewing up some scenery as Arya-as-Walder. It was a decently fun bit of revenge to start things off, even if it makes Arya’s shapeshifting powers super magical now.
This led to her catching up with a bunch of random Lannister soldiers an unclear amount of time later, as the show gave us a chance to be obvious about making her feel guilty of potentially murdering them. They talk down about their superiors, one mentions he has a new child and hopes it’s a girl, one mentions being kind to strangers, and one sings like Ed Sheeran, as he is played by singer Ed Sheeran.
But this was just more table setting for Arya’s journey. We know her mission: Kill Cersei and maybe someone else if need be. Revenge, that’s her motivation, but that adventure is the setup of her season arc.
The episode was called “Dragonstone”, after the name of the parallel home of the Targaryen family, the mirror to how Daenerys’ ancestors landed in the same place when they invaded Westeros. So it’s explicitly painting themes of going home again, of going back to where things started.
For Arya, it’s getting back to the old school revenge for her family.
For Bran, it’s “Let’s get behind the Wall, the White Walkers are coming.” That particular little segment seemed to me more like a reminder of what Bran was up to, that we didn’t forget he had returned to the Wall. Nothing that interesting there.
Moving on to Winterfell, it’s all about family versus duty once again. Jon and Sansa argue in public about loyalty versus blame, revenge versus honor. It’s one of these things where Sansa may be thinking more about hating Ramsay Bolton than what’s better for people, as Jon’s decision to elevate the child heirs of the treasonous Umber and Karstark clearly hits a chord with the other Northern lords.
There was a lot in those scenes, with most of the episode spending time there. Jon and Sansa’s arc has a connective tissue about family, back at Winterfell and trying to do better than Ned Stark did, while Sansa’s is also about getting past Littlefinger’s openly obvious machinations that seem too obvious. That said, her line about “I’ll assume it was something clever” was pretty clever itself.
And sure, we had to see the little Bear Lyanna Mormont dressing down other people, but thankfully the show still hasn’t made her uninteresting. There was still more “remember this?” of Brienne and Pod and Brienne and Tormund, while there were only three plot specific standouts. Sending the wildlings to the Wall, looking for dragonglass, and Cersei wanting them to kneel.
The dragonglass connected over to Oldtown where Samwell Tarly is doing his best to learn secrets to help Jon and the realm. After an amusing if far too long and obvious montage about serving slop and cleaning up excrement, we finally got an interesting few bits with him. There’s the odd Archmaester No Name Given Yet played by character actor Jim Broadbent, giving an interesting bit of historical context to the end times.
Sam’s story explicitly then tied back to Dragonstone, as that place, the home of the Targaryens and their dragons, hides a hoard of dragonglass. So it’s all connected.
In King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime finally discuss Tommen and their position, before speaking with the frankly annoying character of Euron. Is this guy supposed to be charismatic, annoying, scary, competent or what? I don’t know, and that’s frustrating. There were some funny lines, but I feel like the show (so far) doesn’t have a handle on the guy. We’ll see if that changes.
Cersei and Jaime in a way have their own connective tissue to the theme of “going back,” in that they have that whole “twins first” thing. More setup for things to come. Dany and company showing up as a parallel to the end of the last season seems like it’s meant to be emotionally resonant, but instead it seems overly simplistic to me. Obvious table setting with an actual literal table.
But what really worked for me was everything with the Hound and the Brotherhood without Banners. From his snipes, to his dread on seeing the people he killed, to his revelations in the fire, his is a character who’s truly fascinating. His final moments of burying the dead, the dead he was responsible for, was powerful, and equally so was the red priest Thoros helping him, being completely aware of the truth of the matter.
A mixed bag but a fun episode. I appreciate the rare subtle moments and felt the less subtle ones fun enough. There are so many threads dangling, but I’m looking forward to seeing how they get all twisted up.