[Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 7, episode 1, “Dragonstone.”]
After being away for far too long, HBO’s smash hit “Game of Thrones” returned for Season 7 and wasted no time getting things going. With gruesome deaths, half-hearted marriage proposals and a lot of character crossover, the premiere episode managed to cover a lot of ground right out of the box.
Things started off with a bang at the home of Walder Frey. Fans may remember that the head of one of the nastiest houses in Westeros met a bloody end at the hands of Arya Stark at the end of Season 6. That’s why it was jarring to see him calling a feast for all of his most important men. However, things became a bit more clear when he neglected to drink after his own toast. As Frey began to discuss the events of the Red Wedding, which took place in that very hall, the men began to cough up blood and die en masse. It wasn’t long before everyone but Frey’s young brides were left alive and the mask was lifted to reveal Arya had played a trick using the magic of the Faceless Men.
“When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers,” a cold Arya tells one of the brides. “Tell them winter came for house Frey.”
Following one heck of a cold-open and the all-too-familiar opening credits, things shifted north of the Wall. The army of the dead was seen marching through the cold, presumably south. In their ranks are men, women, children and giants. Suddenly, the focus shifts to Brandon Stark and Meera Reed, who had finally reached the safety of the Wall. They’re greeted by the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, who takes them in with little question. Sadly, Brandon is in for a world of bad news regarding Jon Snow’s presence, his family and more.
Speaking of Jon, the last time fans saw him, he’d been declared the King in the North by the remaining families loyal to the Starks. Now, he’s able to lead the entire north in the fight against the dead. His first point of action is to get the entire kingdom looking for dragon glass, the only substance known to kill a White Walker besides Valyrian steel. Additionally, the time has come to strategize about a practical war with the White Walkers. He declares that every able-bodied person in the north begin practicing fighting, including women and girls. When one of the house leaders protests, he’s quickly shut down by the wise-beyond-her-years Lady Mormont, who tells him that she does not need his permission to defend herself and her people.
After so many years of people in power ignoring the threat beyond the Wall, Jon made some brash decisions that will completely reshape the world, including appointing the Free Folk to be the defenders of the Wall. He also declared that he would not punish sons and daughters for the sins of their fathers. The Umbers and the Karstarks were loyal to Ramsay Bolton, who Jon beat in battle, punched 21 times in the face and had his sister feed to dogs. He allowed the two disloyal families to bend the knee to him in exchange for their homes.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei was settling in to her role as protector of the Seven Kingdoms -- which is really an elaborate way of saying, “queen.” Her brother, Jaime, finally had a chance to talk with her and he explains that they’re in more danger than ever. Between Jon in the north, invaders to the east and south and the west filled with people who don’t like them very much, she’s really the protector of three kingdoms at best. To make up the deficit, she calls upon Euron Greyjoy. Having been betrayed by his niece and nephew, who joined Daenerys Targaryen in her conquest of Westeros, he’s in the market for a new bride. Cersei, realizing she needs powerful allies, thinks the Ironborn and their fleet might not be the worst choice. However, when the crass Euron makes his offer, she rejects it, prompting him to declare that he won’t return without an impressive gift for her that will convince her otherwise. Given that he’s prone to bouts of madness and starting rebellions, it’s hard to imagine what his idea of a gift will be.
In the Riverlands, the Brotherhood Without Banners finds its way to a familiar location. Many may remember the father and daughter that took in Sandor Clegane when he was traveling with Arya. Realizing the father was weak, Clegane robbed him and left them for dead. Now, he’s traveling with a group that is said to be protecting the people, and they want to camp out in that very house. Once inside, Clegane sees that the father killed his daughter and himself to keep them from starving. After having an epiphany from the Lord of Light, he’s caught burying the bodies and trying desperately to adequately pray for them. He doesn’t do a great job, but the sentiment counts.
After a brief cameo sees singer Ed Sheeran meet Arya at a small Lannister encampment, we next catch up with Sam, who is studying at the Citadel in Oldtown. Actually, “studying” is pushing the term since he’s mostly cleaning bed pans and serving food in what was perhaps the most disgusting montage in TV history.
Sam keeps asking the Archmaester to give him access to the restricted section of the library so that he can learn how to defeat the White Walkers, but he keeps getting denied. Eventually, the days of cleaning human waste get to him and he steals some of the books. Despite staying up nights reading, he’s only able to find that there’s a large deposit of dragon glass under the former home of Stannis Baratheon, Dragonstone.
With a resource more precious than money sitting underneath, the abandoned Baratheon stronghold is now the most valuable real estate in the kingdom. Fortunately, it’s in safe hands as Daenerys finally, after six long seasons, steps foot on Westeros once again. She lands her fleet at the ancestral Targaryen castle at Dragonstone. With her trusty hand, Tyrion Lannister, at her side the episode ends with her final words.
“Shall we begin?”