Arya is taking revenge, Cersei is taking leave of her senses, and Daenerys is taking her time. Welcome back to Westeros. Its almost as if we never left.
Heres your rundown of Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone.
Last season, the rivalry between Jon and Sansa mostly bubbled beneath the surface. The Starks were too busy marshalling an army against Ramsay Bolton to worry about which of them would rule when the dust settled. But Dragonstone brings the tension inherent in their relationship to the fore.
After second-guessing one of his decisions in public, Sansa rips into Jon on the walls of Winterfell, admonishing him not to follow their father and brother into the grave.
I loved them, I miss them, she says, but they made stupid mistakes and they both lost their heads for it.
Jon has plenty in common with Ned and Robb, for better and worse. He is endowed with an innate sense of fairness, a stubborn attachment to his honor, and the single-mindedness of a conquerer.
Sansa, by way of contrast, is an adept of intrigue. She came of age as a prisoner of calculating, cruel, duplicitous schemers, and the experience has darkened her rose-tinted glasses. She tries to convince Jon that the dead are not the only enemies who will come for him, underlining Cerseis knack for dispatching those who cross her.
You almost sound like you admire her, Jon observes.
I learned a great deal from her.
If Jon is too much like Ned, maybe Sansa is becoming too much like Cersei.
The extent to which Sansa is prepared to defer to Jons decisions remains unclear, but Dragonstone sets the stage for a power struggle - especially since Littlefinger is still skulking around, trying to drive a wedge wherever he can.
He wants something, Brienne of Tarth warns.
I know exactly what he wants, Sansa replies.
Thats the thing about Littlefinger: everyone thinks they know what he wants. Maybe they do, but they also consistently underestimate how far hes willing to go.
The episode opens with another spectacular pageant of House Frey revenge porn. Disguised as the late late Walder Frey, Arya excoriates the men who carried out the Red Wedding, even as they succumb to the lethal effects of the wine she poisoned. Their big mistake: they didnt kill every Stark.
As much as I love Arya, I cant be the only one whos begun to worry about her mental health. I mean, she ended last season by baking two guys into a pie. Do you know how long it takes to make people pie? Me neither, but I'm guessing it takes longer than rhubarb.
Revenge is one thing; Sweeney Todd is another. Going into this season, I worried whether Arya could continue brutalizing herself so totally and still retain a glimmer of humanity.
Pleasantly, this episode gave Arya the first normal human contact shes had in quite a while, and one of the least obnoxious celebrity guest appearances you could ask for. (continued…)
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Riding through a frosty wood, Arya hears a voice. A familiar voice, if you own a radio. Turns out it belongs to singer Ed Sheeran, who plays a member of a small company of Lannister men camped out in the Riverlands.
When the soldiers invite Arya to come share their food and fire, I have to admit it raised my hackles. What do they really want with a girl all on her own? Are they going to try to rob her? Have their way with her?
Aryas motives are equally questionable. Is she just waiting for the right moment to stick them? They are Lannister men after all. For a moment, she seemed to be wondering that herself.
But instead, we got a brief respite from the inhumanity of war and the vanity of ambition. The young men spill their guts out to Arya. Theyre not fearsome lions: theyre scared boys who had no idea what they were getting into, and they want nothing more than to return home.
For a moment or two, we see that same weariness in Aryas eyes, perhaps a hint of longing to retrace her steps back to a time when there was such a thing as home.
I hope its a girl, says one soldier of his newborn child. Girls take care of their papas when their papas grow old. Boys just go off to fight in someone elses wars.
Dragonstone is an especially interesting episode because, at its heart, its really about the Smallfolk, the ordinary people who are so seldom the focus of the show. The soldiers by the river; the father and daughter Sandor Clegane once robbed, but now feels compelled to give a proper burial; the wordless painter who fills in the map of Westeros while Cersei looms overhead, pontificating about her barren, childless dynasty.
Cersei may stand presumptuously astride a map of the realm she claims as her own, but Jaime is having none of her delusions.
Nobody wants to fight on the losing side, he points out, and right now we look like the losing side.
Im the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, she protests.
Three kingdoms at best, he corrects.
When Jaime pleads with her to open up about Tommens suicide, she immediately scuttles for her wine and dismisses the incident as an act of betrayal by her youngest son. (Never mind the fact that Cersei immolated his wife and eschewed comforting him in favor of torturing a nun.)
This lack of insight may seem incredible from a woman who we were so often reminded love[d] her children, but this is the real Cersei: a desperate psychopath in a corner. And psychopaths dont love people - they possess them. Any human object who rebels against this form of 'love' becomes worthless and must be severed like a gangrenous limb.
The question now is whether Jaime will reject her too. (continued...)
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His concern for her stability is more in evidence than ever. As Cersei strolls around her giant map railing against traitors (allies she has willfully driven away) and fantasizing about building a dynasty (without heirs), Jaime confronts her with the simple truism that an army marches on its stomach.
How can they fight a war, let alone win, if the Tyrells have all the grain and livestock? Soldiers cant eat dynasty, and the Lannisters have no friends to supply or reinforce them. Jaime insists that they cannot win this war alone.
Unfortunately, he is not reassured by Cerseis overture to the wickedly blunt usurper Euron Greyjoy. Although she has taken other lovers in the past, Jaime has only ever been with his twin sister. If Cerseis madness doesnt force Jaime into throwing off her yoke, Eurons courtship just might.
Then again, Euron wont be back to Kings Landing until he has "a priceless gift" for her. What offering could possibly win Cerseis favor? Tyrions head, perhaps? Or maybe something capable of laying Daenerys low.
And so we arrive at last on the isle of Dragonstone itself, Daenerys birthplace and the staging ground for her invasion of Westeros. Her advisors keep a discreet distance as she tours the ethereal fortress in silence, with the expression of one rediscovering a forgotten dream.
We have almost nothing but questions where Daenerys is concerned, since the episode literally ends where her task begins. Where will she invade? How quickly will she move? Will Eurons fleet hit her before her men can hit the beaches?
But this episode made one thing abundantly clear: Daenerys and Jon Snow will have to team up. As Samwell Tarly discovered in the library at Oldtown, the island of Dragonstone is rich in dragonglass, an obsidian-like substance that can kill White Walkers. If the Northerners are to have any hope of turning the tide against the dead, an alliance with Dragonstone will be paramount.
There's also the question of how Jon and Daenerys will react when they figure out that she's actually his aunt. The only living person privy to that information is Bran, but he's bound to share it with Jon at some point now that they're both in the North.
But theres another storm gathering within Team Khaleesi. At some point, its going to come down to Daenerys vs. Cersei and Jaime. That would make sense as the climactic, decisive battle of the season.
But would Tyrion really stand aside and watch as Daenerys executes Jaime? Or, should the Lannisters and Greyjoys prevail, would Jaime really stand aside and watch as Cersei executes Tyrion?
Can the love between brothers withstand the vicissitudes of war and feudal politics?