Game of Thrones finally is back! HBO has been promoting this season massively and there never have been more articles and videos recapping what has happened thus far and what will or might happen going forward. I found this episode pretty great, attuning us very aptly for the upcoming penultimate season, which promises a lot of conflict.
What better way to set the tone for a season full of conflicts than having Arya kill off the entire house Frey before the credits even begin rolling? In what is only the third cold open in GoT history (if I remember correctly), we see Walder Frey, who should be dead but who apparently has gathered every single member of House Frey, speaking to his guests and proposing a toast. It seems odd that they are celebrating such a big feast again after only two weeks, and it seems even odder that he doesn’t want his wife to drink wine. When “he” begins breaking the tone and raving in minute detail about all the cruel deeds they have done to their foes, it was obvious that this was Arya, which is revealed quickly thereafter after everyone was choking from the wine they drank. Arya, in super badass mode, tells the lone survivor (whom she probably didn’t spare out of mercy but to spread the news) that winter has come and that the North remembers. That great reveal once again highlights Arya’s insanely lethal skills, which sometimes are a bit hard to swallow sometimes, given that Walder Frey is of different height and has a different voice; however, they offer a plethora of interesting possibilities and are one of the more exciting dynamics in the series.
There is one more scene with Arya in this episode, which is probably the most controversial one. We hear a very pleasant voice singing a cool song, which is taken straight from the books, and see Ed Sheeran as a singer in the company of Lannister soldiers. I have to admit it broke the immersion for a second but come the hell on, Internet. Ed Sheeran had to delete his Twitter account because of freakin’ annoying fanboys not digging his cameo appearance. It’s nothing more than that – he has two lines. In the rest of the conversation, we are reminded of Arya’s plans to kill Cersei (which is the job of season premieres after the long break) and see that many soldiers just simply happen to be on one side and if it happens to be the wrong one, they might end up dead. It will interesting if we will see whether Arya has killed the, arguably very decent, Lannister soldiers, which would be a testament to her blind and savage rage and would have her following Lady Stoneheart’s trail in the books. Actually I was hoping she was heading north for a big Stark reunion but then again, she doesn’t really know that Sansa and Jon (and potentially Bran soon) are in Winterfell.
Speaking of, we see Bran and Meera arrive at Winterfell. Dolorous Edd opens the gate and asks who they are. After names aren’t very convincing, Bran convinces him by talking about the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. It will be interesting to see whether Bran will head straight for Winterfell or if we will see the only living witness to Jon Snow’s true lineage, Howland Reed, which isn’t totally unthinkable given that Meera has explicitly stated her lineage again in this very episode. I don’t think Bran has told her yet but he needs to tell Jon ASAP. Many things are currently leading to an encounter between Daenerys and Jon, the course of which would be totally altered with this knowledge. I also wonder if Littlefinger knows as we’ve seen him and Jon next to Lyanna Stark’s statue in the trailer.
Meanwhile in Winterfell: Jon, the newly proclaimed King in the North, decrees that every healthy person from 10-61, boy OR girl(!), be trained in fighting as they will need every single person to fight the White Walkers. There are some objections to having girls go to war but Lyanna Mormont, still a totally badass child and deservedly a fan favorite, deems that no problem for Bear Island. However, Sansa protests about having the Houses Umber and Karstark simply join the North again without punishment after they had joined the Boltons and delivered Rickon and Osha to Ramsay. Jon firmly dismisses this suggestion and makes the right decision to not have the children suffer for the sins of their fathers. It is especially revealed to be the right and leader-like decision when we see that the two members of these houses are actual children. Their oath to House Stark is a very cool moment and even caused goosebumps.
Afterwards, Jon confronts Sansa about undermining his authority. Sansa has gone through a lot and, by her own admission, has learnt a lot from Cersei, making her zero tolerance for disloyalty understandable. Littlefinger seems to dig that rebellious spirit but she won’t have any more of his shit. She knows what he wants (does she? I doubt it’s just the throne and her as he was willing to give her to the Boltons) and affronts him. Sansa has grown very intelligent and strategic herself, knowing how to handle Littlefinger and warning Jon of making the same “stupid mistakes” as their father and Robb. I hope they get the word of his true lineage in time before they do anything stupid (or rather uninformed) with regard to Cersei demanding submission, or even with the approaching Dead Army. Sam’s information about the dragonglass on Dragonstone would also be very helpful information with regard to the imminent battle and would inevitably lead to an awesome alliance. (I mean, Ice & Fire combined, Dany’s dragons fighting the White Walkers representing the Ice; eventually, it has to add up to something like that).
Quick note on Tormund Giantsbane, who is to man Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with the wildlings: If he is to make a move on Brienne, he should better do it fast – Winter has come 😀 As much as I’m not particularly fond of that humor arising from this constellation, Brienne doesn’t seem to be completely opposed as she was clearly distracted by him. By the way, Eastwatch is where the Brotherhood without Banners is headed, as we heard from the Hound. It was hinted at in the trailer that there will be a decisive battle including some of the best fighters in the Realm (Dondarrion, Giantsbane, Brienne? and a possible return of a long lost character, which would kinda be nuts after the many surprise character returns in season 6).
Speaking of the Brotherhood, we see the Hound and Beric Dondarrion’s gang arrive at the farmer’s house that the Hound stole silver from in season 4. He rightly predicted that he’s too weak to survive winter but he still goes on to bury the farmer and his daughter. He even tries to pray to the Seven but fails, nicely mirroring him rebuking the farmer for going through “all seven of the fuckers”. His final statement “I’m sorry you’re dead” was a short moment of levity, which was way better than that awful man-bun joke. Then another controversial moment happens: After the Hound asks Dondarrion what he thinks his purpose is to the Lord of Light and doesn’t get an answer, Thoros, who has helped him bury the two corpses in a nice little bonding moment, shows him the flames. After initial reluctance, the Hound, who is seriously afraid of fire, sees the Wall and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the White Walkers and is shown a purpose. His sudden turn to faith, especially in R’hllor, bugged many viewers because it wasn’t really prepared but given the pace of last season, the writers might not have the time. I would also add that the suddenness itself is a testament to how mighty the Lord of Light might actually be. The Hound’s arc in this episode also references and somehow seems to confirm the Gravedigger theory, the truth of which wasn’t entirely clear after his return in season 6.
Back in the capital, we see the room with the map on the floor which was featured prominently in the first trailer. Cersei sums up her current situation – enemies in all 4 directions – and is surprisingly well informed. She knows about Tyrion being Hand of the Queen and that they’re sailing over to Westeros. That is what led many people to criticize her lack of strategic forethought as she could have easily invaded Dragonstone, which is one of the hardest castles to conquer. But let me tell you one thing, you nitpickers. We don’t know how parallel the story threads run timewise (which becomes evident in the “teleportations” of last season). We don’t know for how long Cersei has known about Daenerys and/or Stannis. Cersei seems a bit conceited, given that Jaime points out she doesn’t have any allies left and that they’ll need Olenna Tyrell and the Reach for provisions (the Riverlands, which are in their control have been severely pillaged in the war). She doesn’t take this reality check entirely well and we see her ally-to-be, Euron Greyjoy. Before I get to that, let me point out the hint at the valonqar prophecy. As the informed reader will know, Cersei is foretold to be killed (more specifically choked) by her younger brother, which she has two of. Jaime stands on the map where the Fingers in Westeros are and Cersei stands on the Neck. Coincidence? No way in hell. The question is whether the writers want to mislead us and it might actually be someone else who kills her, e.g. Arya with a Jaime mask. The latter hypothesis is supported by the fact that the prophecy mentions “choked with both hands”. Unfortunately, the valonqar part of the theory hasn’t been in the TV show.
Euron Greyjoy’s appearance in King’s Landing was a very entertaining scene. His cockiness is highly undue at court and he drops some sick burns against Jaime and their twincest. He doesn’t give too many f-s and is eager to marry Cersei. To win her trust, he promises her a gift, which caused the most speculations of this episode. Is it Dorne? Is it Tyrion’s head as he proposes she try to kill her brother and that it were fun? I’m very intrigued by his character and he’ll definitely clash with Jaime and his reputation in the books lets me hope for a really fierce and frightening villain.
Sam is still in Oldtown at the Citadel and we see a nice montage of his peasant duties. In addition to all this dull work, he asks to get access to the restricted area of the greatest library of Westeros. The Archmaester (Jim Broadbent, e.g. Horace Slughorn in Harry Potter 6) tells him the end of the world has been nigh a couple of times and it never actually was the end. So Sam is denied his request even though the Archmaester believes him about the wights, which leads him to get access on his own. We briefly see the dagger that was used in the killing atttempt on Bran in the book and Sam finds out about the massive Obsidian / Dragonglass resources on Dragonstone, which he immediately informs Jon about. In the last round of him feeding the sick people, Jorah Mormont reaches out for his hand. The greyscale has spread but he is still fully sane and talks about Daenerys Stormborn. I hope he will make Sam aware of her imminent arrival on Dragonstone and her potential as an ally against the Undead Army. [Brief aside: I don’t fully trust the maesters as they seem too secretive. Their order has a representative at every major house, making them probably the best informed people in Westeros. They might want to hide some ugly truth about their involvement in the course of history and especially with the White Walkers]
Now to the eponymous setpiece. Dany’s arrival with her impressive armada in her home castle after all she’s been through has been dealt with very sublimely. Despite having not a line of dialogue except for the last line of the episode, the feeling of awe and sublimeness definitely comes across. Daenerys takes everything in very deliberately and upon arriving in the throne room she asks: “Shall we begin?” A perfect line to set the mood for her upcoming conquest and almost breaking the fourth wall because it epitomizes the viewers’ feelings of eagerness and anticipation related to her upcoming adventures. The next episode is called ‘Stormborn’ and will hence focus on her arrival, as it should be now that shit is finally about to go down. The conquest of another city is teased in the trailes but I don’t think that will already happen next episode.
Whom did we not see? We haven’t seen anything from Dorne or Lady Olenna Tyrell. I’m not overly excited about the Dorne storyline but they will probably play some part in annihilating the Lannisters. Another interesting fact is that Essos was deleted from the previews so I doubt we’ll see Daario Naharis again.