Here we go again. A new Game of Thrones season begins — the second-last time it will do so as we near the end. And so resumes my weekly instant reaction posts.
This season is only going to have seven episodes instead of the usual ten — and the final season will have only six — and from the way the cast tell it, the pace is much faster because they’re squeezing ten episodes worth of story into seven. Even so, the season premiere felt like a reintroduction of the world and a placement of all the pieces on the board before they get down to business.
We open with Walder Frey at the head of a feast. For a moment, I thought it was a flashback to the Red Wedding, since Arya killed him in last season’s finale, but when we see only his family men there, I knew immediately it was Arya in disguise, and that the wine she served them must be poisoned. And so she has avenged the Starks from the Freys, and she moves on, but not without a satisfied smirk on her face.
Ominous smoke behind a rider on a wintry landscape. The Night King and his White Walkers are coming!
Bran and Meera finally reach the Wall. Why didn’t Uncle Benjen follow them over again? I forgot. Tolly meets them and lets them in.
(Also, if somebody could refresh my memory as to how Bran, Meera, Jojen Reed and Hodor went beyond the Wall the first time without passing the Night’s Watch, I would be ever so grateful. I don’t want to go back and rewatch entire seasons to find out.)
At a gathering of the Lords of the North to discuss their plans, Sansa and Jon start to show their friction in public. Littlefinger is secretly pleased, Sansa is displeased, Jon feels undermined and Ser Davos looks uncomfortable. These decisions are difficult to make, and Sansa could very well be right in not trusting traitorous Houses; but wasn’t it Robb insisting on punishing the Umbers and the Karstarks, who disobeyed his command and killed the Lannister boys, that caused them to break their allegiance to House Stark in the first place? Plus, Alys Karstark and Ned Umber are just children. They looked extremely relieved when the rest of the Lords accepted their re-pledging of loyalty to Jon.
Fierce young lady Lyanna Mormont shines again as she shuts down the old Lord who wants to speak on behalf of her gender, and she pledges all her citizens to the war effort. I can’t say I want to fight, but Jon is right: they can’t defend the North when only half the population is fighting. The undead consists of women and children too.
Cersei has someone paint a map of the Seven Kingdoms on the courtyard floor. Jaime and Cersei argue as Jaime realises Cersei has become power mad and ruthless. He’s not willing to turn on her though, so he tries to use reason to talk her down. He tells her they need allies.
In sails Euron Greyjoy with all his flattery. He also wants to marry a Queen. To Jaime’s relief, Cersei declines Euron’s (frankly, untempting) proposal, but he promises to come back with a gift. I wonder what it will be. Nothing terrible, like the Umbers’ gift of Rickon and Osha to Ramsay, I hope?
Poor Sam is working as a menial servant in the Citadel, cleaning shit and serving shit-like substances. It’s certainly not the Maester training he had been looking forward to. But he sees a restricted section in the library with all the information he needs, and he asks the Archmaester (played by Jim Broadbent) for permission to go in there, which the Archmaester refuses because Sam is not a Maester. We find out that the Archmaester believes Sam — the only person who does — but he also believes the Wall can withstand the threat of the White Walkers. So Sam takes things into his hands and steals the key to the restricted section.
Brienne and Pod spar, while Tormund looks on admiringly. Brienne shudders in disgust. Poor Tormund! You’re no match for the love of her life, Jaime Lannister. Littlefinger comes to seduce Sansa, but Sansa resists him… for now. Brienne is disturbed (and so am I) that he’s still lurking around, but Sansa says they owe him for saving their lives and helping to defeat Ramsay Bolton.
We go back to Arya, who has left the Twins and is now riding in the woods. She chances upon Ed Sheeren(!) and several other Lannister soldiers. She is wary at first, but discovers that they are ordinary folks and pretty nice guys. It’ll be a shame if she has to kill them, so thankfully for everyone involved, they think she’s joking when she bluntly says she’s going to King’s Landing to kill the queen. I hope she never meets them again. (But knowing this show, they’re going to be assigned to Cersei’s personal guard or something when Arya is about to execute her mission.)
What happened at the cottage in the past? My recollections of the time Arya was with the Hound are very vague. But we see that the Hound is a changed man now, as he mourns his part in causing the deaths of the man and his daughter, and buries their bones in the middle of the night. In the meantime, he is converted to believing that the White Walkers are coming when Beric Dondarrion’s men show him the vision in the flames.
Sam reads his restricted book in the room he shares with Gilly and baby Sam, and he finds out that Dragonstone, where Stannis Baratheon used to rule from, and where Dany is heading towards, is a convenient treasure trove of dragonglass, which they previously thought was a very rare mineral. He writes to Jon to tell him. We also find out that Ser Jorah is at the Citadel and is sequestered in one of the cells there! And his greyscale has gotten worse. :'(
Finally, we see Dany and her followers reach Westeros at last! She savours the long-awaited arrival, and steps reverentially into Dragonstone, her ancestors’ first stronghold when they invaded Westeros, and now hers too. Her first words of the season, spoken in Stannis’ former map room, is “Shall we begin?”
All the pieces are on the board now. Jon will head there quickly enough, once he receives Sam’s letter, and characters we have been waiting THE ENTIRE SHOW for them to meet will finally meet.