The sixth season of “Game of Thrones” ended as spectacularly as a wildfire blast, leaving the first episode of the seventh with a lot to pick up. Every character left off at an important crossroads — Arya (Maisie Williams) finally started in earnest on her hit list, Cersei (Lena Headey) crowned herself Queen (after killing everyone who wouldn’t), Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon (Kit Harington) reclaimed the North and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally embarked for Westeros with the help of some Greyjoy defectors.
Season 7 starts off strong as Arya — putting her House of Black and White training to use with the face of Walder Frey (David Bradley) — poisons the rest of his family with cold ease. Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) and his inexplicably belligerent waif might have deemed the rogue Stark too tied to her identity for proper assassination technique, but she seemed to do just fine carrying the specter of her past in one hand and her sword, the Needle, in the other. Even when she happens upon a band of soldiers (headed by a crooner played by Ed Sheeran in a cameo appearance) and they invite her to pass time with them, we know that, should they have any ill intentions at all, she is in the most capable hands possible: her own.
Struggling more with their past are Jon — now acting King in the North — and Sansa. Jon makes for a stolid, by-the-book ruler — his sense of Northern justice has served him in the icy exile of Castle Black and now Winterfell. Sansa, who is accustomed to the warmer and wilier King’s Landing, is eager for him to unlock his cunning, a step their late brother and father were too stubborn to take. For now, Jon reluctantly accepts her counsel, but their tenuous bond’s life span remains to be seen.
Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei, too, find themselves ideologically at odds in King’s Landing, as their son Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) suicide in last season’s finale has driven a wedge between them. While Tommen’s demise has robbed Cersei of any last vestiges of her human warmth — leaving a steely husk of a megalomaniac — his death made Jaime more cognizant of the dangers in gratuitous political violence.
Jaime’s defensiveness is put to the test when Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara’s (Gemma Whelan) power-hungry uncle, arrives before the Iron Throne, negotiating his famed fleet for Cersei’s hand in marriage (while also childishly denigrating Jaime for his lack of one). Cersei quickly demurs, but Euron’s grinning promise to return with a gift implies that he has a plan in motion.
Meanwhile, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), the perpetual realist, finds himself in the company of oft-resurrected Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). In classic, foul-mouthed Hound style, he doubts Dondarrion and his priest Thoros’s (Paul Kaye) blind devotion to the Lord of Light, although his obstinacy begins to waver when he faces his longtime pyrophobia and sees the North’s White Walker dilemma in a fiery vision. That night, he buries the decaying bodies of a destitute father and daughter he recognizes as having robbed ages ago, when he and Arya were fugitives together; perhaps it is his newborn fear of reanimated corpses that drives him to do so, but his facial expression reveals something softer than fear: penance.
Also eager to learn more about the White Walkers is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West), Jon’s hapless but keen friend from the Night’s Watch. Finally in his bibliographic paradise and training to be a Maester at the Citadel, Sam’s reality falls a little short of his academic dreams. His training largely involves cleaning out the chamber pots and vomit basins of the invalids housed there. One of them is a familiar face: Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Daenerys Targaryen’s perennially rejected aspiring suitor, afflicted now with advanced greyscale. Even in his state, he can only think of the Dragon Queen, imploring whether she has arrived in Westeros yet.
As it so happens, she has, marveling at a verdant Dragonstone. Her relief as she spreads her fingers in the sand she has so longed to touch is probably reflected in most of the viewers, who have been waiting for this inevitable plot turn for six entire seasons. Dothraki horde, Unsullied army, and part of the Greyjoy navy in tow, the episode’s final scene has the Targaryen avenger poised in front of a map, at last ready to put her designs on the Seven Kingdoms into action.
Despite a slower episode concerned with plot setup, there’s definitely still time for things to pick up — we still don’t know what Yara and Dany have planned, and we have to catch up with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), the third Lannister and Dany’s Hand. An unlikely alliance between Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) and her diplomatic enemies from Dorne joined in Lannister-induced bereavement has yet to be revisited—hopefully Olenna’s sharp tongue and mind can temper Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) blazing impulsivity. Finally, we need closure on two of the most popular fan theories: R+L=J was confirmed, but will Bran be able to deliver the message to Jon before plot devices get in the way? Will Cleganebowl finally happen, giving Sandor a chance to go from underdog to top dog?
Contact Sahana Rangarajan at [email protected].