The way to a Thrones’ episode’s heart is through its title. The episode titles point directly to the themes being explored in that hour: most often, they mark a thread that weaves through the show’s various disparate plot lines, trying its best to make the ep seem less like a collection of unrelated scenes, and more like a standalone piece of storytelling that actually means something on its own. But, for the first episode in a season, this can be a challenge. The canonical unit of this sort of television is really the season, not the episode, and as such the first few episodes tend to function as the first act, setting up the board and moving pieces around in ways that, while they don’t seem that exciting right now, will be setting up for big moves later on. Fitting that the episode actually features two scenes with maps of the game board, the continent of Westeros, with the characters only getting started.
“Dragonstone” is the episode title and it represents the most significant dramatic action that occurs in this hour, right at the end: Danaerys Targaryen and her army finally land in Westeros. To her it represents her home, and the culmination of six seasons dicking around in the east. In King’s Landing, to Mad Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime the Exasperated, it signifies a huge new threat from the east, joining the others that surround them: Dorne and the Reach to the South and West, respectively, and the newly resurgent Starks in the North. Euron and his magnificent fleet arrive; he’s a potential, much-needed ally, but he wants to marry Cersei! The feeling is not mutual, so Euron leaves to bring her a “prize” of some sort (start your theories).
Down in Oldtown, we are treated to a surprise shit-and-gruel montage featuring Samwell Tarly and the restricted area in the library, which he finally breaks into and reads about…. Dragonstone. Which is indeed a repository of obsidian, one of the two things that can kill the White Walkers.
Up in Winterfell, Jon knows about obsidian but not Dragonstone, and orders a search for the rare material, before Sansa publicly and vociferously disagrees with the new King in the North about how best to use the castles of the Karstarks and Umbers, the Northern houses who sided with the Boltons against the Starks. Sansa thinks the castles (and titles) should be given to lords who didn’t betray them, while Jon points out the traitorous lords have already died on the battlefield, and he does not wish to punish the sons for the sins of their fathers. Jon gets his way, but the simmering Jon vs. Sansa feud bubbles on, starting to embody a particular thematic obsession of the show: different models of leadership. Jon is the noble hero who rules justly but is statistically a great deal likelier to lose his head; Sansa is the cold-hearted player of the game who “learned a great deal” from Cersei, the most cold-hearted of them all.
We also get two storylines that have not much to do with Dragonstone but do say something about those who pay the highest price for the games the nobles play. The Hound is now traveling with the Brotherhood without Banners, and they run across the property – and the long-dead corpses – of a farming family he last met when he was traveling with Arya. Then, he took their silver and left them for dead; now, he struggles with the results of that decision. He’s a rich character, well on his way toward the back half of the patented Thrones Villain-to-Hero Redemption Arc™, and the Brotherhood is helping him along. When Thoros gets him to gaze at the flames in the fireplace, The Hound sees the Army of the Dead passing through Eastwatch. Beric asks, “Do you believe me now, Clegane? Do you believe we’re here for a reason?”
The other storyline is Arya, and she provides a rare cold open. Wearing the face and voice of the always charming Walder Frey, she encourages his entire family to drink a toast… of poisoned wine. Boom. Later in the episode, she’s traveling to King’s Landing to continue her revenge quest when she runs into a small group of Lannister soldiers who have been sent to keep the peace in the Riverlands. Initially she wants to kill them, but they’re such friendly and kind-hearted lads she gives them a pass. From the cold open we’d deduce she’s of the Sansa/Cersei school of cold-hearted score-settling throne-gaming – literally killing the sons for the sins of the father – but from the other scene? It’s not so clear. She may have a heart left.
If I can sum up, which I can, it was an above average episode of graceful board-setting.
- Look at that, I fucking forgot about the Bran scene. He arrives at the wall – that’s it. You know what, Bran? Get off your ass a little and maybe I’ll remember your scenes next time.
- The costuming is excellent as usual. Euron looked like a Biker Lord.
- That was maybe the most artful “previously on” recap I’ve ever seen. Did they do an original score for it?
- The dagger that was used in the attempted murder of Bran Stark back in the first season shows up as an illustration in one of the restricted books Sam and Gilly look through. Interesting! I didn’t remember it, but here’s some stuff about it: it’s Valyrian steel, it was owned by Littlefinger, I can’t tell if it’s the same one he uses to betray Ned Stark in the first season, but it’s supposed to be in the book. I wonder what its future holds!
- Sure enough, as I predicted in my preview, Jorah Mormont is in Oldtown and he’s already met Sam. Although Jorah is NOT looking good.
- Eastwatch. Sounds like that’s where it’s going down. It’s the fort on the wall where the wildlings will be posted, plus one can surmise the Brotherhood will head there.