If you’ve avoided your Facebook feed for fear of spoilers, this article is probably not for you.
After an incredibly lengthy recap reminding you of just how many threads are at work in the Game of Thrones HBO story, we got right back to it, with a character who we were just reminded was dead. Is it a flashback? No. No, very quickly we realize what’s going on here, and I yell at the neighbors above me to get their kids to bed, because this shit is about to go down!
Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is an absolute badass. It’s not breaking news, and in fact, last year’s season closed out with her already proving it—but it’s just crazy to imagine her journey, what’s she’s gone through, and how far she’s come from being a little girl playing with wooden swords to being a grown woman basically using ninja magics. She just took out like 50 Freys with a single toast. The red wedding has been avenged. Drop a whole bag of mics, girl, and get yourself some poison-free wine to go (more on this later).
Transition via a wintery land with black billowing clouds gusting over the ground, a la a scene from The Mist. There’s a slow reveal of shadowy figures accompanied by the White Walker theme music. And we’re reminded as to what’s quickly becoming the driving force above and beyond all of the family squabbles happening on the surface: winter is coming, and that winter is an army of the dead. Sort of fitting on the day that the father of The Night of the Living Dead, George Romero, died. But the payoff to this scene is that the giants we’ve seen die, and presumably others, are zombies now too. Zombie giants? Me calling my stock broker: Yes, buy me another share of Game of Thrones, now. I said now, damnit! *Click*. Always hang up like a boss.
From one winter wonderland to another, we find Bran Stark (Isaac Wright) doing his three-eyed raven thing. Briefly, more as a reminder that it’s his thing. He’s with Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick), still, and she’s pulled him all the way to the wall, somehow, and right to the gate that houses Bran’s brother Jon’s good buddies at Castle Black. Well navigated, Meera, what with no supplies, insufficient clothing, and definitely no compass. People seem to do that in this world. They just know how to get places. GPS so not necessary. I fear the people of Westeros and neighboring lands would put us all to shame in sense of direction arena.
And then as if to remind us that Bran’s not reunited with his siblings yet, we see Jon (Kit Harrington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), only they’re not at Castle Black, at they’re at Winterfell, along with Pod, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), Sir Davos (Liam Cunningham), and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). This scene serves several purposes: it reminds that Littlefinger’s still around and that they need to keep him around as after his murdering-spree in the Vale, he’s still Lord of the Vale and as such has many men (that Jon and Sansa need). It also serves as an opportunity for Jon and Sansa to demonstrate their different styles of leadership to their bannermen and lords; Sansa proposing hardline treatment for ‘traitors’ and Jon proposing a more tempered view of the world that doesn’t punish some for the misdeeds of others. Jon ultimately wins out, and earns good favor with his people, but Sansa still reminds him afterwards to not be too much like their father (or brother for that matter). “You need to be smarter,” she tells him. And she’s right. Jon is the third Stark to try his hand at leading the north since the series began and it hasn’t gone well for the others. They’re too trusting, by nature. Let’s hope Jon’s learned from their mistakes, or can at least learn from Sansa’s earned world-weary wisdom. By strange reference, Sansa admits to admiring Cersei and that she learned a lot from her. A strange revelation that serves the purpose of bridging Winterfell to King’s Landing and Cersei standing on a massive floor mural map of Westeros in the Red Keep. Jaime joins her, of course, and what follows provides a bit of insight to their motivations: frankly, that Jaime is questioning what exactly they are—and whom are they fighting for at this point. Cersei reminds him that they still survive, though their children are dead, and they can fight for themselves. That’s her character, to fight to the last. But the man introduced to us as the fighter seems less sure.
It’s funny to remember their character arcs too; though it is them against the world, it hardly feels that way, as Jaime asks Cersei if he “should” fear her. She doesn’t really answer him. Contrast this to the first episode of the series where we find them deep in throes of incestuous sister-brother passion. Boy, have they drifted apart. And there’s a weird removal of manhood element to it all as its Jaime’s castration by sword-hand dismembering that seems to be the turning point in their relationship. Without his ability to ‘wield his sword’ what good is he to her? It also coincides with the point when Jaime becomes a character we despise to one with a troubled past who’s more complex and multidimensional than his roles as villain, stark-opponent, and sister-fucker (for lack of a better or more pc term) would suggest. Yes, the Lannisters have undergone some transformations, but as always, it’s them against the world for the world which brings us to Cersei’s latest machination: Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), evil uncle to Theon (Alfie Allen—aka the guy who pissed off John Wick) and Yara (Gemma Whelan), who, if you recall season 6’s finale, have pledged themselves to Daenerys). Euron’s not the character from the books, and despite being given a great line here, seems hollow, as his screen-time hasn’t warranted true emotional responses of love or hate. Do we care that he seems to not give a fuck about anything? Not really. There’s nothing at play to indicate we should, other than a vague hint he plans to deliver something to Cersei that will convince her to wed him (along with his fleet of a thousand ships, of course). There’s also an unnecessary nod to the Mountain still being with us. Trust me, no fan of the show could possibly forget. It’s a forced allusion to his being there, potentially setting up some showdowns in the forthcoming season or next.
And speaking of characters that we can’t forget, where’s Robert Baratheon’s surving bastard, Gendry? There was a lot of hinting that he had his father’s renowned talent for the war hammer. And I fully expect him to show up and smash the living shit out of one villain or another at some point … but when? And how? And who? And will the episode be titled, “Let’s get Hammered?” Probably not *stealthily slides bottle of scotch back into sweater vest*
Sam’s still in Old Town, at the Citadel, preparing to become a learned maester, or trying to learn invaluable information for Jon, take your pick. This is perhaps the second best part of the episode as it’s clearly the best, and maybe the only montage from the series. It involves layers of Sam’s daily life inside the Citadel, cleaning chamber pots, and toilet shafts, and pouring gruel at meals (both tasks quickly become one and the same both visually and through cues set to score the montage). It’s effective, disgusting, and remarkably fun. And fun is necessary sometimes when dealing with GoT. Otherwise, it’d be pure winter bleakness. Sam, lacking the credentials of a maester, seems condemned to menial tasks and is blocked from the books he desires. He’s trying different tacks, but ultimately is forced to break his way into the forbidden library section (thanks Harry Potter!) to fulfill his heroes quest, as even the one guy who believes him vis–à–vis the white walkers, won’t help him. And thus Sam Tarley became what we always knew him to be: a criminal who deserves to be stuck at the Wall with the other criminals. Black brother burn, oh yeah!
There’s a bit nodding to Brienne and her prowess as a warrior and it’s underplayed nicely by Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) eyeing Brienne up and down as if he’s never seen a sight finer. It seemst to me though, that Brienne has a thing for pretty men; Renly and Tormund are nigh on as opposite as we get in this world—clean cut, waifish CK model versus uncouth, half-thawed ranging ginger from beyond the wall. Or maybe it’ll be their feats of arms that make them equal in her eye and allow this, currently, stalke-rish admiration to go further.
In the only scene with real tension, Arya has continued her journey for vengeance southward where we find her riding through a beautiful wood. She encounters some Lannister soldiers and they offer her food. There’s a bit of a cameo here from a singer I’m told is world-famous, Ed Sheeran, but who definitely had a nice singing voice—maybe too nice? It’s like he pulled an Odysseyic sirens on Arya and drew her in towards his merry band. But these fellows don’t seem bad, beyond their gold and lion trappings. They seem genuinely friendly. Yet, GoT has taught us nothing, if not to be always be on guard and the scene is clearly begging for some sort of assault on the outnurmered Arya, or for Arya to slaughter them all for their associations to the me and women still on her kill list. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. Maisie gets another great line in here explaining where she’s headed.
The Hound is indeed still alive. He’s with Beric Dondarion’s merry band of men, including Thoros of Myr. This scene felt like another tonesetter for the upcoming season. It reminded us of the Hound’s past transgressions and then reiterated that he’s changed, or is in the process of changing. It also further progresses the idea that roles as villains and heroes are not always firmly established and that there are opportunities for them to characters to evolve. We’ll see how far the Hound evolves, but at the very least he seems to inherit or adapt the ability to see prophecy in the flames of a fire. No clue where that came from as he’s no red priestess.
Sam has a bit of a revelation regarding dragonglass and the location of a secret stash. All from his pilfering of books at the Citadel. Oh, and he’s an insomniac too—apparently preferring the motto “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” to any reality of need. This serves to show that Sam’s staying on point and should be contributing in a meaningful way.
And then, at long last, Daenerys gets her screentime, along with her dragons. In the background, we see Varys, Missandei, Grey Worm, and Tyrion, but none of them speak. This is Danny’s emotional return to her homeland of Westeros, and the castle where she was born. This scene carried weight and plot importance, but no accompanying dialog to broaden the impact of the scene. It’s only at the very end of the episode, after discovering Stannis’s map room that Danny says to Tyrion, “Let’s get started.”
That’s sort of how the whole episode felt. There’s was a lot of time dedicated to setting scenes, conflicts, and alliances. But at times, many characters said nigh on a word. Nor were they provided an opportunity to. As with prior episodes of GoT, this was a scene setter and one that didn't provide many new clues as to plot or the direction of the show.
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