Thanks for joining me for another seasons of Game of Thrones, my fourth for Daily Review. As always SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!
“Shall we begin?” – Daenerys Targaryen
Premiere episodes of Game of Thrones’ series usually forsake the grandstanding moments the show has made its hallmark, and instead set out the tensions that act as harbingers for the wars to come. Dragonstone adheres to this structural formula but does so with patience, care and a finesse that hasn’t always been evident in previous series’ openers.
The show’s end date is firmly fixed at 12 further episodes (split over two years) which might be the reason the opening episode felt so focussed and sure of itself. Even the series’ opening credits are more succinct; for the first time ever casting their eye solely on the continent of Westeros and not straying further east.
As the clock ticks ominously down, the temptation might have been to rush through the plot points to get to the big set pieces. But Dragonstone succeeds where sometimes the show fails – it prods at the character’s true aims and motivations behind the decisions they make.
The three main monarchs are now competing for the Seven Kingdoms having dispensed of the primary challengers to each rule at the end of last season (The Tyrells and the Sparrows in King’s Landing; The Boltons in The North; the Sons of the Harpy in Meereen). The conflicts are now about the bigger picture.
Cersei’s proposed alliance and betrothal to Euron is a strategic necessity – surrounded by enemies, she may as well form an alliance with her enemy’s enemy. But given her final child flung himself out of a window last season, she also needs new heirs to achieve her desired millennia-long dynasty.
After a dull, one-note and slightly rushed introduction last season, Euron is given a bit of a reboot. He still seems obsessed with murdering his niece and nephew but at least now he seems to be having a bit more fun – though Jaime doesn’t really seem to see the lighter side of it.
Finally, after six seasons of teasing, Daenerys has arrived in Westeros. Her long soundless walk up the steps of her ancestral home and birthplace is a flashy piece of CGI fantasy eye-candy, but its primary function was to reacquaint us with a location that was only ever seen in drab darkness and shadows when Stannis and Melisandre stalked its halls. With Sam’s discovery of a map to dragonglass (i.e White Walker kryptonite) deposits, we will no doubt be seeing much more of it.
Jon’s rallying of the North faces its greatest challenge in determining the fallout from the war with the Boltons. Sansa’s proposal to strip the treasonous families of their land and grant it to loyal supporters has all the cold-edge logic of Littlefinger, but Jon’s emotional decision to grant clemency instead may engender a deeper sense of loyalty reminiscent of his (supposed) father, Ned.
There’s a reason Littlefinger is still alive and creeping out of corners while Ned’s head was raised above King’s Landing on a pike – but so too are there reasons houses joined up to the Stark cause.
The cold and open massacre of the remaining Freys may have been a cathartic moment of revenge for Arya, but in her touching encounter with a group of Lannister soldiers, led by Ed Sheeran, she seems to find a semblance of normality. After all the horrors she’s experienced, it’s disarming to find her in the company of people who want nothing more to go home and spend time with their loved ones.
But the best scenes of Dragonstone belonged to Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. Several seasons past he stole a poor farmer’s silver and doomed him and his child to a tragic, bitter death. Years later, while pondering the seemingly unexplainable resurrections of Beric Dondarrion (even more poignant in the wake of Jon’s brief brush with death), he looks for any explanation why any of this is happening. And he finds it in the fires – an army of the dead marching onwards.