Published on July 28th, 2017 | by Bean0
Game of Thrones – Season 7 Premiere – “Dragonstone”
Months overdue but always worth the wait, Game of Thrones returns for it’s seventh premiere, and with the world of Westeros on the brink of all it’s many wars for supremacy, everyone is searching out what allies they can. From it’s first scene, “Dragonstone” questions what form these allies take, the question of who you trust a murky one, rife with the possibility of disappointment, disloyalty and disguise. The opening annihilation of the Frays and their banner men once again reinforces the first and last lesson of the series; trusting freely will get you killed.
Desperate times and all that, though. As we traverse the many characters searching for support, no-one looks more isolated than Cersei, as she stands imperiously on the map of the seven kingdoms. Ruthlessness and ambition have brought her this; a facsimile of the power she truly desires. While it may look bleak for the Lannisters, alone in King’s Landing, outliers on every side, with the numbers Euron Greyjoy brings to the table Cersei’s forces may nearly outstrip Danearys’ enormous horde (somewhere in the region of 250,000 fighters and over 100,000 ships).
Danearys’ arrival at Dragonstone manifests her birthright, and the visuals live up to the grandeur of this momentous event. During Stannis’ reign on the island we were rarely shown the epic scale of the castle and it’s fortifications, perhaps revealing what little care the player-king had for his surroundings. To Danearys, banishment and exile finally over, her awe at this inheritance and the dangers of her heritage is palpable; all the Targaryen stronghold stood for and all it may bring her on her conquest is writ large, carved out of the very rock (was that a Dragonglass mountain peak throne?). With reverence comes purpose, and this woman is ready to state her claim on the board, her closest ally by her side.
Both queens make steady progress in “Dragonstone”. Cersei regards her options with as wary an eye as someone with a monstrous sense of entitlement may. Not prepared to cede her newfound power to another dangerous man, but desirous of his fleet, her refusal is just cool enough to let her retain her majesty (we’re certainly way past dignity) while allowing Euron to continue pursuing his goal. So one ally there, but what of closer to home? Notwithstanding Cersei’s claims to Jaime that they are the only two left in the world who matter, when she asks him “Are you afraid of me?” he doesn’t confirm that he isn’t, merely asks if he should be. These cracks in their relationship have long weathered the storm of their terrible shared history, but there is new dissent in Jaime’s voice.
In the North, the White Wolf Jon Snow is similarly conflicted with his sister, as Sansa finds her counsel ignored at the gathering of the Stark bannermen, loyal and otherwise. The distinction between Jon and Sansa’s viewpoint is the former seeing allies where the latter sees enemies. This is an interesting counterpoint to last season, where Sansa called out Littlefinger on his betrayal and deception, then later used his resources for her own ends, a deft move that won the Battle of the Bastards. Sansa has had a taste of vengeance since and, while not monomaniacal about score-settling like her younger sister, is unwilling to suffer fools again.
More importantly, she is adjusting to a scenario where she has autonomy for the first time in her adult life, but a position where she must still ultimately defer to her outranking sibling. She makes a necessary demand that Jon be smarter than Ned, an honourable man whose folly was trusting too freely. For Jon, everything starts and ends with the White Walker threat, leaving him blinkered to the possibility of further turncoats – and he’s seen it all anyway. Both argue a reasonable point, but if each could rely upon the other for their respective strengths and accept their counsel, they might be a formidable team.
In Oldtown, Samwell tries to make allies who could advance his seemingly stalled mission for Jon to gather useful information on the White Walkers. Amid such purposeful activity elsewhere in our world, the montage of endless slop in pots – played largely for comic effect – is successfully frustrating. Why must Sam spin his wheels apprenticing when the world is on the edge of apocalypse? If we wish to understand the Citadel, observe the possessive chains on every book and bookcase or the relentless drudge of working in it’s hospice.
The tedious bureaucracy of the Citadel is just another expression of the misguided priorities that make up its foundations. The secrets of Westeros’ history are closely guarded under lock and key, kept from the masses, and Sam’s persistence is met with a sort of kindly-but-bored apathy from Jim Broadbent’s Grand Maester. Such entrenched positions in a seat of knowledge are hazardous, and have dulled the minds of these apparently wise men, closing them off to the possibility of an evolving world around them which holds an encroaching threat to mankind beyond their reckoning. In their midst we discover Ser Jorah, his greyscale accelerating, but still anxious of news of Danearys’ arrival. Like anything in Westeros, one must play the game, so let’s hope that Sam will be inquisitive and ask some questions of this mysterious stranger next time.
Lady Vengeance herself, Arya Stark crossed off another important name from her list at the end of season 6, butchering Walder Frey in his seat of power. Not content to leave it there, a grander culling is perpetrated to avenge the massacre of the Red Wedding. Now adept at transformation, Arya seems to crave company and her confidence in her ability to defend herself against multiple foes is such that she joins a party of Kings Landing soldiers. The sequence has a gentle eeriness reflecting more the threat she poses to them than vice versa.
She brazenly expresses her regicidal mission, her mild-mannered appearance and affability cloaking the solemnity of her words. This moment of normality – breaking bread with folk – allows her to briefly bypass the fact these men are emissaries of her sworn enemy. They are just folk, some with families, some with dreams or talents unperceived in the usual urge to shed blood. Just as Ned taught Jon that ‘the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword’, perhaps this is Arya’s necessary due diligence – to see the bigger picture in each of her targets. She did, after all, let the Frey women go, perhaps deeming them victims of Walder’s perverse patriarchy.
Her erstwhile companion and another name on her list of doom, Sandor Clegane aka The Hound, continues to reluctantly ride with the Brotherhood, allies who believe in his capacity for change through self-examination. Brutalised as a child, The Hound has been viewed as an outsider, a freak, a monster for the better part of his life, used by men with more power for their own dark purposes. Despite his recent freedom, he clings to his misanthropic persona, his cynicism an armour he hopes to make impenetrable to those around him.
Beric Dondarrion remains enigmatic, the mystery of his immortality no closer to revelation, but Thoros of Myr, seer-priest and Beric’s resurrector, manages to get under the Hound’s skin. Clegane’s vulnerability at finding himself haunted by his past callous selfishness is the key to gaining a new insight into the Brotherhood and their Lord of Light. Divine justice or not, while not exactly converted, his interest is piqued by his vision of White Walker invaders, and his remorse brings him a step closer to self-redemption.
Wherever the narrative draws us in ‘Dragonstone’ we nonetheless hurtle inexorably toward the cataclysms ahead, and the grander threat is transparent. The petty alliances and skirmishes of the living are nothing but distracting vanity in the face of humanity’s true nemesis. Worse still, as if an undead horde of untold size were not hazard enough, every casualty of the wars of man will rise up and join the ranks of the White Walkers come end of days. A hideous irony, and a salutary lesson. The only answer to humanity’s challenge, and balancing force against ‘trusting freely will get you killed’, is come together to overcome.
Review by Nina Clark
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