Every rumor you heard about this show speeding up the pace is absolutely true. Just ask Arya, the girl who eliminated an entire house BEFORE THE CREDITS ROLLED.
The word that springs to mind most readily when thinking about this season premiere of Game of Thrones is intention. “Dragonstone” did what all season premieres of narratively dense shows do – it let us know where everything stood. Jon and Sansa are working out how to co-rule the North. Arya is back at her list. Sam is a first-year Maester student, and Jorah is in a drug trial on campus. The Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners are making their way north. Bran’s made it under the Wall in RECORD time if you consider how long it’s taken him to get anywhere in past seasons. Team Dany arrived on Dragonstone and Danaerys Stormborn set foot on her birthright for the first time in two decades. Euron, rebuffed by one queen, courts another. Cersei and Jaime are… rebuilding?
In lesser hands, such an episode could have felt at worst, boring, or at best, rote. Luckily, we aren’t in lesser hands. “Dragonstone” set the stage for season seven and along the way it managed to reach the same emotional peaks and valleys achieved by episodes like “The Rains of Castamere” and “Winds of Winter.”
Every story had a spine-tingling moment in their own unique ways. Some were jaw-dropping (Arya’s streamlined Frey massacre in the most epic cold-open this show has ever attempted), others were subtle (Sam’s conversation with Archmaester Marwyn [played by the always brilliant Jim Broadbent] that revealed the latter’s shocking acceptance of the White Walkers’ existence and his equally shocking nonchalance regarding them). But every single one allowed for utterly human moments while still genius-ly setting the stage for what promises to be epic wars to come.
The Hound was a particular standout, as we’re let in on the fact that his redemption has merely begun, but is far from finished. He’s made a choice to live his life differently, but when the Brotherhood Without Banners rests up at the same house he and Arya visited before robbing its occupants, Sandor Clegane is forced to face the fact that even with his new outlook on life, he still has sins that must be confessed and repented. Also, he’s maybe a medium?
In a parallel journey, Arya finds herself in the company of friendly Lannister soldiers (cue Ed Sheeran’s lovely cameo), and sweetly learns what the rest of us already knew – the smallfolk are pawns in this great game, and far fewer people are deserving of her brand of vengeance than perhaps she previously thought.
But let’s face it, while Game of Thrones can flex its muscles in intimacy as much as it wants, we still want to see the journey we’ve been invested in since episode one – Danaerys claiming her throne. While she doesn’t get to King’s Landing this week, she does make it to Dragonstone. In a sequence devoid of dialogue, but drenched in import, she alights on the shores of her homeland, ascends the stairs to the castle her ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, built and stands before the map table Stannis Baratheon, a master strategist, previously used and she decisively gets to work like the queen she is.
To watch this episode was to watch a show that is perfectly aware of its position in the zeitgeist. It was as much fan service as it was narratively brilliant, and that is a rare, delicious sweet spot that few shows manage to achieve. If there were any doubts this show would exceed our expectations this season, Dany’s final line removes them.
“Shall we begin?”
GEEK Grade: A
Check out the trailer for “Stormborn,” below, and leave your thoughts in the comments!
Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa