Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1: A between-the-lines warning from George

Adam Mathew 17 July 2017

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A word of warning: This is our spoiler-filled recap and review of Episode 1, "Dragonstone".

SPOILER WARNING: Seriously, this is your last chance to turn back.

There was a throwaway conversation in this first episode of Season 7 that chilled me. Right to my core, too, like I was a newborn baby playing a game of “gotcha nose” with the Night King. After being largely ignored by Westeros's scholarly class, the maesters, Sam "Slayer" Tarly is finally patronised by some set-in-his-ways git who *just barely* believes that there might be an undead horde moving south for the winter.

“But, hey,” he more or less tells Sam. “Even if that's true, it's no biggie.” The Wall has stood for 12,000 years, goes his reasoning. The good guys have always survived, or we wouldn't be here talking about this. She'll be right, mate.

Uh, no, Mr Archmaester. She'll be wight. More specifically, an undead army featuring wight giants, the live versions of which managed to breach your precious Wall not so long ago. And that was just two of them.

How an educated man can display this sort of hubris goes beyond any boundary of reasoning I understand. You'd be a bloody idiot to knowingly tempt fate, or whatever deity (or deities) is currently using the Seven Kingdoms like a chess board. Personally, I interpreted that exchange between minor characters as a very clear warning from George R R Martin. A "fore-cushioning" if you will. We all need to start getting used to the idea that this isn't going to end well.

We're now entering the downward slope – possibly spiral – of this eight-part series, Thrones fans. To say this penultimate season starts strongly is the biggest understatement of the year. I'll not spoil one iota of it here. But what I will say is this: the opening seven minutes before the credits offers weapons-grade fan-service that is not for the sheepish. I wolfed it down with great pleasure.

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Elsewhere, in the recently liberated Winterfell, Jon Snow holds court as the New King in the North 2.0. It's a heartwarming thing to watch, though we're starting to see some friction between the less equal-opportunity-minded bannermen. Plus, the first cracks are starting to show between our new liege and his half-sister Sansa. Whether or not their uneasy alliance can settle into a groove after some early jitters is up for debate. But the Stark decision-making process definitely won't be helped by the devil and angel sizing each other up on Sansa's shoulders, Littlefinger and Brienne of Tarth respectively.

One thing that is fascinating is the way that the two Starks view and wield the legacy and wisdom of Eddard Stark. In an act of pragmatism and honour, Jon quotes Ned to better explain his willingness to forgive and re-recruit the offspring of oath breakers. Conversely, Sansa points out that her father and her older brother too were blinded by their honour and manoeuvred into making silly mistakes that earned them the most extreme haircuts one can get. She's seen the dirtiness of this world and has been passively tutored on the great game by watching Cersei Lannister murder all and sundry. You've got to wonder then, how much of the lioness has rubbed off on the impressionable young she-wolf...

Speaking of, in King's Landing, Cersei is finally the last Lannister standing in what has been a six-year game of musical thrones. The Iron Throne is hers, an understandably cautious Jaime is at her side and she's cold-bloodedly okay with the recent suicide of her last child (an act of treason, don't you know).

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The fairytale sibling romance has seen better days. The Queen reminds her Hand that he was the one who released Tyrion, who is now a patricidal advisor to their greatest incoming threat, Daenerys Targaryen. As if being surrounded on all compass points by armies wasn't pressure enough, this incestuous power couple is in danger of becoming a love triangle thanks to the Navy-offering suitor that is Euron Greyjoy. The unimpressed Queen isn't in the market for a new (ship) mate just yet. However, if Euron can score some points on the high seas, who knows? Cersei might just get on board.

The last major story thread of this episode revolves around my personal favourite character, the Hound. Sandor Clegane's journey from heartless enforcer to a lynchpin of the Lord of Light continues with The Brotherhood Without Banners. In an almost AA, 12-step situation, Clegane is made to revisit some skeletons in his closet: in this case, the literal, badly decomposed victims of his past selfishness. Forced to see what he's done to innocent noncombatants, Clegane, the consummate hard-arse, softens a touch. That rare moment allows his flame-worshipping companions to make the fire-phobic Hound take a look through a burning hearth and into the future. What gets facetimed back by TLOL? Visions of impending doom at the hands of the undead.

Will that vision be enough to move Westeros's most nihilistic man into belief and action? Or will he bury his head in the sand like the mumu-wearing maester morons up in The Citadel? Can you even teach an old Hound new tricks? I couldn't be more excited to find out.

VERDICT

An incredibly strong start to the penultimate season.

All the chess pieces are set and are moving in delightfully unpredictable ways. Game on!

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