t’s finally here! A new episode of Game of Thrones! No more guesses pieced together from bits of trailers and photos. But that also means that this spoiler warning should be taken a bit more seriously. This post contains frank discussion of the Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere, titled “Dragonstone.” If you haven’t watched yet, now’s the time to leave. Seriously, we mean it.
Are they gone? Good! That was an incredible episode of Thrones, packed with revelations for both book readers and show watchers. For a closer look at what Arya’s vengeful wine tasting means for the show, you can go here. To find out the hidden meaning behind Ed Sheeran’s musical cameo, you can go here. For the rest, stay tuned as I try to answer 11 burning questions from tonight’s explosive episode, starting with the future.
What Did Bran Actually See?: It’s tempting to imagine that the Bran vision that immediately follows the episode’s opening credits is a glimpse of either the past or the current march of the undead. But as we learned last season when Bran saw Cersei’s wildfire exploding, this kid can also see the future. If you look closely, it looks to me as though the Night King and his crew (including giants!) are marching on green grass that turns to snow as they cross it. As Jon put it last season: “The true enemy won’t wait out the storm. He brings the storm.” That green means they are south of the Wall. But the White Walkers have never been south of the Wall before. They may even be south of snowy Winterfell in this green-grass vision, given that this looks like poor, one-eyed Wun-Wun.
There’s no proof, yet, that what Bran sees of the future will absolutely happen. We have yet to see, for example, that dragon from his vision flying over King’s Landing—though with the dragons officially in Westeros, its seems like a good possibility. But let’s say the kid—who has a pretty solid track record and freaked Edd out with how much he knows—is seeing the future. Well, that’s just massive, isn’t it? It means the Wall has come down, and winter has come to Westeros in a way it hasn’t since the Long Night 8,000 years ago. The Wall was built with magical properties to keep creatures like the White Walkers and half-dead uncles out.
This vision undermines Jim Broadbent’s character, Archmaester Ebrose—who tut-tutted Sam’s concerns, recalling previous Westerosi crises and saying, “The Wall stood through it all, and every winter that ever came has ended.” In other words, we’re not just seeing the latest seasonal cycle in a clash between men and White Walkers. The Great War to Come that everyone keeps banging on about will be something terrifyingly new for Westeros. George R.R. Martin himself has implied that his saga is headed towards some unprecedented apocalypse. In an excerpt from the upcoming Winds of Winter, Euron (not always the most reliable source, I’ll grant you) has a terrifying vision: “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.”
How Will the Wall Come Down?: That mostly remains to be seen, but we can lay at least some of the blame on Bran and Lord Commander Edd Tollett. We can probably assume the same charms that protected the Three-Eyed Raven’s Weirwood tree lair against White Walkers also protected the Wall. Bran broke the Weirwood’s charm last season when he let the Night King put his “mark” on him. (You can read a full rundown of that here.) Though we didn’t see anything amiss with the Wall when Edd let Bran and Meera in, it’s likely that small act was enough to doom Westeros to a full-blown White Walker invasion. In Season 6, the Night King easily cracked apart the Weirwood’s defenses. For that to happen to the Wall feels like a late-in-the-season kind of show-stopper, doesn’t it?
How Much Dragonglass Does It Take to Bring Down the Undead Army?:As we’ve explored countless times before, dragonsteel (Valyrian), dragonglass (obsidian), and potentially dragonfire are the three ways to kill a White Walker. The King in the North seems all over this dragonglass issue, making it the No. 1 action item of his new administration. With Sam discovering that Dragonstone is positively lousy with obsidian, it seems likely this is the issue that prompts the long-awaited meeting between Dragon Queen Daenerys and King in the North Jon Snow. Those Dragonstone beaches look full of potential, don’t they?
Did you notice what else Sam flipped past in that book? Yep, that’s the fabled Catspaw dagger.
By the way, we have a new term, courtesy of Lord Glover. Not content with Martin’s “sweet summer child,” HBO has decided to add “boys of summer” into the mix—either just to inspire that gender debate, or to get Don Henley stuck in our collective heads.
Is Euron the New Oberyn?: Someone got a major character overhaul between Season 6 and Season 7. The intensely charismatic Danish actor Pilou Asbaek is officially off the leash, and seems to have styled his piratical Euron Greyjoy after both Captain Jack Sparrow and Oberyn Martell. Either way, there’s loads more eyeliner involved. (But still, alas, no eyepatch.) Between the sexy new clothes and the sharp quips, Euron is angling hard to become a new fan favorite on the show. We’ve no idea how faithful the show will wind up being to Euron’s book character—but readers can tell you this guy is charismatic, yes, as well as depraved and very bad news. Jaime is right to be concerned, and it’s very on-brand of Cersei to be intrigued. She’s all about strange bedfellows these days.
In between barbs, Jaime and Euron were saddled with a little bit of book exposition. So, for the record, yes. Euron and (cut-from-the-show) Victarion Greyjoy sailed into the Lannisport harbor during the Greyjoy Rebellion and burned the Lannister fleet. (Not very sportsmanlike.) And the Greyjoys lost that particular skirmish in the end. But what kind of “gift” does Euron have up his sleeve for Cersei? A dragon? Gendry? Some of her Dornish enemies?
Why Is Beric Dondarrion So Important All of a Sudden?: The eyepatch-wearing leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners went from a deeply marginal character to part of a major plotline this year. Why? George R.R. Martin may have inadvertently tipped his hat in a recent Time interview, when he explained:
Poor Beric Dondarrion, who was set up as the foreshadowing of all this [resurrection], every time [he’s brought back] he’s a little less Beric. His memories are fading, he’s got all these scars, he’s becoming more and more physically hideous, because he’s not a living human being anymore. His heart isn’t beating, his blood isn’t flowing in his veins, he’s a wight, but a wight animated by fire instead of by ice, now we’re getting back to the whole fire and ice thing.
Cue the Game of Thrones fandom freaking out, because this is the first time Martin or anyone has mentioned the concept of fire wights. And in case you forget, Melisandre was inspired by Beric’s personal priest and resurrection expert, Thoros of Myr, when she brought Jon back.
In other words, is Jon Snow also one of these fire wights? What does that mean for his future? If you don’t recall, Jon tried to sign a magical D.N.R. with Melisandre last season before the Battle of the Bastards. “Don’t bring me back,” he said. But Melisandre said it wasn’t up to her. Like Beric and possibly the Hound, the Lord of Light seems to have plans for Jon Snow. Also last season, the red priestess Kinvaratold Tyrion that Daenerys’s dragons were a gift from R’Hollor: “fire made flesh.” Are all these fire-based things—wights and dragons—the Lord of Light’s attempt to arm the realm against the ice wights from the north? In other words, what will become of this potentially undead Jon Snow once the battle’s lost or won?
Where Are the Hound, Beric, and Thoros Going?: The Hound (who is kissed by fire in his own unique way) stares into Thoros’s fire and sees “where the Wall meets the sea, there is a mountain that looks like an arrowhead.” He also sees “the army of the dead, thousands of them.” Fun fact! “Where the Wall meets the sea” is probably another way of saying Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, which is one of the outposts manned by the Night’s Watch. Or, at least, it was. But who’s in charge there now? Our man Tormund. So it looks like these two groups—wildlings and Brotherhood—are on a collision course.
There is, as a fellow TV critic pointed out to me, going to be a lot of place-setting in the penultimate season of Game of Thrones. The show writers need all their players in certain positions for the final showdown, and hopefully, the seams on how they get there won’t be too apparent. This Brotherhood scene with the Hound, Beric, and Thoros is a perfect example of moving players around on the board with some measure of grace. Adding in the Hound’s existential crisis, a callback to the farmer and his daughter from Season 4, and a reference or two to Ian McShane’s Brother Ray made this particular plot thread Game of Thrones at its finest.
Why Is Sansa Still Undermining Jon in Public?: Sansa having opinions and thoughts and feelings about how the north should be run is a good thing, I think we can all agree. She’s right to tell Jon he needs to be smarter than Ned and Robb. She’s right to have absorbed some lessons from Littlefinger and Cersei. But she’s wrong to call Jon out in front of the rest of the northerners. It feels like a backslide from their touching scene last season, where they agreed to work together. And the way Sansa says Jon is good at ruling one minute and then calls all his decisions into question the next feels like inconsistent characterization. Or maybe it’s just Littlefinger’s manipulative plan working on her. I’m all for Sansa co-leading with Jon, but perhaps they should get on the same page about their strategy before gathering all the lords of the north.
When Did Westeros Get Woke?: I’m not really complaining, but for a show that started deeply rooted in medieval politics, Westeros has progressed rapidly toward women calling the shots on almost every corner. There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but it does at times feel like a reaction and overcompensation for a modern TV audience complaining about the treatment of women in earlier seasons. Martin once defended the prevalent use of rape in his text to Entertainment Weeklyby leaning into the quasi-historical context of his novels:
The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing—that was not a small thing.
Martin, we should note, also invented Arya and Brienne of Tarth, so he’s certainly not supporting those gender roles. I doubt Martin’s version of Westeros will get as woke as fast as HBO’s, but a Lyanna Mormont mic-drop is always preferable to seasons of sexual exploitation and rape.
Why Does Jaime Look So Worried?: Last season ended with Jaime shooting his sister a fairly oblique look as she took the throne. According to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jaime “does not understand what the game plan is. No one will accept [Cersei] as queen willingly. I’m not sure he understands or knows who that person is now. And that’s scary.” Cersei’s no dummy. She picked up on Jaime’s hesitant vibes enough to ask him if he was either angry or afraid. But the context she may be missing is that her rhetoric (and fondness for wildfire) are a hardcore callback to one of the more traumatic moments of Jaime’s life: the death of the mad King Aerys. According to Jaime in Season 3, the Mad King “loved to watch people burn. The way their skin blackened and blistered and melted off their bones.” Sound familiar?
The other obvious pressure point this season for Cersei and Jaime will be Tyrion, who is working for their enemy, Daenerys. Cersei obviously has no problem killing her brother, but what will Jaime do if he’s forced to come face-to-face with his beloved younger sibling on the battlefield?
Is Everything Really About the Mad King Aerys?: Sort of. Jon has this interesting line during his northern meeting where he says he won’t be holding either young Ned Umber or Alys Karstark responsible for the sins of their relatives. This proves a popular platform—but is Jon also thinking about himself as he says it? Catelyn Stark always treated Jon like garbage, thanks to the alleged “sins” of the man Jon thought was his father: Ned Stark. Ned, by the way, is getting quoted an awful lot this season. First Sansa in the trailer, and now Jon:
This attitude of forgiveness might come in handy once Jon finds out who his realfather is and has to reconcile himself with what that man did. It may echo as well when Jon meets the Mad King’s daughter: Daenerys. Last year, she expressed a similar sentiment when treating with Yara Greyjoy. “Our fathers were evil men, all of us here,” she said addressing Tyrion, Yara, and Theon. “They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.” Sounds like Jon and Dany are on the same page with this one.
What’s New in the Credits?: Alas, the Baratheon sigil is still flying on top of King’s Landing. I was sort of hoping for a Lannister lion. But there is something new: Oldtown! We didn’t get to see a little animated Citadel last season, but here it is, with the flaming seat of House Hightower on full display. Gilly and Sam are hard at work, reading. Sam’s research has already yielded some interesting results, but I’m also curious to see what Gilly finds in her book: “Legends of the Long Night.” Perhaps one or both of them will figure out a way to cure poor Jorah, who has greyscaled his way on over to Oldtown.
Does Daenerys Have a New Plan?: Last year, when the slavers attacked Meereen, Daenerys’s first instinct was, to quote the Mad King Aerys, to burn them all. “Shall we begin?” she asked Tyrion at the time. Tyrion cautioned a more diplomatic approach, and the pair saved Meereen (and scored a fleet of ships) through their combined iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove approach. After Daenerys walks into the ancient Targeryen seat of Dragonstone and surveys the great map table painted by her ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, she turns to Tyrion once again with the same question. Aegon took the Seven Kingdoms with “fire and blood.” Lets hope for the sake of the Westerosi characters we care about that Daenerys has a different plan.