“Shall we begin?” This is a fitting final line for a Game of Thrones season premiere episode that spends most of its hour checking in with characters rather than making any significant progress on the plot. Though it seems like a bit of a waste when there are only 12 episodes left in this story, for now, it’s just good to be back in this world.
Most of the action in this episode took place in the cold open, before the title credits even rolled. If you thought Arya was going to leave the rest of the Freys who slaughtered her family unpunished, then you don’t know her very well. Walder Frey may have been the crotchety old creeper who gave the order, but these men were the ones who carried it out. They had no reservations about killing a pregnant woman and the mother of five children, amongst the other Starks and allies who died that day.
It’s a regular Red Feast, with Arya inviting the men and allies of House Frey to a celebration. (How long was Arya pretending to be Walder Frey while she waiting for the gang to arrive? I don’t know, but I wish it had been a web series.) Once there, she gets the men to drink wine under the guise of family and kinship before the vengeful truth is exposed: the wine has been poisoned. Everyone who drank it will die.
Arya isn’t interested in having the men know it was a Stark who killed them, not like she was with the real Walder Frey, but she does want the larger world to know: “When people ask what happened here, tell them the North remembers,” she tells one of the Frey girls who witnesses the massacre. “Tell them Winter came for House Frey.”
But Arya isn’t done with House Frey. She has a to-do list to get through, you know. Her next stop? King’s Landing, where she plans to take out Cersei. She even announces her plans to a gang of Lannister soldiers who are kind enough to share their fire and dinner with her. They laugh it off, unwilling to believe that such a young, small girl could carry out such an epic task. They obviously haven’t heard that the future is female.
While Arya has been off getting shit done, Jon and Sansa are seemingly in the same meeting with their followers as where we left them, trying to figure out what to do next. While Jon goes unchallenged in his desire to have everyone of his bannerman Google search their records for any mention of the White Walkers, Sansa is less than pleased with Jon’s decision to leave those families that betrayed the Starks unpunished. She challenges him in front of everyone, but Jon holds his ground. He will maintain the house structure because men love their tradition.
It’s easy to see why Jon and Sansa see the world slightly differently. Jon has spent the last few years in a world that, more or less, adheres to some sense of honor. He is still naïve enough to believe that if you trust in those around you, they will repay you with their allegiance. Sansa, on the other hand, has spent the last few years in King’s Landing, learning that honor is not impermeable.
“You almost sound as if you admire Cersei,” Jon tells Sansa, later when they are by themselves. “I learned a great deal from her,” Sansa tells him. She has grown up in Cersei’s toxic shadow. It has not yet made her cruel, but it has made her smart. “I loved them. I miss them, but they both made stupid mistakes and they lost their heads for it.” This is how she remembers Ned and Robb. Sansa is all grown up, and not oblivious to what Littlefinger wants. (Namely, her.)
While the two Stark siblings may disagree on how to proceed, the love and respect they have for one another is obvious. Sansa tells Jon that he is the least Joffrey-like person she has ever met, which should really be a valentine. She tells him that he is good at this ruling thing, even if he does not return the favor. And isn’t that how it always goes? The dude needs tons of positive reinforcement, but doesn’t think to do the same for the lady? “And how should I be smarter? By listening to you?” Jon asks, almost condescendingly. Um, yes. Sansa spent five years by Cersei’s side. She has valuable knowledge Jon can use.
Speaking of Cersei, she’s as socipathic as ever. Without her children to pass her much-coveted empire along to, she only cares about the present and what power she can wield now. Even Jaime seems to be wondering if he should jump ship before she goes full-on genocide. When he tries to get her to talk about the death of their final child, Cersei just tells him that Tommen betrayed them. Tommen, a child who was so upset and heartbroken and alone that he threw himself out of a window. Are you still Team Cersei, Jaime?
Let’s face it: Things have not been great between siblings/lovers Jaime and Cersei for a long while now. The introduction of Euron Greyjoy into the equation is certainly not going to help. Cersei is poised to make a deal with the ruler of the Iron Isles: her hand in marriage for his fleet of one thousand ships. The washed up rocker pirate seems giddy with the knowledge that he has something that Cersei needs, dropping thinly-veiled jokes about Jaime’s one-handed-ness left and… well, then just left.
While Cersei turns down the offer, it seems more like a negotiation technique then a final decision. Cersei needs allies if she stands any chance of keeping Westeros, and when has she ever valued love over power?
Meanwhile, at the library…
Sometimes, Sam feels like he is on a complete different show. Right now, his show is a cross between the bloodiest parts of Call the Midwife, the parts of Harry Potter that take place in the library, and that terrible Dinotopia miniseries starring a young Wentworth Miller.
While everyone else in Westeros is trying to get what they want by murdering, scheming, and wearing other people’s dead faces, Sam is trying to get what he wants by scrubbing bedpans, re-shelving library books, and assisting Jim Broadbent in medieval-style autopsies. It’s so Sam.
What Sam wants is some mother-frakking information about the White Walkers… you know, that undead threat that is coming to destroy us all. Unfortunately, the maesters seem to be all about paying your dues (I’m telling you — dudes and their obsession with tradition). Sam isn’t allowed in the restricted section of the library until he becomes a maester.
Sam plays by the rules for a while, almost convincing Jim Broadbent to let him see some books, before he blows the operation by making a vaguely racist comment about southerners. So Sam cuts right to the chase, and he steals the keys for the restricted section. (Jon Snow would have done this Day One, I’m just saying.)
The caper pays off! Sam finds out that Dragonstone is sitting on a mountain of dragonglass, one of the only substances known to be able to take out the White Walkers (though, notably, not wights). He quickly writes a raven to Jon, then gets back to his chores, which include picking up the dishes of the quarantined patients infected with greyscale. One of their number includes Jorah, who asks Sam if the dragon queen has made it to Westeros yet. Not to judge, but he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job looking for a cure for greyscale.
Also The Riverlands
Arya isn’t the only one currently meandering around the Riverlands. Her old frenemy Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, is traveling with the Brotherhood Without Banners after having joined up with him at the end of last season.
The Hound is a much-changed man from the one who first encountered the Brotherhood back in Season 3. After his near-death experience, his time with Arya, and his time with Septon Ray, The Hound seems more inclined to help the little guy, which just so happens to be the Brotherhood’s mission statement.
The Hound spends most of his time making snarky comments about the Lord of Light, but it’s clear that, beneath his sarcasm, he has genuine questions about this power that he has seen bring Beric back to the dead (though Thoros’ magical healing). When Thoros asks him to look into the fire, he not only works through his long-held fear to do so, but also sees something real: the army of the undead marching on a castle. He may not want to be put in any religious category, but The Hound has seen enough to believe that there are greater powers at work at Westeros. The big, angry question he has for them: Why save the life of Beric Dondarrion (or Sandor himself) and not the lives of the farmer and daughter they find dead? It is the same farmer and daughter The Hound stole from in Season 3, and the same farmer and daughter he left to die.
The Hound might not be able to go back and save these innocents he has wronged, but he can give them a proper burial. And he does, with Thoros’ help. Most characters on this show have become more jaded as this series has gone on. Against all odds, The Hound has found a way to believe in things greater than himself. More importantly than that, he has found a way to be a better man.
After six seasons, Dany has returned to the place she was born. She has reached the shores of Westeros.
Almost all of Dany and company’s arrival at Dragonstone is without dialogue. The dragon queen makes her way off her boat, her closest allies — Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, and Grey Worm — at her side. It says a lot about the tangible power of this moment that Tyrion stays quiet. Instead, they give the leader space as she makes her way up the beach, through the gates, and into the castle that is her ancestral home. The Targaryens are back in Dragonstone, and Cersei should be shaking in her boots.
“Shall we begin?” Dany asks Tyrion, as they stand over the war strategy board we once saw Stannis fail at. In the game of thrones, you win or you die. This is the beginning of the end, people. Place your bets: Dany, Cersei, or the White Walkers. Extra points for wild cards. At this point, it’s anybody’s game.