Shall we begin?
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It was the late summer of 2017 when Game of Thrones' seventh season first aired. How ironic, because summer is the absolute last thing that Game of Thrones is concerned about, as we are now down to the final two seasons, and winter has finally arrived. Shortened to just seven episodes as opposed to having the usual ten, season seven sees all of the series' remaining plot lines converge into one complete whole, as now all major remaining characters currently hold some position of power in Westeros. Jon Snow reigns as King in the North, Cersei Lannister holds the Iron Throne, and Daenerys Targaryen, despite not having an exact title in Westeros, has an army unlike any other in Westeros, as well as three dragons: the fantasy equivalent of weapons of mass destruction. I still am a bit unsure as to the exact reasoning for why seasons seven and eight are shortened from the usual ten episode length. My best guess is that D&D realize that there isn't a whole lot of plot left to tell, and with so much grand-scale action on the horizon, they figured they didn't need to waste time having characters talk about political affairs that, at this point, don't really amount to anything anymore. Daenerys Targaryen is about to wage war with Cersei and the Lannisters. Does anyone really care who is Master of Coin or what is going on with the good folks of Qarth right now? As there are fewer episodes to get through, that means that the pacing is about to ramp up big time. No longer is it going to take characters about half a season to get from Location A to Location B.
I bring this up because breakneck pacing is the biggest criticism of season seven, as many fans and critics felt that the characters zipping across Westeros in the blink of an eye was a betrayal of how characters traveled at a more realistic pace during the earlier seasons. I personally did not find the pacing to be as big of an issue as others have made it out to be (one episode definitely has issues with rushed pacing, but we'll get to that when the time comes). I actually kind of enjoyed not having as long to wait for certain events to unfold. It pretty much ensures that we will get few to no "build-up" episodes that are purely concerned with setting up events yet to happen.
And yet, "Dragonstone" is very much a build-up episode, with basically nothing actually happening. It's all good, though: D&D give us time to see more of Jon and Cersei in their new positions of power, as the two create new alliances and gear up for when their respective enemies finally strike. I'm sorry: that's a bad choice of words. Jon doesn't give a crap about whatever remaining enemies Cersei thinks she has. His sole priority now is to gather as many forces as he can to prepare for the invasion of the Army of the Dead. After a cold opener in which Arya cleverly murders the rest of House Frey, D&D give us the most perfect opening shot they could have come up with to start the season: a simple wide shot of the the Night King and his army marching south. I've alluded before to the importance of the series' very first scene, in which the men of the Night's Watch encounter the White Walker. To reiterate, Game of Thrones wanted to show us, before anything else, who the real threat of the series would be. It was never Joffrey Baratheon or Ramsay Bolton or Cersei Lannister. It has always been the White Walkers, and despite going long stretches without ever acknowledging them, George R.R. Martin and D&D wanted to make sure that The White Walkers were the very first thing everyone reads/sees, because people tend to remember the first thing they see in a movie or television series. I've always found the title of the first episode, "Winter is Coming" to be not just the words of House Stark: I've found them to be a subtle hint that the White Walkers are coming, and as season seven gets underway, now that winter is here, so are the White Walkers. Okay, they're not here here, but their lengthy absences are no more. We will be seeing plenty of these guys throughout season seven, and it won't be long until they are here here.
"Dragonstone" quickly turns a character that has been around since day one into a believer of the Army of the Dead: Sandor Clegane. One of the most exciting things that season seven does is make believers out of characters that have been around since the series' early days. For Sandor Clegane, he has been as disconnected as anybody from anything concerning the White Walkers, which is why it's a bit unexpected that he would be the one to speak of a vision of the White Walkers reaching a point where the Wall meets the sea. If you don't count all of his close encounters with fire, we have never seen The Hound be straight-up terrified of anything, so it's quite bone-chilling to hear him speak of the vision he sees, becoming a bit washed over with fear when he gets a glimpse of what Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners are going to fight. It's going to be a fight the Hound will not enjoy at all: the living will need fire to combat the ice-cold Army of the Dead, and we all know how the Hound feels about fire.
Let's assume for a quick moment that the White Walkers will invade Westeros and kill everyone. As sad as we would all be if that happens (and chances are quite likely that a White Walker victory will not happen), I think most of us can agree that one character we would not miss at all is the Lannister soldier played by Ed Sheeran. My gosh, what a forced and unnecessary cameo by a celebrity who has basically no business being in Game of Thrones. Ed Sheeran is put front and center of the camera when the scene begins, because we all know getting ot see Ed Sheeran in a Lannister soldier costume is the only reason this scene exists. This whole scene is basically a waste, not just because it's a lame excuse for Ed Sheeran to sing a song, but also because the entire conversation between Arya and the Lannister soldiers is incredibly dull. It's all a bunch of uninteresting small talk that only slightly gets interesting when Arya mentions she is travelling to King's Landing to kill Cersei.
Thankfully, none of the other conversations are uninteresting, especially the talks between Cersei and Jaime, as they welcome Euron Greyjoy to King's Landing. Jaime is in a very peculiar spot right now: he is preparing to fight enemies that oppose his House, and yet, he is not at all on the same page with his own House. Seeing the pile of rubble that was the Sept of Baelor and watching Cersei be crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms was the beginning of Jaime losing trust in his sister. As Jaime has gone down a path of regaining his honor and becoming more sympathetic, Cersei has gone down a path that has caused her to develop an insatiable desire for power: a desire that is looking like it is driving her towards insanity. Nevertheless, Jaime is a Lannister, as is Cersei, and that is why the two are fighting on the same side. Euron Greyjoy promises he will earn Cersei's approval, but if I were Cersei, I would not trust a man who looks like he just came from having drinks at a bar populated by motorbike punks. Who the hell decided that was the costume Pilou Asbaek should wear? It's perhaps the most un-fantasy like costume I have ever seen in Game of Thrones. You might as well give Euron a leather jacket and a pair of jeans, because that's basically what he's wearing.
Euron would be dead in a fortnite if that was his choice of clothing in the North, where, despite being back in control of Winterfell, the Starks are still fighting among themselves. Jon and Sansa continue to have difficulty seeing things eye to eye, especially because they now have the attention of Cersei, who wants Jon to ride south to King's Landing and bend the knee. Although they've experienced vastly different journeys, Jon and Sansa have both come to learn what it takes to be a leader in Westeros, but the fact that the two have been on different journeys I think is the reason they are having several disagreements. Jon is currently the only one in Winterfell who has actually seen the Army of the Dead, and having seen the power of the Night King first hand, Jon is willing to take whatever risks he needs in order to accumulate as many forces as possible. Sansa, however, has been through more torment than anyone could know, and although she believes the Army of the Dead exists, her time spent in captivity at the hands of the Lannisters and later the Boltons has made her cynical about anyone that she either knows nothing about and/or isn't closely related to her family. She fears that Jon's near-desperation about preparing to face the Army of the Dead will somehow come back to hurt either her or someone else she loves.
So then, to wrap things up, I figure I should talk about Daenerys' official return home to Westeros, as her and her army arrive at the abandoned Dragonstone. I applaud that this scene has no dialogue, except for Daenerys saying, "Shall we begin?" right as the episode comes to a close. This scene should be all about the atmosphere: we've been waiting for this moment for a full six seasons, so no need to ruin it with pointless dialogue as Daenerys climbs the steps and heads up to her new chambers. I also love how no other characters really follow Daenerys as she tours through Dragonstone, save for Tyrion when the two head to the big meeting/planning room at the very end. They all understand how big of a moment this is for her. The likes of Missandei and the Dothraki have never been to Westeros before, but for Daenerys, this is her home, and this is a moment she should take in by herself as much as possible.
It's good to finally see our Dragon Queen in the same country as everyone else we've followed for the past six seasons, and it won't be long until she puts the rest of Westeros on high alert. Although devoid of any actual happenings, "Dragonstone" is the necessary set-up episode to get season seven rolling along, giving us a glimpse into the growing divides between certain groups of characters, as well as ramping up the fear we all should have of the incoming Army of the Dead. There are some minor annoyances: Euron Greyjoy's anachronistic outfit and Ed Sheeran's lame cameo, but that's all they are: minor annoyances. There will soon be war, and lots of it. Shortened seasons do have their advantages.
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