Spoiler alert! The following contains details of the Season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones.
It can’t all be dragonfire and battles, we suppose.
Game of Thrones returned for its seventh season Sunday with expectations higher than ever, following a strong, forward-moving Season 6. It seemed like we were in for something bombastic in the premiere, titled “Dragonstone,” after the ancestral home of Daenerys Targaryen, one of the series’ more fiery characters. But while Thrones moved at a speedy pace last season — and now has just 12 episodes remaining in total — the episode played out like the slow-moving and exposition-heavy premieres of seasons past. And there isn’t really time for that, not anymore.
Sure, viewers were treated to an opening scene soaked in the blood of the entire Frey family. But they also sat through an almost agonizingly unsubtle Ed Sheeran cameo, monologues from minor characters and overlong meetings. And even Arya’s mass murder felt like an unnecessary extension of a better scene in the Season 6 finale. Who knew the epic story of Westeros had this kind of time?
Our major players were mostly stalled in their seats of power. Jon confirmed his status as a great leader by not executing children for the sins of their parents (and promoting gender equality on the battlefield). Cersei dipped her toe in the water of an alliance with Euron Greyjoy. Dany arrived at Dragonstone and took a quick tour. We were reminded of the locations of most of the armies and characters while standing over a large map of the continent. It was very educational.
But still, Thrones has often found as much greatness in its smaller moments as it has in wildfire explosions and murderous weddings. Sam, who arrived at the Citadel hoping to learn the secrets of destroying the White Walkers but ended up doing menial labor, highlighted this best.
His bedpan-heavy montage was perhaps unnecessary, but added some levity and was an excellently edited bit of filmmaking. His discussion with the Archmaester (delightful cast addition Jim Broadbent) allowed the episode to explore the series’ larger themes. Does any of this, in the end, really mean anything? Life, war, power, they are all fleeting, so why does any of this matter, even the war with the White Walkers?
The Hound, Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion also played more thematic roles, reappearing more to remind us of the endless war’s toll on the people of Westeros than for the images of the White Walker’s advance the Hound saw in the flames. The series has had trouble portraying the consequences of its characters' actions. Now, years later, the Hound must bury the bodies of the people he had a hand in killing.
Cersei and Arya may have to confront their own ghosts, too. And, though Sheeran’s presence was incredibly distracting, Arya’s scene with him and the other young soldiers brought up important questions about her character. Is she going to kill these men with families and hopes just because they wear Lannister red? Is she just a killer now, or is there something more to her? That’s a question the show should spend its time on – if it has any to spare.
Game of Thrones has always aimed for a balance of huge, shocking moments with smaller, more intimate ones. And in any other season, “Dragonstone” would have been a perfectly serviceable premiere. But the series finale is looming, and with only six episodes remaining this year, there’s not as much time to tease. We don’t want the inevitably bigger and more consequential moments to be rushed. In a series with so much mythos and wind-up, the conclusions need to be satisfyingly delivered.
“Dragonstone” closes with Dany, done with her emotional tour of her birthplace, returning to business. “Shall we begin?” she asks.
We couldn’t agree more.