Shall We Begin? Motives and Visions in the ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 7 Premiere

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Really, the Freys should have suspected something was up. Walder is giving praise? Speaking in lucid, eloquent sentences? Smiling without violent stimuli? Even with the bit about not wasting wine on “a damn woman,” all the signs were pointing to Old Walder not being his usual surly self.

Then again, as a people the Freys have a reputation for being a little dim. And how would they have known that a girl fed Walder his sons in a pie, only to kill him and put his face on hers? It’s a stretch.

But thank the old gods and the new for the doltish Freys! Their stupidity gave way to the one triumphant cold open that fulfilled Old Nan’s tale to its logical extreme. Did I guess what was happening thirty seconds in? Sure. Does it matter? No, no it does not. Because even though the sound of Walder Frey’s voice gives me the full-body creeps, it was worth it for Arya to use his face in such a glorious way. The whole of Westeros breathed a collective sigh that night, even if they didn’t know why, with the knowledge that the Frey bloodline would never be able to continue. What a treat!

Later, we see Arya with the merriest bunch of Lannister soldiers this side of the Twins. It was refreshing, but super disorienting, to see an encounter with pleasant people on this show. Were they created just for Ed Sheeren’s cameo? (A cameo of which, by the way, I am not thrilled. It was passable because he had very few lines, but Game of Thrones is a better show than to stoop to celebrity kitsch for its own sake.)

Call me impatient, but I do wish Arya would head to Winterfell instead of giving in to her revenge whim. It’s most likely she doesn’t even think any of her family members are still alive so it’s not even worth trying, but I’m hoping the super nice Lannister soldiers talking about their family planted a seed.

When it comes to Arya moving forward, more than anything I’m hoping the show doesn’t overuse her faceless expertise. When she did it in the finale of last season to kill Walder, I assumed she used a face taken from the House of Black and White. But if she can just do this now, kill anyone and use their faces, that’s quite a skill to have in your back pocket. Used too often and the novelty will likely wear off, but if she only uses other faces to cross off those left on her kill list then it’ll be effective.

And considering Arya’s on her way to King’s Landing with the intention of killing Cersei, this skill will come in handy. Thinking of people she could kill and use the faces of to get close to Cersei is a fun game: Qyburn, Jaime, the Mountain… okay so that’s about all that’s left on Cersei’s side, and the latter two would be rather difficult.

Even those left on Cersei’s side would find it difficult to get to her at this point. Post-wildfire Cersei has become a slightly more restrained version of Joffrey: brutal, short-sighted, and entirely without concern for anyone but herself. Not the family and herself, not even Jaime and herself. Just her own egomaniacal self.

Jaime said he’s not angry with her (and pretty quickly so I’m inclined to believe him) but it’s safe to say he’s wary of her intentions as queen. Cersei said she wants to build a dynasty, and when confronted with the reality that there are no heirs to carry on that dynasty, she flippantly said, “A dynasty for us then.” I’m skeptical.

She didn’t even want to talk about Tommen, whom she said “betrayed” them. Okay, so he foolishly took up with the Faith Militant and Margaery instead of sticking by his mother, but to call that a betrayal is pretty hyperbolic, even for Cersei. That’s definitely up there on the list of Most Shocking Developments of Game of Thrones Characters. Cersei doesn’t care about her children? For the entire series up until now her love for her children was her one saving grace.

Now, without any allies and the gall to rule (conquer? slaughter?) just because she can, Cersei is painting herself into a corner of the map. Her only ally in the literal world is Euron Greyjoy. He’s a pretty good one to have, I’ll give her that. He’s a powerful and experienced loose cannon, an Iron-born if ever there was one, with a thousand-ship armada at his command. (And “two good hands.” Rude.) Cersei does seem to have a knack for cultivating morally questionable inner circles.

Cersei’s not dumb, so she plays hard to get. If Euron wants to rape and pillage for funsies, it’d help to have the queen’s support, and she knows that. She is pleased, however, when he offers to get her “a priceless gift.” It’s not specified, but I just have to assume it’s Tyrion and/or his head. Is there anything that would delight Cersei more at this point?

And let’s just all acknowledge that Euron wins for best glow up between seasons, for sure. Haircut, smudgy eyeliner, excellent asymmetrical jacket. Joshua Jackson is crying somewhere.

I can’t recall another time that Game of Thrones did a montage, but even if it had, Sam’s Citadel montage is undoubtedly the best. The books, the bedpans, the shit! The soup that quickly begins to resemble shit! He dry-heaves nine times in two minutes! It was glorious.

And also a telling look into the life of a new Maester-in-training: you really have to pay your dues. If one gets their chains when they become a Maester, and the Citadel is full of old men without chains, it seems like it’d take decades to become a full-blown Maester. And that’s time Sam doesn’t have to spare.

Urgency is what pushed Sam to ask Archmaester Marwyn for privileges well outside of his newbie territory. He knows that books on the White Walkers are locked away in a secluded section of the biggest library ever (seems silly to forbid a subject for people who are there for the sole purpose of learning, but here we are), so he asks the Archmaester for access to them considering his previous experience.

The Archmaester predictably says no, even though he believes what Sam says about the White Walkers. But his theory, while long-winded, is a startlingly objective one: in dire times everyone thinks the end is near, but the end never actually comes, so there’s no reason to worry about what’s coming. With his apparent wisdom and matter-of-fact speech, it’s almost easy to forget literally everything we’ve seen up until now. Winter is coming (or is here), sure, but the Archmaester interprets the catastrophizing of global events as no big deal because historically civilization has always come back from the brink.

The difference is that previously “winter is coming” mostly just meant the weather, but this time winter is also coming in the form of hundreds of thousands of undead soldiers. (And, courtesy of Bran’s short scene, we know there also at least THREE giants? That was terrifying in a way I didn’t think White Walkers could be after six seasons.) Winter isn’t just a forecast anymore. It’s a looming threat of utter extinction.

Sam doesn’t skip a single beat in stealing keys to get into the private section of the library, and in short order finds exactly what Jon was talking about earlier in the episode: a large deposit of dragonglass beneath Dragonstone, which also happens to be where Daenerys just landed after sailing from Essos.

And who else would ask about Daenerys but Jorah the Andal! He’s back and worse than ever, it seems. Dany gave him the task of finding a cure for his rapidly spreading greyscale, and he did the super smart thing of going to the Citadel, the only place in Westeros dedicated to learning. Surely they’d have (or at least be working to find) a cure, right? If so, the cure seems to be taking its time because Jorah’s arm is in pretty bad shape. That was the arm that was initially infected by the disease, so it’s likely that it’s the  most diseased part of him, but it’s doubtful the rest of his body is faring much better.

So Jorah’s asking Sam about Daenerys. Daenerys just arrives to a dragonglass-rich island. Sam’s writing to Jon about that all that dragonglass. Let’s all take a moment to savor the idea that these worlds will probably colliding very soon. Dany and Jon in the same room – fire and ice! – verbally sparring over why obsidian is more valuable than gold, and oh look at those dragons! Say ‘dracarys’ and they could probably take out several hundred White Walkers at once! But what about the Iron Throne?! I imagine it’ll go something like that.

But for now, Jon’s making plans and keeping the peace as King in the North. And really, if it weren’t for Lyanna Mormont, who knows how Jon would be able to do it. (That little actress is amazing. Having a child put grown men in their place should come off as gimmicky but it just doesn’t!) Especially considering Sansa has no bones about openly disagreeing with the new king.

She definitely has a point in determining the validity of punishment versus reward for loyalty, but Jon’s counterargument is better and way more effective. He says, “Yesterdays wars don’t matter anymore,” and then proceeds to prove it by allowing the highest ranking living Umber and Karstark to stay in their ancestral homes, even though their fathers betrayed the Starks. And even though Sansa warns Jon not to be like Ned or Robb in one way or another, Jon stands his ground to her criticism in a way that Robb never did. He’s firm and fair, and unimpressionable.

There may be reason to be wary of Sansa’s motives. She was Westeros’ most valuable pawn for five full seasons, and it’s hardened her to showing any mercy if there’s the slightest whiff of duplicity. No one can blame her, but Sansa admitting that she “learned a great deal” from Cersei is a troubling statement. Even if she is doing a great job of keeping the ever-scheming Littlefinger in his place. Best line of the episode: “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”

But then, how can we forget the Hound’s astute burn (sorry) to Thoros of Myr: “You think you’re fooling anyone with that top knot?” Incredible.

The Hound’s narrative arc has become the most significant one of the whole series. That arc started bending when his relationship with Arya became borderline compassionate (even though she left him for dead), and continued last season with his reappearance among a small religious sect. He’d given up fighting, started taking his anger out on logs to build a chapel. He wasn’t friendly, but not being immediately threatening is a big step for the Hound.

So when the Brotherhood Without Banners happens upon an abandoned house, which once belonged to a generous man that the Hound robbed back in season four, his behavior is not startling as it is sweet. He shows a kind of sincerity and regret that doesn’t just confront the awful things he’s done, but that knows he needs to actively atone for those things. He’s become one of the small handful of characters (really just Theon, and Jaime in some ways) that have seen and participated in the brutality of this world, and then rejected it. And this is happening concurrently with Arya and Sansa’s respective spirals into vitriol. What a turn.

Possibly even more enlightening than the Hound’s ideological progression is the vision he saw in the flames. Religion is one of the major forces of this world, as conflicting as they all are, and the presence of the Lord of Light seems to become more and more validated with each passing season. The Hound rightfully inquires as to why Beric Dondarrion was brought back to life six times considering he’s a minor player in this big game, though there can’t be an answer. So Thoros tells him to look into the fire and tell him what he sees, and what he sees seems to be the exact location that Jon appointed to Tormund earlier in the episode: a castle where the Wall meets the sea, where “the dead are marching past.”

I was waiting for the moment where the Hound would break and say something like “you cunts are full of shit,” but that never came. His explanation was entirely unironic, and, like the Archmaester says, contains too many similarities from unconnected sources to be bullshit. So for Tormund’s sake, let’s hope Daenerys allows them to mine all that dragonglass before the Hound’s vision becomes reality.

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. I love this season already.

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