It’s been a long year-and-three-weeks since fans of HBO’s mega-hit Game of Thrones said our temporary and permanent goodbyes to our friends and frenemies in King’s Landing, the North, Dorne, and sundry other spots in George R.R. Martin’s fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. By the end of Season Six, the show had completely outpaced all of Martin’s written material; the existing sample chapters from the sixth A Song of Ice and Fire book either take place well before the opening of Season 7, or involve characters who were cut from the show (Arianne Martell, we never knew ye.) Voyager has passed the termination shock. With that, all elements of Season Seven, Episode 1, “Dragonstone” are a surprise, even for book readers. Here are eight favorites:
“Tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
There’s no suspense on the demise of House Frey. Arya poisons all the men at once in the cold open, using a dose of the strangler and “the finest Arbor gold-proper wine for proper heroes.” The Frey children should have been suspicious when the irascible Lord Walder praised them.
Welcome to the Map, Oldtown
For the first time, Oldtown appears on the map, and it’s adorable, with its flaming lighthouse tower. It’s always a fun moment when they add one more thing to the map. Also, the camera fails to cross the narrow sea. It’s a good sign that we are done with Essos.
“I don’t need your permission to defend the North.”
That’s what fierce little lady Lady Lyanna Mormont sticks it to the lords once again when they object to Jon’s orders that the Northern women ages 10 to 60 be trained to fight the Wight Army alongside the men. She’s formidable, and a delight.
Euron’s Black Ships
Euron built that armada pretty darn quick, but it’s stunning, all black and silver. Euron, in a jab at Jaime, offers Cersei “a thousand ships, and two good hands.” His boats are incredible to look at, although it’s curious that he could have built a thousand majestic ships in the time elapsed since Yara and Theon stole his last fleet towards the end of Season 6.
More ‘Shipping With Brienne and Tormund
Tormund and Brienne have rarely interacted. It’s cool that he’s into her martial prowess. Mostly, Tormund gazes lasciviously at her, while she rolls her eyes skeptically in return. Tormund directly signaled his attraction last season by gnawing lustily on what looked like the roasted rib bone of some large, dead animal. And a thousand memes were borne. It was satisfying to have more.
Ed Sheeran’s Cameo
Ed Sheeran shows up as a singing soldier in the Lannister army, and he and his friends share a rabbit and some blackberry wine with Arya. Thank the gods that she says “I’m going to kill the Queen” and spares them. Arya has become such a little sociopath that we might have worried for a minute.
Dragonstone is a Mountain of Dragonglass
Sam gets his moment of revelation after suffering through the chamberpot montage, which is strikingly shot but too gross to qualify as a cool moment on its own, as is Jorah’s scaly arm. Poor Jorah. It doesn’t look like greyscale victims have library privilege at Oldtown. He must be bored waiting for the Dragon Queen. Which leads us to…
Daenarys’s Landing: “Shall We Begin?”
There are many gorgeous shots in this sequence, wordless up to the last moment. It seems odd that Stannis didn’t leave any guard on Dragonstone, but that’s not worth quibbling about. We see dragons fly around Dragonstone, and Daenerys leaves a handprint in the sand on the island she was born on. She’s never been home before. Every moment feels full of connection, for her, to the family she never knew, aside from abusive Viserys.
Another plus: the ever-annoying Sand Snakes make zero appearances in this episode. Their absence is welcome. Here’s something we haven’t seen yet — another Stark sibling reunion. Remember, the only one we’ve seen so far was between Jon and Sansa in Season 6 — and they barely exchanged a line of dialogue back in Season 1. GoT wouldn’t give us a Bran/Jon reunion so soon. That would be too much for one season premiere.