“Dragonstone” kicked off the penultimate season of Game of Thrones by tying many different cords of far-reaching storylines ever closer together. For the first time in the series, all of the remaining main characters are in Westeros. With only twelve episodes of our beloved series left between seasons 7 and 8, “Dragonstone” feels like it set in motion several of the events that will factor heavily into the end of the series.
The first episode of the seventh season opens with a bang—the near-total annihilation of the Great House of the Riverlands—as “Walder Frey” presides over a final feast for his traitorous family. At first, other than “Walder’s” strange generosity, nothing appears to be amiss, and you would be forgiven if you initially thought it was a flashback (I did). Then, subtle and brilliant clues begin to creep into the performance, though the men are still none the wiser. The Freys toast the old man with his lavishly-supplied “Arbor Gold” wine, which was not in fact white, like true Arbor Gold, but red—an early tell that the men are being served “lies and Arbor Gold.”*
*(This is a famous phrase from the books—spoken by Littlefinger, naturally.)
“Brave men, all of you. Butchered a woman, pregnant with her babe. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home,” the supposed Frey says to a confused crowd as the poison in the wine begins to take effect. “Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.”
That wolf, of course, is Arya Stark, a newly-trained Faceless assassin out to avenge the deaths of her family and friends. She spares the women and commands Walder’s wife to spread the word of what happened. “Tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
Later, Arya crosses paths with Lannister soldiers as she heads south “to kill the Queen,” as she would go on to confess (they all laugh, assuming she is joking). When she’s sure that their swords are stored out of reach, she relaxes a little. She’s been on a murderous streak lately, particularly when it comes to her family’s natural enemies, so it at first seemed like she intended to kill them. She refuses their food several times, probably because she won’t be able to kill them after receiving the guest right, but then settles in to a pleasant conversation with them over roasted rabbit and homemade wine.
As they share wistful tales of their provincial life back home, Arya seems sympathetic. She is perhaps reminded of their humanity, and that there are “common-born, simple folk who had never been more than a mile from the house where they were born until the day some lord came round to take them off to war.”* For now, she seems to soften to them— unless next week we find out she ends up breaking the guest right and killing them for a face and unmolested passage to King’s Landing..
*(The quote is from a very famous monologue in the books, called “The Broken Man Speech.”)
While Arya heads south, her old companion the Hound is headed in the opposite direction with the Brotherhood without Banners. Wherever they are, winter has definitely arrived. In the midst of this frozen wasteland, the Hound digs literal and figurative graves for pieces of his past.
The group seeks shelter for the night in an abandoned farmhouse, which clearly makes Sandor Clegane uneasy. He remembers this house, as it was the same he visited with Arya in Season 4. During that visit, he mugged the poor farmer and his daughter even after they were given the guest right, telling an appalled Arya that “the winter will kill them anyway.” Well, the winter may have killed them, when the starving farmer decided to end the suffering of his hungry daughter before killing himself, but the Hound ensured their fate by taking their last silver and their last hope. He appears deeply remorseful about this, in his own way.
When Sandor questions why the Lord of Light wants Beric Dondarrion alive so badly that he’s been resurrected from the dead several times, the red priest implores the Hound to look into the fire. They want to show Sandor what they see coming in the flames. Once so scared of fire he was forced to flee the battlefield (in the Battle of the Blackwater), the new Hound is able to bury his fear and peer into the blaze.
In the flames, Sandor sees the Wall, the army of the dead, and a castle “where the Wall meets the sea,” which would most likely be Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. This is the same castle that Jon is sending Tormund to, since that was the closest citadel to their last sighting of White Walkers (at Hardhome). It looks like the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by the resurrected Beric Dondarrion and his red priest, Thoros of Myr, are most likely heading northeast to the castle seen in the flames. Their destiny, according to Dondarrion, is to fight the army of the dead.
Later that night, the Hound digs a grave in the frozen ground for the farmer and his daughter. This man, once hardened and cruel, tries to bury the part of him that would leave these two so vulnerable to death. It’s a major moment of redemption for this character. As he stands over the grave, he attempts to say the same prayer that the farmer said before they ate together, a thoughtful gesture for a previously unthinking man. He can’t remember the words, so he offers instead, “I’m sorry you’re dead. You deserved better. Both of you.”
At Winterfell, Jon Snow, the new King in the North, decrees that all boys and girls will complete combat drills daily. When one of the men questions Jon’s decision to train the girls, the young Lady Mormont stands up and declares that girls will not remain idle as their land is invaded. Then, Jon begins to talk about defenses, ordering the wildlings to take up some of the abandoned castles along the Wall, particularly Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
The two castles immediately south of the Wall, and therefore first after the Night’s Watch’s castles in the line of defense, are the ancestral homes of the Umbers and Karstarks. These families joined the Boltons and fought against Jon and the Stark’s faithfuls in the Battle of the Bastards. Sansa suggests that Jon strip the castles from the traitorous families and award them to those that remained loyal, but Jon disagrees. He calls the young Ned Umber and Alys Karstark up to the table and has them reswear their loyalty, which they are grateful to give.
In the past, Jon has gone so far as to make peace with the wildlings, longtime enemies of the Night’s Watch, in order to bolster his forces in the face of the incoming threat; it’s no surprise that he’s willing to pardon the Karstarks and Umbers. Sansa, meanwhile, learned primarily from Littlefinger, Margaery Tyrell, Lady Olenna, and Cersei Lannister; it’s no wonder that she is more inclined to punish the disloyal (much like her sister, Arya, in fact) and reward the loyal. She’s still playing the game of thrones, but to Jon it is only a game, while a more serious threat looms on the horizon.
Later, Jon tells Sansa that she must not question him, at least not in front of the others, while Sansa makes a case that her advice should be heard. She commends his leadership, but begs him to be wiser than her dead father and brother. “And how should I be smarter, by listening to you?” Jon quips, though a bit half-heartedly.
They are interrupted with a raven from King’s Landing demanding that Jon goes to bend the knee to Cersei or “suffer the fate of all traitors.” Jon sees no enemy but the one to the north, and Sansa implores him to not forget Cersei.
Jon believes that Sansa overestimates Cersei’s ability to actually mount a full attack from the south. Neither of them are likely to know about Lady Olenna poised to attack from Highgarden in the west, the Sand Snakes from Dorne in the south, or Daenerys from the sea to the east. They also doesn’t know that their sister has wiped out one of Cersei’s major allies in the Riverlands.
While Jon is right about the unlikelihood of a full-scale military operation, he would still be wise to heed some of Sansa’s advice; as Sansa points out, Cersei’s enemies have a habit of ending up dead. It wouldn’t take a full army to attack Jon in the north, just a few well-placed blades (…shouldn’t he have learned that lesson already?). Sansa may not understand the severity of the threat to the north, but her advice could help the Starks protect their interests, not to mention their lives. After all, as Tyrion once said to a room of people who are now almost all dead, “Lady Stark, you may survive us yet.”
Later, Littlefinger continues to try to needle Sansa into something—most likely an open conflict with Jon over the right to rule Winterfell and the North. She rebuffs him with apparent exasperation, and he leaves as Brienne approaches. When Brienne asks why Petyr Baelish is still at Winterfell, Sansa says that they need his fighting men, and that his Knights of the Vale helped them win the Battle of the Bastards. Brienne knows there is something else that he wants, and Sansa claims to know, but does not reveal it. Perhaps it is her hand in marriage, which would have secured him rule over the North if only she had refused to let Jon take what could be hers. So far, his manipulation has not worked on Sansa; he might have trained her too well.
In King’s Landing, Jaime finds Cersei standing over a giant map of Westeros and its kingdoms. He’s not angry with Cersei for what she’s done, but definitely appears wary. When she asks if he is afraid of her, he wonders, “Should I be?” The answer is unclear.
She tells him about Daenerys and Tyrion sailing to Westeros, and he correctly predicts that the Dragon Queen will land at Dragonstone. “Enemies everywhere, we’re surrounded by traitors,” laments Cersei. With winter coming, Jaime says their biggest enemy is a lack of supplies and the starvation of their troops. Their outlook looks grim, and Jaime is not afraid to admit it to her. “Right now, we look like the losing side.”
“I understand whoever wins could launch a dynasty that lasts a thousand years,” Cersei declares proudly, unable to see the impossibility of this without any surviving heirs. Jaime must feel like he is hearing his father in her words. Back in Season 1, Tywin said something almost identical to Jaime: “We could establish a dynasty that will last a thousand years, or we could collapse into nothing, as the Targaryens did.” In Jaime’s mind, they are far closer to the latter.
Cersei and Jaime are the last of the Lannisters. When he confronts her about Tommen, she claims that her son betrayed them (either because of his pact with the High Sparrow to outlaw trial by combat, therefore ensuring his mother would have to stand trial on her own, or abandoning her with his suicide). She argues that they must fight for the living, they must create a dynasty for themselves because there is no one else.
Jaime appears nervous and exasperated with Cersei, finding futility in the position she has put them in. Once, he was famously dubbed the “Kingslayer” after bringing down one unhinged ruler he was meant to protect. Will the Kingslayer become the Queenslayer, in time?
For now, Cersei is able to reassure him somewhat with the proposal of a new ally: the Greyjoys (or, at least Euron Greyjoy, the newly-proclaimed king of the Iron Islands). The Ironborn fleet would prove critical against Daenerys’s armada, but the Greyjoys do not make great allies, particularly not to Lannisters. Nine years before the series began, the Greyjoys started a rebellion against the Iron Throne during which Euron Greyjoy burned the Lannister fleet in a raid at Lannisport.
Jaime fought against Euron in the successful suppression of the rebellion, which he recounts to the man who has come to bid for a marriage pact with Cersei. Surprisingly, Cersei ends up turning Euron down (was it Jaime’s influence, or her plan all along?), but he is undeterred; he offers her a “priceless gift” as proof of his honest intentions. What’s the gift he has in mind? Is it Tyrion, a dragon, or something else?
In his visions, Bran watches the White Walkers and their army of undead humans and giants marching south. Meera has managed to pull him to the gate beneath Castle Black. They are greeted by the acting Lord Commander, Edd, who asks for proof that they are not wildlings. Bran offers him knowledge instead, saying that he knows that Edd fought with Jon at the Fist of the First Men, and that they too have seen the army of the dead.
Edd brings them through the wall, which might end up being its downfall—literally. Last season, the Night’s King put a mark on Bran that allowed the White Walkers to find him and penetrate their magically-protected weirwood sanctuary. As I wondered in my recap for Season 6, Episode 5: “Is Bran ‘marked’ permanently—will the Night’s King be following him constantly? The mark made the magical powers protecting the weirwood moot. Could the mark have a similar effect on the Wall if Bran and Meera travel south? Remember, the Wall was constructed with the help of the Children of the Forests’ magic. The mark of the Night’s King made their magic ineffective in the weirwood; it’s plausible that it could do the same to the Wall. I hate to think that Jon’s playful jab at Edd (‘Don’t knock it down while I’m gone.’) was instead horrifying foreshadowing…”
Sam is in a race against time in his quest for knowledge at the Citadel, but unfortunately for him, he is stuck doing menial and demeaning tasks while the information he needs remains locked away in the reserved sections of the library. He is unable to gain access to those sections until he becomes a full maester, but there is no telling how long that will be.
As he assists Archmaester Ebrose dissecting a cadaver, he begs to be given access to the restricted area. The Archmaester tells him that the job of the Maesters is to store “this world’s memories”—its history and knowledge—and not necessarily to participate in it, it would seem. He takes the long view of history and argues that there have been several calamities named the end of days, but still the world continues on. In his view, the Wall has stood for so long that it will continue to stand, one way or another, preventing Sam’s latest end-days scenario from playing out.
Luckily, Sam does not take the Archmaester’s word as gospel. He knows the threat facing man and is not content to let history continue on, nor to simply witness and record events for the future. He takes action, stealing a maester’s keys as he goes about his duties collecting chamber pots. Using the keys, he takes several books from the forbidden section.
Back in his rooms, Sam studies while Gilly entertains the young Sam, who is now a toddler. (This, along with the fact that Euron Greyjoy somehow got that fleet of ships built from scratch, is the best indication that some time has passed since the last season.) In one of his books, Sam finds out that there is dragonglass to mine on Dragonstone, where Daenerys ends up at the end of the episode. He quickly prepares a raven for Jon.
The next day, as he goes about his chores, a quarantined figure reaches out for Sam with a greyscale-infected arm. By the sound of his voice and the nature of his plea (“Has she come yet? The Dragon Queen, Daenerys Stormborn?”), this is clearly Jorah Mormont, the former head of Daenerys’s Queensguard. The last we saw him, Daenerys ordered him to find a cure for his disease and to return to her service. He must have gone to the Citadel in search for a cure (which perhaps Sam might end up helping him with, indebting Daenerys to him…).
Finally, Daenerys has made it to Westeros, landing on an island off the eastern shore from which she can mount her invasion of King’s Landing. Dragonstone is the ancestral home of House Targaryen and the site of her birth. We’ve seen it housing Stannis and his troops, but it was apparently left abandoned when Stannis left for the north. As we now know, it may also hold the key to adequately supplying the forces in opposition to the White Walkers.
How will Jon approach Daenerys in her family’s castle, sitting atop unknown treasure needed for an unknown war against an unknown foe? Surely, after he receives word from Sam about the dragonglass in Dragonstone, he will reach out to the would-be queen, but how likely is she to cooperate? My money is on Tyrion, her Hand of the Queen, to advise her to help fight for the living if she wants to have anything or anyone to rule when winter is done.
Other Thoughts on “Dragonstone”:
- The opening title animation featured only Westeros for what I think is the first time ever, since Daenerys is now at Dragonstone. It also had one new city animation for Oldtown, where Sam and Gilly are located.
- Sansa tells Jon that he’s a good ruler, almost like he was born to do it… Don’t forget that, as heavily alluded to last season, Jon may be an heir to the Iron Throne, as the son of Rhaegar (Daenerys’s oldest brother) and Lyanna Stark.
- If Bran moves south to Winterfell, Jon could lose his claim to the King in the North. Technically, the Starks follow male-preference laws of inheritance, which would mean that Sansa outranks Jon because she is trueborn, and Bran outranks them both because he is a trueborn male. Moreover, Bran knows the story of Jon’s birth, having witnessed it in his flashbacks; he knows that Jon is not even Ned’s son, still further weakening his claim compared to Sansa and Bran. The Northern lords may make concessions, keeping Jon on as king given his experience in the battle against the White Walkers, but it may present an interesting dilemma in the future. Knowing his parentage (if Bran even chooses to tell him), would Jon try to join Daenerys, his aunt? I don’t think he’d abandon the fight against the White Walkers, but he may leave Winterfell to the trueborn Starks and join Daenerys to get her help in the battle for the living.
- Every time Tormund and Brienne are on screen together, it fills me with such joy. “You are a lucky man…”
- For those who have read the books, this episode was a nice tribute to the Gravedigger theory—that Sandor Clegane is still alive and digging graves at a monastery on the Quiet Isle. This is different from how we found Sandor alive in the television series last season, but to see him digging graves for two of the people he killed (even indirectly) was a nice nod to this fan theory from the books.
- The song the Ed Sheeran’s soldier sings is “Hands of Gold,” which he says is a new song. It’s about Tyrion and Shae (“For she was his secret treasure/ She was his shame and bliss / And a chain and a keep are nothing/ Compared to a woman’s kiss/ For hands of gold are always cold/ But a woman’s hands are warm”), referring to when Tyrion was the Hand of the King. Ironically, Tyrion also strangled Shae with a gold chain (“hands of gold are always cold,” indeed).
- The dagger on the page of one of Sam’s dragonglass books looks a lot like Littlefinger’s Valyrian steel blade, which was used in the assassination attempt on Bran’s life all the way back in Season 1. I wonder if it will make a reappearance…
- Daenerys’s new style is actually an old one, similar to the style that her brother Viserys wore back in Season 1. Viserys was a kid when he fled Westeros but would have grown up around the traditional Targaryen style. Once again, the costuming decisions by designer Michele Clapton reveal a lot about each character; in this case, it shows that Daenerys is ready to inherit her rightful rule and the traditions of her Targaryen family.
- This split-second clip from the preview of next week’s episode had me tremendously excited. If it is what I think it is, I’ve been waiting for this moment since the beginning of the series!
- Back in Season 5, part of the prophecy Cersei learned about from the seer, Maggy the Frog, was that all of her children would die. That has clearly come true. In the books, there was one more prophecy not covered by the show (stop reading here if you don’t want to be potentially spoiled). The missing prophecy says that Cersei will die at the hands of a “valonqar,” which means “little brother” in High Valyrian. “The valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” The automatic assumption is that this would be Tyrion, who has already strangled a woman to death and would surely like to do the same to Cersei. Though she and Jaime are twins, Cersei was born a few moments before him, making him a “little brother,” as well. In this episode, when Jaime first met Cersei standing upon the map, she stood on the region known as the Neck while he stood just outside the Fingers. It could be foreshadowing, or it could be nothing. Or, maybe Arya kills her while wearing Jaime’s face…
Note: Due to this season’s summer schedule, the next two episodes fall in the middle of my vacation. I will still post something for both episodes, but they will either be pared down recaps or limited to the “Other Thoughts” section, depending on what I can pull off. Thanks in advance for sticking with me through these next couple of weeks! I’ll be back in full form for the episode airing August 6.