Game of Thrones 7.01

‘Game of Thrones’ 7.01 Recap: “Yesterday’s Wars Don’t Matter Anymore”

Even though this isn’t yet the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ (eight are planned in all), almost all of HBO’s marketing for the series has shifted to emphasize that the end is near and we’re in the final act of the story. Just as most of its seasons have begun, the new premiere spends about an hour suggesting that a lot is happening in George R.R. Martin’s elaborate and convoluted fantasy world without much actually happening on screen.

Truth be told, the closer we get to the ending, the more concerned I feel. It’s been very clear for several seasons now that the ultimate climax to this story will be devoted to the White Walkers invading Westeros. As I’ve mentioned a few times previously, I find the White Walkers to be the least interesting, and frankly cheesiest, thing in the entire show. Fortunately, we don’t devote very much screen time to them in the season premiere. Nonetheless, even with just a brief glimpse, their presence is felt looming over the rest of the narrative. This is meant to evoke feelings of dread for the characters, but it leaves me dreading how the whole show will inevitably turn into endless scenes of characters banging and clanging swords with dumb CGI zombies.

The Twins

In terms of action, the premiere peaks early, before the opening credits even come up. We open on a scene of intentional confusion. Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley), last seen having his throat slit by Arya Stark, is somehow alive and well without explanation. He has invited (demanded, I’m sure) his entire family to a huge banquet to celebrate their good fortunes, and even seems to be in an uncharacteristically good mood. As he raises a toast to all the extended family who helped him murder Robb and Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding, it slowly dawns what is actually happening. Sure enough, the wine is poisoned. Everyone in the room, aside from Frey’s young wife who was told not to drink, coughs and gags and keels over dead. It wasn’t Walder Frey at all, of course. Arya reaches up and tears off the mask, revealing herself. She instructs the survivor, “Tell them the North remembers.”

North of the Wall

A storm approaches, slowly devouring the land. Walking and riding horses within it is a huge army of White Walkers, including a several giants who have turned.

Bran Stark sees this happen in a vision while warging. His friend Meera pulls his sled all the way to the Wall. The Night’s Watch guards open the gate to question them, and are skeptical when Meera announces Bran’s identity. Bran proves himself easily and warns that the Night King is coming. The guards allow the two of them through.

Winterfell

Jon Snow orders the men of the Watch to search high and low for dragonglass – one of the few substances known to kill White Walkers. Controversially, he also announces that women and children will be trained to fight. Every hand is needed. Young Lyanna Mormont gives one of her knights a verbal lashing when he suggests that only men are suitable for combat.

Because the Watch is desperately short-handed, Snow asks Tormund and the Wildlings to man castles along the Wall. This doesn’t go over well with everyone in the room. Jon and Sansa have a public dispute when he also announces that the surviving Karstarks and Umbers – two families that betrayed the Starks – will be allowed to keep their homes and kingdoms. The traitors died in battle and Jon will not punish the sons for the sins of their fathers. The past is behind them and they need to move forward now. He makes the new heads of both families swear loyalty to him and is satisfied that it’s enough. Sansa thinks this is a bad call.

After the meeting, Jon receives a raven message demanding that he go to King’s Landing and pledge his own fealty to the new queen. It’s a charade, obviously, as Cersei knows he’ll never do that, and would certainly have him murdered the second he stepped foot inside the city even if he did. Sansa warns that Cersei will stop at nothing to kill the both of them, but Jon is more concerned with the impending threat of the White Walkers and can’t be bothered worrying about what’s happening a thousand miles to the south. Again, Sansa thinks he’s being short-sighted.

Brienne attempts to train Podrick at fighting but he’s still not particularly good at it. Tormund is noticeably smitten with Brienne.

Baelish continues to hang around Sansa, being a creep. She knows his intentions and is dismissive of him, but allows him to stay around because she and Jon need his Knights of the Vale.

King’s Landing

Now queen, Cersei has an artist paint a map of the seven kingdoms on the floor of a room in the palace so that she can survey not just all the territory she supposedly rules, but more to the point can assess all the challengers to her thrones. As she discusses with Jaime, she has enemies to the north, enemies to the south, enemies to the east and the west. Everyone is ready to tear her down. Aware that Daenerys is en route across the Narrow Sea with Yara Greyjoy’s fleet, and that Tyrion is her chief advisor, she blames Jaime for letting Tyrion escape after he murdered their father.

Jaime wants to talk about the death of their son, Tommen, but Cersei coldly shuts down that conversation. She has no time for the weakness of emotions. Jaime points out that, without children, the Lannister dynasty ends with them.

Convinced that she needs stronger, better allies for the wars to come, Cersei invites Euron Greyjoy to sail to King’s Landing with his newly rebuilt armada, which he claims is the strongest in the world. Jaime is not impressed with him. He thinks the Greyjoys are trash and this would be a poor alliance, but Cersei is interested enough to hear out his proposal.

Euron cockily makes clear his intent to marry the queen. Cersei declines, saying that he has betrayed allies in the past and is not trustworthy. Euron takes this as a challenge to win her over, and promises to return with a priceless gift that will impress her. I assume that said gift will be the head of one of her enemies. Cersei seems amused even as Jaime scoffs.

The Citadel

Sam Tarly finds his training regimen with the brotherhood of maesters to be less than ideal. Essentially, he’s trapped in indentured servitude, performing grueling manual labor such as scrubbing disgusting chamber pots and serving equally disgusting meals of slop. (As an extended montage rather unsubtly compares the two, it’s hammered home that the meals aren’t much different from the contents of those chamber pots. What goes in, comes out.)

Sam begs the Archmaester to allow him access to books on the White Walkers locked away in a restricted section of the library, arguing that he’s the only man there who’s actually seen a White Walker in person. The other maesters don’t believe his stories. Even though the Archmaester knows he’s telling the truth, he’s not impressed. As a historian, he knows that generation after generation have feared one apocalypse or another bringing the end of their worlds. And yet, “Every winter that ever came has ended.”

That night, Sam steals the Archmaester’s keys and absconds with a handful of the restricted books. Pouring over them with Gilly, he finds a reference to a mountain of dragonglass beneath the Targaryen castle called Dragonstone. Realizing the importance of this, he sends off a raven to notify Jon Snow.

The next day, while serving meals to the inmates of a sanitarium wing of the Citadel, Sam is frightened when an arm covered in scales reaches through the door slot and nearly touches him. A voice on the other side of the door asks if the Dragon Queen has arrived yet. Obviously, this must be Jorah Mormont.

The Riverlands

As Arya rides toward King’s Landing, she hears singing in the woods and comes across a small camp of Lannister soldiers sitting around a campfire. One turns around and – what the what?! – it’s Grammy-winning pop sensation Ed Sheeran! His presence is decidedly disconcerting and can throw a viewer right out of the episode, but fortunately he only has a couple lines of dialogue and doesn’t embarrass himself. (Nor does he show any of his stupid tattoos.) Still, the stunt-casting is distracting.

These soldiers are unimportant men, sent to keep the peace in troubled regions. They don’t know who Arya is and assume she’s just a random traveler. They invite her to join them for a meal and are perfectly friendly, sharing stories of the lives they’ve left behind back home. Arya learns that not all enemies are necessarily bad people. When one of the soldiers asks why she’d want to go to such a miserable place as King’s Landing, Arya announces that she intends to kill the queen. Assuming that she’s joking, the men all have a good laugh.

Meanwhile, the Hound is trekking around in the company of the Brotherhood Without Banners. He isn’t pleased by this, but then the Hound isn’t pleased by much anyway. The group comes across an abandoned farm house that the Hound recognizes. Back in Season 4, he stole what little money the farmer had and left him and his young daughter to die. Sure enough, they did. It appears that the farmer killed the child and himself to end their misery before they starved to death. The Hound says nothing about any of this to the Brotherhood but clearly feels a lot of guilt about it.

In a conversation with Beric Dondarrio, the Hound questions why the God of Light would want to keep resurrecting such an unimportant and unimpressive man as him from the dead. Dondarrion has no answer. One of the other brothers suggest that the Hound look into the fire they’ve just lit. The Hound is skeptical; he has no use for gods. However, after a few seconds of staring into the flames, he sees a vision of the Wall, a castle on a mountain near the sea, and the dead marching. He’s unsettled by this.

That night, one of the brothers discovers the Hound digging a grave for the farmer and his daughter. He silently agrees to help, and they throw the two bodies in.

Dragonstone

The episode ends with Daenerys, Tyrion, Varys, and their army (including three dragons) arriving at the castle Dragonstone, which is built upon a mountain of dragonglass they have no idea the value of. The place had been Stannis Baratheon’s base of operations and has been abandoned ever since his death. In a very long, extended wordless sequence, Dany walks through her family’s ancestral home until she stops at the throne, which is also made of dragonglass. Tyrion follows behind. Dany finally breaks the silence by asking, “Shall we begin?”

Episode Verdict

The fact that the very last words of the episode ask if it’s ready to begin is almost comically typical ‘Game of Thrones’. The premiere is a whole lot of setup without any sign of payoff. That will come later, of course. This show has always been a slow burn. Nevertheless, with the news that both this season and the last will be shorter than normal (only seven this year), I kind of expected that maybe the narrative might develop more sense of urgency and speed up a little. Apparently not.

I suppose I can live with that. The premiere is a decent enough episode. I have no complaints, beyond being baffled by the Ed Sheeran cameo. At the same time, the only standout moment happens in the very first scene, leaving the rest as a very drawn-out denouement, which feels like the opposite of how an hour of episodic television ought to be structured.

39 comments

  1. cardpetree

    I have no clue who Ed Sheeran is and had never seen him before. Fortunately that scene had zero affect on me.

    • I am kind of familiar with Ed Sheeran but wouldn’t have known it was him if someone hadn’t had pointed it out. He seemed to fit right in and I guess the scene was to teach Arya that they are not all bad just because they are Lannisters. It is probably the first time she has ever come across soldiers that weren’t raping and pillaging, which seems to be the normal. Also, since they referenced the farmer and his daughter that were nice to her in the Hound scenes, it makes me think that something bad might happen to these soldiers in the next episode.

      I watched the scene a couple of times to hear the words that are being sung and some sound like they could be a story about Jaime and Cersei or they might just be tales of girls and drinking… would be interesting to know if there is a point.

      • Timcharger

        “I guess the scene was to teach Arya that they are not all bad just because they are Lannisters. It is probably the first time she has ever come across soldiers that weren’t raping and pillaging,”

        I don’t think the scene was to “teach Arya that they are not all bad.” Arya has a very specific kill list. When training at Braavos, she would question why assassinations were ordered, seeking justification. Arya didn’t overgeneralize people as her targets.

        To me the scene played on my expectations as a Thrones viewer. I’m expecting Lannister soldiers and Arya to have another death match. Psyche! Thrones viewer, you guessed wrong.

        Also the scene wanted to introduce us to specific place in King’s Landing. That scene mentioned the Red Keep (we know), Sept of Baelor (we know), Dragonpit (what is that?). So we’re gonna learn more about Dragonpit in the upcoming episodes.

        • I did catch that reference to the Dragon Pit… I agree that is a way to get us ready for what is coming in Kings Landing later in the season.

          I have to admit I was expecting Arya to be heading North not South, so that was a surprise to me.

      • Timcharger

        Walder marries off his daughters to gain more political power; no alliance building if he marries his own. So Josh, you are right that morally Walder is not beyond such a devious act. But for political reasons, Walder probably wouldn’t.

    • The young girl is a wife from a previous season. I guess she didn’t do a great job of delivering Arya’s message of what she saw and that “The North Remembers.” Because when Jaime mentions that they Frey’s are all dead and the Lannister soldiers mention it they don’t seem to have any idea of what happened.

  2. Kyle

    I find it annoying that Ed Sheeran shows up and isn’t playing one of the characters in the book who actually sings. Instead they make up a random character and a random scene that did nothing. Maybe Arya will get to kill him at the beginning of episode 2.

  3. I really liked this episode and watch it several times. I love how it began, the fact they hit every major plot point (which they normally don’t do) through out the episode and they ending was superb.

    I like seeing Sansa being dismissive with Little Finger, that was awesome and she explained clearly to Brianne why he is still around. Normally these decisions don’t get address and the audiences wonders why he is still around. Good to see her getting smarter and more aware… makes we worried about what kind of trouble Little Finger will get into if he thinks he can’t control Sansa. Will he make a deal with Cersei or Euron?

    I believe Euron will return with the Sand Snakes and hand them over to Cersei to torture and that she and Euron will get closer to marriage and it will drive Jaime away for good. It would be awesome to see Jaime end up on the same team as Tyrion, but is probably unlikely.

    The walk up and through Dragonstone was dramatic and a huge payoff after so many seasons. I like how it was presented, long and silent and ending with those words “Shall we begin?” It gave us time to take in all the history and really feel the moment like the characters would feel it after all this time.

    • Timcharger

      “I like seeing Sansa being dismissive with Little Finger, that was awesome and she explained clearly to Brianne why he is still around. Normally these decisions don’t get address and the audiences wonders why he is still around.”

      Huh? Sansa CLAIMED that she knows exactly what Littlefinger wants, but that doesn’t mean that she does. “She explained clearly to” Brienne?! Sansa explained nothing in her dialog with Brienne.

      The dismissive line about not needing to seize the last word, that was awesome.

    • Timcharger

      “The walk up and through Dragonstone was dramatic and a huge payoff after so many seasons. I like how it was presented, long and silent and ending with those words “Shall we begin?” It gave us time to take in all the history and really feel the moment like the characters would feel it after all this time.”

      Great ending line of “shall we begin.” 7 seasons till payoff for Dany to finally reach her place of birth. And it’s also episode 1 of a new season, perfect for a “shall we begin” comment. Sure would have been a good title for this recap…

  4. Timcharger

    “Yesterday’s Wars Don’t Matter Anymore”

    Josh, not a bad selection. It was a good scene. But you didn’t even reference that quote in your Winterfell section. And that line didn’t particularly seem meaningful when applied to the Karstarks and Umbers. I’m guessing the show won’t reveal that the Boltons (maybe there are some female heirs left) are going to keep the Dreadfort. Or is the Dreadfort going to given to a new family, loyal to the Starks. Seems like an easy compromised solution in that dispute in the hall of Winterfell, Jon would rule that the Bolton castle/lands are distributed among the loyalists, but the Karstarks and Umbers’ innocent young will be forgiven. Conflict between Jon and Sansa solved.

  5. Timcharger

    North of the Wall

    “A storm approaches, slowly devouring the land. Walking and riding horses within it is a huge army of White Walkers, including a several giants who have turned.”

    Now Hodor’s gotta come back right? That would be a great, oh so horrible scene. Blue-white glowing eyes on Hodor. But now he’ll growl a feral sounding, “HAWL-dor! HAWL-dor!”

  6. Timcharger

    North of the Wall

    “Bran Stark sees this happen in a vision while warging. His friend Meera pulls his sled all the way to the Wall. The Night’s Watch guards open the gate to question them, and are skeptical when Meera announces Bran’s identity. Bran proves himself easily and warns that the Night King is coming. The guards allow the two of them through.”

    That plot point about how the Night King put his mark on Bran’s arm, and how that allows the Night King and his wights to pass beyond magical barriers (like that sacred tree, the 3-eyed-raven lived in); I thought something in the plot would address the risk of Bran passing though the Wall. I thought Bran would do something crazy like cut off his arm, to not risk the magical barrier the Wall is, in stopping the Night King advancing south.

  7. Timcharger

    Sansa’s Opinions

    She doesn’t say sh*t. How can Jon listen to her, if she doesn’t actually say anything? Tell Jon about seeking help from the Knights of the Vale? Nope she doesn’t share that detail. And IIRC, Jon asks her, where else can we get more men to fight Ramsay?

    Sansa wants Jon to listen to her about Cersei, okay? So what does Sansa suggest? Nothing. Other than the fact that Cersei won’t stop until she kills everyone. Useless advice. Which is also curious, because Cersei thinks Sansa has killed her Joffrey, and Cersei’s talons haven’t reached Sansa. Does Sansa have any ideas about dealing with Cersei?

    The one time Sansa shared a specific advice, she wants House Karstark and House Umber kids all murdered. Great. Thanks for that advice, Sansa. Looks like Ramsay has really remained a part of you.

    • I can’t remember if Cersei knows were Sansa is, I am not sure if that is clear or not. It is so hard to keep up with who knows what. Like does Arya know which Starks are alive or dead? Does she know Jon is Winterfell and King of the North? I am guessing she thinks everyone is dead.

      But if Cersei knew were Sansa was, I would imagine she would be sending assassins everyday or she is working behind the scenes with Little Finger to get here later.

      • Timcharger

        “or she is working behind the scenes with Little Finger to get here later.”

        I recall a scene where Littlefinger agrees to this task from Cersei, but he deceives her and delivered Sansa to the Boltons instead to Cersei.

  8. Charles Mall

    Don’t have a problem with the White Walkers, I think they’ve been used well so far. What’s great about them is what they represent in the whole scheme of things. They undercut a lot of the drama in the show, in a good way. The decisions of the characters would have more meaning, importance and weight without them, but with the WW it makes a lot of the backstabbing and fighting for a throne pointless. It’s basically death. King’s, Queen’s, thrones, crowns, armies and thirst for power etc, all pointless.

    And also have a cool battle scene. After all, it is an epic fantasy story.

    • Hardhome was one of my favorite episodes… I like how they have dripped little snippets here and there and not over exposed them. I do wonder why when people see them they aren’t more concerned though, seems like only Jon and Sam have changed their actions after seeing the Whites. This series has been masterful since day one at limiting the fantasy and magic parts and never going overboard like everyone else does.

      I will be super disappointed if the start talking at some point. Don’t let Lucas come in and direct any episodes or we will get a side kick white for season 8.

    • Agreed. Seems like Mr Zyber is more than bored with this show, I think the titles choices often reflect that. We have been waiting for this episode and for “Shall we begin?” for 6+ years now.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        I discussed the “Shall we begin?” line in the body of the recap. I try to choose a different quote for the headline if I’m going to reference dialogue in the article itself so as to avoid repetition.

        Also, frankly, I think “Shall we begin?” was both too obvious and a boring choice of headline. I like the one I chose better, and that’s all there is to it.

        I am not bored with the show yet, but nor do I unconditionally love every episode.

        • I still enjoy reading your recaps better than others reviewers. The comments that people post for each one are probably my favorite.

          • FYI your Conan quote above made me smile. Nice reference. Still love the original, can’t even remember watching the one with Moma in it, but also don’t remember hating it… just don’t remember it at all.

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          I also have to point out that Daenerys already delivered the same “Shall we begin?” line when she returned to Meereen during the Slave Masters revolt in episode 6.09 last season. Her saying it again now feels weirdly redundant. I’m not sure if that was intentional or the show’s writers simply forgot that they’d already used the line.

          • Timcharger

            So that’s what you remember from the Battle of the Bastards episode?

            Quotes are not just the words themselves. It’s the usage and context. While you are correct, that the phrase was used in both 6.09 and 7.1, but the significance in 7.1 is so much more.

            Some have said… the ending of 7.1 was so quiet, so boring, nothing was said, Tyrion was uncharacteristically silent. “Shall we begin” is such a boring choice.

            The hobbits after their epic Lord of the Rings adventure return to the Shire, and sit in a tavern, drink their ales, looking at each other, saying nothing. Sooo boring.
            🙂

      • Timcharger

        Nothing really poetic or eloquent about this choice, but it deals with a long awaited moment from season 1, a reunion between Arya and Nymeria. And the bonus features at the end of the episode 2 took us back to a conversation between Ned and Arya, where Ned speaks of princess-like things for Arya, but she said that those things aren’t who she is.

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