I’m not going to even pretend to give a full recap on the Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere. I should have taken the year-plus absence to restart the series. I should have recommitted the characters and relationships to memory. Bought Cliff’s Notes. Something. Alas, the best laid plans… Game of Thrones Season 7 opens with an action-lite episode that likely proves more engaging to the series faithful than to casual viewers.
Still, two brilliant scenes bookend the episode that will be talked about endlessly until next week’s episode drops. Game of Thrones is back, but it’s taking its time to say goodbye.
An unshakeable sense of melancholy persists over Game of Thrones in its return. You see it in the eyes of the Ser Gregor “The Hound” Clegane as he considers the bodies of a man and child he left to die. You feel it in Sansa Stark as she lives trapped between an obligation to Littlefinger and a dismissal at the hands of Jon Snow. It lives in the brilliant performance of Lena Headey as she pushes Cersei’s tragic losses behind her and rules King’s Landed with an empty stone heart.
This pervasive melancholy pairs nicely with an impending sense of doom. The White Walkers are coming, and they loom large over nearly every scene. Even The Hound sees them in a vision, something he has ridiculed historically. Call it The Passion of the Hound as he struggles with faith and religion in the face of mystical forces.
Game of Thrones Season 7 already kicks off with two amazing sequences. The first happens at the start of the episode. “Walder Frey” stands assembled with his entire family in a candlelit scene purposefully reminiscent of the Red Wedding. During a speech recalling his family’s gruesome deeds, he calls for a toast of poisoned wine.
Obviously disguised as Frey, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) obtains vengeance for the Stark murders that haunt her (and viewers) still. Arya spares the women and strolls out of the room with a satisfied grin on her face. It was just a great way to start the season and provided fan service that the rest of the episode largely failed to.
That is until the scene that closed the episode. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her massive fleet finally reach Westeros. Her return is something fans have wanted since the very first season of the series. The creative team wisely chose to play the scene wordlessly.
With an excited, apprehensive face, Clarke sells the emotion of the scene brilliantly. It was a fantastic idea to stage it with only light refrains of that classic Game of Thrones score playing in the background. When she finally speaks (“Shall we begin?”), it shocks the audience out of its state of awe.
It also smartly alludes to the fact that everything we’ve seen in the episode so far feels like prologue to the events of the season. The episode lacked the water cooler moments that many were likely suspecting. But it did exactly what I suspect it set out to accomplish. It set the stage by highlighting those who will feature most prominently in the series’ end. It also shows that all of the Emmy®-winning qualities we’ve come to love still remain in spades.
As the lady says, “Shall we begin?”
Oh yes we shall.