The Game of Thrones Season 7 Premiere Shows How Far We’ve Come

Season 7 Premiere Plot Summary:

Tensions arise between Jon (Kit Harrington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), while Sam (John Bradley) looks for information at the Citadel. The Hound (Rory McCann) continues down a new path, and Arya (Maisie Williams) heads for King’s Landing. Cersei (Lena Headey) considers an unlikely alliance. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) makes a much-anticipated arrival.

Fans have been waiting for this glorious moment for years, but we have finally been rewarded for our patience: Ed Sheeran made his Game of Thrones debut. While that cameo may have been jarring for some viewers, the seventh season’s premiere can best be characterized as a look at how far the characters have come. Dismissing the show’s typical use of sex and violence to energize exposition and disguise transitions, “Dragonstone” relies almost purely on our relationships with the characters to generate excitement and set up the drama to come. The fact that, outside of a few strange and surprising beats, this strategy works so well is a testament to the quality of the series.

Of course, the moments from the premiere that will have everyone talking come at the beginning and end of the episode. If the majority of the episode is almost strictly character-focused, those two scenes are the kind of spectacles that give fans reason to anticipate the episodes to come. Without getting too much into spoilers, though, I will say that Daenerys’s homecoming was my favorite of the two noteworthy scenes.

When the series ends and fans consider what were the show’s most memorable moments, I highly expect the young queen’s arrival at Dragonstone to be near the top of the list. Paired with a gorgeous score, the wordless tour of the island is nothing short of powerful. I joked about this episode featuring a moment that has been years in the making, but this scene in all honesty lives up to the anticipation and is absolutely goosebumps-inducing. If I were judging the episode on this scene alone, I’d give “Dragonstone” a perfect score.

The other spectacle of the premiere, meanwhile, is actually the most questionable of the episode’s many character moments. Arya’s moment of badassery is certainly impressive,  but it feels somewhat out of character and rushed, in terms of pacing. Yes, this young girl is obsessed with revenge at this point, but is she really out for blood on such a large scale? Such a display simply doesn’t mesh with a person that utilizes a hit list as a form of prayer. Similarly, Cersei’s reaction to the discussion of Tommen’s death is at odds with everything else we’ve come to know about her as a character. After all the times that Cersei and the people that know her best have shown that nothing matters more to her than her children, her dismissal of the subject is rather odd. Of course, nothing could be odder (or more disgusting) than Sam’s chores in the Citadel. Even ignoring the unnecessary grossness of the scene, presenting his duties in the form of a montage is a poor decision; after six seasons without a montage (as far as I can remember), I don’t believe now is the time to start. Especially with those sights and sounds.

Thankfully, the episode’s high points far outweigh the low. While Arya’s scene at the Twins is questionable, her moment with the Lannister troops (including one British pop star) feels like an important moment for the character on a personal level. My MVPs for the premiere, though, are Sansa and the Hound. Not only are we seeing the organic evolution of these characters, each line of dialogue also perfectly captures their changing worldviews. Of course, those lines would ring hollow without the superb delivery of Turner and McCann; saying so may be blasphemous, but they somehow make up for the fact that Peter Dinklage doesn’t say a single word in this episode. After all these characters have been through, I truly can’t wait to see what questions of loyalty and existential crises this season has in store for them.

Despite the fact that much of “Dragonstone” consists of positioning the remaining players (I’m looking at you, Bran) and alluding to the action to come, the season premiere also stands as an effective reminder of why so many people love this show and what is at stake in the final two seasons: the characters. As we finally get to see the big events teased from the very beginning of the series, if every set-up episode is as character-focused as “Dragonstone,” the slowly dwindling wait will certainly be worth it.

Rating: 8 out of 10

GAME OF THRONES AIRS SUNDAYS AT 9 ON HBO

Josh Sarnecky is one of Pop Break’s staff writers and covers Designated Survivor, Game of Thrones, and Stranger Things. His brother, Aaron, is the site’s TV Editor, but Josh is the family’s reigning Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars champion.