Game of Thrones season 7, episode 1, “Dragonstone” review: Politics and religion.

It is now day… shit I’ve lost count… since our dearest Gendry went missing. Please, if someone finds him, tell him Dragonglass swords are the new in-thing. He could make a bloody fortune.

I’ve had a couple of hours now to digest properly what went on in the first episode of Game of Thrones’ 7th season. The series really has come on a long way. What began as a show brilliantly transplanting Machiavellian politics onto a deep sprawling fantasy universe has now become a full-blown race to survive. Some people who I’ve spoken to about the series have really disliked the change of focus as the seasons have gone on. The characters and their political worlds have left centre-stage. They’ve been displaced now by actual Gods, who as we’ve seen from this latest episode have began to have even more of a presence on the show. Control over the world is no longer in the political domain, as it is being challenged now by supernatural and possibly even divine forces. For me, this was captured brilliantly in the scene where Sandor Clegane, or Richard Dawkins with a more colourful vocabulary, is confronted with the reality that actually there are forces at work behind the world that to you has been dyed a colour of Red. For Clegane, the reality of life is clear: You’re fucked. Everyone wants to kill you and if they can, they will. He grounds this in his own experience of life. And indeed that’s quite a fine thing to use to really drive home the existence of supernatural forces. Clegane’s entire worldview was cast into doubt in that small but brilliant scene with the fireplace. All that time spent ridiculing Berric Dondarrion and the Brothers Without Banners for their worship of the Lord of Light; the life lessons he forced on Arya Stark about the harsh nature of Men. Clegane really is the best way for the writers to drive home just how real these divine forces are. Of course, we know very well about the White Walkers and their army of Wights. The point I think the writers were trying to make is that there are forces, or Gods, that are meddling with the affairs of humans. There’s more going-on than just human vs human and human vs white walker. I think this brilliantly extends the Game of Thrones universe for the television audience. We’re slowly being introduced to the existence of this Lord of Light in-particular, indicating he/she is to play a major part in the final two seasons. We’ve seen the power this being wields, in its ability to revive Berric Dondarrion, and then to revive Jon Snow, and now also to project events happening elsewhere through the medium of fire. Evidently Melisandre could see things in the fire.

Getting more to the original point, the series has been extended to make us consider now both the politicking of humans, and also the work of a divine being(s). It’s like the writers are inviting us to consider either a Pantheon of Gods, or perhaps asking us to consider which are real and which are false? I myself don’t know which side I lean on just yet. This, i’d like to say, is a great work of fantasy fiction. Essentially, the series has changed from this low-scale Medieval-esque fantasy to a full-blown fantasy epic. It is no doubt a challenge to stop this change from turning the series into a huge mess. It could quickly become an Avengers plot line with a lot of characters all just doing things to no real end. However, the major plot lines fit quite well within the supernatural context. We know the White Walkers don’t just exist and that’s it. They are a natural force of destruction, driving Jon Snows decisions in the 4th season and beyond. They are central to his character progression and to many others. The Faceless God, no doubt, played a major part in Arya’s life, allowing her to become an assassin with a deadly host of skills, some of which have origins possibly linked to the divine or supernatural. She of course is on her way to kill Cersei. You see, there isn’t just a huge mess developing. These forces are there, but characters work within their contexts, and it drives a lot of the stuff we saw in the earlier seasons. Cersei still wants to wield power, albeit no longer for the sake of her children but for the sake of… I don’t know actually. The point is she wants power. Littlefinger, the eternal creep, he still vies for the chaos he openly yearned for in the earlier seasons. Characters are still doing politics, just in a far bigger context than just the human now.

What else do we have from this episode? Ed Sheeran! Yeah that happened, it’s not a big deal, his character existed for a short while, it’s not a big deal.

Euron Greyjoy has made an early appearance, indicating his centrality for the season ahead. His intentions are quite clear: he wants power to maybe cut out everyone’s tongue. “The silence” doesn’t have much of a ring in lieu of Westeros. It’s clear he’s headed for conflict with Daenerys and of course Yara, who sadly we didn’t get to see this episode. His attempt to broker a marriage with Cersei fell short, because she took Jaime’s advice that he isn’t someone to be trusted, indicating Cersei is becoming more acutely aware of how isolated the Lannisters now are and need to form meaningful alliances, but of course she claims to have known this anyway? Perhaps so. With many of her immediate rivals gone in a green fireball, she can now turn her attention to other strategic aspects, like alliances and such. I think the conversation between Cersei and Euron told us quite a lot about both characters: Both aren’t so self-confident as they might seem. Interestingly, both would stab the other in the back at the first chance. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out when the Lannisters and maybe the Greyjoys together(?) come to blows with Daenerys and the many other enemies they have. Enemies to the West, to the East, the North and the South. That could make it seem like all are focused on Cersei, and as we saw from Jon and Sansa’s nice chat, Jon is preoccupied with the pending apocalypse, whereas Sansa has more immediate worries. One can’t fight off the apocalypse when being brutally executed as a traitor by the Mountain, am I right? Daenerys, however, is screaming right for King’s Landing, so that is definitely a more immediate conflict for Cersei to consider. Dorne? The Sandsnakes exist in the show, just about? I don’t know what they will do, but I hope they see a lot more screen time considering how interesting they actually are. Cersei and Jaime have a lot to plan, both militarily and politically. They can’t win this with military prowess alone, so there’s going to be some other schemes hatching beyond a cheap message sent to Jon.

Speaking of Jon, he’s not having a good time. Jon is having to adapt now to being King in the North. As we saw from Jon’s part of the episode, he’s having to balance a lot of different interests, including his Sister’s. You can tell Jon wants to press on. He has an urgency to meet the task at hand. I’m not surprised. He’s seen what the White Walkers can do and will do when they reach the wall. The issue is, the factions of the North don’t know what it’s like beyond the wall. For Jon, this must make him even more impatient. He must be thinking, “why can’t they just see the bigger picture and unite as one under me.” He’s having to now struggle with the reality that that isn’t how politics works. Yes there’s a pending doom, but politics never bloody stops! I think this stands at the root of his conflict with Sansa. Jon, on the one hand, has this desperation to press on and meet this giant, world-level task. Sansa, she is aiming to tread more carefully, and consider more immediate problems. As I said, you can’t save the world when you’re about to become a calorie count for Hafthor Bjornsson. Of course, Sansa once again is being ignored. Just a stupid girl who doesn’t understand the real problems. Jon and Sansa are having a clash of priorities, and Jon cannot allow this. The very importance of the apocalypse might drive a significant ridge into the Stark faction.

Daenerys Targaryen. She’s finally made it to Westeros, just 2 seasons after people stopped really caring about her. Daenerys making it to Westeros is like climbing a particularly steep part of a hill. You finish it, and you think my goodness that was a slog, but hey the rest of the way looks pretty mint, and jesus would you look at that view! Her story has been very bogged-down with rebellions and moralising repeated over and over again to the point where her screen time began to feel more like a chore. However, that desire to go to Westeros and take the throne was always there, and it’s suddenly just gotten a lot closer. For me, she isn’t the best character on the show, in terms of how interesting she is, but she is of course hugely significant, and the adversity she has overcome to be where she is now fills me with so much excitement. Think beyond prompting people to scream “YAAAAS QUEEN” when Dany ordered Drogon to burn the slaver’s ships. That’s just adding fuel to a dull fire to remind us that Dany is a badass. And yes, a badass she most certainly is, but most importantly she seems to be just another piece in the puzzle, a chess piece. She has her Dragons, yes, there’s no divine forces surrounding her. This is just mere speculation on my behalf, but Daenerys hungers for the power to make changes, like to end slavery for instance. She wants to use political power to make the world a better place, but of course it’s not just about the politics anymore. There are forces approaching, and I must admit I am very excited to see how Dany responds to them when she catches wind. It could very well throw my speculation into the ground anyway, especially with the fact that she may now be sitting on a mountain of Dragonglass, making her of vital importance to Jon Snow.

And that brings me finally to Samwell Tarly. I have such a fondness for that man. He’s willing to risk his security to do his bit in the fight against the White Walkers. He’s utterly devoted, but perhaps becoming quite disillusioned with the order of Maesters. I think that’s what the montage aimed to show. However, he showed no signs of breaking, which could very well show his devotion to helping Jon. Anyway, he gets access to the secret part of the citadel, and this reveals some very important information about Dragonstone, which is conveniently now inhabited once again. Imagine if the Dragonglass was hidden under a hut somewhere? For all we know, Sandor Clegane could have pissed on it if it were true. But yeah, we now know from Sam that Dragonglass might be under Dragonstone. That sets us up for the meeting of Jon and Daenerys, and my goodness there’s a lot that can come from those two knowing each other. I won’t go into all that, but what I will say is that the first episode laid the foundations for the season to come rather brilliantly. To work all that groundwork in in a short time, whilst also making it quite entertaining, is fantastic. It takes a little bit of reading between the lines, but that’s how you get people to understand a lot of information in a small amount of time. A very good opener, and i’m very very excited for where this season is going.

*** And I realise I’ve completely forgotten about Arya. WELL DONE, YOU, YOU MAD BASTARD. I hope there’s a deleted scene one day of Arya recounting her stories to a mesmerised Jon and Sansa. She’s come a long way from hitting Joffrey with a wooden sword.

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