***Spoiler Warning – This recap article has spoilers from the episode.***
Winter is finally here for fans of Game of Thrones, as the seventh season made its debut on Sunday night. After the simultaneously shocking, emotional, and satisfying season 6 finale, fans knew they had a lot to look forward to – and the first episode of season seven definitely delivered.
The episode begins with a cold open, as the recently deceased Walder Frey holds a feast for his family at the Twins. Could this be a flashback? No; as Walder leads them in a toast, the Freys drink deeply from their cups of wine – though Walder notably does not drink from his own cup. He speaks of family pride, reminding them of their roles in the Red Wedding. Suddenly, the tone turns ominous as he tells them that they did not kill all of the Starks. “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are never safe,” he warns, as the guests begin to choke and fall to their deaths; they have been poisoned. The servant girls and Walder’s young bride look on, stunned, as Walder pulls off his face…and is revealed to be Arya Stark.
“When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers,” she says to Walder’s widow. “Tell them winter came for House Frey.” As she exits the room, surveying the carnage, a smile spreads across her face; the scene is very reminiscent of Sansa’s reaction to killing Ramsay is episode 6.09 (“Battle of the Bastards”). Cue the opening credits (and a feeling that maybe the two Stark sisters are more alike than we thought).
North of the Wall, the winds blow heavily, and an ominous, wintry fog approaches – the army of the dead descending inside it. The army is vast and includes White Walkers on horseback, as well as wights that were once humans or giants when they were living. Umm…undead giants? That doesn’t bode well.
Bran and Meera arrive at the Wall, greeted by Dolorous Edd and co. Though Edd is at first suspicious of their identities, Bran’s knowledge of the events at Hardhome – as well as the Night King and his army – prove to Edd that he and Meera are who they say they are. Edd brings them inside and stares of into the woods just north of the Wall before the gate closes behind him.
Meanwhile, at Winterfell, Jon holds a council with the Northern lords. He tells them that with the Night King’s army approaching, dragonglass has become the most valuable resource in the land, as it is the only known item that can defeat the White Walkers; he wants all of the Northern maesters performing research to find out where it can be found. He also tells the lords that both men and women of age will need to be trained to fight if they are to defeat the White Walkers; though this is met with some protest at first, Lyanna Mormont comes to Jon’s rescue once again (as she did in the season six finale). “I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me,” she says, agreeing to train both men and women on Bear Island. This persuades the other Northern lords to do them same – and reminds me why I love Lyanna Mormont so much!
Jon next asks Tormund and the wildlings to man Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, as it is the castle on the Wall that the Night King’s army will most likely breach, and Tormund agrees to do so. Jon notes that if the army gets past Eastwatch, the closest Northern castles are Last Hearth and Karhold – held respectively by the Umbers and the Karstarks, who have both come fresh off of an alliance with the Boltons. The mention of this sparks some argument between Jon and Sansa; whereas Sansa believes that they should give the castles to new families who have consistently remained loyal to the Starks, Jon believes that the castles should stay within their respective families, noting that the children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of their fathers. Jon states that his decision is final and calls forward the representatives from House Umber and House Karstark. He asks each to re-pledge their fealty to House Stark, and they both comply. As the council comes to an end, Littlefinger watches the scene off to the side, a slight smile lingering on his face. Ahh, Littlefinger – forever an agent of chaos.
Outside, Jon and Sansa continue to argue. Jon feels that Sansa has undermined him by questioning his decisions in front of the Northern lords; Sansa notes that while Jon is a good ruler, he needs to be smarter than both Ned and Robb in his decision-making if he is to succeed. They are interrupted by Winterfell’s master – a raven has arrived from King’s Landing, stating that Cersei is now the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. She is asking them to travel to King’s Landing and “bend the knee or suffer the fate of all traitors.” While Jon is still more worried about the Night King, Sansa reinforces the idea that Cersei is a very real threat too; despite the fact that winter has come and the Lannister army is far to the south, Cersei always finds a way to destroy her enemies.
In King’s Landing, the newly appointed Queen Cersei discusses strategy with Jaime, who now commands the Lannister army. Cersei tells Jaime that Daenerys is sailing for Westeros with Tyrion as hand, her words indicating that Jaime is at fault for his role in setting Tyrion free (but let’s be honest – doesn’t it seem like Cersei is always trying to place the blame on Jaime when things don’t go her way?). Jaime notes that they will likely land at Dragonstone, as it was abandoned when Stannis’ army marched north – and it is the ancestral home of the Targaryens. As a result, Cersei says that they will now have enemies in all directions, and Jaime tries to reinforce the point that they are in more danger than they’ve ever been before. Cersei claims that she understands the risks, but Jaime questions who they’d even be launching a dynasty for if they were to win the war; after all, with Tommen’s suicide, their children are now all dead. But refusing to talk about Tommen’s death or to mourn any further, Cersei plans to move forward.
Part of these plans? Making an alliance with Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Islanders. As Euron’s fleet arrives in King’s Landing, Jaime argues that having the Greyjoys as allies will be no better than having had the (now dead) Freys as allies; however, Cersei sees their fleet as a welcome opportunity to seize power throughout the land. They greet Euron in the throne room, where Euron claims that an alliance would be beneficial for both the Lannisters and the Greyjoys; after all, Yara and Theon have sided with Daenerys, so they’d both be fighting against family members who have betrayed them.
Jaime questions Euron’s loyalty to the throne, reminding him that he was the one who started a rebellion against the throne some years back by burning the Lannister fleet at Casterly Rock; however, Euron claims that those events led him to be where he is now. He promises Cersei that she will own the seas with the Iron fleet, which seems to satisfy her at first; however, she declines the offer once Euron asks for her hand in marriage in return, noting that he is “not trustworthy” and has broken previous alliances. Euron promises to return to King’s Landing once he has a “priceless” gift for her to prove his loyalty – and not a moment before. And knowing the nature of Euron’s character, something tells me that this “gift” isn’t going to be something pleasant.
At the Citadel in Oldtown, Sam begins his maester’s training; his daily tasks include putting away books in the library, serving food, and – gag – cleaning out chamber pots. All the while, Sam keeps his eyes on the locked restricted section of the library, where he believes that there may be books containing useful information on the Night King and his army.
As he and the archmaester study the organs of a recently deceased maester, Sam inquires about his proposition to be granted access to the restricted section; after all, he has seen the army of the dead, and finding information on how to defeat the Night King is the reason that Jon sent him there in the first place. However, the archmaester declines Sam’s request; even though he believes Sam is telling the truth, the restricted section is to be used only by maesters. He notes that people have always believed that the end is near; however, as he tells Sam, “The Wall has stood through it all, and every winter that ever came has ended.” Still, Sam knows what is at stake – so that night, he steals the keys from a sleeping maester and sneaks into the restricted section, grabbing as many books as he can.
Back at Winterfell, Brienne trains with Podrick as Tormund looks on with googly eyes. “You’re a lucky man,” he says to Pod as Brienne knocks him to the ground. Ahh, Tormund – please don’t ever change!
As Sansa looks on, Littlefinger approaches her, claiming that he wants her to be both safe and happy. Sansa says that she is safe now that she is surrounded by family and friends, but Littlefinger inquires again about her happiness. Sansa is reluctant to answer and as Brienne joins her, she dismisses Littlefinger. Littlefinger walks off, and Brienne asks Sansa why he still remains at Winterfell; Sansa tells her that it is because they still need the men of the Vale. Brienne notes that Littlefinger wants something, to which Sansa responds, “I know exactly what he wants.”
Somewhere in the Riverlands, Arya rides through the woods on horseback. She comes upon a group of Lannister soldiers singing a folk song (which book readers will undoubtedly recognize as the song that Symon Silver Tongue sings to Tyrion about his relationship with Shae in A Storm of Swords; here, the song is led by none other than Ed Sheeran, appearing in a cameo role). As Arya stops, the soldiers offer to share their dinner with her; she agrees to join them and sits by the fire. They inquire as to where she is headed, and Arya reveals that she is on her way to King’s Landing. Likewise, she asks why they are in the Riverlands, and one of the soldiers responds that they have been sent to keep the peace after some trouble with the Freys (which doesn’t come as a surprise to Arya, because she is the one who killed them and all). They swap war stories, and a soldier asks, “So why is a nice girl all on her own going to King’s Landing?” “I’m going to kill the queen,” Arya responds, and the soldiers have a good laugh. She joins in the laughter, though the viewer can tell by the look on her face that she means what she says. Sometimes, it can pay off to be small and unassuming!
Somewhere in the North, Sandor Clegane travels in the snow with Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the rest of the Brotherhood. They come upon deserted cabin, and Beric decides that they will seek shelter there for the night. Sandor is reluctant to stay there, as this is the same cabin that he and Arya had stayed in for a night on their way to the Eyrie back in episode 4.03 (“Breaker of Chains”). As the viewer may recall, Sandor had stolen money from the cabin’s owner, claiming that he and his daughter wouldn’t last the winter…and as it turns out, he was right. As Sandor enters the cabin with the Brotherhood, he discovers the remains of the father and daughter. Beric notes that with the knife that lays at their feet, it looks as though they took their own lives due to starvation.
As they sit down at the table, Thoros starts a fire, and Sandor inquires as to why the Lord of Light continues to bring Beric back from the dead; after all, he is a decent man, but there is “nothing special” about him. Beric claims that he asks himself the same question every day and that he doesn’t know the answer; however, Sandor doesn’t understand why the Lord of Light can’t just tell him. Thoros asks Sandor to come by the fire, and Sandor reluctantly obeys. Thoros tells him to look into the flames, as the fire has the answers to the questions he is asking. As Sandor stares into the fire, he tells Thoros that he sees an undead army marching past where the Wall meets the sea. Could this be Eastwatch? Suddenly, the fact that Jon has sent Tormund and the wildlings there seems a lot more dangerous than it did earlier in the episode.
That night, Sandor buries the remains of the father and the daughter; Thoros assists, seeing another side of this man who was once “the Hound.” Sandor prays over the bodies, saying that the two deserved better than what they got.
Back in Oldtown, Sam pores over one of the books he stole from the restricted section as Gilly and her son sit by the fire. Suddenly, he discovers a map of Dragonstone on one of the pages; showing it to Gilly, the two realize that there is a mountain of dragonglass underneath the castle. Understanding the importance of their discovery, Sam pens a raven to Jon.
The next day, Sam continues his daily training tasks, collecting empty food bowls from what appear to be cells. As he takes a bowl off of the tray in front of one door, an arm suddenly extends towards him – it is greyed and looks hard. A familiar voice asks, “Has she come yet?” “Who?” Sam asks. “The dragon queen – Daenerys Stormborn,” the voice replies. Jorah?! Sam confirms that he hasn’t heard anything of her arrival, and Jorah’s arm retracts back into the cell. Poor Jorah – though he isn’t looking good, the fact that he is at the Citadel gives me hope that the maesters may be able to help him find a cure for his Greyscale.
And like clockwork, we cut to Daenerys’ fleet arriving at Dragonstone, her dragons soaring overhead to fly above the great castle. As the ships land, Daenerys takes in the scene of her family’s ancestral home for the first time. Along with her council, she ascends the stairs to the castle; as they enter, they take down Stannis’ remaining banners and observe the Targaryen throne. Daenerys continues on to find the council room containing the map that Stannis so painstakingly pored over in earlier seasons. Tyrion follows, and the two turn to one another after taking in the contents room. “Shall we begin?” Daenerys asks. Cue the end credits.
Personally, while this wasn’t one of my all-time favorite episodes, I thought that it did a great job of setting up the tone for the rest of the season to come. The fact that major alliances are being forged strongly suggests that we are heading towards the end game of the series, which is what the cast and crew have stated on numerous occasions. Furthermore, the details presented to us within the episode suggest a promising future. For example, now that Sam is sending word to Jon that there is dragonglass beneath Dragonstone, will Jon travel there and (inevitably) meet Daenerys for the first time? Will Sandor Clegane and the Brotherhood Without Banners play an important role in taking down the Night King’s army? Will Arya make it to King’s Landing to kill Cersei – or will someone else do the job first (i.e. Jaime?). Only time will tell, and I am very excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.
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