Monday, July 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews - Episode 1: Dragonstone (Reckonings)

Winter has come for house Frey, Arya informs the sole survivor of said house, Lord Walder’s last plaything and girl-wife, whom she spared. And indeed it has. Since the beginning of season 4, the Freys have been largely removed from the center of events, but they have never been far on anyone’s mind. A reckoning was long in coming, and since Lady Stoneheart never made it to the screen, merging her role with doe-eyed Arya was a logical step that is paying quick dividends. Unlike the Nemesis from the books, Arya is still capable of pulling back from the abyss of blind vengeance, as evidenced when she meets a group of Lannister soldiers that tries to adhere to the norms and ideals in their own way, “keeping the peace”, as it was, and sharing the little they have with a stranger. It takes a while until Arya accepts the hare-formed bread and salt of the soldiers, but when she does, a small existential battle is won.

But of course, while there other reckonings to be had in this episode, the one longest in coming – for eight thousand years, in fact – is the most sinister on the horizon, and it still takes it sweet time to arrive. The long shot (literally) of the White Walkers arriving with their own mobile snow storm, and their army including undead giants, serves as a vivid reminder that the one final reckoning for humanity is in the not-too-distant future. The prophet of this Doom has finally reached the Wall, spewing uncanny information and freaking people off, as good prophets are want to do, and we can only assume that Edd Tollet sent Bran on to Winterfell, to arrive at an opportune moment to provide a broken Kassandra in some other crisis.

While the North doesn’t yet face an active crisis, it has some reckonings of its own to do. First there is the question of how the traitorous houses of Umber and Karstark are going to be handled. The rift that is visible between Sansa and Jon here is sign of a reckoning that’s yet to come, because Jon’s decision – while framed by triumphantly swelling music as clearly the right one – will not put Sansa at ease just because he says it’s final, and as of yet, the King in the North isn’t exactly the King of Rock and Vale, too. Littlefinger will surely not have missed that distinction, and while Sansa wisely keeps him at arm’s length, the natural predator will find a weak moment to try and worm his way back into her heart.

Incidentally, this storyline is a bit muddled by the nonsensical chain of events at the meeting (Jon and Sansa should perhaps talk about this stuff before, eh?) and the sudden reverence Sansa holds for Cersei, which I feel is only there to build the latter up as the “big bad” of the season, to be disposed of at its end to clear the tables for the Walkerpocalypse. It stands out as merely efficient but not very elegant writing compared to the rest of a stellar episode.

Jaime Lannister, on the other hand, feels like a giant sword is hanging over him, dangling by a thread, only to fall down. Cersei gives words to his feelings: “Enemies to the North. Enemies to the East. Enemies to the West. Enemies to the South.” Cersei seems to find this invigorating, while Jaime only gets a profound sense of unease, heightened by obvious changes Cersei has gone through, when she dismisses the deaths of her children and the burning of the Sept as a boring story from yesteryear. The alliance with Euron Greyjoy is one of the most obvious moves in terms of plot development, and Euron himself burns for a reckoning with the rest of his family and the rest of Westeros that he hopes to control through this alliance. He seems to think that he can use the Lannisters, while Cersei seems to think she can use him. If one or both of them are misguided, only time can tell.

Another reckoning, huge in its impact for Sandor Clegane but negligible on the grand scale of things, is the fallout from his own cynic attitude. The people he condemned to death with a glib “they won’t survive winter” in season 4 indeed didn’t, and the father needed to kill the daughter to prevent the slow starvation death after taking in the Hound and Arya. But these people didn’t die “anyway”, they died specifically because of the Hound’s actions, and because R’hollor chose to let him win against Beric. When he sees the Walkerpocalypse coming in the flames, at this very spot, Sandor should really acknowledge that, indeed, he has something to answer for, and some wrongs to right.

A reckoning still a bit off is the one waiting for the maesters. The fascinating thing is that Ebrose believes Sam when he says there's an army of White Walkers marching on the Wall. It's just that he doesn't intend to do anything about it. So why is that? The maester tells Sam he can't go into the secret room because he's not yet finished his training, and going in there before would be "a rather strong proposition." It's a typical reaction for someone caught in the mindset of the bureaucracy he serves. Sam has not yet cleared the hurdles, therefore the rules prevent him from entering. To make an exception would require extraordinary circumstances, and those Ebrose cannot see, because while he does believe in the White Walkers, he doesn't see any responsibility by the Citadel to do anything about it (they're an archive, not an army), and therefore, Sam, who isn't even a maester, can't do anything about it either. To let him in would give Ebrose a lot of trouble for breaking the rules with no apparent gain. Ergo, stasis. I think it's pretty obvious that the maester is wrong. The whole framing of the scene, how it's shot, and of course the whole narrative up to this point, including the ominous shot of the White Walkers in the beginning, make this abundantly clear. This is the apocalypse coming.

And lastly, in a moment anticipated by fans for over two decades now, Daenerys Targaryen returns home to ancestral seat. In a glorious four-and-a-half-minute sequence, there is no reckoning to be had, because the fortress has been completely deserted by Stannis, and ripping down his dusty banner has no sense of catharsis, because this king crashed and burned on the field before Winterfell, and there is nothing Dany can do about it. But there is a promise of further confrontation and conclusion when she masks her mission statement as a question: “Shall we begin?” Oh yes, please, do.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Stefan. Better than most of the "professional" reviews out there ;) I think Season 7 is gearing up to be one of the best in years, and it's very nice to see character moments like Sandor's in what otherwise promises to be a breakneck pace.