The highly anticipated seventh season of Game of Thrones is finally here and we couldn’t be more excited (literally, the hype is out of control). In the interests of stating the obvious, WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The season opener was undoubtedly a fun outing, although it suffered somewhat from the need to provide a awful lot of setup for the season ahead. Fans of the show will find a lot to love, those not so familiar with the show or tuning in for the first time will likely have found it a little slow and lacking in action.
Personally, I can forgive Dragonstone this fault, because it managed to present a lot of great character development while getting all the nasty exposition out of the way. The theme of the episode was very much the looming threat of winter. The majority of the episode was dedicated to catching up with the various Stark and Lanister siblings and their most trusted allies, with a brief segue for the Hound. There’s are two questions that are going to dominate conversations about this episode so I’m just going to get them out of the way right off the bat: Arya Stark and Ed Sheeran.
Yes, you read that right.
Is Arya Stark A Psychopath?
This is a question that has been cropping up more and more frequently, especially in light of the season six finale that saw Arya kill Walder Frey’s sons, bake them into a pie, feed them to him, and then slit hit throat.
It’s bound to reappear now given that the opening of Dragonstone presents Arya, now (finally) a real Faceless Assassin, masquerading as Walder Frey and poisoning all the Frey’s involved in the Red Wedding.
Her body count is really racking up, and the smile on her face as she walks out of the Frey’s hall, littered with fifty plus bodies is undoubtedly chilling. Game of Thrones is hardly a stranger to psychopaths (Ramsay Bolton and Joffrey being the obvious examples), but Arya isn’t one of them.
She’s cold, calculated, cunning, and utterly ruthless, but she also demonstrates empathy, protects the innocent and is entirely motivated by the love of her home and family. She has a slightly warped sense of morals and violence, but this is undoubtedly due to being exposed to so much corruption and bloody mayhem at such a young age. The world has taught her that death and violence are the answer to your problems. She’s embraced that notion and carried it to its extreme, but she doesn’t do it for personal gratification or the desire to play sick and twisted games.
She has a list. She’s checking people off it. Anyone not on that list is safe, and people only make it onto the list by killing someone she loves or trying to kill her.
And she’s not above taking people off the list if she feels they deserve it.
Ed Sheeran’s Already Infamous Cameo
The Thrones ‘verse is going a little nuts today over Ed Sheeran’s cameo in the episode. Was it blatant, long, and somewhat indulgent?
Was it bad?
That rather depends on your perspective.
If you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran, you likely enjoyed it. If you’re not a fan, you likely found it annoying. If you’re indifferent or don’t know who he is, you won’t actually have noticed.
I’m not a huge fan of Sheeran but the scene itself that wasn’t bad. It was indicative of the larger problem of the episode, focusing too much on setup and the seemingly unessential, but it was an essential scene for Arya, especially in the wake of the Frey massacre (agree or disagree with her motives, you can’t dispute the fact it was a massacre).
GOT co-showrunner, David Benioff, has previously spoken about Sheeran’s cameo so we knew it was coming. As he put it, “We knew that Maisie was a big fan of Ed Sheeran and for years we’ve been trying to get him on the show so we can surprise Maisie. This year we finally did it.”
Let’s be honest, it’s also a great publicity stunt. It arguably backfired as most fans are viewing it as an epic failure, but they say all press is good press, so…
It’s not the first time famous musicians have cameoed but it is the most blatant. Coldplay’s Will Champion, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, and Sigur Ros have all made brief cameos, while Bronn is played by half of Robson and Jerome. There’s a general sense among fans that these choices are a little safe and lacklustre, but that’s mainly down to taste.
They made more of Sheeran than anyone else, going so far as to give him a full on hero-closeup for the delivery of his line, and that’s annoying. Unless he’s actually going to do something in the next episode, it was seriously gratuitous, but Maisie is apparently a fan of his and lord knows the girl has gone through some shit to provide us with a singularly awesome character, so why not.
What is being ignored in light of all this annoyance over Ed Sheeran eating that rabbit is the need for Arya to connect with some normal human beings (who don’t end up killed by her or because of her) for the first time since she left Gendry and Hot Pie. And these aren’t just any guys. These are red cloak wearing soldiers belonging to Cersei.
Cersei’s on Arya’s list.
In the wake of killing all those Frey’s it was really important to show that Arya still has a heart, still knows right from wrong, still worries about the welfare of the ‘little people’ (she worries about eating their food because they have so little), and is not indiscriminately killing anyone and everyone who happens to follow her enemies.
The distinction is necessary.
The Frey’s she killed were specifically involved in murdering her family at the Red Wedding. She goes to the trouble of posing as Walder Frey so she can determine exactly who was involved and invite them to the Twins. She also ensures there is no collateral damage – neither the serving girl or Walder’s latest wife are killed, only the soldiers who murdered her family.
Arya could have poisoned this little band of soldier boys for following Cersei, but it’s very clear than this is the furthest thing from her mind. She gets on well with them, and is soothed somewhat by their chatter.
It was a refreshing change of pace to have her happen upon strangers and not have to defend herself. I’ll be honest, I was expecting one of them to try to rob or rape her, but it didn’t happen.
Sheeran’s performance my have been insipid and his screen time exaggerated, but it reminded us why Arya is the hero we follow and Cersei is the enemy we love to hate.
The Other Stark Siblings…
Meanwhile we see Bran arrive at The Wall, and Jon getting on with the business of being King in the North. Sansa gets rather uppity with him and the pair of them bicker. This nicely follows on from the tension established between them at the end of the last season, and the seeds of doubt planted by the (still creeping) Littlefinger.
In this particular instance, Sansa is wrong. She’s not wrong for speaking her mind, or expecting Jon to listen to her, and the point she makes about him needing to be smarter than both Ned and Rob is valid. The problem is she happens to be wrong about the specific thing she picks to disagree with him about. From her character’s perspective it’s understandable that she would want those who stood with Ranmsay to be punished. But that is a personal motivation and not one that will benefit the north as a whole, or their cause in the long run. Both Jon and Sansa are right, but for different reasons and about different things. If they can truly combine their perspectives they’ll be unstoppable.
We’re just going to have to hope Sansa’s as savvy about Littlefinger’s motives as she seems to be.
The Lanister Siblings…
At King’s Landing we see the sibling divide mirrored by Cersei and Jaimie. Cersei is bound by her own sense of what is right and just, and what matters most in the world and is virtually incapable of seeing Jaimie’s perspective. Jaimie meanwhile has grown considerably through his various travails and has come to understand that they don’t just need allies, but good allies. People who can be depended on to keep their word and do what’s right. He’s unsurprised at the loss of the Frey’s, and clearly unmoved by it, because to his mind they were without honour to begin with. Their actions begot their fate; they brought it on themselves, and if Cersei continues to ally herself with such people they can expect a similar fate.
Jaimie’s experiences have brought out the good man who was always lurking in his core but never given a chance to come out. He can no longer reconcile the things Cersei does, and her attitudes with his conscience. He still loves her, and for now that love is keeping him at her side, but it’s no longer an unquestioning love. It’s no longer unconditional. His presence is tempering Cersei’s hand slightly, but the cracks formed by her willingness to use wild fire and kill so many (the very act Jaimie killed the Mad King for) and the fact Tommen died as a result are only going to deepen.
Elsewhere in Westeros…
We get a terrifying peek at the army of the dead in the early part of the episode, and the heartbreaking reminder the Wun Wun, everyone’s favourite giant, is now a white walker. Meanwhile the Hound finally confronts his fear of fire and gets a look at the very same image, edging him a little closer to redemption.
The episode takes quite a bit of time out to check in with Sam and further the theme that everyone is feeling the weight of winter. This little segue also reveals two key pieces of information: Jorah Mormont is in a cell at the citadel, his greyscale having grown considerably worse, and there’s a huge stash of dragon glass at Dragonstone.
Speaking of Dragonstone, Danaerys has FINALLY arrived in Westeros and takes up residence in Stannis’ former home. This is nicely done, making Jon’s inevitable collision with Danny imminent, and telling us that despite the overriding threat of winter, we still have to deal with that pesky Iron Throne and who will finally end up remaining on it…