“Dragonstone” Review

For the next seven Tuesdays, I will be reviewing every episode in the seventh season for Game of Thrones since, as most of you know, it’s my favorite show ever. Apologies to anyone who’s never seen an episode or hasn’t caught up, but there will potentially be spoilers. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the new season because the wait has lasted longer than usual (so they could accurately film winter) and there are only thirteen episodes before it all ends. The trailers seemingly promised a faster pace and a ton of converging storylines. However, I’m sad to admit that the first episode “Dragonstone” left a lot to be desired. I will always be glad whenever the show comes back, but I expect the premiere to contain more engaging material. Aside from the cold open, nothing particularly stood out, especially the Daenerys ending (again). I understand that we need to set up and reintroduce everyone in the world, but this episode clearly took that concept too far.

I’ll start with some positives though. How awesome was Arya and her mission of vengeance? When the episode first started, I was extremely confused because I thought we were witnessing a flashback of the Red Wedding or something. But the satisfying realization slowly sets in; you know who’s really wearing that face. Then when the entire room dies from poisoning, I nearly jumped up and cheered. Arya delivering the line “Tell them winter came for House Frey” was the cherry on top right before the equally awesome opening theme we all know and love.

The other character I thought was handled well in “Dragonstone” was Sandor Clegane (better known as the Hound). After his surprising return last season, I was interested to see where the show would take him. The change of heart after hanging out with Ian McShane was well-executed and deserved after only perceiving him as a despicable person all those years. It reminded me of Jaime’s arc in Season 3; while it’s tempting to just write off the bad guys as unworthy of redemption, Game of Thrones convinces you that there is still some decency left from unexpected sources. Although the scene was a bit heavy-handed (seriously, who would remember that one random farmer and his daughter from Season 4 if they didn’t bash you over the head with it in the recap?), I’m officially back on board with the Hound and the Brotherhood.

Finally, it was heartwarming to see some fan favorites back after the yearlong wait. Lyanna Mormont once again taking control of a room full of battle-tested soldiers is worthy of a fist pump (although I hope they don’t go back to that well every single episode). Tormund unsuccessfully trying to flirt with Brienne is everything I didn’t know I wanted but now desperately need. The introduction of Jim Broadbent as the Archmaester was equally solid. Like Jonathan Pryce before him, Game of Thrones has nailed the casting of a great character actor in a small but important role. I foresee some great dialogue-heavy scenes between him and Sam.

Sigh…I wish I didn’t have to talk about so many negatives. Again, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan; I don’t want any episode to fail. But I’m also not going to blindly praise something just from prior experience. I have to look at each episode separately and objectively. My first complaint is rather small, but still worth mentioning: in an episode lasting 59 minutes, how do Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) get no lines? Why are you wasting two amazing actors on simple reaction shots? Their input would’ve been greatly valued in respective scenes, but the writers somehow thought that silence would be golden. It makes absolutely no sense, but it’s a small gripe.

I also think the whole Sam storyline could be drastically cut down to make room for others. The rapidly edited sequence of him losing the ability to distinguish between poop and food was entirely unnecessary. Look, I get it; it’s not easy for Sam at the Citadel. You can get that point across with one cycle of toil, but then you should move on to more important things. Even the revelation of a dragonglass mine beneath Dragonstone is nothing new; Stannis said as much a few seasons ago. I will defend Sam more than most people because I recognize his value in the wars to come, but even I can’t justify this lackluster storytelling.

Next up…Ed Sheeran. Unlike some angry fans on the Internet, I knew he was planning to make a cameo, but I definitely didn’t expect it in the first episode. While it’s clearly distracting, at least they didn’t make him the focus of the scene (other than the easily recognizable singing), instead giving two other soldiers the bulk of the dialogue. While I understand that Maisie Williams is a huge fan of Mr. Sheeran, putting him in a crowded gathering rather than a small band of soldiers would probably have been a smarter move. He already looks like he belongs in the Game of Thrones world, but prominently showcasing him won’t go over well. The scene also abruptly ends with laughter after Arya says she’s going to kill Cersei; it’s so jarring that it only reinforces the oddity.

Finally, we arrive at my biggest complaint with “Dragonstone” and that’s the titular location itself. The final scene with Daenerys and company landing on the beach and walking through the deserted castle (don’t know why no one bothered to try and defend it) was painfully anticlimactic. I kept expecting something exciting to happen or another character (Melisandre maybe?) to be waiting for them. But all we get is a leisurely stroll and one throwaway line of “Shall we begin?” Even the absence of dialogue borders on the unbelievable; wouldn’t anyone speak up at some point while walking? I don’t want to believe that Emilia Clarke is a bad actress, but the writers keep putting her in the same scenarios and relying on her stoic facial expressions to convey strength. I sincerely hope that going forward, they realize that viewers actually want to see Daenerys, you know, do something. We waited six seasons for her to finally travel back to Westeros and this is all we get? We can all assume from the end of Season 6 that she safely lands on Dragonstone; let’s just skip to the political machinations, OK?

I can’t reiterate enough how much I love Game of Thrones. But after seeing the near-universal praise the first episode has received (currently 95% on Rotten Tomatoes), I honestly have to disagree with everyone else. It’s still an above-average hour of television, but it doesn’t hold a candle to past season premieres. Who can forget Jaime pushing Bran out the window, Arya and the Hound killing Lannister soldiers in a tavern, or Melisandre revealing her true form, all of which happened in the first episode of a season? The Arya cold open might come close, but it comes at the very beginning as opposed to the end where it rightfully belonged. We still get a bunch of scenes in the middle that don’t live up to the hype that had been building up. There was even a freaking countdown clock before it began! I probably wouldn’t be as frustrated if our expectations hadn’t been set so high prior to the season. From trailers and interviews, it seemed like the showrunners were going to cut out the unnecessary filler and give us exciting scene after exciting scene. But judging from “Dragonstone” alone, I don’t think they followed through on that promise. Maybe once the second episode is released, this will all be a moot point, but for now, I can’t declare that Season 7 started off on the right foot. Sad to say, but that’s why we have Differing Opinions.

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