“The Dragon and the Wolf ” Review

It’s been a crazy seven weeks, which accurately describes both Game of Thrones and my analysis of it. I hope that my passion for this subject has at least convinced you to give the show a chance if you haven’t already. Season 7 has showcased both the subtle and pronounced reasons why this show is worth watching and the finale follows suit. For the first 45 minutes, there is a deliberate slower pace that documents the great meeting of the minds. Then everything furiously ramps up with shocking deaths and revelations. A tale of two completely different halves, but I still loved every minute. Here’s my final thoughts on it all.

Before we start: remember my Disney Princess Avengers script? If I learned anything from that exercise, it’s really difficult to write compelling dialogue. But the beginning 40-minute scene between all your favorite characters puts most TV writers to shame. There are brief interactions that may feel like fan service (Tyrion and Podrick, Brienne and the Hound) to the untrained eye, but wouldn’t you do the same with a friend you hadn’t seen in a long time? The whole affair also serves as a welcome respite from the accelerated storyline in the first six episodes; we can finally take a breather and just enjoy the political maneuvering.

What stands out from this exchange are the conflicting philosophies of each character. On one hand, you have Cersei refusing to back down even after seeing proof of the dead. On the other, Jon Snow feels compelled by honor to reject Cersei’s terms of armistice. Keep in mind that these two have never even met, so it further heightens the tension. When Tyrion comes back from facing Cersei alone with an agreement apparently in place, I didn’t trust her for a second. Then the realization that she had carefully mapped out every possible outcome (and secretly sent Euron to recruit the Golden Company) amazingly wrapped up one of the greatest “talking” scenes in the show’s history.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Cersei was given the opportunity to kill both of her brothers in this episode and chose not to in either case. I absolutely see this familial vulnerability playing a crucial role next season (although I thought for sure Jaime was going to die). I believed from the start that we would bid farewell to Cersei this season, but she lives to fight another day despite her shortcomings.

However, one of my predictions from last week did come true: Littlefinger’s death! I still don’t know whether Arya and Sansa (with help from Bran) were playing him the whole time or if Sansa figured it out in her final exchange with him, but nonetheless, I’m sure it was satisfying for most fans to see the former Master of Coin bite the dust. While I’m sad to see a transcendent actor like Aidan Gillen go (every “creepy man” role in Hollywood should belong to him if he wants it), his death was necessary to demonstrate that Sansa has become a fully independent and powerful force in this game. Thank goodness this forced storyline ended without any lasting repercussions.

So that’s all, right? Nothing left to cover. Wait, hold on…did Bran just reveal Jon Snow’s real name as AEGON TARGARYEN? There’s been a conscious attempt this season to pull back the layers on Jon’s lineage, but now all the cards are on the table. I’m very interested to see the reactions from Jon and Daenerys (who got it on in this episode) once they find out. I predict that Daenerys, who hails from a family of incest, might brush it off as just your average aunt-nephew romance. But Jon, who’s proven time and again that he places honor above all, can’t be too comfortable with it. I hope they continue to explore this burgeoning power dynamic that was set up so brilliantly by Benioff and Weiss.

There were several instances where I thought the episode would end (Aegon Targaryen, Arya and Sansa on the battlements), but I totally overlooked the fact that the only sensible ending is a shot of the zombie dragon bringing down the Wall. I mean, duh. A glorious yet frightening moment that only leaves me with one question: are we sure Tormund and Beric survived? True, the camera didn’t cut to them falling to their death, but Viserion tore down a huge section in one swift motion. Hopefully, it’s just deus ex machina again, but I have to wonder for the sake of argument. Even if they didn’t die, how in God’s name are they going to sneak past the Night King’s army and make it to Winterfell? So many questions that may not be answered for an entire year.

Since it’s the finale, it only makes sense to include one last rendition of “What Tiny Details Should Be Cut?” The Jon and Theon moment gave us a nice redemption moment for the latter, but it dragged on way too long for me and basically ended with a repeat of a Season 3 moment. Remember Yara vowing to rescue her brother after learning that he was Ramsay’s prisoner? Yeah, how did that turn out? This role reversal with Theon now saving his sister just screams of copycat syndrome that probably won’t amount to much.

Perhaps the jarring effect of a longer drawn-out scene knocks the finale down a peg, but “The Dragon and the Wolf” solidly wraps up the latest season of Game of Thrones. There’s no loud action scenes needed here; what has kept the show popular are intriguing conversations and earned character moments, which this episode provides in spades. Due to a weak premiere and the reckless juggling of logic/time, there are certainly better seasons. It sounds weird to say, but I’m also a little upset that we didn’t see more main characters die, seeing as how we’re speeding towards the finish line here. The only people of real consequence that bowed out were Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger; power players in their own right, but nothing compared to Cersei or Jaime. An online reviewer did calm my skepticism a bit by comparing Season 7 to the first part of a two-part finale. A lot that we saw happen will have greater impact once everything in Season 8 unfolds, so if they can sustain the momentum, I am confident I will be singing its praises once again.

Advertisements

“Beyond the Wall” Review

We had been patiently waiting for Season 7 when the news broke that its release would be delayed so Game of Thrones could accurately capture the new “winter is here” theme. At the time, I wasn’t overly fond of the decision since it meant waiting longer for a show that had already been effectively filmed in cold environments. But after the brutality of “Beyond the Wall,” it looks like I’ve been proven wrong again. The latest glorious episode provides stunning visuals, edge-of-your-seat tension, and some good old deus ex machina.

Let’s start with the cinematography, which gave us more frame-worthy shots (if someone compiles a book, I’ll buy it immediately). Although some scenes contain green screen, Iceland still looks incredible from a distance. Filming in actual winter conditions paid off tremendously for the crew, who I’m sure were heavily inspired by Emmanuel Lubezki and The Revenant during the process, complete with their own bear attack. But even with an unbelievable backdrop, the focus never completely shifts away from the characters; there was plenty of great back-and-forth dialogue between different Magnificent Seven members (Tormund and the Hound in particular).

But criticism doesn’t lie far behind, or nitpicking in this case. How lucky were they to find the only wight in the group that didn’t collapse? Is Gendry the Flash? Why did Daenerys take all three dragons and how come one of them didn’t try to kill the White Walkers? How did Benjen know where to find Jon? I saw many more issues raised by people online, but I didn’t have a problem with most of them. Sure, the deus ex machina trope has gone through every possible iteration already, but I was so engrossed in the action that the timeline took a backseat (as it has this entire season). The showrunners legitimately made me believe that Tormund was going to die, in addition to Jon a few minutes later. When you’re as invested in Game of Thrones as I am, you’re not thinking about possible avenues of escape; instead you’re anxiously watching every move with no knowledge of forthcoming events. Sometimes convenience serves a necessary purpose since it leaves the viewer immensely satisfied when they see their favorite character rescued from certain danger.

The rushed storytelling doesn’t so much have a profound effect on the action as it does on the Arya and Sansa storyline for me. While it would be plausible for two sisters who have never been close to question the other’s motives, Littlefinger’s plan has come together a little too quickly. From planting the scroll to sending Brienne away, these moments would carry more weight if we saw the deliberate machinations play out a bit longer. Yeah, Littlefinger is probably smarter than all of Westeros, but when I see Arya threaten to cut off Sansa’s face after only one episode, I hesitate to think he’s THAT devious. Another explanation could be that the two of them have secretly figured out his plan and are simply playing along to throw him off track. If that’s true, I hope it ends with Littlefinger’s death; unlikely, but it would redeem this mess of an arc.

It does feel good though to finally congratulate Emilia Clarke for showing some genuine emotion during her final scene with Kit Harington in this episode. I give her a hard time, but the reading of “I hope I deserve it” nearly made me stand and applaud. The beginning of a beautiful friendship (and possibly more) would’ve made an equally effective ending if it hadn’t been for the freaking Night King.

But in the end, none of this really matters compared to…ZOMBIE DRAGON! That gut punch of an ending turned the tides once more just when we thought we could cheer for the good guys again. I love how there’s never a safe moment to take a breath with Game of Thrones; even with only seven total episodes left in the entire show, Benioff and Weiss keep finding new ways to surprise us. Kudos.

“Beyond the Wall” was excellent, but it’s probably nothing compared to the finale. From the preview, it looks like most of the major players (Jon, Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, likely more) are going to meet in King’s Landing to discuss a truce. Throw in the fact that I believe they sent the Hound down with the successfully captured wight…guess who else is in the capital? The Mountain! Cersei may very well propose a trial by combat to decide matters, so we could get brother vs. (undead) brother! With the runtime of a feature film, I’m anticipating a magnificent and shocking end to an epic season.

“Eastwatch” Review

So my prediction didn’t quite come true, huh? Turns out Jaime is alive and well after last week’s battle, with Bronn miraculously rescuing the fully-armored knight from the river. I’m not upset that Jaime survived (since I still believe he will ultimately kill Cersei), but the show has to avoid getting too reckless with the consequences of war. Game of Thrones has never looked for convenient ways to save characters from danger, unlike the Hobbit films. They have long proven that anyone can die; they did kill off Randyll and Dickon Tarly in this episode, but those two were never going to play an integral part in the overall story. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but given the evidence, you can forgive me for thinking they were actually going to kill Jaime. I will never apologize for proposing an original opinion that doesn’t blindly line up with the general consensus (hence the creation of this blog). Anyway, let’s move on to the meat of the episode.

Perhaps we should start with Tyrion’s plan to bring evidence of the army of the dead before Cersei. While I agree that providing visible proof makes sense on a strategic level, it still sounds like an incredibly dangerous plan that may not even come to fruition. How in the world are Jon and his band of brothers planning to capture one soldier that is most likely surrounded by several thousand others (as one reviewer noted, it’s turned into a Saving Private Ryan situation)? Even if they do manage to bring it back to King’s Landing, there’s no guarantee Cersei would simply drop her schemes and join their fight. The conflict seems manufactured to move the story along quickly, but I’ll wait to see what happens with the “Magnificent Seven” first before passing further judgment.

But what I really enjoyed about this episode lies with two sources. First, I was absolutely thrilled about Gendry’s reintroduction (and Davos delivering the line “thought you might still be rowing”). He was always a great side characters whose story never received a proper conclusion, so it felt right to bring him back now and pair him with fellow “bastard” Jon Snow. You could tell he was itching to fight with his newly-crafted hammer (his father’s weapon of choice). In truth, the show needs more people like Gendry around: ones who understand the dire threat lurking and choose not to sit around waiting for it.

The second moment that prompted my use of the happy Chris Pratt face was the revelation that Jon is the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, not born out of wedlock as most people believed. This is the most concrete evidence we’ve received to support the R + L = J theory (the only Game of Thrones theory I’m willing to entertain) and it was Gilly of all people who revealed the information! Hannah Murray is a treasure for playing innocent so perfectly. This gives Jon a more legitimate claim to the throne than Daenerys; whether we ever see that come to a head remains unclear, but it sure looks that way. Props to the writers for subtly dropping clues here and there so when they are finally paid off, we all feel like happy Chris Pratt.

The shortcomings mainly concern Cersei’s apparent pregnancy. I don’t believe for a second that she is actually with child and it might just be a ploy to keep Jaime confused, but surely that wasn’t the only method she could’ve used. I just fail to see how this sudden bombshell actually makes sense in context or whether the show will devote the necessary time to explore it. In addition, Sam’s rather quick decision to leave the Citadel doesn’t feel earned. Yes, the various maesters have repeatedly ignored his advice, but Sam always seemed to bounce back and prove himself useful in another fashion. It’s probably a casualty of faster pacing, but it had a jarring effect nonetheless.

Speaking of which, I wanted to end by lending my thoughts on the reviewers who complain that the characters are traveling around too quickly. These people clearly haven’t been paying enough attention to the structure of the show; Benioff and Weiss and have repeatedly stated that all storylines do not follow the same timeline. Jorah Mormont showing up at Dragonstone doesn’t mean he magically transported himself from Oldtown. The show just cuts out the unnecessary travel time so it can spend its time on more important matters. Do you really want to watch the boring journey that Jorah took to get back to Daenerys? No, I don’t think you do. I openly criticize several elements of the show, but this is one I have to defend from the naysayers.

“Eastwatch” is undoubtedly a setup episode, but it’s an effective one. The writers have been deftly moving the pieces around the board for several seasons now to prepare us for presumably an action-packed and epic finale. Just when I thought Littlefinger had ceased to be useful, he comes firing back with a plan to turn the Stark sisters against each other. Just when I thought they had forgotten about the Hound, he teams up with Jon Snow of all people. Game of Thrones keeps finding new ways to bring characters together while maintaining a clear endgame. There are many callbacks and references that require some additional studying, but when you’ve invested in a show for seven seasons and they pay those off, it’s worth every last minute.

“The Spoils of War” Review

Oh, what a time to be alive! We finally get the first A+ Game of Thrones episode (in my eyes) with hardly anything to complain about! Seriously, there’s only one line of dialogue that bothered me even a little, so there’s no need to play the weekly game of cutting tiny details. A lot of credit needs to go to first-time show director Matt Shakman (whose previous work includes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, and Fargo). Oftentimes, directors who come back to work on multiple seasons grow complacent and don’t take as many risks. But Shakman injected some much-needed energy that had been missing since Miguel Sapochnik burst onto the scene with “Hardhome” in Season 5.

Should I start anywhere else but the final battle (dubbed the Field of Fire by other reviewers as a nod to book readers)? Yeah, didn’t think so. As fans, we should consider ourselves lucky to witness such a magnificent spectacle at the halfway point of a season rather than in the traditional penultimate episode. What the show refers to as the Loot Train Attack works as both a technically impressive masterpiece and significant storytelling (check out the incredible behind-the-scenes footage if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE2wcBeyNdk). Whatever semblance of compassion or sanity Daenerys had left might be completely gone now; after repeated warnings from Tyrion and others, she may have finally succumbed to the dark side. This just makes the endgame that much more interesting because now it’s not simply a good vs. evil showdown between her and Cersei.

Let’s talk about that ambiguous ending with Jaime falling into the water. Most people have immediately assumed that the show wouldn’t just kill a main character nonchalantly, but I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Think about it: he’s wearing a full suit of armor (after telling Bronn that the more you own, the more it weighs you down). Not to mention, he has something unique: an equally heavy golden hand. You don’t pull off a huge battle like that and not have someone important die; it’s too convenient and departs from the show’s usual philosophy. Unless Daenerys or Tyrion miraculously find him and decide to use him as a hostage, I think we might have seen the last of the Kingslayer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also said in an interview that the script called for a major character death in that scene). It’s a fitting farewell for Jaime if I’m proven right: morally conflicted, but goes out trying to do something noble.

I’m really digging the “homecoming” theme they have going this season with multiple characters reuniting for the first time in forever. I was highly anticipating Arya’s return to Winterfell and it didn’t disappoint. I admire how they didn’t try to make her conversation with Sansa too emotional because that wouldn’t fit the characters at all; they were never close as children and now they have each gone down completely different paths, so coming together may not be what people expected. Then, if the sister hug wasn’t enough, the Arya and Brienne sparring match held its own with the Loot Train Attack. Even mainstream movies don’t shoot fight scenes like this anymore where I don’t think any stunt doubles were used. And the look on Sansa’s face after witnessing the duel says it all: she may be glad to have her sister back, but she needs to keep her in check.

The only thing I’ll gripe about is the apparent lack of empathy from Daenerys in the cave with Jon Snow. After giving us hope and declaring that she’ll fight for the North, with the music swelling and everything, she bluntly commands him to bend the knee again. Sigh…so close. I’m not really surprised by the line given her personality, but it just provides further reason to not support Daenerys as a ruler who claims to be kindhearted.

In summary, “The Spoils of War” is hands down one of the best episodes of Season 7 if not the entire show and it just happens to also be one of the shortest. Everything is tightly constructed for a narrative that moves along at a brisk pace without having to show us unnecessary sex scenes. When I said a while back that the expectations had been set so high, this is what I was hoping to see on a consistent basis. And next week promises more of the same with an apparent White Walker battle at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Maybe there will be another character death with Tormund who’s guarding the castle? Everyone involved deserves a huge round of applause, from Matt Shakman to the visual effects artists to the stunt coordinators. Do you see now why I absolutely love this show?

P.S. Attached are some of the shots I said I wanted to frame in my house.

“The Queen’s Justice” Review

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this episode. There’s a lot to love, but I can’t ignore the parts that stick out like a sore thumb. I’m clearly in the minority here (some people online have named “The Queen’s Justice” as one of their favorite episodes EVER), but Season 7 has gotten off to a slightly rocky start. As usual, I’ll run through the positives followed by the negatives.

Well, we finally witnessed the meeting of ice and fire. Just seeing Jon Snow and Daenerys clash over ideology was something fans wanted for a long time (and now that we know Jon’s true parentage, the anticipation never stops building). The writing, for the most part, makes excellent use of both characters as well as Tyrion and Davos. Hopefully, we will continue to see their chemistry develop in future episodes.

Strangely, I have not mentioned one of the most important players in Westeros through two posts: Queen Cersei. But she sure made her mark on Sunday, huh? For some reason, I still don’t think Lena Headey gets enough credit for her menacing performance; her tactical takedown of Ellaria and subsequent revenge was morbidly fascinating. As a villain, you definitely don’t want her to succeed, but after seeing Daenerys’ plans go south, maybe Cersei does deserve to be on the Iron Throne. That’s where Game of Thrones ensnares you; they make you root for the bad guys because they often act smarter or are more motivated to win than the good guys.

Lastly, I really want to focus on that ending with Jaime and Olenna Tyrell. From the moment we’re introduced to the Queen of Thorns way back in Season 3, we were all blown away by Diana Rigg’s biting dialogue and straightforward nature. While it’s sad to see a legend depart the show, she could not have left in a more heroic fashion. Just straight up revealing to Jaime the true circumstances behind Joffrey’s death (after she drank the poison, protecting herself from further torture) places the scene in the upper echelon of recent memory. Everything about it screams perfection from the writing to the performances to the score to the cinematography; can you tell I’m satisfied?

However, while the Jon and Daenerys storyline was well-deserved, I did think it ran a little long. I understand that it takes some time for these two rivals to get acquainted, but in their initial conversation, it didn’t seem like Daenerys cared about anything Jon had to say. For example, after Jon first brings up the White Walkers, Daenerys transitions to a speech about having faith in herself and no one else. What? Can you stop being self-righteous for one second and listen to people who have been in Westeros longer than you? Jon’s right, Daenerys would probably make a better ruler than Cersei, but if she continues going down this path…who knows?

We also get another Stark reunion and…it’s not as tear-jerking as the first. I know that Bran has seen some dark and disturbing things in a short amount of time, but could he have been any more dead-eyed in that scene? And did you have to bring up Sansa’s wedding night to prove you’re really the Three-Eyed Raven? You couldn’t have said anything else? She would’ve had the same reaction regardless, but maybe that will carry some significance down the road.

It seems like I play the same game every week, but it’s time for “What Tiny Details Should Be Cut?” I’ll work on the title, but the brief Theon scene can easily be cut because it doesn’t do anything except check in on the aftermath of Euron’s invasion. The Cersei/Jaime incest is completely unnecessary; do we need to be periodically reminded of their creepy relationship? Sure, it shows that Cersei doesn’t care one bit about anyone finding out, but couldn’t that be implied from, I don’t know, all of her other actions?

In the end, the good still outweighs the bad in “The Queen’s Justice.” The Casterly Rock battle was creatively executed with Tyrion’s voiceover acting as an unconventional framing device. The (implied) deaths of Ellaria and Olenna particularly stood out as superior examples of great writing. The ice and fire meeting could’ve been better, but it was paid off well enough. There are tiny nitpicks that hold it back, but they’re more forgivable than, say, the premiere. I’m more curious to see the next episode now that it clearly looks like Daenerys is fighting for the losing side. Again, I’m sorry if I’m not in the same boat as everyone else, but a wise man once said that “you should never believe a thing simply because you want to believe it.”

P.S. Seriously though, why haven’t we seen the Hound again? Or Gendry? Is he still rowing?

Starting this week, I’m going to make some minor changes to the writing schedule to allow for more time. So I will be posting every Tuesday and Friday now (instead of Thursday). Hope you continue reading!

“Stormborn” Review

Ah…much better. After some random guy on Facebook dared to question my love for Game of Thrones last week (true story), I was very satisfied with “Stormborn.” In case you were wondering from my last post what good setup looks like, this is it. There aren’t unnecessarily drawn out scenes with no dialogue that do nothing for the story; instead we are treated to compelling dialogue and the promise of bigger things to come. Nearly the entire episode was a win for me, though I will mention some drawbacks.

Where to begin? I think the storyline that made me the happiest this week was easily Arya (again). She finally finds out that Jon has retaken Winterfell, prompting her to travel back home, something we have all been waiting for since the first season. Speaking of which, she then briefly reunites with her direwolf Nymeria. In a bittersweet moment, Arya realizes that what was once her pet is now a completely different beast. She has to watch Nymeria leave with her pack, acknowledging that she has also changed quite a bit since the two were together. Maisie Williams absolutely crushes it with her facial expressions in this scene and the line “that’s not you” poignantly hearkens back to a conversation she had with her father about being a proper lady. While it may have been hard to let go, it was the necessary progression for her. Powerful moment for something I never thought would come to fruition on the show. Plus, how can you not love Hot Pie making an appearance? He’s one of the few genuinely good people still left in Westeros and his interaction with Arya really shined in this episode for me (I nearly died when he said, “friends don’t pay”).

What also stood out from “Stormborn” was the Sam and Jorah Mormont stuff. We’ve been holding our breath wondering what will happen with Dany’s closest adviser, and just when all hope seemed lost, Sam stepped up! Amidst the disgusting greyscale removal scene (props to the makeup department), we get a tender moment between the two unlikely companions. Sam realizes that one of his father figures, Lord Commander Mormont, is also the father of Ser Jorah. So he vows to do all he can (even though he has no experience whatsoever), if only because there’s still a chance for Jorah to reunite with his family? The subsequent transition from the greyscale to the pie was brilliant editing and worked better than last week’s vomit montage in my opinion.

You can probably guess that I liked most of the other storylines as well, so I’ll just give a quick rundown of it all. I totally called Melisandre coming to Dragonstone; I just wish that had happened in the last episode. It was refreshing to see so many powerful women planning for battle (while Tyrion offers his usual sage advice). The conversation between Lady Olenna and Daenerys was expertly written and may foreshadow the latter’s decision-making after what transpires at the end of the episode. The revelation that Qyburn has secretly built weapons to combat the dragons is a quietly important detail that substantially improves Cersei’s position in the oncoming war. Of course, the final battle at sea between Euron and Yara’s fleets was incredible. I found the aesthetic of the fire sparks surrounding the characters to be oddly pleasing. As if the episode didn’t contain enough jaw-dropping moments, Theon momentarily converting back to Reek after witnessing the carnage carries far bigger implications than most everything else. Can we just give Alfie Allen all the accolades?

However, let’s not celebrate just yet. I thought the Grey Worm and Missandei scene could’ve been drastically reduced to save time. While I admired the story he tells about having no weakness until meeting herm, I think that could easily end with them embracing in a kiss. We don’t need to see, ahem, what comes after. Listen, Nathalie Emmanuel is one of the most attractive women on Earth, but I was secretly hoping that HBO had learned to cut down on the nudity. Oh well.

In addition, the scene with Jon Snow and Littlefinger feels completely unnecessary. It seems like another retread of the showrunners telling us, “Hey, look at Littlefinger being creepy again, except with another character this time!” Now with Jon gone, he has even more motivation to meddle with Sansa, but I already got that from their scene last week. Finally, it seems like I will have a small gripe each week, but why did you recast Dickon Tarly? I might be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever going to play a huge part on this show (maybe only if his dad dies), so you could’ve saved, I don’t know, ten seconds of Jaime messing up his name? I make jokes, but there are ways this episode could’ve been trimmed down to fix the slightly horrendous editing of the sea battle. I understand that in a show of this magnitude, it’s hard to shoot using longer takes, but it would help a little if we didn’t have several hundred images rapidly flashing past us on the screen.

Overall, I thought “Stormborn” was a massive improvement over the first episode and really showcased why we love Game of Thrones. Yes, the action will always be exciting, but it’s the small moments that ground the show in reality. When characters make decisions that feel earned because the writers have been setting them up for years, everyone goes home happy. I can’t wait for next week and the epic confrontation between Daenerys and Jon Snow as well as a host of other storylines that have now been properly set up.

“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.