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Game of Thrones - Dragonstone - Review

Game of Thrones returned this week with “Dragonstone.” Written by the creative team of David Benioff and DB Weiss, the episode was directed by Jeremy Podeswa. After a brief previously on to catch us up on where we left off, the show broke with tradition and instead of going right to the credits, we go to the Twins instead. First we are reminded of how all of our characters have come into their own in the last season, and this episode sets us up to see what they will do with what they have gained.

Going right to the Twins, it seemed that perhaps we were getting a flashback scene to the Red Wedding – or at least its aftermath because we all saw Walder Frey (David Bradley) die in the last episode, right? It’s an utterly beautiful scene as Arya (Maisie Williams) exacts revenge for her mother and brother and even the sister-in-law that she never met and the baby who was never born. Arya poisons all the Freys who she’s called together for the feast, but she doesn’t let poor Kitty Frey (Lucy Hayes) drink.

As Frey, Arya tells them they never should have left one wolf alive because then the sheep would never be safe – and that’s the perfect analogy of House Stark, the wolf, and Frey, who was always a traitor – a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Once she pulls off her mask, she is utterly calm and serene. Has she spared Kitty because she pitied her or just to deliver her message? “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them Winter came for House Frey.” Will Winter be Arya’s new assassin’s name? I loved her slow saunter out of the banqueting hall and the smile that played across her face.

After the credits, we find ourselves in the North, beyond the wall, but the Army of the Dead are coming. I have questions – was that Wun-Wun (Ian Whyte)? He’s listed in the credits – but only as a Giant Wight, but he’s missing the eye that Wun-Wun had shot – but surely, Jon (Kit Harrington) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) would have made sure he was burned? Let’s hope it is not…

We shift to Bran (Isaac Hampstead Wright) who is wragging(?). Meera (Ellie Kendrick) – bless her sturdy legs! – has dragged him all the way to the wall. And yeah for Eddison (Ben Crompton) who I’ve really missed! She announces who she and Bran are, and it’s lucky it is Eddison. He’s skeptical, but he’s also well acquainted with how surprising the Starks can be. For his own part, Bran has really embraced his new role as the Three-Eyed Raven and tells Eddison, exactly who Eddison is, and that the Night King is coming for them all. Eddison welcomes them in.

In Winterfell, Jon is admonishing all the Lords to search for Dragonglass – it’s now more valuable than gold! He also orders that everyone between the ages of 10 and 60 will begin drilling to be a soldier. Jon makes it clear he means women as well as men – that can’t win against the North with only half the population fighting. Does anyone NOT adore Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey)? I loved her jumping up and declaring she wasn’t planning on knitting by the fire while someone else defends her! She tells the older Lords off – I don’t need your permission to defend the North! I loved Brienne’s (Gwendoline Christie) quiet surprise and approval of Jon’s declaration and her outright smile at Lyanna’s taking the Lords to task.

Jon next moves to the problem of the empty castles and the fact that the Wall has been properly manned for years. He says he is not the King of the Freefolk, but he asks for their help. Tormund is immediately on board – and really enjoying being the Knight’s watch now as he agrees to go to East Watch By the Sea – the closest castle to Hardhome, the last place the Night King was seen.

Last Hearth and Karholt and the last two castles in their way if they breach the wall. Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart) immediately jumps up and points out that the castles should be torn down because the Umbers and Karstarks fought for the Boltons. Sansa (Sophie Turner) weighs in, saying the castles have committed no crimes. Jon seems a little taken aback when she jumps in. Sansa suggests that they should simply give the castles to new families who supported them against Ramsey. But Jon maintains that the Umbers and Karstarks were loyal for generations, but Sansa insists that they broke faith. Jon refuses to strip the families of their ancestral homes because of the actions of a few reckless sons. Sansa insists that there should be punishment for treason and reward for loyalty. It’s not a conversation the two should be having in public. Jon points out that the punishment for treason is death – met by both Umber and Karstark on the battlefield. Sansa continues to insist that Jon give the castles to those who fought for him. Baelish (Aiden Gillen) looks on from where he’s lounging against the wall, and smiles at how Sansa has grown.

Jon, however, brings up his time as Commander of the Watch and how he had to execute men who betrayed him. He also takes us right back to the first episode, when Ned told him, the man who passes the sentence must swing the ax. They are words he’s tried to live by. He tells the room that he will not punish a son for his father’s sins, and he refuses to take ancestral homes away from families and his decision is final.

He calls Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) and Alys Karstark (Megan Parkinson) before him and has them swear loyalty to House Stark and to serve as their bannerman, coming whenever called. Jon goes on to tell the room that “Yesterday’s wars don’t matter anymore. The North needs to band together. All the living North.” Sansa looks pensive. She’s not ready to give up her revenge just yet, perhaps.

Outside, Jon calls Sansa on questioning him in front of the other Lords and Ladies – it undermines his authority – and he’s not wrong. She throws Joffrey in his face, saying he wouldn’t let others question his decisions either. It’s a nice little sibling banter because when he asks if she really thinks he’s like Joffrey, she immediately says he’s as far from Joffrey as it’s possible to be. She then tells him that he’s good at ruling. She tells him that they really respect him, but… and Jon starts laughing. It’s another nice family moment as he once again invokes Ned’s words: “what did father say? Everything before but is bullshit.” Sansa tells Jon to stop trying to protect her, and to be smarter than Rob and their father. He asks her how to be smarter – listen to her? And she says, “would that be so terrible?” If Jon is going to let women fight, he’s got to let them have a say too.

A raven arrives from King’s Landing, announcing that Cersei (Lena Headey) is now Queen and she wants them to come to King’s Landing and swear loyalty to her. Sansa points out that he’s been so consumed with the enemy to the North that he’s forgotten about the one to the south. But Jon points out that he’s seen the Night King – he knows which is the greater danger – and there’s a thousand miles between them and King’s Landing. Sansa points out that while Jon may be the military man, she knows Cersei – and she’ll never give up, she’s managed to kill everyone who’s every crossed her. Sansa admits that she’s learned a great deal from Cersei.

The action shifts to King’s Landing. Cersei is having the world painted on her floor. She tells Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) that the moment they’ve been waiting for their entire lives is now here. She also tells him that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has been named Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) hand. But Jaime doesn’t see any point in forging a dynasty when they have no children left. What’s it all for? He tells her that he’s not angry with her nor is he afraid of her. Jaime surmises Daenerys will land at Dragonstone. Cersei puts Jaime in charge of the army, and he insists that she doesn’t understand just how much danger they’re in.

Jaime wants to talk about Tommen, but Cersei insists that they are the only ones who matter now. Jaime insists that they need allies. Cersei insists that she listened to their father for 40 years – she’s not stupid. She has allies on the way: Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek). Jaime doesn’t see how Euron is any better than the Freys were. They both broke their promises and murdered their former friends when it suited them. Cersei insists that’s what everyone does. Jaime still hasn’t stooped to her level of seeing the world. He doesn’t like the Ironborn – they are bitter, angry little people! Cersei is using herself as bait – she tells Jaime that Euron is coming for a Queen. Let’s not forget, his original plan was to marry Daenerys – but his treasonous family members beat him to it.

Euron is horribly common – and Asbaek is fabulous. I loved the Mountain (Hafbor Julius Bjornsson) preventing Euron from approaching Cersei. Euron tries to ingratiate himself with Jaime but admiring the way he fought on the Iron Islands, Jaime is simply shocked and disgusted that Euron enjoyed watching his own kin killed. Euron proposes to Cersei with “a thousand ships and two good hands.” A gasp worthy dig at Jaime.

Cersei declines, citing Jaime’s very own reasons – he’s not trustworthy. He’s broken promises with allies and murdered them at the nearest opportunity. He even killed his own brother. Euron tells her it felt wonderful – she should try it! Does he mean Jaime or Tyrion??? He agrees that she needs proof of his honesty. He promises to return to King’s Landing with a priceless gift – a sure way to win his heart. And he has to mean Tyrion’s head!

In Oldtown, we see that Sam’s (John Bradley) life has not improved. He’s been assigned to disgusting menial tasks, leaving him only a little time in the evenings to hunt through the library for information that might help in the war against the Night King. He needs to get access to the restricted area books. He has gained access to the Archmaester (Jim Broadbent), at least as an assistant for autopsies.

He’s asked before to have access to the restricted area, but that area is only for Maesters – and Sam isn’t one yet – not a very strong proposition. Sam insists that he’s seen the White Walkers, and he was sent there to learn how to defeat them. Sam points out that everyone he’s talked to in the Citadel doubts that they even exist. The Archmaester points out that doubting is their job. The Archmaester agrees that the tales of the long night can’t be complete fabrications – too many similarities from unconnected sources – sources in the restricted area of course. But he does prove that he’s a good scholar. Good scholars should question and verify.

The Archmaester believes Sam. He tells Sam that those in the Citadel are unlike other men. They are the memory of men and without them, men would be little better than dogs. The Archmaester remembers all the times that the Wall has stood and that every winter that ever came has ended. He believes Sam, but he doesn’t believe the amount of danger that they’re in this time.

Sam is finally desperate enough to take matters into his own hands and steals the keys to the restricted area, taking a bunch of books back to the home he shares with Gilly (Hannah Murray). Sam is exhausted and Gilly tells him he should sleep. Sam sees that the Targaryeans decorated their weapons with dragonglass without knowing what the first men used it for. Sam discovers that there’s a mountain of dragonglass under Dragonstone – and he remembers that Stannis told him that and that he didn’t think it important at the time, but Jon needs to know.

Back at Winterfell, we are treated to one of my favorite scenes of the entire episode. Yes. I can’t help it. I ship Brienne and Tormund… Brienne is training Pod (Daniel Portman), who is still struggling. Tormund shoots Brienne one of his admiring glances, distracting her enough that Pod actually gets a hit in, which results in her walloping him, and Tormund declaring, “You’re a lucky man.” I love how much he is smitten with her and how she just doesn’t know what to do with that!

Sansa and Baelish watch from the balcony and Baelish comments that he heard that Brienne beat the Hound (Rory McCann) in single combat. I loved how each part of this episode dovetailed into the others – as the Hound is up next. Baelish comments that Brienne is a very impressive woman. Sansa wants to know what Baelish wants. He tells her he wants her to be safe and happy – why isn’t she happy? What does she want that she does not have? He’s clearly prepared to get it for her. I also loved how she utterly cuts him off at the knees and dismisses him: “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”

He leaves when Brienne joins them on the balcony. She wants to know why Baelish is still there – she sees him as a threat. Sansa tells her that without the Vale they would have lost the war. Lord Baelish saved them. Brienne knows he wants something, and Sansa knows exactly what it is – her.

We cut to Arya riding through the countryside – on a gorgeous horse, I might add. She comes across a group of soldiers and is attracted by them singing – and we get the cameo I think a lot of people have been waiting for. Ed Sheeran plays a Lannister soldier – singing a new song that she wouldn’t have heard before. They invite her to share their meagre dinner. And it’s a nice chance to step back from the nobilities for a moment and see what life in the trenches is like.

She tells them she is headed for King’s Landing, and the soldiers all decry what a horrible place King’s Landing is. Arya looks shocked to be treated so well by a group of strangers. She suggests that they must have had some adventures, and they admit that when they were at home, they couldn’t wait to get away, and now all they want to do is go home again. Sounds an awful lot like the other Starks – and certainly Arya was eager to get away, but we know she’s not ready to go home. When one of the soldiers asks her what she’s going to King’s Landing for, Arya tells them the truth, “I’m going to kill the Queen.” There’s a pregnant pause before they all start laughing – but it’s a pretty tense moment!

And then we join the Brotherhood without Banners as they come upon the same house where the Hound had robbed the farmer and his daughter (“Breaker of Chains”). He doesn’t want to go in, and there’s some great banter between the Hound and Thoros (Paul Kaye) as Thoros accuses the Hound of being afraid and the Hound tells Thoros he’s not fooling anyone with that topknot!

They find the bodies of the farmer and his daughter. Beric (Richard Dormer) surmises that they were starving and the farmer killed them both rather than let his little girl starve to death. The Hound wants to know why the Lord of Light keeps bringing Beric back. The Hound always thought he was dull, but he doesn’t hate him! Beric says he doesn’t know why, and the Hound insists if he’s so all-powerful why doesn’t his god just tell him what he wants?

Thoros wants to show the Hound something in the flames. It’s really hilarious – and as ironic and the Hound thinks when he says: “It’s my fucking luck I end up with a band of fire worshippers.” Beric suggests it’s divine justice, and the Hound insists there’s no such thing as divine justice or Beric would be dead and the little girl would be alive.

Thoros tells the Hound that only the fire can give him answers. The Hound is skeptical, but he keeps looking when Thoros tells him to, and he sees a wall of ice – The Wall. A castle where the wall meets the sea. There’s a mountain that looks like an arrowhead and the dead are marching past – thousands of them. Beric wants to know if he believes now and that they’re there for a reason.

Thoros awakes in the night and goes outside to find the Hound burying the dead. He’s putting his own ghosts to bed. Thoros thinks he knew them, but the Hound insists not really. And perhaps, he’s only now got an appreciation for what the common folk go through. Thoros helps him fill the hole in. The Hound tries to say the proper words over the graves, but settles for telling them that they deserved better.

In the final scene with Sam, we see him wheeling a cart down a hallway, collecting bowls. At first, I thought it was a prison, but it’s clearly a hospital – or a “leper colony.” As he goes to collect a bowl – and he’s wearing protective gloves and clothing – an arm shoots out that is clearly infected with greyscale. A voice – and I knew instantly that it was Jorah (Iain Glenn) – asks “Has she come yet? The Dragon Queen, Daenerys Stormborn.”

And then we join Daenerys and her army as they arrive in Dragonstone. This is a beautiful sequence as the music crescendos, and the dragons circle the keep. Daenerys makes landfall and reverently places her hand on the sands of her home. The Keep itself is a terrific new set. I love the causeway up to it. Once again the production team does a wonderful job blending actual locations with CGI.

Daenerys leads the others through the Keep. I loved Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) holding Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) back from following too closely, giving Daenerys the privacy she needed.

Daenerys walks through the throne room, followed only by Tyrion to the war room. She runs her hand down the table that is a map of the seven kingdoms – a nice mirror to the map that Cersei is painting in her own image. When Daenerys gets to the head of the table she speaks the only words in the entire scene: “Shall we begin.” And it does feel like the show is finally ready to begin the real and final battle for the Iron Throne.

What did you think of the episode? Was it all that you’d hoped for? What are your hopes for the season? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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