And who were you, the proud Lord said…
Well, it might be a lovely summery week outside, but winter is definitely here. Over 12 months since it last graced our screens, it finally returns. Dragons, Ice Demons, death by poison and gratuitous Ed Sheeran cameos galore. Game of Thrones is back.
So, to re-cap, Cersei (Lena Heady) and Jon (Kit Harrington) finished up last Season with an added crown above their hairline. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally stopped sodding about in Essos and hopped on a Greyjoy fleet on its way back to the Seven Kingdoms. The Hound (Rory McCann) turned out to have miraculously survived his duel with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) after all and Arya (Maisie Williams)? Well, she finally became the bad-ass dangerous assassin we’d been promised from the start, taking beautiful revenge on old Walder Frey (the First Doctor himself, David Bradley).
In short, Season 6 was a fine return to form after a rather disappointing (and slightly controversial) Season 5, showing us that the very talented team behind the scenes could still keep Game of Thrones as gripping as it always has been even with no further book content to go off (I think it’s pretty fair to say we’re never getting The Winds of Winter now). And thus, with only 2 shortened Seasons to go, we now start to wonder if they can actually pull off the impossible – come up with a half decent ending.
Well, the penultimate Season delivers right from the off, with an opening episode that, whilst not overly action packed, set things up nicely for what is to come.
We begin with Arya, who, in a scene so unbelievably satisfying, finally got full revenge for what happened at the Red Wedding. Not content with just offing old Walder, she also poisons his entire family. After telling them how “brave” they were for killing a pregnant woman, a defenceless mother, and their apparent King. Arya Stark is out for blood, and it really does seem that Cersei Lannister’s days are numbered.
Or maybe not. In a scene that might not have seemed that important at first, Arya stumbles across some Lannister soldiers, hanging out in the Riverlands and just trying to make the best of a bad situation (hey, at least they had a private Ed Sheeran concert to keep them entertained – and didn’t have to acquire tickets off a shady online source). These guys aren’t war hungry, rapists or thieves. They’re just young men, far from home, who share their food with her and make her welcome. Whilst it does seem a bit out of place in the world of Game of Thrones, this was a nice little scene for Arya. A scene to remind her that there is more to the world than just greed and evil, and that not everyone who wears Lannister red is necessarily a bad person.
Talking of shades of grey, it’s also extremely nice to see how far the Hound has come since we first met him. Hanging out with the Brotherhood Without Banners because he has nowhere else to go, the Hound is a man who knows he’s lived a less than savoury existence, and wants to do something about it. Way back in Season 4, he robbed the occupants of a little farm blind – and now he returns to that same farm, to find both occupants died of starvation. It was a fate he predicted for them back then, but it doesn’t make it any easier for him to accept.
Meanwhile, both the Hound and the audience continue to be completely weirded out by Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), the walking zombie who comes back even more than Jon Snow. The big question is why? And what, exactly, does this have to do with anything? Oh well, at least he has a pretty awesome flaming sword.
Talking of King Jon, it seems he’s wasted no time asserting his authority up in Winterfell. With the North, the Wildlings and the Vale in his pocket, Jon is firmly fixated with the oncoming White Walkers. He needs all the warriors he can find, and he absolutely cannot throw away big families, and their resources, through holding a grudge. He was right to ignore Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) advice that the Karstarks and Umbers should have their castles stripped and lands taken. Stuff like that creates enemies, and the Starks have enough of them.
Sansa may have some good advice to offer Jon, but she really should avoid questioning him in front of his banner men like that. You can just see Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) loving every second of it. Sansa is clearly not overly chuffed with the way things are going. With Littlefinger spitting poison in her ear, how long is she going to keep on being just the King’s sister? Brienne is right to be weary of him. And it’s going to prove to be an interesting dynamic.
In perhaps the least interesting part of the episode, we also get to catch up with poor Sam (John Bradley), who is finally in a place with more books than he can ever read and is barely allowed near any of them. Instead, it looks like he’s spending his days cleaning up after sick old men and stoney Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), stealing whatever information he can about the White Walkers and the last time they ventured down from the North. Hell, it seems he can’t even get the help of the Archmaester (Jim Broadbent), who’s response to the approaching Winter of Hell amounts to, “meh, crap’s happened before.” Seriously, what’s it going to take for these people?
It seems the person who cares the least about any White Walkers is Cersei, who is now ruling supreme in King’s Landing because of, urm, reasons (I still don’t get how she is Queen now, but just go with it). Unfortunately for Cersei, the Lannisters have pretty much annoyed everyone in the Seven Kingdoms, and have literally no allies to turn to. What they do have is a hell of a lot of people who will happily see them dead, their own brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) amongst them. Cersie’s answer? Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), who it seems it about to step into the shoes of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) as the new Very Evil Bad Guy on the show.
I have to admit – I’m not a massive fan of the show’s depiction of Euron thus far. In the books, he’s extremely intriguing. A one eyed, fiercely intelligent sea captain who has travelled the entire world on his feared ship The Silence. A man who sews shut the mouths of his crew, just to make sure they can’t tell anyone where he’s been or what he’s been doing. And in the show he’s…a sarcastic, attractive wise cracker, who is just So Awfully Evil. So evil, in fact, that he didn’t care his own men were slaughtered by the Lannisters way back when. You know, just in case we missed it.
Ah well, time will tell if he ends up being a bit more impressive. At least we got treated to the incredible sight of his massive fleet. Maybe Cersei isn’t as screwed as she appeared after all.
But nothing compares to the pure delight that was the moment we’d been waiting for since Season 1 – Daenerys is finally back in Westeros. We first saw Dragonstone way back in Season 2, when the show could only dream of the obviously monstrous budget it now currently has to play with. Fair play to the production team for keeping Dragonstone recognisably the same, but showing it to us in all its glory. It seems that little island is going to be very important this Season. The base for Daenerys to plan her invasion – on top of a mountain of dragon glass.
Indeed, Dany. It is time for you to begin.
So, as always, Game of Thrones delivered a belter, setting things up nicely for the rest of the Season and promising some truly spectacular TV whilst doing it.
Winter is finally here. Now let’s enjoy the hell out of it.