Helen Sloan/HBO
TV Show
Drama ,
S7 E1
July 16, 2017 at 09:59 PM EDT

Riverlands: Speaking of letting people starve, here we come to a wholly unexpected and hauntingly filmed sequence with The Hound that’s probably my favorite part in the premiere. Who predicted the Game of Thrones season 7 opener would have a major callback to the poor farmer from season 4? Exactly nobody. We don’t know what happened to Gendry but we totally get closure on that guy! A refresher: The Hound and Arya were once helped by a kind man and his daughter, and The Hound repaid this generosity by striking him and stealing his money, declaring that the farmer is weak and winter is coming and that they would just starve anyway. Arya really hated The Hound for this.

So when The Hound finishes bald-shaming Thoros and they come upon this familiar farmhouse, his first instinct is to bolt, noting the occupants don’t want their company. But the farmer and his daughter are long dead, having killed themselves to avoid starving. Is their fate the Hound’s fault? He sure didn’t help. It’s impossible to know if this outcome would have happened anyway.

This leads to an intriguing debate with six-time resurrection champ Beric Dondarrion, who in addition to wearing Euron’s eye patch has totally out-messiah’d Jon Snow. The Hound is angered by the fact of Beric because he’s seemingly walking proof that a higher power exists. But if that’s true, as the timeless and impossible question goes, why does he/she allow such horrible things happen to good people? The Hound wants to know why Beric has been saved (and, I suspect, why he’s been spared so far as well). The Hound has come a long way from the man we met in season 4. The Brotherhood reassured him last season that it’s not too late for him to do more good than the harm he’s caused. He sees those bodies in the corner and wonders if that could possibly be true.

Suddenly I want a scene between The Hound and Jaime Lannister — two men who are nothing alike but have been on a rather similar moral journey over the course of this show. Also: By raising the question of Beric’s purpose so pointedly, the scene strongly suggests that this minor character — whose importance in the series has never been clear — has something crucial to do before the show is over.

Dragonstone: One of the cool elements of this episode is how many different scene tones we get. There’s the mass murder surprise of the cold open. Strategy sessions. One-on-one intimate chats. And here is something entirely different: an almost wordless visual feast. Back in season 2 when Stannis Baratheon resided in Dragonstone, the setting was mainly staged with a distant exterior shot CG-shot and the carved wood table map room. Here we see GoT’s season 7 budget on full display, with a gorgeous sequence of Daenerys landing her landing party on the shore and ascending the stone stairs to repo her birthright.

The lingering of this sequence drives home, without dialogue, how momentous this is for her character. From the very first time we met Dany, she’s wanted to return home. (Also, what other drama would have its top-billed star, Peter Dinklage, spend the premiere just silently observing?) I do wonder why nobody has taken up residence here after Stannis left. This is some high-class beach-front property when most Westeros residents live in shacks; one would think somebody would at least rent it out on Airbnb (Airdnd?).

We also get a preview of Dany’s rad new throne room full of dark dragon-scale detail. She peers at the Westeros table map, just like Cersei looking her her floor map earlier, and lowers the boom: “Shall we begin?”

Oh, we so shall! Already this season we have significant characters meeting on screen for the first time (Euron and Cersei; Bran and Dolorous Edd; Jorah and Sam). There were a few absences, too, but they’ll be around next week (like Theon and Yara Greyjoy, along with Ellaria Sand). We promised before that season 7 has a faster pace than previous years. We didn’t feel that so much in this episode, but strap yourselves in for the weeks to come.

Be sure to check out the rest of our GoT premiere coverage: Maisie Williams on that cold open, Pilou Asbæk on Euron’s return, and myself and Darren Franich have our Game of Thrones Weekly podcast (subscribe and listen to the latest episode on the first page).

( 5 of 5 )

HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novels.
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