Game of Thrones Recap “Dragonstone”: The Map Rooms Mean War

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Games of Thrones is back — and so is this blog, at least for now, despite a taxing year for yours truly with far too much illness and stress.

Given that I still feel like I’m still recovering from 2016, blog output may be reduced this season. I’ll see how it goes. I may not write recaps or if I do, they will likely be significantly briefer (or less precise). Although I’m not good at recapping, I do like writing about what I enjoyed in the episodes and I definitely want to hear about what you like, so I may write brief recaps with links to other recaps, just so there is a space for threads about the latest episode.

When major newspapers write recaps, they don’t do so live. HBO sends them advance copies of the episodes and TV critics write the recaps well in advance of the air date. TV critics also have time to revise their recaps. When bloggers write recaps, we stay up half the night. But, despite promising myself I would quit, my fingers itched as I watched the show.

But, enough of that blah, blah, blah…. without further ado, here’s the recap from a fantastic season opener…

The Cold Open: The North Remembers and Winter Comes for House Frey

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Arya’s time with the Faceless Men is coming in handy. © HBO, Helen Sloan.

Tonight’s episode (S7,E1 Dragonstone) had a “cold open” – the opening credits rolled after the first scene — and it was a brilliant choice. Arya stole the show tonight by impersonating Walder Frey and inducing his sons and supporters to drink poisoned wine.

After killing Walder Frey last season, it seems she stole his face and wore it to fool the Frey men into attending a banquet where they woudl meet their maker.

Arya’s heart isn’t completely gone, however. She manages to save Walder’s wife by invoking the curmudgeon’s stinginess to stop the girl from having any wine: “Not you… I’m not wasting good wine on a damn woman.”

With one deft stroke, the smallest wolf cut down all of House Frey’s sheep – and eliminated one of Cersei’s key loyalists. Perhaps, the only loyalist Cersei has left…

 

Later on, Arya leaves House Frey and begins her journey south to Kings Landing. It’s on this route that she encounters some Lannister soldiers. They offer her food, don’t rape her, and treat her kindly. Will she repay their kindness by killing them? One of the party of soldiers is mega pop star Ed Sheeran, which sends the Internet into a tizzy, with some fans claiming he broke their suspension of disbelief.

Being old and incredibly unhip, I had no idea who this guy was. (He had the #2 record after Adele last year I think it was.) But I certainly do know who Adele is and I gotta to tell you that if she had shown up as Sansa’s handmaiden, that might have broken the spell a bit for me. So I can see why people didn’t like Sheeran’s cameo…

The Wall/North of the Wall

Fittingly the “cold” open is followed by a vision of the Night King’s massive army of the dead, which includes many giants. Bran/Three Eyed Raven sees this vision as he arrives at Castle Black with Meera Reed.

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Bran’s vision of the Army of the Dead. © HBO.

Bran convinces Dolorous Edd, acting Night’s Watch commander, to let him through the castle gates by recounting stories information about Edd at Hardhome, conveniently provided by Bran’s second sight.

And, then comes one of my favorite moments of tonight’s episode. Little Lyanna Mormont gives one of the Northern lords a dressing down when he suggests that women shouldn’t “hold a spear.” She wields her power and dictates that all the women and girls on Bear Island will learn to fight – and she doesn’t need his permission to make this so.

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Lyanna Mormont rocks!

Lyanna Mormont always speaks first. She feels free to interrupt. And nobody puts her in the corner. Given that even today, women are interrupted more than men,  Lyanna Mormont makes me want to say, “FINALLY!!!” How refreshing to see a woman (or girl) like this on screen.

Jon thinks that the Army of the Dead will march on one of the castle’s closest to Hardhome. Given Jon’s lack of men and what we saw happen to Castle Black when a giant attacked its Northern gate,  all of those giants in the Night King’s army could spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

In an extremely interesting and public exchange between Sansa and Jon, Jon’s idealism comes to the fore. Sansa, in what is a very traditional, historically representative way, says that the new men who supported Jon should get the castles of the men who died fighting for Ramsay. Jon argues that he should leave the castles with men who were loyal to the north for hundreds of years. Who is right? Time will tell. But, if Jon is wrong, the stakes are very high indeed. Having loyal families man the castles is vital if they hope to stop the Night King.

Sansa, as the only known legitimate heir to the North, resents not having a voice—and has no problem standing up to Jon in front of his men. The problem is that Sansa, who has learned a lot about politics from hard lessons at the hand of Cersei and Littlefinger, wants Jon to heed her counsel. But, by acting out publicly, Sansa undercuts Jon’s authority. She makes both of them vulnerable to those who would leverage their lack of solidarity. [Enter: Littlefinger.]

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Sansa with Littlefinger © HBO, Helen Sloan.

Cersei’s Map

Cersei and Jaime stand on a beautiful map of Westeros in an outdoor courtyard. She’s furious in that glacial way of hers. Tyrion is now providing counsel to their enemy Dany, who is about to make landfall somewhere on Westeros. And, as Cersei reminds Jaime, if he hadn’t helped Tyrion escape from her clutches, he would have been executed by now. Cersei wants Jaime to tell her how Tyrion would think and where Dany would arrive. Because now they are truly in trouble — one of the best minds in Westeros — their own little brother, is now set on their destruction.

In light of the Frey’s death, they are out of allies. The Lannister allegiance with the Tyrells – who supplied the Lannister armies with food – is over. Cersei literally blew that up last season.

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This portrait of Elizabeth I shows the Spanish Armada in the background on the left.

Jaime and Cersei know Daenerys is sailing towards Westeros with her Ironborn “Armada.” And, note that’s Cersei’s word, confirming the parallel we saw last season when Daenerys met Yara (which evoked Elizabeth I meeting Grace O’Malley.) An Armada, incidentally, means a large fleet of warships. It isn’t necessarily a Spanish fleet, although that’s the most famous usage of the term – that is, the Spanish Armada that threatened England during Elizabeth I’s reign.

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Grace OMalley, the Irish pirate queen, famously had an audience with Elizabeth I. Dany’s introduction to Yara was reminiscent of this meeting.

To avoid an otherwise near-certain defeat and death from Dany’s armies, Cersei has struck a deal of her own: she has invited Euron to King’s Landing to try to gain his support. It’s a great match. Their interests are aligned: they each want one of the Yara/Dany pair dead. The only catch? Euron wants Cersei’s hand in marriage.

Cersei rejects his hand. Ironically, she says this is because Euron isn’t trustworthy: he killed his own brother.

The Hound

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The Hound buries the family who died at his hand. © HBO, image: Helen Sloan.

The Hound’s journey seems to be a quest for redemption – and his torment over his past misdeeds comes back to life. At the end of Season 6, the Hound’s hippie community was annihilated. At the start of Season 7, the Hound is now traveling with Beric Dondarrion, the red priest Thoros of Myr, and the Brotherhood Without Banners. They appear to be on a divine quest to travel north to the Wall.

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Not only does the Hound hate fire, he has a history with the fire-worshiping Brotherhood Without Banners. In Season 3, the brotherhood forced the Hound to participate in a trial by combat. The Hound triumphed, killing Beric, but then Thoros of Myr brought him back to life. © HBO.

In what was one of the best moments in this episode – or at least one that appeals to my peasant-loving “inner socialist” – this episode reveals the fate of the farmer the Hound robbed. Back when the Hound was taking Arya to her mother for ransom, he stole the silver the farmer who hosted them had saved. When Arya confronted the Hound, he rationalized his crime by saying the farmer never would have survived the winter anyway.

Now, the Hound is confronted by the farmer’s horrible fate. With no savings, the farmer and his daughter starved. To spare his child a gruesome end, the farmer stabbed his child to death and then committed suicide.

The Hound tries to atone by burying the farmer and his daughter. The Hound also seems to be having a religious awakening – and even looks into the flames to have a vision of the future. The flames reveal some important information. The Army of the Dead appear to be marching towards a castle by the sea. There are some important details in this vision, but then, as we know, visions can be wrong (or wrongly interpreted).

Daenerys Goes Home

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Dany at Dragonstone. © HBO, image: Helen Sloan.

Daenerys has been a Henry VII-esque refugee on the run for most of her life. Sheltering overseas in the homes of ambitious merchants, Dany’s precarious existence could have ended with the snap of Robert Baratheon’s fingers — and almost was.

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Henry VII lived his youth on the run in France until he overthrew Richard III at Bosworth Field.

Dany is a sharp reminder of how little kings would tolerate rival claimants (and that’s because rivals often meant war).

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Stannis Baratheon’s map room is where he plotted his strategy for war. This is the room Dany entered at the end of episode 1. © HBO.

The last we see of Dany, she has entered Stannis old war room, where the huge map of Westeros was molded onto the table – and uttered fateful words: “Shall we begin.” War room. Begin what? What do you begin in a war room? We know already. We’ve always known, but think what this means for poor civilians and innocents. Surely, we don’t think Dany’s right to be on the throne is worth the deaths of thousands?

Finally, after years without a true family or home, Dany has returned to Dragonstone – and it would be momentous (or joyous) if it didn’t signal the arrival of war in Westeros.

***

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, the main reason I write recaps is because it gives people an opportunity to comment on what they think about the episode. So what do you think…

  • I can’t help but think that Cersei and Dany are foils for each other — and this episode really emphasized their differences by putting them both in map rooms. Yet Cersei has no armies and Dany is flush with them. Dany has wise councilors and Cersei is isolated. Is it obvious Cersei will lose? Is this a foregone conclusion?
  • Will Arya succeed in killing Cersei? Will she kill the Lannister soldiers or convert them?
  • Where will the Night King attack? Is Jon making the right choice?

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

7 Comments

  • Reply July 17, 2017

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    Firstly, I am sorry to learn you have been ill, Jaime. I had a problem with coeliac disease last September (though it wasn’t diagnosed for another two and a half to three months. If I keep to the right diet I should be okay but I can have some sympathy. Your health and your day time job are important so you must give them priority.

    The scenes where we learn what became of the farmer and his daughter and the one where Arya meets the youngish Lannister soldiers who tell her of their disenchantment with their experiences in Kings Landing give some indication of what war is like for the poor folk underneath (what GRRM calls the “small folk”).

    • Reply July 17, 2017

      Jamie Adair

      Yes, exactly, this is why I liked the scene with the Hound — although I cringed and really felt for him when he learned what became of the family he robbed.
      The small folk are one of my favorite parts of ASOIAF/GOT. Even though you could argue Jeyne Poole isn’t technically smallfolk given that her dad was Winterfell’s steward, she certainly becomes smallfolk after his death. Even though I cringed at what happened to her in the books, I appreciated how it revealed the precarious nature of women’s security in the Middle Ages — especially during times of war.

      Also, thanks Watcher for your kind words. I’m sorry I still haven’t your email yet; It was very kind. I’m also sorry to hear about your diagnosis.

    • Reply July 17, 2017

      Jun

      Sorry to hear about your illness (both of you). Watcher, I was recently involved in some pharmaceutical work about the treatment for celiac disease. If you like, please email me at junyanpharmd at gmail and I’ll see if I can link you to any useful information.

      In the Nerdette Podcast, Peter Sagal speculated that Arya will probably murder Ed Sheeran (or his comrade) and steal his identity to get into King’s Landing in the next episode.

      http://www.npr.org/podcasts/475256456/nerdette-recaps-game-of-thrones-with-peter-sagal

      • Reply July 17, 2017

        Jamie Adair

        Oh that’s very cool. It makes sense. I was hoping she would spare them or convert them to her cause.

  • Reply July 18, 2017

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    Some people have said that because she shared food with them, Arya will spare the soldiers – after all Fake Walder Frey did mention guest rites (rights) before dispatching the Frey males. With coeliac disease (gluten intolerance) it’s mainly a question keeping off gluten – I lost some weight at the time of diagnosis and some of it has crept back on (maybe too many gluten free pizzas!)

    I’m someone who is able to divorce show and books in my mind and I realise they are not telling exactly the same story now but I wish the show had a little more time to dwell on the suffering of the small folk and I was also sorry

    BOOK SPOILER
    BOOK SPOILER

    that the show changed Ellaria into a vengeful and hateful harpy. She was an example of somebody who had suffered (maybe not physically but she had lost Oberyn who I understood to be the love of her life) and yet she kept her kindness. She expressly didn’t want Tommen and Myrcella harmed in the books. But there is this modern trend (and it’s not just GoT) that a strong female character must be ‘badass’. Well they allowed Marjery – and to a certain extent Lady Olenna – to retain their feminity and still be strong characters. Sorry I’ve gone off topic rather.

    • Reply July 19, 2017

      Yoel Arnon

      Indeed I think there are strong indications that Ayra initially though about killing the soldiers, and for that reason she refused to share their food. Only when Ed told her about his mother, and how she told him that when you are nice to strangers they will be nice to you, we see Ayra soften and tasting the rabbit. This is the exact moment when she changes her mind.
      We can see an echo of this custom in “the count of Monte Christo”. In chapter 70, the count is invited to a ball at the house of his rival Albert de Morcerf, who is now married to Edmond’s old love Mercedes. Mercedes recognizes the count as Edmond right away, and for this moment and on she is doing desperate efforts to make him eat something in her house, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to execute his revenge plans against her husband after eating under his roof. Unfortunately for her, she fails and the count is free to execute his plan.

  • Reply August 1, 2017

    Apocalyptic queen

    Given the strong Henry VII-Dany and Richard III-Cersei parallels, I wonder if this gives us an indication as to where this story is ultimately headed.

    I wonder given the absence of the Valonqar from the Maggy prophecy in season 5 and the historical parallels, could Dany and Cersei meet each other on the field of battle, a la Bosworth?

    The parallels are there – Henry VII flew the flag of a red dragon into open battle as will Daenerys (whose name partially means Chief or Leader in old Welsh).

    There might also be some foreshadowing given Robert’s warnings of meeting the Dothraki in open combat and Game of Thrones’ taste for retributive justice – this could serve as Trident 2.0 (with a reversal in outcomes), as we are (*Spoiler warning*) according to rumours, about to get Field of Fire 2.0.

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