Game of Thrones returned last night with an episode that, at first glance, was more akin to a Sandsnake's hiss than a Direwolf's growl.
The response to the episode has certainly been mixed, with some people feeling it didnt showcase enough action, particularly with only 12 episodes to go. In some ways the show is a victim of its own success at this point, Dany coming to Westeros and the impending WhiteWalker attack has only served to increase the anticipation of Fire and Ice finally meeting on the field of combat...
Still in terms of expectations for this episode, I'm not sure the showrunners or cast helped themselves with months of continued hype about the lack of slow episodes and the impending end game.
Last nights episode arguably didn't feel as had been described in terms of the action( of lack of it) and so perhaps the high standards and expectations of the show viewers were not met. After all, there were no battles, and outside of the opening scene, there were no deaths.
What we did get was a lot of positioning, a hell of lot of potential foreshadowing and perhaps most importantly, some real character development.
I must admit on first watch I was perhaps taken in by the showrunners hype and my expectations were off the charts. I admit I'm eager for Greyjoy sea battles, Cersei vs Dany and all manner of potentially epic scenes, such as the Wall maybe coming down.
I'd geared myself up for an opening of Epic proportions relating to Dragonstone, perhaps a flashback of some nature . Instead we got a cold open of Arya Stark killing off the remainder of the Frey dynasty. Initially, my thoughts were that this was a fantastic and cathartic moment that also served a purpose of removing another player from the show, in turn showing House Lannister's dwindling support going into Season 7.At the same time, it was beginning to feel this scene moved the Arya Stark character closer to the crazy mass murderer end of the revenge scale.
In hindsight, this earlier scene was important as it served as context for when Arya later met Ed Sheeran and his Lannister soldiers, where it was implied that perhaps Arya recognised the individuals behind the banners. The later of the two contrasting scenes showed the humanity involved in the conflict, something we arguably havent seen enough of in recent years with each side being steadfast in their beliefs. Now that Arya has heard the hopes and dreams of the new generation of young soldiers, will her stance soften or will her hatred for those who have wronged her continue?
As for the scene itself and its subsequent celebrity controversy, Ed Sheeran had a very small part singing an existing song from the books. His cameo wasn't overly long, and the camera didnt linger on him anymore than it did on the other participants. If he'd have sung 'Galway Girl' for 3 minutes on a stage in Kings Landing that would have been one thing, but his appeareance in this case was fine for what it was.
This humanity thread continued with the Hound and his travels with the Brotherhood without Banners. His remorse towards the death of the Farmer and his daughter, and his delibrate contribution to this, was in stark contrast to his attitude three seasons ago when he was happy to leave them to die without a second thought. This time though he even took the time to bury them, and through accepting Thoro's help, perhaps showed that he is finally willing to become a part of a community for the first time in his life.
People complained that Ed Sheeran took them out of the moment and detached them from the show. Realistically, if one thing should be taking people out of the moment, its Euron Greyjoy's 'Once Upon a Time' outfit. The outfit was very different to the majority of clothing we have seen on the show, and extremely different to what he wore last year....even so personally I enjoyed the fact it was something different, I think it went well with the charisma that the new version of his character showed. I was slightly disappointed with his character last year so to me this reboot was much welcomed and I'm glad he will be a focal point this year.
Back at Winterfell, Jon and Sansa are at loggerheads as Sansa publicly challenges Jon over his decision to keep faith with the new generation of the Umbers and the Karstarks, whose older siblings had betrayed the Starks before the 'Battle of the Bastards'. While I find the idea of more dining room arguments between the two of them to be tedious, I did find this particular scene made me think...Who is in the right here? Jon has more military experience and perhaps more knowledge of bringing groups together and the diplomacy that goes with it, but Sansa has spent a lot of time learning from Littlefinger, Cersei and others. In this case, I think Sansa has an excellent point in that while Jon has been defending the wall, she has been witnessing first hand what happens to people such as her father who show a little bit too much compassion and not enough killer instinct.
We also took a visit to Oldtown to see Sam and Gilly. Now, personally I have no interest in Oldtown on the TV show and I hope it serves a quick purpose of advancing the storyline and moving on to the end game. It makes no sense sending Sam down there just to find out information he already knew from Stannis, so there must be something else to this. Perhaps that something is the curing of Jorah Mormont, who is still afflicted with Greyscale and is now locked in a cell...I'm a big fan of Iain Glen and the Mormont character, so I hope that the Storyline arc does end with Jorah and Sam heading back to Dany and Jon respectively. Besides, we need to see Jorah meet his very fiercesome relative, Lyanna!
After 7 Seasons and 20 years worth of books, we see Dany arrive back at her birthplace and ancestral home. I enjoy a lot of aspects of this, particularly her Dany touching the sand when she got off the boat. The entrance to Dragonstone looked amazing, and a lot of credit must be given to the location team who find these natural places to film at. Finally I enjoyed the final, singular line ' Shall we begin' which perhaps signals the first part of the end of this story.
Perhaps it was my own expectations for this scene but still I felt it lacked something, I cant put my finger on what. Perhaps it was the 4 minutes without any talking that bugged me, considering that thrones doesnt normally go that long without dialogue. Or perhaps I'm just impatient for Dany to try and take Kings Landing....
Despite a few minor gripes, this episode was a really strong foundation to the series. With the more reflective nature of the episode, and the constant intelligent dialogue, I've found myself rewatching this a few times and enjoying it more every time. It always amazes me how you can pick up new details and interesting parallels from re-watches, and I doubt this will be the last episode in this series I watch more than once! With Winter now here, my one hope, as the action increases, is that show does not lose the humanity aspect that was so strong throughout this episode.