Winter has come to Westeros, and HBO’s Game of Thrones returns for its penultimate season. On this page I’ll talk spoiler-free (for this episode, not previous ones), on the next I’ll delve into the plot.
Spoilers for Season 6 beyond this point.
David Benioff and D.B Weiss wisely chose to spend time on character over action in this premiere. There are no massive battles, and the plot does not overly moving forward. This is very much a putting pieces into place episode. Season 6 ended very eventfully. The Boltons were destroyed, Ramsay got his just desserts, the Tyrell’s (except Olenna) and the Faith were decimated by dragonfire, Arya slit Walder Frey’s throat and Daenerys finally sailed to Westeros. “Dragonstone” has the job reminding the audience what happened last season and showing the emotional and political aftermath of those events. It also serves as an indicator of where things are going in this season.
The lack of major story developments allows the writers to spend time with the characters, making clear their attitudes and resolutions going into the winter. This could have been dull, but the showrunners are aided by Jeremy Podeswa’s assured directing and sumptuous visuals, and as always, Ramin Djawadi’s superb score. The stellar cast is on point as always, with standout performances from Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Rory McCann (The Hound), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen). And of course, Ed Sheeran was a standout, but not in the same way. I won’t spoil the cameo on this page, but it was painfully obvious, unlike the Coldplay cameo at the Red Wedding in season 3. Sheeran was fine, it was more the nature of the cameo that was the issue. It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise great episode though, so don’t let that stop you.
The big strength of this season is that the show is now pretty much completely beyond published A Song of Ice and Fire books, and the producers are clearly relishing their newfound creative control. As a book fan there are things I love about both, but the show’s main strength this season lies in its leaner plotline, having eliminated three major story threads (the Boltons, Stannis Baratheon and the Faith) that are still ongoing in the books. One day we will know where George R.R. Martin is going with Winds of Winter and Dream of Spring, but for now HBO has free reign over the future of the Seven Kingdoms. I can’t wait to see how it develops.
Major spoilers for the episode on the next page: