“Dragonstone”, the first episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, ended with a beginning. Daenerys, having finally reached her ancestral seat, the dramatic-looking Dragonstone, strides through the gates, admires her throne, and enters The Chamber of the Painted Table. The table – which we’ve seen before as Stannis Baratheon’s strategy room in season two – is carved into the shape of Westeros, with model ships and armies that are moved around the board. She runs her fingers from the North to the South, her hand trailing over the place where the Wall meets the sea, before standing at the Southern coast. “Shall we begin?”
There was a lot of build-up to get to this point. The cold open, which saw Arya disguised as Walder Frey poison the entire Frey army with some deliciously vengeful dialogue (“When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”), felt like it belonged to the (literally) explosive two episodes that rounded off season six. But once the credits rolled, this opener felt slower, thicker, and more bogged down in exposition.
After an obligatory shot of the White Walkers and the army of the dead walking slowly through mist (God, these fuckers walk slow), alerting us that Wun Wun the Giant has become one of their weapons, we rush through updates on Bran (who has finally abandoned his tree prison and reached the Night’s Watch), Sam (who doesn’t love a good bedpan montage!!), Euron (inexplicably dressed like a dad rocker), Brienne (still constantly glaring at Tormund), Littlefinger (still very horny for Sansa, and power), The Hound (still hates fire) and Ed Sheeran (still painfully embarrassing).
So while not a lot actually happened, this episode asked us to visualise the key alliances and enmities of the coming season. It cemented the idea suggested in trailers that Daenerys, Cersei and Jon are the three rulers to watch – with the key scenes taking place in their castles. Aside from Dany’s sculpted table map, we saw Cersei explaining her exposed position stood on a painted floor map; Sam discover a further, mineral need for Jon and Daenerys to join together when he spots a dragonglass mine in a map of Dragonstone; The Hound have a vision of the White Walkers penetrating the Wall where it meets the sea; and Jon and Sansa stress that Last Hearth and Karhold Castles are the most northern and the most vulnerable to an attack from beyond the Wall. It’s as if the producers are asking: “Everyone’s mental maps up to scratch? Good, cause you’re going to need ‘em.”
It also reminded us of the key tensions within teams. Thrones has not been coy about comparing Cersei and Sansa in the past, and this season it seems like these parallels will be more obvious than ever. Both have tensions appearing in their relationships with their brothers, who, for both women, are their closest allies. Both suffer the romantic attentions of men they are repulsed by due to a reliance on their armies. Both are too hardened by unspeakable past traumas to care for much other than the defeat of those who threaten their lives. “You almost sound as if you admire her,” Jon says when Sansa speaks of Cersei. “I learned a great deal from her,” Sansa replies, and it’s hard not to think of Cersei’s warning that a woman’s “best weapon is between her legs.”
“Dragonstone” swapped out actual action for foreshadowing of things to come. Sam is told by a Maester that, “Without us, men would be little better than dogs,” perhaps signalling how important Sam’s knowledge will be to Jon and the Stark wolves, especially when coupled with Sansa’s insistence that Jon needs to be cleverer than Ned and Robb. The Hound’s vision of the army of the dead marching by “a mountain, looks like an arrowhead” could refer to his dead-but-walking brother, The Mountain, who wears a pointy helmet. We hear several lines concerning the sacrifices of ordinary men – Thrones has long been clear that wars are won or lost based on the ordinary man’s willingness to fight for you.
As more men die, it becomes increasingly clear that women and children – from Lyanna Mormont to Ned Umber to Alys Karstark – will have a significant role to play in the coming wars. Cersei’s lack of children, and how she will build a legacy as a result, becomes a troubling question. Euron says he will fetch her a “priceless” gift to woo her – an heir? Or Tyrion, the brother she so desperately wants murdered?
Meanwhile, fans note that in her map scene, Cersei stands at an area of Westeros known as “The Neck”, Jaime at “The Fingers” – in the books, it’s prophesied that Cersei will be strangled by her “little brother”. Hands reappear in this episode – when insisting Cersei should kill her brother, Euron taunts him by saying he has “a thousand ships and two good hands”. Ed Sheeran’s lacklustre cameo sees him sing the refrain “For hands of gold are always cold / But a woman’s hands are warm.” I’m starting to wonder if Jaime will end up doing something grim with that gold hand of his.
But on to the important questions. WHO was the baddest bitch in this week’s Game of Thrones?
Bad bitch points are awarded as follows:
- Arya slaughtering a hall full of men from behind the face of their own Lord, sparing the abused women, and whispering iconic lines about wolves, sheep, and how Winter came for the Freys. +27.
- Jon insisting women join the fight. +5. I will regard Jon in this mode like I do all male feminists – with extreme scepticism.
- Lyanna Mormont repping Bear Island like an iconic goddess. +34. Who can argue with lines like “I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me. I might be small, Lord Glover, and I might be a girl, but I am every bit as much a Northerner as you. And I don’t need your permission to defend the North”? Literally no one, that’s who.
- Sansa taking her seat at the Winterfell table. +11. I like her ambition, but this doesn’t seem like the best strategy to use to get Jon to listen to her advice.
- Sansa: “No need to seize the last word Lord Baelish, I will assume it was something clever.” +17. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.
- Euron’s weird Hot Topic does Pirates of the Caribbean merch outfit. -19.
- Ableist loser Euron taking the piss out of Jaime’s gold fist while wearing his poor man’s Johnny Depp garb. -21.
- Arya eating Ed Sheeran’s food. +7. Please starve him by depriving him of his fair share, like our guinea pig starved its hutchmates.
- Arya not murdering Ed Sheeran. -21.
- Ed Sheeran, existing. -136.
- Cersei’s scheming. -5. As the ripples of her terror attack subside, Cersei looks a lot less badass and a lot more… weak. But then again, Cersei does thrive when people underestimate her.
- Tormund’s bold flirting strategy. +7
- The Hound: “You’re not fooling anyone with that top knot, ya bald cunt.” +13.
- Sam shovelling poop. -12.
- Sam picking up a human heart and liver like it’s no big deal. +9.
- Sam stealing books. +12.
- Dany finally reaching her castle in Westeros, not even pausing to claim the nicest bedroom or have a piss before beginning her military strategy. +17.
That means the baddest bitch of the week is, of course, Lady Lyanna Mormont. Tremble before her presence. This (and every) week’s loser is Ed Sheeran.