UK TV review: Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 1
Paul Greenwood | On 18, Jul 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Episode 1? Click here to see how to catch up.
Where do you go when you’re faced with the task of following up what may well be the two finest episodes in the history of television?
It’s been a full year since we sat slack-jawed through the seismic events that ended the sixth season of Game of Thrones, and anticipation for what happens next is at fever pitch. Sensibly, inevitably, you start calmly, take a step back to regroup and ease the audience back into it, all the while teasing us with the promise of what is to come. It is, as they say on the golf, moving day.
And move we must, because this seventh and penultimate season – three months later than usual in arriving – is three episodes shorter than standard. Given how much needs to be packed in, events will no doubt soon begin shuffling along at a clip far greater than that taken by our white-faced zombie friends, who are still pottering about somewhere or other on their way to somewhere or other.
But not today. Today we breathe, today we gather, today we plan.
Was it going to be the first ever episode of Game of Thrones where no one was strangled with their own intestines? Well, no, because we had in fact had at least 20 deaths before the opening credits, with some light poisoning on Arya’s part, going full-on Ethan Hunt now as she wiped out the remaining Freys while wearing a Walder mask. Used judiciously, the Mission: Impossible stuff could prove to be a lot of fun somewhere down the line, as long as it doesn’t become an easy go-to for assassination shenanigans. For the moment though, we simply can’t get enough of Arya slaughtering those who wronged her family, and it was spellbinding stuff.
A girl, with her own face this time, then stumbles upon the only nice soldiers in Westeros, even if one of them looked suspiciously like Ed Sheeran. The ginger minstrel’s cameo is neither here nor there, but it was still an incongruous scene, that level of chumminess seeming out of place in this rotten land. But it could be another of the show’s trademark rug-pulls, a hint that all is well, when we of course know deep down that it could never be.
The Hound knows the realities of the world, though, as he confronts death in ways new for him with some new-old pals of the Brotherhood. Jon Snow rallied his allies in the North, though perhaps most intriguingly, all is not as it should be with him and Sansa. Cersei, meanwhile, villain-in-chief, doesn’t have a friend in the world, which is just how she likes it. There’s an alliance in the offing with infrequent guest star Pilou Asbæk, who looks like he wants to have a right laugh, as Euron Greyjoy hamms it up in his snug leather breeks. Just who is going to chum up with whom in the weeks to come should prove delicious.
But this is an episode less about flitting between characters and more about giving everyone their space, so we get only a small number of scenes, each of them lengthy, that dig deep into where everyone finds themselves and where they want to get to – Sam in the Citadel, for instance, hoping to save the world through book-smarts.
Daenerys finally disembarks her long, cross-channel ferry to reclaim her ancestral pile at Dragonstone. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen her in Westeros, and we’re really allowed to revel in it. Several minutes pass, as she makes her way from the boat to the beach, up the beautifully appointed walkways, as we soak in the always-improving visual effects used to create a castle looking in far better nick than when Stannis was landlord.
On she goes, allies in tow, inspecting her throne room and her battle map. And just when it looks like we aren’t going to get a peep out of either Dany or Tyrion, she ends the show with an exquisitely judged: “Shall we begin?”