Ah, the Emmy Award winning piece of television is back for its penultimate season and the first episode of what was promised to be a season of “go, go, go” felt like an hour of “snore, snore, snore”. It wasn’t egregiously offensive anywhere to get hyped up on the anger, but they didn’t lean heavily into their big set piece key moments so we weren’t treated with the laughably bad either. (Other than Euron.) It was just boring bad. Which is probably the worst kind because it doesn’t elicit strong emotions one way or the other.
To start with, we have to talk about the “previously on” because someone went edit happy with this thing. With the piano remix and fast, hard cuts, it was more fun to watch than the episode itself. “Previously on’s” always entertain me because of how ham-fistedly expositional they are. They’re a crutch, and one that Throne’s heavily relies on because all of their moments are one note responses rather than developments of a long history of action, thus we gotta remind the audience what that one cause is before we show the effect.
A strange ringing piano note dictated change of storylines on the “previously on”, and with the accompanying Dragonstone backstory, it was no question where Dany would land. I think they really thought we wouldn’t remember that table….but come on guys. You had Melisandre and Stannis bone down on there, we all remember that table. For myself, I will always remember worrying that can’t possibly be comfortable for her.
We also get a season one flashback of Viserys’s response to Dany asking him to go home. Now that line never hit the way it hit in the book on the show because they didn’t understand home didn’t mean Westeros at that moment and they continually fail to deal with the complexity of the notion of “home” for Dany…but we’ll get to that later. I just find it funny that this is what they thought we needed to be reminded of to understand the impact of Dany’s journey home. I mean maybe that is the most we have on it because that frustration and confusion is never really brought up again on the show.
So let’s forgive them for the bad exposition, on but not for failing to seed it in in the first place to give them a free choice of moments. “Home” is a really important idea for Dany but also a really hard one and for an episode called “Dragonstone”, it seems to forget that.
We have a cold open this season with a scene that was apparently not even meant to be a cold open, but D&D were just so taken with Bradley’s performance that they had to. David Bradley looks like he’s having a bunch of fun doing this scene, and it’s entertaining to watch him do things other than Filch, (not that it’s a huge stretch) but the point or impact of anything going on quickly runs stale. We’re essentially supposed to be reading this as the Red Wedding 2.0, except with just as much set up and five hundred less percent of the impact. We don’t care about any of the Freys, and the one of only ones we ever got to truly see as a individual human was Walder, who represents the worst of his house.
The moral dilemma of the fact that maybe not every single person is equally culpable for the Red Wedding isn’t present (which is odd because they parallel this with the only other Arya scene where she’s supposed to start questioning some of her broad stroke judging.) Also isn’t this the same argument Sansa and Jon are having? Punishing the sons for a fathers sins…wait did I strike upon an accidental theme? I mean a theme not focused on or developed but an accidental through line nonetheless…which I will need to get through the rest of this.
Anyway, Arya has a Walder Frey Faceless Men mask that she got off screen and poisons all of his sons (and not his daughters because she’s a feminist icon). But I really can’t make heads or tails of what we’re supposed to get out of this. They want to have their cake and eat it too with that Ed Sheeran cameo. We’re supposed to see Arya’s badassery (I mean we even get the smirk of female empowerment) but then have her call into question her morality line with the Lannister scene. But neither allow for a purposeful through line of character growth.
As Arya pulls off her face to reveal herself to the daughters, she tells them to let everyone know the “north remembers”. Except for when it didn’t every other season, but I guess if we’re combining characters, Arya can represent the entirety of the North… Also this scene was clearly supposed to happen last year but they were spinning wheels with Arya and wanted the shock factor set in before anything else. Did they not have the budget to do this last season so they needed to have this moment twice? It just felt like a rehash and not a good one.
Then we get the fucking Ed Sheeran cameo in the most obvious “this is Ed Sheeran” unearned closeups thrown at us. Arya stumbles upon some Lannister soldiers and they want her to join them for food. They are overtly and exceptionally nice and Arya is confused about this. I mean they end up a bit ham-fistedly nice with the whole “Be kind to strangers and strangers will be kind to you,” but I’ll take this over ham-fisted nihilism.
This could have been a really nice moment. Concept wise it is. But it felt more like they were writing a scene to throw Ed Sheeran into, rather than a scene for Arya. We do see her dealing with the fact that the Lannisters are not all bad, but we don’t see a thread line because the narrative doesn’t frame her actions at the Twins as being problematic. If we saw the struggle there at all and then had her charge head first into Lannister soldiers planning to do the same, but realize perhaps they don’t deserve to be punished for the sins of their leaders etc, that would have been a nice self-contained arc for Arya. And would have connected her struggles with Sansa’s and Jon’s…but that’s asking too much.
Let’s get this over with. We get a vision of the White Walkers coming by a long shot of the cold windstorm blowing up and towards camera. It probably could have used with shaving a few frames or two off the beginning and a darker time of day, but it’s not so bad. And they managed to finally show more than the 4 White Walkers of the Apocalypse. It’s like they are a race of beings or something…strange. And this was all seen through Bran’s magic visions that just have no limitations or rules anymore. He’s just walking exposition.
He and Meera reach the Wall (wow her arms must be killing her) and the newly elected-by-the-process-of-*shrugs* Dolorous Edd lets them in. He first questions if they are wildlings—which if they are that shouldn’t be a problem because they’re on the same side now—then if they really are Meera and Bran (that’s a weird fucking story for two wilding kids to make up) and then Bran just convinces him with his vision powers, telling him the dead are coming. I mean…they know that already but thanks for the live feed update Bran!
Sam…oh boy. I mean what the fuck was this montage? It’s like when people edit together regular everyday sounds to make a song remix; why were the editors so trigger happy this week? First the “previously on” and now this. Except this was a montage of putting away books, cleaning bedpans, gagging, scrubbing, and serving food…the core learnings of a novice. I mean, when I expected them to montage Oldtown, I was picturing some generic learning montages…not this.
Also we’re apparently in Harry Potter over here because there’s a restricted section of the library that Sam just needs to get books from and Slughorn is one of his teachers. Well Jim Broadbent is playing an Archmaester…but he’s basically playing Slughorn.
We get a nonversation between him and Sam where Sam tries to tell him about the White Walker threat and how he needs access to those books, but Archmaester Slughorn sidesteps the conversation to talk about why Maesters are important. “We’re this world’s memory,” he says. Which is true, and important, but I think D&D fail to recognize that memory is selective and biased. We see it whenever George R.R. Martin writes a story through the eyes of a Maester.
I would say maybe they’re seeding in the Maesters’ distrust of magic and all of that, but I doubt they’d spend time on it. I think Oldtown is going to be a quick in and out this season with some more shots of Sam reading.
He then dismisses Sam’s worries by saying, “we’re still alive aren’t we? The past is the past and we got through it. The world didn’t end so it won’t now.” What happened to “we are the world’s memory” from five seconds ago? Isn’t the point of that sentiment to use said memory to inform and improve the future. We don’t want to forget because if we do we can’t evolve. But nah, that would be helpful…and a response to what was said previously in the conversation.
Sam steals the keys to the restricted section anyway and ends up discovering, in a real Dora-the-Explorer-level-obvious map of Dragonstone with what is basically an X-marks-the-spot, our hidden dragon glass cache. Stannis told him about this two seasons ago but he forgot, so we had to have this revelation a second time.
Oh, and he also feeds people who are locked up in cells and Jorah jumpscares Sam with his greyscale arm and guess what? Jorah Greyscale Mormont still has only one thing on his mind….Dany. (This lov-OBSESSION knows no bounds).
The Hound is riding with Berric Dondarrion and crew through wintery snows as he expresses his doubt of the Lord of Light, and they just happen upon the same farm Sandor was at a few seasons ago with Arya where he stole from the father and daughter after sharing meat and mead at their table.
Also…I’m confused about the weather. Is this not close to the riverlands? It’s snowy. It was not snowy near Arya and certainly not near anyone else further south. Does winter ever come there?
Sandor is hesitant to face his crimes—the people he stole from—and is reluctant to go inside, but his pride gets the better of him and he goes in. Also he disses Throros’ sweet top knot and utters the phrase ‘top knot’. Inside he sees their corpses and we see the father killed them to save them from the pain of starvation.
After looking at corpses, bro bonding time is happening in the farmhouse and The Hound questions Berric’s faith. Berric cannot give much of an answer to that, saying that he doesn’t know what his lord wants other than his life. To better explain, Thoros calls him over to the flames and surprise! Sandor can see things in them…things just as clear if not clearer than Melisandre. He sees Eastwatch-by-the-Sea and the dead marching. After this revelation he buries the corpses of the farmer and his daughter in the middle of the night (is this how they are giving us the gravedigger?) and Thoros comes out to help him.
Overall this moment with the Hound isn’t bad. In isolation it’s quite nice and more of a step in the direction he should be going in after his return, but it doesn’t hit hard because we’ve had nothing lead up to it. This instead came out of nowhere after violence lusty Sandor made his appearance last season, and any impact or irony of Sandor finding a path of betterment through religion and better yet, a religion founded upon fire, is lost. There’s also too many conversations that lead nowhere but the sentiment of the scene and the dynamic between these characters is quite good in isolation.
Cersei’s giant floor map makes its appearance—as it’s still being painted and she just walks all over it. Then Jaime does the same, for they need to walk on wet paint for them to have their riveting conversation. That poor painter is still in the middle of working so hard! Most sympathetic character in the episode? Or is it a tie between him and Meera, both of whom have done thankless jobs.
Cersei apparently watched last season because she knows all of Dany’s latest movements, and then Jaime suggests she will land on Dragonstone. Which Stannis apparently left unoccupied…just add that to the never-ending list of why this adaptation hates Stannis. They even throw strategic blunders and character assassination his way after his death.
We get a slew of lovely adjectives from Cersei to describe her enemies including “brood of bitches,” “Olenna, the old cunt,” and the “murdering whore Sansa.” Perhaps if I thought they were interested in exploring Cersei’s internalized misogyny I would excuse the use of these gendered slurs as actually having a point, but seeing as that has never been their intention with show!Cersei, it’s just annoyingly frustrating.
Jaime points out that right now they look like they are on the losing side (truth! You are ridiculously outnumbered and this feels like D&D are setting up a crackpot explanation of how you are going to somehow not get completely decimated.) Oh and here’s where Euron walks in!
With his “thousand ship and two good hands,” a new version of Euron Greyjoy pops on our screen, and this time he’s somehow even more pathetic. He’s basically playing Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow (there’s no wig, but there is eyeliner!), complaining about his niece and nephew, saying his favorite word (MURDER!) and general one dimensional EHVULLL dialogue. Also where the hell did these ships come fro— you know what, fuck it. That’s the least of the internal logic problems. Euron commandeered some ships from Captain Barbossa, I guess.
Also this scene is the second time the word “Armada” is used. Did D&D just learn this word?
Euron proposes marriage as an answer to Cersei—which we already knew going in (and so did she) that this would be his bargain, so it renders much of this conversation moot but it is so worth it for the Jaime sitcom reaction shot during Euron’s spiel.
Cersei denies the marriage and he promises to bring her back a gift to prove himself but seriously… I thought she set all this up. Why did she turn down her only allies because he asked what she expected him to ask? Doesn’t Cersei need him? Not the other way around?
Back at the snowy keep of Winterfell, it looks as though nothing moved from last season except for Sophie Turner’s hair, and replacing it is the most distractingly awful wig imaginable. But once you get passed that, you realize that they’re discussing some basic politicking. Jon assigns everyone homework to find dragon glass and then, the true feminist he is, says he wants both the boys and girls to learn to fight. Lord Glover disagrees but Lyanna Mormont stands up, rejects knitting (wait…don’t reject it! It’s important too. Soldiers need socks!) and promises that she and everyone on Bear Island will do their own fighting. She convinces the room. She always convinces the room. Everyone except Jon always convinces the room. Remind me why he’s in charge again?
Jon assigns Tormund to garrison other castles at the Wall, stuff they should have been doing seasons ago adding to the political unrest that leads to Jon’s betrayal, but whatevs—do it whenever cause who cares about structure?!
Tormund makes a fun joke that now they (the Free Folk) are the Night’s Watch, which I kind of like. It’s a big fuck you to the elitism. The show, however, has perpetuated said elitism till it was no longer convenient to the plot so I don’t give them a full high five for this.
The first two houses on the White Walker path should the Wall fall are the Umbers and Karstarks. But those are houses that sided with the Boltons so some frustrated murmurs start. Then Royce stands up and says he wants to tear down these traitors castles, but Sansa reigns him in from this extremism by suggesting that we need every fortress for the war to come, but perhaps we should still reward those that remained loyal and punish those that didn’t.
Meanwhile Jon is looking at her like WHO SAID U COULD SPEAK?? (This seems to be his attitude this whole episode). The room agrees with Sansa but Jon disagrees. It’s a disagreement that feels like it stems from a more juvenile stubborn place than conviction but you know…KING IN THE NORTH! Littlefinger is smirking in the background in his wall spot that he has not moved from since last season and now occupies permanent residency there. With this dissent growing, the narrative rewards Littlefinger the gratification of being right.
The room continues to agree with Sansa until it doesn’t. Then Jon relates this back to Ned, his old ways, and how he stands by them but would not punish the sons for their father’s sins. He calls Ned Umber and Alys Karstark to come forward (yeah isn’t it totally awkward they were having this conversation while they were in the room) and they pledge their loyalty, showing how right Jon was and how easy this situation is.
“You are my sister, but I am king now,” Jon tells her after they have a walk and talk moment together. Jon is in complete insufferable asshole mode and I really don’t like it. Why does someone always have to be incompetent? Also I wanted Queen in the North for Sansa, but even if she had to prop Jon up, there’s some great Catelyn/Robb parallels that could have been made there but weren’t. Instead just childish arguments that should be solved with communication.
Then Sansa’s whole character changes and she randomly tells Jon how good he is at ruling despite the fact that she just disagreed with his major policy decision.
And oh, we’re back in the other conversation now and Jon tells Sansa “I’ll stop trying to protect you and you stop trying to undermine me.” She then insists to him the he must be smarter than Robb and Ned because their dumb decisions got them killed (uh, not really), but Jon scoffs at the idea of taking counsel from Sansa. This all just feels like a rehash of the argument they’ve had already, plus added sexism.
This is interrupted by a letter from Cersei, who demands Jon bend the knee. Sansa reminds Jon that Cersei is a threat not to be ignored and says, “You’re the military man, but I know her.” This sounds eerily “Battle of the Bastards” familiar. Jon then says Sansa sounds as if she admires Cersei and that’s when I pulled my hair out…well not really, but COME ON. I mean Sansa basically learns what not to do from Cersei—it’s not at admiration thing. “If I am queen, I will make them love me,” isn’t really Cersei’s mantra…but I guess it’s not Empowered, Murderous Sansa’s cup of tea either so maybe they more similar than I give them credit for.
Brienne badly teaches Pod some sword fighting and is probably the worst tutor ever. She just tells him “No!” when he’s wrong without telling him what he did wrong until she gets frustrated, finally slamming him down into the ground. Sansa’s just watching from above when Littlefinger creeps up to her and tells her he wants her to be happy. She’s super sassy to him here and I quite enjoyed her responses, however meta they were, they were fun. She said right now above all else she just wants “peace and quiet” and when Littlefinger goes to reply she quips “No need to seize the last word Lord Baelish, I’ll assume it was something clever.”
However, all of that is kind of undermined when Brienne comes up and asks the question we have all been asking “Why is he still here?” I DON’T KNOW EITHER BRIENNE. Sansa is all “we need his men” and he “saved us.” I mean 1) Can we stop the charade that Littlefinger has such tight control over the Vale Lords? They’d be Sansa’s men in a second should she reveal the truth of Lysa’s death. Also 2) How does one write the exchange with Littlefinger and then turn that on its head and have Sansa praise him?
Finally we get to the title of the episode where Dany arrives on Dragonstone (yeah, we wait a whole episode for the moment that gave the episode its title). We have this same moment of Dany’s people standing back while she experiences Dragonstone for the first time on her own. It happens quite a few times from room to room, and by the third time it loses its emotional significance, though it’s still somewhat effective.
Dragonstone seems completely deserted…nice job Show!Stannis. But Dany walks through these empty halls for the first time, truly seeing Viserys’ tales come to life.
Now I feel like the ultimate impact of everything Dany does is typically lost on this show considering how badly they butchered her characterization, but one part of which is her relationship with the word “home” and that ties right into her first return to Westeros. It’s a complex and emotional term for her in the books because she grew up with Viserys describing their “real” home but it was a home she never knew, the life with the red door house and Willem Darry when she was younger that she has fond memories of, Illyrio’s manse, then the Dothraki hoard, then Meereen, and finally Westeros – but this time not for Viserys, but for what it means to her. It’s a loaded concept and in a moment that rests on pure emotional reaction, no dialogue, we needed the weight of that to be developed beforehand to truly feel it, but with what we have, I still think the sequence is effective.
To cap it off, Dany gets to the Melisandre and Stannis bone table and says “Shall we begin?” You guys didn’t plan anything on your way here?
But, really, I don’t detest the scene. I think it loses its weight for a few seconds. For an episode named after this location, it needed to hit all the marks, and it was overall successful in isolation—especially if I just let myself throw some book context onto it.
Well, that is it! It was a struggle to rewatch it as it really is just so boringly bad that it’s not even the fun kind of bad, but hopefully that super fast paced season they were all talking about will kick off next week…who am I kidding?