The wait is over, both for the characters and their immense fanbase: winter has finally come. Season Seven of Game of Thrones opens quietly, after a cold, vengeful opening that sees us revisiting Walder Frey, and giving a bit of a twist. From there, we revisit nearly every major player: Jon and Sansa debate their options for defending the Wall (and, as a result, all of Westeros) from the impending arrival of the White Walkers and the Night King. Meanwhile, Arya makes her way down to King’s Landing, while Bran finally makes it to the Wall, having grown used to his status as the Three-Eyed Raven. Cersei makes an unlikely –and, truth be told, untrustworthy — ally in Euron Greyjoy as she knows enemies come from the North and the East (in the Starks and Targaryen).
The focus, however, seemed most decidedly on Samwell Tarley (helping oversee the great library and archives of Oldtown), and the Hound, Sandor Clegane, coming to terms with his past, alongside Beric Dondarrion. These two storylines seemed the most developed, as well as the most deliberately paced (Sam’s especially, as the boredom, monotony, and gross living conditions are expertly expressed through a tightly edited montage, which was a bit unusual–yet welcome–in this series).
It’s also refreshing to see him front and center, as he seems to be one of the only genuinely decent people populating this world (although that doesn’t bode well for him!). His bit of character development and exposition (he uncovers a secret that could help Jon’s chances against the White Walkers) also seem to come naturally to his character; although, to be fair, it is Gilly who actually uncovers it. It’s always great to see this lesser character fleshed out and given something to do to push the plot.
Sandor, on the other hand, has a bit of character work all his own. Having been saved by, and travelling with, the repeatedly resurrected Beric, he and their group seek shelter in a seemingly abandoned house as the snows move in. There, they discover two characters who’d appeared several seasons earlier– and were promptly forgotten. This little bit almost passed me by, but it seemed apt to show the Hound‘s reaction. His is a slow (SLOW) laborious redemptive (or, at the least, less shitty) arc, and this episode shows his facing his past in a way we’d not seen before. There is a little apology he gives, acknowledging how his selfish, misanthropic actions cascade and affect those who had done him no wrong. It’s a tender moment in a show and character that often lacks those, and helps show that his character is capable of changing (and of being faithful. He himself has a vision much as Beric and his companions have…it is possible the Hound may become a follower of the Light before his character’s arc is complete).
This episode sets up all of our characters neatly, and gives all them quiet moments in which the actors can savor their setting, particularly Daenerys and Tyrion: they literally have one line between the both of them. But the image of Daenerys touching the sands of Dragonstone, having returned to the West, is a powerful one! As always, the cinematography and visual effects are on par with the latest blockbuster films, and the score (when it was used) enhanced rather than bombarded or overwhelmed the action on-screen. This episode might not have started with the same sort of bang with which the prior season ended, but this smaller, slower type of storytelling helped reorient and reintroduce us to this world.
While it isn’t one of the all-time-best episodes, for what it is and for the character work alone, it is hard to miss. 4/5 Emptied Bedpans. – J.L. Caraballo