The season premiere of “Game of Thrones” was thoroughly satisfying, a transporting hour that brilliantly reestablished the chessboard for the new, penultimate season. Watching the narrative unfold, moving so self-assuredly from Winterfell to the Citadel to, most awesomely, Dragonstone, I remembered all over again just how elegantly written, richly acted, and confidently shot this drama is at its best. If each of the final 12 episodes of seasons seven and eight are as sharply crafted, we’re heading into a rewarding final act.
You could feel the action making its way toward the series endgame, as the factions, most grandly the Mother of Dragons, begin to more closely circle the throne. But the episode kept reminding us that, before we can resolve all this juicy ruler business, so freighted with ancient resentments, we have to deal with the Night King and his army. They are coming, and they’re so frozen with evil that they can’t even muster the chant “O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!” (Translation: Oreo, Reoh-oh.) We saw them marching, and so did Bran, giant zombies in tow, unstoppable unless Jon Snow can sound the alarm loudly enough.
It’s clear that many people don’t believe in the White Walkers, or are painfully naïve about the intensity of their threat. “We still have a wall between us and the Night King,” Sansa says, and the Archmaester (played by Jim Broadbent) tells his student Samwell Tarly not to be so worried because “The wall has stood through it all, and every winter that ever came has ended.” So it is Jon’s task to convince everyone of the potency of the imminent danger. Like any woke bloke, he wants to start an army that will include women — What? No! — along with wildlings and other various forces.
Cue the Darling of Bear Island, the L’il Lady of Loyalty, Lyanna Mormont: “I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me,” she announces. “I might be smaller, and I might be a girl, but I am every bit a Northerner. And I don’t need your permission to defend the North. We’ll begin training every man, woman, boy, and girl on Bear Island.” She is powerful, honorable, and, to be honest, quite adorable. I’d serve for her, whether the wall is going to come down or not, and, judging from his smile, so would Davos.
SANSA’S GOT A GRUDGE
Wait, what? Is Sansa becoming another Cersei, a grudge-laden and bitter soul, instead of becoming the experienced and wise heroine I want her to be? In Sunday night’s premiere, she sparks a public argument with Jon Snow about letting the Umbers and Karstarks keep their castles, and later she tells Jon that Cersei, so evil and nefarious and awful, actually has something to teach. “I learned a great deal from her,” Sansa says.
Is Sansa so mired in old wars that she won’t be a force in the coming battle? Or are she and Jon a great team of rivals, who will together rise to the top? Does he need to give her more credit? Clearly, Sansa is still mid-arc, a character whose personality is still in flux.
Meanwhile, Littlefinger seems to lurk in the background of every Sansa scene, licking his chops.
ARYA’S GOT A GRUDGE
Did any viewers not enjoy the episode’s cold open, which gave us Walder Frey speaking to all the men of House Frey about how great they are? It was Arya, of course, after poisoning them all in a mass slaughter that recalled the Red Wedding. Like Sansa, Arya is on a mission of revenge. She keeps a female servant alive, so that someone will be able to carry the news. “Tell them winter came for House Frey,” Arya says.
CERSEI’S GOT A GRUDGE
In a somewhat meta-moment, we saw Cersei in a King’s Landing map room, standing on a map that she and Jaime analyze together. They know that a crush of factions are heading toward them, and Cersei is as driven as ever. When Jaime mentions Tommen — “Our baby killed himself,” he says with feeling — Cersei appears to be so over it. She is harder than ever, this most watchable of villains. She is beyond grief, and nothing else matters to her except victory — not even Jaime, it seems. But she doesn’t trust anyone enough to join forces, which may weaken her position. Her rejection of the tacky Euron Greyjoy, though, may benefit her, if he continues to try to earn her alliance with “a priceless gift” known as the head of Tyrion.
SAM THE MAN
Looks like training to be a maester isn’t a lot of fun, what with cleaning up bedpans and whatnot. In a somewhat unusual sequence for the show, we see a long, repetitive, fast-paced montage of him picking up poop, gagging, dealing with what looked like food that looked like poop. I found the scene irritating — which, I think, was the point. Sam is frustrated, enough to break into the restricted part of the library and do some studying. He learns that Dragonstone is the place to go for dragonglass, which is like kryptonite to the White Walkers. Which is a fantastic bit of information.
DANY: THE STAR IN THE FACE OF THE SKY
It’s a fantastic bit of information — particularly for Daenerys, who, in the stately final moments of the episode, reaches her ancestral home: Dragonstone. She is finally there, in the heart of her Targaryen heritage, ready to conquer. “Shall we begin?” she asks Tyrion.
She couldn’t hear us yelling “YES” at the screen.
Sorry, but that cameo appearance by Ed Sheeran was misguided. The entire time he was onscreen, I felt pulled out of the action. It was a sweet scene, with Arya finding comfort — finally! — and blackberry wine among a group of strangers. But I couldn’t fully enjoy it, because it made me think about casting decisions, and singers who want to act, and the contemporary world. At least his singing around the campfire was in tune.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.