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Game of Thrones, season 7, episode 1: Dragonstone review - bloodiest show on TV can still shock and surprise

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 17/07/2017 By Jane Mulkerrins

Game of Thrones, season 7, episode 1: Dragonstone review - bloodiest show on TV can still shock and surprise Warning: This article contains spoilers, proceed at your own risk.

How much simpler the world seemed back in June 2016, when the sixth season of Game of Thrones was drawing to a close. After 13 months of real-world political bombshells and power shifts, and the rise of a would-be dynasty who will seemingly stop at nothing to gain and hold onto power, one might wonder whether the biggest, bloodiest, most Dragon-heavy show on television would still have the ability to shock and surprise. The answer, happily, is yes.

Originally adapted from George R R Martin’ s series of books, A Song of Ice and Fire, the source material was spent by season five, and even the most ardent fans no longer know which direction the series, now its own entirely original story, will take. 

The seventh season of HBO’s epic fantasy kicks off with what, at first, would seem to be a flashback. Grizzled, gout-raddled old Walder Frey (David Bradley) is congratulating his men on their nifty work in mass murder at the Red Wedding of season three, and rewarding them with a feast.

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We know that Frey is dead now, his throat slit last season by Arya Stark ( Maisie Williams ) after she’d fed him a meat pie made of his own two sons, and it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t a flashback at all, but, instead, a Jonestown-style massacre, the assembled Freys choking to death on poisoned flagons of wine.

Having graduated from her gruelling internship with the Faceless Men, Arya is now unstoppable in her quest to avenge her family. And as she later reveals to a singing soldier – a slightly comedic cameo by the musical guest star, Ed Sheeran – she’s heading not North to Winterfell, but South to King’s Landing, ‘to kill the Queen’.

With just 13 episodes to go, spread across two seasons, there has been much talk of an increase in pace in this penultimate season, and a rapid ramping up of tension. However, though lush and cinematic as ever, this opening episode features no battles, no large set-pieces of the sort the show has become renowned for, but primarily sets the scene, with competing Houses and their armies all finally converging on Westeros to slug it out for the Iron Throne.

It would, in fairness, have been tough to maintain the momentum or the body count of the final two climactic episodes of season six - the Battle of the B******s, a slaughter on a Somme-like scale, and the explosive season finale, in which Cersei Lannister ( Lena Headey ) blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, wiping out 11 regular cast members in the process.

Having subsequently claimed the Iron Throne for herself, she’s commissioned a new decorative floor in her King’s Landing courtyard, an enormous painted map of her empire, like a game of Giant Risk. It takes her brother/lover Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), to point out that she’s not quite Queen of the Seven Kingdoms yet (‘three, at best’) – and to sound a note of caution: she has no allies.

But Cersei, as ever, has a few irons in the fire: first up, the deliciously mad Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbeak), hell-bent on murdering his niece and nephew, who have defected to support Danaerys, and attempting to woo Cersei with brags about his massive fleet.     

Sibling tension is also bubbling up in the North, where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his half-sister Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are ruling Winterfell, having liberated their family home from Ramsay Bolton. Jon is adapting to the role of King quite easily, but adjusting to Sansa’s newfound position at his right hand less well. The current power-sharing agreement looks uncertain to last long, particularly with the Machiavellian Littlefinger (Aidan Gillan) whispering foul nothings in Sansa’s ear.

There are new faces, including Jim Broadbent as the Archmaester Marwyn, who is training Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) at the Citadel, and the welcome return of Jorah (Iain Glen), though he’s apparently not yet found the cure for his nasty case of greyscale.

But one might expect an episode called Dragonstone to belong predominantly to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). And we do, eventually, witness her, having finally crossed the Narrow Sea with her trio of dragons, thousands-strong fleet, and her loyal entourage, including an unusually silent Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), landing at the imposing ancestral home of House Targaryan, a great grey Hogwarty pile.

While the Mother of Dragons is looking more regal (and more covered-up) than ever, Dragonstone itself is in need of a little TLC. But when she runs her fingers along the vast dust-covered Painted Table, carved in the shape of Westeros, and declares ‘Shall we begin?’, she’s definitely not talking about the housework.

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