The return of Game of Thrones doesn’t see much action. The initial episode in the penultimate season focuses on preparation. The episode sets up all the major players for battle. There isn’t much action in ‘Dragonstone,’ but the set-up is there. Game of Thrones has very few episodes left before it ends next year. What ‘Dragonstone’ provides the framework for the action fans are dying for.
The biggest players are beginning their process. It’s a bit heavy handed to show them standing over the maps. Viewers know the power players, and this episode “mapping out” their roles is super obvious. However, it is comforting to know the pace has been picked up. For a season premiere, the attention to building up conflicts is understandable. While it’s rather predictable set-up material, it’s good to see the big fights coming.
The Hound’s newfound role among the Brotherhood Without Banners is somewhat odd. It’s nice to see The Hound in action, following his return last season. His new partnership with the Brotherhood sets him down the path to fight the Lannisters – and Clegane’s zombified brother. Sandor’s transformation into a Brotherhood seer is a bit odd, and plays against his strengths. However, there are plenty of loose ends he has yet to tie up. Whether he’s fighting Arya or The Mountain, Sandor has some cool plot points to come.
The few remaining Northerners have the most interesting dynamic. As the “heroes” of Westeros, Jon and Sansa have a lot on their shoulders. Their power struggle between them is almost as interesting as their impending White Walker war. Sansa may not be under Littlefinger’s thumb, but she’s primarily looking out for herself. Her praise of Cersei shows how compelling Sansa’s evolution is. Jon’s a bit bland, but bouncing off Sansa and Lady Mormont makes him strong. How the Northern heroes will play the Game of Thrones continues to be a compelling, central plot line.
The two Lannisters who still hold power have a similar dynamic. It’s a little less interesting than the Starks, partially because they’re villains. While the audience is rooting for The North, both Lannisters are almost guaranteed to fail. Cersei is especially doomed, what with all the theories around her deadly prophesy. She’s a powerful ruler, but is slowly becoming as Mad as Game of Thrones’ original monarch. Jaime’s morality has been all over the place, so it’s hard to say where he’ll end up.
Arya, much like Daenerys, is finally bringing her fury to Westeros. Her vengeance on Walder Frey last season was long in the making. Arya’s bloodlust carries into this week, wiping out the remaining Frey soldiers in shocking fashion. What’s boring is how Arya pals around with the Lannister soldiers (including an Ed Sheeran singalong). Sure, Arya’s got a specific list, and spares those who don’t deserve death. It’s why she spares the Frey girls – much like her adopted bastard brother Jon Snow. However, it’s obnoxious how Game of Thrones blatantly has the guards be nice guys. Discussing their fathers and daughters is unnecessary and pointless, unless Arya starts next episode by killing them too.
Sam’s arc in the episode helps give the premiere its title. Sam isn’t much of a fighter, and will probably stay out of the fighting. But Sam’s role in tonight’s episode stretches beyond poop-scrubbing montages. This may be the most Sam we’ll get this season, and he’s a great catalyst for the action. Game of Thrones blends Sam’s humor and knowledge to a fantastic degree in ‘Dragonstone.’
Then there’s Daenerys and Tyrion. The new Targaryen force is finally on the mainland, ready to take the Iron Throne. These are the characters suited up in full plot armor, nearly guaranteed to win. ‘Dragonstone’ takes these prominent characters and gives them one scene in the finale. Much like the episode itself, this works under the pretense we’ll get more later on. It’s crazy cool to hear Dany drop a line like “shall we begin?” While the season needs more of these characters, it’s just enough protagonist love to make the premiere work.
The thing that makes ‘Dragonstone’ work is the fact it promises action. It isn’t the most subtle episode, but Game of Thrones seems intent to deliver. The season’s successes rely on how the season continues. The Walking Dead made plenty of promises last season, and it didn’t do so hot. Since Game of Thrones is working towards an end date, however, it will hopefully deliver sooner on its promises.