[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season seven premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Dragonstone."]
"Shall we begin?"
With those three words, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) put the final wheels in motion for the Game of Thrones end game. The season seven premiere established an array of building blocks that will be instrumental in the episodes ahead — including setting the stage for Daenerys and Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) first meeting, an inevitable Lannister showdown, an inevitable White Walker showdown and much more — as the HBO fantasy series rushes toward its conclusion.
The hourlong episode, called "Dragonstone," shares its title with the name of House Targaryen's new stronghold — which is actually an old Targaryen stronghold. Daenerys' ancestor Aegon the Conquerer settled Dragonstone centuries ago, using it as his base of operations when he first invaded and took control over Westeros. In the aftermath of Robert's Rebellion, the civil war that ended with the Mad King Aerys' death and the end of the Targaryen regime, Dragonstone passed into the hands of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). As of the season seven premiere, the ancient fortress is back in the right hands.
Speaking of hands, one of the most emotionally impactful moments of the episode comes when Daenerys first arrives on Dragonstone's shore. She kneels by the beach and presses her palm into the sand, a ceremonial gesture that marks her official arrival in Westeros. It's a homecoming on a deeply personal level, too: Daenerys was born on Dragonstone in the midst of a torrential storm, hence why she's often called "Daenerys Stormborn." Now, she's positioned to bring the storm back to the Seven Kingdoms, ending the episode in the Dragonstone war room, primed and ready for the battle ahead.
By settling in at Dragonstone, Daenerys and her army have set up shop within sailing distance of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and King's Landing — or flying distance, in the case of Dany's dragons. The Blackwater Bay is all that stands between the warring queens, putting Game of Thrones in a position to provide a follow-up to "Blackwater," the riveting season two episode that saw the Dragonstone-based Stannis invading the Cersei-controlled King's Landing.
In the season seven premiere, Cersei strikes a loose alliance with Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), King of the Iron Islands. In an effort to woo Cersei and win her hand in marriage, Euron pledges to sail forth and challenge his niece and nephew Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon (Alfie Allen), which only further solidifies the inevitability of a naval battle this season. Given King's Landing and Dragonstone's proximity to one another, and given what the cast have said about the season's increased pace, the Blackwater rematch — now with added dragons and Greyjoys — could kick off as soon as next week.
The season premiere answered another burning question about King's Landing — a poor choice of words, perhaps, given that Westeros' capital was wildfire-bombed in the season six finale. In the aftermath of that attack, Cersei Lannister holds the Iron Throne with an iron grasp, vulgarly assessing her various enemies across the world. Her brother and lover Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) wisely points out that at least on paper, the Lannisters look like a lost cause. (We certainly agree.) But Cersei remains confident in her position, and given what she unleashed in last season's finale, viewers would be wise not to underestimate this cornered lion — especially one who calls her own dead son a "traitor," at that. Cersei is about as far away from a Stark as one can get, but she has ice coursing through her veins all the same.
On further review, perhaps Cersei isn't as far away from a Stark as one can get, given that Arya (Maisie Williams) is currently working her way toward King's Landing. The episode begins with what's sure to be discussed as one of the all-time great Game of Thrones sequences, as Arya uses her Faceless Men training to impersonate Walder Frey (David Bradley), who she assassinated in the season six finale, and organize a full-on massacre of the late lord's entire family. It's vengeance for the Red Wedding, a move that merges a few different storylines from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels on which Game of Thrones is based — and it's only the beginning.
As Arya travels south toward King's Landing, she encounters a small assortment of Lannister soldiers — including one played by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. She stops and breaks bread with the group, and announces her intentions to kill Cersei. The group laughs, completely unaware of Arya's deadly capabilities. But will Arya actually follow through on assassinating the queen? There's reason to think she might experience a change of course, if one reads the scene as Arya realizing that not all Lannister soldiers are as evil as their leader.
Another Arya event worth keeping tabs on: in the books, there are whispers of Arya's old direwolf Nymeria living in the Riverlands, leading a pack of smaller but still ferocious wolves. Could a tearful reunion between the youngest Stark daughter and one of the two surviving direwolves be in the cards for season seven? It's a smart bet.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann) and the Brotherhood Without Banners march through the snow on their way to the North. They seek shelter at an abandoned farm, the same place that played host to Clegane and Arya in the run-up to the Red Wedding. The Hound confronts his own history of violence, face to face with literal skeletons from his past, all dead because of his earlier misdeeds. He also experiences something of a rebirth: Clegane, one of the great Game of Thrones cynics, stares into a fire and sees visions of the future, a display of magic so definitive that not even the Hound can mock it.
In the flames, Clegane sees a great battle in the North in an area that sounds an awful lot like Eastwatch by the Sea, the same Night's Watch stronghold where Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and his wildlings are currently headed. Trailers for season seven have already given hints of that battle, teasing images of Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and the Brotherhood fighting it out in a winter wasteland. In the premiere, the Hound asks Beric why he's so special that he gets to cheat death. Perhaps this brewing battle offers the answer. In the offseason, we developed a pet theory that Jon Snow will die again, and Beric will be the one who brings him back, at his own life's expense. The Hound raising the specter of Beric's destiny only further fuels the fire of that possibility.
Even if Jon doesn't directly confront death again, he's faced with conflict right now all the same. As the newly minted King in the North, Jon spends an early scene in the premiere calling shots and organizing his people for the White Walker war ahead. His leadership style clashes directly with his sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), who has very different ideas about how certain Northern strongholds should be divided out in the wake of House Bolton's fall. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) remains in the North, trying to convince Sansa to make a move against her brother. For now, she rejects Lord Baelish, but the seeds have been planted for yet another insurrection within the Stark camp.
Jon has another family member who is about to have a major impact on his life: Daenerys. The season six finale revealed that Jon is secretly the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which technically makes him Dany's nephew. As of now, Jon does not know any of this, though his younger brother Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arrived at Castle Black in the season premiere; it shouldn't be much longer before he tells Jon all about his secret origin.
Even before the premiere, it was extremely likely that Jon and Dany would meet at some point this season. "There's an inevitability about this that nobody's fighting," Liam Cunningham (Davos) previously told THR about their predestined meeting. Now, thanks to the events of the premiere, we're starting to see exactly how that inevitability will come together.
After a memorable sequence that highlights the less glamorous sides of life in Oldtown, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) makes a game-changing discovery: Dragonstone sits atop a mine of dragon glass, the ancient material that was used to create the Night King, and has proven incredibly effective in killing White Walkers in the past. Earlier in the episode, Jon ordered his people to find every last bit of dragon glass they can get their hands on. Now, thanks to Sam's discovery, King Snow will soon find out that Dragonstone is the place to shop for the stuff, putting him on a direct collision course with Daenerys.
When will the first meeting between Jon and Daenerys take place? We're expecting it sooner than later, given what's been said about the speed of the season, not to mention the fact that there are already only six episodes remaining in season seven, and twelve episodes overall before Game of Thrones reaches the end of the line. (Of course, it won't be the end of the line for the franchise, as HBO has confirmed development on four possible successor shows once the main Game concludes.) Thanks to the premiere, we have a greater sense of what's to come: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen coming together over dragon glass, full-on war against the new Lannister-Greyjoy partnership, and a White Walker war to end all wars.
Watch the video below for the Game of Thrones cast's preview of season seven's battles:
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