[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season seven premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Dragonstone."]
Twelve episodes. That's all that stands between us and the end of Game of Thrones.
The season seven premiere marked the beginning of the end for HBO's award-winning and record-breaking fantasy series, already delivering on so many longterm promises: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) now holding court in Westeros, White Walkers marching steadily toward the Wall, a deadly and decisive response to the Red Wedding, and the setup for how the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North will finally collide.
Here are the biggest moments of the premiere episode, with some added context of what to expect next:
1. Into the Frey
The moment every Game of Thrones fan has waited for since the Red Wedding finally arrived in the season premiere: the Starks getting justice against House Frey. It's the first note of the season: Arya (Maisie Williams) posing as Walder Frey (David Bradley), poisoning the most important people in his entire family. It's a move that merges a couple of different storylines from George R.R. Martin's novels, and one that firmly puts Arya back on the path toward resolving her legendary kill list. With that said, Arya's later scene breaking bread with Lannister soldiers suggests she's realizing that not everyone associated with the crown is necessarily evil. In other words, if you're hoping Arya makes it back to Winterfell for the Stark family reunion, the possibility remains wide open.
2. The White Walker March
It's the first image we see after the main title and credits: the Night King and his White Walker army pushing through the snow, continuing their march toward Westeros. We see the enormity of these undead enemies, literally in the form of a zombified giant. The marketing campaign leading up to season seven focused squarely on the Night King and his inevitable assault on the Seven Kingdoms. The fact that his forces are the first thing we see following the cold open and credits strongly implies that they will reach their destination by the time the season ends.
3. Through the Wall
Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is back in Westeros, and not a moment too soon. In his first (and only) scene of the premiere, Bran reaches the gate that separates the Seven Kingdoms and the realm Beyond the Wall, issuing a firm warning to Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) that the Night King is on his way. Edd allows Bran through the Wall, a significant development on a couple of levels. One, humanity officially has an all-powerful wizard on the right side of the Wall. For another, Bran's return might bust the popular theory that he'll be responsible for allowing White Walkers into Westeros. In season six, the Night King branded Bran's forearm with a burning mark. The mark allowed the White Walkers to invade the Three-Eyed Raven's tree cave. Some fans expected Bran passing through the Wall, with the mark in place, would dispel the magical protections that keep the White Walkers at bay. But the fact that there was no emphasis placed whatsoever on Bran's mark as he was allowed into Castle Black should put that theory to rest, at least in this observer's opinion.
4. Stark Stupidity
Just south of Castle Black, the Starks once again control Winterfell, albeit with some internal strife in the form of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) publicly bickering about policy. Once again, Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) does his best to whisper schemes in Sansa's ear, but for now, she's not having it. Instead, she seems genuinely interested in stopping Jon from repeating mistakes of the past. She openly acknowledges that her father Ned (Sean Bean) and brother Robb (Richard Madden) were great men she misses dearly, but were also flawed leaders. She straight up calls them "stupid," putting voice to the same critiques they earned from fans during their time on the show. This accomplishes a couple of things: it firmly establishes Sansa's continued support for Jon, alleviating concerns that she would conspire with Littlefinger against her brother; and it gives voice to the truth about Ned and Robb's bad decisions, offering hope that Jon won't repeat those same mistakes.
5. Mad About Euron
How will Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) survive what's coming her way? That was one of the single biggest questions of the offseason. Sure, the lioness butchered her way onto the Iron Throne, but at what cost? Nobody trusts her, all of the great houses in Westeros are aligned against her... and she has nothing on her side other than wildfire, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and a zombified Mountain. At long last, Cersei has started to reveal what her future plans entail: aligning with Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) and his control over the Iron Fleet, in an effort to directly challenge the Targaryen navy, which is helmed by Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon (Alfie Allen). King's Landing and Dragonstone are incredibly close to one another, suggesting that a sea battle could break out as soon as next week.
6. The Gravedigger
The Hound (Rory McCann) was an unexpected source of emotion in the season premiere. He and the Brotherhood Without Banners seek shelter from the snowstorms of winter in an abandoned home, the same one that previously played host to the Hound and Arya in season three, on their way to the Red Wedding. In the scene, the Hound — one of the greatest skeptics on Thrones — peers into fire and sees visions of the future: a great battle near a mountain in the North. The word "mountain" carries extra weight, considering who Sandor's brother is. (Time to turn that Cleganebowl hype up a few notches.) It's also an early tease of the great winter battle seen in previous season seven trailers, involving Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and his incredible burning sword. We have a theory or two about how that's all going to play out, if you're curious.
7. Here Be Dragonglass
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is officially in Westeros. The Mother of Dragons moved into Dragonstone at the end of the premiere, settling into her base of operations as she plots her takeover of the Seven Kingdoms. What's more, Dany and her new home now have some added significance, thanks to Sam (John Bradley) discovering that Dragonstone sits atop a massive mine of dragonglass, an obsidian black material that's proven highly deadly against the White Walkers. Earlier in the episode, Jon Snow commanded his people to find as much dragonglass as humanly possible for the great war ahead. Now, Sam knows where they can find dragonglass, and will soon deliver that information to King Snow. It's no longer a question about if Jon and Dany will meet — just a matter of when, and will they agree on the best use for Dragonstone's most precious resource?
Watch the video below for the Game of Thrones cast's preview of season seven's battles:
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