Considering this time last year that Game of Thrones season 6 had ended, fans have had a pretty long 12 months to wait, but it was all worth it.
Spoilers to follow.
Having simulcast with the US airing at 2am on Sky Atlantic, UK viewers got to experience, as they do each season, the glorious return to Westeros both in the wee hours of Monday morning and during its evening slot – and boy, was it worth it.
Before the iconic credits had even begun, we see Walder Frey addressing his family – the entire extended family have been summoned to his home for a great celebration. For a moment you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a flashback; considering Arya Stark had slain him at the end of last season, having just fed him his own sons in a pie.
Disguised as Walder was of course Arya, who’d lured his whole family there to kill ’em off – which cued the opening credits perfectly.
After this predictable yet awfully satisfying start, things settle down somewhat.
We’re reintroduced to half a dozen or more key cast members, such as Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Cersei Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Sansa Stark, The Hound, and the Night King.
Yet season 7’s debut is in stark contrast to 6’s. While its predecessor opened its season at a blistering pace, things are different here with a more methodical rekindling to each’s respective storylines.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment in episode 1, other than a gag-inducing montage of Sam’s daily cycle of emptying chamber pots and filling bowls with similarly-looking, edible slop was an appearance from Ed Sheeran.
It pains me to think about it, if I’m honest. I love Game of Thrones, but this is a step too far. I mean, Ed Sheeran? Come on. Sadly, it rips you from the grit and atmosphere of the show and awkwardly paces around the scruffy-haired ginger as he’s given a few lines to ham out. It also shamefully takes focus from another cameo in the shape of This Is England’s Thomas Turgoose.
Sheeran appeared because Maisie Williams was reportedly a big fan and it’d be a cool surprise. The reality is that it sucked the life out of the scene and was an unwelcome distraction. For me it wasn’t a fun or novel inclusion but a terrible focal point you don’t need when buying into the world we’ve invested in for over 6 years.
It’s very different seeing the likes of Ian McShane pop up in an episode or, as per this one, a bearded Jim Broadbent. That’s because they’re bloody great actors and can pull it off. Sheeran’s a pop star who, to put it mildly, can’t act.
The idea of adding famous faces is a bit worrisome as up until now virtually every cameo or small part has been cast exceedingly well. And that’s despite seeing The League of Gentleman star and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss running the Iron Bank – it all simply works.
Hopefully it’s the first and last time we see Sheeran appear; with his meeting with Arya serving as a small part of her journey to King’s Landing.
Speaking of which, the song Ed sings is an interesting nod to the books. The tune, Hands of Gold, features in George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords. Originally devised by Symon Silver Tongue; he used it to blackmail Tyrion over his love affair with Shae. In the end, Tyrion has him killed but it’s interesting how the lyrics have found their way to other Lannister soldiers and into the show.
Is it a sign that Cersei’s own army is turning against her, mocking her reign and against her worst kept secret love affair with brother Jaime?
Is it foreshadowing Queen Cersei’s fate, after Tyrion ended up murdering his secret lover Shae?
And is it further indication Jaime will be the one to do the deed?
Elsewhere, Daenerys returns home to Dragonstone. It’s a sombre and emotional arrival, considering the last time she was there was as her power hungry brother, Viserys, was preparing to hand her over to Khal Drogo in exchange for wealth and rulership.
Euron Greyjoy pays Cersei a visit whereby he brazenly mocks Jaime’s disability, as he tries to take the Queen’s hand in marriage. After her denial he vows to return with a gift so precious she can’t refuse. Is he planning to take on Jon or Daenerys and bring her their heads? Or is he seeking something more valuable? A dragon, perhaps? Either way, good luck with that one, pal.
Staying in King’s Landing, Jaime has some harsh words for his sister/lover/Queen by reminding her that they’re in a particularly vulnerable position as enemies close in from all corners of the Seven Kingdoms. Seems his counsel could be Cersei’s most important voice of reason, as the Mad Queen believes she’s impervious to defeat; having lost everything and seemingly fighting for nothing. She speaks of creating a family dynasty reigning for the next thousand years… yet, as her level-headed brother notes, they’re the only two of the bloodline left.
Oh, and this absolute legend, Lyanna Mormont, was back scathing her seniors, which was glorious.
A slow, steady, and well-paced opening hour sets up arguably the most tense and important season yet. Armies have formed, leaders are in place, conflicts are heating up, and the White Walkers are still on their way…
This won’t end well for anyone, will it.