There’s a restaurant in Los Angeles that serves a hamburger with toppings described as follows: “americanized dashi cheese, ketchup leather, schmaltz onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun.” That’s a cheeseburger, people — a $16 cheeseburger that is reportedly delicious, but perhaps a bit more elaborate than necessary.
This is, of course, a metaphor for “Game of Thrones” as it enters Season 7. The series remains a delicious and expensive high-end version of junk food, one we enjoy consuming, one which is often rich with unique twists on established concepts… but, honestly, not much in the way of surprises. That’s because, at the end of the day, it tastes like a cheeseburger.
A delicious cheeseburger, of course, but honestly, the season premiere, “Dragonstone,” didn’t even let us take more than a bite. A classic example of table-setting, the Season 7 premiere marks the beginning of the end (only 12 episodes to go!) and we certainly have plenty to deal with in this episode fully devoted to scene-setting and establishing new characters, beyond a few key moments spotlighting Arya, as always one of the show’s most striking figureheads.
Euron Greyjoy, who didn’t make much of an impression on us last season as he fought for power over the Iron Islands with his niece and nephew, became a star thanks to Pilou Asbæk’s performance during the throne room scene, where he unleashed a charisma bomb that disabled us all. (Official IndieWire prediction: The “priceless gift” he brings back is Tyrion Lannister, the brother Cersei officially wants dead.)
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We also experienced the joy of Samwell’s daily routine at the Citadel, a sequence which was one of “Game of Thrones'” most energetic editing experiments. It might have gone on too long, but that might be a reaction to vomiting being a pervasive theme of 2017 television so far — on its own merits, it was a pleasure to watch that sequence.
Meanwhile, we have Jaime and Cersei Lannister confronting their status as childless parents in a pretty bleak way, striding around their giant map of lands they may one day rule — but as adults who lack established power, it’s fascinating to see them flail around.
“Dragonstone” did move a lot of pieces into place, re-establishing our memory of various alliances and giving a few key characters some show-stealing moments. But it’s complicated, sorting out how to feel about Arya’s cold open reveal, the idea that the little girl who we loved watching grow up has become a full-on stone cold killer.
That cold open, a rarity for the series, was a bit divisive — if you initially suspected it was a flashback, it might not have thrown you for a loop, but if you didn’t predict that this was one of the last living Starks enacting her revenge, then it was a real rollercoaster. After all, the most fascinating journey we’re witnessing on “Game of Thrones” is Arya’s, as she sheds her innocence in the wake of the horror with which she’s confronted, on a regular basis. It’s Westeros, after all. A horrific place.
“Shall we begin?” is how the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” ends, and that’s not the most dramatic element of this episode, which is loaded with set-up. We have the incredible rah-rah moment of inspiration that comes with Arya’s triumph, a moment which is also technically very disturbing. After all, we don’t want her to be a villain… and yet, her streak of murders keeps her from being someone we can define as a hero.
“Game of Thrones,” as always, leaves us conflicted and confused. It remains a show that hates the weak, but loves its small victories. It is the most delicious of cheeseburgers, but also hard to evaluate without seeing more.