After six long seasons of triumph, defeat and death (I still miss you, Robb!), the seventh season of “Game of Thrones” promises to lead into an epic final eight season to the television series based off George R. R. Martin’s set of books. The first two episodes of the penultimate season find the characters preparing for the precipitating duel-to-end-all-duels that has been building.
First, King’s Landing — Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the surviving Lannisters, plot once more to secure their place on the Iron Throne in the shadow of the looming threats of winter, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). The Lannister family has suffered heavy losses — a dead patriarch, a brother that defected and three deceased heirs. Cersei refuses to admit her role in all of these parts to Jaime, and twists the matter back, reminding Jaime of his guilt, too, after he tries to confront her. She is blinded by her thirst for power, too determined to face the death of all of her children and turns to the Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) for assistance in the battles to come.
To the Northeast, Daenerys Targaryen and her motley crew arrive at Dragonstone, finally, to set their conquest of Westeros into motion. There is some dissent among the parties — Targaryen, Lannister, Tyrell, Greyjoy and the Martell bastard — on how to proceed. Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria (Indira Varma) advocate for a siege of the capital, which the Targaryen-Greyjoy fleet sets off to initiate. The Lannister-Greyjoy fleet intercepts them, sparking a massive, maritime battle that leaves Daenerys’s ships decimated. Asbæk evokes a spine-chilling, frenzied bloodlust, most notably when he taunts Theon (Alfie Allen) to save Yara. For a major battle to occur in the second episode signals the desperation and necessity for power — everyone is playing for keeps this late in the game.
While these ladies and their companions skirmish in the South, Jon and the other Starks remain focused on the threat of winter. The forces in the North are paltry compared to the Lannister and Targaryen, and lack the proximity to power and ruthlessness, as they always have. Jon is drawn into the fray when he receives two ravens: A demand from Cersei for loyalty or death, and an invitation to Dragonstone from Danaerys written by Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Their connection could be key in defeating the Lannisters.
In the midst of all the action, there are some disappointments. Euron speeds to King’s Landing after Cersei’s call a little too neatly and conveniently. After Cersei refuses his request for her hand in exchange for his might, he nevertheless agrees, promising a “priceless gift.” The entire series is about betrayal and power struggles — why side with a notoriously double-dealing, star-crossed queen? On a smaller note, a few of the fearsome Sand Snakes are murdered in battle after talking a big game, completing some of the shortest narrative arcs for any character of a major family in the series.
Overall, the opening two episodes for the seventh season harkens back to the beginning of the series, completing the narrative circle. Daenerys has returned to Westeros to conquer the nation; Cersei has consolidated her power, if at the cost of losing all of her children. After the splintering of the Starks in the first season, Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Jon stand at the Wall as Arya heads north to meet her siblings after slaughtering the Freys for their deeds at the Red Wedding. With every power player on the same continent, the end is tangible. There is no more time to prepare.