Game of Thrones is back, with a promise that each and every one of its season 7 episodes will be as intense and spectacular as Hardhome.

First things first: was this a shocker of an episode? No, but it was an excellent way to ease us back into the world of Ice and Fire after a painfully long hiatus, and it actually set up plenty of storylines for the weeks to come. This wasn’t exactly unexpected, given that there’s only a a dozen more episodes left before the show comes to its grand finale, but still a very pleasant surprise.

A lot happened this week. After the requisite catching-up montage, we visited each and every group of characters we actually care about, and got to see a chunk of plot advance.

For one thing, Bran actually got through the Wall. Does this mean that the show (temporarily) put an end to all the theories supporting that the Wall would crumble if Bran ever got through it, followed by the White Walkers and the thousands of Wights we saw majestically advance southward? Probably not, given how much tinfoil is out there. Besides, the archmaester at the Citadel made of point of reminding Sam that the Wall has withstood many a winter; foreshadowing much?

But back to the Wall: Edd is still acting Lord Commander! He really looks the part, too, and I’m glad to see he didn’t just swing the gates open for Meera and Bran but asked for proof of ID instead. Luckily Bran knows way too much to be intimidated by the ID check at the door, but Meera’s introduction surely means we might be meeting Howland Reed soon enough, right? Right?

A bit more south of the Wall, Jon is actually doing a good job channeling Ned as a firm but fair leader of the houses that pledged their allegiance to him. I loved the scene with Sansa challenging him in front of his men, only to see Jon hold his ground. Both made good points, but watching the young Karstark girl and the little Umber boy kneel and pledge their house to the Starks actually gave me chills.

And while Lyanna Mormont being, once again, a fiercely badass young lady had me cheering, nothing pleased me more than Sansa giving Littlefinger the cold shoulder, all the while being quite pragmatic about keeping him around, not to mention her little quip to Jon about Robb and Ned being honorable men who made stupid mistakes and lost their heads for it. Will Littlefinger outstay his welcome soon, or will he succeed in driving a wedge between the two Stark siblings cousins? I’m sure we’re all praying for option #1, because if there’s one character who needs to die this season more than Cersei, it’s the creepy, conniving, ambitious Lord Baelish.

Another cheer-worthy moment (for those of us still shipping Tormund and Brienne, that is)? Their brief encounter during sword practice. Poor Pod – or lucky him, depending on how you look at it. Is Tormund courting the tall drink of water that is the Lady of Tarth, or does he just want to fight her? The look of disdain on Brienne’s face was priceless – or was it just confusion? She’s obviously never had a man actually flirt with her before – but here’s holding out hope that good ol’ Tormund will eventually win her over – although with the wildlings setting up shop at Eastwatch, I’m afraid chances look a little slim.

A little further south, we were treated to quite the scene in the cold open: the (very dead) lord of the Twins holding a feast for his numerous relatives. Obviously the reveal at the end wasn’t meant to shock us – we knew Arya slit Walder’s throat in last season’s finale, right after serving him a piece of Frey pie. But boy oh boy was it sweet! I loved her little speech reminding the extended Frey family of how they violated guest right at the Red Wedding, and I especially loved that she spared the hateful old man’s poor wife and the rest of his female relatives. And while that was probably the most satisfactory season opener of the show so far, it does raise a few questions about the way this Faceless man thing works: the last couple of times we saw Arya wear a face, she didn’t speak all that much, and when she did, it sounded quite like her. This time, she clearly sounded like Walder Frey; she not only wore his face, but his body as well. So how exactly does this work? Does wearing a face means that she’s able to completely transform herself into the person whose face she’s borrowing? As much as the mechanics of this remain unexplained, it opens a whole new world of possibility, and I can’t wait to see where it takes her.

One thing’s for sure: it doesn’t look like it’s taking her back North to reunite with her siblings just yet. As much as we’d hoped for a Stark reunion, it came as no surprise that Arya would heading south to tend to her unfinished business and scratch the last couple of names off her list. What I didn’t expect, however, was to see a happy, polite, restrained Arya hang out with Lannister men, let alone that one of them would be Ed Sheeran. Not sure we needed this silly cameo, but hey, seeing Arya eat and drink and actually *laugh* for the first time since… hell, since Jon gave her Needle, was quite a sight. Was this scene a fake-out? Are we to expect a blood bath in next week’s cold open? These young men certainly don’t look evil, but Arya is damaged enough to not be able to tell the difference when she eyes their red cloaks, which is a sad state of affairs, no matter how much we enjoy seeing her be a total badass. Either way, I’d hate to see her become the live version of Lady Stoneheart so late in the game; besides, she has bigger fish to fry.

Arya’s former travel companion, Sandor Clegane, is now marching north with the Brotherhood, but there’s still no love lost between them. I like how Thoros keeps commenting on his dour disposition, and I especially like that this new and improved Hound isn’t a completely changed man since his time with Brother Ray. The change is subtle, but it’s definitely there. What caught me by surprise was the whole look-into-the-flames sequence. Although Melisandre didn’t make an appearance this week, the contrast between this scene and the ones where she shared her own Lord of Light visions with Stannis was quite poignant: she showed Stannis the ‘future’ in the flames, but we know that what he saw never really came true. What Sandor sees, however, is right on the money, and germane to not just one person’s ambitions but the future of the entire realm. We already know Thoros has resurrected Beric a bunch of times already, whereas Melisandre’s only brought Jon back to life the one time, so does this further prove that Thoros of Myr is a much more powerful priest than good old Melisandre ever was? And what does this mean for the story going forward?

Which brings me to the part of this week’s premiere I wasn’t exactly thrilled about.

For one thing, did we really need that disgusting Sam montage? I mean, okay man, we get it: he’s an acolyte doing the jobs no one else wants to do, but did we really have to watch him change bed pans, serve that nasty goo and retch for a good few minutes? Ugh. I sat down with my dinner to enjoy this episode and had to struggle to keep my food down. It was too gross and went on too long and was just plain awful.

On the plus side, little Sam is finally older this season! Took them long enough to age the little guy, given how Bran has grown about 3 feet over the past few seasons and yet Sam Jr somehow remained a baby since Gilly left Craster’s keep. Still, the timeline of this entire episode is off: Little Sam has grown significantly, Euron has built his ships, but Jaime and Cersei haven’t talked about their last remaining son diving off the Red Keep. More on this later.

Back to the Citadel: we were spared the long wait until Sam would delve into those big-ass tomes at the library and find out that there’s a shitload of dragonglass on Dragonstone, but we already knew that, so it wasn’t much of a big reveal. The entire Citadel plot line was ultimately saved by the familiar sight of our favorite friendzoned knight’s profile and horribly disfigured arm! Why is Jorah in a cell though? I don’t remember reading about the maesters-in-training tending to prisoners, but I guess whatever this is about will be revealed sooner than later.

My biggest disappointment this week, however, was the Kings Landing plot line: how is Jaime not enraged with Cersei? How did they not discuss Tommen before just now? The way he looked at her in the season 6 finale suggested that something a hell of a lot more ominous was brewing between them – and here they are, their relationship strong as ever, calmly discussing their strategy going forward, as if he didn’t just witness his sister do the exact same thing he killed Aerys for, ruining his entire reputation in the process. I know that Cersei is a more 3-dimensional character on the show than she is in the books, and I know Jaime may be pretty much over her in the books but still quite under her spell in the show, but jeez, this was as underwhelming as it could get.

And that entire Euron scene would have been pointless if not for Jaime’s hilarious line as they watched the Greyjoy fleet approach. Still, as funny as that little exchange was, as well as Euron’s little dig as Jaime’s missing hand, it couldn’t make the kin-slaying, guy-liner wearing, goth pirate actually interesting. Nor, for that matter, does is explain why he’d sail his thousand ships south (I’m guessing the Ironborn ship-builders work as quickly as whoever transported Littlefinger across Westeros last season, so I’m still considering that a gaping plot hole) to propose to Cersei and then just leave when rejected, promising to come back with a gift. Why not bring the gift from the start? I’m guessing it’s the stupid horn he claims to possess, yes? Ugh, who cares?

And then, finally, after all that talk about Dragonstone and dragonglass, we see Dany arrive at her ancestral home, touch the sand and walk straight into the formidable castle that previously housed Stannis and his men. She tears down the flaming heart sigil, bypasses the throne (again, foreshadowing maybe?), then walks into the room with the imposing table carved in the shape of the map of Westeros, and wants to get right down to business.

Look, I get that this is what a lot of fans have been waiting for since the pilot episode: Dany returning to Westeros. And obviously, after watching her wander around Essos for 6 seasons and suffering through the tedious Meereen storyline far longer than we should have, we all breathed a sigh of relief when she took her impressive fleet west. But the wonderful set pieces and epic music didn’t really send shivers down my spine, not the way seeing Jon be proclaimed as the ‘King in the North’ did. Maybe it’s because the best character in this whole damn show, Tyrion, had zero speaking lines this week. Maybe Emilia Clarke’s acting just isn’t very convincing, or maybe I’m just not as invested in Daenerys’s quest to claim her ‘birth right’ because, after all, how does that make her any different from every single monarch we’ve already seen on this show?

I know, I know. She’s a fan favorite and I’m being almost sacrilegious, but I’m just not feeling it just yet. Unlike Jon, she’s shown quite a mean streak before, and the only reason we’re rooting for her to conquer Kings Landing is because the current queen sitting on the Iron Throne is the most hateful character on the show right now.

What makes Dany’s part of the story exciting for me isn’t her impending attack on the Capital, but her upcoming meeting with Jon. Sam sending a raven to Winterfell to inform Jon about the dragonglass, combined with Cersei’s invitation to Kings Landing, means we’ll be seeing Jon march south sooner than later, and that opens up a world of possibilities: will Sansa join him? Will they cross paths with Sandor and the Brotherhood on their way South? Will they catch up with Arya and finally have their long-awaited reunion?

And which of the main characters will die this season? As much as we’d love to see Cersei die at the hands of Jaime and confirm the Valonqar prophecy, Euron’s comment about killing his brother and how “she should do it sometimes” feels pretty ominous, so will Jaime actually make it out alive? Will Tyrion, for that matter? Will we get a Stark reunion only to have one of our favorite children die shortly afterwards?

Cue the endless theories and speculation. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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