Game of Thrones season seven recap: Clear and present danger

The eighth and final season is nigh, but first here’s a recap of season seven, with key episodes and four things to watch for

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and one of her dragons in Game of Thrones. Photograph: HBO

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and one of her dragons in Game of Thrones. Photograph: HBO

 

There are just a few shot days to go before Game of Thrones returns for the eight and final season. We’ve been doing our part by helping you find your way through seasons past with recaps in our ultimate watching guide, which also includes suggested episodes to rewatch throughout seasons one-seven. Or you can consult scrolls in the restricted section of the library for a look at season seven.

Press on, but novices beware: this article is dark and full of spoilers. And now our watch continues.

How should I rewatch Game of Thrones season seven?

Concentrate on the installments that are central to the famously complicated plot and provide all the feels. Here are four must-watch episodes.

Episode 3, The Queen’s Justice – Jon and Dany finally meet, sparking a battle of royal titles. And it’s payback time for the murders of Joffrey and Myrcella. Bonus: Bran shows us how creepy he can be.

Episode 4, The Spoils of War – For spectacular action scenes both large (Dany, Drogon and the Dothraki taking on the Lannister loot train) and small (Arya sparring with Brienne). Also, what is wrong with Bran?! Poor Meera.

Episode 6, Beyond the Wall – Remember how thrilling it seemed the first time our magnificent seven raiding party risked everything to bring back proof of the wights for Cersei? Good times. Now revisit the despair of learning that their losses were for naught. Cry for Thoros. Cry for Viserion. Cry, cry.

Episode 7, The Dragon and the Wolf – Try to stir up some hope for the dragon-pit summit – a chance for Westeros’ best people to come together for the sake of humanity’s survival, even if the effort might be doomed and Viserion can still make short work of the Wall. Also: Stark powers activate! Goodbye, Littlefinger.

Four things to watch for in S7

All the key players are back in Westeros, but the place is in shambles as invasions are under way. Trying to pick apart the complex narrative? Thinking along these themes and schemes might help.

Food for Thought

Winter is here, and that means it’s already late to be stocking up on food supplies. But where is the food coming from, when the harvests have been so disrupted by war? At Dragonstone, Team Stannis left the larders empty before departing north. How are Dany’s armies and three dragons going to eat while they camp out there? What about when they travel?

At Winterfell, Sansa’s asking the local farmers to help build up the grain stores with regular shipments, planning ahead to feed both the armies of the North and local refugees. “If the entire North has to flee to Winterfell, they won’t have enough time to bring wagon loads of grain with them,” she reasons. At King’s Landing, the Lannisters aren’t asking the farmers for food – they’re stealing it. Part of Cersei and Jaime’s Highgarden scheme was to get the gold to repay the Iron Bank, but also to empty the granaries and collect the harvests from the farms in the Reach. Which in itself is a kind of warfare: the capital hopes to withstand a long siege, but the people in the Reach won’t be able to survive a long winter.

Listen to the background chatter at the Inn at the Crossroads before Arya reunites with Hot Pie. Two men speculate that “prices will triple” and what they mean are the prices of food in King’s Landing. Remember what Bronn explained to Tyrion and Varys in season two? “The thieves, they love a siege. Soon as the gates are sealed, they steal all the food. By the time it’s all over, they’re the richest men in town.” Noble women will sell their diamonds for a sack of potatoes. If it gets really bad, Bronn says, the poor will start to eat each other. “Food’s worth more than gold.”

Realising that she won’t be able to feed her armies “because Cersei has taken all the food”, Dany decides to hit back. Instead of attacking King’s Landing, she attacks the loot train, though Drogon blasts the wagons containing grain and food supplies. Now, no one has that precious resource. Starvation is one of the biggest threats to Westeros. This is partly why the farmer that the Hound revisits in season seven has killed himself and his daughter. When the Hound robbed them of their silver in Season 4, estimating they would be dead come winter, he ensured their fate. With or without war, food prices are about to skyrocket.

Clear and present danger

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Jon Snow is trying to recruit allies in the fight against the army of the dead, but he’s having trouble rallying people to his cause. It might be because he’s not great at describing his own White Walker experiences or using other witnesses to corroborate.

Perhaps Jon needs to think back to the Night’s Watch back in Season 1, when they sent Alliser Thorne with a letter and a wight hand to show the Small Council. (The Small Council only saw the letter in Season 2 – no Thorne, no hand.) It’s curious Tyrion doesn’t bring this up, since he was the one who read the letter and tried to vouch for Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’s credibility. But perhaps this incident is what gives Tyrion the idea to go beyond the Wall and capture a wight in the first place.

Tyrion thinks this would provide proof for Cersei, but he should also remember from past dealings with her that she’s not going to care. It’s not Cersei who needs the information anyway – it’s the realm. Sam realises this when he makes his case at the Citadel, and Archmaester Ebrose, while complacent, believes him. But the maesters aren’t moved to action when Sam tries to persuade them to spread the word. His mistake is telling the Citadel maesters that they should ask the various lords to send men to defend the Wall during a time of war.

There’s another option: Use the ravens as an Emergency Broadcast System to inform folks how to protect themselves. Tell them what works in their defence – fire, dragonglass, Valyrian steel (in case they have a spare ancestral sword). Urge them to burn, not bury, their dead, to clear out their crypts.

Perhaps the House maesters will disregard the information at first, but better that they know the basics. At the very least, time to repair the ravenries!

‘Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie’

When Bran and Sam combine their respective intel from visions and old scrolls, they realise that Jon Snow is the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. This leads Bran to a couple of conclusions: One, Jon is the heir to the throne, and two, that the war that put Robert Baratheon on the throne was built on a lie – which makes Jon’s claim seem even more legitimate.

But as good as Bran is at seeing things, he’s not so good at processing the information. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the Mad King. Robert’s Rebellion didn’t erupt only because Rhaegar and Lyanna ran off together (although that definitely was an instigating factor). If Rhaegar had wanted to abandon his wife, Elia Martell, and two kids to marry another woman, he should have informed a few people what he was up to – maybe send a raven to the bride’s family?

Instead, he disregarded customs, laws and Lyanna’s own betrothal, leaving everyone to assume the worst, which is why Brandon Stark – Lyanna and Ned’s older brother – went to court to protest and demand Lyanna’s release. That situation should have been simple to clear up, but instead, King Aerys had Brandon arrested, summoned his father and then publicly incinerated them both, an event that looms large over Jon and Dany’s first meeting. It also explains Sansa’s shock that Jon would even answer a Targaryen summons: “Have you forgotten what happened to our grandfather? The Mad King invited him to King’s Landing and roasted him alive.”

So it wasn’t Rhaeger’s supposed kidnapping as much as Aerys’s murdering of the nobles that convinced a coalition of several Houses that the king was unfit to rule, and that they had to remove him and end his royal line. “There have been few rulers in history as cruel as the Mad King,” Varys notes.

But Rhaegar was cruel, too. He could have married both women – the Targaryens had a history of polygamy. By annulling his marriage, Rhaegar delegitimised his first two children and took them out of the line of succession. Then, adding insult to injury, he married Lyanna in Elia Martell’s homeland of Dorne. Bran and Sam begin to frame the Rhaegar-and-Lyanna elopement as a romance, but that can only work if one ignores all the injured parties. How romantic is it that Rhaegar basically ensured the deaths of his abandoned wife and two kids (left unprotected, surrounded by enemies)? How romantic is it that Rhaegar actively supported and fought on the side of the man who murdered Lyanna’s father and brother? Oberyn Martell never bought the “romance” – he remembered the murdered children. And even if Ned Stark was late in realising the relationship was consensual, he, too, remembered those dead kids.

Ned’s whole arc was about preventing the deaths of more innocent children – he committed treason to protect Jon, fought to save Dany from assassination and warned Cersei in order to give her a chance to save her three offspring. That’s the honour Cersei remembers, and even grudgingly respects, when she refers to Jon Snow as “Ned Stark’s son.” Rhaegar might be Jon’s bio-dad, but when it comes down to it, Jon will always be Ned Stark’s son.

Children in Charge

The Starks’s key allies – House Mormont, House Umber, House Karstark and House Arryn – are all led by minors now, even if they have adults influencing them. (Little Ned Umber doesn’t even look like he’s hit puberty, the poor thing.)

That doesn’t necessarily make them less fierce – Lyanna Mormont has plenty of spunk – but it does make them less experienced, especially when it comes to issues related to running their households, managing their lands or preparing for a siege, let alone all-out war.

Sansa, who is a little older and wiser in some ways, less wise in others, observed a lot during her time in King’s Landing. Not all the lessons she learned in the court of an immature boy-king were good ones. Joffrey punished her for her father and brother’s alleged treasons, just to send a message, causing her to beg and plead for mercy. Now that Sansa’s in a position of power herself, she is far from merciful. She suggests that Ned Umber and Alys Karstark be punished for the actions of their relatives. Sansa is less violent about it, but her form of punishment would actually be crueler – she would cast them out of their ancestral homes and strip them of their lands just as winter has come. Where would these kids go?

But a better argument for Sansa to make – beyond feudal politics of loyalty versus treason – would be practical concerns. How are these kids going to know how to winterproof their castles? Might it be better to put some adults in charge of these first lines of defense? Or at least make sure the kids are teamed up with some especially good maesters or other advisers? Don’t leave little Ned Umber to sort these issues out on his own.

How should your sweet summer child watch season seven?

Watching with younger viewers? Here are some scenes you might want to skip in Season seven.

Episode 1: About 30 minutes in, there are two scenes at the Citadel that might be hard to stomach, although mileage could vary – one is a poop-soup montage that may induce a gag reflex, lasting about two minutes, and following it is an autopsy with a naked male corpse, his genitals in full view. More disturbing might be the removal of his internal organs. The Hound comes across the corpses of a farmer and his daughter at about 45 minutes in – a murder-suicide to save themselves from starvation.

Episode2: Grey Worm might be a eunuch, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a sex life – as he demonstrates with Missandei. (About 29 minutes in.) Euron Greyjoy’s surprise attack on the rebel Greyjoy fleet is pretty vicious, with a couple dozen folks – including two Sand Snakes – getting killed within the space of five minutes. (About 53 minutes in.)

Episode 3: Cersei gets aroused by killing her enemies, so she offers sex to Jaime about 30 minutes into the episode. The siege of Casterly Rock is less violent than most battles but still includes about 20 soldiers dying in quick succession. (About 53 minutes in, lasting 2½ minutes.)

Episode 4: The loot train sequence might be spectacular to watch, but it’s also horrific given the large number of people who die a fiery death. The action starts at about 41 minutes in, when Drogon starts to barbecue a line of Lannister soldiers. Skip until the end of the episode, around 49 minutes in, if you want to come back to see Jaime charge a grounded Drogon and nearly get hit by a fireball.

Episode 5: Dany tells Randyll and Dickon Tarly to bend the knee or die. When they refuse allegiance, Drogon burns them alive. (About 11 minutes in.) During a little smuggling operation, Gendry dispatches two guards with his war hammer. (About 40 minutes in.)

Episode 6 A zombie polar bear attacks our men beyond the Wall, mauling Thoros of Myr. (About 26 minutes in.) The big wight attack on the frozen lake kicks in around 48 minutes in, and Viserion is struck at 54 minutes in. If you want to come back to see Jon ride off to safety, that’s at 59 minutes in.

Episode 7 As punishment for his various crimes against the Stark family, Arya executes Littlefinger by slashing his throat. (About 60 minutes in.) Jon and Dany commit incest while Tyrion creepily hangs out in the corridor. (About 72 minutes in.) – New York Times

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