If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you know that even though it’s technically the middle of summer, the truth is that winter is finally here. HBO’s groundbreaking fantasy series returned on Sunday, July 16, breaking the tradition of a spring premiere.
But the late arrival of GoT’s seventh season was, in many ways, well worth the wait. From its first stunning moments to its last, “Dragonstone” set a decisively vengeful tone. And as the first chapter in the series’ penultimate season, it offered up some tantalizing and often satisfying hints as to how the major players will maneuver as winter descends on Westeros.
From dangerous new alliances to the unexpected return of a major character, here are the most surprising moments from Game of Thrones’ Season 7 premiere.
Winter comes for House Frey
In the Season 6 finale, Arya Stark finally had the chance to cross a name off her list. She slit Walder Frey’s throat in retaliation for the Red Wedding — but as we learned in “Dragonstone,” she didn’t stop there.
The opening scene of the Season 7 premiere showed what looked to be a party thrown by Walder Frey for his kinsmen. He toasted their success in eliminating Robb Stark, but then warned them that they hadn’t gotten rid of all the Starks. As the Frey men started to choke on the poisoned wine they’d consumed, Arya removed her Walder Frey mask and turned to address his bride.
“When people ask you what happened here,” she said calmly, looking out over the carnage, “Tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
Now that she’s a faceless woman, her stunning vengeance streak likely won’t be over any time soon.
Cersei’s new alliance
When we last saw Cersei Lannister, it was in the aftermath of her wildfire attack on the Sept of Baelor. She won the Iron Throne, but we learned in “Dragonstone” that she’s well aware she cannot keep the crown without a little help.
Enter Euron Greyjoy, the new Lord of the Iron Islands. He strutted into King’s Landing knowing full well that the queen and her army need his manpower to stand a chance in the battles they’re facing. And while Cersei didn’t seem exactly impressed, she wasn’t ready to send him away either. Euron is cocky and brash, but he does have something Cersei needs. So while an alliance with the Greyjoys may have seemed beneath the queen at one point, the times have changed — and so has her hold on the kingdom.
A crack in Brienne’s armor
For Tormund, when he laid eyes on Brienne of Tarth it was love at first sight. It’s taken a bit longer for the highborn warrior to warm to him, though. Their awkward interactions as their relationship has unfolded have been a Game of Thrones highlight. So it was especially fun when Brienne became a little bit flustered when Tormund strolled by while she was training Podrick. Thus far, the wildling’s affections haven’t been the least bit reciprocated.
But from the looks of things, we may finally see Brienne show him a little bit of love — or at least dial back the disdain — in Season 7. Sure, it wasn’t a huge plot twist, but it was a surprising moment of levity, and a development that many fans thought would perhaps never come.
A singer in the woods
If you follow Game of Thrones news online, you probably knew that singer Ed Sheeran was due to make an appearance on the series this season. But few fans expected him to show up this soon — like, a half-an-hour-into-the-premiere soon.
But as Arya made her way, via horseback, toward King’s Landing, she heard the dulcet tones of a minstrel-like voice. And sure enough, it was Ed Sheeran, looking less like a pop star and more like a weary soldier.
For his part, Sheeran did a perfunctory job as one of a handful of young men that got Arya up to speed about the state of things at the Capitol. He may not have a career as an actor and we’ll have to see if the song he sang, “Hands of Gold,” becomes a crossover hit, but at least it gave us a break from the much-more somber “Rains of Castamere” tune.
Gregor Clegane’s vision
The most surprising bit of character development didn’t come from one of Game of Thrones’ major players. And in the realm of “big” series moments, it probably wouldn’t rank that high. But Gregor Clegane’s revelatory gaze into the cottage hearth marked a big step forward for the character.
He’s a man who’s run from flames of any kind — who’s, in fact, abandoned his sacred duties after encountering wildfire. But the Hound’s deep-seated phobia took a backseat to curiosity in “Dragonstone.” And as he stared into the fire, he had a vision of ice, and the Army of the Dead marching on the Wall.
Clegane has long searched for his purpose — and it seems like he may have finally started to realize that he has a bigger role to play than he may have thought.
Sam’s unnerving encounter
Now based at the Citadel, Sam spent most of his time in the Season 7 premiere trying to figure out how the Night’s Watch can possibly stand a chance against the Army of the Dead. But while collecting empty trays from the prison ward, he had a fright that had nothing to do with the undead.
An arm reached out of one of the cells to grab him — and it was covered in Greyscale. Then, a raspy voice called out, asking Sam if the Dragon Queen had arrived yet. If that wasn’t enough of a clue for eagle-eyed and eared fans, the shot of the prisoner’s profile confirmed his identity. Jorah Mormont is still alive and still waiting for Daenerys. It remains to be seen whether she’ll want anything to do with him.
From the very first episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen’s main goal has been to return home and reclaim the Iron Throne. And at times, it’s seemed like it’s taken forever for her to get going. At the end of Season 6, things were looking up as she finally set sail toward Westeros.
Given how slowly the Mother of Dragon’s story has moved, it was surprising to see her arrive at Dragonstone at the end of the Season 7 premiere. Then, after taking a moment to stare at the throne her ancestors once ruled in, she decided it wasn’t time to rest on her laurels. The episode ended with her standing in front of the strategy board that Stannis Baratheon once mulled over, and asking Tyrion in a calm, collected voice, “Shall we begin?”
If this is the pace at which the rest of the season will move, the following episodes will likely be every bit as thrilling.