Many of the fans are asking questions of the new season of Game of Thrones. People want to know when the army of the dead will march on Eastwatch. They are curious about Ed Sheeran’s cameo in the premiere, and if he’ll be a recurring character in this season. A good number of viewers are buzzing about what Euron’s priceless gift will be, and how soon he’ll deliver it to Queen Cersei.
Obviously, I don’t have those answers. I could speculate and tell you that the Wildling vs. White Walker fight won’t be on-camera, it will simply be reported to Jon Snow and his council with grim stares and grunts. With an educated guess, I could say that Ed Sheeran will probably not be coming back, given how expensive it is to hire celebrities of his stature these days (notice how few lines he actually had). With a little research into the book-story of Game of Thrones, it might be possible to hazard that Euron Greyjoy’s gift will be the Horn of the Dragon, an ancient artifact from Valyria that lets the blower of the horn subdue and possible even control dragons (whether or not it actually works, I leave to the producers).
But none of that is really interesting to me right now. Sure, later on, when the season gets its legs and starts the rumor mills in full force, I’ll want to comment on it. But right now, my interests are in the world. At the end of last season, I noted how several storylines in the show seem to be wrapping up. Rather than adding new characters at the start of this season (and thereby adding new storylines for said characters), we’re simply following the events of the previous season, or merging a few storylines together. Bran, for example, makes it to The Wall, where he meets the last of the Night’s Watch and takes shelter with them. Euron travels to King’s Landing to meet with the Lannisters, merging the stories of two usurping families somewhat. The Hound travels with the Brotherhood without Banners, a continuation of season six’s reveal that the marauders who killed Ian McShane’s character were actually rogue warriors from the Brotherhood. This, more than anything else, is a sign that the show is rapidly approaching its end point (regardless of what HBO has to say about further seasons).
Some of the continuation plotlines are quite well done. Arya’s massacre of the Freys is a natural following point of her assassination in the previous season. It sends ripples throughout the kingdom, all the way to Kings’ Landing, forcing the Lannister army to take on a ‘peacekeeping’ role in the land formerly ruled by the Walda Frey, and now…lawless. There are some juicy possibilities going forward: forcing Arya to confront the repercussions of assassinating an entire ruling family, not just geopolitically but how it provides criminals an opportunity to take advantage of the land. Her meeting with the young Lannister soldiers proves that the world is a very different place than she thinks it – they are not the bloodthirsty killers she’s heard about, but young men, not much more than boys, who want to go home and be with their fathers, their children.
It also proves some things about the world to us. Years of near-constant warfare have killed off nearly every army’s veterans. Older soldiers are fewer and farther between. We see it with the Brotherhood especially. When we first met them, they were a young force of deserters and villagers, mostly with fresh faces and lots of passion to make up for their inexperience. Now, The Hound, a grizzled veteran, and few other snow-weathered faces make up the band of warriors. We see it again in Winterfell, where both the Umber and Karstark families have children leading the dynasties (not counting out, of course, the lady of Bear Island). To the south, Dorne is ruled by a former consort and her children, the ‘Sand Snakes,’ an entirely female ruling class. With all of the killing in the story of Game of Thrones, it seems the only ones left are the very young or the very old. Daenerys’ forces seems to be the only ones with any real experience, any real mettle, left. Everyone else is rattling old sabers at the dragon to the east.
As I’ve said, my interest is in the world Game of Thrones occupies. In previous seasons, that would have meant Essos and Westeros. But as stories tighten and characters thin out, this season, it looks like it just means Westeros. Cersei proves that in the map-painting scene in the premiere. She spends the moment laying out the situation as she sees it. The King in the North, in the process of uniting his broken liegemen, is one enemy. The Dornish in the south, secretive and venomous. The Tyrells to the west, led by the vengeful Queen of Thorns and with enough foodstuffs to outlast any siege, winter notwithstanding. The Targaryen fleet to the west, landing at Dragonstone, ready to retake the Seven Kingdoms with Ironborn ship, Unsullied spear and dragon fire. From Cersei’s perspective, they are surrounded by enemies and need to prepare for war – not much has changed. From Jaime’s viewpoint, they need to prove that the Lannisters are the winning team to back. But from where I sit, it is a fascinating portrait of the world as we know it. We’re so used to so many competing forces and agents, vying for dominion– Stannis, Robb Stark, Balon Greyjoy, the Tyrells, the Martells, the slavers, the Dothraki, the Faceless men – it’s almost unbelievable that the Great Game has boiled down to these few players. Certainly, not all of the numerous threats have vanished – the White Walkers have only gotten stronger, after all – but episode one gives us our map, our methods by which we understand the world and the people who live in it. It remains to be seen if this map will be redrawn by another’s hand, stained with blood by an assassin’s strike, or covered in the white sheets of wintry death. Maybe, if we’re really lucky, it will be all three.