Here we are, in mid-July, with our sanity melting, our norms crumbling, and the Larsen Ice Shelf breaking up and heading straight toward us. But cheer up: winter, in “Game of Thrones” form, is here! I don’t know what you have been doing in the off-season, but I’ve been anxiously favoriting trenchant political tweets and escaping to a realm beyond the Seven Kingdoms called “Grantchester,” where a lusty, crime-solving vicar takes my troubles away. Meanwhile, “G.o.T.,” like the Holy Spirit or democracy’s decline, has been all around us.
At a wedding I attended recently, text celebrating the marriage of Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo was read alongside a poem by W. H. Auden. (It was a delightful ceremony, in contrast to Dany and Drogo’s actual wedding, which was more focussed on swordplay-to-the-death and plein-air copulation.) At Madison Square Garden in March, Ramin Djawadi conducted the “Game of Thrones” Live Concert Experience, where green fire blasted around the stage, we listened to “The Rains of Castamere” and watched scenes of the Red Wedding and people yelled “Shame!” in a spirit of euphoria. It was fun—like a disturbing, very elaborate “previously on” montage. And this week, White Walkers roamed around London—adding fun, for once in their lives, not subtracting it.
Now, on Sunday night, we’re back to the real thing. Bring on the imploding Lannisters, the avenging Starks, the scheming Littlefinger, the randy Tormund Giantsbane, and the no-nonsense tween Lyanna Mormont, who’d rule that realm, and likely the United States, as well as anybody. As last season began, we were in a desperate and vulnerable place: Jon Snow was dead, but Jon Snow couldn’t be dead, and so on. Now that’s sorted out and we have other issues to deal with. (For one thing, Ed Sheeran is going to show up at some point—I’d love to see him fight Brienne of Tarth, but I suppose that’s too much to ask.)
As Season 7—the second-to-last of two final, shortened seasons—begins, the young Starks, uncharacteristically, are in decent shape. They took Winterfell back from the Boltons, and Ramsey, a villain we’d been sick of for what felt like decades, got eaten by dogs. Arya, no longer blind (ugh!), began avenging the many wrongs visited on her family, by feeding Walder Frey a toe-filled pie. (For a Stark kid, that’s a moral victory.) Now they’ve got to sort out the Lannister situation, and then some. Cersei, post-fireball, sits on the Iron Throne. At the end of last season, the Dany contingent—Tyrion, Varys, the Unsullied, Dothraki soldiers, the whole ragtag lot—dramatically set sail for Westeros, having found a way to get a horse-riding army onto boats, and the Greyjoys set sail, too. Fight! Fight! Fight! (Sorry, it’s been a provocative off-season.) And, as ever, the White Walkers, perhaps made more interesting by their day in London, continue to groan and ice around.
The Season 7 trailer begins with Littlefinger dispensing wisdom in a voice-over as Sansa, increasingly formidable, walks through snow, in a luscious fur cloak and no hat. “Don’t fight in the north,” Littlefinger says, breathily. “Or the south. Fight every battle. Everywhere. Always. In your mind.” That sounds like something you’d hear from Steve Bannon, but in the Seven Kingdoms it’s just good sense. In another voice-over, Jon Snow, the new King of the North, talks of banding together to fight a common enemy—he’s a realist, out for survival, sane and reasonable. Such people don’t always get listened to, here or in Westeros, but I’m cautiously optimistic. His role is clearly of mystical importance. His true parentage, one of the central mysteries of the show, was finally confirmed last season after fervent speculation. He’s not the bastard son of Ned Stark, as Ned had claimed; he’s the son of Ned’s sister, Lyanna Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s brother. Does this mean Jon Snow can near-singlehandedly defeat an army of ice sleazebags and save the world? Don’t ask me. But I’m rooting for him.
Lannisterwise, the narrative stasis in King’s Landing has ended, and, relatedly, so has the oily-rags-and-pablum tyranny of the High Sparrow. Cersei , having long tried to exert regal influence via her children, is now just doing it herself, for chrissakes. Jaime seems to find her behavior since he left town disturbing, and I get it—she burned everybody up, and unwittingly inspired their young son King Tommen to commit suicide, and pensively clutched so many wine goblets that she may need an intervention. The Season 7 trailer shows her clutching yet more goblets. (Good for her, I say—she has been through it!) Beyond that, she’s about to be besieged by dragons, which are now the size of 747s, the director Matt Shakman has said, and Drogon’s fire breath has a thirty-foot diameter. Cersei would do well to give pay raises to the members of the King’s Landing Fire Department.
I’d love for Littlefinger to somehow become less creepy, because I’m warily fond of him, but that’s not going to happen: creepy is Littlefinger’s bread and butter. He’ll keep trying to manipulate and woo Sansa, and Sansa will keep trying to counter-manipulate him—she likes his army, and so do we. I’m into it, as long as it doesn’t gross me out. For the other Stark siblings, happier days are here again. The trailer shows us Arya on horseback, with further vengeance in her heart, and Bran in a nice new wheelchair, sussing things out across space and time. Perhaps he’ll somehow impart wisdom to Jon about the Children of the Forest, who created the White Walkers? Look, I barely know what that means—we’re getting beyond the Wall of my abilities to understand.
In a similar realm, to me, is Euron Greyjoy, Yara and Theon’s uncle, a latecomer no-goodnik who last season I was a bit too plot-exhausted to care about. But I like the new blood in the Greyjoy story line, between Yara’s increasing power, Theon’s slow return to sanity, boats galore, the murder of their tiresome father, and the welcome advent of lesbianism. I was pleased to learn that in Season 7, as E.W. tells us, Euron has been given a sexy, yet-to-be-revealed makeover, as well as a better, more fun personality. He’s a “hooligan,” not a monster—he is, as the show’s co-executive producer Bryan Cogman put it, “the kind of guy who will kill you *and *steal your girlfriend.” (See? Fun!) The trailer indicates that he also has a good-looking fleet of ships. All of this should definitely help me remember who he is. He, too, wants the Iron Throne, and perhaps he and his enhanced memorability will come into contact with Cersei, her power, and her theoretical status of single and ready to mingle.
This is all well and good—your dragons, your ramparts, your warging and fleets—but I’m eager to spend more time with Samwell Tarly in that gorgeous library at the Citadel, which looks awfully relaxing. I’m hoping that he figures something important out there, in the peace and quiet, and I’m hoping for lingering shots of leatherbound wisdom reaching up to the wise, peaceful sky. Maybe he’ll figure out a way to get Jon Snow out of this White Walker mess. Sam isn’t in the preview trailer, but Season 7 photographs show him hunched over a book, quill in hand, reading and writing his little heart out. People have speculated that Sam is the narrator of all this hullabaloo, the person telling us the story of the Game of Thrones, and they’ve been further encouraged by the chandelier at the Citadel Library that resembles the armillary sphere in the opening credits. Put a white beard, glasses, and a little hat on him, and it all makes a lot of sense.