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‘Game of Thrones’ is back with ‘Dragonstone’ and here’s what the critics thought

Winter is getting there.

Game of Thrones kicked off its seventh season on Sunday night with “Dragonstone,” an episode that picked up at the outer edge of what’s shaping up to be a very bloody winter in Westeros. Forces are aligning all across the continent, and everyone seems to be fixing for a fight with someone else.

It’s almost got the feel of that climactic stand-off in Reservoir Dogs. Who will pull the trigger first?

The expert Game of Thrones voices on the web all share a common sentiment: Dragonstone was a whoooole lot of setup. There’s surely blood and warfare to come, but critics agree that our first hour back in George R.R. Martin’s world was about reintroducing the labyrinthine web of murder politics.

Common cries of “table-setting!” aside, here’s what the broader conversation looks like on this, the morning after.

Mashable‘s own Laura Prudom noted that the ladies are coming into power this season — and we’re here for it. “After multiple seasons of mansplaining, rape and abuse, the women of Westeros are finally in positions of power in the Season 7 premiere, and it’s every bit as exhilarating as watching Wonder Woman stride through No Man’s Land with bullets bouncing off her gauntlets.”

Kelly Lawler, of USA Today, was particularly taken with Samwell Tarly’s Citadel routine and the questions those scenes raise about the larger series.

His bedpan-heavy montage was perhaps unnecessary, but added some levity and was an excellently edited bit of filmmaking. His discussion with the Archmaester (delightful cast addition Jim Broadbent) allowed the episode to explore the series’ larger themes. Does any of this, in the end, really mean anything? Life, war, power, they are all fleeting, so why does any of this matter, even the war with the White Walkers?

Liz Shannon Miller, of IndieWire, appreciated Euron Greyjoy’s bombastic reintroduction, in the court of Queen Cersei Lannister. She also has a prediction that I wholly agree with regarding Euron’s plans.

Euron Greyjoy, who didn’t make much of an impression on us last season as he fought for power over the Iron Islands with his niece and nephew, became a star thanks to Pilou Asbæk’s performance during the throne room scene, where he unleashed a charisma bomb that disabled us all. (Official IndieWire prediction: The “priceless gift” he brings back is Tyrion Lannister, the brother Cersei officially wants dead.)

Alyssa Rosenberg, of The Washington Post, had much to say about Jon Snow’s quietly combative back-and-forth with Sansa in the newly restored throne room of Winterfell.

One of the reasons Jon and Sansa’s debate about what to do with the Karstark and Umber castles is so painful is because they’re both correct. Jon understands far more viscerally than Sansa can that preserving the human alliance against the Night King must come before all other concerns, and the principle that no child should be punished for their father’s crimes is just. But at the same time, his solution includes no prospect of reconciliation or justice for Sansa. Maybe he’s right that there isn’t one, that the men who betrayed her most dearly are dead and there is nothing left for Sansa to take.

Elsewhere in the Stark family, The New York Times‘ Jeremy Egner expressed concern for Arya’s soul after the brutal pre-credits opening scene in which she murders the entire Frey family.

“Tell them winter came for House Frey,” Arya instructed one of the women she spared. It’s a first-rate catchphrase for a ruthless assassin, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about her soul. We’re reminded that the Stark girls have suffered plenty of trauma, from witnessing their father’s execution through multiple rounds of physical and emotional abuse. As they grow into ever more powerful women, will they resist or lean into the dark forces and experiences that have shaped them?

It’s not all doom and gloom for the youngest — and perhaps the most bloodied — Stark daughter, however. Myles McNutt, of A.V. Club, managed to look past the Ed Sheeran of it all in extracting humanity from a scene that’s built to remind us: Arya hasn’t completely given herself over to the darkness. Yet.

At first blush, the scene is an excuse for an Ed Sheeran cameo, as he sings a song of “hands of gold,” and shortly after it feels like it might be another spot of bother for Arya as she continues her quest for revenge, this large group of soldiers potentially meaning her harm. But the scene evolves into something even more disarming to Arya: an entirely normal moment of camaraderie among strangers. They offer her food and wine, and talk of their families and of the importance of home. Arya has spent so long dealing with matters of life and death that she has never really thought about the idea of home, or the lost future that would have been, with her at home at Winterfell caring for her aging father as one soldier imagines for himself. She eventually drops her guard, realizing that this isn’t a trap: it’s just soldiers, doing their jobs and helping out a stranger, and it’s a chance for Arya to feel human again after so long running away from her former life. It’s a beautiful little scene, and a glimpse of the struggles of self-identity she will continue to face as she tries to cross more names off her list.

We’ll see you next week when Game of Thrones Season 7 returns with its second episode, “Stormborn.”