Welcome back to Westeros.
After what felt like an interminable wait, season seven of Game of Thrones is underway.
With two seasons left, TV’s most popular drama is fast nearing an endpoint. Different storylines are overlapping and there are far, far fewer protagonists to kill off.
Over the next seven weeks, we can eschew real life political stoushes and power plays and focus on what really matters - the Iron Throne.
Here are some instant reactions to the first new episode of the penultimate season:
DISGUISED AS WALDER, ARYA KILLS THE ENTIRE FREY CLAN
1. After graduating from the Faceless Men, Arya has gone full-on Ethan Hunt. That Mission Impossible mask rip is never going to get old.
2. Arya is instantly the most badass character on the show.
3. Ramin Djawadi’s score is becoming more Hans Zimmer-esque with every season - and that’s a good thing.
4. Dear Lord of Light it feels good to be back in this fantasy land. The title music feels infinitely more dramatic before a new episode.
THE WHITE WALKERS WALK
5. The White Walkers and their undead army have been marching aimlessly for six seasons. You’ve really got to admire these guys for their stamina.
6. These scenes make me care that little bit more about climate change. You win, Benioff and Weiss.
7. Argh! Giants! Perhaps Melisandre can resurrect Wun Wun and we can have giantbowl.
8. That is a damn big army. Aaand it’s only gonna get swell. We’re gonna need bigger dragons.
BRAN AND MEERA REACH THE WALL
9. Don’t let him in, Edd! He’s been branded by the Night King! Bran may have just caused the end of the world.
10. Pretty sure seeing characters from different threads meet and interact has been the best part of these latter seasons. The story is folding into itself like a delicious roti wrap.
JON SNOW PREPARES FOR WAR
11. We are covering a lot of ground early. This episode is already beginning to feel like a long setup.
12. “Everyone, go find some dragonglass.” “Where do we look, sir?” “...”
13. No one glares like Lyanna Mormont.
14. Damn, it kind of felt like Jon just sent Tormund on a beyond-the-wall suicide mission. Guess Tormienne may not happen.
15. Oooh, Jon did not look happy being interrupted by a woman. They really should have conferred before the meeting.
16. Calling it now. This is gonna be the Year of Sansa.
17. “Here, take my seat Mr Littlefinger.” “No thanks, I’d rather lean menacingly on the wall.”
CERSEI AND JAIME SCUFF UP A BEAUTIFUL NEW FLOOR MAP, EURON ARRIVES
18. When Cersei and Jaime talk tactics, they come across as pretty useless. “Right now, we look like the losing side,” says Jaime. King’s Landing has felt more and more inconsequential each season.
19. C**t remains the show’s insult of choice.
20. I was expecting Jaime to be a little madder than this. Not only did his sister/girlfriend inadvertently cause the death of their last remaining child, she did the very thing he killed King Aerys to prevent - burn shit to the ground.
21. “A dynasty for whom? Our children are dead,” another great line for Jaime. Such a piece of self-reflection could have almost come from a fans reddit thread.
22. Lena Headey reminds everyone how killer an actress she is.
23. Wow, I guess Euron really delivered on that election promise of getting 1000 ships built.
24. “Here I am with 1000 ships and two good hands.” Ninja master shade from Euron there.
25. Yes, Qyburn and The Mountain! I would love to see a spinoff about them renting a flat together. The Mountain’s the messy one and …
26. Uh oh, Euron is promising Cersei a “gift”. That might spell more bad news for poor Theon. Or maybe the return of the one they call Gendry.
27. Euron doesn’t seem like the kind of forward-thinking man who would accept playing second fiddle to a queen - and wife - to be honest.
SAMWELL TARLY CLEANS UP AND SNEAKS INTO THE LIBRARY’S RESTRICTED SECTION
28. Great, more Samwell Tarly, bidding to make history as the least interesting storyline for the seventh season in a row. I don’t care if he finds out where all the dragonglass in Westeros is or cures cancer.
29. So this is what it’s like to be a Labour Party intern.
30. Safe bet the props team had a blast making that liquid poo. The Citadel’s lack of plumbing would make anyone in Westeros think twice before holidaying there.
31. This poop montage, while a tad overlong, is perhaps the best editing work in the series so far. Take away the pictures and it's Stomp.
32. “I can't find any information on how to defeat the White Walkers, and I've looked everywhere.” “Not in the restricted section.”
33. Ah, the great Jim Broadbent. A casting coup.
34. Samwell asking about the restricted section feels a lot like Harry asking Broadbent’s Slughorn about horcruxes in Half-Blood Prince.
35. Finally, someone believes Sam (who didn’t have his phone at the time to take a pic) killed a White Walker.
TORMUND AND BRIENNE FLIRT
36. Now this is what we want to see.
LITTLEFINGER BENDS SANSA’S EAR
37. Brienne asking “why is he still here?” speaks for every fan.
ED SHEERAN RANDOMLY APPEARS, ARYA YARNS WITH SOME SOLDIERS
38. Great, it’s the dreaded celebrity cameo we all knew was coming. A little on the nose, Game of Thrones? Dude has two lines and it’s the worst bit of acting in the series.
39. Scenes like this that aren’t storyline progressive are great. They help remind us how big of a world has been created.
40. Arya showing us some emotion. Perhaps she’s not quite the ruthless murderer, after all.
THE HOUND SEES VISIONS, FINDS GOD
41. Perhaps I’m a bit slow, but I’m yet to work out the show’s stance on religion. If The Hound can find God, there’s hope for every heathen.
42. Always grateful for more Hound scenes. Losing him for a season filled me with a deep empty. Nice to see fire doesn’t scare him as much.
SAM FINDS OUT ABOUT DRAGONGLASS, IS SCARED BY JORAH MORMONT
44. Damn, Jorah’s arm does not look good. The Citadel should be the right place for him getting healed, but the maesters just seem like really old and useless white men.
DAENERYS RETURNS TO DRAGONSTONE
45. Yes, yes … YES! You know when there’s been no Daenerys all episode it’s gonna finish strong with the real queen.
46. The dragons are already making themselves at home.
47. Shots of Daenerys walking give me goosies. This plot development of her arriving home isn’t particularly momentous, but it’s still damn cool.
48. Man, Stannis left this place a mess.
49. What a sick last line! “Shall we begin?” Yes! End credits? No!
50. Overall, a great setup episode. We didn’t get any big moments or unexpected deaths - those will come - but we did get tantalising scenes that lay the groundwork for later on. This show is getting better and better at blending different elements like horror, comedy and contemplation.