Spoiler alert: This story contains substantial details from Sunday's season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones.
Now that’s how to start an episode.
In a Season 7 premiere that spent substantial time setting up the 12 Thrones episodes that remain, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) jumpstarts events with an opening shocker.
The young assassin picks up where she left off, continuing a vengeance trip through Stark-killing House Frey that began last season, when she slit the throat of patriarch Walder (David Bradley) after feeding him a pie containing his mashed-up sons.
This time, wine is the murder weapon as Arya, using her Faceless Men skills to impersonate Walder — which explains those puzzling Bradley sightings on set after Walder’s demise – toasts the Frey forces who killed her mother, brother and his pregnant wife at the infamous Red Wedding.
As disguised Arya’s praise becomes more barbed, mocking warriors who would kill a pregnant woman and a mother of five, the men begin choking and dying from the poisoned potion.
She spares the Frey women, instructing them to share a message with others: "Tell them winter came for House Frey."
Homecoming for Daenerys Targaryen
The dragon queen (Emilia Clarke), accompanied by an armada, arrives in Westeros, setting anchor at her family’s abandoned castle, Dragonstone (the episode's title). She closes the episode by signaling the start of war planning against Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey): “Shall we begin?”
White Walkers on the march
The biggest threat to Westeros, The Night’s King’s wintry horde of White Walkers and zombie wights, is coming from the north, as revealed in a vision seen by Three-Eyed Raven Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright).
Westeros pop-star sighting
After the House-cleaning, Arya approaches a small military encampment via horseback and hears one of the young soldiers singing.
“It’s a pretty song,” she says. “I’ve never heard it before.”
“It’s a new one,” replies the singer — Ed Sheeran, in a cameo role as a soldier.
Lighter moments in the usually grim drama
Maester-in-training Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) finds himself cleaning bedpans and serving up gruel in a nauseatingly amusing montage at the Citadel, while Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) arrives at King’s Landing to make a profane plea for Cersei’s hand, insulting her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his missing hand along the way.
Samwell Tarly, library hero
Sam also is involved in a surprise reveal: While picking up food bowls from the Citadel’s prison cells, he meets missing-in-action Daenerys adviser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), or at least his greyscale-ravaged arm.
The aspiring academic, frustrated in his efforts to get information to defeat the White Walkers, steals books from a restricted area and discovers a map to a mother lode of dragonglass, one of two materials that can kill White Walkers, near Dragonstone.
Sam could have been reading the mind of friend Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who, when he's not having an open disagreement with presumed half-sister Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), tells his Winterfell warriors that finding dragonglass is a top priority in plotting against The Night’s King.
“Jon needs to know,” Sam tells Gilly (Hannah Murray).
We’ll see if his message gets through as Thrones continues Season 7 next Sunday at 9 ET/PT on HBO.