Game of Thrones season seven premiere review – winter is here, and it’s a wonder | Television & radio

‘It’s finally time – winter is here!” said the announcer on Sky Atlantic, counter-seasonally, given that we’re in the middle of sunny July. But, as fans of Game of Thrones are well aware, the show is in the worst cold snap Westeros has ever known.

UK viewers, who have been feverishly awaiting the seventh and penultimate season, had to stay up till 2am on Monday morning to catch the first glimpse, timed to simulcast with the US east coast premiere at 9pm Sunday – a transatlantic technique also recently used for Twin Peaks. With the David Lynch show, viewers had been waiting for 26 years. The Game of Thrones audience had only been frozen out for 11 months, but, as any canny franchise does, the opener made it easy for new or casual viewers to catch up.

The scriptwriters have become adept at hiding the “Previously On” recap within their dialogue. “That is the man who helped us slaughter the Starks at the Red Wedding,” someone will say. Or: “The one who murdered our father and our first-born son – he’s been seen at the head of an armada.” For anyone still confused, Cersei Lannister even painted a map of the competing territories on the floor, using her foot to identify key areas as she mentioned them.

Has all the virtues that have made the series so feted … Emilia Clarke as Daenerys in Game of Thrones. Photograph: Helen Sloan/HBO

Once it had brought the audience up to speed, this 61st episode held all the virtues that have made the series so feted. George RR Martin’s novels offer a one-stop shop for myth and legend – Greek drama, Shakespeare, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien are all there somewhere – but the TV version merges ancient narratives with the newest digital imagery, imposing plausible cities, castles and towers on the stunning natural settings the locations in Northern Ireland provide.

And, while it contains traditional elements of escapist entertainment – dragons, dungeons, dwarves and monsters – the story…

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