“The future is female” seems to be the running theme of the first episode of "Game of Thrones" season 7. Everyone’s talking about the female badassery — our eyes are on Daenerys, Cersei, Arya, even Sansa. Beyond that, we’re wondering how Jon will fare as King of the North, how Bran will handle his new Three-Eyed Ravenship, how Tyrion is preparing for his inevitable reunion with his favorite siblings. We also had bad-boy Euron Greyjoy (just shy of some black nail polish and a Ramones t-shirt) and the nihilist-turned-prophet Hound. Point being, sweet Sam Tarly is last on everyone’s minds. Drama-hungry, battle-starved fans have dismissed his storyline as tedious and lame for years (there was that one time he killed a White Walker, I guess). From the many seasons of setup (“Look how smart and cowardly Sam is! OMG he should be a maester”) to his voyage to Old Town in season 6, Sam’s character arc has effectively been building to his arrival at the Citadel. It only took six seasons, but he finally matters. Big time. Here’s how we know:
First of all, Sam's scene was a departure from the standard "Thrones" cinematic style. The well-executed montage of Sam’s early days in the Citadel performing menial and repetitive labor, while both disgusting and humorous (if you didn’t laugh, you’re lying) felt a little like a trick. At this point in the series, there’s no such thing as a nonessential, innocuous scene. No, it was meant to distract us, if even just briefly, or delay the revelation of Sam's central role in the conclusion of the series.
Second, Jim Broadbent is more than a fun cameo (cough). With the acclaimed British actor on board as Archmaester Ebrose, we know his role will be crucial and, dare I say, awesome. The show isn’t known for casting big names in minor roles (with the notable exception of Max von Sydow as the Three-Eyed Raven), and it’s highly doubtful that Broadbent is simply “a really big fan,” so his late debut is surely a harbinger of good storytelling to come. "Thrones" may abandon most conventions, but this isn’t one of them.
Third, within minutes, we all-knowing fans see Sam encounter poor, quarantined Jorah Mormont, and then we see that Sam has been reading up on Dragonglass and its potential healing powers for those afflicted with Greyscale. A coincidence? Certainly not. We can read between the lines here.
Finally, it has been circulating, thanks to Reddit user itsjayrr, who brought it to everyone’s attention, that the book Gilly was reading was open to a page detailing the history of Azor Ahai, the Lord of Light’s human protégé who defeated the White Walkers the first time around. He's prophesied to return, most likely as either Daenerys or Jon Snow, as many fans have theorized. Now it seems that Sam will probably be the one to make this connection.
Still, while it’s tempting to assign a level of importance to Sam’s character this season, we would be keen to remember that in this world (and ours) “importance” is relative and, historically speaking, hasn’t always mattered as much as we thought it did. But now that we’re in the penultimate season, are we far enough along to start making some guesses?
This is all very exciting. It’s finally happening: Storylines that have been isolated for seasons are colliding. The show has been building to two major wars and we’re so, so close. But as fans of the series would also be keen to remember, we never really know where things are going.