This is a SPOILER post since there are a lot of things I want to talk about both from the episode and how it relates back to the novels. If you haven't seen Dragonstone yet, proceed no further than this image of Tormund Giantsbane giving Brienne of Tarth the eye.
Let's start with Sam in Oldtown because in A Feast For Crows that is the most benighted, boring, time-wasting plot. Sam spends most of the novel on his way to Oldtown and when he gets there he meets an old maester who has a mysteriously burning glass candle. The candle-owning maester than sods off to Essos, leaving Sam behind, never to be heard of again.
The whole glass candle plot has been jettisoned in favour of giving us some background on the Citadel (courtesy a fabulously cast Jim Broadbent) and Sam actually using his skills to find out information relevant to the plot. The production team also discover a whole new way of disgusting the audience on HBO's dime in this plot, which is an achievement of its own on this show.
Then there's Arya, rescued from the second most benighted, boring, time-wasting plot of the novels to finally pursue her revenge across Westeros and what a fantastic revenge it is! David Bradley gives a fantastic performance as Walder Frey who is secretly Arya which forms a great showcase to cap off his involvement with the show.
Lyanna Mormont is still the best person in the North.
Nikolai Coster-Waldau puts in some great work continuing Jamie's face turn with a performance that makes it more and more clear the unspoken realisation that he is probably going to have to kill his sister.
(By the way, am I the only one who found Tommen's suicide hilarious last season? Just me? Okay.)
Said sister has gone full-on power mad, by the way, as she tries to form an alliance with the last possible ally she has left: Euron Greyjoy. Its a great way to impress just how bad a position the Lannisters are in even before the entire Frey bloodline goes down with a terminal case of Maisie Williams. They're broke; the North is in rebellion; the Sand Snakes declared war against them on behalf of Dorne; their own bloodline is effectively over with the death of all Cersei's children; and Cersei definitively broke all ties with the Tyrells who currently own all the food; and, of course, winter is coming and she's Seven damned pissed off!
Lena Headey does something fantastic with Cersei, something that isn't new but that I imagine will become central to the character in these last two seasons: she puts on a good front where Cersei's confidence never wavers whilst also making it very clear to the audience that Cersei isn't as good at this as she thinks she is. Jamie, meanwhile, is finally getting a clue and tries his best to get her to climb down from her position of insanity literally walking across a map of Westeros like she's cosplaying God (such a good scene...).
Up in the North, Sansa is finally back to being the character who was beginning to emerge after the death of Lysa Arryn before that unfortunate and incredibly tasteless version of the Ramsay Bolton storyline. I don't doubt there's some sort of reckoning coming between her and Littlefinger but now I have hope that she'll come out on top, a hope that I felt not a glimmer of when Ramsay was alive and she was being written as a cringing doormat again.
And, finally, a tiny snatch of a scene that proves my ship is still sailing: an almost wordless exchange between Tormund and Brienne as Pod watches on uncomfortably.
Don't judge me, this is probably the most psychologically healthy pairing this show has ever hinted at.