Last night the penultimate season of Game of Thrones (the gravestone-final piece of monoculture we'll share until Star Wars returns at the end of the year) began, bringing fans wary of ceaseless political imbroglios and the impending threat of global annihilation a welcome return to a world of ceaseless political upheaval and global annihilation that at least doesn't have the Internet.
The series, which was praised early on for its patient plotting, came back roaring, its slow burn replaced with a feverish final push, setting up the pawns, queens and kings in their march towards its conclusion. Even so, the series premiere made time to appreciate the small things, too, like good friends, roasted rabbit, tepid laughs and sing-song around a campfire. And oh, what a sing-song they had.
"It's a new one," Ed Sheeran — playing a Lannister soldier who seems to think all this fighting is just silly — responded when asked about the song he was singing to his Lannister buddies as Arya Stark approached. As that line was uttered, the camera cropped close on the singer-songwriter's face; you could practically see him wink into it and suggest checking your favorite streaming service at midnight for a surprise. Sheeran's appearance was, within a show so prized for its detailed world-building, a bit meta and a bit jarring. That it took place within a scene written to exposit the idea that soldiers in the world of Thrones, regardless of party affiliation, are just normal blokes who don't have raven access and don't see what all this dust-kicking accomplishes, was doubly odd. "Throwback to that time I was a Lannister," Sheeran wrote on Instagram:
"No good reason to be there," wrote The Independent. "Taken purely on sight, Sheeran's much-heralded Game of Thrones appearance was a dud," The Guardian opined. "The Ed Sheeran scene was actually an interesting moment/departure that was overshadowed by putting Ed Sheeran in it," New York Times television critic James Poniewozik wrote on Twitter.
Sheeran is polarizing at the best of times; that his appearance was maligned by some (and loved by others) is hardly a surprise. Meanwhile, nobody seemed to care that the drummer of Mastodon is in the army of the dead now.