TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 “Winterfell”
!!!Warning!!! Below there be:
Episode Plot: Dany and Jon enter Winterfell with Dany’s army and dragons in tow. Euron returns to King’s Landing with the Golden Company. Cersei plots to retain the Iron Throne. Theon attempts a daring rescue. Sam receives harsh news and confronts Jon about his true parentage. Bronn is presented with a difficult task. Closer to the Wall Tormund, Beric, and Edd try to circumvent the Night King and his army. Jamie arrives in Winterfell.
Review: Well folks it’s back! Almost 600 hundred days have passed since audience members’ watch began with the conclusion of season seven of Game of Thrones in 2017. Now at long last the final season (*sob*) of one of the greatest shows in the history of television is here.
Season eight’s premiere, “Winterfell,” I consider a foundational episode in that it serves as a jumping off point for the rest of the season. If I could pick one word to sum up this episode it would probably be “reunions” whether it’s Jon and Arya, Jon and Sam, Arya and The Hound, Cersei and Euron, Sansa and Tyrion, the list goes on and on. I was particularly taken with Arya and Jon’s reunion. The two haven’t seen each other since episode two of the first season. It was a poignant moment to see Arya’s tough veneer crack at the sight of her brother and fitting that it happened at a Heart tree in the Godswood. Arya may serve to be Jon’s true north in this season as she reminds Jon to remember where he came from and the importance of family.
Arya’s interaction with Jon is far more heartfelt and warm than the welcome Sansa gives to Jon. It’s clear she’s none too happy with Jon bending the knee to Dany and it was quite the moment to ask Jon his true motivations for doing so, whether it was for love or for the North. Me personally I think it was a bit of both. Jon Snow (or Aegon VI if you like…more on that in a bit) despite his misguided sense of honor has always been able to see beyond titles. King, Queen, Lord, Lady, the Iron Throne–none of it matters if all of Westeros is strewn with corpses in the wake of the Night King’s army. Nevertheless Jon’s fellow Northmen aren’t pleased with the decision especially the Glovers who refuse to come to Winterfell and Lyanna Mormont who once again shows no qualms about dressing down “The King In The North.”
Sansa much like Jon has become an extremely pragmatic leader. Gone are the days when all she cared about was being Joffrey’s queen and bearing his children. Now she’s just trying to figure out how to feed a vast new army and two hungry dragons. Kudos to the showrunners for turning what was once one of the most uninteresting characters in the series into a dynamic power player. There’s clearly no love lost between Sansa and Dany. Lady Stark sees her as an outsider. And I have to say that I’m with Sansa on this one. More and more Dany comes across as an entitled brat who believes the Iron Throne is hers by blood. Her quip that dragons eat “whatever they want” is a thinly veiled threat. Dany’s cavalier “might makes right” attitude could come back to bite her in the end.
What Dany needs is to see the true cost of her actions something that Sam Tarly supplies. In one of the more gut-wrenching moments of the episode, Sam discovers his father and brother are dead at Dany’s command. You can see the torment on Sam’s face in the scene. Even if he hated his father, Sam clearly loved his brother. Now he bares the full burden of being the head of House Tarly, assuming there will be one after the battle. To her credit Dany does look decidedly regretful about her decision. Whether or not this will influence her actions the rest of the season remains to be seen.
Meanwhile in the South at King’s Landing, Cersei is making moves of her own. Despite her ambition and ruthlessness you have to admire her foresight and planning. Cersei’s thinking three steps ahead of everyone else, content to let the upcoming battle in the North determine her next steps. Her goal is clear: destroy her remaining enemies once the battle is won. I would be shocked if she sent 20,000 Gold Company members to aid Dany and Jon. (Speaking of ambition and ruthlessness, not surprising that like calls to like with Cersei and Euron getting together. Talk about a match made in Hell.) Indeed considering that she’s dispatching Bronn to kill both (?) of her brothers would suggest not. The fact that Cersei’s having Bronn use a crossbow–the same weapon Tyrion used to kill her father–shows she’s not without a sense of poetic justice. Will Bronn carry out his task though?
I figured it would only be a matter of time before Jon rode a dragon but I honestly didn’t think it would be this soon. Watching him soar above Winterfell with varying degrees of success was one of the more enjoyable parts of the episode. I can’t wait to watch him blast some White Walkers with Rhaegals’ fire. I will admit that the subsequent tryst between Dany and Jon was a little cringe worthy, especially with Drogon giving Jon a, “I’m watching you Focker” look. Good thing this moment was counterbalanced with a the young Lord Umber coming back to life as a wight after being nailed to a wall by the Night King’s armies. I didn’t see that coming and it scared the shit out of me.
It was also only a matter of time before Jon found out his true parentage. It was fitting that not only did Sam give Jon the news but don’t overlook the importance of this revelation being provided in the crypts of Winterfell at Eddard Stark’s statue. To watch the war of emotions on Jon’s face was quite the moment. Here’s a man who doesn’t seek the throne and yet has had it thrust upon him by his people. Now Jon’s also king by right of blood. But does he take up that mantle? It could thrust the North into further chaos at a time when everyone needs to be united. Oh yeah and he’s probably not thrilled at the realization that he’s banging his Aunt either.
One thing Game of Thrones is quite adept at is ending an episode. Anyone who’s watched Jon come back to life before cutting to the credits or Robb and Catelyn Stark murdered before the same, knows this to be true. “Winterfell” was no exception. The episode ends with Jamie riding into Winterfell to lend his strength to the coming battle. But who does he see upon arriving? None other than Bran, the boy he thought was long dead. Jamie may find himself at the end of a headsman’s axe before he even gets a chance to fight. However, somehow I expect he will avoid punishment and I’m going to make the bold prediction that Bran actually comes to his defense.
Overall, “Winterfell” was a solid establishing episode for season eight and if next week’s episode is any indication, the theme will be parabellum–prepare for war.
Season 8 Episode 1 “Winterfell” rates: 7/10 Severed Ned Heads
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