After a very long wait, HBO finally aired the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones on Sunday night. It served as a “setting of the table,” so to speak, for the show’s epic final season. And considering it was only 60 minutes long (some future episodes will reach the 80-to-90 minute mark), the show struggled to cram soooooo much into a single episode.
I guess we all should have known that Game of Thrones would continue to play fast and loose with the timeline. With only six episodes to work with, some things were going to need to be expedited just for the sake of narrative, even if those same things require viewers to stretch their suspension of disbelief to points where it begins to strain.
***SPOILER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL DISCUSS EPISODE ONE FULLY***
Let’s start at the (very) beginning: there was a new intro, accompanied by the usual dramatic theme song. The show has treated us to many variations of the intro, depending on where the episode was taking place and what has happened (for example, it once showed a burnt down Winterfell after it was conquered by the Boltons). This brand new intro starts with the fresh hole in The Wall, and shows a path of ice representing the White Walkers making its way past the Last Hearth and towards Winterfell.
The new intro scene did something else new, going inside the buildings for the first time. We get a quick look at important places like the Great Hall of Winterfell, and then crypts underneath it. Later, we also go inside the throne room of the Red Keep in King’s Landing — and Qyburn’s dragon-killing crossbow makes an ominous appearance. That surely wasn’t a coincidence.
Once the episode actually starts, things moved at breakneck speed. There were plenty of reunions — both good and bad — to get through. Jon Snow was thrilled to get back to his family, and we enjoyed an especially warming scene with him and Arya, where the two compared swords (remember it was Jon that gave Needle to Arya way back in Season 1). However, many members of The North are extremely wary of the incoming Daenerys Targaryen, with Sansa perhaps the most annoyed.
Here’s a quick recap of all the important things that the show crammed into these opening scenes:
-Jon finally reunited with Bran, who quickly reminds everyone there’s no time for pleasantries.
-Everyone hates on Jon Snow for leaving as a King, but returning having bent the knee to a foreign woman.
-Sansa shares a moment with Tyrion, her former husband.
-Arya crosses paths with two old friends — The Hound and Gendry. Although they don’t focus on Arya’s list much anymore, The Hound is technically on that list (and so are some of the Brotherhood Without Banners, who may also be popping up in Winterfell soon).
-Jon Snow rides a dragon, which feels like it should have been a more significant moment given his true lineage, but was just sort of crammed in there so Jon and Dany could get some privacy (if you don’t count the menacing stare of Drogon, that is).
-Varys, Tyrion, and Ser Davos discuss the brilliant plan of Jon and Dany getting married in an effort to finally unite Westeros.
-Dany meets Samwell Tarly to thank him for curing Jorah Mormont of greyscale, but is forced to admit she burnt Sam’s father and brother alive. Oops!
-Sam tells Jon about his real parents, symbolically right under the tomb of Ned Stark in the Winterfell crypts.
Let’s pause on that last thing for a moment. Jon Snow’s true identity is supposed to be a seminal moment in the show, and yet it came and went without much weight. Even Sam makes like of the moment by mocking the long-winded title: “You’re the true king, Aegon Targeryen, sixth of his name, protector of the realm… all of it.”
Jon, naturally, struggled to believe it. He even seems offended that Samwell would dare to question the integrity of Ned Stark, a man known for doing the honorable thing no matter, even if it killed him. Which, ya know, it did. The show will surely revisit this again, since Sam poses a doozy of a question that Jon has no answer for:
“You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”
No. No, she wouldn’t. And if Jon realizes that, a conflict between Targaryen heirs could happen sooner rather than later.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Cersei secures the services of the Golden Company, a mercenary army bought with Tyrell gold and ferried across the Narrow Sea by Euron Greyjoy, who succeeds in both offending and bedding the Mad Queen. We can’t imagine this relationship lasting, as zombie Mountain already seems eager to squash Euron’s head and Cersei only tends to hang on to people until they no longer serve a purpose. Although yet another hint at Cersei’s potential pregnancy was made.
Oh, and Theon shows up to rescue Yara and steal a few of Euron’s ships. This all happened so fast, we barely noticed it. Yara wants to retreat to the Iron Islands, smartly pointing out that it’s ” somewhere the dead can’t go” if the Dany and her troops are forced to fall back. Theon, however, wants to head north and fight alongside his former family.
Oh, and Bronn is offered a large sum of money to head north and assassinate Tyrion and Jaime, and Lannister brothers. He has a personal history with them, even considering Jaime a friend. However, he’s also been shown as a ruthless mercenary, willing to do whatever job that will personally reward him the most.
Oh, and Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion are seen alive, meeting with stragglers from the Night’s Watch at the Last Hearth. Unfortunately, the White Walkers have already been through there — lots of blood, but no bodies (except for young Lord Umber, who was nailed to a castle wall in a throwback to the spiraling bodies seen in the very first episode of the series).
An awful lot happened in this episode. While that was good in some respects, because the show does to move along and get some of these loose ends tied up, it was also disappointing in many ways. The scene where Jon rides Rhaegal, named after his real father, should have felt like a Real Moment for the show. Instead, it was just another thing that happened. Same goes for Jon learning about his real parents. The whole scene was roughly 2.5 minutes long and was intersected with Sam complaining about Dany murdering his family. If Game of Thrones spent seven seasons and close to a decade of teasing everyone about how important Jon Snow’s bloodline was, only to finally casually mention it and then have Jon dismiss it as unbelievable, it would be a huge letdown.
Overall, “Winterfell” was a perfectly serviceable Game of Thrones episode. We really did enjoy it. It addressed so many of moments that fans had been waiting for, but perhaps at the expense of a few of them. The final scene was fairly ominous (especially if you watched the “Next week on…” after the episode), as it showed Jaime Lannister, complete with darkened hair to hide his identity, run into Bran Stark in the Winterfell courtyard.
Jaime hasn’t forgotten that he pushed Bran out that window in the first episode, and it looks like Bran hasn’t forgotten either. While Bran may be willing to forgive and forget now that he’s the Three-Eyed Raven, the preview for next week’s episode shows that Dany might not be so quick to pardon past offences. Remember, it was Jaime Lannister who murdered Dany’s father, King Aerys II, allowing Robert Bartheon to claim the throne and earning Jaime his “Kingslayer” and “Oathbreaker” nicknames. He may have to answer for his crimes next week.