Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1 – Winterfell

“We don’t have time for all this. The Night King has your dragon. He’s one of them now.. The Wall has fallen. The dead move south.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

So, I’ve been quiet on the blog of late, I know. The CELTA course was so intensive that I spent all my time writing lessons and assignments, teaching and planning. As I’ve moved into the real world of doing this for money, I’m still spending all my creativity putting lessons together, rather than writing here.

But more about my life in Barcelona will follow! For now, though, Game of Thrones is back for its very last season. I’ve been blogging every episode since season two, so teaching work aside, I’m going to see it through to the end 🙂

There’s a real feeling of moving to the end in this season opener, and part of that is referencing the show’s past. It’s funny to think it’s been around for so long now that it can do that, but this ep was chock full of deliberate recalls, in some cases to the very first episode. That little boy excitedly climbing the walls to see the arrival of Jon and Dany’s armies? Just like Bran Stark, craning to see the arrival of the King’s retinue way back in ep 1.

Of course, a big reason for the callbacks to the past was the coming together of so many of the main characters in one place. Some of them have never actually met before, which led to some interesting confrontations – Dany and Sansa in particular are clearly not going to get on.

Others, though, haven’t seen each other for literally years, and many of them have unfinished business. Arya and the Hound were a good example – a few years ago, they made an unlikely double act, and seemed to come to respect each other. But does that mean he’s no longer on Arya’s kill list? Maisie Williams played an emotional rollercoaster of facial expressions as the various characters arrived at Winterfell, but to her credit I still have no idea whether the Hound is forgiven or not.

Not that he’s likely to care, knowing him. He doesn’t seem to have mellowed – and what would be the fun if he had? “You’re a cold little bitch, aren’t you?” he remarked to Arya with grudging respect. “Probably why you’re still alive.”

In other cases, there was a novelty in seeing characters you’d come to associate with warmer climes suddenly pitching up in the chilly North of Westeros. Grey Worm and Missandei looked uncomfortable and out of place, as was surely director David Nutter’s intention. The North may not be welcoming, but if they’re to deal with the Unstoppable Supernatural Menace, it’s going to need these allies.

And of course the most important ally is Daenerys Targaryen herself, with her Ultimate Weapons – the dragons. They too seemed oddly out of place in the snowy wastes of the North; we’ve come to think of them as creatures of the warm desert of Essos.

It doesn’t seem to have slowed them down though, and the dragon riding sequence was a highlight of the ep. Soaring through the snowy skies with an exhilirated Jon Snow clinging to the back of one of them, the dragons felt as majestic and intimidating as they should. The CG continues to impress, as it almost felt like you were riding along yourself.

Which of course you couldn’t be, unless you were a Targaryen. We’d established a while back that only a Targaryen could ride a dragon; perhaps Jon (and Dany) might have taken his success in doing so as a not too subtle hint at what was coming later.

In an ep full of long-separated characters coming together, it made sense that there’d be plenty of revelations as each disclosed to others what had been going on. A low-key but absolutely affecting example was the supremely awkward moment when Dany, congratulating Sam Tarly on having cured Ser Jorah, suddenly realised that she’s recently killed both his father and his brother.

It was subtly but beautifully played. The awkward looks on the faces of Dany and Jorah as they realised were great, but nothing compared to the conflicting emotions that John Bradley as Sam displayed without needing to spell them out in the dialogue. Finding that his disapproving father was dead? A shock, but copable because at least his loving brother would now welcome him home. Well, er, about that…

Poor Sam. It was also a perfect motivation for him to lash out by finally passing on to Jon Snow what we’e all known for some time – the true heir to House Targaryen isn’t Dany, it’s him. Jon Snow is really Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name and true king not just of the North but of all the Seven Kingdoms.

It was a masterstroke of the director to play this scene out in front of the statue of Ned Stark, the man who Jon had believed to be his father for his whole life. If we thought Jon had been surly and broody before, it was nothing to how he’s likely to get now he’s discovered he’s a king (and is shagging his cousin). We might have seen a rollercoaster of emotions from Sam and Arya this week, but as ever Jon’s reaction to this momentous news was just to look sulky and be annoyed with his parents. “So my father lied to me my whole life?” I think you’re missing the bigger picture here, mate.

One corollary of the story approaching its end is that the number of settings is steadily shrinking. As the title of the ep indicated, the bulk of this week’s drama was set in one place, because that’s where most of the characters now are. Where previous season openers were sprawling affairs taking place over two continents, this felt a lot more intimate.

However, we did get to see a little of events elsewhere, as Cersei, down in King’s Landing, continues to plot and scheme to use a zombie apocalypse to consolidate her own power. It also became clear that her taste in men is running more towards bits of rough, if her interaction with the ever-smirking Euron Greyjoy is anything to go by.

Euron got many of the best scenes in the King’s Landing sequences, and
Pilou Asbæk reliably chewed the scenery as he wooed Cersei with his rough-hewn seafarer’s charm. Euron may be a wrong ‘un, but he’s one of the last enjoyable magnificent bastards left in the show – I hope he gets to stay standing to the end.

Sex and violence

Well, if the show’s got old enough to start referencing itself, we couldn’t have a last season opener without at least a bit of the gratuitous nudity and gore that have become its trademarks.

So, we got a wholly unnecessary but amusing scene of Bronn in Littlefinger’s old brothel with no less than three nubile naked whores.

At least one of them was open to other business opportunities too, telling the discomfited Maester Qyburn that she quite liked “older gentlemen” 🙂

On the violence front, Theon’s unexpected rescue of his sister saw plenty of axes and arrows going into heads; though frankly it was all a bit dark to make out much detail.

However, the nastiest bit of gore was the discovery of the undead Little Lord Umber, pinned to a wall and surrounded by a spiral of severed limbs. Fortunately for Tormund and Dolorous Edd, Beric Dondarrion still keeps his sword afire…

Choice dialogue this week

Perhaps inevitably for a show in which at least three of the major characters have been castrated, there was a bit of a fixation with testicles this week.

Tyrion, to a shivering Lord Varys: “You should consider yourself lucky, at least your balls won’t freeze off.”

Euron, to the captive Yara: “We’re family. The last Greyjoys in the world. Well, the last ones with balls anyway.”

Up at Winterfell, Dany had a comedy punchline moment when the surly Sansa asked her what exactly dragons eat: “Whatever they want.”

As ever, characters weren’t shy with their opinions of each other. Tyrion may be naively trusting his sister to turn up and save the day (she won’t), but his judgment of Sansa was spot on: “Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.”

But leave it to Bronn to convey an opinion in the fewest, foullest words available, when Qyburn ordered him to head North and kill both the Queen’s brothers: “That fuckin’ family…”

Compared with the sprawling settings and epic battles of previous season openers, this could have felt like quite a low key start to the very last season. In practice, it was hugely exciting, but not because of fighting armies or globe trotting exploits. The drama here was all about the characters, and how they interact as they move into place for the endgame. We’ve followed these characters for eight years now, and we’re so invested that they’re the true heart of the show’s excitement. Only five more episodes to go (some movie length though), so perhaps the most anticipated conclusion won’t be whether the Night King is defeated (of course he will be), but which of these much-loved characers are left standing when that happens…