Hurtling back into our lives like a violent yet lovable family member is the final season of cultural juggernaut, Game of Thrones. It’s been a tough two years to wait for us super-fans, but somehow the anticipation reached fever pitch this past week. Social media seemed to be sharing record numbers of Game of Thrones-related posts, even including the ones from people saying something like “I’m one of the few people that have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones.” …That may be so, you delightfully contrarian person, but at the same time, you’re still talking about it. Just like the rest of us.
So, while I couldn’t bring myself to be up at 3am for the local simul-cast, I did manage to make it home in time to view it myself without anyone at work spoiling anything for me. But now I’ll do that here for you. Make sure to tune in here every week to catch our episode-by-episode review.
Season 8, Episode 1, simply titled “Winterfell,” acknowledges that it’s not only been a long time since we saw our favourite characters, its been even longer since they’ve seen most of each other. The various disparate plot lines and settings have narrowed down to about two: the North, and the South. Everything is hurtling towards some sort of conclusion. We as the viewers can feel it, and the characters in the show are painfully aware of how little time they have too. Bran sums it up best when Daenerys arrives and has a moment of politicking with Sansa, the kind of scene that would have been stretched out over half an episode in earlier seasons. Bran exclaims something to the effect of, “what are you doing, we don’t have time for this! The Wall has fallen! The dead are coming!”
Way to cut through the bull, Bran.
Nevertheless, despite this ongoing rush towards the huge battle scenes that are no doubt coming, most of this episode focuses on the characters meeting again for the first time in years. We as the audience can appreciate that – most of our favourites get their moment in the spotlight, and once everyone’s together, the action can start in the next couple episodes.
Most of the plot this episode takes place at the titular Winterfell, so let’s talk about the other settings first. King’s Landing features Bronn in a whorehouse with what might very well be one of the final overly gratuitous sex scenes in this entire show. I’m sure we will all miss them very much (not). He gets told that Cersei will offer him buckets of cash for killing either of her two traitorous brothers, showing that she certainly didn’t take Jaime’s abandonment of her at the end of the previous season easily. Cersei herself welcomes the Golden Company, a mercenary army, into her service. It’s not entirely clear what she wants to use them for, aside from just being completely sneaky while other people are trying to save the world. They were brought there by Euron Greyjoy; whose greatest ambition seems to be to have sex with Cersei. He achieves that in this episode after some banter with her, and part of me wonders how loyal he will remain now that he’s got most of what he wants. Sure, he wants to be king, but if times get tough I’m sure he’ll settle for having slept with the queen and sail away into the night.
After sex, Euron whispers into Cersei’s ear at one point, “I’m going to put a little prince into you.” Cersei’s face at that moment is a supreme bit of acting from Lena Headey.
Meanwhile, on Euron’s ship, where he has helpfully kept Yara alive, she is heroically rescued at night by Theon. Despite the respect he has for his sister, Theon is resolved to go to Winterfell himself, and Yara will return to the Iron Islands. Although Theon has met up with Jon earlier in Season 7, there’s a whole bunch of interesting reunions waiting for him back at Winterfell, not least of which will be him and Sansa. (Disclaimer: This paragraph has been edited from its originally posted version. Apparently, I forgot about a massive chunk of Theon’s plot from Season 7 and didn’t refer to it properly. That one’s on me guys, sorry – and shame, poor Theon. Sorry for misrepresenting you.)
We have a brief scene with Tormund and Beric Dondarrion exploring a ruined castle in the dark. They come across the last members of the Night’s Watch, including Edd, their leader after Jon left. The Night’s Watch has not much purpose now that the Wall has fallen, and should be heading back to Winterfell anyway. The ruined castle is revealed to be Last Heath, the home of the Stark bannerman, the Umbers. The castle has been completely destroyed by the undead White Walkers. If you have any knowledge of geography in this world, Last Heath is the very first castle you get to in the North, travelling south from the Wall. The undead are still the biggest threat, even if we didn’t see them in this episode. That might be for the best. We know they’re there, we know we will see them in extreme detail soon. For now, nothing can be the scariest thing of all.
Back in Winterfell, where most everything is happening, what we really have is a series of character interactions, most of which feel quite fulfilling. We have Daenerys and Co arriving at Winterfell with her entire army (plus dragons). Jon reunites with siblings (allegedly), Bran and Arya. We have Sansa and Tyrion, the former spouses. We have Arya meeting former travel buddy the Hound and former sort-of-crush Gendry again. Possibly one of the most heartfelt scenes actually was one I wasn’t even thinking about before this episode: Daenerys spoke to Sam and had to inform him that she ordered her father and brother to be killed.
One of the only characters who didn’t do much this episode was Brienne, but as the very last scene of the episode showed Jamie arriving, and laying eyes on Bran, I’m sure she will be part of the “welcoming committee” Jaime faces in the next episode. I’m looking forward to seeing Jamie fighting on the unapologetic “good side,” but at the end of the day he has done some terrible, window-pushing-out-of things that need to be addressed.
The rest of the episode is spread between some political stuff, where the Northerners are unwilling to accept so easily that Jon has bent the knee to a southern queen. Jon and Dany go on a dragon ride together (Jon rides his own dragon!) and have a date in the snow. I guess Bran needs to emphasize again: “WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!” But it was still a sweet scene.
Undercutting that is the big reveal. Not for us, but for Jon. Sam is told by Bran that “it’s time.” While Jon is lighting a candle at the Ned Stark’s grave, Sam gracefully crashes into the room. He also, in an incredibly Sam-like way, blurts out to Jon, matter of factly, that Jon is, in fact, the legal heir to the throne of the 7 kingdoms. Aegon VI, legal son of Rhaegar Targaryan and Lyanna Stark. While Jon spends most of his time stumbling over the fact that Ned lied to him about his parenthood, he didn’t quite seem to twig this episode that his lover is actually his aunt. Eww. Hopefully, they give it the due gravitas it needs in the next episode of Game of Thrones.
Hopefully, the next episode will be Theon and Jamie being reintroduced and with all the baggage that comes with that, I’m also looking forward to those scenes.
We already know that episode 3 will have a huge battle scene, and seeing as there are only 6 episodes this season of Game of Thrones, they won’t be dawdling much more than this. One episode is worth spending to luxuriate in 7 years’ worth of plotting and characterisation up until now, and I’m glad they took the time.
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 - Winterfell
I think this episode was just the kind of reintroduction we needed after 2 years apart from the characters. I think the multiple scenes might come across a little odd if you were binging it, but when it really has been resolutions that were years in the making, you can’t help but cheer a little bit for the characters all being in the same place finally, more or less. The pacing was also swift enough that no particular scene felt like it was dragging on too much.