Blimey it’s been a long wait hasn’t it?! For those of us who’ve been waiting since August 2017 to see the next chapter of this sweeping drama, this week’s return of Game of Thrones is the absolute definition of Event Television! Few shows have garnered as much critical and public praise and the anticipation for this final season is on a par with that for any huge blockbuster movie. Having had a day to digest the season opener, I’m ready to put my thoughts down on paper.
The finale saw the Army of the Dead reach The Wall, as it tumbled in to the sea in minutes thanks to the power of a newly undead dragon (RIP Viserion). The opening episode of season eight picks up not long afterwards and is appropriately named Winterfell, the focus for the upcoming battle and where most of the key characters are converging.
Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable episode, although certainly not the best this series can be, which is perhaps a testament to how good it is, I suppose.
Anyway, time to dig in to the detail!
Lots happened…….perhaps a bit too much?
For those who read my predictions post on this season, you’ll know I mentioned that I was particularly looking forward to all the reunions and although I suspected they’d happen fast, I didn’t expect so much to be crammed in to the season opener, which is also the shortest of the six episodes. Taken individually such significant moments were wonderful, whether Ayra and Jon’s heartfelt reunion, her playful catch up with Genrdy, or her coming face to face with The Hound again. We also had Theon finally stepping up and rescuing Yara, among many other story points, which I’ll get to. For me, however, it started to feel a bit rushed.
Callbacks to the first episode had me rather nostalgic!
The choice to open the episode with the arrival of Dany and Jon’s army at Winterfell made perfect sense, but what made this even more special for fans of the show was the call-backs to the very first episode. Seeing the little boy running to try and get a good vantage point to watch the Royal procession immediately had you thinking of Ayra and seeing her standing alongside, observing his excitement and perhaps also thinking back to so many years ago was quite special, particularly with the exact same music cue playing over it. It perfectly captured just what a journey these characters have been on since the story began.
Frosty receptions are always fun to see (and that’s before Jaime and Theon are thrown in)!
This is Game of Thrones so it’s never going to be fluffy unicorns and the cold of the North extended to more than the climate, with Sansa and Daenerys not exactly hitting it off and the Northern houses, led by the always awesome Lady Mormont, less than impressed with Jon pledging himself to a foreign Queen. And I haven’t even covered Bran yet, whose whole demeanour these days is cold and detached, although I did love him greeting Jon and Dany with a “Hi, your dragon is on Team Night King and the Wall has come down.” Well played Bran! Sansa’s wariness of Daenerys is also understandable. She’s been through so much, that trusting anyone doesn’t come easily and Dany was rather aloof. I also loved Tyrion reuniting with Sansa. They had learnt to respect each other by season 4 and after all she’s been through, Sansa no doubt knows he’s a decent man. Yet, a highlight of the hour for me was Sansa being more astute than all the key players in the game, by knowing immediately that Cersei was lying!
We’ll have to see how the atmosphere thaws…….although with Theon and Jaime about to join the party, neither of whom are particularly welcome in Winterfell, the thaw may be some way away!
Bravo Theon! I’m proud of you!
It’s been an up and down journey for Theon Greyjoy and for the audience as we’ve watched him make so many poor decisions and suffer the consequences in such a brutal fashion. The inclusion of Theon’s rescue of his sister was perhaps the most surprising element of this episode for me, as I assumed that would crop up later. It was so satisfying to see and then for Theon to want to go and fight for the Starks. Bless him. I thought he’d die saving Yara, but now it seems he’s likely to meet the end of his story back where we first met him, defending the family and the lands he betrayed, which would do his storyline justice.
The Jon & Dany romance – it doesn’t do anything for me.
This is going to be controversial for some, but I have absolutely zero interest in the supposed blossoming romance between Jon and Daenerys. I think they are both fantastic characters and will clearly be a formidable team, but I just don’t buy them as a couple. Jon’s in love with her, according to Sansa. Really?! He’s known her five minutes and we already know that Dany may show outward affection and yet feel nothing, as she admitted to Tyrion on saying farewell to Daario Naharis. Having them share a moment in front of cave/waterfall, which immediately called back to Ygritte didn’t help matters either, nor does the fact that I just don’t think they have any romantic chemistry. Don’t all yell at me at once!
Dragon riding – too soon?
We’ve all been waiting for Jon Snow to ride a dragon, but as it finally happened in this opening episode I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it wasn’t the right time. I’m assuming the scene was partly included to provide those gorgeous aerial shots of the North, flagging that the Army of the Dead had some way yet to go before they arrive. Yet, while it was fun to see Jon trying to navigate this new experience, wouldn’t it have been much more powerful to see him climb on to Rhaegal after he discovered that he was in fact a Targaryen and son of the man for whom that very dragon was named? Oh and while we’re on the animals, where’s Ghost?!
Cersei on the rebound from Jaime and still as power-crazed as ever!
Having demonstrated how little she cares about standing together in the season finale, Cersei’s plan to assemble a stronger army, with the help of The Golden Company was achieved this week, with the return of Euron Greyjoy and his fleet. Left with no other choice to keep him on side and no doubt to try and rid Jaime from her mind, she gave Euron exactly what he wanted – herself and in a twisted way, they are probably the ideal match. If she is really pregnant (something I was never convinced about last season), it seems logical she’ll pretend it’s Euron’s now. Hard luck Jaime, although I think you’re better off out of her clutches…..which brings me to……
Don’t you dare use that crossbow Bronn!
I have always liked Bronn, who is a much more developed and entertaining character in the series than the books and he’s had fantastic relationships with both Tyrion and Jaime over the years. It was therefore incredibly unpleasant to see him seemingly accepting the job of killing the Lannister brothers with Tyrion’s “favourite” crossbow! In any other show I’d never believe he’d do it, but this is Game of Thrones, so who knows…….
The big secret is finally revealed!
We’ve all been wondering how Jon would be told the truth about his parentage. Would his friend Sam sit him down and break the news gently, rather than leaving the task to the rather emotionless Bran? Ummm…….not quite and I loved that decision. Having just learnt the tragic news about his brother (let’s face it, his father was no great loss), a heartbroken and understandably angry Sam broke the news rather more bluntly than expected. With his Queen seeming dangerous and unpredictable, Sam is fuelled by the need to have Jon know he’s the true ruler, rather than simply to tell him where he really comes from. It was the perfect way of raising the bigger question of whether Dany is the right choice to rule too, or if she is too close to her father’s dangerous tendencies. Personally, I think Jon would be the better ruler and he is always ready to sacrifice for what is right for others, rather than himself. As Sam says, would Dany do that? Probably not. I’m certainly intrigued to see how she takes the news when she finds out!
Creepy dead children…..lovely……
I remember watching episode one of the show all those years ago and seeing the dead little girl nailed to a tree come back to life freaked me the hell out! This week, we had an echo of that with poor little Lord Umber being used as the centrepiece for the Night Kings’s latest creative mural. you really shouldn’t have sent that kid away from Winterfell, Sansa! The moment he opened his eyes and screamed was so very disturbing and yet I couldn’t help focussing more on the pattern. It looked a little like the Targaryen sigil didn’t it?
Ending with a gut punch and I loved it!
In the same way as the episode opened with echoes of episode one, it was perfectly book ended with another scene which took us straight back to the beginning, as Jaime arrived at Winterfell to come face to face with an “old friend.” As soon as Bran said he was waiting for such a person, I knew who he meant and the moment of revelation filling Jaime’s eyes was superbly played, making this perhaps the most powerful moment for me! It reminded us of just how dreadful Jaime was back then and how along the way we’ve grown to like him despite those actions. Having him see Bran again was therefore a brilliant moment for both the character and everyone watching. These two certainly have to have a chat! The big question though – did Bran stay in that same spot all night?!
So, all in all, it was an enjoyable hour of television and it’s fantastic to have the series back again, but there is room for improvement, which with five episodes to come is not necessarily a bad thing!
See you all next week!
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday night in the USA on HBO and in the UK on Sky Atlantic (at 2 am and 9 pm). You can watch two official behind the scenes look at 8.01 here: https://youtu.be/DkdbetJTZGA and here: https://youtu.be/ha8Qsx6_OBw and the trailer to 8.02 here: https://youtu.be/R6YCfVe4eR0
(All photos/screenshots belong to HBO/Game of Thrones)