Game of Thrones S08E01: "Winterfell"
Writing - 8/10
Acting - 10/10
Overall - 9/10
In the season premiere, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen return to Winterfell to unite the North against the Night King and his army. Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister plots from her spot on the Iron Throne.
The Final Game of Thrones Opener Reminds Viewers of the Beginning and How Much Has Changed
Game of Thrones aired the first episode of its eighth and final season. The episode was reminiscent of the series’ pilot, with a royal company showing up at Winterfell. Only this time, instead of Robert Baratheon and Cersei (Lena Heady), it’s Queen/Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) with her Dothraki, her Unsullied, and her dragons. They are even watched by a young Umber boy and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) herself as they approach, mirroring the pilot almost exactly.
And yet, by showing this, viewers are reminded just how much has changed in the last seven seasons. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) returns lordly. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is Lady of Winterfell. Arya is a killer. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is in a wheelchair yet more powerful than anyone. It sets up the new dynamics the characters will face now that the true enemy is fast approaching.
Of course, we can’t forget about Cersei. The Lannister lady sits comfortably on the Iron Throne and reveals she has no intention of giving it up. She enlists the help of Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) and the Golden Company to prepare the fortification of King’s Landing.
The Major Plot Points
After the familiar opening, we got the sweet, sweet Stark reunion we deserve. Jon greets his siblings warmly and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Particularly his reunion with Arya in the godswood, where he learns how she handled the sword he gave her. Again, we were hit hard with how much both of these characters went through.
Arya also faces the Hound (Rory McCann) after leaving him to die. He calls her out on this, and she reminds him that she also robbed him before she did so. A fact he humorously respects, a little bit. In the same scene, she reunites with Gendry (Joe Dempsie), in a cute and almost flirty moment. They tell each other they each look good. Is that flirting? It’s hard to tell with this show. I felt like this scene highlighted Arya’s ups and downs after her escape from King’s Landing.
Jon and Dany
Jon introduces the people of the North to Daenerys. They are unsure of her and her army. Even the Northern lords and ladies who made Jon King in the North feel some betrayal by him and have a mistrust of a sovereign they view as foreign. He and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) both try to persuade them that Dany is worthy, and that Jon did what was best for the North. The tension is tangible, particularly between Sansa and Dany. I don’t really blame Sansa here. The last time she was around a queen, it was Cersei, and we all know how that went.
Jon and Daenerys also get a sweet moment. They escape Winterfell for a while and take the remaining dragons for a spin. Dany takes Drogon and Jon almost symbolically takes Rhaegal. They flirt and kiss after the ride and it makes their story a bit lighter. However, this moment is rather dampened when they return and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) meets up with them. Dany approaches him to thank him for saving Ser Jorah’s (Iain Glen) life, but he is devastated to learn that Dany executed his father and brother. This also clouds his reunion with Jon down in the crypt, when he, at last, tells Jon of his true heritage—he’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. All in front of Lyanna’s and Ned’s statues. Sam insists that Jon should be the one to sit on the Iron Throne. We leave this storyline with Jon absorbing the full weight of that information. This scene kind of rocked me, as Jon grieves the lie his father told him and also visibly struggles with the absolute conundrum this places him in.
Sansa has a few confrontations in this episode. My favorite was between her and Tyrion. The reunion between them was almost sweet. Turner and Dinklage always did well in their scenes together and this was no exception. Only this time, so much has changed and both are even stronger characters than before. They exchange a few pleasantries. They recall the last time they spoke was at Joffrey’s wedding, but they’re friendly. In fact, Sansa even berates Tyrion a bit for trusting that Cersei would hold up her end of the bargain struck in the previous season. It just goes to show how much Sansa has learned.
She also questions Jon’s faith in Dany—whether it comes from loyalty to the realm or his feelings for the dragon queen. I am LIVING for Sansa’s confidence. I hope she warms up to Dany, but again, I understand her hesitation to trust anyone. For me, Sansa and Arya are the representations of lost innocence.
Cersei Lannister has been the more consistent of “villain” characters on Game of Thrones. In this season premiere, we didn’t see a whole lot of her, as the primary action took place in the North. However, she was certainly not idle. She begins a weird, sexual relationship with Euron Greyjoy, for one. I didn’t get this at all. In the throne room, she chides his arrogance at even thinking he could have her. Moments later, she invites him to her bed. It seemed odd and I didn’t pick up on what shifted in those few minutes to make her change her mind. She also sends Qyburn (Anton Lesser) to make a proposition to Bronn (Jerome Flynn) who is, as usual, surrounded by women. It just not Game of Thrones if you don’t see some naked women. She sends her offer to pay Bronn handsomely to take a crossbow and kill her brothers, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Tyrion. Bronn previously worked with both brothers at different points during the show and seemed to like them, even if they didn’t fulfill their promises to him. We didn’t see Bronn’s answer, so hopefully next week, we’ll know if he’s decided to take up the Lannister sister on her offer.
While Euron was literally getting busy with Cersei, Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) sits on his ship as a miserable prisoner. In a shocking moment of daring, her brother Theon (Alfie Allen) comes to her rescue. It’s not the tender reunion the Starks had, since as soon as she’s free, she headbutts him for his betrayal of her in the first place. Then she helps him up and it seems they’re even. They sail away on her ships, and Yara expresses her wishes to return to the Iron Islands and make it safe in case Daenerys needs them. Theon wants to return to Winterfell. In a rare moment of tenderness for her, she gives him permission. This scene was nice, but for whatever reason, I always forget about the Greyjoys. I don’t think the writers have done enough to make us really care about them. Like, they’re part of the plot, but I feel like they’re a bit of a deus ex machina each time they enter the story.
The last seven or eight minutes of the episode were what made it for me. After Sam drops the bomb on Jon, we head over to Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), who are investigating the Umber’s castle. They find a scene of violence and nervously make their way through the rest of the place to look for survivors. In a humorous twist, they almost kill a group of Night’s Watch members who are there as well. Together, they all find a slain child—the Umber boy from the beginning of the episode—surrounded by body parts pinned to a wall. A message from the Night King. The boy almost returns as a Walker but Beric acts quickly and sets him on fire to kill him properly. The rest of the message burns in a haunting circular pattern, making all of us wonder what’s next. This moment felt like a horror movie, something Game of Thrones has done well throughout building up the tension of the White Walkers.
The last scene was an absolute sucker punch. Jaime Lannister sneaks into Winterfell, hooded and cloaked so he can enter unchallenged. After dismounting from his horse and revealing his face to the audience, he sees none other than Bran. Only, this is not the same child he pushed out the window. They lock eyes and Jaime—along with the audience—is left a little breathless. These two face one another for the first time since the window, and then the credits roll. I was SHOOK. I’m so interested to see how Jaime is received at Winterfell after what happened with Bran. His confrontation with Daenerys should also build tension since he, y’know, killed her dad.
I thought this was a great way to start the season. One of the better of the entirety of Game of Thrones. There wasn’t a whole lot of action, but important things were taking place to set up the rest of the season. The biggest thing was Jon finally learning who he is. All the other conversations that took place reminded us where everyone stood and how things were going to go forward. I especially loved all the nods paying homage to the pilot. I love a full circle moment, and we had plenty of them for sure. Of course, all the actors did an incredible job with the characters they’ve played over the last eight seasons. It was the first time in a while I haven’t had a single urge to look at my phone while watching TV.
A great first episode, but I hope the rest of the season has some more action! Like, I wanna see these dragons tearing it up and living their best life! I’m so glad the gang’s getting back together but the Night King and his army are coming like a freight train!