HBO’s Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1 Review: “Winterfell”

The beginning of the end is here.

And if you somehow missed that this was the final season, you must have been living in a cell under the Red Keep because I don’t think I’ve ever seen such intense anticipation for a pop culture event since, well, the final season of Breaking Bad. But Game of Thrones is even more epic and last night was the height of can’t-miss-TV.

But was the episode worth the insufferably long wait, or are we just too emotionally invested to be completely objective, at this point?

Major spoilers ahead: In addition to talking about the latest episode, comments about the content of George R.R. Martin’s ASOIaF books are also fair game, but please no snark about the pace of his writing, etc.

“Togetherness” was certainly the theme of tonight’s episode.

You’d think with all of the massive amounts of death on this show, the cast would be pretty small by this season, but, nope: there are a lot of people to reunite under one very grim cause.

I was so focused on Jon Snow and Arya reuniting, I forgot to even think about how some of the other meetings might go, like Sansa and Tyrion. I had completely forgotten that they were maybe technically still married, depending on your feelings on consummation and if there was time for an officially recognized annulment. You knew Sansa and Dany weren’t going to immediately be besties, and I’m with Sansa on her feelings of frustration with Jon Snow and his new queen. I loved how Jon seemed a bit put out that Arya thinks Sansa is the smartest person she knows and that she and Sansa are keeping their family in mind first.

No matter what your blood says, you are Ned Stark’s son, Jon Snow, and that isn’t a total compliment.

Jon’s familial bonds might be tested when he really thinks through the ramifications of being a Targaryen and heir to the Iron Throne, but that didn’t happen tonight. I was a bit surprised and relieved that Jon learned of his royal lineage so quickly. Though it was fun to watch Jon ride a dragon for the first time knowing what he did not—so we weren’t as scared for him as he was. (I still preferred the dragon chase scene in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire more, though, or the Reign of Fire archangels scene, if we’re ranking dragon flight sequences.)

I’d be happy to see a just woman and an honorable man wed. Nothing lasts. Dany still really needs everyone to bend the knee, and it’s hard to like her when she’s so damn aloof. But, priorities, and all… She and Sansa do seem to really have the bigger picture in mind, and are both coming at their current catastrophe with good intentions.

Courtesy of HBO

I really didn’t think at all about Samwell meeting the queen who executed his father and brother, ahead of the premiere. I wasn’t quite expecting Sam to react with those tears—but, of course he would, because Sam is a caring person and families are complicated. Oh, damn, that’s not good for Jon Snow’s cause. Especially since, oops, Dany didn’t tell Jon she’d executed the Tarlys and Jon can’t tell Sam that she was wrong to do it. I love all of these unintended emotions and consequences.

I really, really wasn’t thinking about Bran seeing Jaime again. It was kind of weird how Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven status makes him basically a robot played for plot exposition and comedic timing—was he just sitting outside at Winterfell overnight, waiting? But it’s interesting that there might be a tiny, petty, human part inside Bran after all, and perhaps it still wants some justice for what Jaime did to him in the first ever episode.

If even Bran has some drama to work through, you know it’s going to be hard for allies to work together, let alone for Cersei to contend with her enemies, which now includes her favorite brother. Hey, at least Euron makes a plausible father for her unborn child. I doubt that little fish is going to live long enough to take a paternity test on Maury—and thanks the gods, because Euron is the worst.

Lastly, everyone’s favorite wildling is alive! As if such a memorable man as Tormund could be killed offscreen along with a bunch of faceless extras. I’m glad we got an answer on that in this installment, because, damn, there was a lot packed into a surprisingly short episode. I thought all of the final episodes were going to run over an hour—this one clocked in at 54 minutes, although later episodes in the season will be closer to 80 minutes in length—and I was bummed, albeit in the best way, that it was over so fast.

Thinking on it a bit more, I’m also concerned that any amount of Thrones this season will not feel like enough to leave everyone happy.

Courtesy of HBO

Final thoughts:

  • Understatement of the year (so far): “It had its moments.” —Sansa on the Purple Wedding.
  • Lyanna Mormont’s look when she saw Dany. You could tell how disappointed she is with Jon Snow. Like, boy, you didn’t choose the North, you chose a dragon babe.
  • Grey Worm and Missandei in the North looked *real uncomfortable* so far from home. I’m glad they have each other.
  • Bronn had a bad night at the brothel. On the one hand, he really likes Jaime and Tyrion, but he’s always insisted that he values money more. I don’t see this ending well for the sellsword, but maybe he’ll become a man of honor, too, before his end.
  • I’m wondering what Tyrion’s arc will be this season. His story’s been too thin since he met Dany. Will it be more family drama? Will it be new love? A new job starting Westeros’ first parliament?
  • I loved how we began the first episode of the last season with a callback to the first episode of the first season. Little Lord Umber running and climbing through the castle at Winterfell to watch the approach of a visiting king looked so much like Arya waiting for King Robert. I hope Umber’s grisly “death” at the hand of the Night King isn’t a foreshadowing of Arya’s fate.
  • I didn’t forget about Theon. I just don’t care.
  • Next week: Jaime must answer for more past crimes; Tyrion looks ready for battle.

Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Send her a raven via Twitter.

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