It’s happening! Episode one of Game of Throne’s final season is mostly about reunions and moving pieces around the board. Too much time for the former, I think, as much as we fans want to see them. We learn almost nothing in this episode. The characters, on the other hand, learn a lot. The writers also put an enlarged F/X budget to great use.
Full SPOILERS under the cut.
We get a brand new opening! It starts north of the Wall, heading through its new gaping hole to Last Hearth (seat of the Umbers) then Winterfell then King’s Landing. No more Essos locations this season. We’re back home where we belong.
The episode, titled simply “Winterfell,” opens with a conscious callback to the series premiere, with a small boy playing the role an excited Arya played there, now climbing for a look at Unsullied and a Targaryen queen, not a Baratheon king.
Arya is pleased to see Jon, shocked to see the Hound and Gendry. Tyrion and Varys are traveling by carriage. Tyrion makes a eunuch joke, because Game of Thrones has a quota, damn it!
Jon is ecstatic to see Bran. This episode has lots of reunions and lots of first meetings. Dany and Sansa make literally 30 seconds of awkward small chat before Bran interrupts them. The Wall is down and the Night King has one of Dany’s dragons. Sansa has called all the bannermen back to Winterfell. The Umber boy needs horses and wagons to get his people down, hence the presence of the Last Hearth in the theme song.
Down in King’s Landing, Cersei is happy to hear the dead have broken through the wall, because Cersei is a mustache-twirling villainess. The harbor is full of ships full of the Golden Company. The mercenary company has 20,000 men and 2,000 horses, but we are all disappointed to hear that they left any elephants in Essos.
Euron continues to be insolent and kind of awesome and Cersei succumbs to his wiles. He will perhaps not be pleased to learn he won’t be able to put a prince in her belly anytime soon.
This is a six-episode season. We don’t even have time for sexposition. Cersei let both of her brothers walk away from her in the last episode of season 7. Now she pays Bronn to kill them.
Theon rescues Yara almost as quickly as Euron took her. I would complain, but there is no such thing as too little Greyjoy screentime. Yara plans to seize the Iron Islands, but Theon has unfinished business in Winterfell.
The dragons are barely eating. I sometimes have the same problem with Strider, although he likes the North plenty. We get an extended scene of Dany and Jon riding the two dragons that mostly exists to show off Game of Thrones’ biggest F/X budget yet.
Arya talks shit to the Hound and flirts with Gendry.
Dany goes to apologize to Sam. It is an awkward meeting. Sam admits that he stole a few books from the Citadel. Dany admits that she had one of her dragons burnt Sam’s father and brother to a crisp.
Sam runs out of the room to find Bran waiting for him. “Now’s the time.” Jon needs to know the truth, and it is Sam, not Bran, who he trusts more than anyone in the world. Jon doesn’t take it well. His entire relationship with his father was built on a lie. Plus his one fear as a bastard that kept him a virgin was that he would accidently sleep with his aunt.
Tormund and Beric enter an abandoned, half-destroyed holdfast. There are lots of bloodstains but no bodies. They do, however, find Dolorous Edd. And the Umber boy nailed to the wall, surrounded by the same pattern the White Walkers have been leaving since the pilot. Lit on fire, I can’t help but think that it looks a lot like the Targaryen sigil.]
Oh, and that old friend Bran was waiting for? It wasn’t Sam. It was Jaime Lannister.
This is a meh episode, but I wouldn’t exactly call it disappointing. There is a lot of necessary moving of pieces around the board. Nothing really shocking happens, but it looks like things are going to amp way up next episode.
There is a risk with so many characters meeting after so long that it will get fanfiction-y. One thing that does work is there are so, so many callbacks to the pilot. Even if Sandor Clegane didn’t break the Hound helm back out, we are ending where we started—in Winterfell.
All those reunions and first meetings and we don’t get a scene with Jorah Mormont and Lyanna Mormont.
Cersei sending Bronn after the Valonqars is the one almost twist and really interesting thing from this episode. I noted in my review of season 7 that Cersie let both of her brothers walk away from her. She isn’t exactly choosing the most reliable man to kill them. But then Bronn will be able to get close enough to do the deed.
The Unsullied aren’t going to be worth much if they don’t get them some sleeves.
“Nothing lasts.” I continue to think that Jon Snow won’t survive the series.
Jon riding a dragon is a bit anticlimactic, however gorgeous the visuals. His romance with Dany is only moderately effective.
“You’re a cold little bitch, aren’t you? I guess that’s why you’re still alive.” The Hound still has a way with words and a healthy appetite for chicken.
I remain on #TeamSansaIsTheWorst, but she has come along way. Tyrion of all people was stupid to ever trust Cersei. Still, it is laughable to call her “the smartest person I ever met.” She may not be the smartest person in the room, but at least she knows who not to trust. It is surely notable that the only people we know for sure believed Cersei were Tyrion and Jaime.
It seems like a lot of grief could have been avoided had Jon just asked for a certain amount of autonomy for the North. Call it Soft Nexit.
The conversation between Sam and Dany, and then Sam and Jon, is pointed. Mercy has a point. It makes for good realpolitik, although I’m not sure Martin or the show writers get that. At some point you need to stop making more people want to kill you. Basically everyone in the show already has good reason to kill most of the rest of the characters already. Deals need to be cut for the greater good. But, like Seth Bullock, Dany only knows how to go straight at a thing.
A final thought: “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”