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Kit Harrington/Jon Snow and Emilia Clarke/Daenerys Targaryen – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones: S8 E1 “Winterfell” review: Memorable, but not perfect

It gets everyone where they needed to be, but there are some issues.

I hope I’m wrong but I believe Episode 1 of Season 8 will cause an initial stir of disappointment but in time will be regarded as a rather great episode. I say this because that’s how my early feelings played out. It’s not that I thought the episode was bad but for all the talk of the final season containing 6 episodes of hard-hitting movie length action, it felt a little lacking. After a bit of reflection, however, it dawned on me that while it’s not the most action-packed episode we’ve seen come out of Game of Thrones, there are so many moments that have been culminating over the past 7 years that take place in the shortest episode of the final season.

The most striking difference is the way this episode opens as opposed to every other episode we’ve seen before. While we still get the map version of locations forming into shape, this intro veers away from the top down/entire city we’re used to and it closes in on the interiors of specific locations. It makes me wonder if the crypt below Winterfell is going to play a much bigger role if it’s being showcased in the first few minutes of every episode. Although the intro may have taken a path yet followed, the episode itself begins with a boy running through a crowded street and climbing a tree. This is very reminiscent of a scene with a young Bran Stark we haven’t seen since the first episode. This marks the return of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen back to Winterfell, where Arya Stark waits to reunite with her long lost brother. A heartwarming moment that is much needed after everything these two have been through. While it did play out as I would have expected, it’s a bit odd that Arya fails to mention her newly acquired Valyrian steel dagger when Jon is boasting of his sword. Could this lead to a moment where she saves his life with the dagger while simultaneously revealing how much of a badass she has become?

All’s not well in Winterfell however because Sansa and much of the Northmen are still agitated with Jon’s decision to pass his fealty to Daenerys. Sansa does have some really good points about not being able to feed this amazing new army he’s brought back for them (including two dragons) but it all seems so frivolous. As Jon says “WHO CARES?! WHEN THE WHITEWALKERS GET ‘ERE, WE GONNA DIE!”… maybe not in those exact words though. While we’re on the topic of Winterfell, is this really the best place for everyone to hunker down? I get that it’s their home and they just fought so hard to win it back, but it seems like a terrible place to try and defend. There is an open area all around them which makes spotting the Walkers and ranged offense easier, but defending a 360-degree attack won’t be. Wouldn’t somewhere like the Twins, White Harbor or Moat Cailin be easier to defend by keeping the oncoming assault to one side? I guess by this point they’ve invested so much energy into the north that trying to relocated further south wouldn’t give them much time to set up a base with White Walkers on their tail.

The reunions don’t stop there because we have Arya and The Hound coming face to face for the first time since she left him for dead (and oh yeah, robbed him first) as well as Arya and Gendry which hasn’t happened since Season 3! I was hoping for a bit more excitement from the latter two but their back and forth banter was nice. I didn’t get a good look of the drawing she (just so happened to) have for Gendry but I’m sure it’ll be a doozy of a weapon. Not that she needs any more.

Back in Kings Landing, Cersei is doing her brooding act and, really, who is going to stop her with zombie mountain by her side? This moment really threw me through a loop because of the way she scams Tyrion into believing she’s pregnant at the end of last season. Or maybe she actually was pregnant? But from who? If she isn’t pregnant, does she actually want to get pregnant because why else would she sleep with Euron Greyjoy? It appears on the surface she’s having second thoughts about ruling over a kingdom of dead people. Or maybe it’s her realization of truly needing an heir to succeed her because what else is this all for? All we know is, the Golden Company is here and they aren’t here to help the north. But at least they forgot their elephants. Damn CGI budget. (Edit: A fellow AiPT! writer, and someone in the comments pointed out that Cersei at one point forced herself on Jamie and revealed to him she was pregnant. I wrote that off a while ago as her being manipulative but its actually very plausible shes pregnant with Jamies child and using Euron as a cover)

So what other drama managed to get packed into this episode? Yara is freed thanks to the newly heroic Theon. Qyburn has hired Bronn to find and kill both Jamie and Tyrion. Which if we’re being honest, is not going to happen (God, please tell me that isn’t going to happen). The little lord Umber boy ran home to grab his people and found himself on the rough end of a satanic Night King ritual. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think the spiral symbolism is something we’ve seen since earlier seasons. This does likely mean that the army of the dead is far beyond where Tormund and gang are located so they don’t have much chance of warning Winterfell unless the Nights King decides to wreak havoc on the Karstark’s before heading west.

Uh Jon, do you not see the pile of bones in front of them?

Hm, is that it? Oh, wait…JON RIDES A FREAKING DRAGON. Seeing this for the first time really makes up for any shortcomings this episode might have had. I like how they portrayed him as fumbling at the task but by the end of their journey, he’s challenging Dany. Very cool moment and one I think we’ve all been waiting for since season 1. It makes me wonder if their waterfall destination will play more of a role or if Jon is just the man at first date ideas. And just when you thought we were done with the class of 305 AC reunions, Jon and Samwell also give us one of the most anticipated moments of the entire series — the reveal to Jon that he is actually a true born Targaryen (and the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms) and not the bastard son of Ned Stark. There’s a great reaction from Kit Harrington to boot. Samwell’s continued push that he is the true heir to the throne and not Dany really makes me think that this could plant the seed of a rift between the two. Not that I think Jon Snow wants to take the throne from Daenerys but her decision to kill Sam’s father and brother was a pretty cruel act and not a trait someone who rules should have. Samwell’s reaction to finding out not only that his father is dead but his brother as well was heartbreaking enough to make me want to oppose the one who killed them.

Lastly, the final minutes of the episode brought us a reunion that never occurred to me but needed to happen: the moment Jamie Lannister and Bran Stark meet face to face again in Winterfell. The two people unbeknownst to everyone but maybe Bran himself that started this endless spiral of destruction, betrayal, and chaos. It was very fitting to have these two meet on the first episode of the last season when they haven’t been within hundreds of miles of each other since that very first episode that kicked this all off (that moment Jamie pushed Bran out of the window). I don’t believe their meeting will have much of an impact in the final outcome of the show, but the two of them on screen again was a great way to close out this week.

We may not have been treated to a 40-minute blowout battle with the Wights or an undead dragon wreaking destruction on an unsuspecting town but I think all of the moments we were given made this episode a very memorable one. Heck, all but the little boy managed to make it out alive which is a feat unto itself. Sure some are going to be annoyed that “nothing happened” but as long as the rest of the season can hit on all fronts this will be seen as a great beginning to the end. To me, this episode got everyone where they needed to be and the pleasantries out of the way for next week to kick us hard in the pants. After all this, the only question I’m left with is, where in the hell is Ghost?!

Game of Thrones: Season 8 Episode 1
Is it good?
It's not the episode we expected but it's the episode we needed to start the season off right.
Manages to create even more drama amongst the people of Westeros despite the looming White Walker threat
Jon rides a dragon
Several call backs to early seasons to even the first episode
Reunions on reunions on reunions. So many reunions.
Considerably less action packed then most episodes before or to come
9
Fantastic
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