After almost two years of waiting, Winter has finally returned, and I want a jacket because it is absolutely chilling. As an avid watcher and a dedicated fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I have been waiting for many of the payoffs that we saw in last night's episode for years. While the premiere was visually stunning and full of content, this is not the same Game of Thrones that I once loved.
The show is bigger than ever, and just about everyone is watching it. The artwork and the production value is breathtaking, but the production seems to come at the expense of good writing. As a true A Song of Ice and Fire aficionado, I'm putting away my tinfoil hat for the moment to break down the best and the worst moments from Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1.
For the remainder of the series, pay close attention to the title sequence. The new credits were stunning. Instead of sweeping from castle to castle, it took us inside the Red Keep and into the crypts of Winterfell, gliding over Eastwatch and encroaching on the Last Hearth, automatically signaling that shit would go down there. Notice the white tiles turning an icy blue, signaling the path of the Night King.
The beginning of this episode beautifully parallels the start of the series—the arrival of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and the Lannister army replaced by the arrival of Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), and her army. The similarities of the child in the tree mimic young Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), and the lineup of grown–up Starks is something we haven’t seen in almost nine years. Even the score was the exact same—"The King's Arrival" by Ramin Djawadi.
The best moments of this episode were the visuals. A view of the north from the perspective of dragon riders is something I never thought we would see. Everything looked more meticulous, more intricate, detailing Winterfell and the Red Keep in ways that outmatch previous seasons. The level of detail on the dragons was also insane (no more CGI budget for elephants—sorry Cersei!).
This is a surprisingly lighthearted episode, full of odd jokes and a Bachelor–esque style date where Jon rides a dragon. The point of this episode was to finally bring all of the characters into the same place. There isn’t much wasted time and everything seems relevant moving forward, unlike Season 7, which was full of filler (please don't bring back Ed Sheeran).
Finally getting to see people's reactions to the dragons was also very rewarding—Arya's shock and Sansa's (Sophie Turner) fear was beautifully acted and might foreshadow later interactions with these magnificent beasts. The Arya and Jon reunion was the one I was looking forward to the most. After all of this time apart, we got a sweet and lighthearted moment that finally brought back the favorite Stark duo. It was a tender moment where hard–cut assassin Arya was joking and smiling, a welcome shift.
We were also rewarded with a great horror moment at the Last Hearth with Ned Umber (Harry Grasby). There aren't very many of these in GOT, but when they're there, it’s chilling. It was very creepy seeing the undead lord Umber open his bright blue eyes behind Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju). The scene was a reminder that the Night King, the White Walkers, and the army of the dead are much closer than we think, and that the drama happening at Winterfell right now is trivial.
Samwell’s scene with Daenerys was the best moment of the episode. John Bradley's acting when he finds out that both his father and his brother were executed by Dany was gut–wrenching. By no means was the relationship between him and his father great, but it was still his family. And then there was his brother. That scene was also a reminder of the human cost of war, one of George R. R. Martin's primary themes.
While there were many payoffs in this episode, Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1 is by far one of the worst–scripted episodes of the series. The shocking and witty banter between characters is replaced by weird jokes that nobody asked for ("You should consider yourself lucky. At least your balls won’t freeze off.") I miss the verbal sparring between characters; I miss the eloquence of emotional outbursts. I miss the depth of dialogue and the slow burn of waiting for payoffs.
Theon’s (Alfie Allen) rescue of Yara (Gemma Whelan) took almost no time at all. In two minutes, he rescued Yara and stole enough ships to retake the Iron Islands with minimal effort. There wasn't any thought put into this scene, which is disappointing because I wanted a sliver of redemption for one of the most hated characters on the show. This is a huge shift in his character from the scared and helpless Reek—at least make it more believable.
I'm also confused as to why there was such little reaction to Bran's bomb–dropping news that Viserion has become a wight and the wall by Eastwatch has fallen. The entire episode runs faster than Gendry. And it's full of fan service and lame one–liners. This felt like a fan fiction rather than the work of masterful George R. R. Martin. The reunions were sweet, but they just kept happening, often at the expense of emotional impact.
I'm also annoyed by Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) speech to the Northerners. Not only is he the brother of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), he’s the son of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who had the Starks killed during the Red Wedding. It's obvious they despise him, so speaking out in defense of Cersei likely made everything worse—especially because Jaime arrives alone at the end of the episode. Tyrion was also insulted by Sansa Stark in a huge moment for her character: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive."
I have a huge problem with Jon Snow. Formerly one of my favorite characters, I now hate every scene he's in. He is completely disingenuous and flat. In Season 7, Episode 6, Daenerys commits her armies to fighting against the army of the dead after she personally saw the Army of the Dead and lost Viserion. Jon Snow didn't need to bend the knee—it was just a plot device to reject Cersei as queen.
Okay, fine. But now he’s claiming that he had no choice. Sorry, sir, you’re full of shit. Sansa is right in that it was a stupid decision for him to bend the knee, especially so soon.
Jon and Dany’s romance is so cringy. There is no chemistry between Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke. The show's attempt to mimic the cave scene between Jon and Ygritte with Jon and Dany on the mountain ("We should just stay here forever") is just a reminder of how strong the bond between Rose Leslie's fierce wildling and Jon Snow was. Oh, and this dialogue is disgusting, and I don’t buy it. “It must be cold up here for a southern girl.” “So keep your queen warm.” No thank you, goodbye.
Also, Dany is Jon's aunt. Rooting for incest just doesn't feel right.
Looking toward the final episodes of the series, I want understandable reasons for the White Walkers' invasion, and I can't wait for sufficiently bitter sacrifices from the main characters—especially Jon and Daenerys. Arya has grown pretty loyal to Sansa. It’s clear that the only ruler of Winterfell is Sansa, so I’m curious how Jon’s secret will affect Arya’s loyalties.
As far as predictions go, I think that wildfire will destroy King's Landing—just as we saw it in Dany's visions in Season 2. While Cersei's decision to order Jaime's death was shocking and marks a turning point in their relationship, there is absolutely no way that Bronn would kill Jaime or Tyrion—he's just not a big enough character. Is it weird to root for Gendry to end up with a Stark girl? There might be four fans of Gendry/Sansa, and I'm one of them.
It’s not a surprise that the show could not keep up with George R. R. Martin's complex books, (Hell, I can’t even keep up with those storylines sometimes). But this is not A Song of Ice and Fire anymore. After season 4, Game of Thrones became its own story, untethered to the complexity of books. It’s a difficult series to sum up into only eight seasons, let alone to conclude in six episodes. But even so, it's obvious at this point that D. B. Weiss and David Benioff's writing is uninspired.
While I'm excited for the ending, I'm really not expecting the same sharp wit or hidden motifs in these final episodes. But I will still buy a t–shirt that says "You want a whore? Buy one. You want a queen? Earn her."
Episode Rating: 6/10