After much fanfare, the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones began earlier today with a solid, crowd-pleasing episode. Winterfell maintained a healthy amount of theatrical flourish despite featuring no fight scenes or, as we have come to expect, increasingly spectacular, even baroque, on-screen deaths.
As Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) returns to the North with Queen Daenarys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her assorted allies, including her Hand, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), and spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), her arrival sparks fear and mistrust among the Northerners. Especially Jon’s sisters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams), and his best friend Sam Tarly (John Bradley), who learns that Daenarys executed his father and brother during the events of the last season. Most of the episode’s runtime is devoted to Jon and Daenarys’s attempts to deal with this situation, given that the real threat, the undead White Walkers, have recently breached the Wall and are slow-marching their way to Winterfell.
Reunions were a running theme throughout. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Arya, Sansa and Tyrion, even Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Euron Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) receive great little moments in quick succession. It was Jon and Arya’s reunion, however, that fans had waited for the most, and it proved to be a suitably heart-warming scene — with a not-so-subtle reminder that both these remarkable characters had been resurrected, in Jon’s case literally so. When Jon asks his sister if she had ever used Needle, the sword he gave her, a shadow of weariness passes over Arya’s face as she replies, ‘Once or twice’. GoT fans, of course, are familiar with Arya’s mounting death toll and the moment was played to perfection by Williams, who has risen in stature with every passing season.
Breaking GoT première tradition, somewhat, Winterfell also motors along plot-wise. Jon learns the secret about his true parentage and, ergo, his legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. He and Daenarys also produce the VFX scene of the episode, a breathless dragon joyride, before kissing in front of an icy waterfall. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) strategically beds Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk). The White Walkers send a typically gruesome message to Tormund, Dondarrion and company. Bran (Isaac Wright), in his newfound seer/Three-Eyed Raven avatar, even rebukes Daenarys, Jon and the Starks at one point for “squabbling over titles” (as Jon put it), telling Daenarys bluntly, “There’s no time for this, the Walkers have your dragon. They’ve torn down the wall”.
By the end, it was clear that all of the stage-setting had been reserved for Winterfell, likely to be the shortest episode of the season at just under 50 minutes. From this point on, it’s likely to rain fire and blood, for winter has at last come to Winterfell, like Ned Stark kept warning us. It’s fasten-your-seat-belts time.
1. Bran being low-key creepy
2. A new cold war, this time between Sansa and Daenarys
3. On the show’s famous penchant for surprise deaths
4. On Bran waiting all night to meet Jaime Lannister, who tried to kill him in the show’s pilot