Saturday, April 20, 2019

GAME OF THRONES (S8E01): "Winterfell"

After a nearly two year hiatus, HBO's Game of Thrones returned with the first episode of the eighth season on Sunday April 14th. This is the final season and will consist of only six episodes. As expected after such a long gap between episodes, ratings were extremely high. The episode (S8E01) is titled "Winterfell" and like a lot of first episodes in previous seasons, it includes a lot of place-setting and character check-ins. However, this first episode of the last season was notable for its mirroring of the first episode of the first season in various aspects.

Here, for completeness are the first episodes of the seven previous seasons of the show
  • Season 1: "Winter is Coming" (Characters are introduced; Jaime Lannister pushes Bran Stark out a tower window)
  • Season 2: "The North Remembers" (Stannis Barratheon is introduced as another claimant to the Iron Throne while Robb Stark vows revenge for his father's murder by Joffrey)
  • Season 3: "Valar Dohaeris" (The title means "all men must serve" and comes after the Season 2 finale of Valar Morghulis which means "all men must die.")
  • Season 4: "Two Swords" (Tywin Lannister melts down a Valyrian steel sword to make two swords, 1 for Jaime and 1 for Joffrey)
  • Season 5: "The Wars to Come" (Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night'sWatch, kills Mance Ryder of the Wildings)
  • Season 6: "The Red Woman" (Melissandre is revealed to be more than just a priestess of R'hllor)
  • Season 7: "Dragonstone" (Daenerys finally makes it to Westeros, arriving at Dragonstone the ancestral home of House Targaryen kings)
The episode finds a way to check-in on almost every important surviving character in the series, with almost everyone either located at Winterfell or King's Landing.  In the North we see an insanely long line of soldiers walking past a crowd of skeptical northerners (and a bemused Arya) that includes Grey Worm and  Missandei, Jon and Dany and many, many Unsullied warriors. This, of course, mirrors one of the very first scenes in Episode 1, Season 1 when a young Bran and Arya Stark witnessed the procession of King Robert Barratheon and the Kingsguard on the way into Winterfell to try and convince their father to serve as Hand of the King. We see Gendry and The Hound in the procession as well.

When we get to the interior of Winterfell we see Bran, Sansa, Davos, Varys, Tyrion among other familiars. The first meeting between Sansa and Dany is tense, although the Lady of Winterfell does her duty by saying "Winterfell is yours, your Grace" but she doesn't look like she means it or enjoys it. Another tense meeting between siblings that occurs is between Yara and Theon, who after Euron goes to King's Landing to (successfully) woo Queen Cersei Lannister leaves his ship unprotected and vulnerable to a sneak attack by Theon to rescue his sister, who promptly heads him in the nose and knocks him to the ground when she sees him. (Presumably for running away and leaving her with their psychopathic uncle after he attacked their ship last time we saw them.) There's no physical violence when Sansa and Jon (or when Sansa and Tyrion) meet in the episode, but Sansa has developed the skill of using her words as dangerous weapons and does so to memorable effect in both meetings.

Later, we see the reunion we have been waiting for a long time, Arya and Jon (in the Weirwood, no less) and he realizes that she still has the sword he gave her so many years ago (Needle). "Have you used it much?" he asks, revealing how little he knows about the deadly assassin his sibling has become since he last saw her. We also see a reunion between Arya and Gendry (who is busy working the forges of Winterfell to create deadly weapons out of dragonglass that Dany brought with her from Dragonstone).

Probably the most important scene of the episode was between Sam and Jon (occurring in the crypts of Winterfell). After Sam has discovered that Dany (and her dragons) were responsible for the death of his hated father (and his dickish brother) he asks Jon if he knew that Dany had killed them and would he have done the same thing. (Interestingly, Jon doesn't really answer either question clearly, although his body language seems to indciate that he might have known about the incident). It's in this context that Sam reveals to Jon that the truth that fans have been waiting decades for. Jon Snow isnot a bastard, he is the true heir to the Iron Throne, since he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (who were married at the time). Jon's real name is Aegon Targaryen VI and as the eldest son of the eldest son of King Aegon Targaryen (the Mad King) he has a better claim to the throne than Daenerys as the youngest (female) child of the King. This also means that Dany is also Jon's aunt, which should make their next intimate conversation very interesting!

In the final scene of the episode we see a stranger disembark from a horse in Winterfell and take off his head covering to reveal Jaime Lannister, and then pan out to see Bran Stark sitting in his wheelchair looking straight at him was a great surprise. And then when we see Jaime realize who it is he is looking at (the kid he cruelly threw out of a tower window after discovering he had seem he and his sister together) is a great way to end episode 1. Only 5 episodes left!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The best line of the episode is probably Dany's slightly annoyed response to Sansa's question "What do dragons eat?" which was "Anything they want." 
  • The second best line is probably Dany's "We're here to discuss your surrender, not ours."
  • Most valuable player of the episode is Drogon, the largest of Dany's dragons. The look he gives Jon when Dany is trying to encourage him to "keep [her] warm" is a definite highlight of the episode. I also liked the Dany and Jon ride dragons interlude, although I can also see how some fans of the show might have gotten impatient.
  • Reunions between Arya and Jon, Arya and Gendry, Jon and Sam, Tyrion and Sansa and Theon and Yara. 
The only lowlight of the episode was that we didn't actually see any white walkers or the zombie dragon Viserion.

Grade: 8/10.

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