As was undoubtedly the case at countless offices (virtual or otherwise) around the world on Monday morning, the first thing my colleagues and I did when we got into work was talk about the Game of Thrones season 8 premiere. While all of us were glad to have the show back in our lives, some of us were less impressed with the first episode than others. So rather than keep all our thoughts to ourselves, we’ve decided to share them with you.
If you didn’t watch Winterfell — the first episode of season 8 — be warned that spoilers will follow. This is not going to be a detailed breakdown of the episode, but we’re not going to shy away from discussing details when necessary. If you’ve already seen the episode, then forget about this warning, and feel free to read on.
When I asked my colleagues Chris Smith and Mike Wehner what they thought of the episode, Chris was quick to praise it, but Mike was a bit more subdued. Personally, I thought this was a pretty weak episode to kick off the final season of one of the biggest television series of all time, but both Chris and Mike agreed that Winterfell did the necessary legwork to get all of the characters on the same page ahead of the coming battle.
Which brings me to my first big issue: Where was the urgency? Not everyone knows the extent of the threat of the White Walkers, but Jon Snow has seen the creatures up close and personal on more than one occasion. He’s fought them, he’s lost companions to them, and he knows what they’re capable of. And yet, he and Daenerys are more than happy to fly off on her dragons to have a romantic afternoon by the computer-generated waterfall.
Speaking of Daenerys, she seems far more concerned with throwing shade at her hosts and establishing a pecking order in Winterfell than, you know, saving the world. Within hours of arriving, she has already pissed off Sansa and somewhat callously informed Samwell Tarly that both his father and brother died at her hands. The power struggle was inevitable, and Sam needed to know the truth, but she isn’t doing herself any favors.
Daenery’s people skills aside, there were a whole lot of meaningful and cathartic reunions scattered throughout this episode, perhaps most notably that of Jon and Arya. I could have watched the two of them just catch up for a majority of the 54-minute run time, but the hug at the weirwood tree will have to suffice. And it was also satisfying to hear Arya stick up for Sansa, while challenging Jon to remember who his real family is.
Back in King’s Landing, Cersei is informed that the White Walker army has broken through the Wall, to which she responds: “Good.” Because of course she does. We are then reintroduced to Euron Greyjoy, who still has his niece Yara captive and is delivering The Golden Company (an army of sellswords from Essos) to Cersei, which prompts her to invite him upstairs from an evening alone together. Mike pointed out that any time we spend with Cersei feels like time wasted at this point in the story, and I’m inclined to agree. That’s not to say that her character isn’t interesting, but until she makes her move, her story feels decidedly like a B plot, and not an especially intriguing one at that.
But the most important moment of the episode came in the crypts below Winterfell, when Sam told Jon Snow the truth of his lineage. He is in fact the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the true heir to the Iron Throne. This might put a bit of a strain on his relationship with the woman that calls herself The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, etc. Oh, and who also happens to be his blood relative.
Finally, it’s worth noting that we were all on board with the final moment of the episode, in which Jaime Lannister is forced to confront Bran (from a distance, anyway), mirroring the shot from the first episode of the first season, when he pushed the young boy from a window and left him for dead. Bran has since moved on to bigger and better things, but it had to be a little satisfying to see Jaime slink into Winterfell with his face hidden.
Chris and Mike both reminded me that this is pretty much par for the course when it comes to a first episode of a new season of Game of Thrones. Nevertheless, I was ready for the show to grab me right away and remind me why I had been so desperate for it to return for the past 20-something months.
The good news is that most of the foundation has (hopefully) been laid, and now we can jump into all the juicy stuff starting with the next episode. We’ll be back with another piece on episode 2 of season 8 next week.