‘Game of Thrones’ season 8, episode 1 review: A game of reunions in Winterfell, while the Night King pivots to art installations

The end draws ever closer...

What a pleasure it is to have Game of Thrones back. As Netflix continues to hail down show after show, it’s almost a nostalgic experience getting to sit down to an episode of scheduled television you know everyone around the world is also glued to.

The HBO monolith has a heap of storylines to pay off in the six episodes that comprise its eighth and final season, and the rate at which major plot points were whistled through in Sunday night’s season opener is probably a sign of what’s to come.

In Winterfell

It was Game of Reunions in the Stark seat, with Jon catching up with Arya and Bran, Arya checking in (and flirting?) with Gendry, and Sansa and Tyrion debriefing on the Joffrey era. Again, time is of the essence, so these exchanges were largely confined to: “You’re not dead.” “You’re not dead either.” “Cool!” *Grim laugh*. End scene.

Jon and Daenerys are a bonafide couple now, which doesn’t seem to have come as much of a surprise to anyone in their orbit given they’re clearly far and away the two most attractive people in all of the Seven Kingdoms. And yet, I’m not actually sold on their chemistry yet. There was something slightly stilted and forced about their post-dragon joyride make-out tonight, perhaps owing to the fact that the union of Jon and Dany has been on the cards for so long that it feels slightly…perfunctory?

Still, it was a thrill to see Jon and Arya embrace once more, and Jaime and Bran lock eyes in what might be the show’s most long-standing beef. Surprisingly, however, the key scene in ‘Winterfell’ involved the unlikely pairing of Daenerys and Sam. The Mother of Dragons had been so genial and good-natured all episode that I feared we were watching her undergo something akin to a face turn in professional wrestling. Fortunately, this jarring pivot was implicitly called out. Dany thanked Sam for saving Ser Jorah’s life, only to come to the awkward realisation that she had recently burned Sam’s father and brother to a crisp. This is the key disconnect to be reconciled as we lurch toward the finale: Jon wants people to live, Dany wants people to obey.

The big surprise tonight was how early in the season Jon learned of his true parentage. One quite compelling fan theory had Jon never finding out this huge secret – dying a Stark bastard and a proud one. But no, a reunion between Sam and Jon in the Winterfell crypt led to Sam blurting out the seismic news like it was one of those fast-talking Game of Thrones conversations about storing grain for the winter. “I know it’s a lot to take in,” Sam told Jon (or rather, Aegon Targaryen XI) which would be a fitting tagline for season 8 as a whole.

Jon Snow and Daenyrys finally recognised their relationship…

In King’s Landing

Somewhat bereft of a supporting cast in King’s Landing now that Jaime has departed, Cersei made the curious decision to capitulate to Euron’s advances and sleep with him. It makes character sense that Cersei would use sex as a bargaining chip, but I think there is more to this tryst than just her thoroughly locking down Euron’s allied fleet. To be continued.

Bronn, meanwhile, whose “I just work here” demeanour is always very welcome light relief, was tasked by Qyburn with killing Tyrion with a crossbow, an act of “poetic justice” given Tyrion killed his and Cersei’s father with the very same weapon. It seems this is all heading toward a moment where we finally find out if Bronn has a heart or not, and if he’ll ultimately fight for good or evil instead of just whoever pays best. Personally, I’m hoping he abstains from picking sides, and ends the season drinking mead on a beach in Essos while Westeros freezes over.

Somewhere in the ocean

The Greyjoys are the House it’s consistently hardest to care about in the show now that the Dornish contingent are no more. But yes, Theon is back, and even his curls are more voluminous now that he’s rediscovered his honour. After rescuing Yara, he was granted permission by his sister and queen to go and fight for House Stark, so we can expect to see him die in a blaze of glory when the dead finally march on Winterfell in a week or two.

Last Hearth

The season 8 opener’s “holy sh*t” moment involved, of all people, little lord Ned Umber. I thought the White Walkers’ M.O.was walking slowly and killing things in a kind of indifferent manner. And yet the Night King showed a never before seen flair for theatrics tonight, as he trussed up Ned’s body into a sort of art installation. The Umber’s body suddenly resurrecting as a wight was a fun little jump scare, and I think we’re to assume that the pattern it formed once struck with a fiery sword was supposed to resemble a burning Targaryen sigil. Is the Night King a secret Targ? Is that why he can ride a dragon? Game of Thrones is absolutely expert by this point at stoking the endless theorising among fans that has propelled it to ‘biggest television event on the calendar’ status.

‘Winterfell’ was a solid return for the show, albeit it one largely taken up with housekeeping. Now that long lost sisters have been embraced and family trees have been ironed out however, the stage is set for more action-orientated episodes that promise to break new ground for television (and frankly the show is only in competition with itself).

Predictions for next week

  • Bran will forgive Jaime for pushing him out of a window (because, I don’t know if you heard, he’s not really mentioned it much, but he’s not really Bran anymore?)
  • Jon will keep his true parentage a secret from pretty much everyone including Dany, lest it distract from the mission to crush the White Walkers. I’ve got nothing on what he’ll do when his aunt next tries to put the moves on him, though.
  • Jaime will come in for a brutal series of ‘I told you so’s around Winterfell, not least from his brother Tyrion.

Game of Thrones returns next Sunday.