Twenty months on, how does the first episode of Game of Thrones’ final season fare?Game of Thrones fans have got what they wanted: deceit, dragons, gore, politicking, nudity and incest. Or at least that’s what showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss seem to think fans wanted.
[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers.]
Game of Thrones fans have got what they wanted: deceit, dragons, gore, politicking, nudity and incest. Or at least that’s what showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss seem to think fans wanted.
But despite catering to fans, the episode didn’t deliver the surprises and curveballs that we viewers have come to expect from this show. It’s been 20 months since the last season, which ended with white walkers and their undead army moving south past the wall, so the show’s millions of viewers were expecting a beast of premiere, full of shock and surprises. But that was not to be.
The first episode of the final season replicates the show’s very first episode. Only, instead of Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, an army of Dothraki and Unsullied march towards Winterfell. The parade wastes no time reintroducing every major character. First come Tyrion and Varys, bantering about the latter’s lack of balls, then Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane, Missandei and Grey Worm, followed by Jon Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, both of whom seem upset by the distinct lack of fanfare.
Bringing his queen and new love interest home to the family, Jon is obviously keen to impress. However, no one seems particularly enamoured by the white-haired dragon tamer—Sansa Stark least of all. Her cold introduction reflects the north’s general disdain for Jon’s decision to abdicate, for they had vociferously dubbed him ‘King of the North’ just a few episodes ago. Sansa, worried about the future of her family name, is a product of her environment—cold and cunning like Cersei, her one-time sister-in-law, and pragmatic, like her late mother. This contention is generally predictable, given the curmudgeons that call the place home.
It doesn’t take long for Bran Stark to get down to brass tacks, skipping niceties and reminding everyone why they are in Winterfell. The three-eyed raven and all-round Nostradamus has lost all semblance of warmth, and despite having ‘three eyes’, he is entirely one dimensional. He reminds everyone that they will soon be killed by an army of wights and white walkers if they don’t make a plan. The ensuing meeting of minds welcomes back the general badassery one expects from little Lyanna Mormont. Never one to suffer fools, the lady of Bear Island expresses her discontent for Jon’s decision to pledge allegiance to queen Daenerys. Everyone in the hall agrees. The writers quickly plug another little lord—but more about him later. Then Tyrion blurts out that the Lannisters are coming to help fight the undead, which riles everyone up further. Old wounds heal slower in the north. The reception is predictable, but the politicking is delivered.
Then comes Gendry, surrounded by carts of dragon stone—the only metal that can permanently murder the white walkers and their wights—and a meeting between the once-married Sansa and Tyrion. The writers do their best to remind everyone the last time they met—when the insufferable King Joffrey died gloriously in a paroxysm in season four. Tyrion thinks he’s remained the same while Sansa has become wiley and forthright. But, “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” she says to him, referring to his naive belief that his sister actually plans to help. Viewers know already of Cersei’s murderous plan to take over the north, but the deceit is inferred.
The episode seems like a giant montage of meetings, with Arya and Jon, Euron and Yara, and Euron and Cersei follow the meeting schedule. They are too short to be truly juicy, rather an uncomplicated attempt at providing catharsis for the viewers. The writers leave little souvenirs from past seasons, such as the crossbow that killed Tywin Lannister in season four, the sword gifted to Arya by Jon, and the Valyrian dagger used in Bran’s attempted assassination. This all is, however, a necessary set-up for the following five episodes of this cruelly short final season.
Curiously, Arya seems to shed her emotionless ways around certain people. While her reunion with The Hound was less than warm, her scenes with the bastard Gendry Baratheon and Jon Snow reveal a side not seen since the first season. An odd encounter with Gendry seems to hint at flirtation (while also dropping a hint for a new spear-like weapon), while her warm embraces with Jon seem to show that she is still the little sister, despite her bloody past. Nothing is really said in the scenes, however.
Captain Harry Strickland of the Golden Company is later introduced. Despite 2,000 horses and manpower to burn—much to the dragons’ potential pleasure — Cersei seemed particularly upset by the lack of elephants in her new mercenary army. Later Euron Greyjoy, vying for Cersei’s hand in marriage, is oblivious to the proverbial elephant in the room. The arrogant scallywag vows to put a prince in Cersei’s belly during post-coital conversation. He has no clue there’s possibly a bun in the oven already. That bun was made following the tried-and-true incestuous Lannister recipe, of course. But, if Cersei’s deceitful behaviour is anything to go by, she could have been manipulating us all this previous season. She’s drinking wine while they talk, after all.
Later, Bronn is stopped mid-coitus by the Hand of the queen, which covers the vital nudity aspect. The sellsword, on seemingly every Lannister’s payroll, is asked by the queen to kill her brothers. Something about “poetic justice” is said in regard to the crossbow handed to him, but whether Bronn would murder two men he has strong friendships with has yet to be addressed. Then comes the quick rescue of Yara Greyjoy by her somehow ballsy brother Theon, followed by a weirdly heartfelt parting of ways. Theon goes to join the fight in the north.
There is a rather quick tying of loose ends around Jon Snow’s story. They plop him on a dragon, fly him north in a weirdly romantic scene following Daenerys on Drogon, and wannabe-maester Sam reveals Jon’s royal lineage. The scene with Daenerys ends with Drogon gazing on, either in approval or sheer disgust, at the fact that Jon is kissing his aunty. It’s hard to read the dragon’s facial expression, after all. But, that scene is both a tick for incest and dragons.
Gore comes in the latter stages of the first episode, with the previously mentioned but forgettable little lord nailed to a wall surrounded by a spiral pattern fashioned with human limbs. The little lord, discovered by wildling Tormund and the one-eyed, pretentious fire-sword guy, breaks out screaming and reveals his blue eyes. Everyone takes this as a sign that the army of the undead are on their way.
The final scene does allude to a hairy trial that could make up the brunt of the following episode. Jaime Lannister arrives cloaked and on a horse, and turns to find Bran waiting and watching. Bran did say earlier in the episode that he was waiting for a friend, but the man who crippled him was not who we might have expected. This is possibly the most unexpected facet of the episode, which does not say much.
Whether or not this season of Game of Thrones has started off well is up for debate, but the amount of questions up in the air makes for exciting prospects—winter has come, but the dead are approaching. And thus, let the final game begin.