Spoilers Ahead, obviously.

Two years of waiting. Strong beginning and end, lots of fat in the middle.

That’s how I’d sum up the episode that kicks off the final season of HBO’s hit Game of Thrones.

The episode begins very strongly, with a long-overdue change in the visuals of the opening credits sequence, giving us a look inside both Winterfell and King’s Landing, places with which we are now intimately familiar. The sense of detail was exceptional here, with little touches like the huge skull of Balerion the Black Dread, dragon of Dany’s ancestor Aegon the Conqueror, being seen in King’s Landing. Eagle-eyed book readers will spot some of these.

The opening sequence is a wonderful call back to the show’s very beginning, with much the same music playing as that which greeted Robert Baratheon’s arrival in Winterfell back in Season 1. Looking back on that scene now it’s slightly disturbing how many dead people you see, but most of the survivors are here for the reunion. Great call back to a young Arya Stark’s sense of wonder at King Robert’s arrival with the more mature young adult’s grin at the antics of a child.

Initial meetings set the tone. The North is not happy with the arrangement between Jon and Dany. Sansa Stark, in particular, seems rightly miffed about the issue of fealty. While Jon is not wrong to point out the greater threat, the North and its lords have little reason to trust southern rulers, and even less to trust Targaryen ones, given the history. Even adorable little Lyanna Mormont is calling Jon out on this. Jon better watch out, last time he stubbornly ignored sentiments like this among his colleagues, he got a bad case of death by repeated front-stabbing.

Some reunions in the episode, many light-hearted and fun, but the Arya-Jon meeting is emotionally tinged with a hint of both happiness and danger. Clearly, neither Stark sister is thrilled with Jon’s choice of lover.

Dany herself seems to be a bit stuck in sovereign ruler mood, having a bit of a nobody likes me whine, but this is one of the episode’s weaker points. If Dany is as aware of her family history and actions as she should be then the cold reception makes complete sense. Assuming this ignorance is a deliberate plot choice, it really sets up the difference between Dany and Sansa, with the latter clearly focused on questions of logistics and supply that the former seems to neglect in favour of questions of fealty and rights, while Jon seems a bit too much in love-sick puppy mode to do much thinking at all (at least with his brain). Sansa also gets a sick burn on her ex-husband Tyrion when they reunite. Anybody else getting old married couple vibes from this?

Back in King’s Landing we’re mostly just faffing around. Bronn gets offered gold to kill the Lannister brothers and Euron is not as entertaining as the show seems to think he is, despite the utterly terrifying book characterisation. Seems like that’s one they left by the wayside in the adaptation, but it’s hard to see how it benefitted from doing so if this was the replacement.

There’re a few things I will leave out in the middle, but the episode mostly messes around and gets us reacquainted with our characters before finally heating up in the last minutes. Dany’s meeting with Samwell is awkward in the extreme after his realisation of her admittance that she roasted his family alive. Very glad this plot point that was telegraphed repeatedly last season was not ignored. Sam’s anger is also tied in with the other pivotal revelation of the episode.

Bran insists that Samwell be the one to tell Jon about his true parentage that we’ve known for a long time. It’s a skilfully done seen, conveying Jon’s shock at having his entire identity and worldview (which has been based entirely around being Ned Stark’s bastard son), be shattered in an instant. I take back what I used to say about Kit Harington in earlier seasons prior to 5, he’s completely believable as Jon Snow these days.

This scene weaves in this shocking revelation with Sam’s anger at his family’s murder and skilfully merges the two plot points together. It seems Sam will take an active role in pushing Jon to embrace his dynastic legacy and claim the Iron Throne. Whether he will or not is another matter, but I’m glad it’s the case that not everything is just sunshine and puppies while we wait for the dead to show up. Jon’s lineage must be important, not just fade into the background of the final conflict, otherwise, there’s no point dragging it out for all this time. Given this and Jon learning of Dany’s burning of the Tarlys, I don’t see this romance plot ending well at all (the parallels drawn with Rhaegar and Lyanna last season seem even more ominous as well. I don’t see this story ending well for these two.)

The dead are not really seen in this episode, but there is one brilliant jumpscare involving them in what was otherwise an episode heavy on the talks but light on the violence. It was a great jump scare, Hannibal Lecter himself couldn’t have done it better (it really must be seen to be believed properly, go look it up if you haven’t.)

Also, it had the obligatory GOT scene of naked women and ball jokes, but only one scene for each. The show’s not wasting any time anymore with that stuff, it’s established its brand and is running with it.

The end of the episode mirrors the end of the first episode just as the beginning does, with Bran finally meeting his ‘old friend’, as he humorously quips. Jaime Lannister the Kingslayer has ridden North to aid the living, and the look on his face on seeing Ned Stark’s crippled son is both priceless and horrifyingly good. We end the first episode of the season in the same place as we ended the first episode of them all with a Jaime-Bran face-off. That was well-rhymed throughout the episode.

Overall there was a bit of fluff and messing around with scenes that aren’t really all that important, but we’re mostly waiting for the dead to show and establishing some of the tensions that don’t just magically go away among the living. For all the episode’s dragging pace in the middle section, what it gets right, it gets really right.

All in all, a great introduction and wonderful setup for Season 8. The cold winds have risen, and the dead have risen with them.

Photo:
Game of Thrones – Influencer Outreach Box by C.C. Chapman available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.

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