This Review is Dark and full of Spoilers.
It’s finally back! Game of Thrones has returned to our screens and if this first episode is anything to go by, we are in for an outstanding season!
We ended Season 7 (back in 2017!) with the fall of the wall, and the dead entering the North. This worked for the ending of the season, but I hoped that they would not start Season 8 with the Night King. I want them to build to that moment, and if I had my way, I’d leave them out of the show until the third episode when we are set for the big battle. Tease them in, remind the audience, but give us that payoff.
Speaking of payoffs, this episode was crammed full of them, and what it lacked in ‘action’ it more than made up for this with character interactions, building and feeding off fan expectation. There was so much fan service in this first episode. So let’s get into the review proper!
We start with a young boy, full of excitement, running to get a good look at the arrival of Daenerys’ army. While on one hand, that kid is us, the fans, so eager to get a look at our favourite returning show. It is, in fact, a parallel of the first-ever episode. A young Arya running to see the Lannister’s arrival. She even gives the kid a smile, in recognition of this. The army marches into Winterfell, with Jon and Daenerys, and they are greeted by the heads of House Stark. Again, another throwback to season one! I disliked the faux drama between Sansa and Arya last season, but you can at least see Sansa’s reasoning of disliking Daenerys here. With so few episodes left, I expect this conflict to be resolved in the next episode or two.
As well as the throwbacks, and first of many reunions, they also set the tone for the dark humour that would be a constant theme throughout the episode. Bran was on top ‘creep’ form, appearing and staring at random locations and characters. It was like something out of a horror movie.
The creepiness of Bran is soon overshadowed by the council meeting. None of the Northern houses is happy with Jon abandoning his role as King and bringing them under the banner of a foreign ruler. The most disappointed person of all is the Little Bear, Lady Mormont. Jon tries to reason with the nobles, and he’s right. What does it matter about titles when everyone could die if they don’t use Daenerys’ army and dragons? The dissent here had shades of Rob Stark about it. But with a much greater threat looming, now is not the time for petty house politics. This was another scene in which they further tried to establish the conflict between Sansa and Daenerys, and it was done very subtly.
As I mentioned at the start of the review, this was all about reunions and payoffs, and none was as rewarding as seeing Jon and Ayra embrace. In the first season, Jon gave Needle to Arya, so it was great to see him ask about if she had used it. This scene would also house a great one-liner from Jon about coming back to life. We would go on to have many more great moments like this. We would have Arya and The Hound/Gendry. Tyrion and Sansa. And my favourite, though we are yet to see the outcome, Jaime and Bran. This was a great way to end the episode. Creepy Bran awaiting the arrival of Jaime. It’s incredible to think just how far these two characters have come since that first episode. Jaime was this arrogant, uncaring bastard, and Bran was a helpless cripple. Now Jaime is reaching the final phase of his redemption arc and Bran is the all-powerful Three-Eyed Raven. How times have changed! I think out of all the character interactions, there is a tie for first place. And both of these scenes feature Samwell Tarly.
First off, we had the incredibly awkward scene in which Daenerys went to thank Sam for saving Ser Jorah, yet ends up telling him that she killed his father and brother. It was heartbreaking to see Sam try to put on a brave face when the tears in his eyes exposed his true feelings. This scene was both funny and sad in equal measure. Already on an emotional knife-edge, Bran instructs Sam that it’s time to tell Jon the truth. Sam went into this scene having just found out members of his family had been killed by the woman Jon is championing. John Bradley was excellent here, he managed to deliver a multilayered performance. Humour and warmth on one hand, and heartbreak and anger on the other. It was great to watch him break the news about Jon’s real heritage.
How this changes things? I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know what Jon will do with this information. He didn’t want to be ‘King of the North’, so I doubt he’d want the Iron Throne. His more pressing concern is probably going to be his relationship and lovemaking with his, now, aunt! As a final side-note, it was also great to see Jon and Ned (albeit his statue) in the same scene again. #TheNorthRemembers
The Golden Company have arrived! And they are welcomed into King’s Landing by a grinning Cersei. Qyburn informs her that the dead have broken through the wall, which she replies “good”. This is the first of many of these false-smile moments that she puts on this episode. You can see how false her confidence is, she is terrified but continues to play the confident Queen. She has a nice interaction with Euron in the throne room. I love Euron, he’s great. So funny, such a bastard. Despite Cersei trying to fend off his advances until the war is over, she invites him up to her chambers. This relationship is not going to end well. It was great to see The Golden Company though, but for fans of the books, the showrunners have acted quickly to lower expectations. They made a joke about how elephants don’t travel well over the sea. So I think that was a direct conversation with the fans informing them that we won’t be seeing any battle elephants in Game of Thrones.
Now it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without nudity, and this episode would deliver on that front, with Bronn and three maidens. Again, this was a really funny scene and Bronn was on form as usual. He is interrupted however by Qyburn. At this moment, I thought that The Mountain would appear and kill him. I was genuinely concerned for his safety. I thought this could be Cersei acting out because Jaime left. Turns out she wants Bronn to ensure Jaime and Tyrion don’t survive, whatever the outcome of the war. He is given the crossbow that was used by Tyrion when he killed his father. This is one to watch with great interest given Bronn’s relationship with the two men.
Away from the palace, Yara is held captive on Euron’s flagship. She isn’t a captive for long, as Theon and his men stealth-raid the boat, freeing her. In true Yara fashion, she greets her brother with a headbutt, knocking him to the ground, before offering her hand. Brilliant! They set sail back to the Iron Islands, so that should Daenerys fail, they have somewhere to hold up. She senses Theon’s desire to head North and allows him to go. I want to see Theon standing by the side of the Stark children in battle. As a visual, that is just so exciting for me, I hope this happens!
We all feared for Tormund and Beric at the end of last season, as the wall fell. But turns out they made it out alive and are now heading to Winterfell. They are actually behind the army of the dead. Though with such small numbers, I doubt any rearguard action could have an impact in battle. They reach the castle Last Hearth, home to House Umber. We saw young Ned Umber earlier, at the council meeting asking for horses and carts to help aid their evacuation and arrival at Winterfell. The castle is in darkness and there are signs of a fight. Tormund and Beric run into Ned and a few surviving members of The Night’s Watch. I love Ned, I also love Tormuned and Beric. So this trio might just be my favourite right now! Though, in such a dangerous situation, It might be best not to get too attached to them.
With nobody to be found, they make their way to the main hall where they are greeted by the body of young Ned, pinned to the wall, with other legs and arms forming a disturbing sigil. House Umber is now extinct! The line is broken, the house has fallen. Ned’s body is then reanimated, and Beric is forced to set him on fire. The burning sigil of the Night King is now the only light in the darkness. This was one of those classic Game of Thrones horror moments. It was outstanding. You just get the feeling that this is only just the beginning of many more horrors and death to come…
Game of Thrones returns in style! The episode was perfectly paced, with plenty of fan service and payoffs scattered throughout. The character interactions were such a strong aspect of the episode, and all the dynamics and subplots have been perfectly seeded for future episodes. The dark humour was exquisitely threaded into the dialogue, which was a nice balance to the more darker and emotional moments. I cannot wait to see where we go from here!