Game of Thrones “Winterfell”
It seems like Game of Thrones is coming full circle, and thank (the one true, drowned, old, new, and many-faced) god(s) for it. The season eight premiere, “Winterfell” opened with a young boy climbing up a tree, straining to catch a glimpse of a great army filling into the castle grounds, not unlike Bran did way back in the pilot episode,”Winter is Coming.”
The parallels don’t stop there. Season 7 featured a breakneck pace, a sharp contrast to the early seasons slow, careful movement. “Winterfell” feels much more the latter; although there is still the same ostentatious show of Benioff and Weiss’s clearly massive CGI budget that has defined later seasons, this episode features a shift to the practical matters of war that calls back to where Game of Thrones started.
Yes, it’s fun when the show plays up the magic and dragons and evil ice zombies, but I love when Game of Thrones is a political drama. That’s what the show was back in Season 1, when mythical threats were still just that. And the introduction of Daenerys into the already somewhat tense ruling team of Sansa and Jon Snow is exactly the kind of interpersonal drama I wanted to see again. To some extent, the North’s reluctance to support Daenerys feels incredibly petty. And maybe Sansa is also being petty when she basically says the logistics for Team Dany’s plan haven’t been worked out, but she’s also right.
They aren’t prepared to handle this many people. And the idea that the northern houses would just go along with the idea of fighting alongside Lannister army is laughable. It took months of convincing all the houses in the North to support Jon. And now he’s back and has renounced the title that was given to him (shoutout to the always delightful Lady Mormont, you’re the realist), and he expects the people to rally behind a stranger. What’s interesting is that Jon has always known how difficult this was going to be. He was the one who suggested Daenerys ride with him by horse instead of flying in on a dragon because it would make a better impression. He is also the one reminding Daenerys that northerners don’t trust outsiders (though her looking up at her dragons with a look that says “I have dragons! That’s enough for people to follow me!” is something I’m very over). What Jon didn’t take into consideration was that he would have to convince his closest friends and family to trust Daenerys as well.
We’ve already covered Sansa’s distrust of Daenerys. But Arya siding with her sister was a surprise, especially given the close relationship Jon and her always had. It harkens back to the line from Season 7 (and from Season 1!),”When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” Arya and Sansa have grown tremendously and it’s clear their relationship is stronger than ever before (Arya telling Jon that Sansa “is the smartest person I’ve ever met,” was huge). Sansa questioning whether Jon bent the knee because it was a necessary move or because he was in love with Daenerys is a point for Sansa too.
On a side note: I do feel like Sansa is getting her comeuppance after being the show’s punching bag for so long. She’s the only one who can see through Cersei’s lies, and this really highlights how much less capable Tyrion is these days.
In terms of this episodes big reveal of Jon’s true identity was especially well done. The decision to have Sam upset with Daenerys when he tells Jon that he is the true heir was an excellent one. You could see Sam being the type that would ‘aw shucks’ his way through the encounter and defer to what Jon wants. Instead, Sam is insistent that Jon is the only true heir, and even plants the seed that Daenerys would never give up her crown for him, just as he had already done for her. With Davos, Varys, and Tyrion discussing if Jon and Dany will get married, there’s already a lot of moving parts in action on getting these two on the throne. It’s hard to figure out what will happen once everyone knows the truth.
I know there’s a camp that’s been waiting for Jon to ride a dragon (especially Rhaegal, who is named after Rhaegar, Jon’s birth father), and for them, this episode delivered big time. I didn’t hate the scene, in fact, I liked that it included some pretty cool overhead shots of Winterfell and it’s nice to see Jon and Daenerys bond and smile for once, but I do wish it served some kind of purpose (maybe the dragons could have been hunting or something), other than flexing that final season budget and driving home what we already know about Jon being a Targaryen. I also want Daenerys to show any reaction at all to how nice the dragons are to him. Just an eyebrow raise! Anything! Also, Dany’s mentioning how they could stay there for a thousand years made me think of Ygritte saying that she never wants to leave this cave. So maybe Jon Snow does have a type.
Over in King’s Landing, Cersei was acting mostly on brand (like who didn’t predict her response to the White Walkers crossing the wall or her “You’re the most arrogant man I’ve ever met— I like that” line to Euron?), but giving into Euron demands for sex was odd. Maybe it’s because, as Jaime said last season, she really is alone. After Euron comments that he’s going to “put a prince in your belly,” Cersei looked as though she might be tearing up, maybe suggesting how she feels without Jaime. Considering how unhinged Cersei has been for awhile, it’s strange to see her sort of, soft? Then again, she also paid Bronn to kill Jaime and Tyrion with Joffery’s crossbow, and no soft woman would do that.
My absolute favorite part of this episode? Early on, while Sansa, Jon, Daenerys, Bran, and Tyrion are meeting with the Stark bannermen, the young Lord Umber very adorably fumbles through all of the titles he has to use when addressing the room. He’s told to return to the Last Hearth to bring the rest of his men to Winterfell. At the end of the episode, Tormund, Edd, Beric, and crew find the Last Hearth empty, save for Lord Umber’s maimed body nailed to a wall surrounded by dismembered limbs in a spiral (a shape we’ve known the White Walkers have been using since at least season three). Him opening his blue eyes and letting out that bloodcurdling screech behind Tormund is probably straight up the scariest moment of the series. It was perfection.
- This episode was…really good? It was really good!
- My notes while watching this episode was while Missandei and Grey Worm were riding into Winterfell just said “Northerners are racist.”
- Sansa’s “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” to Tyrion literally had my jaw on the floor, I love her so much.
- I still bummed by the lack of chemistry between Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke. I can see the effort put in to really demonstrate how their relationship is growing and I appreciate it, but I see zero heat between these two. At least the characters are good on paper?
- There’s one scene were Bran is looking at Tyrion with a strange look on his face—it lends credibility to Tyrion being important in the greater scheme of things. Also, why isn’t anyone bugging Bran about talking more about his abilities?
- Bronn’s “that fucking family” had me rolling.
- I love the reminder that Theon is good archer. Him saving Bran from Osha and her wilding crew in season one is one of my favorite Theon moments.
- The reunions were great in this episode. Minimal fan-service, perfectly timed, and emotional without being saccharine. Hell, I’m ready to ship Gendry and Arya even though he looks like he’s double her age. And I’m very interested to see what the weapon Arya requested will turn out like.
- Really doubling down on the full circle theme, “Winterfell” closing mirrored the pilot’s with Jaime arriving in Winterfell and seeing Bran, just as “Winter is Coming” ended with Jaime seeing Bran and pushing him out of the tower.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.