After two years, Game of Thrones has finally returned for its eighth and final season, and the first episode is a fitting first step on the journey to conclusion.
Spoilers for anyone who has not yet seen Season 8 Episode 1!
Entitled Winterfell, the episode mirrors moments from the very first episode of the series when we were first introduced to the castle and its people. It was called Winter is Coming; winter is well and truly here now.
The episode kicks off with a brand new title sequence - don’t worry the theme tune hasn’t changed - and it really shows how far all of the chess pieces have moved to get to this point. The titles are more elaborate now too, showing more than just the location and general appearance of a place, and going into the layout and structure. Winterfell in particular is explored, which looks to tee up the battle that will take place there later, when we may need to have a greater knowledge of which bits lead where.
But on to the drama from the season premiere itself. There were reunions, introductions, dragons, deception and a little bit of uncharacteristic cheese.
When Jon and Daenerys arrive at Winterfell, Sansa is happy to see her brother return, but gives a frosty greeting to Daenerys in response to the Mother of Dragons going down the flattery route. Flattery doesn’t get you anywhere in the North. This scene featured in an early teaser for the season and mirrors Ned Stark’s "Winterfell is yours, your Grace" welcome to King Robert Baratheon back in season one. Hopefully things end better for Sansa than poor Ned.
Sansa, like all of the other Northern Lords and Lady Mormont, is sceptical of Daenerys and displeased with Jon’s decision to bend the knee and give up his title as King in the North. It doesn’t feel like they’re going down the route of pitting two powerful women against each other for the sake of it; a running theme is calling into question Daenerys’ character.
During the episode, Daenerys meets Sam and what started out as a lovely first meeting turns sour when he learns that she executed both his father and brother as they refused to bend the knee to her. He later questions Jon on whether he would’ve shown them mercy had it been his decision. He also raises the point that Jon gave up his crown to save his people, but would she do the same? Doubtful.
In a really lovely scene, Arya and Jon hug it out and compare swords - he is moved to see she still has the one he gave her in season one, but less so that she’s had to use it. There is a touching moment between the siblings when he asks her to help with Sansa and Daenerys, but Arya notes that her older sister is just defending their family. She then asks Jon to never forget that he is their family, which is the foreboding of what comes later in the episode when Jon finds out the truth about his parents.
Bran sets Sam the task of telling Jon the truth about him being the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, and that his real name is Aegon, and needless to say it’s a big shock to his system. Parts of the scene were great, but overall it felt a bit rushed for such a momentous moment. I suppose the more momentous part will be telling everyone else…
Back to how smart Sansa is… She really has learned a lot over the years and she is excelling in her role as Lady of Winterfell. Jon may be more of a typical hero, but Sansa is a power player.
When she is reunited with Tyrion, they speak about Cersei sending her army to help their cause and she is shocked that he actually believes that his sister would do that. Of course, we know that Cersei has absolutely no intention of doing such a thing and that Sansa is dead right, but how has Tyrion become so naive? Perhaps Sansa’s parting "I used to think you were the cleverest man alive" comment will make him reassess his beliefs.
Sansa also calls into question whether Jon was swayed by his love of Daenerys in his decision to bend the knee; she is always looking for people’s motivations now and is perhaps taking Littlefinger’s advice from an earlier season about assessing the worst possible reason someone would do something in order to prepare and adapt. She has learned from the masters of manipulation and deception.
There are reunions galore in Winterfell, with Arya coming face to face with The Hound and Gendry again, and Bran meets Jon before locking eyes with Jaime at the episode’s close. I look forward to seeing what they will say to each other next week. Jaime will no doubt agree with Sansa’s view on Cersei too.
The reunions were generally really satisfying and well done; there was warmth, emotion and humour without them ever coming off as too twee.
The same cannot be said for the dragon date Jon and Daenerys go on. I’m kind of on board with them being together, unknowing incest aside, but with an army of the dead fast approaching, it felt a bit cheesy to have a big romantic kiss by a waterfall thrown in the mix. The protective looks from her dragons was also a bit of an odd call. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to see Jon riding Rhaegal, especially considering his Targaryen bloodline, but it felt a little bit Jasmine and Aladdin and not so much Game of Thrones.
A message from the Night King brings us back to the horrors that are coming when Tormund, Beric and co. find the young Lord Umber left for them with body parts of his men placed around him in that familiar shape the Night King has used before. The show does unnerving far better than it does romance.
Winterfell was the main event this episode, and bringing everyone together for the battle to come, but down in King’s Landing Cersei has been busy.
The Queen has sent Bronn to kill Tyrion, with Qyburn handing him a crossbow to do it with as revenge for killing their father Tywin with one. I’d like to think Bronn won’t actually do it, but I am glad he’s being sent off to the North so he can be reunited with Tyrion and Jaime. But he really better not do it.
Cersei has also met the captain of the Golden Company, an army of sellswords founded by Ser Aegor Rivers, a ‘legitimised bastard’ of King Aegon IV Targaryen, who were brought to her by Euron Greyjoy.
While Euron and Cersei get it on in the Red Keep, Theon and his remaining Iron Island brothers sneak aboard his ship and rescue Yara. Yara intends on taking back their home, but Theon will head North to Winterfell. His meeting with Jon last season brought back some of his Stark loyalty.
It was a good episode with a couple of great scenes, but I had hoped that all six this season would be top tier stuff. The episode was very much a welcome back; most people are where they need to be now for the events going forward, so hopefully the final five will be more Winds of Winter/Battle of the Bastards/Rains of Castamere-esque.
The Game of Thrones carries on, but who will win and who will die? Anything can happen at this point.
Game of Thrones continues on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 2am and 9pm.