Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 Review

 In Game of Thrones Reviews

Winter Is Here

When we first heard that would have to wait nearly two whole years for the final season of one of the most celebrated shows in living memory, it felt like Winter had come early. Now, Game of Thrones has returned and the excitement here at Fuse HQ has spread like Wildfire. Despite that, how does the first episode back fare? Spoilers from here on out as we take a look at “Winterfell”.

United

Within the first seconds of the episode the audience is reunited with something different yet familiar, the title sequence. The browns and golds have become muted and the rings surrounding the sun no longer tell the story of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion, but a new story. Perhaps foreshadowing Daenerys’ accent to the Iron Throne?

Staying with Targaryens, and revealed much earlier than anyone expected, Jon learns of his true heritage as Aegon Targaryen from Samwell. This was a long-awaited moment for many in the fanbase. This scene truly stands out with its intimate yet foreboding atmosphere, but the fact that other scenes of reunion stand out just as well is a tribute to the show’s writing. The pure innocence and joy felt between Jon and Arya as they reunite is accentuated by being set in the brightest scene in the episode. Meanwhile, darkly lit reunions like Arya with The Hound and Cersei with Euron give us an idea of darker things to come.

One of the most impactful reunions, however, comes in the very last scene of the episode. Jamie arrives in Winterfell and Bran just stares from across the courtyard. This reunion has been anticipated since episode one of season one, and with no words at all the show tells us just what these characters have learned since that day. Jaime is a man filled with regret but still determined to fight the oncoming tide, while Bran understands that the tide will always come yet is seemingly content with his fate.

This duality is present in many characters and will probably be explored further in later episodes, but will this help or hinder the united North in the fight against the White Walkers?

Divided

For as many reunions as there were this episode, it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if there weren’t growing problems the audience could see from miles away. Samwell learning of his father and brother’s deaths may have influenced his decision to tell Jon about his lineage and put a looming wedge in their alliance/relationship, but the big riff forming between Sansa and Daenerys is unfortunately the episode’s weakest point.

On one level, there is some significance to this. It keeps up the show’s consistent theme of the opulent, yet treacherous South verses the poor yet loyal North, but here it comes at the cost of Sansa’s character growth. Sansa’s vanity has always been important to her character. However, it was her growth past it and her journey to learn, understand and appreciate what she had that led her to become Lady of Winterfell. But now, an equally gorgeous blonde walks into her home and she allows her vanity to take control under the guise of speaking for the North? We’re pretty sure the North can speak for itself, given that Lady Mormont once again dominates the one scene she’s in and airs the Bannermen’s grievances, so why weaken Sansa as a character to achieve the same result?

The Lady and the Queen were guaranteed to clash, but did the writers have to stoop to the same old “women-of-power” clichés for it happen?

A Warning To All

Back to more positive parts of the episode. The loss of House Umber saw the Wildlings, the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Nights Watch come together in what could be considered a realisation of Jon’s vision for a united army against the White Walkers. However, a warning from the Night King and a shocking reminder of his power really drives home just what our heroes are preparing to face.

This dark scene, punctuated only by the light of Beric Dondarrion’s firey sword and a sparse moment of humour, is silent and still. This allows the audience take in the quietly destructive nature of the undead army heading to Winterfell. Every character in the scene has something to fear and the audience is right there with them as an episode of reunions foreshadows a greater danger with just one simple scene.

Final Thoughts

The first episode of a series has a lot to do. It must remind the audience of plot points from previous seasons while kicking off any new plots for the upcoming episodes. This episode succeeds in this for one simple reason: it keeps the stakes personal despite the grand scope of its threat. By remembering that we watch Game of Thrones for its characters, nothing feels forced. Every character has a stake to claim and a family to protect. By keeping its focus on these characters, while still giving us a subtle yet effective hint to the larger threat, the audience slips back into Westeros as if they never left. Quite a feat after two years away…

 

Our Stand-Out Moment

Some may argue that it was too cliched or overtly romantic for such a heavy episode, but Jon and Daenerys’ dragon ride through the Northern Lands was an epic and sweeping moment of levity. It gives the audience a feel for the faith the couple have in each other without standing around and reciting platitudes Romeo-&-Juliet style.

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