Thursday 18 April 2019

TV Review: Game of Thrones S8E1 – 'Winterfell'

Thrones is back baby! Game of Thrones' final season has arrived and things have started off strong in the first episode, 'Winterfell'. Here's a quick review of the hour-long premiere. Spoilers, obviously.

Jon and Arya's long-awaited reunion was another highlight.
After the breathless season seven finale that aired nearly two (!) years ago, Game of Thrones' season eight premiere is the calm before the storm. After such a long hiatus, it's no surprise that this first episode slows down a little and gives the viewer time to reorient themselves.

A new version of the opening titles gives us a quick recap; the wall has fallen and the Army of the Dead is on the march. The Night King, now with nothing between him and the rest of the North, begins to advance on Last Hearth. It's this plot strand that provides one of the episode's best moments – Tormund, Beric and Edd scouring the dark ruins of Last Hearth – or what's left of it. I've always enjoyed when Game of Thrones dips its toe into chilling horror, and the gruesome demise (and fiery cremation) enjoyed by poor Lord Umber was brilliantly done.

Most of the action was centred on Winterfell. Jon and Dany arrive with the Dothraki, Unsullied and dragons at the backs – and Sansa's welcome wagon is frosty to say the least. The friction between Sansa and Dany shows just how far the former has come since leaving King's Landing – as Arya remarked, Sansa has grown into the smartest person in the room. Dany, and by extension Jon, are naive to think Sansa and the North at large were going to be welcoming. But their brief How To Train Your Dragon moment was cute at least.

Dany's decision to execute the Tarlys came back to bite her this week; this scene was a great moment that allowed John Bradley to flex his acting chops. I felt the following scene, where Sam tells Jon about his true parentage, was a little rushed – possibly a symptom of the shorter season, but I've no doubt the show will revisit this before the curtain falls for good.

Tyrion, Davos and Varys are three characters that highlight how the show has become more streamlined in recent years – their dialogue is 60 per cent banter about balls. Similarly, the Hound doesn't seem to much more than tell people to get fucked nowadays. Some of the writing on the show is great, but this stuff just ain't.

Proving that time is a flat circle, the episode ends with Jaime Lannister riding into Winterfell only to be met by Bran, who was everyone this week (as strongholds go, Winterfell is renowned for its accessibility ramps). This moment nicely mirrored the end of the show's first episode from all those years ago.

"Guys, get a room."

Meanwhile, in King's Landing, Cersei is disappointed that the Golden Company didn't bring elephants and promptly sleeps with Euron to put it behind her. Cersei's story is going to feel very disconnected from the wider narrative unless something drastic happens here in the next couple of episodes – especially now that Theon has rescued Yara from her clutches.

All up, this was a great reintroduction to Westeros. Some may have found it slow considering we only have five episodes to go, but not every episode can be a breathless blockbuster with battles and big twists. This is Game of Thrones taking a big deep breath before next week's showdown in the snowy fields outside Winterfell. With a lot of ground to cover between now and the end, I expect things are going to start moving a lot faster than ever before.

What did you think of Games of Thrones' season eight premiere? Let me know in the comments below.

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