Winter is here - and so is a lot of catching up - in the first episode of the fantasy series' final bow.
At this point, it feels like Game of Thrones fans are anxiously awaiting the show's final season less out of a sense of genuine interest in what the six episodes will hold, and more out of a sense of wearied obligation. Sure, we wanna know whether the squabbling tribes of the Seven Kingdoms will get their shit together in time to fight off the rampaging horde of ice zombies, but mostly we just want to see what happens at the end. At this point, the destination feels much more important than the journey, especially since we've been on that journey for so very long. Still, "Winterfell" does a lot of place-setting for the remaining five episodes to come, cementing the long road our heroes have to take towards both personal and existential survival.
Given that we've spent more than a year (nearly two) away from Game of Thrones, it makes sense to see "Winterfell" largely concern itself with reintroducing Westeros-starved fans to the world and its characters. Its first scene echoes a scene from the first episode of the show, in which a procession of royals approach Winterfell; this time, however, there's a greater mixture of bittersweet tension - instead of the brighter attitude of the Baratheons, it's the North's new queen
Despite this tension, it's still a sweet homecoming for many: he lovingly reunites with Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright
Many of these characters have been through so much since they last saw one another - rape, disfigurement, incredible personal loss
But Dany's arrival brings many complications to the impending threat; for instance, the Northmen (whom Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) accurately characterize as "stubborn as goats") won't ride with an outsider, especially a Targaryen. Her arrival is especially messy for Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), who's owed gratitude from Dany for saving her loyal steward Jorah (Iain Glen), but is also responsible for killing his father and brother when they wouldn't bend the knee. On top of that, Bran lets him know that he must also let Jon know the truth about his parentage: he's not Ned Stark's son, but the son of Rhaegar Targaryan and Lyanna Stark - the true heir to the Iron Throne. This throws no small number of wrenches into his plan, not to mention his budding dragon-based romance with Dany: they're related, and he's supposed to rule instead of her. That's gonna make their next date pretty awkward, even without Dany's dragons totally wanting to watch them have sex.
Meanwhile, back in King's Landing, Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is still negotiating her shaky alliance with the slimy Ironborn commander Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), who's offered up his army in exchange for some of that sweet Lannister lovemaking. Cersei is put off at first by his crass advances - "If you want a queen... earn her" - only to give it up that very night. (One wonders just how precarious Cersei feels her position is.) Then again, she's in an emotionally vulnerable place, having pushed away Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the only man she's ever truly loved, all to maintain her precarious grip on power; plus, she has her baby to think about as far as we know, though she certainly hits the sauce pretty heavily for a pregnant woman. Between literally and figuratively getting into bed with an unstable pirate and soliciting sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn) to kill Jaime and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) - two men with whom Bronn has an unshakeable bond - Cersei's certainly playing a shortsighted, reckless version of the Game of Thrones.
That tends to be the overarching theme of this episode, season, and Game of Thrones in general. George RR Martin has all but admitted that the White Walkers are rough
Apart from a small, but effectively creepy scene in Last Hearth with our favorite Beard Brigade - Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) - coming across a hella-spooky
- The show kicks off in earnest with a brand-new title sequence, kicking off with the fallen Wall from the end of the previous season. It's a much smaller-scale diorama, focusing on a mere three places - Winterfell, King's Landing, and Last Hearth - demonstrating the more centralized location of the characters and the greater urgency of their plight. The astrolabe's different too, with dragon iconography rather than the separate sigils of each major house. The players participating in the Game of Thrones have whittled down to quite a few indeed. (Vanity Fair's got a great piece up on how and why the title sequence changed.)
- Bran's response to Jon telling him "You're a man": "... Almost." References to his disability, or his psychic powers, or both? Whoever he is, he's firmly established himself as a messy bitch who loves drama.
- I can safely say that the audience, like Cersei, is also disappointed that there are "no elephants" to be found in the show's final season.
- The Jon/Dany dragon ride is some real How to Train Your Dragon shit, and other than establishing that Jon can totally ride dragons too, it doesn't quite do enough to sell us on their romance. So far, it just feels like they're together because the story wants them to be, and not due to any sort of natural chemistry. I mean, I guess they're both pale bores, so they have that in common.