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Welcome to Winterfell

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 1 Review

After eight years, sixty-eight episodes, and more deaths than I can name off the top of my head, the end is here. The Wall has fallen, and the Night King leads his undead army south to conquer Westeros. Now the Seven Kingdoms must put aside the fact that they’ve been at each others throats for years and fight as one. With only six episodes left, the final season of Game of Thrones needs to end in a way that will please most of the fans.

Despite the urgency in the show and in real life, the first episode of Game of Thrones’ final season is a slow burn. That’s a good thing, though! Given what’s about to happen, now is the time to wrap up any remaining plot threads before the final battle. With almost all the surviving cast converging on or at Winterfell, this was the right time to focus on tying up loose ends.

The first scene was a virtual book-end to the first episode. Mirroring King Robert’s arrival in Winterfell in the first episode, Jon, Daenerys, and all the people in their camp arrive in Winterfell. Daenerys’ arrival is as different from Robert’s as summer and winter. The North remembers, and while we know that Daenerys isn’t a tyrant like her father, it will take time to earn everyone’s trust.

Speaking of trust, Euron came through for Cersei and got her the Golden Company. What’s more, she seems to be willing to fulfill her promise to marry Euron, her only big ally left. As for Jaime, she now considers even him an enemy, to the point where she tries to convince Bron to kill him and Tyrion if the White Walkers don’t. Aboard the Iron Fleet, a smaller reunion takes place as Theon manages to quickly rescue Yara.

I’ve long considered the Greyjoys story to be among the show’s weak points, but in spite of that, I had hoped otherwise. I thought that Theon would rescue Yara and they would end up killing their uncle, but I’m quickly remined that that doesn’t happen in Game of Thrones. With Yara departing to retake the Iron Islands, we may not even see her the final episode, if at all. As for Theon, he’s going to fight at Winterfell, and I’m almost certain he’s going to die there.

I almost cried when I saw this

The rest of the episode, though, focuses on what it needs to: reunions, revelations, and first meetings. A lot of the show’s caast met each other for the first time in years, and it was fun to see. The moment that made the Internet lose it, though, was the reunion between Jon and Arya. Arya’s road has been dark and bloody and has hardened her heart. Yet when I saw her face light up as she ran into Jon’s arms, I could see the little girl she once was. Which made me even more upset at when Arya subtly told Jon to never forget who his family was.

Now, let’s talk about the scene we’re all here for: Jon Snow knows something. I admit, I did not expect it to happen the way it did, and it was upsetting that Sam had to tell Jon right after learning that Daenerys killed his father and brother. It almost like it was done out of spite, something I didn’t think Sam was capable of. But my concerns over that, though, vanished when I saw the look on Jon’s face when Sam told him the truth: he was the son Rhaegar Tarygaryen and Lyanna Stark. His face twisted into one of confusion, then shock, and then disbelief.

This reaction video is from Sean Tank Top, a YouTuber who records people’s reactions to Game of Thrones at the Burlington Bar in Chicago

What he did next I didn’t expect: he was shocked, but about the fact that Ned Stark lied to him his entire life. If you know Jon Snow, then you know that Ned Stark wasn’t just his father-figure, he was his hero and role model. From the moment he left Winterfell, he’s tried to honor what Ned taught him. Once that sinks in, he refuse to accept the truth of his heritage, declaring Daenerys to be his Queen, despite Sam’s insistence.

Earlier in this same scene, Sam told Jon that he’s “always been a king”. Sam was right: time and time again, Jon has proven himself to be a king. When he sees something wrong, he’s the first to speak up about it or fight over it. He’s the first to jump into battle, and inspires loyalty in those who follow him. And unlike a lot of the king’s on this show, he has a moral compass and will follow it.
Jon has many of the qualities that would make for a good king; given practice and help from Sansa, he could learn how to deal with politics.

There’s one quality about Jon that Daenerys, Cersei, and Euron don’t have, though: he doesn’t want to be king. He’s smart enough to know that being a king stinks. It’s a lot of hard work that involves making morally questionable choices and putting up with people you hate. And now that he’s being told that he’s the rightful king of the Seven Kingdoms, he wants nothing to do with it.

He might not have a choice, though. I’ve come to the conclusion that either he or Daenerys will not survive the final season, and that the one who survives will be the best claimant to the Iron Throne. It’s just a question of whom, and we have five episodes left to answer that.

Meme this!

So yes, this episode was slow, and considering what’s at stake, that might not be for everyone. I understand how important it is for this episode to be a slow burn: because of what’s coming. In one week’s time, the Seven Kingdoms are going to experience the biggest storm television has ever seen. We need these last moments of calm before that happens, and I’m grateful the show knew this.

In short, I loved this episode. Everything was well-written and thought out, moments fans have dreamed of for years happened before our eyes, and the actors gave it their all. Even the one part I didn’t like with Theon and Yara didn’t last long.

I Give “Winterfell” a 5 out of 5.

Stray Observations

  • Cersei really wanted those elephants.
  • Remember Ed Sheeran and that awful cameo he made last season? Turns out his character’s alive, but he got his eyelids burned off by Drogon
  • Rest In Peace, Ned Umber, the first casualty of the final season
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