THIS REVIEW IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS. THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN HEAVY SPOILERS FOR THE PREMIERE OF SEASON EIGHT OF GAME OF THRONES. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
Winter is here. The long-awaited return of the biggest show on television, Game of Thrones, has finally come to pass and it did not disappoint. The episode clocks in at one hour and six minutes and not a second of it is wasted. I’m going to try to hit on the major moments from the episode but to save time and space I simply won’t be able to cover everything that happened in great detail.
Over the course of this weekend, I was watching the “The Cast Remembers” featurettes that HBO released in which each cast member reflects on their time with the show. Peter Dinklage said something that I found particularly true of the show, and this episode proves the point even further, “Most fantasy shows are heavy on the dragons and light on character. We’re the opposite.”
This episode is almost nothing but character and I mean that as the highest compliment. We have spent so much time and been through so much with each of these characters and to see where they are now and how each of them is dealing with the situation deserves time to breathe. We get reunion after reunion, ranging from heartbreaking to heartwarming. The episode opens with Jon and Daenerys arriving in Winterfell and it’s a stunning sequence.
I’ll personally never get tired of seeing the North, snow and mountains are my favorite landscape, but seeing the Dragon Queen, along with Lady Missandei, Greyworm, Tyrion Lannister, Varys, Jorah Mormont, and more in Winterfell is so surreal. The reaction of the North to a Targaryen Queen and her army of foreigners is also very uneasy and is immediately established as an obstacle in the war to come. There is scene after scene of characters interacting that either haven’t seen each other for years or have never met at all. We get Jon and Arya reuniting and it’s one of the most heartwarming scenes I’ve ever seen. It brought me to tears seeing them together again and thinking about all they’ve been through.
We see Arya confront the Hound and reunite with Gendry. We see Sansa and Tyrion interact for the first time since Joffrey’s wedding, and speaking of Sansa, she’s one of the most interesting elements of this episode. Two important things happen in her conversation with Tyrion. First, Tyrion reiterates that Cersei will be riding North with her army to help the fight against the dead, and secondly, Sansa can’t believe that someone as smart as Tyrion would believe Cersei about this. Sansa is one of the characters that’s grown the most over the course of the series and her experiences have shaped her into an incredibly cautious and intelligent woman. Her response to Daenerys is one of caution and reserve, she (rightfully) doesn’t immediately trust her and is concerned about the logistics of supplying resources for their newly acquired armies as well as the North’s reaction to a foreign Queen. This feels like it’s going to be a continuous impact on the political element of the show until maybe The Battle of Winterfell.
Alright, I’ve got to talk about Jon and Daenerys. I know the fan base is divided, to say the least, about the pair being a couple, but if I’m being honest I absolutely love it. We get a handful of scenes with them together in this episode and I love their chemistry, but there’s one scene in particular that made me absolutely lose my mind. JON SNOW RODE RHAEGAL! We pretty much knew it was bound to happen at some point this season, given the way Drogon and Rhaegal have reacted to Jon before and also given his true parentage, but I didn’t expect this moment to come so early in the season. Jon and Daenerys go to visit the dragons and when Rhaegal is warming up to Jon, Dany prompts him to hop on and take flight. The following is an absolutely gorgeous sequence of the two flying over valley and ravines in the snow-covered North. The sequence ends with the two by an icy waterfall and in case you’re wondering their hook-up at the end of last season was definitely NOT a one-time thing.
There are a few scenes of Cersei at King’s Landing, as Euron Greyjoy arrives with the Golden Company and continues to attempt to gain the Queen’s affection (and bed). Cersei is a wild card in this season for me. Lena Headey gives an incredibly emotional performance in a few short scenes with not that much dialogue and also leaves me completely unaware to just what exactly Cersei is thinking. She’s obviously concerned by the impending threat of the White Walkers, but not enough to leave the safety of King’s Landing. It’s going to be really interesting to see how her role this season plays out.
The knowledge bomb is also dropped on Jon Snow this episode. One of the oldest fan theories, confirmed last season, that Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen is something that fundamentally changes the landscape of the show. In one of the most pivotal and emotional scenes of the series, after Sam finds out that Daenerys executed his father and brother, he tells Jon Snow the truth about his lineage. Jon was never a bastard, he’s Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his Name, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, and all that. Jon Aegon doesn’t take it very well. Ned had lied to him his entire life and this revelation changes the landscape of his relationship to Daenerys and his place in the world. He doesn’t seem very happy about the revelation but he knows it to be true. Kit Harrington absolutely nails the emotional response to this realm-shattering news and I can’t wait to see what effects this has on the season going forward.
Overall “Winterfell” was everything I could have hoped for from a premiere. There are too many amazing moments to talk about without going on for days. As is to be expected the cast is phenomenal, the cinematography is top notch, the sets and costumes are breathtaking, the score elevates everything, and the special effects are a wonder. From a technical standpoint, this show is essentially a blockbuster film. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best long-form storytelling I’ve ever seen in live-action. This episode gets most of the reunions and establishing elements of the season out of the way in an hour of incredibly meaningful television. The only thing we don’t directly see on screen in this episode is the White Walkers, but their presence looms over every scene, and there’s a particularly chilling scene near the end of the episode that is a chilling warning of things to come. I can only imagine how insane the rest of this season will be.