REVIEW – Game of Thrones returns with a slightly low key episode

by | Apr 15, 2019 | All

It’s been almost two years — 595 days for those of us desperate enough to count — since Game Of Thrones’ was last on our screens. The worldwide phenomenon had an extended break as producers put together the highly-anticipated final season, but the agonisingly long wait is finally over. Winter is here — and so is Season 8!

With Jon Snow (Kit Harington) having bent the knee and pledged allegiance to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) at the end of the previous season, the first instalment of the eighth series opens with the two leaders arriving at the gates of Winterfell — with Dany’s Unsullied army and Dothraki soldiers in tow. The scene is reminiscent of a similar one from the show’s very first episode — when Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy)arrived in the North. While we’re on this subject, there are plenty of callbacks throughout for diehard fans to appreciate — including the concluding moments which feature Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) encountering Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) for the first time since the Kingslayer pushed the young Stark boy from a Winterfell tower in the Season 1 opener.

Yes, our first instalment of Season 8 is very much an emotional one, as plenty of characters reunite with their friends, acquaintances and even family. As you’d have expected, it’s Arya’s (Maisie Williams) reunions with both Jon and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) that prove incredibly tear-jerking, and they stand as a stark — pun intended — reminder of just how far the young girl has come since the beginning of the series.

As has been the case with much of the HBO series, ‘Winterfell’s greatest scenes involve Daenerys’ dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal — both of whom are looking better than ever. There’s not really much more that can be said at this point in regards to the visual effects — the CGI is truly spectacular, and nothing on telly has ever come close to delivering in this department the way that GoT has.

In many ways, it’s a momentous episode, as characters who’ve never met finally come face to face — such as 

Daenerys and Sansa (Sophie Turner) — but it’s shockingly one that’s more focused on politics than it is on the imminent threat.  Mind you, this makes room for plenty of awe-inspiring moments — including Daenerys teaching Jon how to ride a dragon. It’s an exhilarating sequence, as Dany and Drogon take to the Northern skies, with Jon and Rhaegal not far behind. No, you’re crying!

While we’d all been hoping for years that Daenerys and Jon would get together (or was that just me?), it’s worth mentioning just how great they actually are as a couple — the chemistry between Clarke and Harington is sublime. If the Mother of Dragons and The King In The North actually manage to survive the impending war with the dead, then it’s pretty clear that the Seven Kingdoms would be in safe hands with these two at the helm.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons to sing about the premiere episode, but unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing.  

The writing simply isn’t as strong as it should’ve been for a final season opener — especially not when you consider this is Game Of Thrones — aka the biggest show in the world — we’re talking about!

There are a few too many plot conveniences, and instances of forced conflict throughout. The most infuriating of which occurs during the meeting with the Northern Lords and Ladies, where Jon attempts to explain why he’s bent the knee for Daenerys. The Northern Lords — and Sansa — remain unconvinced by Daenerys, which is fine given that they barely know her, but Jon offers little explanation as to why he finds her so special. While it’s true that he swore allegiance to Dany for the benefit of the North, he failed to explain to his followers the specifics behind his decision to support her claim to the throne. Maybe if he had, you know, informed them of Dany’s heroics beyond the wall, then the Northerners would’ve seen things differently. But no, instead they remain wary of Dany, and Jon does nothing — like, literally nothing — to change their minds. I guess he still knows nothing, huh?

I’m not gonna lie, I’m a bit disappointed at this attempt to inject conflict. Same goes for Sansa’s cold-shoulder routine with both Dany and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). It all just feels so pointless what with The Night King and the White Walkers approaching. Neither Sansa nor Arya make any attempts to get to know Dany, which makes no sense given how much they admire Jon. Surely they’d be making an effort to get along for the sake of the entire world?

My biggest gripe with this episode, however, is the way in which Jon learns of his parentage. I mean, I feel totally let down by this. We’ve been waiting for ages for Jon to learn that he’s not actually Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) bastard, but rather the legitimate child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark — aka the true-born heir to the Seven Kingdoms — and the writers decide to have an angry and vengeful Sam (John Bradley) deliver this information to Jon — mere moments after he’d learned that Daenerys had killed his father and brother for treason. It felt like nothing more than a cheap revenge trick on Sam’s part, which doesn’t really click with Sam’s character. This is the guy who would’ve given his life for Jon in earlier seasons!

What’s more, Sam’s subsequent attempts to put Dany down — when he literally knows nothing about what kind of Queen she’d be — come off as contrived. This is only made worse by Jon’s inability to answer Sam’s questions about whether or not Dany would give up her crown to save her people. I mean, for real? Isn’t that exactly what Dany did beyond The Wall in Season 7 when she risked her life — and lost one of her beloved dragons — to save him from harm? Isn’t that what she did when she released all of the slaves in Slaver’s Bay? Moreover, isn’t that what she’s doing now by putting her fight for the Iron Throne on the back burner so that she can help in defeating the Night King?

The writers’ sudden attempts to villainise Daenerys might be nothing more than a trick to taunt fans once more with The Mad Queen theory, but the problem with this is that Dany simply isn’t her father. While it’s more than understandable for Sam to have been hurt by her actions, the fact of the matter is that all of the protagonists in the HBO series have murdered people that have disagreed with them, and Dany is no different, so trying to present her as having a villainous nature simply isn’t working — especially at this late stage in the game. What’s more, the Mother of Dragons is one of the least evil people on the show, and with the right people by her side, there’s no denying that she’d make a great ruler.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) on the other hand… well, she really is a mad queen. After bedding Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Cersei offers Bronn (Jerome Flynn) all the gold — and castles —he wants if he hunts down both — yes, both! — of her brothers and murders them. Gosh, she really is ruthless, isn’t she? Mind you, Cersei is one of the best-written characters in the show, and the little we saw of her in this episode suggests that there’ll be plenty of great stuff for her in future instalments.  

The Season 8 premiere isn’t the action-packed adventure we were all hoping for — and some of the writing is questionable at best — but it’s set the stage for what will undoubtedly be the biggest battle in television history, as the Night King and his army of the dead inch closer to Winterfell. Of course, I can’t not mention the mesmerising new opening credits too, which are a nice addition to the series. Plot conveniences aside, ‘Winterfell’ was worth the two-year wait, and I’m more than excited for what’s to come. Television history is being made — even if this instalment could’ve been a little better.

Contributed by Stephen Patterson

Game of Thrones continues Monday at 2am on Sky Atlantic with a more regular showing at 9pm.

Stephen Patterson

Stephen Patterson



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