Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode One: Winterfell
Are you ready for the final season? I’m not sure I am, but let’s GO!
Since we can’t break down the episode by location these days, I’m going to try and do it by character, starting with:
Daenerys, Queen of Ice and Fire (and her nephew-boyfriend, Jon)
God, I loved Dany in this episode. We’ve had too many seasons of her being the impassive, diplomatic queen, hiding her emotions. That attitude makes sense plot-wise – acting emotionally is probably not going to get her many political allies – but it doesn’t make her a very fun character to watch. So it was great to see her rocking her gorgeous fur coat and being human – laughing and grinning, teasing people, challenging them, being challenged herself, and, perhaps most of all, facing actual consequences for her actions. This is the Dany that is one of my favorite characters — strong, defiant, impulsive, warm-hearted, and loving. I’ve missed her! She doesn’t need to be an unflappable catch-phrase-reciting queen. She just needs to have some emotion, and she had it in bucketloads here.
Especially when it came to meeting Sam, near the end of the episode. We saw very little of Queen Daenerys there. I honestly never expected Dany to be the one to tell Sam about his family, but the scene was a really pleasant surprise, as we saw her change from smiling, happy, “so glad to meet the guy who saved Ser Jorah” to “oh shit what have I done.” She was forced to actually, awkwardly deal with the fallout of her “fierce queen” decision, and even though I still feel like a lot of that “burn everything to the ground” stuff was out of character, it’s great to see some consistency and some struggle there. She was absolutely delighted by Sam, which only made things worse when she realized what she’d accidentally done to a man who she owes so much to.
Meanwhile, Jon’s life just got a lot more complicated. He’s losing his allies. He found out that Dany brutally executed his best friend’s family and didn’t tell him (although, to be fair to her, she had no idea about that connection). He found out his father lied to him his entire life. And he found out he’s heir to the Targaryen throne. That’s a lot to take in in one conversation in the crypts.
But I totally didn’t expect Sam to be the leader of the “Jon, Rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms” train. It makes perfect sense, after what he just learned, but it was a big surprise, and I think it changes a lot. Jon values Sam’s opinion, possibly more than anyone’s. He loves his family, but Sam’s the person who he’s relied on through the years. If Sam says Daenerys is a bad queen and that Jon should rule instead… that makes things interesting. Jon is nothing if not honorable, but what is the honorable choice here?
I also think Sam raises an interesting question, even though he doesn’t realize it: would Daenerys give up her crown in order to save everyone? It’s a genuinely good question, and I don’t think anyone, even Dany herself, would be able to answer it unless the moment came. Dany clearly cares about the people she’s ruling. She wants what’s best for everyone, and she delayed her own homecoming to help (or so she thought) slaves and other people elsewhere. She’s also gone through a lot of really traumatic things, where she’s been powerless and so used and abused, and has had to fight every step of the way to get to where she is now. If she was afraid to give up her power and be in that position again, could we blame her?
I guess we’ll see some of the answers when Dany learns about Jon’s parents. But even then, I don’t think that’s a fair set-up for the question. It’s not about other people being at risk then. It’s just about her losing the identity she’s fought for her entire adult life to somebody she trusts and loves. I’m so intrigued to see where this is going to go.
In the meantime, add Sam to Sansa and Arya, and Jon’s really lacking in allies on the whole “Team Daenerys” thing.
Sansa, Queen in the North
I actually think Sansa is in the wrong when it comes to Jon and Daenerys. She may be the smartest person around, but she’s somewhat blinded by her protectiveness of her home and her family. Everything she says is true — Jon is in love with Daenerys, she will struggle to feed everyone, and the North did choose Jon as its king — but Jon is also right that they need Dany on their side.
Jon was fairly naive in all of this, bending the knee to Dany even when he no longer had to. He could have got her support AND been King in the North! But Sansa is almost too experienced in the game of thrones, and that’s affecting her judgement too. She wants the Starks and the North to look out for themselves, and she doesn’t trust any pretty royal outsiders offering alliances. That makes perfect sense, considering all she’s experienced. She’s calculating and wary, she fought for everything she has, and that makes her far more like Dany that she would like to admit. But it also blinds her to Dany’s usefulness as an ally, and the fact that the Starks and the North really cannot fight this alone.
It’s also clear that Sansa is in charge in the North now, based on how baby Lord Umber asked her permission for supplies, and then had to remind myself to add on a reference to his supposed king, and then to his supposed queen. And I think that makes it doubly interesting that she has such tension with Dany, because the Northerners don’t really care what Jon thinks of Dany any more. They care what Sansa thinks. She’s the one with the ability to convince people that Dany is worth following, or that they need to rebel. The Northerners may have chosen Jon as their king, but their hearts, and their trust, belong to Sansa now.
Oh my god, I can’t wait to write an essay about Sansa after the series ends. In Defence of Sansa Stark is still one of my most-read posts to this day, even though I wrote it in 2012 and the days of Sansa hate are pretty much over, and I desperately want to write an updated reflection after eight seasons of character growth.
But that’s for later.
For now, let’s appreciate not only Sansa’s undeniable brains, but also her sass. She’s honed her skills from the early seasons, when she could hide a cutting put-down to Tyrion behind rote words of loyalty. She does not say a single negative thing to anyone outside her family in this episode. She tells Daenerys that Winterfell is hers. She asks what dragons eat. She comments that Joffrey’s wedding had its moments, and that she used to think Tyrion was the cleverest man alive. She is savage here, but she never actually says anything bad.
Which brings us to…
Tyrion, Hand of the Queen
Look, writing about Tyrion is a weird experience, because I had very, very strong negative feelings about him from A Dance with Dragons. God, I hated Tyrion, and I hated how he was a fan favorite. But it’s been a while since all of that stuff – years, in both viewer and reader time – and Peter Dinklage is super charismatic. And honestly, holding the show accountable for the stuff it did around Season 4 and 5 seems likes a guarantee for misery. Even the show doesn’t seem to think about the mess that happened in the middle any more. So I’m not going to worry about it, unless it comes up. If I was some kind of professional reviewer laying judgement down on the overall quality of Game of Thrones, that might be a problem, but I’m not. I’m here to enjoy myself, so let’s just roll with it. Season 7 and 8 Tyrion is OK with me, at least so far.
Tyrion didn’t have much to do in this episode, but I must admit I was strangely excited for his reunion with Sansa. As much as I’ve ranted about Tyrion in the past, he recognized Sansa’s brains and ability from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait for him to see what a straight-up badass she is now, and perhaps for her to see how he has grown as well. So for Sansa to basically tell Tyrion he’s an idiot for believing Cersei, summing up how Cersei played him in moments… I love it. I want these two to have all the interactions this season. Especially as Sansa and Tyrion seem to be the only two characters who fully understand everything that’s going on with Jon and Daenery. They have similar sorts of analytical brains, are both incredibly observant and have strong political minds, but unlike before, Sansa is now less naive than Tyrion is. I can’t wait to see where that goes.
Arya, Queen of Shadows
God, OK. I want to fangirl again. Coming back to Winterfell seems to have brought all of these characters to life. Now the Starks are all reunited, they can play off one another, with all their history and love and struggles. And not just the Starks – we see it even with Dany showing up in Winterfell. Everyone is more vibrant, more compelling, now that they’re here.
And this seems especially true for Arya, even though she’s been back half a season. Now that Jon is around, her less creepy-assassin-y, more loving and light-hearted side shines through.
And omg Arya and Jon’s reunion. MY HEART, GUYS. THIS was the reunion I needed to see the most. Their HUG. Them both crying as he picks her up and hugs her so tight. Arya looks so adorable and happy here, and so does Jon. We have happy Starks.
When was the last time we saw an actually truly happy Arya??
But things have changed in the years they’ve been away. Now when Jon wants Arya’s help dealing with Sansa, Arya refuses. When Jon wants to criticize Sansa for thinking she’s smarter than everyone, Arya just points out that she is smarter than everyone. After years of struggle, Sansa and Arya’s goals and motivations are aligned, in a way that they aren’t with Jon’s. Arya reminds him to remember that he’s their family. Starks, not dragon queens, come first.
Meanwhile, although Arya/Gendry shippiness was extremely predictable… I love it. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
But not everyone was lucky enough to be in Winterfell this week.
Cersei, Queen of Not Very Much Any More
A few minutes into Cersei’s scenes this week, I realized why the show kept Jaime in King’s Landing for so long, even when it made no sense. With Jaime gone and everyone else dead, Cersei’s only conversation partners are a zombie guard, a creepy but not particularly compelling maester, and Euron Greyjoy. And without anyone else to talk to, Cersei becomes a lot more boring than she would otherwise be. Sure, she creates a meme by dreaming of elephants, but right now she’s just sitting waiting for things to happen, while Euron continues the Greyjoy tradition of being not that interesting to watch.
Like, yay, Theon rescued Yara. I can care about Theon. But Euron doesn’t really have much in the way of character motivation or plotline. He’s just an arrogant jerk, and that doesn’t leave space for very good interactions with his queen. Cersei’s left with no-one interesting to challenge her, no well-developed characters around her to react to or torment or… well, do anything with, really, and it makes things incredibly weak. She’s set up as the big villain here, but there’s nothing left for her to do, and nothing left for the series to show about her, until the other character turns around and start paying attention to her again.
I doubt she’ll ever travel North, but it would be good if she did. She needs something to do.
The Night King, King of… the Night, I guess
And finally, we get to the Night King. After the dramatic ending of last season, the show decided to take a breather from the approaching dead to let us get to know the characters again and feel re-grounded in things before the supernatural plotline took over. And so everything this week was character based. The only action scene we got was the dragon race, and that was thrilling, but pure fun. We see no sign of the Night King or the wights until almost the very end of the episode, and even then, we don’t see him, but a sign of warning from him, the dead body of little Lord Umber fastened to a wall, surrounded by severed limbs, to remind both us and the characters… hey. Fun’s over. It’s time to save the world.
God, I’m so hyped. But if the show could maybe hold off on the apocalypse a little longer and give me five more episodes of awesome character drama, I’d appreciate it. Everyone is finally all together, and I am HERE for it.