- 15 Apr 19
After nearly two years of waiting, the first episode of the eighth series of Game of Thrones had scares, intrigue, new alliances, old reunions and some interesting revelations.
Apparently every Game of Thrones fan on this side of the Atlantic stayed up until 2am last night to watch the new episode at the same time as our American friends did.
With memes and think pieces about the first episode created and published in real-time, we spent the better part of the morning trying to avoid spoilers, before getting to the episode itself around lunch-time.
And what a comeback it was. The pressure has been mounting on show-writers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff to pull off the kind of comeback befitting of the highest-grossing, most-watched TV drama of all time - and they ticked all the boxes with episode one.
A big part of what made this episode great were the sometimes tense, sometimes heart-warming reunions which took place between characters. Chief amongst these was Arya getting the chance to show off her newly confident, newly ruthless self to her former travelling companions from earlier seasons, The Hound and Gendry. Back in Season 2, 3 and 4, Arya was a stranded character, being kidnapped by everyone from the Lannisters at Harrenhal, to the Brotherhood Without Banners, to The Hound himself. But now, everyone's on her turf, and she's taken on a more assured, commanding role.
The same is true of Sansa. Once the hostage of Cersei in King's Landing, forced into a marriage with Tyrion, Sansa has been to hell and back and looks stronger than ever. She's also clever too, as is shown by her rebuking of Tyrion for putting his trust in Cersei that she'll send her army to help fight the White Walkers - "I used to think you were the cleverest man I knew", she scoffs, before turning away from him. (She's right, too - Tyrion's plan in Season 7, to kidnap a wight in and present it in front of Cersei to win her alliance, was one of the most ridiculous plans in the show's history).
But the most interesting reunion was saved for the last scene of the episode. Jaime, having abandoned his sister to join the fight up north, travels secretly into Winterfell. The first person he sees upon arrival is Bran Stark. There's something poetic about this meeting, even if it's only just their eyes meeting. It's poetic because it's shot through with reminders of how this whole GoT business got started - with Jaime pushing Bran out a window at the end of Season 1, Episode 1. From there, the tensions between the Lannisters and the Starks reached tipping point and the War of the Five Kings was the natural predecessor. Now though, all these years later, it's Bran who's in a position of power (indeed, even us viewers don't know the extent of Bran's powers) and Jaime who looks completely vulnerable.
There was three fairly big revelations in this episode, two involving Jon Stark, aka Aegon Targaryen.
The first was understated but important. When Jon and Daenerys go to check up on the her two remaining dragons (who aren't eating much, being unfamiliar to the North), Daenerys casually suggests that Jon mount Rhaegal and they go for what turns out to be a couples retreat to a nearby snow-covered waterfall. Jon obliges, climbing onto Rhaegal's back and clinging on for dear life when the dragon takes flight. What's important about this - even if it doesn't occur to either Dany or Jon at the time - is that the bonds between a dragon and its rider means that a dragon will only accept one person in their lifetime. The fact that Jon was 'chosen' sets him up as a potential 'Father of Dragons' and means that he could pose a challenge to the idea of Daenerys as Dragon Queen.
This paved the way for the second and third revelations. After thanking Sam for saving Jorah Mormont from greyscale, Dany is forced to reveal that she had Sam's father and brother killed during the Battle of Goldroad (Season 7, Episode 5). After watching Sam break down into tears at this news (one of the most genuinely heartbreaking moments in recent seasons), the Maester-in-training is then spurred to reveal to Jon the truth about his own parenthood - that his father was Rhaegar Targaryen and his mother Lyanna Stark.
This is the last we see of Jon in this episode, but it will no doubt produce much theorising about what he'll do with this revelation. As a character, Jon has always been a utilitarian, putting the needs of others in front of his own and holding fast to whatever his duty is (whether that meant killing Qhorin Halfhand in Season 2, letting the wildings through the Wall in Season 5, executing young Ollie in Season 6, and giving up his position as King of the North in Season 7). This might well make him sit on the information for the good of the seven kingdoms.
But ironically, it's Jon's strict adherence to duty that might make him a better ruler than Daenarys, who has proved to be ruthless, occasionally callous, and insistent upon others bending to her will. He'll also have Sam, Sansa, and the rest of the Northern bannermen whispering in his ears that he might just be the right person for the job. Will a rift open up between the star-crossed aunt-nephew lovers?
The first episode wasn't without its drawbacks, and most of them came from King's Landing. It began with the awkward scene where Qyburn walks up to a balcony to tell Cersei that the White Walkers have breached the wall, only for her to walk away from him (it just screamed lazy exposition-writing), and it ended with Euron Greyjoy declaring, post-coitus with Cersei, that he can't wait to put a prince in her belly (I can't have been the only one who cringed at that).
Part of what makes all this such a drawback isn't just that Euron is a bland, deeply deeply unlikable character, it's also that it feels a lot like we're watching Nero fiddling, while the real action is out on the burning streets of Rome. We meet Harry Strickland, the leader of the mercenary group, The Golden Company, who Cersei has paid to fight for her as a last gasp of holding onto the throne; we watch as Theon rescues his sister Yara from Euron's Iron Fleet; we witness Bronn get interrupted mid-foursome to be offered the chance to kill Jaime and Tyrion in exchange for currying better favour with Cersei, and......it all just doesn't have the same urgency as everything else that's happening up North.
In fact, the only thing that holds this subplot together is the star power of Lena Headey. In the throne room, Cersei is presented as being alone in this vast open Hall, without anyone to council her except for her brawny Kingsguard and her devious Hand. In her bedroom scenes with Euron, her mind anywhere else. For season after season, this is a character who's risen to the top while simultaneously losing almost every member of her family. Now, with Jaime having finally abandoned her, we're witnessing Cersei contemplating where exactly all her conspiring for power got her. We're not watching as Cersei is forced to confront herself, ask herself: Was it all for this?