The biggest, most successful and arguably best television show of all time, Game of Thrones, returned Sunday night for its final season run on the cable television network HBO.
Thrones returned from a two-year hiatus with a near hour-long episode which was light on action but featured approximately 10,000 reunions between long-separated characters.
Dubbed ‘Winterfell’, most of the show took place in the North as the newly formed Stark-Targaryen alliance brokered between Jon Snow and Daenerys at the end of the last season arrived at the Northern stronghold of House Stark.
The episode was in the classic mould of first episodes of every tv show, where the landscape for the coming season is laid out, alliances are set and foes draw their battle lines for the conflicts to come.
Game of Thrones is literally the biggest show on television, meaning characters who are friends and even family can go years without meeting each other. However, after having spent the past 8 years separating some of the closest characters on the show, season 8 episode 1, ‘Winterfell’, became the official reunion episode for these long separated characters.
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Daenerys brought her army up from Dragonstone to Winterfell, bringing along an ensemble cast of characters to meet the Starks and the Northern Army in Winterfell. This served up a scenario where characters who had been separated for ages finally found themselves in the same vicinity and could catch up on all the horrible things that had happened to them in the interim.
True to ‘Game of Thrones’ style, the reunions featured little in smiles but lots of ominous dialogue. Jon Snow and Arya had always considered themselves to be each other’s favourite sibling, yet their first meeting for the first time since Season 1 turned up to be Arya warning Jon not to betray the family, even if they warmly hugged a couple of times. Jon meeting Samwell for the first time in years also ended with Sam grieving over his lost family and telling Jon that big truth which could tear everything apart right at the time they need to stay together to face the threat from the North. Other reunions included Jon and Bran, Bran and Samwell, Arya and the Hound, the Greyjoy siblings (Theon and Yara) and Arya and Gendry, probably the only really affectionate reunion as Arya was reunited with her friend who she last saw when he was sold by the Brotherhood to the Red Woman.
Fans might have expected more smiles from these reunions but their sombre tone was keeping in line with the world of Thrones, where happiness is in short supply and danger is always lurking around the corner.
‘Winterfell’ also made sure to set up the upcoming conflicts for the season, which is clearly going to be centred on the big battle against the White Walkers but also several other smaller conflicts — disaffection for Daenerys in the North, specifically by Sansa, Arya, the Northern Lords and now Samwell after learning she killed his family, Jon and Dany and how both would react to the news that Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne, and finally Cersei in King’s Landing and what she would do (or not do) as the Long Night sweeps over Westeros.
As a first ‘setting up’ episode, ‘Winterfell’ was more than adequate. Many fan favourites managed to meet once again, Jon finally found out who his real father was and Cersei was, Cersei, proving she doesn’t give a sh*t about anyone not named Cersei. There was also a return for that famous Game of Thrones n*dity, some unexpected comedy from Jon’s dragon ride and his attempt to bed Dany right in front of the dragons, and a few golden one-liners from Tyrion and Varys.
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For fans who have been waiting two years to see the show return, it might not look like much, but the showrunners have to save something for the coming episodes and from next week onwards, the blood, gore, terror and ceaseless plotting we all love about Thrones would return in full fashion.
The episode ended with Jamie arriving in the North and coming face to face with Bran, the boy he crippled all the way back in the Pilot episode of Thrones and who’s now the most powerful being in Westeros. An unpleasant reunion to say the least, keeping in tune with the rest of the episode. But the most consequential event aside Jon learning he’s Aegon Targaryen XI was the White Walkers taking over White Hearth, home of the Umbers and slaughtering Lord Smalljon Umber. Tormund Giantsbane, the Brotherhood and what was left of the Night’s Watch discovered his body, which was left as a warning by the White Walkers, arranged in the same cyclical fashion to the bodies found way back in the pilot.
The Walkers are marching on Winterfell and are set to arrive just in time for a major battle in next week’s episode. Winterfell now has the largest army known to man, between Dany’s army and Jon’s, the Northern Houses and the Knights of the Vale, Brandon Stark the ‘Three Eyed Raven’, Arya the Faceless assassin and the Kingslayer – and is as well equipped as any to make humankind’s last stand.
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‘Winterfell’ has put all the pieces in place for a great last hurrah for the show that has become a worldwide juggernaut since its debut in 2011. In five more episodes, ‘Game of Thrones’ would be gone forever, but ‘Winterfell’ has set up the conflicts, drama and incest needed for a successful Thrones season. After a two year wait, it might seem like an underwhelming episode, but as a standalone episode of tv it does what it has to very well and ensures we kick off the greatest finale season to the greatest television show of this era.
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO.
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