Review: Game of Thrones (Season 8, Episode 1)

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A fitting reunion that confirms Game of Thrones will get the royal send off it deserves.

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Almost two years have passed since the penultimate season of the most spectacular show on television quite literally tore down the wall of what we expect from the medium. In true Game of Thrones style, Season 7 brought us enough incest to last a lifetime, many, many dragons (and it’s not just fire they breathe now…), and sky-high expectations for a final set of episodes that could somehow top it all. The only suitable way to describe the eighth and final outing of HBO’s finest work would be as the television event of the decade, and with the bar so high it seemed there could only be one way that the latest season would begin. Tormund was toast, right? Wrong. This is Game of Thrones we’re talking about after all, nothing is predictable.

The official title of the introduction to season 8 should’ve given us a good idea of what kind of episode this would be – ‘Winterfell’ is a slow-burning, House Stark-centred family affair. With the long-awaited matter of a few reunions to deal with, the premiere brought everyone back together. Former King in the North Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) finally got his chance to compare swords with ‘sister’ Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), have *that* conversation with the ever loveable Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), and receive some serious side eye from the character that makes everyone sigh, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Whilst the long chats and intense stares of Snow’s frosty homecoming may feel a little underwhelming given the promise of longer, more extravagant episodes, the battles and excess (one slightly cringe-inducing dragon ride scene aside) needed to wait. Carried by ever-impeccable writing, there’s a sense of poignancy here that reminds us why, behind the spectacle, Game of Thrones is just so impressive.

Jon undoubtedly but perhaps deservedly gets a bit of a rough ride, but the most heart-wrenching reunion of all is the bittersweet meeting between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Many have lauded Sansa as a serious contender for the rule when things finally draw to a close and that becomes a real possibility. Turner is understated but triumphant, filling Sansa with wisdom beyond her years. She makes us truly doubt the motives of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and in doing so, seriously boosts her own credibility for the throne. In an episode that feels very much like it’s Snow’s terrain, the underlying message is one of girl power. You’ve only got to cast your mind back to the way in which she disposed of Littlefinger to remember that Sansa has done a fine job when left to her own devices; if anything, Jon’s decisions away from Winterfell are a detriment to her plans, and she certainly doesn’t seem to be letting his allegiance with a couple of dragons get in her way.

There’s plenty to unpick away from the the titular location, too. Over at King’s Landing the Iron Fleet have arrived, accompanied of course by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk). Despite his arrogance and impulse towards violence, its Greyjoy that provides a bit of welcome comic relief – not because he’s got a talent for wisecracks, but because he is utterly ridiculous. In his head he’s a Ramsey Bolton type figure, yet the more we get to know him the more it becomes clear that Cersei (Lena Headey) could reduce him to dust in a matter of seconds if she really wanted to. Meanwhile, Bronn (Jermone Flynn) seems to be embarking on a warpath that aims to have devastating consequences for Tyrion and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the latter of whom seems to have an awful lot to sort out. With a series-changing final stare, Coster-Waldau proves he can carry the weight of our expectations after his startling betrayal, and if the themes of this episode continue, we can’t be far away from another brotherly reunion that surely poses the biggest threat to Cersei’s chances. All in all, things aren’t looking great for House Lannister. But if we’ve learnt anything from 68 hours of Game of Thrones it’s that you should never underestimate a Lannister…

Excuse the cliche, but what ‘Winterfell’ does best of all is that it leaves us wanting more. We may not be much closer to finding out who will rule the seven kingdoms, but if the exchange of unnerving glances that bring the episode to an end are anything to go by we are almost guaranteed to be closer to having a few contenders taken out of the mix. In an era of streaming and binge-watching where the next episode is almost always in our immediate grasp, they quite simply don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Game of Thrones returns next Monday at 2am on Sky Atlantic. 

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The Edge's Film Editor and resident karaoke master. Sometimes does other things including studying for an actual degree, listening to too much disco music, and complaining about how stressful life is on twitter @aliceohare_.

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