August 21, 2019

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Game replayed

Free Press arts writers look back at the opening episode of the final season of Game of Thrones

Unless you live under a televisionless rock, you will know HBO’s Game of Thrones returned this past Sunday for its eighth and final season.

Fans have been waiting anxiously for nearly two years, and finally, we have reconnected with our heroes (and villains) as they prepare for battle with the Night King and his army of White Walkers, who have broken through The Wall and are headed south to turn all of Westeros into a horde of feisty, frosty zombies.

Warning: stop reading now to avoid spoilers. Or continue regardless, as it’s Thursday and you really should have watched by now.

The first episode of the eighth season, Winterfell, opens with the arrival of Queen Daenerys and her army of Unsullied and Dothraki at Winterfell with Jon Snow, reuniting him with his Stark siblings, Bran and Arya, who he hasn’t seen since the beginning of the first season. What follows is 54 minutes of awkward interactions between characters who haven’t seen each other in years, many of whom have tried to kill each other more than once: Arya and the Hound; Jaime Lannister and Bran Stark; Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark; Jon and Sam Tarly. The uneasy stares of recognition from across the room were plentiful, especially from Bran.

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Unless you live under a televisionless rock, you will know HBO’s Game of Thrones returned this past Sunday for its eighth and final season. 

Fans have been waiting anxiously for nearly two years, and finally, we have reconnected with our heroes (and villains) as they prepare for battle with the Night King and his army of White Walkers, who have broken through The Wall and are headed south to turn all of Westeros into a horde of feisty, frosty zombies. 

Warning: stop reading now to avoid spoilers. Or continue regardless, as it’s Thursday and you really should have watched by now. 

The first episode of the eighth season, Winterfell, opens with the arrival of Queen Daenerys and her army of Unsullied and Dothraki at Winterfell with Jon Snow, reuniting him with his Stark siblings, Bran and Arya, who he hasn’t seen since the beginning of the first season. What follows is 54 minutes of awkward interactions between characters who haven’t seen each other in years, many of whom have tried to kill each other more than once: Arya and the Hound; Jaime Lannister and Bran Stark; Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark; Jon and Sam Tarly. The uneasy stares of recognition from across the room were plentiful, especially from Bran.

Then Dany and Jon, whom we’ve recently discovered are related, have a romantic moment after riding her dragons to a secluded frozen waterfall. It was weird.

Over in King’s Landing, Cersei is thrilled to hear the White Walkers have broken through The Wall, and Euron Greyjoy arrives with Harry Strickland, commander of the Golden Company army, and his 20,000 soldiers, but no elephants. Cersei seems exceptionally annoyed at the lack of pachyderms. She and Euron get it on, and then she commands Ser Bronn of the Blackwater to kill Jaime and Tyrion. On the water, Theon finally saves his sister, Yara.

Finally, the White Walkers have already started terrorizing the North, having made it to Last Hearth and leaving a lovely message — young Lord Umber nailed to a wall surrounded by severed limbs — for the group of men making their way to Winterfell from the Wall. 

The Free Press’s Arts and Life department is home to a handful of GoT fans who do not claim to be die-hards but do know their Sansas from their Cerseis, have attempted to keep tabs on Westeros family trees and have watched every season faithfully. Each week for the remainder of the final season, a crew of arts staff will get together and debrief the latest episode. Here are their thoughts on episode one, Winterfell.

Jill Wilson

First impressions?

Erin Lebar

I thought it was a very dry episode... quite dull.

Jill

Yeah. I think it’s intentionally trying to introduce a whole bunch of characters and back story to prepare for it going forward.

Erin

I mean, I understand they are setting up the dominoes in order to knock them down later, but I feel like there’s a much more interesting way to do that than have, like, these guys squabbling with each other and then Daenerys and Jon flying on a dragon as though they are in Harry Potter, having a romantic scene. Like, what is this? 

Alan Small

That dragon thing seemed so out of character from the rest of the show. However, the reintroducing of all these characters, that is very much in line with the way the show has always been built. Yes, there’s a lot of violence and sex and the stuff that gets all the headlines, but the meat and potatoes of the show, I think, is one person getting in an antagonistic conversation with another one and they’re always at cross purposes with alliances and things like that. One bad word and the whole house of cards falls apart, and I thought there was a ton of that with all these awkward and unwelcome reunions.

Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright, left) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reunite. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright, left) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reunite. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Jill

I thought it was frustrating, although understandable, that all these people are mad at Jon Snow because he gave up being king. Clearly, if you just think about it for one second, it’s the right decision and this petty sort of loyalty to the idea of the North just seems…

Erin

Yeah, that’s one thing I appreciated was the one line, I can’t remember who said it, maybe Jon? When he said something like, "Why are you still arguing over status when everyone will be dead soon?"

Alan

This is the problem with the whole Northerners and the Starks. Throughout the whole eight years, they’ve been losers by thinking in such single-minded ways. So there they are, all the troops are marching through Winterfell and Sansa Stark and all the other Northerners are watching it like the Soviet politburo, ‘Hmm not enough, not enough.’ Oh, and here come the dragons, like the Soviet air force, ‘Not enough!’ They don’t understand all the work Jon’s put into saving all their lives.

Jill

The dragon flight is one thing... I’m finding that whole romance extremely distressing. Like, they’re related, we have to put an end to this! I’m no longer invested in their relationship because it’s giving me the icks.

Erin

I also just find that it’s so corny. When he said, ‘It must be cold up here for a Southern girl.’ And she responds, ‘Well, then keep your queen warm.’ Barf. 

Alan

She has come across as a hard person for almost the entire run of the show, except for maybe the first couple of episodes in Season 1, and now all of a sudden she’s a much softer person and it isn’t in keeping with the character.

Jill

When you were mentioning them marching up to Winterfell and the looks they were getting, I’m interested to see the response to Greyworm and Missandei, there’s definitely some racial issues and I’d be interested to see if that gets pursued. Even Daenerys, her blondness is very apparent.

Don't worry Jon Snow, Arya (Maisie Williams) still has needle. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Don't worry Jon Snow, Arya (Maisie Williams) still has needle. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Erin

Yeah, she definitely stands out.

Jill

Also, what is with Bran?

Erin

I was just going to say! He has turned into a 400-year-old man who sits in his chair and basically speaks in proverbs. And of course the "Bran Stark stare" is already a meme; there are some very excellent tweets, I suggest you Google it.

Jill

That didn’t take long!

Alan Small

He’s like the cheap device for exposition. It’s like everybody is all good together, and that two minutes to say, ‘Hi, I haven’t seen you for eight years,’ Oh there’s not enough time for that.

Jill Wilson

Yes, but then he doesn’t follow through! He’s omniscient, right?

Erin Lebar

True, no one asked him, when he was sitting in his chair and stated that the wall had fallen and the army of White Walkers was marching south, no one asked him how he knew that. They were like, ‘Sure, OK, thanks Bran.’

Jill

And no one said, ‘Stick with it and monitor their progress.’ That Jaime meeting was kind of neat, though. You forget. And that’s what I mean about bringing things together, you forget that happened in very first episode and they probably haven’t seen each other since.

Alan

That’ll probably be a big item in the second episode; they may actually talk to each other as opposed to just looking at each other menacingly.

Erin

I’m just hoping they pick up the pace and don’t try to cram in all the best and most important stuff into the last two episodes. They only have six episodes, well five now, so I feel like they wasted a lot of time with this one.

Jill

I agree, though in some ways I do appreciate it because I have such a hard time remembering who people are.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) knows what she wants and will do what she has to to get it. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) knows what she wants and will do what she has to to get it. (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Alan

That being said, if these people are coming from all over Westeros to Winterfell and they haven’t seen each other for a long time, they are going to meet up and wonder what has been going on in their lives and so I do think there needed to be some part of that. But these first episodes in all these prestige television series, they are almost always a set up for other things. And I was thinking maybe because it’s so a part of global culture now, maybe they could have dispensed with all of that, or at least most of it.

Jill

I’m interested with the blacksmith with the name I always forget.

Alan

Gendry?

Jill

Yes! Because I always thought he would turn out to be the heir to the Iron Throne, because he is Robert Baratheon’s illegitimate son, but I can’t figure out what the connection will be, or if he even is. There’s too many strands of DNA happening. I can’t figure out if it’s going to be anything at all or if I’ve been holding onto this red herring for nothing.

Alan Small

Or if he’s just going to be a love interest for Arya.

Jill Wilson

Well, that’s for sure.

Erin Lebar

I feel like they did focus on him a lot for the first episode considering he is kind of a C-tier character, so you may be right, Jill.

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow check on her two dragons. (HBO)

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow check on her two dragons. (HBO)

Jill

I was reading some theories from people who have read the books and they think a whole other character is coming in that will be a game changer. The guy who is with Euron Greyjoy, they think there’s something there.

Alan

I find that character to be so one-dimensional, I figure he’s doomed.

Jill

Not Euron, the guy that’s with him. The general or something?

Erin

Oh! Because I was going to say with Euron, I get very distracted because he looks like Pacey from Dawson’s Creek. You’re Joshua Jackson, what are you doing in Westeros?

Tune in to next week’s Uptown for a debrief on Episode 2. 


erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Arts and Life Editor

Alan Small was named the editor of the Free Press Arts and Life section in January 2013 after almost 15 years at the paper in a variety of editing roles.

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