Finally, it is here. The excitement around this season premiere has been more akin to a sporting final rather than a TV show. Viewing parties have sprung up like weeds, while some workplaces are even running screenings at work to try and negate workers taking GoT sickies.
While plenty of other big budget dramas and fantasy epics are in the development pipeline (including some Game of Thrones spin-offs), it is unlikely that any will inspire the same kind of event viewing that Thrones does.
But mixed in with the excitement too is the knowledge that in a few weeks it will all be over, and a chasm will be left in its place. With Avengers: End Game to be released in a few weeks as well, there is a palpable sense that the ‘the tens’ era of pop culture is approaching it denouement.
It’s not just watcher who are having a dose of early onset-nostalgia, the beginning of the end of Game of Thrones finds the show back where it all started. Almost exactly eight years to the day since its first episode aired, the last six episodes are finally upon on screens. After season seven drifted off into some fairly turgid territory, ‘Winterfell’ has Game of Thrones regaining its footing.
Few of the show’s season premieres have been particularly memorable (with the exceptions being the very first episode ‘Winter Is Coming’ and the excellent fourth season premier ‘Two Swords’). ‘Winterfell’ largely follows suit – dedicating the majority of its time and energies to catching up with characters and establishing the stakes for the action to come.
The relationship between Daenerys and Jon still feels forced, the chemistry between the two not quite as combustible as perhaps the script demands.
While the opening credits have been updated, now slowly marking the approaching White Walker army with flipped over ice tiles. The various pieces that were once scattered all across Westeros have now come together, focused on two main locations: Winterfell and King’s Landing.
Echoes of the past are everywhere. In particular, the opening and closing scenes were reminiscent of the show’s first episode: the boy climbing through Winterfell to watch the royal procession coming in to town, before ending with a meeting between Bran and Jaime.
The rest of the scenes in Winterfell largely parcelled out reunions between characters that have long been apart, dropping bits of exposition and odd reminders of their connections as needed while Bran (or a dragon) stares at them for no explicable reason.
The relationship between Daenerys and Jon still feels forced, the chemistry between the two not quite as combustible as perhaps the script demands. That’s probably for the best though considering the familial ties that Jon is made aware of at the episode’s conclusion. Perhaps the recently arrived Jaime can lend some advice on the subject, if they can get past him murdering her father and attempting to murder his brother.
That Dany is his aunt seems not to faze Jon whatsoever, though the thought of being the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms is another matter. With the council of advisors surrounding them already openly discussing a potential marriage pact, it seems like a foregone conclusion how this is solved.
The frictions between Dany, Sansa and Jon still seem largely manufactured. Their squabbles over supplies, subservience and trust seem a little benign in the face of an impending apocalypse, but this seems to be where the politics of the show echoes real life.
As the seasons have shot off past the source material, the show has leant much more heavily on recognisable and reliable tropes.
When we know that a giant army of zombies is imminently arriving, the petty fights over who holds titles and kneels to whom seem rather trivial. But that’s basically the crux of the entire story, detailing how we’re much more concerned with back-stabbing, backroom maneuvering and can-kicking than coming together to fight existential threats to our existence.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that while the characters are all identifiable as those we have watched over the past eight years, they have stopped seeming to grow or change their behaviours based upon their experiences as they did during their initial seasons. It’s perhaps why so many of the best scenes rely on two people sharing connections, information or past experiences, while not really growing them into something different.
One of the notable exceptions is Cersei, who Lena Headey continues to imbue deft subtleties into her every move and glance. Her glance to allow Euron through to share her bed, then later pondering her supposed pregnancy while silently swigging a gulp of wine convey much more than many of the more wordy scenes.
Game of Thrones is at its best when it subverts expectations and norms. As the seasons have shot off past the source material, the show has leant much more heavily on recognisable and reliable tropes. ‘Winterfell’ felt like a chance for the show to return to its roots, back to the days when it felt fresh and unpredictable. The next five weeks will determine how it lives on in memory, but it was a promising start.