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‘Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1: Winterfell’ – TV Analysis

We are about to watch the first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. (“We” being my wife Lacy and I.)  I have been with this narrative a long time.  I read the books starting back in the early 2000s when my friend and former student made a gift of the first one. (Thanks, Hugh Long, I think…)  When the first season was in post-production, I was Mark Addy’s photo double for the ad campaign. (Hundreds of buses, bus stops, and billboards in the greater Los Angeles area featured Mark Addy’s face on my body with the tagline, “Killing Things Clears My Head,” written across the bottom.)  Really cool.  Been watching it ever since and have written about the last few seasons for Fanbase Press, analyzing theme, character, and plot, connecting the narrative to theology, history, culture, and science.  But I am giddy for the last season. So, today, for the first episode of the last season, if you will indulge me, I simply kept a handwritten live blog (Yeah, I know…) of the episode and my in-the-moment reactions.  If you will forgive a moment of auto-ethnography, here we go.  [SPOILER ALERT – the overarching theme of the episode is “Oh, Game of Thrones, you’re so…you.  Many reunions – not just of people but of things the show had kind of stopped doing for awhile.  You’ll see.]

Fade in on:

8:59 – Sitting down.  Got a bowl of popcorn, pad, pen, Diet Sunkist ™ in my skull mug, and a tumbler with Johnny “White” Walker Special Game of Thrones White Walker Scotch Whiskey over ice (Valar Imbibeis – All Men Must Drink).  And here we go.

9:01 – HBO Logo.  We’re either doing Game of Thrones or John Oliver – either way, #winning.

Okay, fun little recap there.  Some folks have binge-watched all seven seasons in anticipation of this.  If I had time, I would have, because I know the callbacks and things set up in season two that will pay off now are not all in my memory.  Oh well.

Game of Thrones has always been a bit of a medieval fantasy telenovela, and this season will be no exception, I bet.

Opening credits – Holy Crap!  There’s a hole in the LEGO wall!  (Note to self: This is an instrumental. Why are we singing along with it?  Because it is so Game of Thrones-y, how can you not sing along with it?  We are not alone in this, I am sure. C’mon – admit it.  You sing along with the theme, too.)

We follow a boy running through the snow.  I guess winter really is here.

Hey, the unsullied are marching in.  Arya is watching them, and faster than you can say, “Wait -Lando’s in the new one?!?” we are back among old friends again.  This is fun – no lines, just Arya’s reactions to the various folks marching past.   Dany and Jon Snow riding by.  Arya sees him; he doesn’t see her.  She seems worried but happy to see her (not really) half-brother.  THE HOUND!  My boy Sandor Clegane is with the troops. (“The Hound” is a nickname; show some respect for a complex character, folks!)  She’s not happy.  He also doesn’t see her.  A girl blends in with a crowd, apparently.  Ah, and here are Tyrion and Varys in a cart.

The first lines spoken in the final season of Game of Thrones are a discussion of Varys’ balls.  Hmmm.  Appropriate?  Odd?  I don’t even know any more.  But very Game of Thrones.  We’re about to fight a huge battle, and Tyrion wants to discuss balls.  What was it – season two? – when I was like, “Can we have a High Council meeting where Varys’ balls don’t come up?”  So, I suppose nice return to form.  Again – the first lines.

Winterfell is not happy to see Dany. “Northerners don’t much trust outsiders.”  Can’t imagine why.  I’d shorten that line to “Northerner’s don’t much trust,” because when you think what they’ve also done to each other, as the Brits say, it’s grim up North.

Bran and Jon have a meet-cute.  Bran is the Professor X of Winterfell, just sitting in his wheeled chair in the yard outside the Winterfell keep, looking deeper than anyone else.  “Look at you, you’re a man!” says Jon.  “Almost,” says Bran.  Damn, that’s good.  It could allude to his age, it could be an ironic snark about his chair-bound status, but it could also refer to his being the Three-Eyed Raven.  Bran’s gonna be the one to watch.

Bran scores again with his “We don’t have time for this.  The Night King has your dragon.  The wall has fallen.  They march south.”  While Jon, Dany, Sansa, and everybody else is playing the game of thrones, Bran is playing reality check and “new game: everybody dies unless we drop the petty stuff and organize this fight.”

Lady Lyanna Mormont, I have missed you more than you will know.  You and Bran should just run the place.  The coldest twelve-year-old ever.  Put her on the Iron Throne.  Seriously.  “We need allies or we will die.”  Why is it the kids all speak truth in this series while the grownups argue about who should be running things?

Tyrion and Sansa meet up for the first time since Joffrey’s wedding/funeral.  They are still technically married, although I don’t think the new gods or the old would do anything but annul this couple.  He says Cersei is sending an army north to fight with them against the Night King.  “And you believe her?” asks an incredulous Sansa.  “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”  And DAMN, Sansa scores on Tyrion.  It’s a double score, because one, she is right, and, two, Tyrion hates being pitied, and at heart, that is what she is doing.  I’m worried for our team, gang.

Arya and Jon meet by the heart tree.  Yay!  Jon looks at Needle.

Jon – “Have you ever used it?”
Audience – “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

And now, we are in King’s Landing.  This telenovela moves fast.  Cersei and Master Qyburn plan and plot.

Qyburn: “The dead have broken through the wall.” 
Cersei: “Good.”  

Okay, lovely character moment, but Cersei is making some classical blunders here.  She figures the Night Army and the armies in the north will duke it out and then her rent-a-soldier companies will finish off the weakened winner.  Clearly, she has never watched Game of Thrones.  Shame on her.  (Too soon?)

Yara Greyjoy, alive and not well on her uncle’s ship, and Euron is with her.  He is nasty.  He has the Golden Company led by, oh let’s call him Dudley Dooright.  His army is too shiny.  I give him three episodes.  Euron is just a nasty stained mattress in human form.  

Bronn and three naked prostitutes are in bed, starting sex with what seems to be limited conversational foreplay.  Hello, Game of Thrones.  It used to be in seasons one and two you were all about advancing the plot with scenes filled with naked prostitutes.  Bringing back the glory days, I see.  Littlefinger would have been proud. (Too soon?)

Cersei wants Bronn to kill Tyrion with the crossbow he used to kill their father on the toilet.  And Jaime, too, for good measure. Bronn’s response: “That fucking family.”  Let’s be honest: That could be the title of this whole program.  Or the book series – “A Song of That F–king Family and Ice.”  Has a ring to it.

Cersei and Euron have just had sex. I’m glad I’ve been too busy writing to eat the popcorn, because even though these two deserve each other, it also just seems wrong.  Cersei to Euron: “You might be the most arrogant man I’ve ever met.  I like that.”  Euron to Cersei: “Now that I’ve hit that, I’m leaving.”  So, everyone is true to form.  Yay.  Is it weird that I find Cersei sleeping with her brother less disturbing than her sleeping with Euron?  I mean I know which one I’d pick.

Theon rescues Yara from Euron’s ship, resulting in the only on-screen deaths in the episode so far.  C’mon, Game of Thrones.  Last season a few hundred folks died every episode.  That’s what – seven, eight iron islanders knocked off by the half-hour mark?  This better get more violent soon.  

Yara to Theon: “You want to go to Winterfell to fight for the Starks?”
Theon to Yara: (nods)
Audience: “Wow.  That takes balls. (Too soon?)  What a redemptive arc!  Oh, and that idiot is going to be killed the second he sets foot in the north.  But what a redemptive arc for that idiot.  Speaking of redemptive arcs, where is the Hound?”

Ser Davos, great to see you again.  “You want their loyalty?” he asks Dany, “you must earn it.”  Davos Seaworthy is turning out the be the most Jedi guy in Dany’s entourage.  

And now, Dany and Jon are going on a dragon-riding date while the theme from The NeverEnding Story plays in my head. Aren’t you idiots listening to Bran?  WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!

Arya has a meet-not-cute with the Hound.  He actually seems happy to see her.  She looks like she has run into an ex at a party.  I hope they are cool, but let’s remember his name is still on her list.  Forget the North – Arya remembers.  And a girl has no compunction against killing folks that need it.

Gendry and Arya flirting?  Okay, series.  She is the only person in this cast of millions who has not shipped with a single other person.  I mean, I’m willing to watch this blossom into whatever, but a girl has no need for a boy.  She has Needle and a list.  Oh, and a cocktail napkin with some kinda super-cool ninja weapon she wants made out of Dragon glass.  I changed my mind.  Put Arya and Lady Lyanna Mormont on the throne.  Those two would have the whole place sorted in a week.

Sansa got a raven (GoT version of a tweet).  The Umbers are staying in Deepwood Mott as the plot requires them to get slaughtered. (I’m guessing.)  [Later: I was right.  Called it!]

Sam Tarly!  It’s a Saved by the Bell reunion up in here!  Dany told him that in the previous season she had his father executed by melting him in front of his troops when he would not take the knee.  Sam is okay with it, since he can go visit his brother.  And now Dany is explaining the two-for-one-melty Tarly event.  Sam not happy.  

Bran is still sitting there.  Is that the same place?  Why is he still in the yard at night?  He’s gonna get cold.  He tells Sam to tell Jon the truth.

Jon is LARPing in the Stark crypt. Sam asks if Jon knew that Dany had made his family charcoal.  Jon seems shaken.  So pissed is Sam that he tells his best friend, “You’re Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and the true heir to the iron throne.”  Jon seems to be having trouble processing this.  Problem one: His real name is “Aegon.”  That is going to take getting used to.  “You know nothing, Aegon Targaryen,” just doesn’t have the same ring.  On the upside, Jon now knows how folks who appear on Maury to have a paternity test feel.  Problem two: That means his girlfriend is his aunt.  The Targaryens are cool with it; the Stark side, however, tends to marry outside the family, so we may see Jon trying to reconcile the incest good/incest not good proclivities of the two sides of his family.

TORMUND GIANTSBANE!  Some days you are the reason I watch the show (for the third time).  Tormund and Beric survived the collapse of the wall.  They are searching Castle Umber and have a “Scooby Doo” fright moment from Dolorous Edd and some crows.  “He’s got blue eyes,” screams Edd.  “I’ve always had blue eyes,” responds Tormund.  Yay – we’re back in business.  I hope he gets together with Brienne of Tarth.  They would make monstrous babies that would rule the world.  Also, I hope someone makes a band called “Dolorous Edd and the Night’s Watch.”  Could be blues, could be goth, could be metal.  Will always be good.  

And now, we see the boy from the beginning whom the Starks sent back to Castle Umber nailed to a wall surrounded by a spiral of human limbs.  We have seen this symbol before.  The White Walkers use it like a hashtag.  And the boy is a White Walker.  Tormund sets him on fire, and we have a screaming, twitching mandala of burning human limbs.  I don’t know about anyone else, but this feels like it is inspired by/a tribute to The Thing. It’s creepy and evocative and clearly a message from the Night King to the humans.  Just when I thought GoT was getting soft in its old age – few deaths, no White Walkers, folks seemingly getting along, you close with a burning, shrieking, undead child in a limb wall display.  Throw in a few naked prostitutes and this scene would have been the most Game of Thrones ever!

Oh, that wasn’t the close.  A mysterious stranger has ridden into Winterfell.  It’s Jaime Lannister, my wife and I say at the same time.  He keeps his hood up and ties up his horse.  It’s Jaime Lannister, says the audience.  “Who is this mysterious figure?” Game of Thrones asks.  “It’s Jaime Lannister.  We’ve said it like a million times already,” says the audience.  “Wrong,” says Game of Thrones, “it’s Jaime.  Oh, yeah – it is him.”

Bran, still in the same spot, makes eye contact.  One: Is anyone ever gonna move this kid inside?  Two: Awkward.  Bran sees Jaime.  Jaime sees Bran.  Bran sees all.  Bronn is coming with a crossbow to get Tyrion and Jaime.  I think Bran and Bronn should form a new wave band called Bran/Bronn and open for Dolorous Edd and the Night Watch.  (Too soon?)

Okay, television’s off, what did we learn?  As with previous seasons, episode one is setting us up for a whole bunch of things to go down.  New allies and adversaries are being moved into place.  It promises to be quite good.  And now that I’ve watched, I can go on the internets and read everything I was ignoring to watch the show with fresh eyes.  It turns out the internet thinks the episode was a really good one, except for all the people who hate it.  I’m beginning to think the internet is the Euron Greyjoy of intellectual activity.  We’ll be back next week with another exciting analysis.  Okay, with the first exciting analysis of the season.  But, I leave you with the wisdom of Samwell Tarly to Aegon (still seems wrong to call him that, like letting Euron Greyjoy give you a backrub): “You gave up your crown to save your people.  Would she do the same?”  To win the game of thrones, you must, first and foremost, be a good and smart leader.  You must be ruthless and self-sacrificing.  I’m not giving odds on anyone.  We’re moving into endgame, but it’s anyone’s throne to claim right now.  (Although I will say I think Cersei’s just keeping it warm.  No need to reserve a table for her at the afterparty – my only prediction.)

Kevin Wetmore, Fanbase Press Guest Contributor


Kevin Wetmore is an author and professor at Loyola Marymount University.  His books include The Theology of Battlestar Galactica, Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema, and The Empire Triumphant: Race, Religion, and Rebellion in the Star Wars Films.  For more information about Kevin, check out his website, Something Wetmore This Way Comes, and to purchase his non-fiction and fiction books, see Amazon.


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