The following are a few notes from Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 *Season Premiere*. Warning: mild spoilers may be included, though I’ve tried to stay away from anything too glaring. Either way, consider yourself warned.
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 returned tonight, finally satiating a longing in the hearts of the fantasy fandom. Luckily, we made it through our own version of The Long Night, hopeful for A Dream of Spring. If tonight’s return episode was any indication, though, winter is still deeply upon our beloved Westeros. In this season premiere, Jon and Daenerys arrive at Winterfell and begin the struggle to unite a divided North. Meanwhile, several noteworthy reunions take place and Jon himself gets some life-changing news.
I thought the folks behind the show made a really great decision, beginning Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 with the arrival of the royal procession. Watching them come into Winterfell was a strong callback to the very first episode of the series. Honestly, there were several of these instances throughout the episode, but the interplay with Arya was a nice touch.
In the very first episode, she was off on her own, away from the rest of the family. This turned out to be prophetic of her journey, so I’m wondering if that happening again is something we should read into. Let’s hope not, since it took her so long to come home finally. Either way, however, the juxtaposition between she and the little boy – her remembering what it was like trying to see as a small child and moving out of his way – was a nice bit of silent storytelling.
Speaking of Arya, that special reunion involving her may or may not have made my eyes a little moist.
Shut up! I’m not crying! You’re crying!
But seriously, it really was rather touching. Those two had such a special relationship when they were growing up. She was the one who, at least the most, treated Jon as a true brother. And, for his part, he was the only one who recognized her for who she truly was inside. The funny thing is we only ever saw them on the screen together briefly in the very first episode. That being true, it’s amazing they were able to communicate the depth of feeling between the two sufficiently to make it so touching after all these years.
That being said, and this being Game of Thrones, there was also a subtle subtext of danger. Not everyone is sure Jon did the right thing, laying down his crown, Arya included. The pure joy shared between the two of them seeing each other again felt so real, and that only made the more serious elements sink in all the more. That ominous touch is something that pretty much permeated the entirety of Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1. It’s definitely something we need to talk about in the next section.
Building toward that “bittersweet” ending we’ve been hearing about for a long time.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I feel like a curveball is coming. Of course, I’m not the only one who’s ever thought about this particular way the story could go. There have been theories bouncing around for quite a while. Namely, I think that the final villain of the series is going to be Daenerys herself.
Of course, villain is probably a strong word, considering there are only a few truly bad characters in this series. Frankly, that’s the beauty of it. It is very human and real that we are often able to relate even to the antagonists of the story. Hell, even Cersei started off mostly just worried about furthering the interests of her children and family.
We could talk about how Daenerys has exhibited some dangerous cruelty all along. We could draw attention to the fact that she basically demands blind loyalty, regardless of the situation, and goes off the deep end when she doesn’t receive it immediately. We could talk about how even Tyrion has worried she might have a little too much of her father in her, all the while trying to convince himself otherwise. The thing is all of these behaviors have – in the past – been explainable. The people she was burning mostly deserved it. Still, though, she has sometimes veered dangerously close to behavior that’s quite troubling for a hero. Maybe that’s because they’ve been telling us something about her all along.
Game of Thrones has built it’s brand on being adult, realistic fantasy. Your favorite good guy and gal aren’t going to live happily ever after, necessarily.
Game of Thrones is really a story about a dynastic struggle in a fantasy setting. Lets not forget it’s famously based on the real life Wars of the Roses. From the beginning, it’s been subversive and deconstructive, tearing apart fantasy tropes and building a new kind of story. So, tell me, what would be more subversive and deconstructive than playing the long game and turning one of the primary protagonists of the story into an antagonist? Further, author George RR Martin has for years been telling us to expect a “bittersweet” ending to the story. What could be more bittersweet than to see Daenerys and Jon on opposite sides after all this time?
Finally, Jon learns the truth in Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1.
The question is what will he do now? How will he even process information that is literally life-changing? Going back to what I’ve been saying about where I think things are headed, I think this reveal just plays even further into that trajectory. Do not discount the fact that Sam delivered the truth just after learning Daenerys essentially murdered his father and brother. Narratively, learning of her cruelty triggered that. It stirred the ever timid Sam into having that uncomfortable conversation. This was because he knows Jon would never have been so cruel. Even when Jon tries grasping for justifications, Sam reminds him that he himself spared the wildlings who refused to kneel. He didn’t put them to death the way Daenerys did the Tarlys in the same situation.
Also, I think it’s important to point out what a great move it was having Sam deliver this information. He and Jon have a bond going back years, and Jon trusts Sam. He knows he’s not trying to play the Game of Thrones and further his own position somehow. That’s why – even though he almost looks ready to throttle his friend – he’s actually processing the information as truth. Frankly, that whole sequence, beginning with John Bradley’s wonderful acting as he learns of the tragedy involving his family and following into the scene with Jon, was done quite masterfully.
Game of Thrones isn’t always perfect, but when it’s good it’s just really, really good.