Game of Thrones Premiere: Heartwarming Reunions Open a Dark Season
By Grace Gay
With familiar music and unfamiliar title cards, Game of Thrones, the most iconic television show of this decade, returned for its final season this Sunday. The opening episode, “Winterfell,” may have been functional and fun, but it left the audience wanting so much more. In the lead up to the finale, there was more buzz than for any recent TV event. Suddenly everyone you know is watching the show, and everyone has a different take on the show, even the one person who watched with you who kept asking, “Wait, who’s that?” And as someone who knows exactly who everyone is in the show, and completed my fifth rewatch in the week and a half before the season premiere, I have thoughts.
“Winterfell”, like most season premiere episodes of Thrones, served as a table setting episode. We learn where the major characters are, get reminded of their dynamics and relationships at this point in the show, and then are thrust back into the world (as if we haven’t all been bingeing for the weeks before the premiere). But most importantly, the season premiere served to set up the conflicts for the rest of the show. In an exposition heavy episode, the set-up of the conflicts was interspersed with some of the happiest (by Thrones standards) scenes of the whole show. “Winterfell” may have lacked action, but featured plenty of heart.
The heart of this episode comes mainly from the reunions in the show, as far-flung characters all convened on the Stark home of Winterfell. From Arya and Jon’s tear-jerking reunion, to long-lost husband and wife, Sansa and Tyrion reuniting, this episode featured callbacks to the past, and more importantly, foundations for the future. Without a doubt, my favorite reunion was Arya and Gendry, who have finally reunited as adults—who, to my eternal joy, checked each other out.
Romance and family feature heavily in the episode. Jon rides his first dragon (a literal dragon, not Daenerys) and symbolically reveals his Targaryen heritage, but the long CGI-sequence of the dragon ride adds unnecessary length to an episode straining to the brim with exposition. The dragon ride ends with a scene that spells doom for Daenerys, as she tells Jon in their secluded escape that they “could stay a thousand years. No one would find us.“ This line eerily calls back to Jon’s wildling lover, Ygritte, saying that they could should stay forever in their watery cave oasis. The romance of the scene, the waterfall in the background, the desire to escape-- all of it mirrors Jon’s previous relationship, and with that, spells doom. As does Sam’s confrontation with Daenerys, and subsequently Jon. It’s likely bad news for a relationship when you’re girlfriend has killed your bestie’s father and brother.
While new relationships may be forming (and failing) at Winterfell, the episode features constant reminders of what the stakes truly are: Bran, as a rather hilarious and annoying skulker, keeps popping up to remind everyone that they are doomed. In many ways, this provides comedy for the episode, but by continually making Bran a weird and awkward character, the showrunners have painted themselves into a corner where Bran seems powerful, yet unwilling to help. This is inherently a problem of Bran’s arc; his internal discovery is better translated in the books than on screen, and as a result, the fantasy elements of his character seem to conflict with the reality of the show’s relationships. Whether some of the interest in Bran’s story can be recovered seems unlikely, and ultimately, will perhaps be the greatest distraction of the season.
Surprises and Disappointments
The appearance of the Golden company, the reunions, and conflict between Daenerys and Sansa were much anticipated before the premiere. But surprises and disappointments exist within the fabric of this episode. The scenes of Cersei in King’s Landing still leave the questions of her pregnancy up for debate and hint tantalizingly at her emotional state after being abandoned by all those she once loved.
The opening titles were the first surprise of the episode. Featuring the wall going down and new details of Winterfell and King’s Landing, the animation is visually arresting and depicts some of the most beloved scenes of the show, such as the Red Wedding and the birth of the dragons. Other surprises include the emotional beats, as Sam reveals Jon’s parentage as part of an emotional outlash, and Bronn heads North with the intent to kill the Lannister brothers.
Additionally, one of the starkest (no pun intended) shots was the cold way the Northerners looked at Missandei and Grey Worm, the only two characters of color still relevant in the show. The contrast of the all-white Northerners to them highlights how incredibly white the show is. In a show where dragons exist, it’s pretty disappointing that the only characters of colors are still just former slaves who barely got any lines in the premiere. Speculations have largely been that Grey Worm is doomed this season, which means the show will become even whiter (white winds rising, indeed).
The disappointments of the show included a lack of Sansa and the Hound reuniting, no major deaths that have been eagerly awaited, and overall, Daenerys's cluelessness to what Jon riding Rhaegal means. By accepting Jon, he has become Rhaegal’s rider and therefore also proven his Targaryen lineage. While Daenerys has consistently demonstrated a limited lack of knowledge on dragons, Tyrion has talked multiple times about being fascinated by dragons, and without a doubt, should know what Jon’s position means now. Along those same lines, the direwolves continue to be absent from the show, and therefore my long awaited dream of the dragons and wolves meeting and becoming best friends goes unfulfilled.
Overall, like most Thrones season openers, “Winterfell” is not the most exciting but with jokes, heartwarming moments and plenty of setup for the future, it functions competently as the introduction to the final season. As for the next episode, see below for the long and incomplete list of all the moments and questions the audience should eagerly anticipate.
What to Expect for Episode 2:
-Jaime’s trial at Winterfell (as hinted in the preview scenes from the next episode)
-Along those lines, a Brienne/Jaime reunion
-Jon revealing his parentage
-Bran being a creep
-Confirmations of the states of pregnancy of Daenerys and Cersei
-Reveal of the secrets of the crypts (so far speculations of what’s inside include: dragon eggs, a dragon, the Great Other, Rhaegar’s harp, and everything else that’s missing in this show)
-A possible Howland Reed appearance to confirm Jon’s parentage (he’s the dude who was with Ned when he found Jon as a baby)
-A possible reveal of the White Walker’s motivations