‘Game of Thrones’ premiere: Family drama!
**NOTE: THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS THROUGH SEASON 8, EPISODE 1 OF ‘GAME OF THRONES’**
If the stakes weren’t so high, the first episode of the final season of HBO’s smash fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” could almost be described as though it were a high-school teen flick or a reality TV show.
Sansa doesn’t trust Jonny Snow’s new girlfriend! Jonny’s best friend Sam thinks he should be the one in charge! And Cersei’s got herself a brand new man!
Unfortunately, with an army of White Walkers, dead soldiers, zombie giants and one undead dragon on the way, there’s precious little time for family drama.But like any big family, especially one that hasn’t gotten together in a while, squabbles are bound to break out.
It’s just that most family spats don’t involve two giant dragons.
The opening of “Winterfell” nicely mirrors the start of the entire series, as a small child (that used to be Arya) scrambles to get a better view of the incoming army (that used to be from King’s Landing, and is now full of Unsullied and Dothraki screamers from across the sea).
As Jon Snow and Dany make their way to Winterfell, the Targaryen queen gets a good taste of “Northern hospitality.” These people just got through a mini-war between the Starks and Boltons, two of their own houses — they’re not about to trust someone with a foreign army, a Lannister for a Hand, the former Master of Whispers and two magical beasts.
Everyone’s favorite little bear, Lady Lyanna Mormont, puts it into clear relief for Jon and his new queen: “You left a king and came back… I don’t know what you came back as.” Northerners don’t mince words.
Jon gives it right back: “I had a choice: keep my crown or protect the North. I chose the North.”
This is where “Game of Thrones” has always shined the brightest: giving all of its characters, heroes and villains alike, shades of gray and forcing them to make difficult choices.
Lady Mormont is right: the Northern lords crowned Jon Snow as King in the North for him to look after them and protect their interests. And Jon Snow is right: he IS protecting their interests by bringing not one, but two armies to fight the dead.
But the past is haunting everyone. Sansa’s experience in King’s Landing leads her to chide Tyrion, incredulous that he’d believe his sister would send her army to fight the dead. Jon tries to stoke bygone sibling rivalry during his reunion with Arya, telling her that “Sansa always thinks she’s smarter than everyone else,” only to be rebuffed when Arya shoots back that Sansa “is the smartest person I know.”
Dany’s own actions come back to bite her when she meets Sam Tarly for the first time. Initially wanting to thank him for saving Ser Jorah, she soon realizes that oops, she also roasted his dad and brother. If Sam had any doubts about revealing Jon’s true parentage, that put it to rest.
And so Jon is put to yet another impossible choice: Sam spills the beans and clues him in that he’s really Aegon Targaryen VI, the true heir to the Iron Throne and the rightful king of Westeros. And his girlfriend, to whom he bent the knee and then made out with (and then did other things with), is his aunt, and not technically next in line for the throne.
As a matter of fact, there was shockingly little screen time devoted to Jon’s realization that he’s now a member of the Westerosi Incest Squad. Then again, he kind of has to rediscover his entire identity now, so maybe the fact that he’s sleeping with his auntie just hasn’t hit him yet.
Jon Snow’s entire character arc — his journey to the Wall, beyond it and back, his rise to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and especially his death and resurrection — are all beholden to his extremely Starkish habit of being a stickler for the truth. Is he willing to let the truth of his identity stay hidden, the exact thing his adoptive father Ned Stark did for his entire life?
Jon looked like he felt pretty betrayed by dear old (thought-he-was-my)-Dad down there in the Winterfell crypts. The last time we saw Jon, he was willing to throw the entire alliance of northern and southern Westerosi down the toilet, and that was because he just couldn’t bring himself to tell a white lie about supporting Cersei as the rightful queen. (I’m sorry, I’m really focusing on Jon Snow. I promise I’ll get to the rest of the episode at some point. Or not.)
Oh, and also, Jon rides a dragon.
It’s actually kind of interesting how some of the “big moments” fans have been waiting for were dealt with in a very perfunctory way. Arya sees Jon, the Hound and Gendry for the first time without a glance shared between any of them. She catches up with all three later in the episode, but given all the violent trials and tribulations she’s been through, it was neat to see that same sort of childlike excitement she had in a similar situation back at the series’ start, as she waits to see if any of them will notice her. Dany just kind of motions for Jon Snow to hop on a dragon, makes a joke that it might murder him, and then they’re flying through the sky.
We’ll cover some additional things below, but it’s certainly worth noting this episode’s symmetry with the series’ start at both the beginning and the end. The opening shots start with a royal contingent marching to Winterfell. The final shots see Jaime Lannister reaching Winterfell after a long journey north, only to turn and see Brandon Stark, the boy he tossed from a tower at the end of the very first episode.
Toward the beginning of the premiere, Bran cuts the make-nice family-reunion business short, telling everyone they don’t have time for this, the Wall has fallen and the Night King’s army is headed south.
I’m not sure what it will take to get this makeshift family to trust one another, but from the look’s of the Episode 2 preview, it had best happen soon.
If the new décor at the Last Hearth is any indication, it’s about to get a little bit frosty.
What did you think of the episode? What’s coming up next? Leave a comment below!
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A FEW STRAY RAVENS
• Brand-new title sequence!
It’s definitely got more of a slick, digital look than the more-weathered setpieces in the old credit scene, but the changes are pretty sweet. We zoom through the brand-new hole in The Wall and make a quick stop at Last Hearth, home of the Umbers — uh, a real quick stop, apparently. The scene with poor little Lord Umber was pretty horrifying. And that was before he started screaming and got burned to (a second) death.
We get to zoom through Winterfell and down into the crypts, but the next stop is all the way down in King’s Landing, where we fly down through a spire, down to the skull of Balerion the Black Dread in the Red Keep’s…. basement, I guess?
• Everyone in Winterfell is in awe of the dragons. That’s cool and all, but wait ‘til they find out they aren’t the only army that’s got one.
• Speaking of which… SANSA: “What do dragons eat, anyway?” / DANY: “Whatever they want.” … Sansa, you might have some sass, but if you come at the Khaleesi, you best not miss.
• Jon Snow, upon seeing Needle during his reunion with Arya: “Have you ever used it?”
You really do know nothing, Jon Snow. Anyone who’s made it to this point in THIS show has murdered multiple people.
• There were some great one-liners in this episode. Good old Bronn, who brought down Stannis Baratheon’s fleet on the Blackwater Bay and nearly brought down Drogon and the last Targaryen queen, still somehow has to vie for the attention of his harem: “I am the only man you ever met who shot a dragon!”
• Cersei beds Euron Greyjoy, who I am still very disappointed in as a show character. I hate to be the “books-versus-show” guy, but Book Euron is better in every possible way than Show Euron. Book Euron has some sort of deep, dark, Lovecraftian scheme to resurrect death gods, and he’s starting to perform all sorts of horrifying sacrifices and rituals.
In this episode, he mentions to his niece that he gets lonely at sea because his entire crew is made up of mutes. He neglects to mention that, in the books, the reason for that is he cut out everyone’s tongues. Book Euron is an insane pirate who constantly drinks the Westerosi equivalent of liquid LSD and wants to be the dark lord of the entire world. On the show, we get Snarky Euron, which is… just okay.
• Jon to Dany, after riding a dragon for the first time: “You’ve completely ruined horses for me.”
• Did anyone else think Tormund and Beric had wandered into a “Walking Dead” episode when they were exploring Last Hearth? Complete with the jump scare! Actually, I’ll forgive that, because it led to my favorite exchange of the whole episode… EDD: Stay back! He’s got blue eyes! / TORMUND: I’ve always had blue eyes!
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .