GOT SEASON 8 EPISODE 1 // REVIEW
Director David Nutter brings what Game of Thrones has been lacking for a while now: the sense of an ending.
~ Warning, this review contains spoilers ~
Last night, the biggest fantasy franchise of the 21st century, and arguably its most universally adored television show, premiered the first episode in its final season. And it was good. Really darn good.
In its last few seasons, Game of Thrones has been losing its grip on its plot at an approximately equivalent rate to the number of followers it gains. As David Benioff and D.B Weiss’ series sped ahead of George R. R. Martin’s original programme, they found themselves in the unprecedented position of streamlining an unimaginably complicated story into just a few seasons, whilst dealing with the schedules of a bunch of actors made famous at their hands, at the same time as being held responsible for another man’s story through being its new flagship.
Tired just reading that sentence? Yea, imagine how they feel.
It’s refreshing to see that, in this series, the GoT production team seem to be on more comfortable ground: the locations have been dramatically reduced and there are far less characters to deal with (owing largely to a few clumsy moments of character culling in the previous season, but we’ll let sins of the past lie…)
The episode seems altogether undaunted by the artistic weight of collective anticipation that surrounds it. Though Bran’s ‘We haven’t got time!’ in response to Dani and Sansa’s first tense meeting might as well be talking about the less-than-plentiful six-episode run of the season, episode one still gives itself space to breathe, allowing long awaited reunions to feel emotionally satisfying.
As you can see from the new title sequence, we’re only really dealing with three locations this season: Kings Landing, Winterfell and the surrounding north, and The Wall. The old title sequence had become something of a hallmark of Game of Thrones – like the show, it was unapologetically long and complex, yet visually masterful in its world-building – and at first it was sad to see it gone. But the quality of the new sequence more than made up for this – the camera pans through the interiors of castles we know well to show that Season eight will be diving into the nitty gritty now all the chess pieces are in place.
Most interestingly, the carved imagery on the spinning gold bands that feature in the title have been updated from scenes of Westerosi history and Robert’s rebellion. One image now shows Viserion destroying the wall; another the beheading of Rob’s direwolf at the Red Wedding; another a large dragon flying alongside three smaller dragons as a comet falls through the sky (who is the fourth dragon?! Could it be Jon?!) What this shows is that the events of the past eight seasons are coming to eclipse the very lore the series is based on. The Azor Ahai myth is literally being played out again in real-time, and this is the proof.
My personal favourite directorial aspect of the episode was how the director mirrored the first ever GoT instalment in season one. The opening shot of the brown-haired boy running through the castle to get a better look at Daenerys’ approaching army was a call-back to Bran climbing the castle walls to watch Robert and Cersei’s royal party entering Winterfell. Tyrion, Davos, and Varys plotting Dany and Jon’s possible betrothal from the ramparts also recalls a similar conversation had by Ned and Robert about Joffrey and Sansa. Oh, how far we’ve come.
Game of Thrones S01E01 – King Robert’s Arrival in Winterfell.
As Arya smiles shrewdly at the climbing boy we’re reminded of her in season one, back when she held a matching sense of awe and adventure. These kinds of comparisons deliver to fans the poignant reflection they’ve been craving. The show deserves to acknowledge how far it’s come – the enormous feats of character and plot development it’s accomplished – and the fans should be reminded that now, after many years of loyalty, they’re finally going to see events that have been brewing since this first episode come to fruition.
These moments in Nutter’s episode seem like a warm hug between show and viewer, as if Benioff and Weiss were leaning over and whispering in your ear, ‘we’re here! we’re finally here!’’. S01e01 leans in to encircle s08e01 just as Jon embraces Bran, Arya, Sam… and well basically anyone he can get his hands on.
The moments of reunion were given weight without being cheesy – a standout moment was the scene in which Arya first sees Jon approaching Winterfell and makes a move to wave at him, only to remember that neither of them is the frivolous waving type anymore. Given where Arya spent seasons five & six, it’s no wonder she’s having trouble with identity politics (‘you are/ aren’t noone’?). But the more interesting interactions for me were those between Jon and Dani.
Whilst they spent the majority of last season making flirty eyes at one another, and the audience spent the same amount of time cheering on their romantic relationship, season eight brings a new energy to their dynamic. There’s a sense of dramatic tension in J/D scenes in this episode – Dany’s half joking implication that she wouldn’t be bothered if Viserion ate Jon for lunch (‘then I’ve enjoyed your company Jon Snow’), her frank admission that she’s not planning on taking any of Sansa’s sass, and the seemingly meaningful look Drogon gives Jon as he necks on with Dany by a waterfall all lend themselves to the overarching feeling that the harmony between these two Targs won’t last forever.
Jon and Dani both have an unbending moral spine that will either make or break them as rulers, and you get the sense that Westeros ain’t big enough for the both of them.
Actor of the episode
Overall, the award for best actor of the episode goes to John Bradley as the ever-bumbling Samwell Tarly. His confrontation with Dany where he thanks her with tears in his eyes for informing him of the brutal murder of his family at her hands was portrayed beautifully, and was one of those fasincating reminders that Dany holds more of the mad king in her than Jon realises.
The true depth of Dany’s ruthlessness is a reality that Jon is going to have to face pretty soon. As Sam points out, whilst he was more than willing to sacrifice his crown for his people, it’s unlikely that Dany has the objectivity to do the same. But that’s a question that can be answered later in the season, as next week we wrestle with ‘will the northerners kill Jaime Lannister on the spot’?
In other news, someone really ought to wheel Bran out of the Winterfell courtyard…