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Game of Thrones Returns with “Winterfell”

April 17th, 2019
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After an almost two years’ wait, Game of Thrones’ six-episode final season has, at long last, begun!  I thought this first episode, “Winterfell,” was a fantastic beginning to this final run of episodes.

Let’s begin by discussing the gorgeous new opening credits!  It’s about time!  I was thrilled to see these beautiful new opening credits.  It makes sense to focus on only a few locations now, because all of our characters have come together at a few key spots.  The detailed new looks inside these cities (into the crypts beneath Winterfell, or into the throne-room of King’s Landing) were fantastic.  And I loved the device of showing us the movement of the army of the dead.  Will future weeks also show us the movements of the other armies?  I can’t wait to see…

I am, of course, nervous as to whether this show will be able to reach a satisfying conclusion in only six episodes.  One might accuse this first episode of being guilty of wasting time, as not much of consequence politically or militarily occurred in Westeros.  There were no battles, and no one was killed off.  I admit that, watching this episode, there were a few moments in which I wondered to myself, “hadn’t they better hurry things up already?”

But that would be to miss everything that was great about this episode.  Yes, we’re all excited to see the big battles, and yes, we’re all anxious to see who will live and who will die.  But after seven seasons of television, I am delighted that the show is taking its time to allow us the wonderful character moments with which this episode was overflowing.  It is a delight to see new character pairings and, even better, reunions that have been so many YEARS in coming.  Let’s review:

Jon and Arya — these two haven’t seen one another since the SERIES PREMIERE, at the end of which Jon went off to join the Night’s Watch.  I’d forgotten that Jon had given Arya Needle!  It was gloriously sweet to get to see them embrace… and also painful to hear Jon asking Arya, cluelessly, whether she’d ever had an opportunity to use Needle.  It’s a potent reminder of how much they’ve each been through.  But I also hope that the show will show us that these characters do take the time to catch one another up on what they’ve been through.  I don’t actually need to see those long scenes of catch-up, but I want to get the sense that these characters communicate with one another.  That’s important, because while of course I understand that this show thrives on drama and friction between the characters, at this point in the series I want to see that the surviving Stark kids understand one another and are capable of working together.  It makes sense that Jon and Sansa aren’t exactly on the same page, but I hope the series allows us to see them work together (remembering Ned’s lesson that the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives), rather than turning on one another.

Arya and the Hound — Oh boy did I love their gruff but affectionate-under-the-surface reunion.  I loved that Arya reminded him that she robbed him, in addition to leaving him for dead.

Arya and Gendry — OK, I’d been waiting for Arya and the Hound to see one another again, but I’d totally forgotten about the friendship between Arya and Gendry from back in the day, and I absolutely adored their playful reunion scene.  Wow, seeing Arya smiling (and even flirting a little bit…!) was so delightful!  I am now totally rooting for these two to live happily ever after.

Jon and Sam — It took a while for the episode to get to this reunion (I kept thinking, wait, aren’t they both in Winterfell now?!), but it was an absolute pleasure when the moment finally came.  It’s great to see these two friends reunited and, of course, this reunion had the most significant plot consequences as Sam finally spills the beans to Jon on his true ancestry (and his true relationship to Dany).  That’s going to be a problem…

Ser Jorah and Sam — I’d totally forgotten about Sam’s connection to Ser Jorah; I’m glad the writers didn’t!  It was such a clever notion that, of course, Dany would want to thank the man who’d saved her friend’s life.  What a great twist-of-the-knife when they all discover that, oops, Dany’s dragons had burnt Sam’s family to a crisp on her orders.

Tyrion and Sansa — Here’s another important reunion that I wasn’t thinking about, but of course, it’s amazing to see this once-married couple (are they still technically married??) reunite.  But suddenly it’s Sansa who seems to be in the dominant position.  (She thinks Tyrion is a fool for believing that Cersei will send her armies to fight with then, and of course, we know she’s right.  But I wasn’t sure, does Sansa know this for a fact yet?  Or is she just reading things more accurately than Tyrion?)  Because I love both characters so much, I do hope they’re able to achieve stronger rapprochement than the tension we see here.  (Sansa’s comment about Joffrey’s wedding not being all bad was fantastic, by the way.)

Bran and Jamie — What a perfect ending to the episode, as we return to the show’s very beginning as Jamie comes face to face with the boy he’d pushed out of a tall Winterfell window.  Fantastic.  I hope we get to see what the two of them have to say to one another next week.

Other thoughts:

Bronn — Is there a character who I am more fervently rooting to survive these final six episode that Ser Bronn of the Blackwater?  No sir, there is not.  I’m glad Bronn appeared in this episode but, whoof, I am worried to see him tasked with the murder of his friends Jamie and Tyrion.

Theon and Yara Greyjoy — I’m delighted to see Theon finally get a win (rescuing Yara), though I wish they hadn’t made it seem so easy.  I wonder, will that be the last we ever see of Yara on the show (setting off for the Iron Islands)?  Or will we see her again?  I do hope we get to see Euron’s reaction next week to discovering that Theon rescued Yara right out from under his nose.

Euron and Cersei — I was surprised to see Euron succeed so quickly in his quest to sleep with the Queen.  I wish they’d done a better job developing this character into a strong villain in previous seasons, but I thought his scenes with Cersei were good.  It’s fun to see someone so fearless and willing to push her buttons.

Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion — Nice to see them both alive, but I guess the show isn’t actually going to explain how that could possibly be, seeing as they were both at the TOP of the wall when the zombie-dragon destroyed it at the end of last season’s finale??  Oh well.  But I was SO HAPPY to see them meet back up with Edd of the Night’s Watch!  (The only downside in that scene: the line of dialogue that hints that this small group can get to Winterfell before the army of the dead if they ride their horses fast.  That they could somehow get around the enormous army of the dead seems silly to me.)

Jon and Dany’s dragon-flight — That was a fun sequence.  It’s nice to see these two get a moment of happiness before things turn dark.  Which leads me to…

So, who is going to wind up sitting on the Iron Throne at the end?  I’m pleased that the show has successfully confused me as to who I should be rooting for.  We’ve been following Dany’s quest to rule the Seven Kingdoms since the very beginning of the show, and so of course a big part of me wants her to triumph.  And I have now invested in the Jon-Dany relationship, and I want them to succeed and be happy together.  But we’ve also seen reasons why maybe Dany isn’t the best choice to rule the world.  She certainly bungled plenty of things back in Essos, and her cruelty in roasting the Tarlys (even though they had it coming) is concerning.  That Sam, one of the most noble and innocent characters on the show, has turned against Dany doesn’t bode well for her.  (Also, the scene in which we learn that Dany’s dragons don’t like living in the North feels like the planting of a seed to give Dany a reason not to stay in Westeros.  Is she eventually going to decide to abandon her quest for rulership and leave with her dragons?  Is this a way for someone other than Dany to wind up on the Iron Throne, without her actually losing or being killed?)

Back in the early seasons, let’s remember that Dany had a vision of the ruined King’s Landing, with snow falling through the cracked roof down into the throne-room and onto the Iron Throne.  Snow on the Iron Throne… get it??  So that leads me to suspect that Jon Snow will wind up on top… but will that be alongside Dany, or not?

And let’s not forget that young Gendry does also have a claim to the throne, being the bastard son of Robert Baratheon… but that can’t be Gendry’s destiny, can it?  (It’d be funny if Arya wound up a Queen, after all!)

Will ANYONE sit on the Iron Throne in the end?  Dany once vowed that she wanted to “break the wheel,” so for quite a while I’ve been wondering if the series would end with the division of the Seven Kingdoms back into separate kingdoms, without one central King or Queen atop them all.  If I had to bet, that’s what I think will happen.  It’s a path that allows multiple characters to “win” and rule… just to be ruling separate kingdoms.

We’ll see.  I am counting the days until next week.  Because just like that, there are now only FIVE episodes left of Game of Thrones…

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