Winter is here: The final season of “Game of Thrones” is one of the most highly anticipated television events of the last decade. Follow our columnists as they explore students’ weekly reactions as an iconic era of pop culture comes to an end. Beware, spoilers lie ahead.
The “Game of Thrones” season premiere boasted all the elements of a classic fantasy epic – savage murder, soaring dragons, political unrest and a dash of incest.
After an almost two-year hiatus, the beloved HBO series returned Sunday night with “Winterfell,” the first episode of the eighth – and final – season. At the end of season seven, a giant army of ice zombies called the White Walkers broke through the wall that separated the dead and the living for thousands of years. The season eight premiere follows the many characters with clashing familial ties and political leanings as they try to put aside their differences and band together against the White Walkers.
The premiere highlighted intricate character relationships, making for a generally satisfying beginning of the end. Laura Green, a third-year cognitive science student, was expecting more action and violence, but said the premiere was a strong first installment that mirrored the show’s pilot episode.
“At first, I thought that nothing really happened because you’re used to dragons burning people alive. But … they brought it back to where it started,” Green said. “I feel like they wanted to show the children of the Stark family who have grown into adults.”
The episode opens with a rather quiet return to Winterfell, the Stark’s ancestral home in the North, with lovers Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) side by side. But Jon’s homecoming is not entirely welcome, as he might as well have said, “I bent the knee to this pretty dragon queen without consulting anyone in the North, cool right?” Unsurprisingly, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) – as well as the majority of the Northerners – are largely unimpressed by her brother’s new flame. The palpable tension between Sansa, the current Lady of Winterfell, and Daenerys, the queen Jon relinquished his title to, establishes a power dynamic that will likely intensify throughout the season.
Seeing the two outcasts of the Stark family, Jon and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), finally reunite was one of the episode’s highlights. In this moment, it felt as if they returned to season one, before Jon was a king and Arya was a serial killer. There are a number of other reunions, the most riveting of which was surprisingly Sansa and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). In the brief exchange, Sansa calls out Tyrion for foolishly believing his sister Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) would help them fight the White Walkers. As he is a character who was once the brains of the show, and someone who knows the depth of Cersei’s cruelty, it’s about time Tyrion’s recent ignorance is questioned.
In the Capitol, Cersei remains a villainous icon, employing Bronn (Jerome Flynn), an opportunistic mercenary, to kill her brothers and having sex with Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) just because she can. She is not the star of the episode, but Headey’s fierce-as-always performance reminds audiences that Cersei is certainly not to be forgotten.
Back in Winterfell, Jon and Daenerys hitch an unnecessarily long dragon ride to a waterfall makeout spot. It’s cute except for the fact that Jon is Daenerys’ nephew, although both are blissfully unaware of their relation. In a rather anticlimactic scene, Sam Tarly (John Bradley), and old friend of Jon’s, catches Jon up on what audiences have known for a while – Jon is not a bastard and is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
Jon is more upset by the knowledge that Ned Stark lied to him, however, and less concerned about his royal status or the fact that he’s in love with his aunt.
Julia Wenzel, a third-year nursing student, said the early reveal allows the remaining five episodes to focus on the characters assemble against the White Walkers.
“Something that I wasn’t really expecting was for everything to come to a head so soon. Jon Snow learns in the first episode that he’s the rightful heir to the throne,” Wenzel said. “I think (the fast pace) is necessary in order to get things going.”
Before Sam drops the lineage bomb, Daenerys informs Sam that she may have accidentally burned his father and brother alive as punishment for their refusal to bend the knee. So sorry!
Daenerys is definitely not winning any popularity contests in the North, and Sam implores Jon to question her lack of mercy. “You gave up your crown to save your people,” Sam says. “Would she do the same?” The answer seems clear to us, but perhaps not as clear to Jon.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives in Winterfell, and all is well and good for approximately 30 sweet seconds. Then we remember Jaime pushed Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) out a window back in season one, which ultimately sparked the war between the Lannisters and Starks. Oops! Jaime, who also murdered Daenerys’ father, is not likely to be a fan favorite among the people of Winterfell either.
The episode concludes with a Jaime-Bran staredown that encapsulates the show’s entire eight-year history. The final image of Bran in his wheelchair, an almost undetectable smile on his face, is a provocative ending that leaves a lasting impact equal to that of any battle scene or character death.
But although the premiere spared the central characters, fans should know not to get too comfortable. As the show has spent seven seasons trying to prove, no one is safe.