HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ begins its final season with a blast
Before winter break, I had never seen a single episode of “Game of Thrones,” let alone read one of George R.R. Martin’s novels. By the time break ended, I had seen almost the entire HBO fantasy series, not just because I was enrolled in the winter class, ENGL 53.6, “Game of Thrones: Reimagining Medieval History as an Allegory of the Present” with English and creative writing professor James Dobson, but because it’s the type of show that once you start, it’s near impossible to stop. Once I finished season one, I started season two. Before I knew it, I was one of the many eager fans anticipating the release of season eight.
“Game of Thrones” is addicting. Every season and every episode builds on the last and gets more unbelievably intricate. The dual plotline of Iron Throne politics and the battle of the living and the dead contribute to a fascinating and suspenseful series with many complex relationships. Balancing these two topics leads to inevitable deaths, even of the main characters, as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss make no attempt to stick to the stereotypical happy ending of the fantasy genre.
There was a lot of pressure on Benioff and Weiss coming into season eight, as they have countless plots to wrap up in the shorter span of six episodes, compared to the previous 10, especially considering how the first episode of season seven, “Dragonstone,” started the show off with a bang. In the opening scene of “Dragonstone,” Arya Stark takes revenge on the entire Frey family for the tragic Red Wedding, in arguably one of the most satisfying scenes in the entire show. The first and second episodes of season eight did not capture this same level of intensity and was disappointing to anyone expecting a major death or battle after the anticipation of waiting close to two years (from late August 2017 to April 2019) for the final installment.
The main focus of “Winterfell,” the first episode of the eighth season, was tying up several loose ends by reuniting characters who haven’t seen each other in seasons. Though many of these reunions were happy, a few of the new encounters were very uncomfortable, and not just because of Bran’s constant presence as the Three-Eyed Raven. While Arya’s reunion with both Jon Snow and Gendry Baratheon as well as Theon Greyjoy’s resue of his sister Yara were heartwarming scenes, Daenerys Targaryen’s meeting with Samwell Tarly and Sansa Stark demonstrated tension among the allies.
Daenerys, formerly a fan favorite for her passion, determination and three (now two) dragons, gave in to her arrogance and desire for control, coldly telling Sam how she killed his family for not obeying her and threatening Sansa. Depicting a massive turning point in Daenerys’s character arc, it seems as though she is set up to go power-crazy like her dad, the Mad King. Meanwhile in King’s Landing, resident villain Cersei Lannister gives in to Euron Greyjoy’s advances in a move unlike her powerful character, but that might have significance later on in the season.
In my opinion, the scene where Sam finally tells Jon the truth about his lineage is too brief. Jon just discovered that he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne in arguably the most anticipated and important moment of the entire episode, and yet the conversation only lasted a few lines.
In contrast, a scene that lasted far too long was the dragon riding scene, where Jon and Daenerys ride to a magical waterfall over the clouds. The cinematography was beautiful, and the scene would have been great in any other show or movie; it was, however, very unlike “Game of Thrones.” This fantastical, happy scene is soon followed by Lord Ned Umber being found dead, pinned to a wall as a White Walker. The limbs surrounding Lord Umber were arranged in a spiral pattern similar to previous episodes, raising the question of why the Night King took the time and effort to communicate this specific message and what it means.
The second episode of the season was very similar and proved that “Game of Thrones” is choosing to make a slow transition to an intense finale. Not to give too much away as this episode just came out on Sunday, but there are more reunions, such as Brienne and Jaime’s, and crucial revelations made by Daenerys and Bran. Tyrion and Jaime face consequences for their past actions, and the White Walkers are ready to attack Winterfell, as they approach The Wall at the suspenseful end of the episode. Also, my favorite character, the direwolf Ghost, finally makes an appearance.
In keeping the gore and suffering at a surprising minimum in the first two episodes, “Game of Thrones” shows its trademark unpredictability, as this relatively calm Westeros will inevitably not last much longer. While viewers might be lulled into a false sense of security for now, as Ramsay Bolton once famously said, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
Benioff and Weiss showed little regard for keeping fan favorites alive when they killed off main character Ned Stark in the first season, as well as Stannis Baratheon and the many victims of the Sept of Baelor explosion and the Red Wedding.
The first two episodes might not have been the exciting, intense premiere that many fans were hoping for, but it did set the stage for a powerful season. Getting a lot of the reunions out of the way early gives me a lot to look forward to moving on and raised my expectations for the following episodes, such as the White Walker battle that will occur in the next episode.
The “Game of Thrones” premiere got a record 17.4 million viewers for a reason, and I have a feeling that the showrunners are building to a large climax. While it may be slower than some would have wanted, it will be worth it in the end to see who will sit on the Iron Throne — if there is a Kingdom left to rule at all.