We just had the nicest Game of Thrones episode ever…so we should all be terrified
A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair, or so I once heard. Game of Thrones episodes are not so different.
They never bore, but they do get suspicious. You can’t fool us viewers. We’ve watched sixty-seven of these bad boys, we know the score. So when an episode doesn’t have its own version of ‘three deaths’, it gets my mind a-whirring. Season 8, Episode 1, ‘Winterfell’ is so wholesome, so nice that the last time I saw something like it Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon started laughing at one another in the Winterfell yard.
It says something about Game of Thrones that an episode in which two or three people are shot with arrows, another has his head split in twain by an axe, and a little boy is nailed to the wall before being burnt as an undead wight...can be considered nice. The show, famous for its two Ds, actually makes much more use of the two Bs (Blood and Boobs). It’s rare enough to have a scene without either, let alone a show. ‘Winterfell’ does not completely break the mold. We still get a lovely shot of what’s left of the man with an axe in his face. We still see Bronn surrounded by three pairs of the second B, but think back. When did everything last go so right in Game of Thrones?
The new opening credits and their flipping blue tiles remind us of the larger threat. Bran Stark shakes us out of our teary reverie at seeing everyone we love together and Arya Stark smiling, by sharply reminding us the Night King is coming, and he just so happens to have a dragon. Problems arise...food, political tension, family members being burnt alive...but it almost seems secondary.
Is it just the mist of happiness that Thrones has finally returned to us? That is a part of it, for sure, but the events of the episode go much further to bringing those nervous smiles back on our faces. It begins with all the wonderful reunions of Bran and Jon, Jon and Sam, Arya and Gendry, ARYA AND JON! How are these anything but happy moments? The reunions of Arya have been especially awaited, and both hers with Gendry and with Jon could not have been spot on. A perfect mixture of humour and men across the country pretending they aren’t crying. On top of that we see characters who have finally found the spots they were meant to fill. Sam gets to sit in a library all day. Gendry is running his own smith. Sandor Clegane gets a really cool axe. Yeah we’ve all got problems and not everyone gets on and there genuinely isn’t enough food, but the purpose of ‘Winterfell’ is to show us just how lovely it is at Winterfell right now.
And, if you know Game of Thrones as we all do, that is absolutely chilling.
Do you remember a time when our characters could just go for a lap of the north on their dragons? Or head down to the smith to request a weapon without maybe getting stabbed on the way? Dinner must be absolutely amazing right now. Imagine the conversations between all these great characters. Sure, an argument can break out pretty quick, but considering some of the dinners these people have experienced, they can probably handle it. Winterfell is finally displayed with an incredibly homely feel to it, especially through the lens of a viewer. Here are all these characters, all in the same place, all working towards the same goal (in theory at least). It doesn’t get much better than that.
Even the visuals back up just how good everything is going right now. Never before have we been treated to these kinds of shots of the north, or the castle itself. Not ten minutes into the episode we are given a scene of the dragons flying by, resulting in a birds-eye shot of the entire Winterfell castle, right down to the Godswood. It honestly looks like we’ve gone backwards and been returned to the map of the opening credits. Dragon vantage points are doubled down on when Jon and Daenerys go flying. The north looks utterly gorgeous; to the point of which we have never seen. They do it here on the big scale, they do it on the small in the crisp Godswood. Everything just looks so...good.
It’s enough to almost make you wish this was the final episode. Because guess what? If you think we get as heart-warming, delicious-looking ending as this, you haven’t been paying attention.
As the clock turns on the episode, so does the atmosphere. We find Sansa’s frustrations to be well-founded. We struggle to watch as Sam fights back tears. We hear the anger in both his and Jon’s voices when the Targaryen parentage is revealed. No, it wasn’t a hundred percent smiles all round before, but in the blink of an eye it just got chilly. Our gentle Sam is angry; there are legitimate questions on what Daenerys values most, and Jon Snow’s already shattered and repatched world is broken once again.
But these are just concepts. Why rely on concepts when we can be shown darkness straight up? Thrones doesn’t really need to do this. We already know, we are veterans. But it insists. A reminder, just a reminder.
The scene in Last Hearth is beautiful, brilliantly shot and as creepy as you can ask for. The creeping through the halls, jumping at any sound, is a perfect mirror to worried viewers wondering when the Little Ned Umber, nailed up on the wall, with his eyes opening...all of that probably pales to the scream itself. Easily the best undead scream in the show’s history. Tormund, Edd and Beric look on with the other Crows, and you can see it on their faces. After everything, this is one of the saddest things they’ve witnessed. Suddenly, dragon races and welcome-back hugs all seem so very far away, and so very temporary.
‘Winterfell’ is not so much a tease as brash taunt. It is Thrones waving smiles and family in our faces and asking “Guess what we are going to do with this?” Why go to such lengths to show us such a setting, a setting we have been missing since the pilot episode, if not to rip it to shreds in front of us?
Eight years ago we watched Arya surprise everyone with her archery, young Bran climb a tree, Ned and Catelyn laugh from the walkway above. Do you remember what happened to all those people not long after?
Because us viewers do, and judging by the episode we just watched, that was only a starter.
As the credits rolled on Sunday night, I smiled and smiled. And then, as the seconds passed, a chill came over me. Because the Starks have been reminding us for eight long seasons. Bran is trying to now. Soon food and titles and who is angry at who won’t matter. Just like hugs and smiths and Godswood smiles won’t.
Soon, the dead will come, and the Winterfell we were allowed one last glimpse of, will be taken from us together.
Huddle up, friends. Huddle up.