Sunday, April 14, 2019

REVIEW: 'Game of Thrones' - Jon and Daenerys Don't Get the Reception They Were Expecting in the North in 'Winterfell'

HBO's Game of Thrones - Episode 8.01 "Winterfell"

Arriving at Winterfell, Jon and Daenerys struggle to unite a divided North.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones.

"Winterfell" was written by Dave Hill and directed by David Nutter

The final season opens with a number of homages to the very first episode of the entire series. It begins with a procession into Winterfell as the rulers in the North prepare for the arrival of the lords over the Seven Kingdoms. Back in Season 1, it was King Robert and the various Lannisters. Here, it is Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen with the armies and allies they have amassed to fight the Great War in the North. They have rallied around the idea that the threat from the Night King and White Walkers is greater than the pursuit of the throne in King's Landing. And yes, there is the sense that Cersei's manipulations as queen down in the South aren't as important as the various characters meeting for the first time or reuniting at Winterfell. There are so many strong character moments here where they can just take a step back and acknowledge the passage of time and the influences they have had on each other. Jon and Daenerys have only recently been allies after being on polar opposite sides of the world for so long. They immediately grew close. They are startlingly different though. Jon has no ambitions for power. He was called the King of the North by his people. The northmen respect him and the work he did in unifying the various clans together to face this looming threat. Meanwhile, Daenerys has seen the throne as her birthright and has long awaited the day she could take it back from the people who slaughtered her family. The previous season proved that she may not have been the best tactician in that war. She formed alliances with several key players and kingdoms. And yet, many of them fell after aligning with her simply because Cersei was better at strategy. That was true until the bitter end when everyone left the summit to head north with the understanding they would stand united in this new threat. Cersei had no intention of sending her troops to the North to fight alongside her enemies. She only continues to build power for herself here. It's more isolating than ever before though. Euron and Qyburn are her only allies. Meanwhile, she is hoping to play into Bronn's ambitions to get him to kill her brothers. That seems highly unlikely. But it's also a plot point the show clearly establishes here that will probably pay off at some point - with one of the Lannister siblings likely dying from an arrow just like their father did. That's a concern that may only distract from the narrative that should be bringing all of the characters together though. Bran notes just how trivial all of the conflicts of the world actually are in comparison to the threat that has just destroyed the Wall. No one in the north knows how far away the army of the undead is. They could be arriving at any moment. Instead, they are mostly concerned with the fact that Jon pledged his loyalty to Daenerys and will no longer refer to himself as the king of his people. That doesn't sit well with the northerners because they trust and respect him. They don't know Daenerys or the people she has brought to fight for her. It's a perfect illustration of people being fearful of the other who looks different. The Unsullied and Dothraki are people of color from a strange land. They serve a queen who has a pompous attitude about her claim to the throne. And now, she is being presented as the savior who can vanquish this new threat. It's hard for the people in the North to grapple with - especially because they have spent time with Jon Snow and the Stark siblings. They have grown up in this land and have become the smart leaders needed to survive the coming war.

In fact, Sansa only continues to prove her worth because she is the only person who sees though Cersei's deceit. She understands that the Lannister troops aren't coming. She accepts that fact even though Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion took the offer at face value. Jaime did as well. And now, he's the only person from the South who is coming to aid in this fight. He is immediately greeted with a face from his past he thought was long gone. He came to Winterfell to uphold his promise. But he will face the scorn of the people he has wronged for many years even though he has much more complicated dynamics with people like Tyrion and Brienne. But again, Bran may not think much of the man who pushed him out of the window returning to Winterfell. He may only be focused on the arrival of the Night King. Sure, he plays into the trivial games of the kingdom by ensuring that Sam tells Jon the truth about his lineage. That comes after Jon and Daenerys go through a soaring adventure in the sky. That sequence strengthens their bond as Tyrion, Varys and Davos are plotting marriage to secure this alliance. Of course, it's also difficult to get a strong reading on what the dragons are feeling upon seeing their two riders kiss. The show has established that only the Targaryen descendants can fly these creatures. That notion may be destroyed with the Night King also riding one. But it should at least tip off someone that there is more to Jon's lineage than anyone has thought to question. He has always been the bastard son of Ned Stark. His father died before being able to reveal the truth. It's still eventually outed though. Sam and Bran worked together to connect all the pieces and establish Jon's superior claim to the Iron Throne. Sam reveals that information to his friend right after meeting Daenerys for the first time. That is such a brutal and emotional meeting. She is grateful to him for saving Jorah's life. And yet, she also brings the news that she killed his father and brother because they refused to bend the knee to her. That could destroy her image in Sam's eyes. He may now see Jon as the rightful heir and the only person who can bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms. He has the wisdom to relinquish his crown when it pertains to the best interests of his people. Sam doubts that Daenerys would feel the same way. She isn't given that opportunity. But the show is establishing this ongoing question as to who the rightful ruler should be during times of crisis. The threat is coming. The people in the North don't have a whole lot of time to figure all of this out. Sansa is skeptical of Daenerys. She doesn't trust that Daenerys will protect her people. She brought unity to the clans. And now, that is starting to fade away. Jon may be able to bring things together against the dead. But he has never sought power. That may make him the best leader. Or it could doom the realm to fail because everyone remains too concerned about their power aspirations to recognize this threat and its immediate urgency. The show can stumble with that as well. Yes, the character drama is just as important as the big spectacle. But this premiere also spends time with Euron returning to King's Landing with a new army while Theon rescues Yara and hopes to reunite with his other family in Winterfell. Those are apparently important actions. It's just difficult to care about them at this moment in time. Conversely, it's insanely rewarding to watch as Arya continues to reunite with so many familiar faces from along her journey - namely Jon, The Hound and Gendry.