“Winter is coming,” the objectively overused, culturally iconic slogan that defines “Game of Thrones,” had been tossed around fervently before Sunday’s premiere of the eighth and final season of HBO’s magnum opus.
And yes, in the show winter has been coming for seven seasons now, but the 595 days between the last episode of Season 7 and the premiere of Season 8 was the true long, perilous winter for “Thrones” fans.
“Winterfell,” the first episode of the show’s final season, was a necessary, somewhat anticlimactic beginning to what is sure to be an epic end of an era. Clocking in at only one hour and six minutes in total, I found that I was slightly disappointed before the iconic opening credits even began.
HBO, you promised me that each episode would be the length of a mini movie! Initial heartbreak aside, the episode served as an important set up for coming episodes, putting every character in the position they need to be in to either fight for the Iron Throne or against the Night King and his Army of the Dead.
Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, along with her army of Unsullied and Dothraki soldiers, arrive in Winterfell to prepare to fight the White Walkers and the Undead. Almost immediately it becomes evident that Sansa and Daenerys are not fond of each other.
This rivalry pits not only Jon’s sister and his lover — and aunt, but he isn’t aware of that small fact yet — but two of the most powerful women in Westeros against each other. We’ll have to see how this storyline actually plays out, but as of now, the female rivalry trope seems unnecessary and detrimental.
Many are not fond of “Game of Thrones” for its incessant and graphic depictions of sexual violence and misogyny, and by pitting the two characters against each other, the writers just added fuel to the fire.
Arya Stark, a fan favorite, is finally reunited with her favorite brother Jon who she hasn’t seen since the second episode of Season 1 — it’s been awhile. She also reunites with Gendry, one of Robert Baratheon’s illegitimate sons, who was a traveling companion of hers way back in Season 3.
Arya has not just become a trained assassin since the time she last saw Gendry, she’s also old enough to flirt. Their near inevitable romance is cute, but predictable. Classic “tomboy finally falls in love” scenario.
Bran Stark, who is now the Three Eyed Raven, seemed to be quite literally everywhere in Winterfell, staring at the action of every character from the comfort of his Westerosi version of a wheelchair. Needless to say, creepy Bran has become the subject of a plethora of Twitter memes.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister remains content with her decision to not send troops to fight the Army of the Dead. Instead, she chooses to spend her time wisely by sleeping with Euron Greyjoy.
Simultaneously, Theon Greyjoy frees his sister Yara, who was being held captive by their Cersei-infatuated uncle. During Theon’s rescue of Yara, fans of the popular show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” were humored by a brief cameo from Rob McElhenney.
Back in the North, Daenerys and Jon go for a spin on the Khaleesi’s two dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal. The dragons glower at Jon when he kisses Dany, resulting in possibly the most cringey scene of the episode.
Let’s recap: Cersei is sleeping with Euron and Jon and Dany are in love. It’s looking like the Night King will have won Westeros by the end of the next episode.
Perhaps the most distressed, emotional moment of “Winterfell” is when Daenerys tells the beloved Samwell Tarly that she burnt his father and brother alive for refusing to bend the knee.
It’s not only heart wrenching — it’s unbearably awkward. Consequently, like any mature adult, Sam exposes Daenerys’ ruthless actions to Jon Snow, who had no prior knowledge of the affair.
But Sam doesn’t stop there — he also reveals to his friend that he is not the bastard son of Ned Stark, but the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, making him the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Not only does Snow find out that he’s actually sleeping with his aunt, he additionally ascertains that he has a stronger claim to the Throne than she does. And we thought our relationships were complicated.
Further North, Tormund Giantsbane, Beric “watch me light my sword on fire” Dondarrion, Eddison Tollett and a few other brave souls scour the White Walker-plundered Last Hearth, former home to House Umber.
There they find the Night King’s calling card: young Ned Umber, recently turned wight, has been turned into the centerpiece of Westeros’ most gruesome Catherine wheel. Naturally, they set him on fire.
Finally, Jaime Lannister arrives in Winterfell. He deftly slides off of his steed, removes his hooded cloak and makes eye contact with none other than Bran Stark, perched knowingly in his wheelchair. The last time they saw each other, Jaime tried to murder the Stark boy. The end credits roll, and the ominous end theme plays.
By almost any other standard of TV episodes, “Winterfell” was filled to the brim with action. But this is not just any standard TV show, it’s “Game of Thrones.”
For this reason, its Season 8 premiere felt somewhat paltry. The death count was minimal, the Night King and his Undead army nowhere to be found.
My slight disappointment is my own fault. However, the bar was high after the show’s Season 7 finale, but realistically, the showrunners needed to utilize this episode to set up a spectacular conclusion to their revered series.
After viewing the episode two trailer, I have no doubt that the next — and final, five episodes will be anything but unfulfilling.