Review: “Game of Thrones” Season 8, Episode 1 Gets Right To It

Guest post by Hayden Mears. Mild spoilers ahead.

As it approaches its end, “Game of Thrones” is strange to behold. The seventh season saw a dramatic increase in production value and a marked decrease in logic, both of which ended up working against the show for almost the entirety of its seven-episode run. Key players hurried from one end of the continent to the other, waving “get out of jail free” cards like they were lottery tickets. Consequences that could’ve carried real narrative weight felt too mercifully handled. Nobody truly paid for their trip-ups (well, except for one guy). It was a messy season mitigated only by a solid season finale and the promise of better things to come. Now, after a year and a half of waiting, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss get to show us those things. The eighth season is here, and so far it’s fabulous.

Game Of Thrones
Image courtesy of HBO

Whether it’s Jon and Daenerys flirting astride two dragons in flight or Arya verbally sparring with Sandor Clegane, there’s plenty of joy to be had in this fun, focused season opener. These characters have endured more than any one person should, so they deserve to play a bit. Meanwhile, the Night King steps from the peripheries and becomes a fully realized threat. It’s a busy 54 minutes, and with only five episodes to go, it’s safe to assume that successive installments are going to continue that trend.

Titled “Winterfell,” the episode is packed tight with reunions, rivalries, and resentment. Naive-girl-turned-badass-ruler-turned-salt-queen Sansa Stark is more bitter and volatile than we’ve ever seen her. Daenerys isn’t taking anyone’s crap. Jon reunites with friends and family. It’s best to stop there. If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning on watching it.

Traditionally, Thrones premieres have done what all good first arcs do: they immediately adopt a piecemeal approach to plot development without forgetting to throw in winks that keep viewers watching. This opener separates itself from its predecessors by shoving outrageous amounts of juicy gossip, vicious in-fighting, and startling revelations into an episode that runs for less than hour.

Also, fast-clap for John Bradley’s stunning turn as Samwell Tarly. The guy can act his pants off, and he’s given ample opportunity to do so here. Watching him interact with Daenerys for the first time is its own reward, but just experiencing him being Sam is more than enough for this writer.

“Winterfell” may not be the action-packed thrill ride that many vainly hoped it would be, but it doubles down on table-setting and has a hell of a time doing it. Winter is here, and it’s never been this exciting.

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