On a cold afternoon in Winterfell, a stranger rides into town. He descends from his beast and draws back a dark cloak to reveal an all too familiar face. From a distance away, he locks gazes with an old acquaintance, the face of a boy he thought long gone. A boy he flung from a tall tower many years ago, in a different time when a different king ruled.
After two years of waiting, “Game of Thrones” is back on – and in this case, in – the air (ahem, dragons). The eighth and final season premiered on Sunday, April 14, awakening a dormant legion of fans eager to discover who will lay ultimate claim to the Iron Throne. America, hold on for dear life because season eight is poised to be a definite baddie that forevermore seals “Game of Thrones” as cable television’s event of the decade.
Episode one, aptly named “Winterfell,” begins with a boy leaping across the barren grounds of Winterfell to witness Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) arrival –– threading deftly through a crowd of townsfolk and up a thistly tree to glean a better vantage (if you recall, Bran Stark possessed a similar habit of climbing heights in the first season, which led to his paralysis by Jaime Lannister). So without spoiling too much, the pair’s arrival is met with a few friendly faces and much suspicion from common Northerners to the Lady of Winterfell, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Bittersweet reunions, a boat kidnapping, R-rated sexual interactions and one epic dragon ride all set the stage for the remaining episodes. With White Walkers gaining traction against the remainder of civilization, winter has definitely arrived. Will Jon and Dany’s prophetic song of ice (Dany) and fire (Jon) be enough to quell their arrival?
As the show begins to knot loose ends, Jon’s true lineage is revealed, casting him as a contender for the Iron Throne – a claim much larger than King of the North, which he recently gave up to serve Queen Daenerys. And while this final season continues to serve a mounting feast of severed limbs, undead children and blue-eyed monsters, season eight also grows up and departs from the previous seven seasons. The Stark children, young and unassuming when first introduced to us in “Winter Is Coming,” are now fully fledged adults who have become craftier and wiser than the original cast of nimble-witted characters. Tyrion is still Tyrion, by which I mean he continues to deliver a slew of insulting jokes, but age is not kind to him – in a swift exchange of words, Sansa’s wisdom makes Tyrion look naive and stupid. As the young heirs of the warring houses enter adulthood, the adults of the show turn to childish impulses.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Queen Cersei reigns on the Iron Throne and is mulling over news of the Wall’s collapse. She assembles Euron Greyjoy and “The Golden Company” to her court, all the while scheming up dark plots with Bronn behind closed doors that may result in the death of her two brothers –– the only family she has left, seemingly. It seems we will have to wait to discover whether her plans succeed.
Speaking of waiting, back at Winterfell, Bran spends the entirety of episode one parked in a corner of the castle courtyard watching for “an old friend.” Having bloomed into quite the mystic, Bran is now a sentient, all-knowing master of Winterfell. He’s like that emo kid at the back of the classroom: silent, watchful and full of tricky observations. We soon discover that the object of his attention is none other than Jaime Lannister.
Fast forward to, “A Night of the Seven Kingdoms.” By now it is clear that magic has entrenched itself in everyone’s lives, from those up in high castles to everyday townspeople below, which is really quite fun to see considering that in previous seasons the supernatural was kept largely at the margins of society, relegated to characters such as Melisandre. It’s the calm before the storm for those at Winterfell, and mortality is on the minds of everyone keeping watch for the swell of White Walkers that are sure to descend by morning. In one hell of a day, Jaime is accepted into the ranks of his past enemies, the Starks and Targaryens. Arya loses her V-card to Gendry in a no-nonsense, badass fashion. Brienne is knighted by Jamie before her comrades in an intimate ceremony as solemn and sweet as a medieval wedding, begging the question of what intentions the future has in store for those two.
At this point, the call of war has shifted from inter-house politics to a fight against the dead and the living. And it is this battle against death – literally, dead people – that unite Westeros and Essos. With four more episodes until the series finale, let’s see just how long the fragile resistance lasts. My guess is that, like any story ever told about kings and queens, knights and dragons, incestuous siblings and bastard sons, it’s the underdog alliance that finally wins out. The real chaos will begin in the bloody peace that ensues.