WARNING: Major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 1 ahead.
It’s hard to describe the long-awaited Game of Thrones season eight premiere as anything other than epic.
As far as season openers go, the last ever Game of Thrones premiere gets straight down to business – romance, violence, horror, humour, intrigue, nudity, fantasy – everything the world has come to love about the HBO series is delivered in possibly its most dense start yet.
Opening with a vast shot of the Unsullied army marching towards Winterfell, it is immediately clear is just how cinematic the production quality is – and just as well after that two-year wait.
Tonight brought the series full circle. Just as the very first instalment began with a convoy being greeted by the Starks at Winterfell, so too does the final season opener.
The symmetry is a thoughtful approach to ending the show and deeply poetic in its execution.
Only this time, Jon Snow (played by Kit Harington) is arriving back to the North with his new Queen and her dragons in tow.
The distrustful Northerners aren’t exactly impressed that Jon has rescinded his King in the North title for Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), not least Sansa (Sophie Turner) but the sight of the dragons circling keeps them in check.
However, Sansa’s contempt for Dany feels forced – do we really need to be pitting two of the show’s strongest women characters against each other when they’re fighting on the same side?
Seems like lazy storytelling, but it’s early days of course.
Although, all can be forgiven as season eight wastes no time in getting the gang all back together.
Jon and Arya (Maisie Williams) share a tender moment by the weirwood – Jon asking his littlest sister if she ever used Needle is a delightful comic interjection.
Arya has another double whammy of a catch up when she runs into Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and the Hound (Rory McCann) at the same time. The Hound’s admiration for his former adversary is touching and a potential romance between her and Gendry is hinted at.
Sansa and Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) encounter is another heavy and heartfelt moment but their interaction sows some seeds of doubt in terms of the Hand of the Queen’s true loyalties.
No doubt Sansa will be hyper-aware of any Lannister transgressions happening in her midst… let’s hope so anyway.
The best reunion is only teased in the final moment with a hooded Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arriving at Winterfell and coming face to face with the little boy he pushed out a window all those years ago, now much older but still unable to walk.
Jaime’s redemption arc has seen his reputation go from villain to ally so drastically it will be intriguing to see how the reformed Lannister reacts when confronted with one of his most shameful acts from his previous life.
Lovebirds Jon and Daenerys are still completely smitten, which would be sweet apart from incest bombshell that’s about to drop.
They really do make a great couple – why you gotta do us like that GRRM?
HBO really went all out with the CGI budget and a significant portion of the episode is dedicated to showcasing this via a couple’s dragon ride.
The significance of Jon riding Rhaegal is not to be underestimated here as another huge theory has just been confirmed; Jon is a dragon rider… might be something to do with his Targaryen blood.
But the fact that Dany previously executed her new boyfriend’s best friend’s dad and brother has come back to cause problems, just as Tyrion warned her it would.
Daenerys meets Samwell (John Bradley) for the first time and on realising he is a Tarley, reluctantly confesses she had his father Randyll (James Faulkner) and brother Dickon (Tom Hopper) burned alive for refusing to bend the knee.
Sam and his quivering lip run straight to Jon where he spills who his parents really are.
‘You’ve been the king all along, you’re Aegon Targaryen.’
Shock, horror and disbelief are all we’ve seen from Jon so far, but fans will be aching to see how he plans to proceed now he is aware of the truth.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Heady) and Euron (Pilou Asbæk) get it on and Theon (Alife Allen) manages to free Yara (Gemma Whelan).
Bronn (Jerome Flynn) gets an offer he can’t refuse from Cersei who tasks him with killing her brothers, his two big bromances.
A special shout out must go to a truly excellent horror moment courtesy of the White Walkers and the unfortunate young Lord Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) at the end.
Winterfell really does have it all, and perhaps that is where the episode falls down somewhat.
The instant gratification gifted to the audience almost feels like the show is pandering to fans.
That said, I was jumping out of my seat with the catharsis of it all.
Game of Thrones used to never dole out such heavy-handed rewards, but of course, the pacing totally changed in season seven.
Naturally there’s a lot of story that needs to get told in the remaining five episodes to come, but less box-ticking would be nice.
It would at this point be unwise to get too comfortable, however.
Sure, episode one provided us with a wealth of happy moments but I imagine we are being lulled into a false sense of security before being bulldozed with some Red Wedding-style massacres to come.
Enjoy the good times while they last.
Game of Thrones season 8 continues next Sunday on HBO and will be simulcast on Sky Atlantic. Seasons one to seven are available to stream on NOW TV.
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