The final season of “Game of Thrones” has finally premiered after more than a year-long hiatus, starting us down the road to the finale of one of the most popular television shows. Much like previous “Thrones” season premieres, this was a set-up episode.
All of the characters are shifted into place, we touch base on old dynamics, get a refresher on the threat of the undead and take a deep breath before the plunge to come.
The challenge facing this “Thrones” premiere is a classic one; for 54 minutes, the show has an admittedly thankless task of juggling the need to remind us of ongoing plot points, get us reacquainted with the characters, introduce new hooks for the coming season and keep us entertained throughout. Overall, this Sunday’s episode did a pretty great job.
The episode opened on an especially strong note (after one hell of an opening credits sequence) with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) arriving at Winterfell alongside Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the rest of her entourage. The whole sequence acted as a great callback to the very first episode of season one, with events mirroring Robert Baratheon’s arrival to Winterfell.
I was thrilled to draw parallels between the two events, taking note of how far characters such as Jon, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), the Hound (Rory McCann), Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and more have come since the pilot episode. However, it is not long until we are thrown into the latest iteration of Winterfell drama, as the Northern lords offer quite the frosty welcome to Daenerys. Honestly, this plot point would not feel as boring as it does if we hadn’t already done this dance last season.
Same old story: Jon Snow must do something to ensure his people’s survival, but they’re not happy about it. I understand that the show wants to hammer the point home that the public is not truly cognizant of the threat of the undead, but it sadly feels like we’re just crossing over old territory. On the other hand, this premiere shares one of the strengths of last season, namely the new character dynamics brought into play. I would say that approximately 75 percent of this episode is dedicated to exploring interactions between characters who have either never met before or haven’t crossed paths in previous seasons.
It was great to see long-awaited reunions between pairs such as Arya and Jon or Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), so we could be reminded of how much they’ve all changed over the years.
Oddly enough, this was also one of the funniest episodes of “Game of Thrones” in my recent memory. The show has never been a stranger to humor, with characters such as Tyrion taking up much of the screen time. But in the premiere, there was definitely a sense of lightheartedness for a surprising number of scenes — when people weren’t busy worrying about the impending apocalypse, of course.
Whether it was Jon getting stared down by Drogon, Arya and Gendry awkwardly flirting or Bran having a strange knack for staring people down in his Three-Eyed Raven persona, the laughs kept coming. I have to wonder if this is simply a matter of getting the humor out of the way now, or setting the audience at ease before taking the plunge into the massacres that we have lined up ahead of us.
Special credit has to go to John Bradley for his performance as Samuel Tarley in this latest episode. While he’s always been great at playing Sam in his various capacities, the scene where Daenerys informs him that she executed his father and brother was absolutely heartbreaking to watch. I went back to watch the scene again when the episode was over, and was impressed by the subtle differences in his facial features as he learned about each layer of bad news. And, of course, this translated naturally into some very satisfying rage and indignation on Sam’s part, as he finally tells Jon the truth about his heritage.
Of course, the other standout scene tonight was the dragon-riding sequence with Daenerys and Jon. It really builds on the previously-mentioned sense of lightheartedness and wonder.
At the end of the day, it was simply really cool to see two fan-favorite characters finally saddle up and ride dragons together. It really is incredible how unbelievably lifelike these CGI dragons look, with the close-up of Drogon towards the end being a particularly jaw-dropping moment. Overall, this was a decently-strong start to the last season of “Game of Thrones.” While I’ve given up hope of another season ever reaching the lofty highs of seasons one through one, I have confidence that HBO will still deliver one hell of a crowd pleaser.