Game of Thrones: The beginning of the end starts with a whimper, not a bang
So this is what it's all come down to
The long unbearable journey is finally coming to a close. All this, all that we have been through, everywhere we have gone and everything we have seen. All the plots and the subplots and the sub-subplots and the plots even, several volcanic layers beneath those, are at last rounding out and coming to form some kind of head - that of Cerberus or Hydra. You know what a head is.
It was obvious, then, that all the pent up tension and excitement that has been bubbling under the surface since Season 7's ominous finale would immediately be quashed by the continuation of everything we were hoping to leave behind for good.
Of course the opening scene was some marching, as the characters - every last one of them - has done up and down and very occasionally sideways for the last eight years. Was it a case that this time, there is finally purpose in the sound of the horses hooves? Arya was a brief reflection of us, the viewer, all wide eyed admiration of the distant, familiar faces now united, all back to the very point of origin at Winterfell. Then enthusiasm waned.
There's an early, awkward exchange between Daenerys and Sansa because of course there is, but that is interrupted by the even more awkward sound of Bran, and Bran's 70s indie band haircut, and Bran's supermassive black hole of emotion and expression and intonation, informing everyone the Night King has one of the dragons and the wall has fallen as though he is telling them that the plastic bags are 5p now because those are the rules. Telling them that they are, in a word, fucked.
The pace occasionally threatens to quicken but just as quickly returns to glacial. There are lots of banal internal squabbles and side-eye glances between two notorious side-eye glancers and there is lots of Tyrion cautiously pondering and approaching and talking to people. They're the same old tricks to make the candle wick burn a bit longer but now they just feel slightly empty with the Night King banging at the doorstep, asking if he can come in for a brew and a chat.
Arya and Jon reuniting warms the cockles of our long since frozen hearts. Cersei and Qyburn and The Mountain and Euron Greyjoy solidify it right back up again.
But then again, thank god all the mischievous pricks are still around in the increasingly goody two-shoes Westeros. Euron especially; the one remaining maverick piece still in play, jumping around the chessboard like he's playing checkers, operating by his own problematic set of frat boy rules seemingly free from the grand structure of everything else going on around him. His end will come of course, but we already know it will be spectacular.
Meanwhile Cersei is upset she doesn't get any elephants. Cersei is upset Euron and The Golden Company didn't bring her giant, heaving elephants on their tiny, wooden ships. Cersei is upset. Because of elephants. Let's move on, with this, a brief awards interlude.
BRIEF AWARDS INTERLUDE: And they've done it! In the final season no less! They've done it! The single worst sex scene in a show drowning in stiff, off-centre humping! Congratulations to Bronn. Well deserved.
Back to the action. There is none of it. But what's this... Is that... no, surely not. Can't have been. Was that a Fleabag turn to camera from Cersei after Euron leaves her chambers? Not now folks. We can't pivot into the realm of charming, eccentric comedy eight seasons in just because everybody suddenly knows Phoebe Waller-Bridge exists.
There's more armies marching somewhere. More people standing around. More tents and idle chat and ambling through the village market stalls for no particular reason at all other than to reintroduce the same grooves and rhythms we have been used to over seven long winters. Varys says "Nothing lasts" at the precise moment you were maybe realising you didn't want it to. But at least they're back together. That was the hope on Arya's face. At least we're all back with something like the end in sight.
Make no mistake, this was Game of Thrones with the handbrake on, demonstrated no better than by the whole dragons not eating sequence, which would be enormously consequential but isn't, because it only exists to allow Jon and Daenerys to share another moment or two alone and Lord Snow can finally, inadvertently, unofficially become a Targaryan having a ride along on top of the beast.
You know, the one moment even your mom who asks mid-squint what is going on, roughly once every change of location, i.e every other scene, saw coming.
Slowly we trudge on. Chris from Skins is in charge of the weaponry. Good. More of those fucking gigantic hammers to bash in our empty heads please.
The Hound is surly. The Onion Knight talks entirely in sentences from vetoed Chinese fortune cookies. Sansa takes 20 minutes to read two lines of scroll. Arya called her the most intelligent person she knew moments earlier.
Sansa and Jon fight over nothing, an irritating continuum from the last series and enough to make you wish they were forced apart again. Samwell Tarly once again seems to be the only character with a full and working spectrum of emotion. Bran, who ended last season unashamedly desperate to inform Jon of his real lineage seems to forget, or realise he's not that arsed about it, right up until Sam finds out Daenerys killed his brother and father, after which it is the most important thing in the world again.
Wonderful timing as ever from the boy who can see everything that is happening or ever will happen but still can't read a facial expression as complex as: extremely large guy absolutely blubbering his eyes out.
Jon initially resists the power his new name will bring like he always does due to the predictable internal war between being good and tormenting himself, the one that wages behind that micro beard and perma-sulk, and Tormund is somehow alive despite being caught at the top of a 700 foot wall as it came crumbling to the ground under dragon fire. The Night King goes all Hannibal on us with a message made out of severed limbs.
We see none of him or his army, of course, the most devastating threat imaginable, apparently, but one that can be hastily shoved under the bed out of view.
As Jaime and Bran lock eyes for the first time since the former pushed the latter out of the window you can start to see something like regret. As slight as it is, an acknowledgement that time has been wasted between them. All these moments should have mattered a bit more with the sand trickling down around us.
But this is Game of Thrones and this is what it always has been: the slow-build, hand circling up the thigh whataboutery that will soon break into a decadent chaos, like an elephant slowly creaking through the planks on a ship before everything is consumed by the splash.
Nothing lasts, as we know. Not even the mild tedium. But this is all part of it, the talking and moving by fractions, sequential millimetre gains before the jump to lightspeed. They are the means to the end and they might just be the scenes we end up missing the most when all is said and all is done and the armies have finally stopped marching.