Game of Thrones review: Season eight, episode one 1 year ago

Game of Thrones review: Season eight, episode one

And now your watch begins...

To begin with, you know what we're going to say about spoiler alert warnings.

For good measure, here's another spoiler alert warning.

It's also worth noting that not everyone has stayed up until 02:00 to watch the episode, so please don't ruin it for anyone in the comments.

Ah, Game of Thrones. How we missed you.

In the interest of full disclosure, JOE had the rare opportunity to watch the first episode of Season 8 at the European premiere in Belfast and to mark the occasion, we decided to do something a little bit different.

Don't worry, we're still going to have all our usual content when the repeat showing of the episode ends at 22:00 tonight  - everyone deserves a chance to view it in their own time and we won't spoil anything- but this review is just for the night owls that stayed up.

Again, consider this to be another spoiler alert and please don't ruin the episode for anyone else.

Ok, let the Great War begin.

With only six episodes left to conclude all the plot lines in the epic saga, viewers can expect an even quicker pace than what unfolded in Season 7 but in many ways, the Season 8 opener harkened back to the very first episode of the show. 

An awful lot has changed though since Robert Baratheon and his family travelled north to ask Ned Stark to be The Hand of the King, but as Jon and Daenerys arrived into Winterfell, it did feel eerily similar to the first meeting between House Baratheon and the Starks.

For example, the opening shot of that boy in Winter Town climbing the ramparts so he could get a better view of the duo was reminiscent of Arya all those years ago. 

Truth be told, the Game of Thrones showrunners were never going to show their full hand in the Season 8 opener but the episode did feel like it was in a hurry and there was an awful lot going on.

Some of the episode was fantastic, other parts felt a bit rushed. A few of the meetings were incredible, others felt like they needed more time to breathe.

Then again, even when Game of Thrones isn't at its very best, it's still better than 99% of the rest.

Ultimately, it was one of the strongest opening episodes, mainly due to the fact that we’re now in the endgame and there's no time for filler. 

However, the final scene in Last Hearth was one of the best horror sequences in Game of Thrones history and it clearly demonstrated that the White Walkers are getting closer. 

If you could only choose one word to define the episode then ‘reunion’ would certainly be it as Daenerys' decision to head north was always going to lead to some interesting conversations between familiar friends and enemies alike.

The overtly-flirty encounter between Arya and Gendry was a joy to watch - the last surviving member of House Baratheon did say that he'd make her his lady when they last saw each other - but this was one of the few meetings that you would actually say was 'warm.'

Honestly, there was a frosty chill throughout the episode that even the Night King would have been proud of.

After Jon decided to bend the knee to Daenerys, it’s clear that Sansa is still thinking that her opinion is being ignored and overlooked. The looks that the Lady of Winterfell was giving the Mother of Dragons could bend Valyrian steel and their relationship really hasn't started well.

Add in another memorable scolding from the always brilliant Lyanna Mormont and it’s clear that Jon Snow has some problems with the Northern houses. 

After all, what’s Game of Thrones without some potential deceit and treachery?

Arya's reminder to Jon at the weirwood tree that he needs to remember that he's a Stark does seem quite loaded with foreshadowing.

In terms of the Stark reunions, it’s reassuring to see that Bran/the Three-Eyed Raven continues to be the omniscient wet blanket that puts a downer on everything, but we defy anyone to not get emotional after seeing the embrace between Jon and Arya. 

We especially loved Arya’s remark that she may have used Needle ‘once or twice’. Fans with a good memory will know that Jon gave the sword to Arya before he left for the Night’s Watch and that hug between them could bring a tear to the eye of a White Walker.

Tyrion's verbals with Varys about his lack of balls felt familiar but the dynamic that the youngest Lannister has with his former wife, Sansa, has completely changed. 

Sansa knew that Cersei was going to break her promise to send troops north before even Tyrion did. Who’s naive now?

While it’s nice to see Sansa continuing her upward curve as an intelligent and experienced player in the game of thrones, that scene did highlight the fact that Tyrion’s key strengths are really diminishing. If Sansa can read Cersei’s mind better than Tyrion, can he still claim to be the smartest man in the realm?

Speaking of the Queen, even the lack of elephants didn’t dampen her mood after Euron Greyjoy arrived back to King's Landing with The Golden Company and while the King of the Iron Islands finally managed to get into Cersei's bed, the night was bittersweet for the Queen of the Andals and the First Men.

We’ve a strong feeling that she may have lost another child because as she sipped on her wine, that little look to the camera was very telling.

As for Euron’s niece, the rescue of Yara felt a bit rushed to us, as did The Hound's meeting with Arya. Sandor Clegane has rarely been a man of few words but given the sheer amount of scenes that these two shared in the previous seasons, their reunion could have had a much bigger impact. 

In terms of massive moments, Jon finally embracing his Targaryen lineage is what this episode was really about and it's impossible not to get a kick out of the moment when he finally got to fly on the back of Rhaegal.

Granted, this massive moment was only done so Westeros' most powerful couple could get some peace and quiet for a quick shift, but it was still very cool to see. You know, as cool as it is seeing an aunt kiss her nephew? That conversation in the next episode is going to be very interesting.

Also, did Jon and Dany completely forget that the Night King is coming? Surely their time would be better spent preparing Winterfell for an imminent attack. Come on guys, no time for romantic dates!

Anyway, this sequence near the waterfall was really an appetiser for what’s to come and the revelation of Jon's true lineage .

For seven seasons, fans of the show have been absolutely hooked on the mystery of Jon Snow's parentage and while Kit Harington played the scene perfectly, he has John Bradley to thank for elevating it to another level.

Sam cured Jorah. Jorah's fiercely loyal to Daenerys. Dany burned Sam’s father and brother alive. 

Relationships in Game of Thrones are never simple.

That particular meeting was always going to be interesting but Bradley's ability to switch between apathy, sadness, anger, and stoicism really pulled it all together.

Ultimately, Sam didn't let his own personal issues get in the way of the bigger picture. Despite hearing the horrific news about his family, Sam remained true to his friend because his grief seems inconsequential to this massive revelation that's bound to change the entire landscape of Game of Thrones.

Jon now knows that he's the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and that news was delivered in a way that seemed fitting for both characters. Direct, honest, and sincere.

As Sam said, Jon gave up his crown to protect his people, will Daenerys do the same?

How this will play out in the next episode is fascinating because as the credits rolled, we now know that the Jon Snow- Daenerys dilemma pales in significance to the growing threat of the White Walkers.

Additional notes

Loving the new credits. New additions include the part of the The Wall that was destroyed by the Night King near Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, the appearance of Last Hearth (home of House Umber), the Winterfell crypts and Great Hall, and Quyburn's scorpion spear that he designed to kill the dragons.

Cersei delighted after learning that the dead have broken through The Wall.

Clever reference to Euron Greyjoy cutting out the tongues of those on his ship, The Silence.

No elephants in The Golden Company. Boo.

After sacking Winterfell with the Iron Born, it looks like Theon is returning to his adopted home to fight.

Bronn gifted the same crossbow that Tyrion used to kill Tywin. The Lannisters are really messed up!

Jon Snow does love getting romantic whenever he's out in the wild.  Caves and waterfalls.

A nice reminder that Sam does have the sword of House Tarly (Heartsbane) and that it's made of Valyrian steel.

The little moment between Jaime and Bran was a lovely cliffhanger and brought everything back to the first episode.

The first episode in Season 8 of Game of Thrones is repeated at 21:00 on Sky Atlantic. It's also available to watch on Now TV.