The long awaited last season premier is upon us and it’s time to dive into a review.
This episode pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the season in terms of surfacing all the main conflicts and what seems to be necessary to resolve the story. The episode starts off almost in a mirroring of the first episode from the first season where a procession leading to Winterfell occurs. This time, the procession is about Queen Daenerys as she’s escorted by Jon Snow and her forces.
Jon Snow points out that the northern people are suspicious of outsiders, even more so one with two dragons, a foreign army and one whose father had slew the previous leaders. However, Daenerys has a certain pride and defiance as her dragons soar over the castle, inspiring fear and awe into the people. One might say she has a certain confidence because of her dragons.
As they enter Winterfell, Jon Snow immediately hugs Bran who reacts in a very aloof manner unbeknownst to Jon in the manner of his transformation. Also, Jon introduced Daenerys to his sister, who almost immediately bears a bitter distance from the dragon queen.
Despite the formalities, it is Bran who informs Jon and Daenerys of the real dangers with the White Walkers destroying the Wall with Daenerys’ third dragon being part of the imminent threat. You have to keep in mind that these bits of news end up constantly being shoved under the rug by people in the show as petty rivalries end up taking precedence over the true threat.
With Jon Snow back, they debate on his position as he had bent the knee to Daenerys without the permission nor wishes of the Northern people. However, Jon argues that his stance was ultimately to provide protection for them, even though he needed to sacrifice his own title to gain favoritism from the queen. Nonetheless, Daenerys’ troops along with the Lannister forces has caused even more tension for the Northern people in giving Jon Snow credence. At the end though, it has been decided that the stand will be at Winterfell, which is why Sansa had their forces gathered there.
We see a small reunion between Tyrion and Sansa. While Tyrion gives her credit on surpassing others who did not believe in her, Sansa insults Tyrion’s intelligence for believing that Cersei would provide forces to the north. Specifically, she indirectly acknowledges Olenna Tyrell’s comment a season before on Tyrion’s intellect and it provides even more doubt as Tyrion being clever, perhaps for himself too
Next, we see the reunion that has been in the making for 8 seasons: Jon and Arya. Jon sees that Arya still has Needle which has been their material and spiritual connection while they were away. However, the real thing is that Arya is protecting Sansa and reminds Jon never to forget that they’re family. This obviously foreshadows the inevitable realization for Jon once he learns about his true identity.
We return to King’s Landing with Cersei looking over the shores, seeing from the harbor Euron’s fleet bearing the Golden Company. Qyburn informs her of the dead’s successful penetration of the Wall and soon to-be invasion of the north. Cersei though is elated because for her it implies one enemy will surely be eliminated while another will be weakened. I think with her alliance with Euron, she believes that in the event of a disaster, she can sail far away on his boats as a last resort.
On Euron’s ship, we see Yara alive but captive. Euron reveals his plans and manages to get in bed with Cersei. Cersei begrudgingly gives into him and there’s a very puzzling look from Cersei after Euron tells her he wants to put a prince inside of her. One interpretation is that she seems worried that perhaps she has overstepped her boundaries and, indeed, misses her brother. On the other hand, it could be that she may use their love making to disguise the child if she survives the war. It’s not the first time she used another man to hide her incestuous relationship.
While that goes on, Qyburn approaches Bronn to remove Cersei’s brothers. It’s an interesting proposition as Bronn had developed an affinity between both Jamie and Tyrion. While he considers himself a sell sword, it’s unknown to what degree he’s willing to sell his sword. I think that will be a huge question that will be answered down the line. But it may go back to Varys’ riddle posed on Tyrion when it came to power.
Back aboard Euron’s ship, Theon rescues Yara. Yara headbutts him but also offers a hand as the two sail away. The main thing here is that Yara wants to take back the Iron Isles with Euron’s fleet stationed at King’s Landing while Theon desires to return to Winterfell to fight for the Starks. What will be interesting to see is if he follows through in upholding his honor in fighting against the frightful forces of the Night King’s army.
There’s discussion between what looks like the new small council of Ser Davos, Tyrion and Varys about northerners and trust. Essentially, he tells Tyrion that Daenerys needs to earn their respect, which will be hard since she’s very haughty and Tyrion knows how difficult she is.
That attitude is reflected when Jon and Daenerys have a private conversation in the courtyard. Daenerys too notices Sansa’s distaste for her and almost threatens Jon that Sansa needs to respect her. A report comes in from the Dothraki that her dragons have not eaten, motivating the pair to go out for a ride. Jon gets on tepidly to Rhaegal but naturally eases into flying. They eventually land in a secluded area with a waterfall, almost hearkening back to Jon’s scene with Ygritte and Daenerys hints at simply staying for a thousand years.
Back in the armory, Gendry continues his work, forging new weapons made of the acquired Dragonglass, creating a special axe for The Hound. Arya interrupts their banter with The Hound and her having a mutual cold respect for another. However, the interaction with Arya and Gendry is more playful and there’s an underlying admiration that has lasted since season 3 for the two. However, the real immediate thing is that Arya wants Gendry to design her a special spear-like weapon.
When Jon returns to the keep, he visits Sansa who reveals that Lord Glover already has broken his pledge to stand besides them. During their discussion, Sansa comes clean in asking for what purpose Jon truly bent the knee to Daenerys: for his people or for love. Because of Robb’s own mistakes with Talisa, I’m certain that Sansa is reminded of what could happen if Jon isn’t thinking rationally. Lord Glover’s disobedience is a painful reminder of that situation which caused the North to fall in the first place.
As that goes on, Ser Jorah introduces Daenerys to Samwell Tary. There’s an admiration between the two and Samwell is a lot more respectful towards her than his family was. However, upon mentioning Samwell’s own stealing of his family’s heirloom sword and being pardoned for it, Daenerys makes the connection that she murdered his father and brother. Although she tries to stay strong, you get the sense that there might be some guilt for her actions.
That causes Sam to seek a moment alone, encountering Bran near the gates. Bran tells Sam that it’s time Jon learns the truth but from Sam himself as he reminds us that he isn’t Jon’s true brother. On the other hand, Sam is best friends and a brother to Jon with their days in the Night’s Watch.
As a result, Sam enters the Crypts of Winterfell to inform Jon of his heritage. Jon tries to deny it but Sam challenges Jon on more aspects of his personality and why he would make a rightful ruler compared to Daenerys. Namely, that Jon has known when to show compassion such as towards the Wildlings.
Over at Castle Black, we see Beric and Tormund inspecting the remains of the castle. It looks as though it had been invaded by the White Walkers, which is why they approach with extreme caution. They encounter the last defenders there with Ed greeting them. In turn, he shows them a bizarre message set by the Night King where the Umber boy is hung among a spiral of human limbs. The same message was given in the first episode’s initial scenes. The Umber boy isn’t exactly dead though as he awakens with blue eyes of the white walkers. Beric sticks his flaming blade through and the spiral erupts in fire.
Finally, we see Jamie sneak through masked into Winterfell. When he uncovers himself he sees Bran waiting for him by the gates. Jamie is shocked while Bran smirks back.
So this was a very information heavy episode when it came to setup. The biggest aspect is upon us in that the army of the dead is already through the Wall and that the people in the north must prepare. However, the various backstabbings, wars and tensions between each other prevent the living from focusing on the threat, returning to their petty squabbling and giving the Night King more time to gather his full strength.
I think the biggest question right now is about Jon Snow and what he will do with the new knowledge about his heritage. The show has proven that life is about choices and the consequences of those choices. We see the image of the spiral, which to me implies the continual loop that the living have put themselves through in concerning themselves with personal grievances as opposed to macro issues.
Jon Snow up until now has always seen himself as a nothing. Ygritte telling him, “You know nothing” was simply a reinforcement for everything around him in keeping him humble, feeling low (as he believed his mother a tavern whore). However, what does someone who has never truly known power nor desired it his entire life do when given ultimate power by law?
We see that he acts nobly and it’s possibly that Rhaegar had Ned keep this secret for a different purpose outside of protecting Jon from Robert. It’s possible that having Jon not be part of nobility and earning the love of the people, he would understand at some point what it means to rule.
While Varys’ riddle talked of power as a mysterious thing in terms of perception, Game of Thrones is all about the meaning of real power. Jon Snow does not want power nor has he wanted it. But being selfless and being willing to give it up perhaps are the ultimate statements of power in the show.
That contrast to Daenerys who is about power. Or so she thinks and is meant to believe. I’ve always felt that there are two sides to Daenerys. The Queen that has been a product of sycophants and the dragons that gives her the bulk of her power. And the little girl who wants to still go home and live in the house with the red door and lemon tree. One represents a type of manifest destiny and the other is her true self.
Right now, we are led to believe that Daenerys is more of the former than the latter. However, we need to return to her visions from season 2 when she visited the House of the Undying. The part where she sees the Iron Throne and is about to ascend the steps but moves away upon hearing her child imply, to me at least, that she’s capable of personal sacrifice in denying what she has been told is hers.
I think a huge message in the show is about forgiveness. Every time a crucial moment leading to larger negative consequences comes up, it’s about whether one is willing to set aside their pride for forgiveness. And forgiveness is directly connected to the law too. Take Stannis or Ned as prime examples. Neither could forgive but followed the law to the letter. The result was that they were perceived as either cruel or stupid, which led to their downfalls.
So power isn’t so much about control but on using it judiciously. As the children are now grown up, they can utilize history to learn from their parents’ mistakes. For many of them, their fate whether it’s dying honorably or living to face the consequences of their actions, they need to reconcile themselves with their past.