[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Can an episode of television be both a satisfying climax and an oddly empty anticlimax at the same time? It’s a paradox, or perhaps a Zen Koan for pop culture obsessives, but that’s how last week’s Game of Thrones feels, the big battle-orientated extravaganza known as “The Long Night”. Because, while it was as dark as advertised, it wasn’t all that long from any objective perspective, and at its conclusion we lost a potentially fascinating antagonist and his army of awesome looking ice zombies. Could this following episode, “The Last of the Starks” live up those lofty heights, now that only humans are left to squabble like the ghastly little monkeys we are? Well, the episode makes a decent, albeit not definitive, case for the affirmative but let’s revisit the concept after the recap.
The episode opens, appropriately enough, with the burning of the honoured dead. And there are a shitload of them! The heroic corpses have been all piled up, with Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke) having a sook over the corpse of Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) cries over the body of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) grunts out a gruff speech about how everyone was pretty grouse, but now they’ve carked it, and it’s a bit of a kick in the tits (not his exact words). Then the bodies are burned and smoke fills the sky.
Later, at an increasingly hedonistic piss up, the survivors get on with their lives. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) really wants to find Arya (Maisie Williams), but balks at Sandor Glegane’s (Rory McCann) suggestion that it’s just for a root. The Hound reminds him that “of course it’s about that, you twat, the dead are dead. You’re not.” Well said, bro, well said. Gendry starts to head off when Dany stops him and makes him Lord of Storm’s End. This makes him, and everyone else very happy, and the party kicks off in earnest. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) admires Dany’s clever playing of the game of thrones.
The party gives rise to a number of interesting, well-observed character moments. Tyrion chats with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who claims to “not feel much of anything” and “mainly lives in the past”. Righto, Bran, thanks for the update. Hopefully you’ll actually do something before this bloody show finishes.
Later, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) starts playing drinking games with Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Tyrion and Podrick (Daniel Portman) and boy, there seems to be a bit of frisson with Jaime and Brienne!
Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) gives an increasingly sloppy toast to Jon, and Dany seems to realise that the North loves its heroes but it will never love her. She leaves in a bit of a snit, and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) follows, sensing trouble brewing.
Tyrion somewhat cruelly outs Brienne as a virgin, which seems a very season one Tyrion move, and leaves after knocking Tormund back. Tormund begins to have a sook about losing his chance with the giant woman but swiftly scores a random groupie and perks right up. A different lady has a crack at The Hound but he doesn’t want a bar of it. He is, however, much more receptive to a visit from Sansa and the pair of them chat about old times. Sansa reckons her trials and tribulations transformed her from a “little bird” into the woman she is now, which is a fairly philosophical way to look at kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. But hey, go Sansa for finding that silver lining.
Gendry heads over to Arya and actually proposes, the big dumb galoot. Arya knocks him back in the gentlest way possible, but makes it clear that she “is no lady”.
Elsewhere, Jaime knocks upon Brienne’s door and after a bit of awkward flirting the pair hook up, launching no doubt endless fan fiction story prompts across the internet.
Jon and Dany have a heartbreaking scene where we see the ultimate way in which their natures are incompatible. Jon may not want the throne, but nor will he conceal his lineage from his family. Dany begs him to reconsider, because she is unwilling to brook even slight amounts of dissension to her rule. Blockheaded honesty and an unquenchable lust for power and control are not traits that gel well, and we get the feeling these two will be on opposite sides before this tale is through.
The next day, the gang plan the battle to come. Tyrion advises slow going but Dany has a lust for blood and wants the battle to commence quick-sticks. Sansa asks that the armies be given time to rest, but Dany won’t have it. Jon sides with her, but the tensions are palpable. Afterwards, in the Godswood, Jon tries to justify his missus to Sansa, Arya and Bran but the ladies are not fans. Jon, in a move that will no doubt set the final moments of this final season into action, asks Bran to tell them the truth of his lineage.
Tyrion and Jaime are shooting the shit about ladies (and “climbing mountains”) ,when Bronn (Jerome Flynn) lobs up and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He won’t kill them with his fancy crossbow if they make him the Lord of Highgarden. Tyrion agrees, after copping a punch to the nose, and Bronn shuffles off. Hopefully that won’t be his final appearance, but he certainly doesn’t seem inclined to join any battle where dragons are involved.
The Hound is joined by Arya, and the pair of them ride to King’s Landing together, ready to settle their own private agendas. This is a bit of a limp moment in the episode, but no doubt it will pay off next week.
Tormund is buggering off up North and farewells Jon, who wants him to take Ghost. Pets are forever, not just a weekend, JON. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and preggers Gilly (Hannah Murray) bid Jon an emotional farewell and Ghost just sort of lurks in the background. Honestly, the show has never really known how to deal with the direwolves.
The fleet of the Unsullied sail towards Dragonstone with a dragon escort, and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) hold hands on the deck. Oh crikey, one of them is defo about to die, hey.
Tyrion and Varys, having being worded up on the Jon Snow secret, talk about options with Varys leaning towards Team Jon and Tyrion leaning towards Team I’d Prefer Not To Have to Kill Dany. Meanwhile, up in the sky, Dany flies along with surviving dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal and everything is fine until GIGANTIC ARROWS FLY FROM SEEMINGLY NOWHERE AND BLOODY EVISCERATE POOR BLOODY RHAEGAL! In a genuinely disturbing scene, Rhaegal dies horribly and sinks below the water. It’s fucken Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggering onto the scene and mucking everything up. After killing one dragon, Dany attempts to swing down, but Euron’s fleet are equipped with dragon-killing giant crossbows. He also makes absolute mincemeat of the Unsullied ships, wrecking the boats and killing many.
At King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) tells Euron the bun in her oven is his, and then lets the castle fill with civilians so that when Dany attacks she’ll be forced to kill innocents. Boy, she is really leaning into this whole cartoony supervillain thing, huh? Oh also, she’s kidnapped Missandei, so that’s nice.
The next war room meeting is dicey, with Dany becoming increasingly focused on vicious plans of attack. Afterwards, Varys continues to suggest that Dany needs to meet a swift end and Tyrion is learning to love his wine once more.
Jaime buggers off like a thief in the knight, to either save or slice Cersei (it’s not entirely clear) and he leaves Brienne crying, because no matter how much she wants him to be a good man, he is just a man. And, actually, a bit of a shit one at times, to be honest.
The episode’s biggest moment comes outside the walls at King’s Landing. Cersei stands with Gregor Clegane aka The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) and captured Missandei. She also has numerous archers and crossbow peeps ready. Tyrion, standing ahead of Dany’s army, chats with Qyburn (Anton Lesser) about how, maybe, she could surrender and be totally chill. Unsurprisingly, Qyburn gives him very little so Tyrion makes the very risky move of begging Cersei directly. His speech appears to move her a little, but in the end Cersei goes full Cersei by getting The Mountain to decapitate Missandei; who at least makes her last word “Dracarys!” Dany’s facial expression speaks volumes and it looks like we’re about to see just how pissed off a mad Targaryen can be… next week!
“The Last of the Starks” feels, in a lot of ways, like several classic episodes of Game of Thrones smushed together. It’s light on action, but full of intrigue and menace, and is clearly building to what Dany optimistically calls “the final war”. And while it stills feels a little lacking in magic, both literally and figuratively, to have the Night King dispatched so quickly does set up what promises to be a visceral, cathartic and probably quite traumatic climax next week. It is a little table setty, to be frank, but having drunk Tyrion chatting with Varys is always welcome, and we can’t wait to see who triumphs in next week’s battle.
See you in seven days, when SER POUNCE WILL LAUNCH HIS SUPER SECRET PLAN (possibly).
From the creator of Party of Five, comes this 10 x 1 hour episodes series about a group of teenagers transported to a facsimile of their wealthy town, but without a trace of their parents. Cue chaos! Among the cast of hot young things are Australians Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Toby Wallace and Olivia DeJonge.
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Last week’s Game of Thrones, titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, at times ran the risk of being all talk, no action. Well, that complaint certainly cannot be levelled at this week’s 82-minute extravaganza, and one of GoT’s most action-packed episodes ever.
Still, action isn’t everything – otherwise we’d be talking about Michael Bay the same way we do Stanley Kubrick – so did this much-anticipated episode deliver? Let’s loop back around to that after the recap.
The episode opens with Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), standing in Winterfell and trying very, very hard not to brown his daks in terror. We follow him for a while, as the living prepare for battle, and then swap over to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) who is frowning his frowniest frown.
Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) anxiously walks the battlements, while Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) stare into the baleful night. Dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal hoon over head, being ridden by Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) respectively. Everyone’s ready, everyone’s waiting and everyone’s squinting too, because bloody hell the colour grade’s a bit off in this episode and it’s hard to see a damn thing!
On the frontlines, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) wait pensively, soon joined by Edd (Ben Crompton), Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). In other words, the gang’s all here and shit’s about to kick off.
Before the final order to charge is given, however, one final special guest star appears. It’s Melisandre (Carice van Houten), hater of clothes, burner of children. Davos defo wants to kill her on sight, something he promised to do last time they talked, but she uses her fiery powers to give the Dothraki burning weapons, which will be useful in battling the icy undead and lighting a celebratory durrie, no doubt. Melisandre tells Davos not to worry, she will in fact be dead by dawn. Crikey, Mel, spoilers, mate. Not cool.
The Dothraki pelt towards the approaching army of the dead, waving their burning weapons of wrath, but swiftly come a cropper thanks to the barely-glimpsed nasties that hide in the episode’s many shadows. Poor resolution claims yet more lives and the survivors flee back to the light, giving many of the warm-blooded serious cause for concern. The wave of the dead swallows the light and comes towards the living. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor, but nonetheless effective.
The dead charge, and the living do what they can. But it’s impossible to overstate how many of these bastards there are. All our heroes fight valiantly, but it’s a dirty, bloody business and we’ve only just begun. Dragons give a timely assist, burning legions of the armies of darkness, but it seems the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) and friends have weather-controlling powers, and have ordered up a brisk snowstorm to confuse the living, and further obfuscate the vision of the increasingly frustrated viewer.
Arya tells Sansa to pop down to the crypt, where it’s “safe” (lol). Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is guarding Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) but it won’t be long before Ser Cold Balls arrives. Battle rages, and Sam is injured. He’s still living, however, which is more than we can say for Edd, who cops a sharp weapon in the back and is the first of the named dead. Vale, Edd, we hardly knew ya. Literally, we had to look up your name every time. Soz, mate.
The battle’s looking dicey outside and the front lines move back into the castle grounds, protected by the Unsullied led by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson). The skies are not going well either, and the storms are throwing off the dragons’ GPS trackers.
The battle rages and reaches a pivotal moment where the dragons are meant to ignite a trench. However, due to the supernaturally-assisted inclement weather, Dany and Jon can’t see Davos’ signal. It’s Melisandre’s time to shine and she gets that trench burning. Just like an adorable child. This gives the living a moment of respite, however brief.
Down in the crypt, Sansa and Tyrion talk about old times and even get a little flirty. Sansa proves she is, once again, the smartest – and most practical – person in the room and suggests they leave the fighting to the warriors, because they’re essentially useless in battle.
“It’s the truth,” she says, “it’s the most heroic thing we can do now: look the truth in the face.”
“Maybe we should have stayed married,” Tyrion wryly opines.
“You were the best of them,” Sansa admits, with just a hint of sadness.
Up in the Godswood, Bran’s edibles have kicked in and he wargs into a murder of crows (or one crow? It’s hard to tell) and explores the battlefield from a literal bird’s eye view. The Night King commands a number of the dead to bridge the burning trench, paving the way with their cold bodies. The fighting is about to get even nastier now, as the dead are climbing the castle walls. An astonishingly tense battle sequence follows, with the stakes getting higher and higher. This is tremendously-staged stuff, and you may find yourself anxiously waiting to see who buys the farm. At first it looks like it’s going to be Arya, with the dead swarming over her, but she manages to escape in the nick of time again and again. Sadly, another rad lady is the first death you’ll really feel of the night. Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) faces off against an undead giant, and holds her own for as long as she can, however she is ultimately killed. Still, she takes the giant with her and dies like a deadset boss: defiant and awesome.
Dany and Jon are still hooning around in the air, when they finally come across the Night King who is riding Viserion. A messy, brief battle occurs, but no one is worse off for it. Back on terror firma, Arya is on a stealth mission through a library filled with undead. It’s a tense old time and ultimately she is rumbled, fleeing as fast as she can. The Hound and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) come for the assist, but it costs Beric his final life. Melisande is on hand to explain that Beric is out of lives, and that Arya will shut many eyes forever, “brown eyes, green eyes… and blue eyes.”
Heh. Brown eyes.
Shit gets worse everywhere. The dead start flooding into the Godswood, The Night King is burning down whole sections of Winterfell and Jon gets knocked off his dragon. In what almost seems to be a triumphant moment, Dany covers The Night King with dragonfire… and he shrugs it off like it’s a light summer drizzle. The bloke’s dragon-proof! Jon goes on the attack but the Night King raises an army of fresh corpses and crikey, it’s not looking good for our hero.
Down in the crypt, the dead start to rise because OF COURSE THEY ARE, YOU BLOODY IDIOTS, WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GOING TO HAPPEN WHEN YOU FIGHT A FRIGGEN NECROMANCER?!
Jon is saved by Dany, who then has her own problems as zombies swarm her dragon, causing the little tacker to piss off somewhere, and leaving Dany in a world of hurt. In fact, it’s looking grim for pretty much everyone. Tyrion and Sansa share a rueful moment of sadness before they’re eaten, Theon sighs as he runs out of arrows and moves onto melee weapons and basically it seems like all of the main characters are about to die screaming.
The Night King arrives in the Godswood and Theon, after giving a final farewell to Bran, goes for a frankly fairly stupid charge at the icy one. It does not go well, and Theon dies dickless, but with plenty of balls. Jon’s about to be fried, Dany and Jorah eaten, and Bran turned into a white non-walker? BUT THEN OUT OF THE DARKNESS COMES ARYA, SHOOTING THROUGH THE AIR. The Night King grabs her by the neck and starts to choke her, but she pulls a swifty, changes knife hands and STABS THE NIGHT KING RIGHT IN HIS ROTTEN GUTS!
The army of the dead is dispatched, collapsing into a desiccated, stinky pile and holy crap, what a save from everyone’s favourite pint-sized psychopath! Jorah succumbs to his injuries and Dany weeps over his body. And, in the episode’s final moment, Melisandre proves she is as good as her word and removes her necklace, walking into the snow and dying an ancient crone.
What an episode! Look, to be honest we had no inkling we’d get this far along by episode three. We’re only halfway there! Can the Night King really be dead? What does this mean for our surviving heroes? And once they (hopefully) defeat Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) will they then turn on one another?
“The Long Night” is a stunning, kinetic episode, with minimal dialogue and maximum action. Colour grading problems aside, the direction by Miguel Sapochnik is superb and in terms of story we find ourselves in a really interesting position. What happens to the powerful people when the enemy that united them is gone? And can there really ever be a final winner in this game of thrones?
Still no ser pounce, but we reckon he’s playing the long game. As for the rest of it, what happens next? No bloody idea, and that makes it all the more exciting. See you in seven, readers!
From Mike Kelley (Revenge, Jericho, The OC) comes this Netflix Original series about acceptable people doing unacceptable things... starring Renee Zellweger, Jane Levy and Blake Jenner among other hot young things. Shame this teaser looks like a perfume commercial.
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
There’s one thing you should know up front about episode two of Game of Thrones season eight, and it’s this: the big battle they hint at will not occur in the following 50-odd minutes. The reason we mention this is because, viewed as an episode that’s building to something big, it might feel like something of an anticlimax, or at the very least a delayed climax. However, delaying a climax, in dramatic terms, can leave the eventual payoff feel all the more satisfying, and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” has some wonderful moments. But first, let’s recap.
The episode begins, and in fact exclusively takes part, in Winterfell. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is facing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in the main hall and boy, tough crowd! Dany talks about how uncool it was of Jaime to murder her father, and Jaime takes it on the chin and informs the group that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) will, in fact, not be helping out against the walking dea- erm, white walkers. This doesn’t exactly endear anyone to Jaime’s side, and it makes Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) look like a bit of a dickhead for believing Cersei in the first place. However, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) vouches for Jaime as a man of honour, which causes Sansa to do the same.
“I trust you with my life,” Sansa tells Brienne, “if you trust him with yours… we should let him stay.”
Post meeting, Dany is seriously pissed off at Tyrion for his lapse in judgement. Tyrion reckons his long term employment potential is starting to look a little dicey.
Elsewhere, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) is knocking out some lovely weapons using Dragonglass. Arya (Maisie Williams) pops by to say g’day, have a perv and ask where her bloody weapon is. Gendry seems to think Arya is still the same innocent little girl he first met back in the day. Arya showcases her blade-chucking skills to prove, pretty convincingly, that she’s very much not. Gendry is a little bit scared, a little bit horny.
In the Godswood, Jaime wants to know why Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) never dobbed him in about the whole ‘pushing him out the window, breaking his spine’ caper. Bran talks somewhat cryptically about the nature of fate and free will, and suggests in a subtle way, that these things happen for a reason. Bloody hell, Bran, you’re turning into a creepy InspiroBot quote machine these days.
Jaime then heads off for a chinwag with Tyrion and the pair reflect on life, death and the cruelly ironic nature of things. Jaime leaves Tyrion mid-monologue and pops down to the training grounds to chat with Brienne, telling her he’d be honoured to fight under her.
Meanwhile, Dany gets a visit from Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) who suggests that maybe Tyrion is a good resource to be used and not cast aside because of one mistake. He further suggests perhaps there is one other who should be kept close, which leads us into a lovely scene with Dany and Sansa. The pair really seem to connect, particularly while lightly mocking Jon, and they almost become besties… but it comes down to the issue of power yet again. Sansa wants the North to be free and Dany wants to rule over all the Seven Kingdoms. Neither seems willing to budge an inch, and though the conversation is interrupted, we get the sense this particular argument is far from over.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) arrives to much jubilation and hugging from Sansa, and much awkward shrugging from Dany. He pledges his allegiance to Sansa and the Starks.
Outdoors, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is feeding the troops, although many of them are far from ready for battle. A small child, scarred in a way that reminds him of Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) bravely offers to fight. Davos is touched but unsure how to respond when Gilly (Hannah Murray) saves the day, by asking the cute kid to defend the crypt where she and the children will be hiding.
With the announcement that the dead are near, thanks to Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), final battle plans are made. Bran will be used as bait in the Godswood, because the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) is super horny to maggot him. Theon offers to be Bran’s bodyguard and Tyrion offers to fight with Davos. Dany tells Tyrion she needs his big brain and he should probably keep it safe, showing that she forgives him and still needs him around. Awww bless. The rest of the plan is nutted out and can basically be summarised as “try not to die”.
We get short, but very well executed, character moments next. Firstly, Tyrion wants Bran to tell him his whole story, which Bran obliges. Gray Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) make travel plans for a post battle life, virtually guaranteeing one or both of them will die. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) gives Jon a bit of shit for not telling Dany his big secret, but then Edd (Ben Crompton) rocks up and the trio have a little Night’s Watch reunion. It’s quite funny, and very human, and a nice look back at the show’s twisty history.
In the episode’s funniest scene, we begin with Tyrion and Jaime drinking by the fire. They are soon joined by Brienne and Podrick (Daniel Portman). And then Tormund, who has clearly lost none of his passion for Brienne, pops in also, and then Davos. Tormund tells an alarming, and unlikely, tale about suckling on a giant’s tit and then drinks a hornful of grog, pouring a good third of the contents on himself. After that Davos decides to sink some piss too.
Outside and Arya has a chat with the Hound (Rory McCann), in which it’s clear that they have both changed a lot over time, and all is forgiven. Well, for the most part. Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) arrives and starts banging on about the Lord of Light, and Arya decides she’s got better things to do than listen to old blokes have a sook. Point of fact, Arya decides it’s probably time she got a root, so as not to die a virgin. Gendry is her chosen target and she very bluntly seduces him and gets into it. Gendry doesn’t seem to mind, though, and it seems like a fine time is had by both.
Back to the drinking group and we get the episode’s best scene. Brienne talks about how women can’t be made knights and Tormund thinks this is insane. Jaime agrees and right then and there makes Brienne a knight. Gwendoline Christie absolutely nails this moment, her face portraying genuine emotion, and a fierce sense of pride, and you may find yourself misting up just a little. Brienne is now the titular Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.
We then quickly move through Jorah attempting, and failing, to get Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) to sit out the battle to come (as if, Jorah!) and then Sam hands over his sword to Jorah, in a gesture of trust and admiration. Also a gesture of ‘Sam would prefer not to fight because he’s a bit shit at it’, to be frank. Podrick sings a sweet tune and those who have loved ones hold them close as the night draws to an end.
Dany visits Jon in the crypt and he finally tells her the secret that has been eating away at him. Dany is shocked at the ramifications of Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne (but not the incest, strangely), but before anyone can get too worked up about it the army of the dead arrive.
Then a fantastic battle scene tak- wait, what?! No it doesn’t! The episode bloody ends! Argh, curse you weekly episode releases, how can you be so cruel?!
Taken on its own merits, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a well written, well executed episode and another atmospheric hour from director David Nutter. Perhaps some of the character beats are a little more protracted than they need to be but it seems like next episode will probably dispatch at least a few cast members, so it’s essentially a little bit more calm before the storm. If you can get past the cliffhangery nature of the episode’s ending, it’s a grand session of character development, although the wait for the next ep will be dark and full of terrors.
Ser Pounce Watch: Still no sign of the furry legend, but that’s almost certainly because he’s just biding his time… see you next week!
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]
As a Game of Thrones fan it’s impossible not to feel a frisson of excitement as we begin this eighth and final season. Everything has led to this. Every battle, every sneaky murder, every root – ill-advised and otherwise – is all culminating in this season. It’s a lot to get your head around and the first episode, “Winterfell”, does an admirable job of restating the various factions and loyalties, and reminding us of the stakes at play.
They’re big stakes. It doesn’t get much bigger than “the Wall has collapsed and the army of the dead are flooding in with a bloody zombie dragon”.
“Winterfell” begins with an updated credit sequence, one that reflects the very unwally state of The Wall, and opens in miserable, cold Winterfell. The grand army of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has arrived and she and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are taking in the sights, riding together in an obvious display of support for one another. However the hard, stubborn locals aren’t exactly stoked with the whole caper, and stare at Dany with their mouths puckered like cat clackers. This isn’t quite the hero’s welcome she might have hoped for.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) rides along with the procession in a covered wagon, busting Lord Varys’s (Conleth Hill) lack of balls. Honestly, it’s not his best material but we get the feeling the whole conversation is to mask Tyrion’s bone-deep nervousness at being in the home of a people with a fairly sensible grudge against his family.
Next minute the dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, soar over the wintery district, scaring the absolute shit out of the locals and causing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to watch with a mixture of awe and foreboding.
The first of many reunions takes place, with Jon meeting up with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Jon’s super happy to see Bran, but the wheelchair-bound mystic acts like that one mate of yours who’s just a little bit into his mushies, speaking all cryptic and portentously. Sansa and Dany give each other some vicious side eye, and share a few choice words, but Bran tells them to knock it off. “We don’t have time for this,” he says accurately yet somehow still very annoyingly, “the dead march south.”
Later, in a staff meeting, the locals are becoming increasingly confused by who the hell is actually in charge. Is it Jon? Sansa? Dany? Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) best epitomises the confusion, saying to Jon, “you left Winterfell a king and came back a… I’m not sure what you are, now. A lord? Nothing at all?” Jon tries to explain that a zombie army is defo a bigger worry than local politics, but the crowd are unconvinced. Tyrion attempts to win them over by mentioning Cersei’s army is on the way. It goes down about as well as a lamb chop at a vegan dinner party.
Later, Tyrion and Sansa have a reunion of their own. They haven’t actually hung out since the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) died choking in front of everyone. “Miserable affair,” Tyrion recalls.
“It had its moments,” Sansa replies with a smile.
The two sort of bond, but there’s been a lot of history since those days. Sansa also doesn’t believe for a second that Cersei is going to help, which – to be fair – is 100% accurate.
Jon and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) reunite in the Godswood and it’s actually a delightfully sweet scene. They hug, compare weapons and chat about current events. In a nicely observed twist, Arya praises Sansa, calling her the “smartest person I’ve ever met”.
“You’re defending her? You?” Jon chortles.
“I’m defending our family. She is too,” Arya replies.
Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) glowers on the battlements at King’s Landing. When she’s told of the dead breaking through the Wall she smirks and says, “good.” Subtle stuff, guys, very nuanced. In the harbour nearby, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggers about, crowing of his magnificence to still-alive-but-captured Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Then hops back onto dry land to impress Cersei with the brand spanking new army he has delivered. Euron makes it clear that he really feels Cersei should throw a quickie his way. At first Cersei doesn’t want a bar of it, but ever calculating seems to realise a well-rooted Euron is most likely a happy Euron, and gives him the nod.
Speaking of rooting, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has a foursome interrupted by creepy Qyburn (Anton Lesser), which is enough to put a bloke off his stroke. Qyburn is offering riches beyond compare for one job: kill Cersei’s brothers. This is setting up a potentially tragic arc with Bronn possibly murdering his mate Tyrion, or dying in the attempt. In one scene we see that everything really is up for grabs this season and a lot of our favourites aren’t going to survive.
Next up, a bunch of people are killed and Yara freed by… Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)?! Yes, it appears the dickless one grew some balls. Yara thanks him with a headbutt but then pulls him to his feet; he is forgiven. Later, she gives Theon permission to fight with the Starks, because she knows that’s where his true loyalty lies.
Back in Winterfell, Tyrion, Varys and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) discuss what a handsome, Westeros-uniting couple Dany and Jon would make if they wed. Tyrion sees sense in the idea, but worries that love doesn’t last, particularly in political unions. Jon and Dany go to check on the dragons, who aren’t eating much, and the pair mount the scaly beasts and go for a ride. It’s an exhilarating sequence, with Jon barely staying upright during the trip and ends with some sexy times. Although Jon can’t quite get past the fact Dragon is staring at him. You know when your significant other’s cat won’t stop staring at you? Imagine that, but the cat is the size of Rooty Hill RSL. Yeesh.
Gendry (Joe Dempsie) impresses Sandor “The Hound” Glegane (Rory McCann) with his weapons-crafting skills but then Arya rocks up and a tense scene takes place between the latter pair. The Hound either forgives Arya for their last altercation, or can’t be bothered getting into it, and gruffly admires her ability to stay alive. Then Gendry and Arya have a scene together dripping with sexual tension and oh my, is this going to be a thing now?
Dany and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pay what should be a lovely visit to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), to thank him for curing Jorah’s dragonscale. The problem? Well, when Sam responds to Dany’s generous offer of reward it comes out that she had both his father Randyll (James Sebastian Faulkner) and brother Dickon (Tom Hopper) burnt alive by her dragons. Sam mostly manages to keep it together, admirably, but we can see his mighty heart is broken. This is actually the episode’s best scene, because it hammers home that there often is not a right answer in politics and war, just a series of least worst options. This leads to the biggest moment of the night – the one we’ve all been waiting for – when Sam goes to see Jon and tells him he is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Jon not only not a bastard, but the true heir to the Iron Throne! Jon is rocked by the revelation and oh man, this is going to be awkward with Dany!
The episode then delivers a wonderfully creepy scene where Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) find young Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) very much dead and nailed to the wall, with a spiral of limbs left as a message from the Night King. However, Ned’s not as dead as he first appears, and attacks our heroes. He is stopped, and dispatched with fire, but it’s clear the Night King, and his army of the dead, are not pissfarting about anymore.
In a final scene, that appears to circle right back to the show’s very first episode, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives in Winterfell, attempting to be incognito. However, Bran – who apparently never leaves his spot in the yard – recognises him. You know, the bloke who put in the damn wheelchair in the first place!
“Winterfell” is a cracker of a first episode back, that manages to successfully reintroduce everyone and remind us why we’ve missed these characters over the long break between seasons. In keeping with latter era Thrones, it’s not exactly subtle. The writing is fairly blunt, as all the plot strands hurtle towards their respective climaxes, but atmospheric direction by David Nutter and stellar performances from all, particularly John Bradley, anchor the proceedings and give a sense of gravitas.
Welcome back, Game of Thrones! Now, if you could please confirm that Ser Pounce is actually still alive, and doing fine, that would be grand.
Sideways meets Bridesmaids, with Amy Poehler starring and directing Netflix comedy about turning 50, also starring Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Paula Pell, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and Jason Schwartzman.