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Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 1 - Review

Game of Thrones

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

YOU could almost describe the eighth season premiere of Game of Thrones as the calm before the storm…. almost. Were it not for the final two or three minutes, this was as close to a happy ending as most of the characters will likely get.

There were reunions, most of them warm. There were jokes, a lot of them dirty. And there were preparations for the impending war. And yet, bubbling beneath the surface, was the fear, the dread, that all was about to be ripped apart.

And then came the revelations. The first and perhaps most significant was that John Snow (Kit Harrington) wasn’t Ned Stark’s bastard, but the son of Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his Name, and therefore the true heir to the Iron Throne. It’s a secret that has been brewing for some time. And it was revealed towards the end of season seven.

But this was the first time that John Snow had heard it, as revealed by his long-time friend Sam. And its implications could yet be seismic. John is now, after all, literally having sex with his aunt, Daenerys ((Emilia Clarke), long since considered the true queen. Will she now bend the knee and relinquish her crown, just as John did for her?

Will the happy ending that once seemed possible for this particular couple now be a false dream? Will they now become enemies if they survive the great war?

Just moments after being given this humdinger to ponder, there came another, in the form of the grisly discovery of 10-year-old Ned Umber, nailed to a wall, surrounded by a mass of severed body parts, apparently dead.

As Beric winced and declared the scene to be a message from ‘the Night King’, Ned suddenly came alive in a scene befitting horror classics from The Thing to The Walking Dread. There was a terrifying scream before Beric finally laid Ned to rest by setting him alight and revealing the true extent of the symbol.

As the ability to spread fear goes, this was harrowing indeed. A child all but crucified, yet undead. Game of Thrones has never been a show to shy away from savagery towards women and children, but this – after an episode of such relative calm – was a potent harbinger of what may lie in wait.

It certainly set the stage for the remaining five episodes, while artfully re-positioning all of the players. And therein lay another of the episode’s effortless joys. Where some openers may have felt like they were marking time in order to realign their leading personnel, Game of Thrones did it without feeling like it was going through the motions.

Rather, it offered the chance for some welcome reunions and equally pithy lines of dialogue. I was particularly keen on the reunion between John and Arya, or the final shot as Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finally saw Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) for the first time since throwing him out of the tower during the shocking first season premiere.

Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) reuniting with his ‘wife’, Sansa (Sophie Turner) was a nice moment, too, as they recalled their tumultuous journeys to this point, as was the aforementioned meeting between Sam and John, prior to the big reveal.

There were other moments to savour, too, when the script delivered some witty gems, such as Tyrion playfully poking fun at Varys’ eunuch status over the opening moments, or Davos (Liam Cunningham) eloquently summing up seven years of bloodshed and strife as “for once in their shit history”, while pondering the possibility of a kingdom being ruled by a just woman and an honourable man.

And then there was the show-stopping How To Train Your Dragons moment, as Daenerys and John continued their big flirt by taking a breathtaking ride on the former’s dragons. It was a scene that demonstrated the epic sweep that has become synonymous with the series – a stunning moment of beauty to contrast the horrors that are surely to come.

So, while not much really happened during the first hour of this eighth and final season, there was still bucket-loads to enjoy and much to ponder as we embark on this still exhilarating ride.