Season seven of “Game of Thrones” had a lot of issues. From pacing to characters acting out of accord to a shortage of actual ‘things’ happening; the lack of George R.R. Martin material to adapt was abundantly clear. A lot of pressure is being applied to the show’s final season, the first episode of which aired this past Sunday, titled “Winterfell.” So far, so good; it’s an episode that improves on a lot of the issues of the previous season with regards to theme, character and pacing. Trepidation is recommended for these coming weeks leading into the finale, but season eight is off to a good start.
We open on Jon and Daenerys coming into Winterfell, which has allowed for some much-needed character work for Sansa. Sansa has had her ups and downs, but she was undeniably the most interesting character in season six, but with season seven it felts like she was treading water and even regressing a little bit. She seemed to fall for Littlefinger’s manipulation too easily, stretching out a subplot that should have lasted an episode or two into the weakest plot of the entire season. Sansa doesn’t trust Dany, and by the end of the episode Jon is given reason to start questioning Dany as well.
One character beat that seems exciting is where we pick up with Bronn. The mercenary is still in King’s Landing as Qyburn makes an offer to return Bronn’s castle and wealth to him in exchange for assassinating Tyrion and Jaime. It would be concerning if “Thrones” took the easy way out here, especially given how the Martin-less seasons tend to lean towards fanservice. However, if the writing sticks the landing, then this will be one of the most engaging plots and character arcs the show has seen in a while.
We spend a lot more time with the Greyjoy’s this episode as well, with an emphasis on Euron in particular. Pilou Asbaek has taken a guest spot and made it his own with swagger and downright delightful scenery chewing. He was excellent as the villainous nazi in last year’s “Overlord”, he was great in the Danish films, “A Hijacking” and “A War”; hopefully people are starting to take notice of him. He has a delightful and refreshing rapport with Cersei that hopefully won’t be quickly tossed away.
The biggest issue with “Winterfell” is probably the romance between Jon and Dany. It’s hard to tell whether the writing or acting that’s failing to deliver, but there is little to no sparks between the two of them. This was an issue with the last season that appears to continue here, it feels like the writers are having Jon and Dany get together because they feel Jon and Dany have to get together. There’s a contrived element to it.
The cliffhanger glance that Jaime and Bran exchange is marvelous and does a lot to develop hype for the rest of the season. Its representative of the episode as the whole, setting up the end by going back to the beginning.