The final season of Game of Thrones is here. The premiere episode aired on HBO tonight, marking the beginning of the end. There are just five more episodes left to go now, and Game of Thrones has a lot to fit in before the finale if the show wants to wrap up every loose end created over the last eight years. For now, though, Season 8 Episode 1 was focused on one thing above all others: setup.
Events in Winterfell set up the battle to come, as well as the interpersonal conflicts that will ultimately help determine the outcome of that battle. The characters in King’s Landing continued to maneuver for the inevitable conclusion of the war of Westeros’s Great Houses, and offscreen, the White Walkers struck their first blow south of the Wall.
There were some monumental events in this episode–which will hopefully be the case for every episode of the final season. But from Jon finally riding a dragon to his finding out that he’s the true heir to the Iron Throne, even these long-awaited, emotionally charged moments are really just setup for conflicts to come.
Jon learning that he’s a Targaryen is something book readers have been waiting for ever since the first book was published back in 1996 and fans originally theorized about his true parentage (the books are so far behind at this point that the theory still hasn’t been confirmed officially in the source material). Jon and Daenerys being related doesn’t necessarily spell doom for their blooming relationship–Targaryens of old frequently married within their own family to keep their Valyrian bloodline going strong. But as Jon replied to Sam in this premiere, voicing the revelation is akin to treason. Dany, on the other hand, has been self-assured regarding her right to the Throne since the beginning–and come to think of it, she probably won’t take well to this news. Based on this episode, it’s shaping up to be one of the major conflicts of the final season.
The sight of Dany’s Unsullied marching through the streets of Winter Town was enough to stir any Game of Thrones fan’s blood, whether you started with the TV show or have been reading the books for 23 years. Old school Game of Thrones fans are much more comfortable in the in-between, perpetually waiting for the next book to come out or the next season to premiere. To be so close to the end is actually slightly uncomfortable, but for better or worse, here we are.
One thing that will always feel good is watching long-separated Starks finally reunite. And this was an episode of reunions. From Jon and Arya to Sansa and Tyrion, these are conversations fans have speculated about, theorized on, and dreamt of for years. And by and large, they delivered exactly what we wanted: Arya flirted with Gendry and was vaguely threatening toward Sandor, while Sansa and Tyrion showed something approaching a mutual understanding. If nothing else, it’s simply fun to see these characters come back together after so very long apart.
For books fans, though, the show still can’t help but feel a bit like fan fiction. Some characters, like the Hound, were so far removed from the story the last time we glimpsed them in the books that it seems unlikely they’ll ever actually re-enter the books’ events. Others, like Cersei, have changed so much from the source material that they’re barely recognizable. I’m not saying whether that’s good or bad–it just is. Since author George R.R. Martin hasn’t been able to finish a book in eight years, this is the situation we’re in.
In King’s Landing, events progressed pretty much as you’d expect. Euron arrived with the Golden Company, and Cersei continued to deride everyone around her, which will hopefully be her ultimate downfall. Euron finally getting in her pants may have been a big event for him–and no doubt Jamie wouldn’t be thrilled if he were around–but for Cersei, using her sexuality to control the people around her isn’t anything new. She’s up to the same old tricks, but as this war comes to an end, old tricks might not cut it anymore. That said, we wanted to see those elephants as badly as you did, Cersei.
There are only five episodes left of Game of Thrones. For longtime fans, it’s bittersweet to get the ending from HBO’s series instead of the books that we’ve loved for decades. But despite some ups and downs, HBO has done a fine job finishing what George R.R. Martin apparently can’t. And I’m excited to see exactly how they do it over the next five weeks.