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Game of Thrones - Winterfell - Review

16 Apr 2019

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Game of Thrones finally returned for its final season with “Winterfell.” The season remains shrouded in so much tight secrecy that even the title of this episode wasn’t available until after it aired! Surprisingly, this episode was written by Dave Hill. I have to admit that I was expecting David Benioff and DB Weiss to write the entire season, but they will write only episodes 3-6. David Nutter returns to direct the premiere. We were also treated to some fabulous new introductory graphics that take us inside the locations visited in this episode. Overall, I felt that this episode had some terrific moments but was overall a bit slow – and shorter – than I was expecting, but I am also positive that the rest of the season is going to build to an intense crescendo.

The countdown to the episode gave me chills as we are treated to so many of the seminal moments in the character’s journey, ending with the very first thing that Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) saw in the tower, which underscores his new role as seer but also is where the episode ends – with the reunion of Bran and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). The sheer number of gorgeous shots – Jon on the battlefield jumps to mind – and close ups of so many characters faces helps to underscore the things that make this show so great – beautiful cinematography, exceptional storytelling, and outstanding acting.

After the countdown, we are treated to a re-cap. It’s been a while, right? The recap begins with echos of the countdown and then touches on the history that will reverberate through this episode. The credits take us through the break in the wall to Last Hearth, Winterfell, and King’s Landing, taking time to once again remind us of some of the events that have taken place in Winterfell and King’s Landing.

The episode begins with a boy running through the snowy woods – is he being chased by the army of the dead? It turns out that he’s just a typical child, eager to see the spectacle of the arriving army lead by Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington). It’s not until later that it’s revealed that this is no ordinary boy, but Ned Umber (Harry Grasby), the reinstated Lord of Last Hearth – who will play a more shocking role by the end of the episode. This is a terrific way for the writers to generate some empathy and attachment from the audience. Ned is, of course, named after Ned Stark (Sean Bean) – and he leads us to Arya (Maisie Williams), who is also watching – and judging – the arrival of the army.

Ned’s climb to the top of a tree is reminiscent of Bran climbing that tower in the first season. The camera follows his eye, however, as we see the armies spread out. Arya watches from the crowd as Jon and Daenerys ride by – the music is suitably somber and militaristic.

Williams is great here as we see her emotions – Arya is moved to see her brother and almost calls out to him – but that’s not who she is anymore. It’s significant that she blends in completely with the crowd – that is her special skill after all. She also sees two old friends ride by – she is somewhat confused to see the Hound (Rory McCann) – please don’t kill him!!!! – and is happy to see Gendry (Joe Dempsie), but again she doesn’t call out and they don’t notice her.

I loved that our first scene with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is with Varys (Conleth Hill) and that he’s making eunuch jokes! It’s only just enough to remind us of the great chemistry between these two actors.

Daenerys and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) are both uncomfortable with the cold welcome of the northerners. I did have to wonder why Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) was riding rather than marching with his men, however. Jon reminds Daenerys that he’d warned her about northerners not liking outsiders. At that moment the dragons arrive – and I loved the smile that played across Daenerys’ face – she’s never needed the friendship or approval of anyone – at least not since she’s had her dragons – and she thoroughly enjoys the effect that they have on the crowd. I also loved the small smile of appreciation for their power from Arya. Sansa is not afraid when they fly over Winterfell – but she does see them as the threat they are even of allies.

Jon’s return to Winterfell is terrific as we see the joy and excitement as he sees Bran and can’t wait to get off his horse and hug him. He tells Bran, “Look at you. You’re a man!” And Bran replies with a laconic “almost.” Jon immediately realizes that Bran is not the same. He then hugs Sansa, who looks over his shoulder at Daenerys and her followers.

Daenerys is gracious and complements both the north and Sansa. Sansa, like the north, is cold. She tells Daenerys that Winterfell is hers – but she’s clearly not happy about it. Bran breaks into the niceties with the brutal revelation that the Night King has one of Daenerys’ dragons – and has broken through the wall. They don’t have time to waste on pleasantries.

Lord Umber is revealed in the Council meeting when Sansa calls him to report when his people will arrive at Winterfell. Sansa has called all the bannermen to Winterfell as the better place to make a concentrated stand against the Army of the Dead. It’s important to remember that this young boy is the head of his household because of the previous wars – and because Jon made him so. I loved how he stumbled over who he was supposed to be addressing after Sansa.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a northern council meeting without a word from Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey) – and let’s not forget that she was named after Lyanna Stark – she’s also the reason that Jon was comfortable putting other “children” in place as the head of households. Once again, Lady Mormont does not disappoint in taking Jon to task. It’s almost a little disappointing to see how much Bella Ramsey has grown since we last saw her. Lady M berets him for giving up the crown that they gave him. Jon tries to shrug it off as not important – what are titles when they face the Army of the Dead? But the fact remains, his people gave him something of very great value to them and he doesn’t seem to have given their trust any thought. I loved the sideways look Sansa gives him – she clearly agrees with them.

Jon stands to answer, and Lady Mormont sits down. Is anyone else waiting for Jorah (Iain Glen) to have a scene with her??? Jon tells the assembled that their naming him King was the honor of his life, but that he left to get allies with which to fight the war. Sansa also gives Daenerys the side eye – she clearly has a problem with her. It’s interesting given the alliance she made with Little Finger in order to defeat Ramsey. Tyrion jumps up to defend Jon when he’s clearly losing the crowd. Unfortunately, the crowd is unlikely to be receptive to a Lannister!

Tyrion starts by saying that it’s thanks to Jon that the largest army ever seen is at Winterfell. He mentions the dragons – and we saw their reception. But when he mentions that the Lannister army is coming to join their cause, he really loses the crowd! He tells them that while they haven’t been friends in the past, they must fight together now – or die. Sansa breaks in to ask how they plan to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen. Turner is great here as she asks “What do dragons eat, anyway?” But of course, Daenerys’ answer is the best: “Whatever they want.” Daenerys is through playing nicely.

Tyrion goes to see Sansa – they are still technically husband and wife – I think…. It’s interesting that Lord Royce (Rupert Vansittart) has clearly recognized Sansa as his Lady and waits for her to dismiss him before leaving her alone with Tyrion. Tyrion remarks that Lady of Winterfell has a nice ring to it and Sansa acknowledges so does Hand of the Queen – depending on the Queen – it’s a nice way for them to acknowledge how far each of them has come. Tyrion reminds her the last time they spoke was at Joffrey’s wedding – a miserable affair. Sansa can make light of it now – it had its moments! Sansa apologizes for leaving so quickly but points out that they both survived. Tyrion points out that most of those who underestimated Sansa are now dead.

I loved that Tyrion tried to reassure Sansa that she didn’t have to fear Cersei (Lena Headey), and Sansa schools him about his sister. She knows her better than he does. She scoffs that he believes Cersei will ever send her army. He believes that Cersei has something to live for now – and c’mon Tyrion! THAT makes her more dangerous and less trustworthy than ever! I loved Sansa’s dismissive, “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” Bran staring at Tyrion at the end of that scene sent shivers up my back. What does he see of Tyrion’s fate?!?!?!

Arya finally comes to Jon at the weirwood tree. I loved her starting with “You used to be taller.” He wants to know how she snuck up on him, and she wants to know how he survived a knife through the heart. Always honest, Jon admits that he didn’t. And then we get the first real emotion from Arya that we’ve seen in a very long time as she runs into a hug with her brother. Jon never does really find out what happened to Arya – or how much she has changed.

Jon remarks that she still has needle – and asks if she’s ever used it! She tells him once or twice – and he leaves it at that! He shows her his sword – she immediately recognizes the valerian steel and he asks if she’s jealous. She realistically remarks that it’s too heavy for her – and doufus – she’s got a valerian steel knife at her belt! Jon wants to know where she’s been – he could have used her help with Sansa. Arya knows that Sansa doesn’t like Daenerys. Jon still thinks of Arya as a sisterly ally against Sansa. He says that Sansa thinks she’s smarter than everyone. Arya tells him that Sansa is the smartest person she’s ever met. Jon really, really needs to stop underestimating the women around him! Jon is surprised to see Arya defend her sister – he’s still thinking of them as children. Arya tells him that Sansa is just defending her family – as she is. Jon points out that he’s family too. And he may not be their brother – but he IS their family. Arya tells him not to forget that he’s family.

Qyburn (Anton Lesser) comes to Cersei with what he thinks is the terrible news that the Night King has broken through the wall, but Cersei is happy for the Army of the Dead to kill as many of her enemies as possible. She’s got the Golden Company in her harbor, and she’s more concerned about what to do with Euron (Pilou Asbaek).

It turns out that Euron has Yara (Gemma Whelan) tied up in his ship. The theme of family continues as he tells her they are the last of the Greyjoys. He also tells her that he’s keeping her to have someone to talk to. Apparently, the Golden Company don’t speak… Yara tells him that he’s chosen the wrong side. He doesn’t really care as long as he gets to fuck Cersei first – he’ll just go his own way in the end.

Fires now burn in the hall of the Iron Throne. Cersei is very disappointed not to get any elephants. Euron wants his reward, but Cersei tries to put him off. She tells him to buy a whore if he wants one – he needs to earn a Queen. It’s clear, however, that she’s losing her hold on Euron. It’s also clear that she doesn’t want to have to stoop to using her body to secure his continued alliance, but in the end, she gives in.

Qyburn comes to Bronn (Jerome Flynn) in the actual whorehouse. Is it foreshadowing of Cersei's fate when Qyburn remarks that the pox will take one of the girls within the year? It’s telling that there are women running things at Winterfell, but here in King’s Landing, it seems that women still must rely on the oldest profession. Qyburn tells Bronn that Cersei wants to make restitution for Jaime’s broken promises. She has chests of gold for Bronn – to pay for him to assassinate BOTH her brothers. She wants Bronn to kill them with the crossbow that Tyrion used to kill their father.

Euron and Cersei spar verbally after their night together. He declares that life is boring, and she concedes that he’s not boring – and he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met – but she likes that. She then tells him she wants to be alone. He promises to put a prince in her belly – but of course, there’s already one there. Will she claim it’s his now?

I loved Theon (Alfie Allen) coming for Yara. He’s clearly the last person she expected to see. She does pause to headbutt him though – and really, he deserved it. She then offers her hand to help him up. THEY are family. Yara plans to take back the Iron Islands while Euron is busy in King’s Landing. Yara plans to hold the Islands in case Daenerys needs somewhere to retreat to. Theon is prepared to go where his Queen leads, but Yara knows he wants to go to Winterfell to fight beside the Starks – Jon told him to be both after all. Theon won’t ask, but Yara releases him to go. They tell each other “What is dead may never die” – and Yara tells him to “kill the bastards anyway.” I suspect we won’t see these two together again.

It feels perfect to have Davos (Liam Cunningham) join forces with Varys and Tyrion. Tyrion will have an even tougher time getting under Davos’ skin! Davos points out that Jon has brought peace to the north. Davos warns them that the northerners are stubborn as goats – if you want their loyalty, you have to earn it. Davos’ proposal is a proposal. If they survive the Night King, what if the Seven Kingdoms – for once in their shit history – were ruled by a just woman and an honorable man. Varys denies his influence. He also tells the others that respect for the old is how the young keep away the truth that nothing lasts… and we know that this alliance can’t last – when has incest ever ended well in Westeros? It’s true that they aren’t brother and sister, but Aunt and nephew won’t lead to healthy offspring either. Of course, if Daenerys can’t have children, does this matter? Would it be more acceptable for Jon to marry his first cousin? Unlikely….

Daenerys remarks to Jon that Sansa doesn’t like her. Jon tells her that Sansa didn’t like him when they were growing up either – but that’s not Daenerys’ point. She doesn’t need a friend – she needs Sansa to respect her as her Queen. Daenerys is worried about the dragons who are barely eating. Do they miss their brother or do they hate the cold?

Daenerys hops on and encourages Jon to do the same. He tells her that he can’t ride a dragon – and she’s no help at all! Of course, as a Targaryen, the dragon does accept Jon – even if he gives him a wild ride. This beautiful sequence was worth every penny and minute that was put into it! I loved Jon telling her that she’s completely ruined horses for him. I also loved Jon being worried about Drogon watching him!

The Hound thanks Gendry for making him a giant battleax out of dragonglass by insulting him. Arya appears and defends Gendry. The Hound’s first comment to her is that she left him to die. She reminds him that she robbed him first. The two stare at each other, seemingly impassively. The Hound tells her that she’s a “cold little bitch,” but his face softens and he almost smiles as he says, “I guess that’s why you’re still alive.” He’s clearly glad to see her, and she’s clearly not quite sure what to do with that.

Arya does compliment Gendry on the ax and that he’s gotten better at his craft. Gendry tells her that she looks good. He teases her about being Lady Stark, and it’s clear that she’s happy to see him. She also wants him to make her a weapon – is it a collapsible arrow? And would she have gone to see him if she didn’t need his help? I can’t wait to see who she plans to use it on! Gendry wants to know why she wants it as she already has a sword – and then he asks to see the dagger. Unlike Jon, he quickly sees that it’s valerian steel – and teases her again for just being another rich girl!

Jon meets with Sansa who informs him that House Glover is not coming to their aid. Sansa points out that Glover pledged to stand behind Jon, who tries to explain that he had to bring the armies and Daenerys and the dragons to have any hope of winning. Once again, Jon tries to impress on Sansa that titles don’t matter. He asks her if she has any faith in him. Sansa says she does, and Jon insists that Daenerys will be a good Queen. Sansa finally concedes that she’s pretty. She then asks Jon if he bent the knee to save them – or because he loves Daenerys.

Meanwhile, Daenerys pays a visit to Sam (John Bradley) who’s been hiding in the basement. She begins with “so you’re the man…” and like Sam, I thought she meant the man who was going to take away her claim to the throne! But Jorah is with her and she’s just there to thank Sam for saving Jorah – still without any notion of who Sam actually is. She wants to reward him with a position in the Citadel, but Sam, ever self-effacing, says he’s just there to serve. He does, however, ask for a pardon for the things he took when he left and the sword he took… and then they discover the horrible truth.

I loved this scene. It’s clear that Daenerys is uncomfortable having to tell Sam what she did to his father and brother – but it’s also clear that she does regret her actions – and I don’t think it’s just because of the connection to Sam. I think that Tyrion’s words have made her see that it was the wrong thing to do. Daenerys tells Sam that his father refused to bend the knee. Sam is willing to see the bright side – at least he’d be allowed to go home again – and c’mon Sam! Your Dad was a total prick to you! But when Daenerys tells Sam about his brother, Bradley really knocks the scene out of the park. He’s clearly fighting so many emotions. He’s devastated – and fighting his anger. But this is the push he needed to be able to tell Jon.

It’s no mistake that Sam runs into Bran who tells him that it’s time to tell Jon the truth. He also tells Sam that he’s waiting for an old friend. Sam thinks it should come from his brother, but Bran insists that he trusts Sam more than anyone – it has to come from him.

Sam finds Jon in the crypt, paying his respects to Ned. Jon asks Sam if he was hiding from him – and Sam denies it, but of course that’s what he was doing. Jon asks after Gilley and little Sam, and big Sam wants to know if Jon knew that Daenerys executed his father and brother. It’s clear that Daenerys didn’t tell Jon, but Jon expresses his sympathy, but insists that they need to end the war. Sam wants to know if Jon would have done it. Jon says that he’s executed men who disobeyed orders – but Sam points out that he spared the Wildlings when they wouldn’t bend the knee. Jon insists that he wasn’t a King – and Sam drops the bombshell – Jon has always been a King. Not just the King of the North – he’s the King of the Seven Kingdoms.

Sam tells him who his parents were and that he’s never been a bastard. He’s the true heir to the Iron Throne. Jon is most concerned that Ned – the most honorable man he’s ever known, and who he’s modeled himself after – WWNSD – lied to him his whole life? That is the thing that Jon can’t accept, but Sam quickly clears up that Ned WAS being honorable in carrying out Lyanna’s last wishes to keep her son safe. Sam insists that Jon is the True King. Bradley and Harington are both fabulous. Jon insists that Daenerys is their Queen, and Sam says she shouldn’t be. Jon says it’s treason, but Sam insists that it’s the truth. Sam asks – you gave up your crown to save your people, would she do the same?

Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric (Richard Dormer) have survived the attack at the wall and made it to Last Hearth, which has clearly been attacked. It’s hilarious when they run into Eddison (Ben Crompton) and the men from Castle Black. Eddison is freaked out by Tormund’s blue eyes – but they’ve always been blue! It’s a good thing Beric lit up his sword or they might have slaughtered each other in the dark!

Eddison takes them to the main hall and one of the most horrific things we’ve yet seen on the show. I loved how this reveal was shot: we follow Tormund, Beric, and Eddison from behind, getting a sense of how big Tormund is, and he blocks the view from us of what they see. Ned Umber is pinned to the wall with dismembered arms and legs. Beric tells them that it’s a message from the Night King. Tormund points out that the army is between them and Winterfell and they’re on foot. Eddison tells them that they rode from Castle Black. They can double up on the horses and beat the Army of the Dead – if the horses last.

It’s at this moment that Ned Umber reanimates and starts screaming – and Beric lights him on fire. It’s horrifying. But it’s not the last scene….

In the last scene, Bran’s old friend arrives – and he’s still waiting. Jaime arrives in Winterfell, and he and Bran’s eyes meet across the courtyard. Bran’s face is impassive, but so much emotion passes over Jaime’s. It’s interesting that Jaime’s hair is now almost entirely brown – he looks less and less like Cersei.

While I thought this episode might be considered a bit “slow” after the long wait, it nonetheless sets the stage for what’s coming. It also contains some great moments and wonderful reunions that we’ve waited so many seasons for. What did you think of the episode? Was it worth the wait? Are you excited about the rest of the season? Who do you think will make it out alive??? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!