“Nothing lasts.”
Lord Varys

Game of Thrones returns for its final season.

The story thus far: In a well-written, brilliantly-acted, expensively-produced show based on what European history would look like in the imagination of a clever 12-year-old boy, many people and one dragon have died, and an ice-zombie apocalypse looms.

Title: “Winterfell”

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by David Nutter
Written by Dave Hill. Based on novels by George R.R. Martin

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
Kit Harington as Jon Snow
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
Pilou Asbæk as Euron Greyjoy
Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark
Marc Rissmann as Harry Strickland
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark
John Bradley as Samwell Tarley
Joe Dempsie as Gendry
Rory McCann as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei
Liam Cunningham as Devos Seaworth
Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy
Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy
Kristofer Hivju as Tormund
Richard Dormer as Beric Dondarrion
Anton Lesser as Qyburn
Conleth Hill as Lord Varys
Bella Ramsey as Lady Lyanna Mormont
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane
Mark Quigley as Bannerman
Jack Hudson as Wight
Adam Quigley-Nixon and Alec Fauzi as Lannister Guards

Premise:

The Night King’s army advances, as nearly the entire surviving cast gathers in the north. Daenarys needs to gain the trust of Jon Snow’s people. Arya puts in a special order. Jon Snow goes for a ride. He later learns the truth about his lineage from Sam, and Sam finds out what happened to his family. Meanwhile, back at King’s Landing, Cersei waits—and entertains a possible husband.

High Points:

Although Season 8 has a very dialogue-heavy premiere, it balances these with some stunning visuals. Jon Snow’s flight on the dragon looks spectacular, and then ends by riffing on the common experience of getting some alone time with someone new in your life– only to have their pets glare with concern. The show also handles effectively the terrifying warning discovered by Tormund and Beric.

We also have a powerful moment: Daenerys may have armies and dragons, but it bodes ill for her if she loses the support of Samwell Tarley.

Low Points:

I enjoyed the frequent use of humour in this episode, but I found some of the dialogue in this very dialogue-heavy episode a bit too marvelously slick—a little more “TV/franchise” than usual for Game of Thrones. Did Disney buy HBO, too, when we weren’t looking?

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 Despite being an adaptation, Game of Thrones retains more originality after seven seasons than most shows manage after seven episodes. Some repetition is to be expected. It’s also worth nothing that we’re watching events that have not been concluded in the novel series that inspired the show.

The real-life Wars of the Roses, historical events which influenced Martin, ended with a White Queen uniting the symbols of two houses, but we have no assurance we’ll see anything like that. We have the Armies of the Dead marching, internal problems brewing, and a conniving Cersei waiting. Game of Thrones enjoys creating expectations for the express purpose of slashing them to ribbons.

Effects: 6/6

Story: 5/6 The series relies too heavily on its arc to adequately assess the story in any one episode. I’m awarding this one +1 based on past experience. It does a good job of getting the audience up-to-date on most of the characters and the central conflicts that they face. For dramatic purposes, I hope each of the next few episodes focus on fewer characters.

Acting: 6/6 Acting remains exceptional. John Bradley as Samwell Tarley reminds us that the dead bodies of war leave survivors and birth consequences.

Production: 6/6 One thing remains predictable about Game of Thrones: production values will exceed all expectations for television.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, “Winterfell” receives 36/42.