Check me out, doing a blog project about a thing that’s currently happening.
So I belatedly realised that the first episode of the final series of Game of Thrones dropped last night. And I discovered, to my surprise, that I could have access to it this time via a streaming service I actually use rather than having to subscribe to something weird or wait for the whole thing to come out on Amazon. And, thinking about it, it’s testimony to how damn long this series has been running that I watched S1 on an legit physical medium that I had to put in a machine and press play on like a fucking caveman.
Anyway, I was sort of dithering over whether to try and watch the new GoT as it released rather than waiting and binging it, but I decided it might be nice to build a blogging project round it. Then I saw the first episode and discovered that I was in no position to say anything insightful about the show whatsoever because it’s been two years since the last series, a decade since the first series and nearly twenty years since the book was released, and I had no idea who anyone was or what was going on.
So I kind of took a pause, and started trying to thrash through strategies of how to deal with this, not just in terms of blogging, but also in terms of not wasting an hour a week going “who’s that?”, “I thought he was dead?”, “wasn’t she on the other side of the world?” I briefly considered sticking a pin in the new series and just going back to a full thon of Seasons 1 to 7 to get myself caught up. But I hesitated for two reasons. Firstly, I super don’t feel that consuming entertainment should require you to do homework. And, secondly, as I was paging through the older series on the various services through which I can access it, I was struck by the thought that so much of what I was going to be watching would be totally irrelevant.
I mean, from a certain point of view, the only GoT summary you’ll ever need is as follows:
- S1E1: Ned Stark and his children leave Winterfell
- S8E1: The surviving Stark children come back to Winterfell
I feel really conflicted about the emotional reaction I had to all the stuff that happened in ‘Winterfell’ (that being the title of the first episode of the final series) in that it was really satisfying to see these things that you’ve known were coming for so long finally unfolding in front of you. On the other hand, I couldn’t quite shake the notion that they’d taken their sweet time getting there, and that an awful lot of the things that had happened in the middle played almost no part in connecting where we started to where we were always going to wind up.
Because it’s great to finally see … I mean, the list is so long it borders on fanservice but Jon and Arya, Arya and the Hound, Arya and I wanna say Gendry? I think I mean Gendry, y’know, Chris from Skins, the Ginger Wildling and the guys from Brotherhood Without Banners, Jaime and Bran, Sansa and Danaerys, and pretty much any character combination/pairing you can think of meeting or being reunited after all this time. You look at them, particularly the ones who were legitimately child actors when the series began, and say “oh my God, they’ve come so far and so much has happened” but then, if you’re me, you immediately think: but most of the much that has happened and the far that they’ve come was just kind of random and arbitrary. Also, perhaps it was just because my memory of the previous season was a bit woolly but every three minutes I found myself going “hang on a second, when did he/she get to Winterfell, wasn’t he/she somewhere completely different and/or dead?”
So for what it’s worth, I decided that the structure for this blog project is going to be as follows: I’m going to watch the new episodes as they come out and I’m also going to re-watch the previous series … serieses … and rather than doing either “this is my experience of watching series 8, having refreshed myself on everything else” or “this is my experience of re-watching this series now that it’s finished” or “this is my experience of watching this series without a clue about what happened earlier” I thought I’d do sort of … all of them mashed up at once. A tiny part of me was quite tempted to do an episode-by-episode of the whole thing but then I realised that would be committing to 70 blog posts, which is more than I wrote about Hugh Grant, and we can’t have that. My vague intent, therefore, will be to alternate a not-exactly review of the new episode of the new season with a not-exactly recap of a whole previous series. This is clearly absurd, and probably won’t work.
Anyway, for those who are still paying attention or care, my thoughts on Season 8 Episode 1 … well … I mean it really can be summed up as “wow, that got super focused super quickly.” We went from having characters spread all over the world, doing a thousand different things (I’ve sort of developed a rule for when I’m watching TV on Amazon that when the episode summary just lists four different characters doing four unrelated things, something has probably gone structurally wrong with the show) to having them in exactly two different places and, really, in King’s Landing it’s just Cersei, her pet necromancer, and one of the Greyjoys.
The rest of the episode of pretty much all exposition and foreshadowing. A child, who has unexpectedly been thrust into a positon of responsibility for which he woefully unprepared, is nailed to a wall to remind us that this is the kind of show where children get nailed to walls, and also to remind us that the Night King is still a thing. Although, really, this raises more questions than it answers because everything we’ve seen so far from the Wights and the White Walkers suggests that they come in force and destroy all your shit. In the scene where a bunch of beloved characters we haven’t encountered for a while, and whose names I’ve completely forgotten, find Little Lord Doomed pinned up and surrounded by weird severed limbs that look at once insectoid and fleshy and form some bizarre occult sigil, one of the characters declares that this is “a message from the Night King”. Which … isn’t the kind of thing the Night King has ever done? A message from the Night King is “I have just walked over your Wall with a giant army of zombies, one of whom is a dragon”. Who exactly is sneaking around the North doing installation art with dead kids?
I mean, obviously fans, nerds and nerdy fans pontificating about the whole point of their favourite media franchises is something that it’s very easy to overdose on but I can’t help but feel that the whole point of the White Walkers (from my perspective at least) was that they were this implacable force of nature. One of the scariest things about them, like the scary thing about a lot of undead horrors in a variety of fictions, is that they weren’t especially interested in scaring you. So having them suddenly go full Edgelord was a bit … odd?
It’s probably not a good idea to judge the new series too early or too harshly but I am dimly reminded about one of the things I found unsatisfying about series 7, which was the drift away from a focus on detail to a focus on spectacle. Don’t get me the wrong, the scene with the burning screaming Wight Child at the centre of the spiral of flames is terribly dramatic but I’m left with the niggling suspicion that it’s just dramatic in a vacuum. Maybe I need to have more faith, but my feeling is that all we can take away from that sequence is that the White Walkers are getting closer, and things are getting spooky yo, rather than anything more concrete about what they are, where they come from, or what they want. Although I’m sure this is the point where someone links me to a Wiki, detailing that the symbol is actually a really important bit of deep lore that highlights something crucially important I’ve missed.
Other notable happenings: Jon Snow rides a dragon, thereby establishing that he is at least as cool as Harry Potter and discovers, in the course of one conversation, that he is secretly the true king of everything, that the woman he’s sworn fealty to is way happier to burn people alive that he might have imagined, and also that, oh yeah, he’s fucking his aunt. On which subject, there’s a super strange bit where Jon and Dany start making out somewhere in Skyrim and then the implication is they’re gonna, like, legit do it and the camera cuts to a shot of one of Danaerys’ dragons watching them with a perplexed look on its face. And while we’re talking about Jon and Dany, there’s also a scene where Tyrion, Varys and Jorah Mormomt really explicitly ship them, then go on to have a melancholy conversation about youth and age and shit. It’s like everyone in this world is obsessed with Jon and Dany’s sex life.
Aaaand, I think that’s kind of it? Unless you count Cersei banging the Spare Greyjoy for no reason, and Theon rescuing Kate from Upstart Crow, all of which takes about three minutes before we bounce back to yet more people showing up at Winterfell. The last of whom, in a shock reveal, is Jaime Lannister, weirdly no longer blond. Because apparently even hair goes grimdark in Westeros.
My glibbest reaction to the first episode, and this was always going to be inevitable given how much it had to cover, is that it almost felt like a really, really, really long trailer. You get dragons, an ominous soundbite every six to eight seconds, and a bunch of shots which imply that people are about to start or have just finished having sex. Even the more serious reviews from more serious reviewing sites basically describe the episode as “a taste of things to come” which is a polite way of saying that nothing, strictly speaking, happens in it.
And where was Brienne? Everyone winds up at Winterfell except Brienne. Shit, is she dead? She better not be dead.