So Winter is here! Well, Spring actually, and the final season of Game of Thrones is upon us. It’s fair to say at this point that most people just want to know who dies and who survives, but Game of Thrones has never taken the easy path to death. It has horrified us many times with its inventive and shocking deaths, caused by the unscrupulous and deviant players on the board.
Now we’ve come full circle. The opening scenes of Season 8 call back to episode 1 of Season 1 when Bran Stark scales a castle wall at Winterfell to gain a better vantage point to see King Robert’s arrival. Now, years later, a young boy scurries through the crowds and then climbs a tree to watch the (former) King of the North Jon Snow and Queen Daenerys Targaryen arrive at Winter town. Both times, too, Arya Stark witnesses the procession from amongst the crowd instead of waiting with the rest of her family—and both times she reacts to seeing Sandor Clegane (The Hound) amongst the army. The first time she was an innocent child and his burned face scared her; this time these two have a lot of unpleasant history.
The Hound found himself on Arya’s hit list back in Season 1, after he murdered her friend Mycah on Prince Joffrey’s orders. Then, in Season 4, The Hound kidnapped Arya after she escaped from the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound attempted to ransom her, firstly to her mother, Catelyn Stark (who was murdered during the infamous Red Wedding) and then to her Aunt Lysa Arryn (who was murdered by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish when he pushed her through the Moon Door in The Eyrie). So, no luck on the money side for The Hound.
He and Arya were stuck together for some time until Brienne of Tarth tried to rescue her, battled The Hound and won, leaving him for dead. Arya snuck off during the fight but came across The Hound again, badly injured. He asked her to put him out of his misery; instead, she robbed him and left him to die slowly. But die he did not. Where that leaves their relationship now is anyone’s guess, but I would imagine The Hound feels some fondness and admiration for her. He may look like the monster, but as he said, she is truly cold.
What will be very interesting to see is if The Hound and his brother Gregor Clegane (The Mountain) are reunited again at any point in this final season. They came face to face last season, and The Hound had some words for him, but it didn’t go beyond that. The two never got on since Gregor held Sandor’s face in a fire for playing with his toys when they were children, horrifically scarring Sandor. Now that The Mountain is a reanimated corpse with immense inhuman strength, a silent disposition, and protector of Cersei, can The Hound turn out to be the hero we have always wanted him to be? The trailers leading up to the series showed Arya running through stone hallways, frightened. Not much scares Arya, but I imagine the sight of The Mountain would be enough to make anyone run for their life. I really hope that The Hound gets to serve justice on his brother and forge a friendship with Arya.
Varys, Master of Whisperers, and Tyrion, now Hand of the Queen to Daenerys, ride together alongside the army. These two are undoubtedly the cleverest men left standing—with Tyrion a master of political manoeuvring and diplomacy, and Varys as a skilled manipulator—but I am not sure that either of them can really prepare for what is to come. Neither are warriors or great military tacticians. Tyrion’s naivety when it comes to his sister Cersei seems somewhat incomprehensible at this point, but it seems he really does trust her to bring her army to join the battle against the White Walkers. Indeed she may turn up there, or she might just let them fight it out, kill each other off, and wait.
What we do know is that she has a target on the heads of both her brothers who have betrayed her. She sends her sneaky, serpent-like Hand, Qyburn, to request Bronn’s services as a hitman to take both of them out. Sellsword-turned-Lord Bronn, who is entertaining three ladies at the time, is quite happy to boot them out to listen to what the Queen of the Andals and the First Men wants. He is given a crossbow that once belonged to her evil son Joffrey. It is indeed the very same crossbow that Tyrion used to kill their father Tywin Lannister while he was sat on the crapper. Poetic justice indeed. The crossbow was also used by Joffrey to kill Ros, the beautiful red-haired sex worker that he used as target practice, by tying her naked to his bedpost and firing arrows. This was his first personal kill. He really was evil.
Bronn is offered a substantial amount of gold and a high place at the Queen’s table, but would he really kill Tyrion and Jaime for gold? He forged friendships with both of the Lannister brothers—firstly Tyrion, for whom he volunteered to fight as Champion in Tyrion’s trial at the Eyrie. Tyrion was accused by Catelyn Stark of murdering her sister’s husband, Jon Arryn (who was Hand of The King under Robert Baratheon), as well as the the attempted murder of her son Bran. Bronn won the fight and he and Tyrion remained friends, albeit based on the promise that Tyrion would always pay him double the amount of anyone who asked Bronn to betray him.
After Jaime lost his right hand, Tyrion paid Bronn to train with Jaime so he could learn to fight with his left. Then, Bronn travelled with Jaime to Dorne to retrieve Cersei and Jaime’s daughter, Myrcella. They came back empty handed, of course, as Myrcella was poisoned on the boat journey, but through that expedition, Bronn and Jaime looked out for each other. Bronn even saved Jaime from drowning after being attacked by Dany’s dragons. So could Bronn really betray these men after all they went through? Well, when he was once asked if he would murder a baby in front of its mother without question, Bronn denied it and claimed that he would ask for a price, implying that he would demand a very high price for such a despicable deed. Bronn is a fan favourite due to his sarcasm and dark wit. Surely he won’t fail us now? But in Game of Thrones, anything is possible.
Meanwhile, in Westeros, Cersei really, really wants elephants. The Golden Company have arrived by sea, commanded by Harry Strickland and ferried in by Euron Greyjoy who is extremely pleased with himself for fulfilling Cersei’s wishes. After all, she promised him herself if he succeeded in bringing her an army. The Golden Company are an army of mercenaries who will fight for the highest bidder, and Cersei has taken out a substantial loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos for this.
Euron has his niece Yara tied up onboard one of the ships and delights in torturing her with the news that they have arrived at King’s Landing. Yara tells him he has picked the losing side to fight on and he tells her he will simply leave Cersei if it comes to that—but not before having sex with her. Euron may be a lot of things but he does usually do what he says he will, and this is no different.
After introducing Strickland to Cersei, who sits upon the Iron Throne relaying her disappointment that elephants are too big to fit on boats, Euron asks her to talk with him privately, hoping that she is ready to fulfill the promise she made. At first, she rebuffs him, telling him he must earn her. He doesn’t give up that easily, though, and she gives in. Sometimes it is very hard to feel sorry for Cersei; other times, like this, you really feel the weight on her shoulders. She almost definitely doesn’t want to sleep with Euron, but she knows she has to as he is not an enemy she needs right now. She needs him close. After the act, he asks her if he was better in bed than King Robert, who apparently knew nothing of how to please a woman. Then he cheekily asks if he was better than Jaime. How he’s not dead yet is anyone’s guess.
“You might just be the most arrogant man I’ve ever met. I like that.” – Cersei Lannister to Euron Greyjoy
As he leaves, Euron tells Cersei he’s going to put a prince in her and rubs her abdomen. Of course, he has no idea that Cersei is already pregnant with Jaime’s child. She smiles but looks pained—no doubt joyful to be pregnant after losing all of her children, but sad that her brother and true love Jaime has left her despite knowing she is to bear another of his children. There may have been some scheming in that smile, though. Could she get away with passing this child off as Euron’s? Or even someone else’s? I feel a plan hatching, that’s for sure.
While Cersei and Euron are getting down to business, Theon Greyjoy returns to save his sister. Yara punches him square in the nose the second she is released: (a) because she is nails, and (b) because she’s annoyed that he left her there to die. They make up quickly, of course, because after all he did return to save her at exactly the right time. They sail off and she allows him to go and fight for his adopted family/captors: The Starks of the North.
It’s cold up North, both in the air and in the reception that Daenerys receives upon her arrival in Winterfell. The Houses that have pledged allegiance to the Starks did so for Jon—whom they made The King in the North—not the Targaryen Queen. Jon tells his people that he bent the knee for the Queen because the North needs her, her army, and her dragons. There is no hope for any of them without her. He may be right, but Sansa certainly isn’t feeling it. She is the smartest person there by far. She’s been through a lot and learned a great deal about the game from living with some of the most wicked and devious people: Ramsay Bolton, Cersei and Joffrey Lannister, and Petyr Baelish. Sansa doesn’t suffer fools and although she pledges her allegiance to Daenerys, she does not trust her. I can’t help but feel that she might be right not to do so.
Sansa and Tyrion meet for the first time since their marriage—which by Westerosi law was technically never valid because it was not consummated—and the death of Joffrey at the Purple Wedding. Both were blamed for the poisoning of Joffrey, but neither were to blame as it happens (though both probably wish they were). They always have and always will have a healthy respect for each other and their survival against all odds. Tyrion is impressed by how much she has grown into the rightful Lady of Winterfell.
Arya and Jon reunite in the Godswood, and Jon is surprised to see she still has her trusty sword “Needle.” Little does Jon know that Arya is one of the most powerful warriors of all, not just with her Needle but with her ability to become someone else, having trained to become a Faceless Man.
Gendry, the bastard son of King Robert (and last living Baratheon), is now a good friend to Jon after fighting the White Walkers together. Arya is delighted to see him. They were last together when they were both taken by Ser Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners. Ser Beric sold Gendry to Melisandre the Red Priestess for two bags of gold. She knew of his lineage and intended to use him for blood magic, but he was saved by Ser Davos just in time, and hidden in plain sight in Flea Bottom, Westeros, working as a blacksmith.
Those skills will prove hugely useful now. His ability to forge weaponry from Dragonglass and Valyrian Steel is the only way they can fight the White Walkers. Arya asks him to make her a Dragonglass dagger with an ornamental hilt, to go with the Catspaw Assassin’s Valyrian steel dagger, and Needle. There was perhaps an element of flirtation between Arya and Gendry, though he seems to be upset that she did not let on about her heritage when they were taken by the Brotherhood. This seems a little hypocritical now considering he knows he is the son of a king.
Jon and Daenerys seem to be falling deeper in love, and go flying her dragons to be alone together. The dragons seem to be a little jealous and unsure of their mother’s new boyfriend—could it be that they can sense that Jon has Targaryen blood? The scene is played for comedic effect and probably not something we should be too concerned about considering it’s unlikely the dragons would ever harm Jon. This whole relationship is a concern though, and the truth of it is about to turn Jon’s life upside down.
Jorah Mormont introduces Daenerys to Samwell Tarly, the man who saved his life by finding the cure for Greyscale and staying with him while he treated the disease, risking his own life in the process. Sam is troubled to learn that Daenerys killed his father and brother for refusing to bend the knee to her. Sam is later advised by Bran to tell Jon the truth about his heritage. Sam finds Jon in the crypts and tells him he’s learned the truth of Jon’s heritage: he is Aegon Targaryen, the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the last Prince of Dragonstone. This, of course, makes Jon the true heir to the Iron Throne—and the nephew of Daenerys, who was Rhaegar’s sister. Awkward.
What will Jon do now? Does he even want that title or that power? Does he believe that Daenerys is a more worthy leader and will he keep this revelation from her? If anyone else was to find out, she could be in real danger from the people of the North. Sam was right to question whether Daenerys would give up her crown to save the people like Jon did. I am not so sure she would.
Bran and Jon haven’t seen each other since the second episode of Season 1. Back then, Bran was in a coma after being thrown from a Winterfell castle tower by Jaime Lannister, after Bran accidentally caught him and Cersei having sex. Even though rumours were already around town about their incestuous relationship, Jaime felt he had to do this for love.
Bran never walked again, and this incident started a long and arduous journey that ultimately led him on a path to become the next all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven. Will Bran forgive Jaime considering he may never have discovered his truth without Jaime committing this terrible act? Bran is becoming creepier and creepier the older (and wiser) he gets. I can’t help but feel his messages, though few and far between, are to cause trouble, and that Bran may not be all he seems. If he can see the future and the past, why isn’t he helping more? Just whose side is he on?
Talking of creepy (and yes I am definitely considering the possibility that Bran/the Three-Eyed Raven and the Night King are one and the same), the Night King sent a threatening message to all those North of (what is left of) the Wall by murdering everyone at House Umber and leaving the young lord Ned’s corpse strapped to a sort of Catherine Wheel of limbs. His eyes soon open, ice blue. Yep, he’s one of the undead now. Set it on fire!
The spiral pattern the limbs were displayed in was nothing new for the White Walkers. What it means I do not know, but it has been meaningful to them since their creation by the Children of the Forest. From the tree where they plunged a piece of Dragonglass into the heart of one of the First Men, creating the very first White Walker, and from thereon in they tend to leave their massacres in this strange formation. What do the White Walkers even want? I can’t imagine they actually have any interest in the Iron Throne or ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Maybe they just want to go somewhere sunnier to thaw out?
We will find out more next week and I will be back with my pondering of Episode 2. Until then, I will leave you with one last musing: someone really needs to tell the people of the North that it’s not the people of colour they should be afraid of, it’s the White Walkers.