At last, we’ve reached the beginning of the end.
The first of the final six episodes of HBO’s blockbuster fantasy epic Game of Thrones has aired, and in a month and a half we’ll know how it all ends. In the meantime, critics and fans will engage in a flurry of speculation, picking apart each episode to figure out what it could mean for their favorite (and least favorite) characters, all the way up until May 19, when the show will have given all the answers.
In keeping with that tradition, three of Vox’s culture writers sat down to discuss the season eight premiere, “Winterfell.” What might the episode tell us about Game of Thrones’ eventual series finale? Going forward, what should the Game of Thrones writers do (or, really, what do we hope they’ve done, since the whole season was shot last year) to give the show the ending it deserves? And will fans ever be satisfied, no matter what happens?
Joining the conversation are critic at large Todd VanDerWerff, senior culture correspondent Alex Abad-Santos, and reporter and critic Alissa Wilkinson.
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Alissa Wilkinson: I was surprised by my experience watching this episode. I’ve come late to the show, out of professional obligation rather than any deep interest in it, and what I knew going in was that the show is very complicated, with many different stories and characters all happening at once. But after spending a few hours watching recap videos that covered the past seven seasons, I pretty much understood what was happening in this episode, and was able to Google whatever I didn’t get after it was over.
You both have been watching and writing about Game of Thrones for much longer than me. Should I be surprised that I was able to track with it so well?
Alex Abad-Santos: The big thing that happened in season seven, beneath the cover of the Lannister army slaughter and the big White Walker rescue, was that Game of Thrones condensed its action into two locations and streamlined its roster of characters. The Martells, Olenna Tyrell, and Littlefinger all died in season seven — and their deaths followed the season six deaths of Rickon Stark, Tommen and Myrcella Baratheon, Hodor, Margaery and Loras Tyrell, and Doran and Trystane Martell, among others.
That’s a culling.
And now the remaining characters are either in King’s Landing with Cersei or at Winterfell to battle the White Walkers. So that could mean Game of Thrones is now easier to track than it was in earlier seasons, when it felt like there was a constantly rotating carousel of characters in multiple locations.
As for what’s ahead, it feels like the big battle between the White Walkers and the forces of the living will happen sooner than the end of the season. At least, that’s what I got from the premiere. Everyone’s setting up at Winterfell, and it feels like we’ll get one more episode — probably for Jaime and Bran and Tyrion to have little moments together — before the Night King crashes this party.
My guess is that Cersei’s big battle with her new army, the Golden Company, will cap the show.
What are your predictions regarding the White Walker battle? Do you think we’ll spend another episode in Winterfell talking about feeding everyone and listening to everyone groan about Daenerys? What do you think the next episode will hold?
Todd VanDerWerff: Well, we’ve gotta get a few more reunions out of the way in the next episode, for sure. Jaime and Bran, yes, but also Jaime and Brienne, and maybe they’ll kiss??
A major theme of the TV show — one that is much more pronounced than it is in the books — is the idea that these nobles are squabbling as this massive, existential nightmare is right at their doors. And, honestly, that’s a compelling metaphor for any number of things, and it’s a pretty cool thing to show on TV, especially when your budget is as large as Game of Thrones’ is. ($15 million per episode! And that’s the number HBO wants to be public. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s even higher.)
But George R.R. Martin’s books have always tried to push back against the “ultimate clash between good and evil” conceit, leading many Game of Thrones fans to believe that the White Walkers (called the “Others” in the books) will eventually be revealed to have a complexity of their own, even if they represent this massive threat to humanity. The TV show hasn’t seemed to consider that option, which made a lot of the jockeying in season seven and this premiere feel even more forced.