Public Service Announcement 32 of 2019: Game of Thrones: The Last Watch, Riviera

We’re completists on unpopcult, as you know, but I’m slightly apprehensive about the prospect of watching a two hour-ish documentary on the making of the final season of Game of Thrones. I mean, I’d love some gossipy backstage chat and seeing Jon Snow or whoever having a laugh with Sansa and the Night King by the coffee cart while Brienne and Varys shoot the breeze by the water cooler (NB – I don’t know if any of this happens) but will seeing just how much CGI went into the massive battle scenes or exactly how to build your dragon spoil the tv magic? I once had to visit a chicken product factory years ago (it was a work thing) and it did not improve my chicken-eating experiences, if you know what I mean.

Having said that, the production of epic-scale fantasy television is (probably) not the same as the production of frozen chicken nuggets. I’ve written a lot about the acting and writing on GOT but haven’t spent anywhere near as much time on the direction, cinematography, sets, costume work and the like that made it the astonishing spectacle it was, so finding out more about all of that is no bad thing. And the trailer looks like it might make me cry. If you want to check it out then, Game of Thrones: The Last Watch is on Sky Atlantic tonight/Monday morning at 2AM with the now-standard prime time repeat at 9PM tomorrow (Monday) night.

If you’d like a more 21st-century but only slightly less fantastical (to me, anyway – the trailers alone suggest a lifestyle nobody I will ever know actually lives) drama meanwhile, you might want to tune into Sky Atlantic a little earlier tonight for Season 2 of Riviera: there’s an encore showing of the opening double bill at 9pm, if you didn’t already catch it in its Thursday night slot. Both seasons in their entirety are also currently on Sky GO, so plenty of chances to catch up with the über-glossy adventures of Julia Stiles and other extremely rich people up to extremely suspicious things in the extremely beautiful Riviera, now with added Juliet Stevenson, Will Arnett and – hurrah! – unpopcult favourite Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend. I say again: Gregory Fitoussi as Julia’s new boyfriend! I didn’t watch season 1 (and I don’t think I can face starting now), but if I had, I’d be very excited right about now.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 6

*For one last time: SPOILERS*

Snow and ash falls onto the bodies and rubble that once was Kings Landing, as the weary, dejected Tyrion makes his way to what’s left of his family and grieves. Jon and Ser Davos, grimly picking their way through the eerily quiet streets, try to prevent more slaughter but Grey Worm, if he ever cared, doesn’t now. Lannister soldiers on their knees isn’t enough for him or his Queen: the Mother of Dragons will not hide behind small mercies any longer.

“How much more defeated do you want them to be?” asks Ser Davos, but it’s the wrong question. “How many more defeated do you want there to be?” turns out to be more apt, as the First of Her Name proclaims, Targaryen banner and Drogon flying by her side, that this victory isn’t enough either, it will never be enough: “From Winterfell to Dorne, from Lannisport to Qarth, from the Summer Isles to the Jade Sea”, she will never stop.

Because they have been raised to fight and to kill / because GOT‘s racial optics have always been problematic (you choose) the Dothraki and the Unsullied cheer her on, while the two white men who fell blindly in love with her look on in horror. This is the Queen they chose. This is the liberation they fought for? Tyrion gives up on the dream, surrendering his pin and his freedom but Jon can’t quite let go yet: not when Arya tells him what Daenerys is, not when Tyrion tells him what Daenerys is, not till Daenerys herself tells him what she is. “You are my Queen”, he vows, “Now and always”, and I don’t understand at first – did you hear her, Jon? Do you understand? – but then I do. As Tyrion says, Jon Snow has always tried to do the right thing, no matter the cost. And in this game, at least, duty really is the death of love.

If you believe Jon Snow did love Daenerys Targaryen, that is. I was never quite convinced by their relationship, but he told us enough times and Jon has never been able to lie, so I suppose we must accept that he did. Drogon certainly did, though, so he destroys the Iron Throne that brought her to this, and flies away with his mother’s body, leaving her nephew alone to face whoever’s justice comes next.

And breathe.

Like the ending or loathe it, the first part of the series finale is visually stunning. Grey, cold, snowy, with the increasingly unreachable Daenerys atop an endless series of stairs, now almost wholly detached from Jon, from righteousness and from all those small mercies that might have made her a good Queen instead of a power-crazed one. The part which comes next, then, while shot perfectly well too, is jarring in its contrast: prisoner Tyrion, dragged blinking into the courtyard bathed in sunshine where the lords and ladies of Westeros are to decide where they go from here. Or really, as Tyrion decides where they go from here.

There are perfunctory threats amongst the arguing, of course, but Ser Davos has had more than his fill of violence: “we’ve been cutting each other’s throats long enough”, he says, and they all know he’s right. There must be a better way. Sam’s suggestion of Westeros’s first mass elections is laughed at, as it should be, because polls and campaign posters would be a fine idea in a 21st century world but a profoundly boring ending for this one. Edmure, who hasn’t been seen since the Red Wedding and is only being seen at all now because Arya is exceptionally good at assassinations, tries to take charge but Sansa’s “Uncle, please sit” is a joy. Olenna may be gone, but she taught Ned Stark’s daughter a thing or two before she went. Sadly, she didn’t get to teach Tyrion much, though, or I suspect his choice for King might have been different.

“Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” About three quarters of the cast, since you’re asking, T, and at least three or four people in that one scene, including yourself. All the people railing at the show runners do need to remember though that this must have been GRR Martin’s choice: he told them how the Song of Ice and Fire is meant to end, and he, like Tyrion has “a tender spot in (his) heart for cripples, bastards and broken things” (his words, not mine, apologies) so I assume he chose to crown King Bran the Broken, First of his Name. I can see why, I suppose. If you want to subvert reader/audience expectations, you can’t give the Throne to the handsome, virile “rightful heir”. If you want to break the wheel, birth and “birthright” are to be disregarded. If you want to give it to the person with the best story….. well, I remain unconvinced that the boy who spent years mired in mystical guff in the snow and now speaks almost exclusively in riddles is the right choice, but you do you, GRRM. You do you.

The rest of the finale’s choices are just about perfect, though. Bran will be King in name only: he will warg about doing not very much, while the real ruling is done by Tyrion and his bantering, buoyant Small Council made up of former outcasts Brienne, Davos and Sam who not only made it this far but proved their worth along the way, and Bronn who apparently lands on his feet, no matter what. Their cheerful teasing made me smile, while Brienne writing Jaime’s entry in the book made me cry. And the rest of the Starks? Arya is off into the unknown, to seek the adventures she’s always wanted. Sansa is the Queen in the now independent North, exactly as she should be. And Jon Snow comes full circle: back to Castle Black (“there’s still a Night’s Watch?”), back to Tormund and Ghost (sob) and back to the free folk, who’ve never cared who his parents are, to be King Beyond the Wall. It might not be the ending everyone wanted but, other than King Bran, I thought it was the right one after all.

So that’s it for Game of Thrones, then, the biggest tv show in the world, except of course for the debriefs, the petitions, the memes and the spin-offs: a cultural phenomenon like this is never really over, these days. It’s been eight seasons of very high ups and crushingly low downs, with the show’s uncompromising brutality, somewhat erratic pacing – a few years of treading water in the middle, a headlong rush at the end, entire seasons of Ramsay Bolton torturing folk along the way – and troubling attitudes to women causing me all sorts of distress and frustration, but I kept coming back, as did millions of people all over the world because, as Tyrion says, “there’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story”. And Game of Thrones, for all its many flaws, was a rich, sprawling tapestry of a tale, spread across years and continents, with a host of iconic characters brought to life by an enormous, often magnificent cast. How could I resist?

Of course, I’ll miss talking about it as much as I’ll miss the show, so thank you so much to the online and offline friends who read or commented on these posts and indulged all my ramblings. Who knows if there will ever be another show with the global reach this one had? As one Petyr Baelish once said, the past is gone for good, and a lot can happen between now and never, so I’m just glad we got to share this one: we loved the characters we loved, hated the characters we hated and had the best time swapping them round every now and again. Now Winter has been and gone, goodbye Game of Thrones. You know there’s no other way to finish this post: Our Watch has finally ended.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 5

*ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE SPOILERS*

In television, as in life, you can’t always get what you want. With this deeply frustrating episode and the one before, though, Game of Thrones seems determined not to give us much of what we need, either.

We begin with Varys, plotting away till the end. ls that last chat with his last little bird about trying to poison Daenerys? Or just trying to cheer up Her Royal Sadness with a tub of the Seven Kingdoms equivalent of ice cream? (Haagen-Daariozs? Ben’n’Jorah’s? Never mind.) Maybe we’ll find out next week, maybe we never will – either way, Tyrion adds another to his very long list of bad decisions, and shops him to the increasingly moody Dragon Queen who seems more upset about her nephew/ boyfriend’s “betrayal” / reasonable refusal to hide his own identity having waited 8 seasons to find it out (you say potato, I say potahto, etc) than anything else. Still, at least she doesn’t let it spoil her sense of the dramatic – Varys, er, “goes Dracarys” on a dark, windy Dragonstone night, with everyone but Her Grace and Grey Worm looking profoundly uncomfortable because nothing says “I’m not going the full Targaryen” like flame-grilling the guy who suggested you might be.

Goodbye, Varys. Conleth Hill’s performance over the years has been such that l’ve forgotten practically all the deceitful things the Spider ever did and will remember him with fondness. His death is sad but it’s fitting, in terms of the development of the character and the story over the years, and it makes sense. Would that the same could be said about some of the others this week, though, as the show lays waste not only to Kings Landing but to years of writer and audience investment in Jaime Lannister who, it turns out, is doing exactly what he told Brienne he was: going back to Cersei and, in the process, as legions of distressed fans have pointed out today, going back on years of character development because, in the end, everything Jaime did to redeem himself in our eyes and his own matters naught to him. All that matters is Cersei.

Sigh. At least he gets a sweet, final scene with Tyrion first, as his little brother repays a favour and helps him escape. I don’t believe he means it when he says he’s never much cared for the common people either – the very reason he became the Kingslayer gives the lie to that. That’s just some of the old Golden Lion bravado coming through, but it’s the old Golden Lion that the show seems determined to leave us with: battling his way back to Cersei’s side to save her or die trying. It’s a sad, ignominious exit for a character who should have been one of GOT’s greatest triumphs – when we first met him, he pushed a child (a Stark child!) out of a window, to stop his own nasty, seedy family secret getting out. You’d think there could be no sympathy for him and there could be no coming back from that but, somehow, thanks to patient writing, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s fantastic work, and his wonderful partnership with Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne, there was and he did. Until this week. Jaime and Cersei dying together is an ending that makes sense too, yes, but Jaime and Cersei dying together with him back in her arms as if he never left them is an awful, nihilistic one that doesn’t, made even worse by that smirking idiot Euron being a smirking idiot right till the end.

Sigh. I’m talking around rather than about the basic plot, I know, but then the basic plot is exactly what I thought it would be: Dany has a tantrum because she’s lost her friends, and she might not get the cool crown she wants, so Kings Landing and everyone in it has to burn.

The outrage on the Lannister army’s faces when they realise their surrender is being dishonoured in this way; the horror on Jon Snow’s as he tries fruitlessly to stop the fighting; the men, women and children of the city running from the flames and the fighting but dying in their thousands nonetheless – it’s all beautifully, majestically shot and fantastically acted, with each scene its own perfect tableau of violence, terror and senseless, merciless bloodshed. None of this needs to happen, none of it, but Daenerys must be queen, or kill everyone else trying because the First of her Name has always sought revenge and the throne above all else. She only wants the wheel broken if she’s the one who gets to do the breaking, and since the only people she would have allowed to talk her out of fire and blood before are now either dead or standing in her way to the Iron Throne, then fire and blood it must be.

What Dany does this week, then, what she has finally become is, unconscionable but, like Varys’s fate and unlike Jaime’s, it’s fitting and it makes sense. Contrary to a lot of online chatter and a lot of criticism I’ve levelled at GOT over the years, I don’t think this particular twist is misogynist, and I don’t think it’s sexist – I just don’t think she was ever the hero people thought she was, and the show did a better job showing that over the years than it did with Jaime, even if the ultimate goal was to show that neither of them could ever really escape the families and family traits that made them what they were.

In one sense that is the ultimate theme of the episode, I suppose. After all, the Hound and the Mountain are family who couldn’t ever truly escape each other too, albeit their mutual self-destruction is both horrible to watch and absolutely perfect. And at least their ending gives rise to one of the few moments of humour in the episode when Cersei, realising that the Mountain is more interested in fighting his brother than looming about behind her any longer, quietly slides past them and scoots off. I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I smiled.  The Hound’s also semi-responsible (in a very roundabout way) for the one time I laughed during the episode, too. His last redemptive act may be one of vengeance and death, but his last truly good deed is to persuade Arya (if nobody minds me borrowing from Wham here) to choose life. Nothing funny in that, even though Arya’s subsequent doomed attempts at heroism as she tries and fails to save Michelle from Line of Duty (!) and various other unfortunates border on the farcical. But the sudden, random appearance of a horse for Arya to ride out on reminded me of this and made me shout “HORSE!” again for the first time in years. I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I laughed. After all that, I needed it. See you next week for the big finish.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 4

*SPOILERS*

“We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”

Which is the problem, isn’t it? The various factions camped out in Winterfell can agree that the end of the Night King is a victory and that the loss of their people is a tragedy but that’s about it. With that distraction and the memorial service out of the way, they have no more excuses not to confront their issues, both with each other and themselves.

Not that a feast is a bad way to start doing that, but the increasingly (and justifiably) paranoid Daenerys can’t even have a party without an agenda since, as she’s all too aware, it’s very much not her party, these are not her people, and no amount of dispensing titles and toasts is going to change that. Begging Jon to keep his secret is desperate, arrogant and doomed to fail, as is just about everything else she does this week. She should have listened to Sansa, she should have listened to Varys, and she should have got over herself, but this is Dany we’re talking about, so instead she loses her (bizarrely easily-dispatched) dragon, her best friend and any chance of keeping it together for the rest of the season. As Varys points out, every tyrant talks about destiny and, as far as I can see, the only difference between this one and the others was dragons and Jon Snow by her side. Two down, two to go.

As well as being a bad week for Team Dany, it’s a terrible week for Team Love and Romance, with shippers’ hopes and hearts being stomped on all over the place. Lord Gendry Baratheon, drunk on happiness and legitimacy, asks Arya to marry him, because he might well love her, I don’t know, but he certainly doesn’t know her at all. Ouch. Tormund Giantsbane fares somewhat better – he insists that Brienne’s broken his heart but he finds someone to mend it thirty seconds later, so I think he’s fine. (I’ll miss him if he really does head up north with Ghost and we don’t see him again, but his farewell to Jon is lovely.) Grey Worm has to watch Missandei die in credulity-and-patience-stretching fashion. And Jaime? Jaime gives Brienne joy, love and the chance of everything she ever wanted, and then he rips it all away.

Of course, the idea that Jaime could stay behind and live a happy, quiet life with her was only ever a fantasy, and it’s no surprise when he does go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he’s going back “for” Cersei in the same way he tries to convince Brienne he is; I think he’s going back to rip his sister out of the world, root and stem, and he‘s deliberately cruel about it to try and stop Brienne from following him, but it’s still awful to watch this strong, magnificent woman who has come so far over the past few years, reduced to sobbing and begging this man, who hasn’t come quite far enough, to stay.

It’s a bad week for women in general, too, though. I’m largely indifferent to Missandei as a character but, as plenty of people have pointed out, putting the only woman of colour in the main cast in chains and killing her to give her boyfriend and his white lady boss something else to be angry about isn’t a great look for the show. Sansa essentially telling the Hound that she wouldn’t be this awesome if it weren’t for all the horrors she’s gone through isn’t entirely inaccurate – our experiences shape us all, absolutely, and yes, Sansa wouldn’t be the same if she’d just stayed at home and maybe married a Tully – but it does seem like a) an unfortunate attempt to justify the show’s terrible treatment of women over the past few years, and b) a very old-fashioned, borderline misogynist view of character development. After all, there are many ways for women to grow and evolve which don’t involve repeated rape and torture at the hands of various men. It’s just a shame they didn’t write any of them for her instead.

A curiously unsatisfying week then, which, despite the two “shock!” deaths, ends with the principal cast almost exactly where we all expected them to be. Daenerys, angry and spoiling for a fight. Tyrion and Varys wondering if they’ve backed the wrong Targaryen. Jon and co on their way to Kings Landing for the show’s last big battle. (This week’s skirmish was something of a surprise, but not a massively impressive one, given its consequences – I’d have saved it till next week). Arya, the Hound and Jaime not far behind. Cersei and Euron smirking away in the Red Keep. And Sansa and Bran at Winterfell waiting for whoever wins. Hm. For all it was a bad week for so many, ”The Last of the Starks” wasn’t bad in itself, exactly, but whatever comes next really does need to be better.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 3

*SPOILERS*

“And here we are at the end of the world.”

The night, as they say, is dark and full of terrors. Very dark, it turns out, and not always that easy to follow, but I always have that issue with night battle scenes. There have been a lot of complaints about the lighting in this episode but I don’t think it was any harder to see what was happening than say the battle of Helm’s Deep – it’s war, it’s dark, there are thousands of people involved, it has to be bloody, confusing and messy. Or does it? We’ll get to that.

For all the darkness and the illusion of mess, however, it’s clear that every second of the balletic carnage was carefully choreographed: the tracking shot at the start with Sam, Lyanna, Tyrion, Bran etc; the Dothraki galloping with their flaming swords and fireballs in the sky lighting their way; Arya’s desperate run through the passages of Winterfell passages – there were too many striking shots to mention here, but one thing that particularly struck me about most of them was the power of the silence. The soundtrack to the Battle of Winterfell only used a little music at the end – for the most part, there was either quiet, eerie calm while everyone waited for the enemy to come, or there was a cacophony of shouting and screaming (a not inconsiderable proportion of which was coming from my sofa). It was the right decision: the music was used well but the silence and the screaming had a force all of their own.

Enough musing on the technical elements, though, time for the body count. It may be that I didn’t grasp the finer points of Team Winterfell’s plan, but it seemed to involve a lot of largely pointless sacrifice of Dothraki, Unsullied and poor Dolorous Edd – why send them out when you know they can’t make even a dent in the Dead? Why not light the trenches first and wait for the Dead to come to you? And as for Dany and Jon…. Dany lighting everyone up with dragon fire was very exciting, but other than that, her and Jon swooping about doing not very much were not only even more difficult to follow but all kinds of useless. Their most impressive efforts actually came when they fell off, but even then they didn’t amount to all that much, with Jon essentially stamping his foot and yelling at the Ice Dragon in a tantrum towards the end a measure of both his frustration and mine. He tried all sorts of ways to get to Bran, bless him – my shouting “Come ON, Jon! throughout didn’t seem to help – but he ended up just making things worse.

Just as well then that Winterfell wasn’t reliant on the Dragon Queen or the One True Heir to save humanity as we know it. Let’s raise our swords one last time in salute to Lyanna Mormont, who went out like the badass she was, and wipe away a tear for her and Wun Wun, whose two deaths were tragic, even if this one was for the wrong side. Jorah, Theon and the Ironborn, I’ll not miss any of you, but good (if predictable) redemptive work this week and goodbye. Beric, you can rest now, you’ve earned it. And to the nameless folk in the crypt and everyone else who didn’t make it: thank you for saving the principal cast members (and helping Sansa and Tyrion get all close and personal) by giving the dead something else to munch on.

The two MVPs were surprises, however, though I suppose on reflection they shouldn’t have been. Melisandre was a bona fide terrible person but she’s always had power, and this week she used it to save everybody’s asses repeatedly, and in spectacular style, when the “heroes” of the story failed miserably to do so. And she also helped give Arya, a character I’ve had my issues with, the little extra inspiration she needed to save the whole freaking world. That shot of Maisie Williams in the air, the Night King’s hands round her throat, delivering the killer blow was the ultimate in punch-the-air, scream-yourself-silly moments and yes, it was a surprise, but it was also more than earned. We’ve all endured Arya’s endless years of assassin training with her – who better to kill the unkillable after all that? Sticking them with the pointy end, and doing it in style.

A thrilling, terrifying, heart-pounding episode, then, but now that my pulse has returned to normal and I’ve stopped whimpering and screaming, I do have to ask: has GOT gone a little soft in its old age? Fond as I am of Jaime, Brienne, Pod and Sam, I lost count of the number of times they were knocked down and swarmed by wights. How did Sansa, Tyrion and co in the crypts come out without a scratch? Ser Davos?! The only thing which could have saved all of these luminaries from what looked like hell on earth was some exceptionally sturdy plot armour. Which, fine, we only have three episodes to go, and I’d much rather have them all alive in them, but when your show’s whole schtick is “nobody’s safe”, it’s a little bit anti-climactic when you have to add “except all the main cast and a healthy proportion of their pals.” As I said, war is messy and bloody – but this episode ended very tidily and cleanly indeed.

Oh well. No doubt all these characters still have things the writers need them to do, and we still have the battle of Kings Landing to come. Plenty of time for a cast cull at that stage instead so, in the meantime, if their survival this week means extra time with some fan favourites, well then what do we say to Death? Yeah – no, dude. Not today.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

“Heartwarming”, “sweet” and “joyful” are not the kind of words which I would generally use to describe an entire episode of GOT, but has there ever been an ep of this show that had quite so much niceness in it before? Last week’s season premiere had plenty of adorable moments, but “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was another level of loveliness, all wrapped up beautifully for the fans as a final present before the the end of the world (and the possible end of many of these characters) begins next week.

There’s still some frostiness, of course, with Daenerys ready to execute Jaime on the spot, or just as soon as she can give another one of her tiresome speeches, and Sansa not overly keen on him continuing to breathe either, even if this does seem like something of a double standard. After all, Ser Jorah, former slave trader, Baratheon spy and generally top-tier creep, is right there basking in the approval of her Grace, with the well-wishes of Cousin Lyanna and the sword of House Tarly at his disposal. And Sansa welcomes her own prodigal pet in the form of Theon “Walking Dirge” Greyjoy, sacker of Winterfell and murderer of small children, with such tearful, heartfelt happiness that I start to worry that there might be a Stark/Greyjoy romance in their future (please NO). At which point, the Night King coming begins to seem like it might not be an entirely bad thing.

Dany’s griping and Sansa’s misgivings aside, though, we’re not about to lose Jaime yet – maybe next week, but not yet – no matter what he’s done, so Brienne – my heart! – speaks up; Bran just about keeps quiet (“The things we do for love” is a fantastic touch); Sansa lets him stay and Jon is too emo about his accidental incest/secret royal ancestry to care one way or the other. So Her Grace is overruled, and not particularly happy about it but then, unlike almost everyone else, she’s not happy about much this week, what with her boyfriend/nephew and his sister/cousin both now standing in her way to the Throne.

That aside, however, after a poignant Jaime/Bran detente in the Godswood, we’re largely free to weep quietly and smile till our faces hurt at scene after scene of sweetness, tempered with just enough acidity and humour to make it all taste even better.

Where to start? Ser Davos at his soup kitchen and the wonderful, brave little girl who reminds him (and us) of wonderful, brave little Shireen? Gilly’s perfect solution for her? Arya, the Hound and Beric? Arya deciding that life needn’t just be about death, after all, and making Gendry and thousands of fan fiction writers combust with delight as a result? Missandei and Grey Worm? (I don’t care about them, but if I did, I’d be both charmed and very worried for their chances of survival after all that smiling and retirement planning.) Jon, Edd, Sam and Ghost – Ghost! Dude! It’s been years, where have you been?! -on the ramparts? Tyrion settling in for the Story of Bran?

Listen, all of that is delightful, but the best, the absolute best of it all, revolves around Ser Brienne of Tarth, Knight for the Seven Kingdoms and it is glorious. Every moment, every look between her and Jaime – mostly while pointedly not catching each other’s eyes – is a little twist in the heart, till the long, lovely scene by the fire with them, Tormund, Tyrion, Ser Davos and Pod which is so beautiful I don’t really know what to do with myself beyond smile, laugh and cry in quick succession. My God. If I wasn’t already crying at “I charge you to be brave”, I was wailing by the time she smiled and everyone toasted the latest knight of the realm.

Sob.

Of course, from hereon in, any GOT-related crying I do is likely to be a lot less happy, especially since all the characters repeatedly saying everyone will be “safe in the crypt” clearly means the crypt is going to be a bloodbath, and by the end of the episode the Night Army is standing there ready to make it so. For now, though, what a gift and a balm this episode was to us all.

Game of Thrones s8 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

“We don’t have time for all of this,” says Bran, but au contraire, mon frère, we apparently do, as GOT‘s end starts by going back to its beginning: another monarch marching blithely, confidently into Winterfell, bringing with her reunions, recriminations and really big trouble for the remaining Starks.

For an episode which seems relatively sedate (I appreciate that GOT is the only show where an episode featuring a child-zombie flesh fire-wheel and a dragon glaring at some dude snogging his aunt can be described as “sedate”), this one is not only quietly momentous, but full of rewards for the massive, massively loyal audience who’ve weathered a lot to get this far. Especially if they’re Team Stark.

Sansa – my Queen, if we’re choosing – is clearly pleased to see Jon again, but less than impressed with his abdication of the throne/ his patronising new girlfriend. She’s not alone, as Lyanna Mormont – my Hand, let me have this – pretty much speaks for the entire North, when she says (I’m paraphrasing): “We named you King in the North, who dis?”

Never mind the dragons and their riders, then, it’s the sheer amount of attitude flying about in this ep that’s enough to burn down several kingdoms and I am loving it. As well as old hands like Tyrion, Ser Davos and Varys happily needling each other, Sansa’s scene with Tyrion is short but joyously barbed, and it’s one of a number of long-awaited reunions which maybe shouldn’t mean much plot-wise, but mean a huge amount to at least some parts of the audience, depending on who your own personal faves are. Since I’ve been over Arya and the Hound for a very long time, and he should have been deader than that poor Umber kid years ago, I’m not too excited by them, but Arya “Badass Assassin” Stark shyly sort-of-flirting with Gendry is cute, and Arya “Baby Sister” Stark getting her big brother Jon back is lovely.

Jon, bless him, is overjoyed to see baby bro Bran too, before noticing that the no-longer-wee man is incredibly weird. Oddly, though, Bran’s weirdness is no longer annoying me – possibly because we’ve had time to get used to it, possibly because he seems to be having the time of his life, dishing out a fair amount of attitude of his own all of a sudden – and he’s now quite ruthlessly, almost cheerfully using his powers for advancing the plot, instead of all that unnecessary creepiness he was up to before. (Remember him reminding his sister of her rape last year? Ugh.) Sending Sam to tell an initially incredulous (but not for that long, I note) Jon the Big News is the right call, and if Bran seems to enjoy a little too much the awkwardness of doing it immediately after Sam finds out Daenerys barbecued the rest of the Tarly men, I suppose we have to let Raven boy get his kicks where he can. Especially if it means we get the punch-to-the-gut that is Jaime Lannister’s face when he sees the living, breathing reminder of all his sins sitting right there in the courtyard of Winterfell waiting for him. Wow.

As reminders of season one go, though, I’m less impressed by Bronn’s brothel scene. I’d thought the show had grown out of the casual misogyny of using naked women’s bodies as sexual scenery but apparently not, and having three of them jiggling around like it’s HBO’s X-rated answer to Carry On movies just so we have something to look at while we find out what happened to Ed Sheeran (as if anyone was asking) isn’t anywhere near as funny as the show seems to think, but it is unnecessary, sexist and jarringly out of place in a narrative which has been shifting towards the female characters taking power for some time now.

If that scene isn’t funny, however, there are plenty which are. Even Kings Landing has its moments. I remain completely uninterested in the ridiculous Euron, or indeed anyone else named Greyjoy – too little too late, Theon, dude – but his preening is worth it purely so we find out about Cersei’s mild obsession with elephants, or the lack thereof. And back in the North, Edd’s “Stay Back, he’s got blue eyes!” followed by “Tormund’s indignant “I’ve always had blue eyes!” is hilarious, if slightly confusing for me, watching through a bit of a flu fog – when did we find out Tormund was alive?!

Ach, no matter. I know the last we saw him he was in the middle of an apocalypse and he probably shouldn’t have made it out, but nobody really wanted Tormund dead, did they? It’s the final season, we’ve earned some fun before the Night King lays waste to everyone, and this first episode certainly gave us that. It was a blast.