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Game of Game of Thrones: season 8, episode 1, Winterfell

We’re baaaaaaaaack! The final session of our fantasy sports league Game of Game of Thrones, which is run by Fantasizr, is upon us. It’s time to batten down the hatches, obsess over whether you got a worthy lineup, and pray to the Westerosi gods that your drafted characters don’t happen to cross paths with a couple of angry, hungry dragons. (Or if they do, that you’re given the bonus points for memorable deaths.) Before we jump into the episode, here’s a reminder of how the score breakdown works and the changes we’ve made for the final season. The season 8 premiere was fairly easy to score. It was the equivalent a hot tub you ease yourself into until your body adjusts to the temperature. There shouldn’t be any wild surprises that leave us debating whether points should have been awarded. We can save that for next week.

The season 8 premiere was a little lackluster when it came to the violent devastation we’re used to in Game of Thrones, but that’s okay. It’s better to treat this final season like a marathon, not a sprint. The premiere opens up with Daenerys, Jon Snow, her inner circle, and the impressive army she’s collected over the last few seasons riding into Winterfell. It’s not exactly a warm welcome by any stretch of the imagination, but at least Tyrion and Varys have each other’s company — though perhaps that’s not as delightful as it seems. Tyrion opens the episode by poking fun at Varys for being a eunuch. When asked why it’s acceptable for Tyrion to badger Varys but not the other way around, Tyrion responds, “Because I have balls and you don’t.” (+5) Look, I’m a sucker for a good balls joke. Is it because I’m perpetually 10 years old at heart? Probably.

Varys may not be pleased with Tyrion’s constant taunting, but at least he’s not the only one in Winterfell working overtime to suppress a grimace. Jon Snow returns home to hugs from his sisters and an emotionless acknowledgment from Bran (who truly has become a case example in the ongoing study of whether sociopaths are a byproduct of nature or nurture), but that’s all. Lyanna Mormont, my new personal hero, eviscerates Jon in the Great Hall for leaving Winterfell as King in the North and returning as Daenerys’ arm candy. Even when he tries to defend himself, it’s clear that riding into town beside Daenerys has lost him the respect of his black-clad countrymen and women. Poor Jon. He should adapt his best Tina Turner, and yell out to all those judging him, “What’s love got to do with it?” (It, in this case, being the prevention of Winterfell falling.)

Lyanna Mormont at the Great Hall in Winterfell.
HBO

Even those on Winterfell’s main council, however, have their concerns with Daenerys. Sansa Stark, Lady of Winterfell, tells Daenerys, “Winterfell is yours” upon their arrival, but that doesn’t mean Sansa’s going to shut up and stand by. For example, she wants to know how Daenerys and Jon plan to keep the citizens of Winterfell fed when there are thousands more mouths to feed now. And what about the dragons? What do dragons even eat, Sansa not-so-politely asks. “Whatever they want,” Daenerys replies, in an even, “Oh, this is how you want to do it?” tone.

I’m not one to pit two incredibly amazing women against each other, but I thrive on the drama. If this were an episode of Real Housewives, Sansa and Daenerys would have gotten into it already. I’m not saying Game of Thrones needs to become Real World. I’m just saying Winterfell could learn a little from Bravo and MTV reality shows.

It doesn’t matter that Jon Snow’s girlfriend and sister are fighting. Being a stoic male stereotype, he avoids it all by going for a solitary walk and running into his sister Arya. Finally, he thinks as they embrace, someone who’s not fighting with my girlfriend! But it turns out, that isn’t quite the case. After Arya confesses that she’s a murderer now (which Jon ignores), she also gets on his case about his family duties. Jon has just returned to Winterfell, and before he can have a bowl of goat stew, he’s having to defend his dragon-riding girlfriend to the rest of his family — except Bran, who’s too busy staring at people in the courtyard to care about the inner workings of their family drama.

Euron Greyjoy professing his “love” for Cersei.
HBO

Forget the North, though. It’s time to head south. King’s Landing has always been my favorite setting in Game of Thrones. It’s home to the messiest of messy people. This season is no exception. Euron Greyjoy, the worst goth boy who ever roamed the seas, has returned to King’s Landing with the army of mercenaries and horses he promised Cersei. (But he’s short on elephants.) They arrive at an opportune moment: she’s just learned that the White Walkers have busted through the Wall in the North. The monstrous undead can take care of her enemies, and, while she doesn’t seem to have thought about what happens after that, she’s feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good, as Larry David would say.

Euron’s barely back in town when he hits on Cersei (+5 for a bold come-on), and he also has a drink (+10) while telling his tied-up niece, Yara Greyjoy, that he’s going to “fuck the queen.” Euron sucks. He’s the type of guy you’d think is cute while sitting at a bar, and then he says literally anything, and you’re already faking a dying relative to escape. He more or less says Cersei owes him sex at this point, and I could barely contain my squeal of excitement when she perfectly responds by saying, “You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her.” Brutal. (+10)

The fact that she proceeds to hook up with him (+15, Cersei and Euron) anyway is questionable, but I get it. Look, it’s been a while, and a woman has needs. Plus, Euron has Big Dick Energy. His arrogance just gets worse after they’ve had sex. Cersei drinks some wine (+10) and reminds him that she’s killed other men for their insolence. Euron smirks and says, “They were lesser men.” (+5) He then promises to “put a prince” inside her before leaving. Is Euron twisted? Yes. Is he disgusting? Without question. Is he a key player in keeping the messy drama thriving? Absolutely. And for that, I am grateful he’s around.

If you thought Game of Thrones had moved on from over-the-top sex scenes, it hasn’t! We reconnect with shirtless, slightly pantless Bronn (+5 for PG-13 clothing loss) in a brothel. He’s with three prostitutes who mostly just want to talk about Daenerys’ dragons and what happened to Ed Sheeran’s Lannister soldier character. Bronn just wants to forget the battle entirely, hence the drink in his hands (+10). Just as he’s beginning to enjoy himself (+10 for random sex), he’s interrupted by old Qyburn (+10 for watching people have sex). Cersei needs Bronn to head North and find her brothers, Tyrion and Jaime. If they survive the White Walkers, she wants Bronn to kill them with the same crossbow that killed her father Tywin. Remember that death? While he was on the toilet? Imagine: Jaime has ridden north to try to protect Cersei and their baby, and here she is trying to kill him. In the immortal words of Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?”

Theon Greyjoy rescuing his sister, Yara.
HBO

So far, Game of Thrones’ return has delivered the drama and sex we’re used to, but there’s been a noticeable lack of killing. That’s where Theon Greyjoy comes in. While Euron is out there, stirring things up, promising to put princes in queens, Theon and his band of merry Kraken men take out a couple of Euron’s soldiers. (It seems like about four of them die, but it’s unclear how many Theon killed himself, so we compromised with a +20 that assumes he personally took out at least a couple.) Theon makes good on his promise of rescuing Yara and heads home to the Iron Islands. This episode has reunions for everyone!

Speaking of reunions, back in Winterfell, the North’s new Gossip Girl team has united to talk about Jon and Daenerys’ relationship. Varys, Tyrion, and Ser Davos are watching the two lovebirds talk to each other, discussing the benefits of a marriage between two powerful houses. Alas, if only they knew what Bran and Sam know! But more on that later.

Out of prying eyes and ears, Jon and Daenerys walk around the courtyard. They have much to discuss. First, an army of grotesque zombies is on its way to destroy everything and everyone Jon loves. More importantly, Sansa has an issue with Daenerys, which means Daenerys has an issue with Sansa. Jon can’t just hike his way out of this one! What follows is something out of a teen drama (and I have watched many a teen drama).

Daenerys: “Your sister doesn’t like me.”

Jon: “She doesn’t know you!”

Daenerys: “I am her queen!! If she can’t respect me…”

I told you, I’m here for the messiness this season. None of this really matters anyway because, within the next few minutes, Game of Thrones’ eighth season gives in to temptation. We finally get to see Jon ride Rhaegal, the dragon named after his biological father. Who doesn’t love good narrative styling?

Jon Snow with his dragon-father-namesake, Rhaegal.
HBO

Jon and Daenerys are riding dragons through the air (+25 for both), swooping and soaring. It’s quite a remarkable feat to see on a television show. It’s also heavily reminiscent of Harry Potter riding Buckbeak for the first time in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or any of the scenes in How To Train Your Dragon 2. That doesn’t lessen the beauty of this Game of Thrones moment, but I watched it with the instantly recognizable overture of the Harry Potter films running through my head.

They finally land, and Jon, in a moment of complete euphoric dizziness, turns to Daenerys. “You’ve completely ruined horses for me.” (+5). Jon and Daenerys are still in their honeymoon stage. They’re all lovey-dovey. They’ve already deleted the Westeros version of Tinder. It’s adorable.

Unfortunately, they can’t run away from their problems, and they have to return to Winterfell. Jon, riding high from his ride, confronts Sansa. She’s pissed. House Glover isn’t going to ride with them into war, and Sansa blames Jon. He abandoned his post! He was supposed to be King in the North, and now he’s come back with this outsider? “I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter who holds what title,” Jon tells her. “She’ll be a good queen. She’s not her father.”

I suppose that’s one way to get your sister to try and warm up to your girlfriend. It’s maybe not the way I would have suggested, but to each their own! Sansa asks Jon if he bent the knee to save the North or because he was in love, and he doesn’t get a chance to respond. Knowing Jon, he would probably say something like, “Can’t I love both?” Boooo! This is war, Jon! There’s no time for pedantic “both sides” arguments right now. And this is not how you win your sister over to the woman you’re in love with, anyway! Ugh. Where’s your inner Tina Turner, Jon? It’s because of Sansa’s snappy one-liners, rebellion against her new Queen, and her ability to make Jon Snow feel like dirt that I’m crowning her MVP of this episode (+20).

Sam learning that, actually, his family is dead.
HBO

Somewhere else in the castle, Daenerys and Jorah Mormont are walking around like they own the place, which technically they do now. They seek out Samwell Tarly to thank him for saving Jorah. Then things get awkward. Sam may not know Daenerys is sleeping with her nephew, and he definitely doesn’t know she killed his father and brother — until she tells him. The emotional punches don’t stop there, either. Bran, taking a brief break from staring creepily at people in the Winterfell courtyard, tells Sam he must alert Jon to his true parentage. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings, it’s that friendly blokes named Sam always end up having to put up the most emotional labor.

First, though, it’s back to the North. Tormund, Dolorous Edd, and Beric Dondarrion are at House Umber’s keep, Last Hearth, where they walk into something out of a Satanic ritual put on by a bunch of bored suburban kids gone wrong. They find young Ned Umber, the boy who appeared early in the episode during the Great Hall scene, pinned to a wall. His men have been hacked to pieces and used to create one of those red spirals that White Walkers love to leave at the scene of their crimes. It’s pretty horrific, but then Ned Umber lets out an ear-piercing shriek that, according to people present at the New York premiere, scared the living poop out of attendees.

Beric, always the Solid Snake cosplayer of my dreams, lights up his magical sword (+50) and burns Ned Umber, killing him for good (+25). It’s one of the more spectacular deaths (+25 for Ned) we’ve seen in Game of Thrones. And although it’s unfortunate that Little Ned’s life was so short, at least now he can rest six feet umber.

Now that the demon-child is gone, we’re heading back to Winterfell. It’s time for Sam to tell Jon about his parentage. It doesn’t go over super well. Jon doesn’t want another dad. He had the best dad in the world! Jon went from thinking he was a bastard child to an outcast within his own family to a member of the Knight’s Watch to literally deceased, and he’s now being told he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. That’s one hell of an identity crisis. Jon didn’t take any of it well. It’s basically a longer version of this:

At this point in time, there are only a few minutes left in the episode. If you’re like me, you’ve got one question rattling around in your brain: where the hell is God’s greatest gift to man, Jaime Lannister?

Fret not (as I did): he’s arrived in Winterfell. He’s looking scruffy and scraggly and oh so handsome. His moment of joy of finally reaching his destination is short-lived, though, as he makes eye contact with Winterfell’s most eligible serial killer, Bran. There’s no better way than this fantastic video to sum up the feeling of absolute dread Jaime must be feeling upon realizing that the little boy he pushed out of a 20-story building years ago didn’t plummet to his death. You done goofed, Jaime. You stupid, wildly handsome man.

Can you feel the drama circling the air? Can you taste the forbidden romances abound? Can anyone please help Bran leave that one spot in the courtyard? Game of Thrones’ final season may have just begun, but it’s already so much fun, isn’t it?

THE VERGE FANTASY LEAGUE STANDINGS

Julia Alexander: 75 points

Top scorer: Beric Dondarrion (75 points)

Note: It’s the final season of Game of Game of Thrones — and the first one I ever got to play as part of Team Verge. Best believe I am playing along.

Andy Hawkins: 60 points

Top scorer: Euron Greyjoy (30 points)

Liz Lopatto: 55 points

Top scorer: Cersei Lannister (35 points)

Shannon Liao: 50 points

Top scorer: Ned Umber (25 points)

Note: Who could have seen those Ned Umber points coming so soon?

Chaim Gartenberg: 45 points

Top scorer: Bronn (20 points)

Sarah Bishop Woods: 10 points

Top scorer: Qyburn (10 points)

Tasha Robinson: 0 points

Adi Robertson: 0 points

T.C. Sottek: 0 points



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