Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 Review: Winterfell

The epic fantasy saga is back with an effective and surprisingly quiet opening episode.

Game of Thrones is finally back for its 8th and final season and with a huge amount of buzz surrounding it, there’s never been a better time to get stuck into what is surely the most popular television series of all time. Be warned, there’s spoilers ahead for the new episode.

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‘Winterfell’, the premiere of Game of Thrones season 8, is about exactly that. This is probably the longest time we’ve spent there in a single episode since season 1, so if you haven’t swotted up on your Thrones knowledge or haven’t seen the first episode since it aired, you’d better do so before tuning in. 

‘Winterfell’ calls back to the first episode of the series in a number of ways, and not just because it revolves around the Starks’ home. Here, it’s a place where most of the major players of the game seem to be heading, allowing for some long-anticipated reunions between the likes of Arya and Jon Snow and Tyrion and Sansa. Arya hasn’t seen Jon since he was shipped off to the Wall all the way back in season 1, so it’s a bit of fan service that really feels earned. 

Whilst this was an episode very light on White Walker shenanigans, the icy zombies made their presence known with a genuinely effective jump-scare at the expense at the young Lord Umber. 

You might think that the grisly pattern of severed arms on the wall was straight out of True Detective, but it’s actually a call-back to the show’s very first scene, where an unfortunate troop of Night’s Watchmen are attacked in the woods by the Walkers. It also had a similar effect to that bit in Aliens where a seemingly dead Xeno victim jumps out at the marines and gets on the bad end of a flamethrower. 

Elsewhere, Jon Snow finally finds out that he’s been keeping it in the family all this time and that Daenerys is actually his aunt. He seems surprisingly cool with it, being more concerned to discover that Ned Stark isn’t his father. 

Since Hodor is no more-dor and the crypt of Winterfell doesn’t have wheelchair access, it’s up to bookworm Sam to break the news. John Bradley has a lot to do here and is probably the best part of the episode overall. The scene where he discovers that Daenerys has killed his family is very well acted and hits home the idea that the Dragon Queen might not been the benevolent ruler Westeros has been crying out for. 

‘Winterfell’ is an episode that sees the story begin to come full circle, with the surviving Starks back in their fortress getting ready to fight an unknowable enemy. In an hour packed with reunions, there’s none more impactful (and awkward) than the final scene, with Jamie Lannister coming face-to-face with the guy he pushed out a window all the way back in 2011. He’s had a long time to think of an apology, but with Bran now both old enough to shave and augmented by X-Men powers, it might not be enough.

Watch episode 2 on Monday April 22nd, 9pm on Sky Atlantic with the Sky Entertainment Package.

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