By Dushyant Shekhawat Apr. 15, 2019
If Game of Thrones were a rock band, then the premiere episode “Winterfell” (and hopefully the rest of this season), will serve as a “Greatest Hits” compilation. When Thrones first emerged in 2011, the world was a different place. Now that the show has become the pop culture juggernaut of our time, are we ready for a world without it?
The first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones aired today, and it was aptly titled “Winterfell”. That’s as far as you can read without stumbling across spoilers for the season premiere, so those who haven’t watched it yet had best look away now.
If GoT were a rock band, then “Winterfell” (and hopefully the rest of this season), will serve as a “Greatest Hits” compilation. For those who have already watched it, “Winterfell” would have felt like a homecoming. The entire episode was riddled with callbacks to earlier seasons, and watching it made the weight of the years that have passed since we’ve been watching GoT feel tangible and real.
When Thrones first emerged in 2011, the world was a very different place. Manmohan Singh was PM, Donald Trump was a failed reality TV star, we had only just heard of Adele, and Charlie Sheen was “winning” by getting fired from Two and a Half Men. Most importantly, it was a world where saying things like “All men must die” or “The Lannisters send their regards” at a party would earn you funny looks instead of knowing glances of appreciation. It was the pre-GoT era, which seems almost quaint in memory, now that the show has become the definitive pop culture juggernaut of our time.
The premiere episode already promises to deliver on the same fronts that made the earlier seasons such appointment viewing.
It’s almost unimaginable today to think of how unlikely it was that GoT would succeed when it first came out. It was an adaptation of a fantasy series that wasn’t authored by Rowling or Tolkien, which meant it was an unknown entity to mainstream audiences. Even though the fantasy and sci-fi genres are now more popular than ever before, that is because of the impact GoT has had on the entertainment landscape. Which is why the sight of so many characters who appeared in the first episode of the first season – Jon, Sansa, Arya, Jaime, The Hound – returning to Winterfell, where this epic story kicked off, is exciting on both a narrative and meta-narrative level. Not only do we get to experience the enjoyment of watching the show’s storylines come full circle as viewers, but we also feel a surge of validation as fans for having supported this show, from its humble origins to its triumphant denouement.
Every character interaction in “Winterfell” is loaded with significance, but I’m unsure if it is inherent or whether I’m assigning it to what I’m viewing, as a result of following this show for eight long years. When Jon and Arya meet in the grove, and Arya shows Jon the sword he gifted her before leaving to join the Night’s Watch in Season One, their brief interaction managed to evoke a flashback to the highest points of both characters’ arcs – from Arya losing and regaining her eyesight on her quest for vengeance to Jon’s rise from an untested trainee to being the man who came back from the dead to become a king. Just a few lines of dialogue are enough to trigger powerful memories and emotions, which is the hallmark of a well-told story.
But the most important interaction is the one we haven’t seen yet. The episode ends with a stranger arriving in Winterfell, before he takes off his hood and reveals himself to be Jaime Lannister. As he gets off his horse, Jaime locks eyes with a wheelchair-bound Bran Stark in the courtyard. All we see as viewers is the two make eye contact, but we know there’s so much more. Jaime and Bran haven’t met since Jaime tried to kill him in the series’ first episode, and saving their confrontation until so close to the end of the story is proof that Thrones still has some surprises in its arsenal, even for fans who think they know it all.
The cliffhanger ending bodes well for the rest of this season. The premiere episode already promises to deliver on the same fronts that made the earlier seasons such appointment viewing. There seems to be plenty of political intrigue, eerie horror, and swashbuckling action to look forward to. And now that we’re close to the end of this eight-year-long journey, what better time to reflect on how far we’ve come?