Rant and Rave: Winterfell

We are the captive audience at the mercy of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. We know it, they know it. Two years ago, we watched a block of ice melt to get the season seven premiere date. We waited 595 days for season eight.

Warning: Spoilers below

The first episode of Game of Thrones final season finally rolled in with a lack of its trademark action, battles, and shocking deaths—yet viewers did not walk away unsatisfied. The episode, titled Winterfell, focused on putting pieces in place rather than actual conflict. The tension is palpable—and Benioff and Weiss not only know this, but they capitalize on it. Anticipation is the choice of play and they are the gamekeepers.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder…

Despite the time spent setting the stage for the rest of the season, this episode’s masterful orchestration of characters meeting again after years is laudable at the very least—not just because of sentimentality, but because it added nuance to the characters. Maisie Williams’ Arya, in particular, shines. In contrast to season seven’s imbalanced cold-hearted murderous take on her character, the episode shows flashes of an Arya we knew from earlier seasons. The vulnerability and youthful wonder we see in certain crucial moments lends to a nuanced execution of Arya’s story.

Sophie Turner starts off the season with a strong performance as Sansa Stark, whose own reunion with Tyrion highlights her growth.  Sansa’s cutting remark: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive” drives home to Tyrion and the audience that—though they may both be survivors—Sansa Stark is at the top of her game, and she truly is the force to be reckoned with.

…Or does it?

Not all reunions were happy, though. Many of his people were not pleased to see Jon Snow returning home to the North with a foreign queen instead of a crown.  This is where a possible problem with Jon’s writing lies. Jon, once again, is disregarding politics because he is consumed by the bigger picture: the war against the dead. This has led him to some quite horrific experiences, including his death.

Not everyone gets to be resurrected in Game of Thrones, and for the writers to resurrect Jon only for him to be a static character who makes the same decisions on a grander scale is somehow an injustice to his potential.  He is stagnant—and in a show like Game of Thrones, that is a fate worse than death. Davos, Tyrion, and Varys are also relegated to the sidelines, which is a shame because we all have seen the heights they could elevate scenes to.

A game of tones

Cersei, however, remains delightfully wicked in King’s Landing. In painful contrast to the reunions taking place in Winterfell, she grows more alone every day. The contrast is emphasized even more with the difference in the lighting and space used for Winterfell and the Red Keep: cool tones and airy outdoors for Winterfell to signify openness and underscore the vastness of the Targaryen-Stark alliance, while warm tones and encroaching darkness in the halls of the Red Keep signify Cersei’s isolation. Her scenes could have quickly become a caricature if not for the sheer power of Lena Headey’s acting: her trademark sneer and snark wrapped in pride and vengeance, with just the right amount of fear, clarity, and tragedy to make her endearing.

  The use of wardrobe to denote the characters’ inner turmoil is, as always, exemplary—we see Cersei in her dark armor-like gown, which represents her fear and paranoia. Similarly, we also see Daenerys stand out in the North in her white coat, further driving the point that she is alienated and unwelcome. In contrast, the Starks look like a pack with their matching dark layers and fur cloaks. Through their sartorial choices, we take a glimpse into the characters’ minds and their allegiances.

Gone but never forgotten

If there is one thing that Game of Thrones does well, it’s a satisfying payoff. The show knows the emotional investment fans have for these characters’ years-long arcs, and they know that even a subtle scene with callbacks has a sizeable impact on viewers. The start of the episode where Daenerys and Jon are greeted by the people of Winterfell and Arya  is a visual callback to the pilot episode when King Robert and the Lannisters arrived to a similar welcoming committee in Winterfell. Arya’s short and sweet reunions with Jon, Gendry, and the Hound mirror her relationships and classic interactions with them.

Ramin Djawadi’s excellent score is also an underrated tool that tugs on the viewer’s nostalgia as it hits all the right spots in the emotional scenes: The North Remembers is the Stark anthem of sorrow and hope for when Jon meets Bran again, and the foreboding Winter is Here elevates a particular scene between Samwell Tarly and Jon. The payoff is at its best in this much-awaited scene because all the elements have come together well—the score, the haunting shot of Lyanna’s statue in soft focus in the background, and the burden of a secret between the living and the ghosts in the crypts of Winterfell.

As much as we’ve come to marvel at the flashy battles and the impressive CGI dragons, we also know that we stayed for the intricate relationships and harrowing intrigue of Game of Thrones. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are at their absolute best when they deliver superb scenes with respect to the fans’ emotional commitment to the series and its characters. It’s this unspoken contract that lures viewers into loyalty—and gives the showrunners the room to not rely on pomp alone, but to actually have the courage to end a mostly uneventful episode with a silent stare-off between a one-handed man and a crippled boy—because they know the fans will get it.

And they know we’ll wait with bated breath.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Glenielle Geraldo Nanglihan

By Glenielle Geraldo Nanglihan

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