Monday, April 15, 2019
Centered in Winterfell (it's in the title), the episode mostly dealt with the arrival of Daenerys and Jon Snow, and the friction it created with Sansa. All the while, the threat of the undead army marched ever closer.
I feel as though some will complain of this episode that the plot progressed only incrementally. I myself was quite happy at the pace. The well-drawn characters have always been the greatest strength of the show (and the books). It's because of that that you care when they experience hardship, or are suddenly killed off, or what have you. Yes, there's a lot of plot ground to cover in the few remaining installments. But if the show doesn't spend a good amount of the time left on the characters, then what's the point?
In that respect, the episode hit every beat you'd want it to. Reunions were key, with characters coming back together who haven't seen each other in years -- or, in some cases, since the very first season. Arya in particular had a lot of the reunions that you knew would be fun to see, and they were: Jon cluelessly asking if she's had a chance to use the sword he gave her, playful taunts with Gendry, and not-so-playful taunts with the Hound.
But while the Arya scenes might have been among the more anticipated in the episode, they were not the most potent. Setting aside the episode's final moment, a powerfully silent reunion between Bran and Jaime (that had been cleverly foreshadowed with earlier Bran creepiness), I'd say the most effective reunion was the one between Sansa and Tyrion. Of all the trials that all the characters have experienced, a compelling case could be made that Sansa has changed most in the last few years. She's certainly not the same as when Tyrion last saw her. She's studied at the University of Littlefinger (and supplanted the teacher), and it was quite the transposition to now see her schooling Tyrion in the true motivations of power players. The scene showed us how smart Sansa is, as did her interactions with Daenerys -- we didn't just have to rely on Arya telling Jon about her savvy in a different scene.
The episode wasn't just about the re-unions, though; several important moments happened between characters meeting for the first time. (We did, after all, get to see pretty much every surviving character but Brienne, Melisandre, and Gilly.) Lyanna Mormont was once again a great element in the episode, serving as the belligerent face of the Stark bannermen, distrusting of the new Queen brought to them by Jon Snow. Qyburn and Bronn had an uncomfortable scene in which the latter was tasked to track down and kill Cersei's brothers. (But does anyone think he'd actually do that? Like, anyone, including Cersei?)
The most potent "first meeting" was that between Sam and Daenerys, a scene that started light but quickly turned dark when Sam learned his father and brother had died at her hands. This felt like a very important milepost in the grand scheme of what's left in the story, a subtle reminder of what I think it's been carefully building toward all along: Dany seems far more likely to me to be a villain than a hero when it's all done.
Of course, just because character was king in this episode doesn't mean some plot moves didn't happen. Theon rescued Yara from Euron. The dead were shown to be on the move toward Winterfell (in a truly creepy scene at Last Hearth). Plus, of course, the biggest scene: Jon Snow no longer knows nothing. Sam dropped the bombshell of his parentage on him. Though an important scene, I think it won't be nearly as impactful as the moment when Daenerys finds this out. Something to look forward to.
All of this, and a surprisingly different opening credits sequence too -- with just a couple of major locations worth showing, the clockwork map took us deeper inside those locations, after making clear the advancing undead army coming through the fallen Wall.
Though no one would likely hold this episode up as one of the best of the series, I found it a good and encouraging start to the final run. I give it a B+.