(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)
Affairs take a turn for the (even) nastier this week in “A Golden Crown” (the first co-penned by genre TV veteran Jane Espenson, as well as frequent Deadwood helmer Daniel Minahan), as it becomes clear that things aren’t headed anywhere pretty for any length of time in any of the seven kingdoms. Those pesky Wire comparisons also rear their heads again this week thanks to a particularly heady thicket of politicking.
There’s one development that must be considered entirely new. Daenerys is seen in one of the week’s first scenes heating and then handling one of her dragon eggs – and despite the scalding heat, her hands are unharmed. The presence of the supernatural on the show has been a given since the initial appearance of the “white walkers” in the pilot’s opening scene, but this is the first hint that some of the figures we’ve already been spending time with might have hidden faculties. (Does this mean there are dragons on the distant horizon? That might pose a problem since traditionally live-action depictions of dragons tend not to fare well.)
Yet more plot threads are properly introduced this week, from Theon (Alfie Allen)’s lingering affection for Ros (Esmé Bianco), who departs for King’s Landing this week in hopes of better days (or at least better pay), to an entirely new vantage point in the form of Osha (Natalia Tena), the only survivor of a wild posse that tries to kidnap Bran (who seemingly can;t ever stay out of trouble). Though it seems like the last thing the series needs is more disparate characters to track, Osha is a welcome development as the only female character who’s neither a prostitute nor nobility.
Mostly, though, this is a week for relishing the figure who’s given us the most pleasure thus far: Tyrion Lannister. In his best scene yet, Tyrion wrangles his way into a trial by negotiating with his dim-witted guard (and thanks to a golden line-reading: “You’re a smart…man.”), and then, following a hilarious laundry list of his past transgressions – real or invented – he opts for a “trial by combat,” which is apparently an option. As great as it would have been to get more time with Tyrion in action, two straight weeks of successful little-person badassery might have strained credibility, and Tyrion’s solution (to get another man – in this case, Bronn, a sympathetic mercenary – to stand for him) befits his slippery nature. (Also, the fight that follows is the most epic yet, an extended bought of might vs. cunning.)
Most satisfyingly of all, though, this might be the first episode in which the Daenerys plot is as interesting and unpredictable as the rest. Besides the aforementioned superpower, we also get two scenes of singular grotesqueness: first, the stomach-turning sight of “Dany” devouring a bloody horse’s heart in a Dothraki birth ritual; then, the insufferable Viserys finally gets his due in the form of a hot Han Solo treatment, applied directly to his skull following a public affront to his sister and Dothraki law. Yet, neither scene can really compare for sheer unpleasantness to the nightmare-Twilight scene of Joffrey and Sansa pledging their love to each other. Truly disquieting.
At the center of it all are the Stark parents, whose intelligence is frequently in question this week – Catelyn seems outright dim-witted in her treatment of Tyrion, who saved her life last week but apparently earned no thanks at all, and Ned, acting as the realm’s babysitter while the King hunts, sets the stage for a major conflict he might be too honorable to fight properly. That’s the beauty of Game of Thrones – those in power are deeply flawed, and the wretched and discarded contain hidden multitudes.