(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)
Anyone remember what a mess it was when series originator Robert Kirkman wrote an episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead? You know, ‘Vatos’, the one with the benevolent Latino faux-gangsters and their nursing home of hope? If you do, you might had been reason to fear this week’s installment of Game of Thrones, in which the author of the books, George R. R. Martin, steps into the writers’ chair (throne?). Thankfully, he acquits himself splendidly with a “The Pointy End,” a dense, tense and colorful hour of television, which neatly balanced the table-setting the show is so fond of with solid character beats and even a little action.
Admittedly, it peaked early. Game of Thrones is noted for its nastiness and grimness, but Arya’s final lesson with her teacher/mentor Syrio was an epic scene that felt equal parts The Princess Bride and A New Hope, and contained just the right balance of adventure, whimsy and terror. The fact that we don’t see how the fight plays out indicates that Syrio lives – and really, he’s far too good a character to waste, particularly since so few are at all valiant – but it was refreshing to get a sequence laced with genuine derring-do and palpable tension so early on. And, of course, Arya remains a potent little force – and if the series has an ethos thus far, it’s: don’t underestimate the little guy.
That’s most true of all with respect to Tyrion, who talks his way out of certain death when he and Bronn are cornered by an army of mountain-dwelling thugs. This leads to a not-terribly touching reunion between Tyrion and his brutal father Tywin, who we met last week carving up an animal. Tyrion is in a strange position: he’s the only likeable Lannister, yet next week he’ll be literally forced to fight alongside them against Robb Stark’s army, pitting him directly against the show’s more valiant figures. That his fate is entwined with that of the vile Tywin should make for some interesting friction. (Tywin’s less-than-ecstatic reaction of Tyrion’s survival is instructive.) Perhaps there’s a Lannister schism somewhere on the horizon.
Elsewhere, Catelyn Stark finally leaves behind her not-all-there sister Lisa Arryn to join Robb on the battlefield – way overdue, as those of us at home have had to downgrade Catelyn’s intelligence by association. (Sadly, this week did not feature her creepy son getting “the pointy end” of anything in particular.) Robb himself really steps up this week: formerly a relatively featureless character, this week he demonstrates courage and honor, but not necessarily of the sort that’s gotten his father into so much trouble. It’s also a good week for Jon Snow, who has the show’s latest brush with the supernatural in the form of a snow zombie of some kind – they don’t quite abide by Romero rules (some fire’ll do the trick, no head injuries necessary) but they’re not too far removed from the traditional walking dead. It’s nice to finally get a bit of that wintry evil we keep hearing about.
Finally, we also spend a very brief (too brief, actually; these scenes felt a bit rushed) time in Essos, where Khal Drogo’s eagerness to defend his honor (that pesky quality again!) has earned him a nice flesh wound, to be healed by a shifty-looking witch doctor the Khaleesi has just rescued from a probable ravaging-by-horde. And just as he and the Khaleesi were getting on so well; given Momoa’s commitments to the looming Conan film franchise(?) it’s doubtful they’ll be able to keep him around anyway.
The episode’s darkest moment was its last, which likely says something about where we’re headed: the near-trembling Sansa, who still thankfully warms the cockles of Joffrey’s creepy little heart, pleading for mercy on behalf of her father. This sequence was thoroughly unsettling due not only to Sansa’s frail conviction but also due to the unlikelihood that Joffrey is going to ultimately rule in her favor; for starters, Ned’s pride is likely much too great to ever convincingly bow to Joffrey (though Sansa’s claim that Ned was out of sorts from his injury and medication when he cursed Joffrey out was a nice touch), and even if he does, the other Starks’ war effort seems likely to sour things. As the camera cowers behind the Iron Throne, obscuring the fearful Sansa, we get a neat visual reminder of the toll the “game” might well take on even its most reluctant participants.