(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)
About the time The Mountain takes out his broadsword and bloodily decapitates his horse, it’s clear that Game of Thrones means business this week. Show creators Benioff and Weiss return to script an episode packed with incident, character development, and memorable imagery, and light on the portentous table-setting that threatened to hold the show back in some of the other installments.
There’s no sign of Jon Snow or his crew of would-be skull-crackers this week, nor the sexy adventures of Daenerys and Khal Drogo – instead, our time is divided between the scheming denizens at King’s Landing and Catelyn Stark as she transports her diminutive prisoner, Tyrion, whom she suspects of attempting to kill her son. (We do visit Winterfell for a brief spell, but it’s mostly perfunctory.) In the former venue, Ned Stark is finding his advice as the King’s Hand is not being taken kindly by his old friend, the King – in fact, he is forced to discard his duties when he butts heads with the King and his council over whether or not to murder the pregnant Daenerys. (We also learn this week that the King’s creepy eunuch aide, the Spider, has a line of communication with Jorah Mormont, the displaced ex-slave owner who advises Daenerys, though it’s not yet clear whether or not the collusion is intentional.) There’s also more investigation into the King’s bastards and their significance, but that’s mostly a vehicle for more delightful Aiden Gillen line readings. (“If you fuck enough women, some of them will give you presents.”)
That plotline culminates in a thrilling bit of old-school swordplay as we see just how fearsome the loathsome Jaime Lannister can be – the look he shoots Ned after gouging out his guard’s eye is deeply discomfiting, and his disappointment at not being able to properly finish his duel is palpable. (Speaking of Lannisters we get the vicious side of: Tyrion also metes out some death with the end of a shield, though in his case it’s in the defense of a Stark.) Jaime’s hardly the only figure who earns new depth this week, however: that distinction best marks the King himself, who in weeks past had developed into a somewhat caricatured image of debauched decadence. With the benefit of an extended scene with his Queen, Cersei, we come to a greater understanding of his personal failings – and how they’ve shaped his personal and Kingly behavior. Speaking of royal failures, this week we meet Catelyn’s sister Lisa Arryn (Kate Dickie), who’s clearly saddled with some sort of dementia, and her way-too-old-to-be-breastfed son Robin (Lino Facioli), whose permanent perch at Lisa’s bared bosom is surely the most disturbing image the show has dredged up yet.
It’s not all horse decapitation and bad parenting, however: thankfully there’s a fairly sweet counterbalance in the form of an entirely new relationship between the King’s youngest brother Renly (Gethin Anthony) and the “Knight of Flowers,” Loras (Finn Jones). They, like the Lannisters, have designs on the Iron Throne, but at least there’s a hint of truth when Loras insists that Renly would make for a less bloodthirsty leader than his competitors, or even the present monarch. (Typical of the show’s general mode, though, the scene carries on long past these genteel thoughts and onwards to audible dick-sucking.)
Along with the first appearance of a gay relationship on the show, Arya’s place as the tomboy of the Stark family is solidified this week as she’s referred to as a male not once but twice this week, though she’s proven to be considerably savvier than her perpetually lovelorn older sister. As she overhears a plot to kill off her father while hiding in a dragon’s skull (!), she learns a tough lesson this week: though her father’s guard swears Ned’s in no danger, he ends the episode with a dagger through his head, and Ned himself lies injured with a spear through his knee – proof that no one is safe. Luckily, she’s already learning to watch her own back.
– Simon Howell