(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)
Generally, in a serialized drama, season finales can go one of two ways. They can try to be full of excitement and incident, or they can settle the pace a bit in order to effectively set the scene for the next season. After last week’s shocking turn of events, it’s a little disappointing that Game of Thrones opts for a fairly safe iteration of the latter idea, but that’s mostly because we’ll have to wait 12 months to see where these new relationships and strategies will lead.
Many of the strongest scenes in “Fire and Blood” call back to last week’s execution of Eddard. His daughter, Sansa Stark, has had a brilliant season-long arc: she finally gets the castle/prince combo she’d always dreamed of, but it turns out to be a complete nightmare. Joffrey’s cruelty is ramped up even further this week as he forces Sansa to look upon her father’s severed head on a spike, and lets her know that he’ll basically be ruining her life well into the future, but Sansa’s brief flirtation with plunging the little bastard to his doom demonstrated that she’s not going to take it idly, at least not forever. (In Joffrey’s other big scene, a hilariously unfunny would-be court minstrel gets his tongue cut out; given the show’s extreme bloodlust, it’s almost refreshing that it happens essentially off-screen.)
Somewhere in Essos, it’s also a grim scene. Khal Drogo is catatonic and the Khaleesi’s baby is dead, and we have the witch Daenerys trusted to blame for it. It’s hard to fault the witch’s motive – she was raped by members of the Horde and saw many of her friends beheaded – but it’s a little strange that she hangs around smugly for the rest of the hour, only to be – totally unsurprisingly – thrown into the funeral flame in the episode’s climax. Of course, the major reveal here is Dany herself emerging unscathed, naked and cradling…three hatched baby dragons. Though the prospect of full-size CGI dragons next season isn’t particularly thrilling, it does usher in a major shift in the power balance, and the distinct possibility of, say, The Mountain facing down a giant fire-breathing lizard, which is a delightfully badass prospect.
Speaking of badass, Robb Stark steps up to the plate this week as King of the North following his father’s death, with both he and the grieving Catelyn pledging to murder every last Lannister as soon as they retrieve Robb’s sisters. (An aside: how is it that they’re so quickly and thoroughly informed of happenings at King’s Landing, but they don’t know that Arya has left?) Over at the Lannister camp, Tyrion is similarly ascendant, having gained a grudging measure of respect from his father, and is named the Hand of the King. Most delightfully, he defies his father’s wishes and takes “that whore” with him to court. The prospect of Baelish, Varys, and Tyrion all conspiring together – and separately – in the halls of power is a delightful one.
The other Stark kids get taken down a peg. Arya is spirited away and made to appear as a boy, before being shipped off to the Wall for her own safety. Before the journey begins, she meets the King’s blacksmith-apprentice bastard – an intriguing pairing, as one discarded would-be royal joins forces with another, each unaware of the other’s pedigree. Over at the Wall itself, Jon Snow rides off to join his brother’s war, but is ultimately stopped by his brothers-at-arms, who remind him of his solemnly sworn duty. It’s a light retread of themes explored in last week’s scene between Jon and Jeor Mormont, but Jon is still the show’s noblest figure, so it was nice to be reminded of his existence in the post-Ned landscape.
A couple of odd sequences unnecessarily slowed down the hour this week: first, we spend a little time with the Grand Maester (Julian Glover), the King’s Council’s oldest member, as he tries to lecture Roz on the character of kings. It serves to give us no new information and proves to be just as rambling and pointless as the Maester’s speech itself. It does speak to the complacent nature of the Council, but that hardly seems like a particularly crucial point to be making at this juncture. The exchange between Varys and Baelish as they look upon the Iron Throne is cute, but feels redundant, since both of their natures are so well-established. We already know Varys has no designs on the throne, and that Baelish is unscrupulous and ambitious. It might have been more productive to spend a little time with Cersei this week, given her reaction to Ned’s execution.
Still, a mostly-great episode, and a fine capper to an incredibly solid first season. Game of Thrones is easily HBO’s finest new series in years, easily outclassing the likes of Boardwalk Empire, and it should only gain traction in the years to come. (If any HBO brass happen to read this, though, a quick word: nobody watches this for the nudity. You can dial it down and no one will mind. Really.)