(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)
After a few straight weeks of burning through plot at an almost unprecedented rate (at least with the relatively pared-down number of settings we’re following this time around), the provocatively titled “Kill the Boy” takes things at a slightly more leisurely pace. Normally, that might denote the sort of dreary table-setting hour that can sometimes crop up on even the best-serialized series, but this season, Game of Thrones is so energized by its newly heightened sense of pace and focus that even a relatively tame, exposition-heavy episode feels eventful.
At the Wall, there’s movement on two fronts. Jon, in his capacity as Lord Commander of the Watch, seeks to make a new peace with the Wildlings, in the hopes that they’ll one day be of use in defending the realm against the looming army of the undead. Meanwhile, Stannis is through waiting for reinforcements and sets off south with his considerable army in order to take Winterfell from the Boltons, with the Iron Throne as the ultimate destination. In the space of just a few episodes, this season has done a lot to endear us to Stannis where he once carried himself as self-righteous to the point of irritation, he is now prone to bouts of something approaching warmth, even finding the time to spare a few words of encouragement for Samwell, who has taken to cracking the Wall’s meager library in search of ways to defeat the undead. While his tendency to simper occasionally peaks through, Jon, too, has grown into a more dimensional figure this year, given the ever-increasing weight of his responsibilities. Hopefully, his journey north of the Wall won’t result in a merely rote rehashing of his past conflicts.
“Kill the Boy” a focused, methodical middle entry
The emphasis placed on Stannis’ eventual assault on Winterfell pairs beautifully with our most extensive look yet at the state of the Starks’ old stomping grounds, now occupied by the Boltons and their grisly entourage, as well as Sansa Stark, whose knowledge of how to tread lightly on dangerous ground serves her very well this week. We get acquainted with Ramsay Bolton’s sex life, which is just as unpleasant and domineering as you’d imagine, though it should be some consolation that no one ever gets married on Game of Thrones without some serious bloodshed to swiftly follow. Ramsay’s lower-class mistress Miranda isn’t the most exciting new character – she seems to exist primarily as a plot functionary – but she does introduce Sansa to poor Theon “Reek” Greyjoy, who makes his first appearance of the season. It’s a tremendous relief when Ramsay declines to assault Theon for the dreadful crime of having been seen by someone thanks entirely to a third party’s cruel meddling, as well as a testament to the sheer sick menace of Iwan Rheon’s performance. Ramsay is somewhat akin to Joffrey in his sadism, but his cunning and levels of imagination make him a considerably more frightful figure. In many ways, with so many of the series’ overt villains already dead and buried, he and his father are the only remaining outright demons remaining on a series that used to be swollen with them.
In Meereen, meanwhile, we discover that the skirmish at the end of last week resulted in the death of Ser Barristan Selmy and the wounding of Greyworm, who lives to spoon chastely with Missandei another day. Left with one fewer trusted advisor, Danaerys zigs in a fashion we’ve seen her do countless times before, opting to reopen the fighting pits, but still keeping slavery off the table while deigning to wed the lowly head of a local family of influence in order to keep the peace.
Of course, she does all this after feeding another patriarch to two of her dragons, who promptly Korean BBQ the sorry sucker. Dany contains multitudes.
Paradoxically, the most “exciting” storyline is also the least impactful; it’s disappointing to discover that Tyrion and Ser Jorah still aren’t anywhere near Meereen, and they’ve got even further to go now that they’re down to making progress on foot. As eerie as the ruins of Valyria are, the “stone men” – ruined and made homicidal by greyscale – don’t inspire the fear they should, and it’s tough to accept that a restrained Tyrion being dragged into the deep would manage to both survive and avoid their deadly touch. Nevertheless, it happens – on a series in which “all men must die,” there will always be at least one exception – and at the very least, their rapport has an amusing charge.
With half of the season down, and so much being teased – Tyrion meeting Dany, Stannis’ invasion, Jaime and Bronn’s adventures in Dorne, Arya’s new journey, Jon’s quest to save the realm – that there won’t be much room for relatively quiet moments before long, so if the series can pull off episodes like this one with this level of confidence and panache, it’s in very good shape indeed.
I am filling in for Ricky D this week, who celebrates a birthday instead. Mazel tov! (Or whatever the Westerosi equivalent is.)
“Long, sullen silences, and an occasional punch to the face: the Mormont way.” It’s a little too contemporary-sounding, but there’s no denying that Tyrion’s appraisal of travelling with Ser Jorah is one of the funniest moments in the series’ history.
No time spent with Jaime, Cersei or Arya this week; taking a little time off a couple of narrative strands at a time is almost always a good move for a series this choc-a-block. Hopefully, next week finds Cersei greeting the returned Littlefinger and Arya graduating well beyond thankless busywork.
I know Game of Thrones delights in subverting expectation, but there’s been no point in subjecting Theon to all of this misery if he doesn’t get to eventually put Ramsay’s (or at least Roose’s) lights out, yes?