(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)
Not having read George R. R. Martin’s book series while writing weekly content about the show can be a strange experience. While I feel I’m at the mercy of a show that often takes drastic plot turns and moves in and out of openly supernatural territory without warning, many of the show’s most dedicated fans merely await what’s coming with relish. There’s an element of disorienting blindness, and the awareness that any associations or guesses made here can be quietly snickered at as being totally off-track by those in the know never goes away. Now, with that said, there’s absolutely no way those charred corpses at the end of “A Man Without Honor” are actually Bran and Rickon, right? Yes, this is a series that isn’t afraid to shock, but the conventions of televisual entertainment dictate that several things are “off” about the sequence – the total lack of identifying marks on the BBQ’d youngsters, Theon’s loaded look of guilt (and his general incompetence), the fact that they’re under the protection of the wily Osha, who’d surely have died at their side had it come to that, and, most tellingly, Bran’s mention of the orphans they might endanger should they make contact. Maybe it’s a really well-orchestrated double ruse of some kind, but I really doubt it.
With that said, that last scene is still one hell of a gut-punch, proving just how far Theon’s fallen and will continue to fall – the churning orchestral score doesn’t hurt, either. It’s one highlight of a fairly strong Game of Thrones, one that manages to liven up even the dodgy Jon Snow segments somewhat. Those scenes are aided in great part by Ygritte’s openly expositional but still-entertaining dismantling of the Night’s Watch, as well as Snow’s manhood. Still, when it comes to extended bouts of dialogue, this week’s most compelling entrant is Jaime Lannister, who reappears for the first time in ages, still chained within Robb Stark’s camp. There’s nothing original about his escape plan – it’s clear as soon as he enters Jaime’s lair that the young squire is doomed – but Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes for a pretty great raconteur, so even though the sequence goes on a little too long, its predictability never renders it boring.
Jaime’s sister Cersei has a lot to say this week, too, finally openly acknowledging her incestuous ways to a rattled Sansa, who is battling the dual stresses of hitting puberty (meaning that she can now officially become Joffrey’s heir factory) and the lingering terror of her near-gang-rape from last week. Hopefully, she’ll get even a sliver of hope sometime before the season’s out if only to give the reliable Sophie Turner notes to play other than “terrified” and “pretending not to be terrified.”
Finally, he Qarth portion of the program really ramps up this week with the (slightly awkward) revelation that Xaro and the still-very-creepy Pyat Pree are not only in cahoots, but have staged a magically-buoyed coup that culminates in a half-crescent of throat-slitting. The effectiveness of the sequence helps to make up for the fairly soapy acting and dialogue from Dany and the returned Jorah, who are taking will-they-won’t-they to unfortunate new heights. Just get on with it, kids. The Arya/Tywin scene this week is a little on the draggy side as well; we’ve seen these beats with these characters already, great as they both are, so it’s high time for Arya to get on with that third name.
With the specter of full-scale warfare on the horizon (Stannis’s massive fleet is imminent), Season 2 still has a lot of work to do if it’s not going to leave a ton of open questions for the Martin-ignorant. Is there a correlation between the presence of new dragons and the resurgence of magic, previously thought by many to be in total disuse? Why did Melisandre only use her black viscous hellbeast-baby thing to kill off Renly? (Does it have something to do with only being able to kill off those who are directly related to Stannis?) Etc. Thankfully, there’s no reason to expect that the show’s remaining three hours won’t satisfy most lingering concerns, while also being tremendously entertaining.