‘Game of Thrones’ 8×01 Review: The True Meaning of Family

It’s hard to believe we’re finally here. We’ve been waiting for so long to see these moments, there’s so much hope and fear and anticipation behind every reunion, every piece of the story unfolding the way seasons and seasons and seasons of setup demanded, that this first episode where very little actually happens, still feels like something monumental.

Like something we should savor.

But that is, in the end, what Game of Thrones demands of us, what it’s always demanded. It’s not that they’ve been perfect for seven seasons; it’s not that their character arcs have always been perfectly handled, and it’s certainly not that their female characters haven’t gotten the worst end of the stick more often than not – it’s that despite all that, we still want to see this journey to its end.

And this is the end. It’s here. There are no secrets left, nothing saved for later. It’s all or nothing. Are you ready? I’m not sure I am, but we’ve got no way out now. Winter is finally here, and the dead are coming.

So let’s talk about the reunions, the revelations and the not so regular love story as we examine the setup for the end of noble houses and the beginning of something else entirely.

THE KING, PERIOD

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Though it’s been ages since I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, as Sam was telling Jon about his heritage, about the fact that he was the rightful heir to the Seven Kindgoms, and how he should tell Daenerys this, despite Jon’s protestations, this line from Cristina Yang came into my head and I now need to make this correlation because if not the idea won’t leave me alone.

“Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun, you are.”

Because isn’t this what Sam is saying? He’s saying, she is very dreamy, but she doesn’t have to be the Queen, she doesn’t have to be the savior, she doesn’t have to be the hero – you are meant to be that.

What does this mean for Jon, someone who always felt less, who always felt secluded, and yet someone who, in the last few seasons, had found inner security and peace in being a Stark, in leading as one. Is he a Targaryen now? Can he be one? Or, can he, like he told Theon last season, find a way to be both?

And even more importantly, does any of this truly matter now?

Because the truth is that, as important as it all is, and as much as this episode put a lot of emphasis in heritage and in family, if this show has shown us anything is that family is more than blood, and right now, who is meant to sit on the Iron Throne isn’t really as important. What matters is how they win the fight that’s coming. What matters is surviving. That’s the battle they, and we, have to focus on. The rest we’ll worry about when we see who’s made it through.

NOT YOUR REGULAR LOVE STORY

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For all that Jon and Daenerys have always felt fated to meet and fall in love (theirs is, after all, a song of ice and fire), the fact that they were meant to be here doesn’t mean that they were fated to have a happy ending. Game of Thrones has never exactly been the kind of show that has promised happily ever afters, and we all knew that, when and if they did come together, they would at some point have to face this reality.

They’re family, actual blood family. AUNT AND NEPHEW. Related. Not supposed to be kissing and all of that.

And yes, this is Game of Thrones. Incest isn’t as rare as it should be, and there are scenarios where this isn’t a thing that holds them back, where they get through it – I just don’t know that the show is setting up those scenarios. It’s always felt to me that, despite the fact that Daenerys has been sold as the heroine of this tale, that the show was always setting her up to fail, to realize that, in the end, ruling, as she has been doing, means having to make the kind of decisions that make you wonder: am I really a good person?

Of course, this has been an issue for Jon as well, but like Sam points out in this episode, Daenerys has chosen to be a conqueror, Jon has chosen to be a leader. These are two distinctly different things. Can they come together to find a middle ground? Most things in life can be made to work, yes. Will they? The answer to that may lay in what’s the most interesting story. And I don’t know that happily ever after is – at least not for these two.

STICK THEM WITH THE POINTY END

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We got TWO Stark reunions in this episode as well, and though Bran looked a bit like himself for a moment there with Jon, and though the dynamics between Jon and Sansa are, as always, some of the most interesting on this show, I want to focus on Jon and Arya and the road they took to get to where they are now.

Arya isn’t the girl Jon knew, and Jon isn’t the boy Arya knew. They’re still family, and they still love each other, but the truth of the matter is that they don’t know each other. With Sansa and Jon, when faced with this same situation, they had to find a new common ground, they had to get to know each other again, to trust each other, to become allies. I don’t anticipate this will be as hard for Jon and Arya, who’ve always been more alike, but they gotta make that journey anyway.

This is, of course, complicated by the revelation that Jon isn’t really a Stark, something I assume his ‘sisters’ will find out about soon. He’s not their brother, he’s their cousin. And yet, does this matter? Will it matter to Sansa, who’s grown to love Jon? Will it matter to Arya, who always did love him? Is family a societal construction, or is family made up of the people that love you, the people you choose to keep close to your heart?

I think the answer is the second one, and I think Jon’s words to Theon from last season, words indicating he could be both a Greyjoy and a Stark, will come true for Jon as well. He doesn’t have to stop being the man he’s always been because of his heritage, and he doesn’t have to push aside the legacy of Ned Stark, no. He can take the best of both house and maybe, perhaps, become what the Seven Kindgoms need.

And he can do that with his family behind him.

YOU’RE MY FAMILY

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We’re entering season 8, and despite all the longing looks between Jon and Daenerys last season, and all the sex we’ve been shown, this show hasn’t really given us a couple we can really and truly root for, since …well, I guess since Daenerys and Drogo, and even that started super problematically. This has been a show of many, many things, but OTPs have never truly been one of them.

Enter Gendry and Arya, once again.

Seasons ago, we sorta figured we could get here. It’s just that the milady banter played way differently when Arya was younger than it does now. Now it’s straight up flirting, before it was kinda cute friendship/pre-flirting and just general companionship, and yes, family. Gendry and Arya were family during the time they traveled together, they depended on each other, they had each other’s backs, and they cared for each other.

And now, here they are again. Together. Except being family now would mean something completely different. Except that’s the kind of possibility that must not, would not be spoken off, not unless they survive what’s coming. So that’s where they must focus.

For us, though, as viewers, it’s amazing to see that this show can do this, and not only that, they they’ve chosen to. Because that, more than anything, gives us hope that the end of this tale won’t be a complete and utter tragedy. Maybe there’s some happiness to be salvaged here. We really, really hope so.

NOT ALL OATHS ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN

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Ironic, that the one waiting for Jaime is Bran. It started, in a way, with these two, and it all comes full circle, with a Bran who isn’t really Bran anymore, and a Jaime who is as far away from the man he was when he pushed a boy off a tower as it’s possible to be.

Jaime is, of course, here to fight. He’s here because he has never truly been the Kingslayer everyone takes him to be. But other than Brienne, who thankfully is around to corroborate his story, if he were to tell it, does anyone know that?

The answer is no, and I guess yes, because Bran is the one there to greet him, and Bran can and does know everything. Not that I think Daenerys is more likely to listen to Bran than she is to Brienne, to be honest. But, as much as interpersonal politics are fun and all, will any of it matter when the army of the dead comes? My guess is no. Daenerys can say whatever she wants, but she’s now seen the Night King’s army, she knows Viserion is with them, and like with Jon and his Targaryen/Stark issues, it must all be put aside, at least for now.

I do hope, however, that Jaime gets to tell Daenerys his story, at some point. His character arc has been one of the best in this show (let’s all forget that thing with Cersei in season 4, please) and if it was all leading up to something other than him and Brienne finally confessing their love for each other and running off to Tarth to get married, it was him finally being able to explain, not just to Daenerys, but to everyone, why they should all be glad he’s the Kingslayer.

And hey, this is the last season. No time like the present.

Things I think I think:

  • I got chills when the theme song started playing.
  • Arya being the first person we know the camera focuses on was perfection.
  • AND HER SMILE AT SEEING JON.
  • AND GENDRY.
  • No, really, I mean, I waited till season 8 for Game of Thrones to give me ship setup of any kind, they better not be throwing this Gendrya breadcrumbs at me to then kill one of them, I will riot.
  • Jon kissing Bran in the forehead gave me feels.
  • Also, Bran sounded more like himself as a first reaction to Jon than he’s sounded in seasons.
  • Tyrion (to Sansa): Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.
  • And yet, still, you underestimate her.
  • When Arya jumped into Jon’s arms, I teared up, I’m not gonna lie.
  • That drawing Arya gives Gendry, of the gun she wants him to make? Chekhov’s gun. Remember my words.
  • Also, FLIRT FLIRT FLIRRRRT.
  • Ha, and people were saying Cersei wouldn’t really move against Jaime.
  • Theon did a lot of good shit in this episode, so I assume that means he’s gonna get to the North and get himself killed in episode 3, fighting for his adopted family, because poetic justice and all.
  • Does ANYONE think Jon and Daenerys would have said no to an union if proposed at the beginning of the episode? They looked smitten AF.
  • Jon riding the dragon named for his father is one of those moments eight seasons in the making.
  • John Bradley and Kit Harington play the reveal scene perfectly. In fact, Bradley deserves some serious kudos for this episode, from the not reacting to Daenerys being all like yeah I killed your father AND brother, to this scene, his work is spectacular.
  • Bran, can you tell people things? With your words?
  • Or are just gonna sit down and sit some tea while the drama unfolds?
  • UGH, NO BRIENNE THIS EPISODE?

Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below!

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

 

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