Eagles star Chris Long, will recap Game of Thrones and share his thoughts on each episode every Monday on SI.com.
August 27, 2017. Since that day the world’s favorite fantasy epic has been in a holding pattern. We went from the Night King saddling an undead dragon spewing blue flames on a towering wall of ice to a full stop. In my line of work, the only parallel would be the dichotomy between the utterly satisfying and pressure-packed chaos of a Super Bowl run and the uncomfortable stillness that follows.
It’d be like Tony Montana’s goons alerting him that Scarface’s decisive home invasion was actually a false alarm, right after he emerged from his desk covered in white powder and expecting him to turn in for the night. The adrenaline rush that was Season 7 left a world of fans hanging from a 595-day cliff. Characters frozen in time for 20 months came to life again, and for 54 minutes Sunday night, the world and Twitter at-large stood still. We’d already seen one fan favorite come back from the dead on Sunday afternoon, but judging by my timeline, even Tiger takes a backseat to Jon Snow (he did it first).
The global blockbuster’s 68th episode was essentially like the first day of school, ripe with long awaited reunions and some new romantic flings. Only this school year begins in the dead of winter. And a lot has changed over the break. With very little to satisfy our bloodlust (save for a quick Theon skirmish and a pretty nasty discovery), these run-ins, diverse in tenor, carried the season premiere. Arya and Jon had a few of their own, respectively, but it was their meeting by the tree that was the most heartwarming. Two universally loved characters reunited. But I was fixated on one exchange. Arya introduces Jon to Needle and his response is to ask her if she’s “ever used it.” She downplays the mileage she’s quickly put on her weapon, but this question illustrates the disconnect in how Jon sees his “little sister” and the time that has passed since they met. It’s easy to forget how individually these characters develop. Keep that question in mind should there ever come a time that Arya has to put it to use to save Jon’s life, or even do the unthinkable opposite.
This rendezvous was much different from some of Arya’s others, like her flirtatious dialogue with Gendry or her reunion with the Hound, which sounded word-for-word like banter at your favorite outlaw biker bar. It wasn’t Jon’s only reunion either, but we’ll get to that. Theon had a small slice of redemption as he climbs an insurmountable hill back toward respectability in freeing his sister Yara. Tyrion reunites with his ex, Sansa, and pays her a great compliment, “Many have underestimated you. Most are dead now.” I’d rather not underestimate this comment or Sansa going forward. Sansa returns the favor with the ultimate ex-wife dagger, tailor-made for Tyrion: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” Talk about a low blow.
Jon had a busy first day back. He also ran into old friends in Bran and Sam. The first interaction was brief, awkward but potentially monumentally important. Jon tells Bran that “he’s a man now” to which Bran responds "almost.” Super awkward, Bran. You had to be awkward, Bran. Was it a virginity joke? Was it a three-eyed raven flex or was it foreshadowing that he’s the Night King? Either way, his presence has slowly turned menacing, a real lurker. At this point, he’s elite awkward, popping up behind people only to double down and deliver some cryptic commentary.
What’s worse, Bran is a gigantic invasion of privacy. He’s like a rolling unsecured server. He knows everyone’s browser history. He’s like a overbearing omnipresent parent to everyone in the seven kingdoms. And he’s deservedly entering meme territory, as evidenced by a few I found on Twitter. A less significant but burning question I have is, how the hell does he get around all day? He’s on the first floor, he’s on the third floor, he’s by the tree. Is Winterfell handicap accessible? Does he have an entourage? If so, why not? He’s the least well protected overtly important character in the series.
But of course there’s nothing like that moment when you finally get face-to-face with the guy that pushed you out of a seven-story castle window because you saw him giving his sister the business. It’d been some years, and Jaime seems to have gone with an ombre hair color this season, but Bran got that moment. The most palpably tense moment in the episode, and a real cliffhanger going into Episode 2.
Nearly every character has a flaw, but Samwell’s biggest seems to be that his moral compass is too strong. He’s a selfless fan favorite in a cutthroat arena. He’s killed a White Walker, but he doesn’t fit the traditional alpha male bill that we as viewers are conditioned to imagine our protagonist as having. That’s shortsighted though, as his inner fortitude is second to none. Good luck killing him off. I think we’d riot. Game of Thrones is rightfully touted as merciless in its method of natural selection, but eliminating Sam would be arguably their most callous work. I’m hoping he has a shot to make a deep run into this ruthless tournament. Who knows, maybe the meek shall inherit the throne?
The most heartbreaking sequence was Sam learning of the deaths of his father and brother at the hands of Dany. Kudos to her for breaking the news with no chaser, but boasting about her violent exploits rooted in power have never been a weakness of hers. We’ve seen thousands of deaths on this show. The volume, the fantasy element. Sometimes we get desensitized. Scenes that drive home the humanity of the characters in the face of grief and loss are few and far between. This one hit hard.
Shortly after hearing the news, Bran adds insult to injury, tasking Sam with breaking Jon the news we’ve all been waiting for him to hear. How’s that for a s----y draw? “Hey, Jon. What ya up to? Lookin’ at some statues? Umm, so anyways, your dad isn’t your dad and you’re banging your aunt.” In all seriousness, the most powerful line of the episode was delivered as the sequence came to a crescendo. “I’m not talking about the King in the North, I’m talking about the King of the Bloody Seven Kingdoms.” Absolutely epic. A line for the ages. It made me want to run through a wall, but suffering from an acute case of couch lock, I just kept watching.
But what will Jon do with this realization? It’s quite possible that he should handle this news with care. Do you really think Dany will concede, and how will his allies in the North take the news? Might wanna save that one, Jon. The funniest surprise of the scene was the fact that his first response was essentially “Dad lied?” and not “She’s my aunt?” Which actually makes sense, considering Targaryens “keep the bloodline tight.” But throughout most of the episode, Jon has no idea. And for Jon and Dany, ignorance is bliss.
Aside from reunions and revelations, courtship was a big player in the season premiere. Two very different romances continued to play out. One was executed flawlessly. The banter between Euron and Cersei was nothing short of brilliant. Euron has at times seemed like he walked onto the wrong set. “This isn’t the Sons of Anarchy reboot?” Not here. Cersei has been the perfect pairing for him. It was like an epic battle of wills to see who could be the most cunning and nihilistic. The tug-of-war ends with Cersei seemingly on top all along. Although she may enjoy his company on some level, she’s ultimately using him. You could see the wheels turning as she plotted to use the encounter as an alibi for her child being his. I’ve got to hand it to Euron, it’s a miracle that a guy willing to ice grill the mountain on his way to Cersei’s bedroom is still alive. They seem like a match made in heaven, but for Cersei, it’s business as usual. “Now I want to be alone,” she says, leaving Euron to partake in a medieval walk of shame, completely unaware of her plan.
Far to the north, a much warmer, more PG love is in full bloom. Dany doesn’t always meet the in-laws, but when she does, she brings two gigantic flying lizards. “Northerners don’t trust outsiders.” This vibe is ever-present for the honeymoon stage couple. Sansa meets the queen with healthy, protective skepticism. Lyanna Marmont damn near calls Jon the "B" word. Even Dany’s kids, Drogon and Rhaegal, don’t like it at her new man’s house. They still manage to take the dragons for a ride, escaping the tensions at the castle.
This scene was a low point. The CGI was remarkably bad close up. There’s an Atreyu hitching a ride on Falcor reference here somewhere. It leaves you to wonder if producers realized this too late, or people were actually convinced that it looked good. “Keep your queen warm”—how about a winter hat? And how is your hair perfect? Dany’s IG would be something else. She and bae found a waterfall? Look out. The most unforgivable aspect of this scene, though, is that an army of the dead are inbound and they’re on a dragon ride. This is the medieval equivalent of the president playing golf for a week straight.
I did enjoy the dragon playing helicopter dad on the makeout session. Let the memes fly. It seems innocuous on the surface, but could it be that as much as the dragon is protecting its mother, it senses the bloodline? After all, Jon’s ability to ride the beast is curious. Probably figuring that he can because she’s allowed it, only her arrogance blinds her from picking up this clue. The dark cloud hanging over their romance is clear to the viewer, and Sansa poignantly raises the most important question of the young season: “Did you bend the knee to save the north, or because you love her?” I don’t think it matters. This one is going up in flames eventually. We all know that couple.
• Severed arm spiral… The White Walkers are so artistic! They’ve actually left these grisly symbols in their tracks since the show’s inception. What it means is anyone’s guess. I’ll leave this one to Reddit! My favorite theory involves the Targaryen crest.
• Fashion!!! What’s the deal with Dany’s coat? It looks like she grabbed it out of Cardi B’s closet. And Euron’s jacket? I need that. Is that All Saints? Gucci? People are walking around in sheepskin squares with holes for their heads and this guy has on an $800 European jacket.
• “You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her.” Thanks, Cersei. IG profiles everywhere will be littered with this quote. Blocked and reported.
• Where the f--- are my elephants??? I love Cersei. She is such a boss. When Euron’s Ken Doll sidekick shows up with no pachyderms, she’s not having it. She orders elephants the way you order a burger, and when the server forgets ketchup, look out.
• Bronn sounding like Uncle Rico bragging about shooting a dragon to three hired helpers is peak Bronn. Only he really can throw that football over those mountains. The real question is whether he’s willing to follow the money now, asked to kill Jamie and Tyrion.
• Gendry… Gendry is unremarkable in so many ways. Why is he still around? Something significant is in store for him. Spawn of Cersei revelation?
• White Walkers. More White Walkers, please.