This week’s Game of Thrones: sex, dragon rides – and zero action | Television & radio

Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one, season eight of Game of Thrones

Viewers coming to the very last season of Game of Thrones expecting a feast of action will have found instead a selection of morsels, though all were tasty, and filling, in their own way. With only six episodes in the entire run, this first hour was relatively sedate, as much as Game of Thrones ever can be, and there was not as much urgency as might have been expected. No major characters met a gruesome end and the battle between the living and the dead remains a pressing but background concern.

Perhaps they spent all the budget on Jon Snow’s inevitable and lengthy dragon ride, which surely sets up an imminent theme park spin-off. Jon and Daenerys’s romantic return was touching, if we suspend the knowledge that they are aunt and nephew for a moment – and we were only allowed to do so for a moment – and we haven’t seen Jon crack one of his painfully reluctant smiles in a long time, though the Hollywood flourish of the waterfall smooch was truly corny. But, if there was one consistent theme of the episode, then it was hope punctured by bleak reality, or more accurately, by Winterfell’s number one buzzkill, Bran, on hand to brood, and ruin everyone’s fun.

No time left for pleasantries ... Samwell Tarly (John Bradley).

No time left for pleasantries … Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). Photograph: HBO

The hints were there in Sansa’s ice-cold reception to her potential new sister-in-law (or cousin-in-law, perhaps?), which has already spawned an epidemic of memes, but Bran was truly the one chosen to make everything seem as terrible as it really is. As Jon returns to Winterfell, with Dany beside him, Bran pipes up that there is no time for warm welcomes. When Samwell is pleased to be in the same place as Jon again – a reunion slightly deflated by Dany letting him know that oops, she fried his family – Bran informs Sam that now might be a good time to let Jon know he’s in love with his own aunt, though that particular aspect of his medieval DNA test results didn’t seem to bother him as much as I thought it might. The message is that time is of the essence, and there is no time left for pleasantries.

Dragon rides and the occasional axe-or-arrow-in-the-eye aside, there was a distinct lack of bombastic action, but nevertheless, this felt like a greatest hits kind of episode, a best-of that played to the crowd. Pity the poor actors who had been used to filming in sunnier climes, but the Winterfell reunions were lovely, particularly for Arya. Her scene with Jon was perfect, with its gallows humour about how often she has used Needle (“Once or twice”); she calmly held her own against The Hound; and her flirting with Gendry was sweet, which is not a word Arya often invites, what with her all-consuming bloodthirsty insistence on murderous revenge. There was space, even, for sexposition to make a comeback, which may make it a greatest tits episode. It’s been a while since Game of Thrones fell back on its old habit of having things explained in brothels by naked women, but it’s the last season, so, to borrow from Justin Timberlake, they’re bring sex scenes back.

Plenty of buzzes to kill ... Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright).

Plenty of buzzes to kill … Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Photograph: Home Box Office (HBO)/HBO

In the heavy doom of the impending apocalypse, there was a surprising amount of humour. I appreciated that the very first lines were Tyrion making a gag about Lord Varys’ (lack of) balls, and Cersei’s campy descent into absolute humanity-crushing villain, welcoming the collapse of The Wall and griping about her lack of elephants, was perhaps more of a hoot than intended, though I suspect all are aware of the over-the-top power she commands in just one sip of wine.

Any moments of levity, however, were convincingly wiped away with the Night King’s latest evil flourish, his spectacularly horrific octo-antics, which seem to identify him as a serial killer from a Scandi-noir detective drama from about 10 years ago. I’ll never look at a Catherine wheel in the same way again. But of course, it had to end as Game of Thrones began, with Jaime and Bran, supposedly now on the same side, sharing a look. Bran, surely, has plenty more buzzes to kill yet.


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