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Watching 'Game Of Thrones': The Perils Of Self-Betterment

Isaac Hempstead Wright in "Game Of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Isaac Hempstead Wright in "Game Of Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO)

Editors' note: Joanna Weiss is writing weekly recaps of the eighth and final season of HBO's "Game of Thrones." Here's her season preview and episode 1 recap. 

Yes, I know, it’s hard to compete with the white walkers when it comes to being un-redeemably evil. But is everyone else on “Game of Thrones” a good guy now?

Don’t get me wrong; it was fun to see the parade of reformed scoundrels, misfits and liars that have descended on Winterfell for one last night of moderately-clean fun before the zombie apocalypse. But there’s also something wildly uncharacteristic about how nice everyone has become, how eager to connect, how sentimental.

Granted, Cersei isn’t in the episode. But Jaime is. And the guy who once was the Westeros equivalent of a villain in a John Hughes movie is now transformed: more gray hair, one less hand and a definite sign of a conscience. As the curtain rises, he is standing in front of Daenerys — who wonders, somewhat reasonably — why she shouldn’t execute the man who killed her father. But Brienne of Tarth stands up and successfully vouches for Jaime’s honor, proving that acts of kindness can really come back to help you in the future.

Hannah Murray and John Bradley in "Game of Thrones." (HBO)
Hannah Murray and John Bradley in "Game of Thrones." (HBO)

Since when is there karma in Westeros? If it was always there, why didn’t it work for Ned Stark? Or is this always how it happens with redemption stories: We like a scoundrel who turns good more than we like a milquetoast guy who was good all along?

Of course, it’s not an entirely happy return to Winterfell for Jaime; the Raven Formerly Known as Bran is there to remind us that some bad deeds aren’t forgotten. “The things we do for love,” Bran says, repeating the words Jaime said in the series premiere, when everyone had more hair and Jaime didn’t hesitate to push Bran out a window.

But hey, Bran isn’t bitter. At least, that’s what he says when Jaime seeks him out by the Weirwood tree to apologize for that defenestration thing. Bran has deeper things to think about now, and tells Jaime that he'll be fine before the zombies arrive.

“What about afterwards?” Jaime asks.

“How do you know there is an afterwards?” Bran replies.

I think I actually yelled, “Thanks, Debbie Downer!” at my TV at that point, but the truth is that everyone in Winterfell seems to agree: It’s highly unlikely that humankind can compete with a vast army of White Walkers and their pet zombie dragon. (The odds are especially bad when you consider that whenever someone on Team Human dies, he immediately joins the other side.) “So … we’re going to die … at Winterfell,” says Tyrion, the reigning deadpan champion of Westeros, who tells Jaime that he has undergone a personal rehabilitation, abandoning his goal of sleeping with every prostitute in King’s Landing. “The perils of self-betterment,” Tyrion says, wistfully.

Since when is there karma in Westeros? If it was always there, why didn’t it work for Ned Stark?

He’s right: The old Tyrion would have spent his possibly-final night on Earth hunting glorious debauchery. The new Tyrion is still drinking heavily in the face of doom, but in the company of fellow fighters: Podrick, Brienne, Ser Davos and Tormund, who demonstrates Wildling manners by telling the group about his boyhood encounter with the Mrs. Robinson of giants. Jaime knights Brianne, Podrick sings a song and Tormund dribbles liquor from an animal horn.

Everyone else, meanwhile, is choosing to spend the night in meaningful company. Missandrei and Grey Worm make a pact to get the hell out Westeros as soon as the war is over. Sansa sits with Theon, who has also returned to Winterfell to cleanse himself of horrible past deeds.

Arya starts out visiting The Hound; in conversation they grumpily admit that they never actually hated one another. But if you were a teenager, flush with hormones and inexperience, would you spend your last night alive with your awkward father figure? No, you would not. Arya hinted at her true intentions earlier in the episode, when she visited Gendry in the foundry — wow, it’s hot and steamy in the foundry — and flirted by throwing daggers at a wall with eyebrow-raising accuracy. When Gendry comes to her chamber later, delivering the weapon she ordered, she tells him how she really wants to spend these final hours. There’s no time like the present.

After a little nudging from Sam, Jon also decides that a deed must be done. When he gets a quiet moment with Dany in the crypt, he reveals what he learned an episode ago: That his actual mother was Ned’s sister, and his father was Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s older brother.

Dany seems significantly less concerned that she’s been sleeping with her nephew than she is about what this means for the line of succession to the Iron Throne. But they’re going to have to talk about it later, because, lo and behold, some skinny dead people on skinny dead horses are arriving at the gate. It’s time for all these nice guys to take out their swords and cut off some zombie heads.

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Joanna Weiss Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Joanna Weiss is the editor of Experience Magazine, published by Northeastern University.

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