Game of Thrones Episode 801 Recap: A Magic Dragon Ride

This post contains spoilers for season 8, episode 1 of Game of Thrones.

Well, that was fun, wasnt it? Or, if not fun precisely, then satisfying and even exciting. Ill be honest: the thought of returning to recapping this show after a two-year hiatus had me as anxious as Jaime Lannister eyeing Bran under the tower of Winterfell, but this episode gave us so much to cheer for, ooh and ahh over, and even LOL at, that my nervousness vanished faster than Cerseis purity pledge.

Yes, this was a crowd-pleasing lets-get-the-band-back-together-and-push-the-plot-forward-an-inch-or-two episode, but it also had themes. The first one—semi-problematically but, hey, this is Game of Thrones were talking about, folks—is castration. As the Unsullied make their virgin march through Winterfell, everyone from Tyrion and Varys to Bronn cant stop cracking eunuch jokes, but the real subject is Jon Snow. Sansa, Arya, Lyanna Mormont, and even little Lord Umber are all vocally concerned that he unmanned himself—and, by extension, the entire North—by giving up his crown and bending the knee to Daenerys. Daenerys, for her part, didnt get the memo that you never wear white after Labor Day in the North, and you cant just expect the locals to bow down at the first sight of your pet dragons. Theyre “stubborn as goats,” Ser Davos reminds us. So you have to earn their respect the way Jon did, by submitting yourself first to an entire childhoods worth of bullying and then, ideally, by being betrayed, stabbed through the heart, and brought back to life by a witch. And always, always putting the Norths interests above your own!

For the moment, however, everyone on Team Humanity is keeping their swords sheathed and their voices calm. None of the Stark kids trust this Targaryen lady, but the spectacle of dragons soaring over Winterfell does have a certain persuasive power. And after all hes been through, its nice to see Jon in love again. For everyone except Bran and Sam, at least, who know the real story of Jons parentage. (Side note: can someone please green-light a limited series about George R.R. Martins upbringing in Bayonne, N.J., that will explain why hes so fixated on castration and incest?)

Another theme: reunions! The surviving Stark kids. Arya, Gendry, and the Hound. Jon and Sam. Theon and Yara Greyjoy. Tyrion and Sansa! The list goes on and on. And while I am not entirely on board with this shows pivot to Borscht Belt one-liners, I really must salute Sansas remark about how Joffreys wedding “had its moments.” Aint that the truth, sister?

Unfortunately, Sansa has more on her mind than sick comebacks. She doesnt buy the notion that the Lannister armies are marching north in peace—and shes right, as we know from last seasons finale. Sansa also fears that Jon is thinking with the wrong head when it comes to Daenerys—which is frankly not the worst read of the situation. And shes worried about how shes going to keep the North together and find enough winter-proof livestock to feed those damn dragons.

If you ask me, the show is sending lots of signals that Sansa may be the only non-Lannister throne contender keeping a clear head as the battle with the dead looms. Theres her line to Tyrion about how she used to think he was clever, and theres Aryas retort to Jons complaint about Sansa thinking shes smarter than everyone else. As Arya sees it, Sansa is smarter than everyone else. Period.

We know that the entirety of episode three will be taken up by an epic battle scene. That will presumably pit the human armies led by Jon and Dany against the army of the dead led by the Nights King. But that leaves three full episodes, all in the 80-minute range, to come after the battle is fought. So Sansa is right to keep one eye on her power-hungry rivals (and frequently fuzzy-headed half-brother) even as she prepares for a war that Jon, Tyrion, and most of the others cant see beyond.

So what is up with the Lannisters anyway? Jaime may be leading his loyalists to help, but Cerseis pledge of assistance was pure mischief. Neither her close encounter with that chained-up wight nor her alleged pregnancy has made a dent in her misanthropy. When Qyburn tells her that the armies of the dead have melted the wall and begun marching south, she greets the news with a terse and nihilistic “Good.”

Her fake pledge to help Jon and Dany is just a smokescreen for the rear-guard action shes planning with her Iron Bank funds and the fleet of Euron Greyjoy, current holder of the Douchiest Villain in Westeros title inaugurated by Joffrey way back in Season One. She has ships, 20,000 solders, 2,000 horses, and no elephants, alas, which feels like the kind of detail thats going to come up again at some future date. And she has Eurons bodily fluids as a potentially legitimizing paternity for her latest all-Lannister bun in the oven—if indeed she is still pregnant. (She sure does drink a lot of wine, but if she doesnt care about humanity, can we expect her to care about obstetrical best practices?)

Its hard to say if Cersei is an evil genius or just a hot mess, which kind of reminds me of another not-super-appropriate chief executive, but lets not talk politics, shall we? On the one hand, shell never pull a Jon Snow and fall prey to mushy pleas for “unity.” On the other, if her big priority is sending Bronn to dispatch Tyrion and Jaime on the off chance they dont get slaughtered by the Armies of the Dead, does that really qualify as keeping your eye on the prize? Also, maybe dont send the guy who repeatedly saved the life of one brother and taught the other how to become a one-handed fighting machine to assassinate them, if you want the job done right? And if you are going to do so, maybe dont interrupt said guy when hes in the middle of a sexual foursome? I mean, what do I know about commissioning assassinations, but it all seemed dashed-off, unworthy of Cerseis best work.

Clearly, Cerseis big-picture play is to hang back in Kings Landing to either make a last stand against the zombies or take on whatever combination of Jon, Daenerys, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, Bran, et al remains. In her view, the two options are: the zombies kill everyone, or she remains on the Iron Throne with Euron as her entertainingly irreverent boy-toy king. But I wonder if shes considered a third option: Zombie Cersei on the throne!

Theres also the interesting wild card of Yara Greyjoy, who, thanks to Theons hard-earned reclamation of his own sense of personal agency, has been sprung from Kings Landing harbor and is headed to reclaim the Iron Islands as a fallback option for Team Humanity. It seems entirely likely that well see action there in the episodes following the looming big battle, and Yara could emerge as a major geopolitical force.

Daenerys, for her part, wont even entertain any possibility that doesnt involve the entire universe bending the knee to her or being burnt to a crisp. Shes about ready to haul that pesky Sansa before the dragons when shes interrupted by the news that Drogon and Rhaegal are so depressed by the snow, the cold, and all these glum, unfashionable Northerners that theyve barely eaten half of Old McDonalds Farm in the past 48 hours.

Clearly, a joy ride is in order, and why wouldnt she ask Jon to climb on board Rhaegals back and tag along? When you think about it, its a pretty ridiculous scenario, but the scene is fun and transporting—a classic bit of Game of Thrones magic. Its truly impressive how, after all their screen time, the dragons still register as mystical, scary, and wondrous.

Neither Jon nor Dany stop to ponder the ramifications of this ride, however, and if they had it probably would have dimmed their enthusiasm for that kiss in their mountain hideaway (observed by one nosy dragon whose expression will be familiar to any cohabitating dog owner). If they had bothered to read George R.R. Martins books—or even a Wikipedia entry—on the boat ride to Winterfell, they might have realized that only Targaryens have ever successfully ridden dragons before.

Back in Winterfell, Arya is taking advantage of Gendrys proximity to the dragon-glass weapons forge by slipping him her design for a White Walker–killing sequel to Needle—which, yeah, Jon Snow, she has used once or twice before, now that you mention it.

And heres good old Samwell Tarly. Surely this will be a nice subplot to keep our minds off our troubles—or not! On the list of things I didnt buy in this episode, Sams weepy hysterics over the deaths of his horrible dad and brother rank at or near the top. You hated those guys, my dude, and rightly so! But the plot must progress, and its useful for Sam to have a personal motivation for driving a wedge between Jon and Dany. How convenient, then, that Sam runs into Bran immediately after this encounter and receives word that its time to fill Jon in about the vexing details of his parentage.

Of course Jon is down in the vaults moping and communing with his (legitimate, it turns out!) Stark ancestors when Sam stumbles in to rain on his dragon-riding love parade. Jon is not really impressed by the story of Sams flame-broiled relatives, knowing what pricks they were, but Sam presses him to admit that he might have taken a less absolutist approach to punishing their disloyalty.

Then Sam comes in with the haymaker. “Bran and I worked it out. Your mother was Lyanna Stark, and your father was Rhaegar Targaryen. You are Aegon Targaryen, protector of the realm, all of it.”

Another man might find this news exciting—energizing even. But Jon, as we all know because he never shuts up about it, doesnt care about crowns. He only cares about protecting the NRead More – Source

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