The most valuable advice I can give to any ardent fan of a particular piece of media, especially one as deep and sprawling as “Game of Thrones,” is to avoid internet forums. While it’s great to dissect every single tiny detail of an episode or hatch the most elaborate of theories, you’ll notice that you will soon drown in pools of cynicism and hatred among those most invested. There’s probably much more to say about how that relates to the human psyche, but my point is: I entered the final season of the biggest TV phenomenon in history with as clear a mind as possible.
“Winterfell,” the premiere of the six-episode final season of “Game of Thrones” is a suitable episode to kick things off. Jon Snow (Kit Harington, “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan”) and his lover/aunt/queen/breaker of chains/etc. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) arrive in Winterfell to more suspicion than pomp. Sansa (Sophie Turner, “Josie”), now the Lady of Winterfell, is one of those suspicious of the Targaryen as well as the massive army of Dothraki, Lannisters and many others they have brought with them. Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek, “Borgen”) arrives to form an alliance with Cersei (Lena Headey, “Thumper”) as well as a disturbing relationship of sorts.
For better or for worse, “Game of Thrones” is a markedly different show than it was four or five seasons ago. Earlier on, showrunners David Benioff (“The Kite Runner”) and D.B. Weiss (“It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) could work entirely off of author George R.R. Martin’s complicated narratives of political intrigue and family feuds to great effect. Now, with no source material to feed off of and the show’s worldwide success of unprecedented levels, “Game of Thrones” is forced to lean more into its fantastical, spectacular aspects. This does have the effect of somewhat neutering a few of the more fascinating characters of the series like Varys and Tyrion, as exemplified by the episode opening with an off-color, barely-funny joke about Varys’s lack of genitals. Moreover, the dialogue in general has shifted more into pithy exchanges of one-liners and fanservice.
Nonetheless, if one can accept these fundamental changes, what’s left is not at all underwhelming. The actual performances are, as usual, excellent, with Sophie Turner’s performance as de facto Stark family head Sansa being a standout. One of the best character arcs in the series is seeing the young, naïve Sansa turn into an exceedingly mature, pragmatic and intelligent leader. Another standout is John Bradley (“Patient Zero”), who plays Samwell Tarly. In particular, the scene in which he learns about his father and brother’s gruesome end and the subsequent scene where he reveals to Jon his true family heritage are some of the best peformances ever seen on “Game of Thrones.”
On the flip side, Euron, after all this time, is still an impossibly dull and one-dimensional character, especially compared to his siblings Theon (Alfie Allen, “The Predator”) and Yara (Gemma Whelan, “The End of the F***ing World”). While Clarke is tasked with playing one of the most popular characters on the show, she is given little material to work with in a compelling manner and her scenes with Harington are rarely full of chemistry.
“Game of Thrones” has five episodes left to bring an end to its glorious run. I expect the next few to be action-filled and epic, and we can all expect to enjoy them — even if some or many of us miss the political thriller of old.