Welcome to Just a Game of Thrones, the column singing backup vocals on the Song of Ice and Fire.

***

All My Friends

That’s how it starts…

We go back to your house…

You check the charts,
And start to figure it out…

And if it’s crowded, all the better,
Because we know we’re gonna be up late…

But if you’re worried about the weather,
Then you picked the wrong place to stay…

That’s how it starts.

We set controls for the heart of the sun;
One of the ways that we show our age.
But if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up,
If the sun comes up and I still don’t wanna stagger home,

Then it’s the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet…

You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan,
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again…

Oh, you’re talking forty-five turns just as fast as you can,
And I know it gets tired. But it’s better when we pretend.

It comes apart.

The way it does in bad films…

Except the part
Where the moral kicks in…

But when we’re running out of the drugs,
And the conversation’s grinding away,
I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision
For another five years of life.

To tell the truth,
This could be the last time…

So here we go,
Like a sales force into the night…

And if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand,
You can turn it on yourself, you ridiculous clown.
You forget what you meant when you read what you said.
You always knew you were tired, but then,

Where are your friends tonight?

***

I know. I know.

The episode wasn’t perfect.

But before we (/Twitter) go Needle-poking plot holes and mocking the far-too-long Bachelor-esque dragon date, let’s just take a monocultured second to appreciate that after countless wrenching twists and innumerable jolting turns, some truly devastating casualties and some positively satiating comeuppances, the ending is finally starting. Winter has come.

We can see all our old friends, all in one night.

Now, if only they were as thrilled to see one another…

It’s narratively noteworthy that despite the Three-Eyed Bran’s early-episode insistence that “we don’t have time for all this; the Night King has [Dany’s] dragon, he’s one of them, The Wall has fallen, the dead march south,” and Tyrion’s impassioned Great Hall plea that “we must fight together now or die,” almost the entirety of the Season 8 premiere, “Winterfell,” was spent wading through the same inter- and intrafamily muck that’s kept our various protagonists bogged down south and/or east the past seven seasons, instead of concentrating on the more existentially insidious matter at hand.

However, it’s also exactly what this Gordian story needed after such a “jetpacked” penultimate season. Because, though a certain looming apocalyptic mantra has been echoing incessantly throughout this epic saga, it’s those kinds of relatively petty squabbles so derided by Bran and Jon that have led to many of this overarching tales’ most gripping, poignant moments. They’re what keep us — and the characters themselves — emotionally invested in the lives those two farsighted deriders are fighting for.

Sure, the Night King is super scary and can control an ice dragon and represents a major threat to life as we know it, but he’s also inescapably boring. When you think about it, he’s only gotten ~30 seconds of origin story exposition (so far), and the only things we really know about him are that his javelin game is strong and he has a knack for interior design.

That’s why part of me was actually disappointed when the Dothraki interrupted Dany before she could finish her “She doesn’t need to be my friend. But I am her Queen. If she can’t respect me — ” ultimatum, as them’s the kind of fighting words that would be irrevocably instigating if audibly uttered…

Fortunately, even some the warmest of welcomes sprinkled throughout this episode were engagingly tainted by hesitation, friction, and outright disdain.

Right after Tyrion and Sansa share a wistful moment overlooking Winterfell in which Tyrion lauds her ability to overcome underestimations, she dismisses his pro-Dany counsel with a biting, “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” Right after Jon and Arya celebrate their long awaited reunion, they fall into contention over family loyalties. Right after insisting to the King in the North that she has faith in him, the Lady of Winterfell coldly asks him if he sincerely bent the knee to save the North or simply because he loves the Mother of Dragons.

All things considered, the Hound’s “You’re a cold little bitch, aren’t you? Guess that’s why you’re still alive.” backhanded compliment to Arya may have been the most genuine exchange in the episode.

Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister is still seeking heedless “poetic justice,” this time by seeing if Bronn was telling the truth back in S2E2 when he implied to Tyrion he would commit even infanticide if given enough gold; Euron Greyjoy is still ready to sail the Iron Fleet to the most fairweathered port available, even if it’s not the one in between Cersei’s legs; Ser Davos is still having to point out that if Dany wants loyalty from a foreign people she has to earn it; and Jon is still having to explain to Lady Mormont (et al.) the concept of wartime game theory.

Those with power are still jockeying for more, and those without it are still contemptuous of those with it.

If a man was so bold, he might even predict that at the end of the day Long Night, when truth is ultimately extracted from treason, it could be mankind that is revealed to be mankind’s greatest enemy.

Or, ya know, it could just be Bran who needs to get Valyrian steeled through the heart…

 

Break The Wheel of Hot Takes

Holy crap how are we going to tackle the litany of remaining prophecies, conspiracies, and far flung fan theories in only five episodes?!?! Even with extended running times, I just don’t see it happening.

I do think some loose ends are more likely to be tied into bows than others, though…

HAS to happen:
  • Jaime = the valonqar
  • Bran = the voice inside the Mad King’s “Burn them all!”-filled head
  • An appearance by Howland Reed
  • CLEGANE BOWL!!!
  • The end of Tyrion’s “honeycomb and jackass” joke
  • SHOULD happen:
  • A Brienne and Jaime makeout session
  • A Daario update
  • An on-target shot by Chekhov’s Scorpion, currently in the Red Keep
  • A Night King defeat by Episode 3
  • A white paper on how the two greatest armies, and two dragons, could be most effectively fed
  • COULD happen:
  • Tyrion = a Targaryen
  • Syrio Forel = Jaqen H’ghar
  • Bran = the Night King and/or Bran the Builder and/or Neo from The Matrix
  • Greyscale = the biological weapon we’ve been waiting for
  • PROBABLY WON’T happen (but it would be cool if it did):
  • Varys is revealed to be a merman
  • Sam kills the Night King, Neville Longbottom style
  • Westeros becomes so uninhabitable all surviving Westerosi are forced to join Arya in exploring “what’s west of Westeros,” thus becoming a mysterious Other ‘invading’ a foreign land via a once-impenetrable barrier
  • Elephants
  •  

    Ba Dum Tssshhh

    “You should consider yourself lucky. At least your balls won’t freeze off.” — Tyrion
    “You take great offense at dwarf jokes but love making eunich jokes. Why is that?” — Varys
    “Because I have balls, and you don’t.” — Tyrion
     
    “Look at you. You’re a man.” — Jon
    “Almost…”— Bran
     
    “We need more horses and wagons, if it please My Lady…and My Lord…and My Queen.” — Lord Umber
     
    “The last time we spoke was at Joffrey’s wedding. Miserable affair.” — Tyrion
    “It had its moments…” — Sansa
     

     

    The HoF of GoT GIFs

     * My fellow recappers/reviewers, feel free to pilfer from these, or any other GIFs from the Just a Game of Thrones archives, anytime

    In addition to the multitude of GIFs in the first section…

    New Kid, Big Headbutt:

    Stepdad Life:

    More Like Lord Umburned:

     

    Sword to my Throat, I’d Bet _____ Wins the Game of Thrones

    (this is subject to, and will most likely, change each week)

    Dany! Until she dies during childbirth!

    I have no defensible reason to defend this selection, other than a random hunch (and the fact Targaryen children have a habit of killing their mothers on the way out).