After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 8 , we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, editorial assistant Rachelle Hampton is joined by Slate senior editor Sam Adams.
Rachelle Hampton: Hi Sam! Thanks for joining me to discuss the very last season premiere for Game of Thrones, “Winterfell.” Like most of the show’s opening episodes, this one largely set the scene for the upcoming season and reminded us of the many people whose names continually escape me and what they were last doing. But this premiere’s theme was also largely about reunions. Arya and Jon! Jon and Bran! Tyrion and Sansa! Arya and Gendry! Arya and the Hound! And the parting reunion shot of Jaime and Bran! there were so many reunions I forgot who exactly had been parted and for how long, like Jon and Sam, whose reunion finally let out the biggest secret of the show, because Bran apparently couldn’t tell Jon that he was sleeping with his aunt?
Sam Adams: So many reunions! So much table-setting! My fondest wish is that the show’s writers have packed the final season’s first episode with setups so that the next five can run more smoothly, because hoo boy, was that a lot of Wow, I haven’t seen you since Season 3s. Perhaps the most noteworthy reunion was ours: It’s been nearly a year and a half since the last Game of Thrones episode aired, and it’s a strange kind of relief for the show to return with an hour that reminds us that it sometimes isn’t all that great.
But as Bran said, “There’s no time for this.” Let’s move on to the pressing business of crowning the Worst Person in Westeros this week. I begin with an obvious (probably too obvious) candidate: Cersei Lannister. While everyone else is heading to Winterfell to stop the army of the dead, Cersei, safely ensconced in King’s Landing, responds to the news that the Night King et al. have broken through the Wall with a simple “Good.” Tyrion, picking a strange moment to develop trust in his sister, reassures Sansa that the Lannister armies are marching north, because Cersei now “has something to live for.” But there’s only one thing Cersei lives for: herself, and possibly the child that’s in her belly. (That stomach touch after she sleeps with Euron seems to confirm that she wasn’t misleading us when she said she was pregnant, and the smile on her face indicates she’s getting ready to dupe another man into believing the child is his and not her brother’s.) If there’s ever been a time for humanity to set aside its differences, it’s now, but Cersei’s plan is to let the White Walkers wipe our her enemies and then conquer whatever’s left. There will be a lot fewer people to rule over, but a queen is a queen, with or without elephants. So what about it, Rachelle. Is Cersei the Worst?
Hampton: Cersei was certainly in fine form this week, and I can’t wait for every girl on Instagram to caption her photo this summer with, “If you want a whore, buy her. If you want a queen, earn her.” How Euron managed to earn her in the two minutes that passed between her delivering that line and their sleeping together, we’ll never know. But honestly Cersei did no more and no less than I expected of her, especially after she finally turned on Jaime last season, which she seems to be doubling down on with that whole asking Bronn to murder either and/or both of her brothers with a crossbow. While I have faith that Cersei will get worse, I don’t think she is at her worst this episode.
Someone else who lived up to their annoying reputation: Bran. I know we’ve excoriated his Philosophy 101 bro aura in the past but c’mon dude! From barely giving a smile to Jon, to his weird lurking around Winterfell (how is he getting around without Hodor or Meera?), to pawning off the biggest upset of his adopted brother’s life onto Sam—who just found out Dany murdered his hot brother and terrible father—Bran continued his terrible, arrogant, I-know-everything-but-I-won’t-tell you schtick. Sam, can we declare Bran the worst, again?
Adams: It is sorely tempting. If Jacob Brogan hadn’t already called Bran “your cousin who came back from college and told you he’s really into 4Chan now,” I’d be tempted to steal that line from him. One thing this episode underlines is that even in the face of an imminent threat to their existence, people pretty much are who they’ve always been. The better angels of our nature are just … us. The people of the North are ready to rally behind Jon Snow, but when they find out he’s voluntarily given up his title and sworn himself to Daenerys, at least some of them decide their loyalty isn’t subject to the transitive property. Some of them, like poor, baby-faced Lord Umber, are just confused. Sam Tarly’s speech to Jon about his true parentage notwithstanding, I think the most consequential line in the episode might be Umber’s stammering “If it please m’lady … and m’lord … and, my queen. How can you be united when you don’t even know who to follow?”
Desperate times require strong leadership, and with the Night King’s army somewhere between the Last Hearth and Winterfell, the North doesn’t have it yet. Who do we blame?
Hampton: Ugh, poor Lord Umber. The scene where he’s revealed to be (un)dead legitimately made me scream and also wonder what’s up with the North and all their child leaders. Jon is determined to not be that strong leader, despite the many times the title has been foisted upon him, and seems to be happy to have his lover-aunt and not-really-sister duke it out. The petty cattiness between Daenerys and Sansa surely isn’t helping the leadership void, but I’m inclined to pin that entirely on Dany. It only makes sense that Sansa’s wary after her brother gave up their family title to a woman who seems allergic to humility, theoretically to save the world from an existential threat but also because it looks like he’s in love with her. Dany on the other hand, rides in on her high dragon, tries to bribe Sansa with flattery, and then lays the task of feeding her giant army at Sansa’s feet, and then wonders why she isn’t getting respect for allowing her dragons to eat through Winterfell’s stores of food. Dany continues to want the world to accept her as queen, when her only real sell at this point is: My dragons won’t burn you alive. In fact, I think between the continued weird incest relationship and her megalomania, Dany might be the worst person in Westeros this week.
Adams: She’s definitely close, and deserves every bit of side-eye Sansa shoots her way. Dany makes a grand entrance and assumes that having a couple of dragons buzz Winterfell will be enough to impress the peasants into accepting her as their queen. But they don’t impress easy, and before you know it, the alliance is starting to crumble. House Glover decides they’ll sit this one out, thanks, and the dragon queen can tell someone else to go bend the knee.
The thing is, though, keeping the North united isn’t her job. It’s Jon Snow’s, and he has, once again, screwed it up royally. You would thinking getting shanked by his own men would have taught him something about assuming the effectiveness of appealing to the greater good, but here he is doing it again. He assumes his former subjects’ loyalty is his to pass on to whomever he chooses, but the moment he stops being king, there’s nothing to be loyal to. Daenerys is a conqueror, and as off-putting as her imperious my-way-or-get-burned-up-by-dragons approach can be, she’s just doing what she’s always done. Jon knows the North, and he should have prepared her to rule it. For me, it’s a coin flip. But Rachelle, you’re in charge now. Who’s the worst this week?
Hampton: While I will never back down on my Daenerys hate and am hoping that Jon’s parentage revelation will eventually see her go down in a self-sabotaging furor, I do think you’re right, Sam. Much like how Cersei is going to Cersei, Dany’s going to swagger around with barely earned slightly colonial righteousness and though she was maddening this episode, it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Jon, on the other hand, should have learned something by this point about leading desperate people up against an existential crisis, but he continues to know nothing and make the same mistakes over and over again. For that, he is The Worst.
Adams: Jon Snow, you are the Worst Person in Westeros, no matter who your dad is.
The Game of Thrones TV Club Recaps Season 8
Watch Game of Thrones on Sunday nights. Then listen to recaps with June Thomas, Sam Adams, Dan Kois, and other Slatesters every Monday.