Warning: Spoilers Ahead For Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1
Game of Thrones' final season premiere has hit screens - and fans are definitely talking about the surprising number of jokes in it, but a funnier final season could actually be a great thing for the HBO show. Since season 1, Game of Thrones has been known as anything but a comedy. Violent, of course. Packed with twists and turns? Absolutely. Plenty of nudity? Well, this is HBO. But most of the humor thus far hasn't been the laugh-out-loud type, but more about cutting lines and shade thrown. There were quite a few of those in the season 8 premiere, of course, but there were also a surprising number of other moments to make the audience laugh.
For one thing, the first dialogue in the episode is a literal joke, as Tyrion makes a crack about Varys being unable to freeze his... masculine extremities off. Varys responds with an observation that Tyrion hates dwarf jokes, but loves eunuch jokes, and Tyrion fires back that it's because he isn't a eunuch. Hardly the first time that Tyrion has pulled out some barroom humor, but definitely noteworthy to see this as the opening line - even before Jon and Daenerys speak.
From this point on, most of the episode uses jokes and one-liners to break up the more serious scenes, until it feels like everyone but Bran is being surprisingly humorous about their impending doom. Sansa's shade-throwing at Daenerys definitely gets a smile, but she has her funniest line when she tells Tyrion that Joffrey's wedding "had its moments." Arya and Gendry are jokingly flirtatious throughout their scene, and Arya cracks another joke when she reunites with Jon Snow and he asks her if she's ever used Needle ("once or twice"). This is followed up by Jon's dragon riding scene, which has an element of slapstick to it - and which both begins and ends with a wisecrack. It's a whole lot of humor for a show that is known for shocking fans.
Of course, by the end of "Winterfell", things are feeling a little more like the Game of Thrones that everyone has come to know and love. Sansa and Jon are having some words about him bending the knee, and Cersei makes good on her agreement with Euron. The show then moves on to a small child (Lord Umber) crucified in the middle of a spiral of body parts, reminding viewers that it's not all going to be romantic dragon rides and one-liners, and the episode wraps with two incredibly emotionally charged scenes as Sam realizes that his father and brother are dead, and then goes to tell Jon that he's really Aegon Targaryen.
It's definitely a good thing that the episode balances out, and that it manages to combine humor with romance, intrigue, and some good old fashioned gore, but there's something to be noted in just how funny the first half was - especially when many fans were expecting a lot more death for the opening of the final season. This suggests that the showrunners are trying to make it clear that we can expect more humor in the final season - and that's (surprisingly) a good thing.
Now that we are as invested in the characters as we are, being able to laugh with them isn't just a way to create balance and levity between all the intrigue and battles - it's a way to increase the emotional impact if and when they do die. After a while, seeing death after death desensitizes the audience - especially when everyone is expecting only a final few characters to limp past the finish line. Humor sharpens the tragedy and brings it home in a visceral way, creating more varied ups and downs than just shock after shock.
Of course, the showrunners may be pulling a classic Game of Thrones twist, and not creating a funnier season after all. Instead, they could be upping the humor at the start to lull viewers into a false sense of security. "Winterfell" has a lot of callbacks to the pilot episode, and there's no doubt that season 1, in general, did exactly this before ripping out the audience's collective heart with the beheading of Ned Stark. However, if a funnier final season is in the works, no one should worry that Game of Thrones has lost its edge, or given in to fan service. The addition of more humor is just sharpening the knife to make those deaths all the more shocking - which is exactly why fans love to watch.
Game of Thrones season 8 airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO.