[The following contains spoilers for the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones.]
After an extended hiatus, Game of Thrones' final season returned on Sunday, and the HBO hit dove headfirst into the action, paying off long-simmering fan theories (Jon rode a dragon!) and long-held secrets (Jon found out his true identity!). While all this made for a thrilling hour that wasted no time spinning wheels, one of the most exciting things the episode delivered was simply a reminder that this show could still be funny, even when half of our favorite characters are probably about to die.
Though nearly every scene of the premiere dealt in some way or another with navigating the high-stakes situation all of Westeros has found itself in, the series managed to find small ways to imbue all these tough encounters with humor -- Sansa (Sophie Turner) noting to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) that Joffrey's wedding "had its moments" before she ran off; Qyburn (Anton Lesser) offering to hire Bronn (Jerome Flynn) to assassinate Tyrion and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) with a crossbow, to which Bronn quipped "this f---ing family;" Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) shouting at Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) not to assume he's a wight because "I've always had blue eyes!" and every single extended shot of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Sansa's hilariously shady facial expressions, which say so much more about their true feelings than their manners may ever permit.
Game of Thrones even managed to turn one of the series' most pivotal points -- something fans have been waiting years for -- into a treasure trove of laughs, as Jon's (Kit Harington) first time riding a dragon was milked for all the bumbling physical comedy one could wish for. And even once Jon dismounted, the show wasn't done having a lark. Having arrived at a secluded waterfall, Jon and Dany prepared to have sex, but Jon could sense the dragons weren't too pleased about this. Dany instructed him not to worry and the two kissed, but Jon couldn't help himself and opened his eyes mid makeout, only to see the dragons watching him watching them. It was awkward, silly, not at all needed for the plot development, and an absolute joy.
Moments like this not only serve to elicit chuckles -- and stop us from having to witness Jon and Daenerys in any sort of serious attempt at a seductive situation -- but they're also going to become even more necessary approaching the show's conclusion. With the Night King's army nearing and Cersei (Lena Headey) gearing up for a fruitless war of her own, the stakes have never been higher in Game of Thrones, and so it's crucial that we have these moments of comedy to help break the mounting tension and stop the series from becoming as bleak as Westeros.
Early seasons of Game of Thrones excelled at this, but recently it's often felt as though the darkness hasn't been properly balanced out. Game of Thrones has always been a meticulously made, enthralling drama, but lately it has felt as though the series forgot it could be fun too. And not just fun as in "wow, cool, dragons" -- we mean genuine, actual fun of the ha-ha variety. This is not to say that there haven't been comedic moments in the back half of the series (Tyrion's lost a lot in this war, but never his wit, thank god), but the humor was getting sparser as the focus became more and more on the war to end all wars and less on finding those moments of playfulness to make the overwhelming trauma our heroes have suffered a bit more bearable for us all.
There is a reason people laugh when they're uncomfortable, hurt, or sad -- comedy is a necessary release, and something Game of Thrones had lately been underutilizing. With the very existence of humanity on the line now in this show, the need for these lighter moments has become even more precious, so it was a welcome surprise to see the series embrace them wholeheartedly in this first episode. Plus, let's not pretend as though a burning one-liner from Tyrion, Cersei, or Sansa can't be just as scorching as the fire from Daenerys' dragons.
So, if the next five episodes bring as much wit to the war as the premiere did, we're in for one hell of a final season.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c.