Spoiler Warning for the Season 8 Premiere of “Game of Thrones,” as well as all previous episodes of the series.
“We must fight together now, or die.”
Winter is here. After seven full seasons of duels, dragons and daring power moves, the final season of television’s most popular and beloved series is here. This is the first episode of the concluding adventures of “Game of Thrones” and no one is quite ready for it to end. This premiere is a solid transition that sets up the endgame and gives viewers much needed character moments before the inevitable carnage begins.
In order to recap and review this episode as coherently as possible, events will be discussed by location rather than in chronological order.
An epic and powerful sequence opens the final season premiere as a young boy rushes to the main road leading into Winterfell to see dozens of Unsullied forces marching into the Northern city. Arya stands among the crowd and spots the curious child. This perfectly parallels back to the very first episode of the series as King Robert Baratheon and his royal court arrived at Winterfell much to the fascination of Arya and Bran, who watched from prime viewing locations. In fact, the same exact musical score even plays here in this scene. Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow ride on horseback side-by-side into Winterfell, giving Arya her first look at her big brother since they parted ways in the second episode of the series, “The Kingsroad.” Additionally, Arya sees the Hound for the first time since she left him to die after he was gravely injured by Brienne of Tarth in Season 4’s “The Children.” Finally, she sees Genry for the first time since he was taken by Melisandre in Season 3’s “The Climb.” This is just a few of many instances of characters coming back together after years of being separated. The residents of Winterfell line the streets as the army marches in and Jon tells Dany that Northerners are not too welcoming of outsiders. The two dragons suddenly arrive, inspiring awe and terror among all those in Winterfell who have only heard stories of such creatures. Both Arya and Sansa are left stunned after seeing the gargantuan flying soldiers for the very first time. It’s truly a sight to behold as Drogon and Rhaegal soar over the wintery town. Also paralleling the King’s arrival in the first episode, Jon and Dany ride into the center of town to find the Starks awaiting them. Jon rushes over and kisses Bran, their long-awaited reunion after seven seasons. Jon officially introduces Dany to Sansa, and the two exchange pleasantries, but Bran notes that they have more pressing business to attend to. He shares that the Night King has turned Viserion and the Army of the Dead has breached the Wall to move south. This is a recurring theme of the episode wherein characters continue to act normally as if a massive army of ice zombies aren’t headed straight for them.
In the throne room, a meeting of the Northern lords and ladies is held to discuss the current threat. Sansa announces that she has called the banners to retreat to Winterfell to defend against the approaching army. Lord Umber (Harry Grasby), just a child, is tasked with evacuating his people from the Last Hearth. Jon also suggests that ravens be sent to the Night’s Watch to relieve the brothers of their duty to protect the Wall, requesting their presence at Winterfell instead. The discussion quickly shifts back to Northern politics as Lady Lyanna Mormont sternly questions the fact that Jon basically relinquished the title of King in the North that was bestowed upon him by the Northern lords and ladies. Jon vehemently defends his decision to bend the knee to Daenerys out of necessity to protect the North. Tyrion takes a moment to praise Jon’s decision making, and also announce that the Lannister forces are headed to Winterfell to fight alongside everyone else. This is not well-received at all due to the atrocities House Lannister has committed against the North. Sansa poses an excellent question of how exactly Winterfell can possibly sustain this many soldiers during the winter, when food rations are already stretched thin. This isn’t the only prep underway for the approaching battles as Genry oversees the dragonglass, which will be forged into weapons to fight the Army of the Dead. In an episode full of reunions, there is yet another as Tyrion seeks out Sansa and the two discuss their new roles in the years following the sudden end of their marriage. These two haven’t seen one another since Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery in “The Lion and the Rose” when the aforementioned King met his end via poisoning. This resulted in Sansa having to rapidly flee the capital to avoid being implicated in his assassination plot. All this time later and Sansa is able to poke fun at the fact that the wedding wasn’t totally miserable, seeing as how Joffrey died a gruesome death. Sansa questions the fact that Tyrion would trust and believe in Cersei’s word to send the Lannister army to Winterfell. The viewer is fully aware that Cersei doesn’t intend to keep her promise, but Tyrion really seems to believe his sister. Sansa knows that nothing Cersei says can ever be trusted.
At the iconic Winterfell weirwood tree, Jon takes a moment to reflect and connect with his ancestral roots in midst of the chaos. The voice of Arya causes him to turn and see his beloved sister for the first time in years. Arya questions how he survived being stabbed in the heart, to which he states that he didn’t. The two embrace in a hug of tears and smiles, a rare happy moment in the show. Jon is surprised to see that Arya still has Needle and wonders if she has ever used it. The audience clearly knows she has used it more than a few times, but Arya plays coy about it. We also see Jon pull out Longclaw and show it off to Arya, a rewarding moment of two warriors comparing their weapons of choice. The discussion turns to Sansa, whom Arya claims is the smartest person she has ever met. There’s a poetic moment in which Arya tells Jon to remember that he is a Stark also, and that Sansa is just looking out for the family. In the center of Winterfell, Tyrion watches alongside Davos and Varys as House Karstark arrives. Davos notes that it was Jon that brought together Houses Stark and Karstark after they previously fought one another on the battlefield. Having been in the North for quite some time now, Davos really understands that the trust of the Northerners has to be earned and that Jon has done just that. From atop the castle, the trio observes Jon and Daenerys speaking amongst the temporary encampment of soldiers just outside of Winterfell’s walls. Davos proposes a future wherein Westeros is led by two similar and stable rulers in Jon and Dany. The two lovers stroll around and discuss Sansa, whom Dany notes is not to keen on her Queenship. In a rather strange moment, it almost seems as if Dany threatens Sansa to Jon if she cannot come to respect her as Queen. This is one of many instances throughout the episode, and of previous episodes, in which it really seems as though Dany is letting some of the power she has get to her head.
A collection of Dothraki riders approach Dany to alert her to the fact that the dragons are not eating as much as they should be. This prompts her and Jon to go check on them, finding them nibbling on the burnt carcasses of goats and sheep; Dany flat out tells Jon that the dragons do not like the North. A popular Internet theory comes to fruition as Dany climbs on top of Drogon and invites Jon to board Rhaegal. It was predicted by many fans that Targaryens would ride the other two dragons, and we are finally getting to see some form of that happening. Initially hesitant, Jon climbs on the back of Rhaegal and takes off as Dany and Drogon follow close by. The two soar over the snow-covered lands in a beautiful and light-hearted scene that really boasts the grandiose production scale of this series. After a quick learning curve, Jon manages to take control of the steering and leads Dany to a spot where he used to hunt during the days of his youth. The show allows for a moment of calm to build on the relationship between Jon and Dany as they talk about spending eternity together at this waterfall. They embrace in a kiss that really solidifies them as the most badass power couple the series has ever known. This scene in particular hearkens back to the love between Jon and Ygritte, specifically their fling in the waterfall caves back in “Kissed by Fire.” There’s a pretty cringey line that Dany says to Jon about “keeping your Queen warm.” Drogon and Rhaegal don’t exactly seem too pleased to see Jon kissing their mother and a hilarious stare down erupts. It’s not entirely clear what message this behavior from the dragons is meant to convey, but it is probably in Jon’s best interest to stay on their good side.
As mentioned earlier, Gendry is hard at work forging the dragonglass into weapons for the many soldiers at Winterfell, including an axe for the Hound. Arya arrives and two more long-awaited reunions come to fruition as the child soldier meets two of her traveling companions. The Hound notes that Arya left him to die, and she doesn’t deny it; she adds the fact that she stole from him beforehand. The Hound acknowledges that she has survived this long because she is a “cold little bitch.” The Arya and Gendry reunion is far more light-hearted as she asks him to make her a weapon before admiring Littlefinger’s dagger, which she now possesses. There also seems to be some mild flirting going on between the two, possibly hinting at a future relationship…if they survive. Meanwhile, Sansa speaks with Jon after receiving a scroll from Lord Glover stating that he will be keeping his people at Deepwood Motte. Jon is angry about Lord Glover not keeping his word to stand behind the Starks, but Sansa points out that Jon has seemingly renounced his Kingship for Daenerys. Titles and whatnot simply do not matter to Jon and he explains that he has brought forth two powerful armies and two dragons to fight the Army of the Dead. Sansa questions whether Jon bent the knee to save the North or because he is in love with Dany. This is an important question that Jon doesn’t answer. Elsewhere, Dany and Jorah come to speak with Sam to thank him for treating the greyscale that no one else would bother to treat. Dany wants to offer a reward and Sam decides to ask for a pardon after stealing a few books from the Citadel and for stealing his family’s sword. When Sam mentions the name of his house, her face shifts dramatically and she confirms the family name. She then explains that she burned him and Dickon alive after they both refused to bend the knee following their defeat at the Reach last season. Sam excuses himself, clearly distraught from the disturbing information she has given him. Outside, Sam finds Bran just sitting in the middle of Winterfell’s courtyard, claiming to be waiting for an old friend. With everyone now at one place, Bran states that it is the time to tell Jon the truth about who he is…and Sam needs to be the one to do it.
After years and years of speculation, the truth comes out. Jon lights candles at his father’s statue in the crypts of Winterfell. He hears Sam tumble around a corner and goes to investigate, elated to find his fellow brother at his home instead of at the Citadel. The two discuss Dany’s decision to kill Sam’s father and brother, with Sam describing it as a radical move. Jon doesn’t give a clear answer if he would have done the same, but Sam points out that he has spared lives, such as the Wildlings. The conversation shifts as Sam explains that he used a High Septon’s diary and Bran used his abilities to figure out that Jon is the true King of the Seven Kingdoms. “Your mother was Lyanna Stark. And your father, your real father, was Rhaegar Targaryen. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne,” Sam explains as Jon’s face slowly shifts and he processes this world-alerting bombshell. Jon seems to be bothered by the insinuation that his father would lie to him, but Sam explains that Ned was simply keeping the promise he made to Lyanna to protect Jon at all costs. Jon points out that Dany is Queen, but Sam refutes this entirely and questions if she would give up her title to save everyone like he did. In the second episode of the whole series, Jon and Ned part ways, but not before the most honorable man in the world tells his “bastard” son that they will talk about his mother when they see each other again. Sadly, Ned would be executed just seven episodes later and would never see his children again. Still, Ned is here in spirit in this very moment as Jon finds out about the truth of himself. Yet another major plot point ties back to the start of the story and everything comes full circle here at the end. That’s not the only full circle moment of the episode. A mysterious rider arrives in Winterfell, revealed to be Jaime moments later. A single shot of a wheelchair with Jaime in the same frame leads to a stare down between the Kingslayer and Bran. Nothing needs to be said by either. Years after it happened, Jaime is coming face-to-face with the huge decision he made in the first episode to push the young Stark boy out of the Winterfell tower, thus kicking off the events of the entire series.
The mood in the capital city is starkly different from that in the North. Qyburn brings Cersei news that the Army of the Dead has breached the Wall. This seems to bring her elation as opposed to fear or concern. The camera turns to reveal the Iron Fleet sailing into the harbor, commanded by Euron as he escorts the mercenaries of the Golden Company. Below deck, Euron speaks with his captive Yara about the fact that they are the last two Greyjoys left standing…with balls at least. Yara proclaims that Euron has picked the losing side of the coming war, but his sole mission in all of this is to “fuck the Queen.” In the throne room, Euron and Captain Harry Strickland of the Golden Company (Marc Rissmann) confirm the official number of mercenaries (20,000) pledged to House Lannister. Although, Euron did kill some of them in transit…because “someone cheated at dice.” Cersei was under the impression that elephants would be part of the army, but Captain Strickland notes that those animals are not equipped for long sea voyages. Being as bold as he is, Euron asks if he deal with Cersei still stands. In a truly epic line, Cersei states “if you want a whore, buy one. You want a Queen, earn her.” After more theatrics from Euron, Cersei changes her mind and invites Euron to her quarters. This is rather surprising, but Cersei seems to understand that Euron is needed in this conflict. Also, it isn’t totally unreasonable to think Cersei is feeling alone now that Jaime has left King’s Landing. After a hookup, Euron asks Cersei how he compares to “the fat King,” a question that she doesn’t totally seem to mind, but also notes is an insult to her late husband. If there is any phrase to properly describe Euron it would be “ready to risk it all,” and Cersei basically tells him that. Building off of that, Euron rubs Cersei’s stomach and tells her that he will put a prince in her. Viewers know that he is TOO LATE for that as she is already pregnant with Jaime’s child.
The episode also checks in with Ser Bronn of the Blackwater as he tries to enjoy a well earned night of pleasure with some local ladies. However, they simply want to gossip and chit chat about those left in the wake of the dragon attack involving Bronn in “The Spoils of War.” Qyburn interrupts with quite the interesting proposal. Cersei has offered Bronn a significant amount of gold ahead of time if he is willing to kill Tyrion and Jaime. The real twist of “poetic justice” is that Qyburn brings forth the crossbow that Tyrion used to kill Tywin. We know that Bronn really appreciates the riches of life, but is he really willing to kill two men that he has fought beside and actually values as friends? Onboard one of the Greyjoy ships, several of the soldiers standing watch are brutally killed. Theon barges into the room that Yara is being held captive and the siblings reunite after their separation during the battle with the Iron Fleet in “Stormborn.” Yara knocks Theon to the ground as a retaliation for him jumping ship and abandoning her during the aforementioned battle. Taking their own ship, the Greyjoy siblings set sail away from King’s Landing and discuss their new plans. With Euron focused on helping Cersei, the opportunity is now open to retake Pyke. Yara notes that Daenerys may need a place to flee if she isn’t able to stop the Army of the Dead. Respecting his sister as Queen, Theon is fully ready to follow her wherever she goes, but Yara urges him to follow his heart and go to Winterfell to fight for the Starks. The words of House Greyjoy, “what is dead may never die,” are uttered by the siblings in a powerful moment of unity as they both embark on their own important missions at the end of this story. “But kill the bastards anyway,” Yara encourages Theon as he faces a threat that won’t die. The fact that Theon is headed to fight alongside his Stark family is an excellent callback to Jon telling him that he is both a Stark and a Greyjoy in the Season 7 Finale.
In this location never before seen in the series, Tormund, Beric and other survivors from the destruction at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea make their way into a castle for shelter from the cold. There is a clear hesitation as the collective moves inside as they are very much aware that the Army of the Dead has passed them and is likely wreaking havoc on Northern strongholds. While walking through the halls, they run into Edd and the men of the Night’s Watch after evacuating due to the Wall no longer needing protection. There’s a hilarious moment as Edd panics after seeing Tormund’s blue eyes, thinking him to be one of the dead. In the dining hall, the combined groups find a disturbing sight, Lord Umber has been impaled on the wall with arms and legs spread around him to create a circular symbol. Beric notes that this is a warning from the Night King and that the Army is now between the Last Hearth and Winterfell. Terrifyingly, Lord Umber reanimates and begins screaming and flailing around. Beric uses his fire sword to set the boy and the symbol ablaze in a chilling scene as Lord Umber continues screaming while slowly burning away. Interestingly enough, this symbol has been seen before in the series, most notably in the opening scene of the very first episode, being discovered by the Night’s Watch rangers.
The good in “Winterfell”
- Keeping the plot focused on three main locations as the majority of the characters are now together instead of being spread out all over the world like before.
- The numerous parallels to the earlier seasons, specifically the callbacks to the first episode and season.
- Characters meeting for the very first time, such as Dany, Sansa and Bran.
- Characters reuniting for the first time in years, specifically Jon, Arya and Bran.
- Old ways dying hard. The Northern lords and ladies not being able to move past titles and past events is realistic. As is their distrust of outsiders that have now taken over their home.
- Sansa really being given the opportunity to lead as an individual rather than just alongside Jon.
- Jon and Dany flying on the dragons together is cinematic gold and really showcases the impressive budget.
- Jon finding out his true parentage now rather than at the end, thus allowing for some potential drama over the claim for the throne.
- Theon rescuing Yara from Euron before they part ways to take care of what they need to take care of. The mutual respect between the two that has developed is really rewarding.
- The difficult position that Cersei has placed Bronn in really has the potential to demonstrate his immense character development.
- Cersei’s ruthlessness continually being heightened.
- The introduction of the Golden Company as another factor in the war to come.
- The flaws of characters being highlighted and called out by other characters rather than shielded, specifically Dany and Jon.
- The element of horror and dread established by the Last Hearth scene, specifically what happened to Lord Umber.
The iffy in “Winterfell”
- While totally stunning to watch, the scene of Dany and Jon riding on the dragons is a bit odd considering the Dothraki soldiers had literally just told them that they weren’t eating as much. Is it smart to use up their energy…to go look at a waterfall?
- There’s a strange calmness in the air even though everyone is fully aware that the Army of the Dead is quickly approaching.
The bad in “Winterfell”
- Dany’s line to Jon about keeping his Queen warm is so out of place for the usually high quality writing that this show boasts. Keep those painfully cheesy lines on the teen dramas where they belong.
- There is no explanation given as to how Tormund and Beric survived the destruction caused by the Night King and Viserion. How they got out of that alive is a complete mystery.
Top performances in “Winterfell”
- Kit Harington as Jon Snow
- Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister
- Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
- Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
- Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark
- John Bradley as Samwell Tarly
Lingering thoughts and predictions
- With Jon finding out that he is the true heir to the Iron Throne, it seems that a power struggle might erupt between him and Dany. It doesn’t seem in her character to give up what she has been fighting the whole series for, so she may not accept this revelation as truth.
- The reaction of Jon bringing Dany and her armies to Winterfell is eerily similar to that of the Night’s Watch after he aligned with the Wildlings. We all know how that ended, so hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself here.
- Dany seems to be following in many of the footsteps of her father. Her power is clearly getting to her head, but is it possible that she will become “The Mad Queen” and kill people, even Sansa perhaps?
- Jaime not only has to face the consequences of pushing Bran out the window, but he will also have to deal with Dany seeing as he killed her father.
- Bran having his powers is EXTREMELY crucial in this final season as he will be able to track where the Night King and the Army is before the reach Winterfell.
- Is Cersei actually pregnant? While last season, this seemed to be the case, her interactions with Euron, plus the fact that she was drinking wine, is a bit suspicious.
- Is this the last we will see of Yara? While it is entirely possible that she will be seen before the finale, this seemed like a conclusion of her story as she made peace with Theon before heading home.
- Will Bronn actually accept Cersei’s offer? Will there even be anyone for him to kill with Jaime and Tyrion both on the frontlines of the Dead’s march?
- HOW WILL IT ALL END?
“Winterfell” is an excellent transition episode from the hectic Season 7 Finale to this final set of episodes that will also surely be pure chaos. This premiere places each of the characters where they need to be for the last push of the story and for the coming endgame. “Game of Thrones” is finally back and these next five weeks are about to be emotional and thrilling.
Be sure to tune into “Game of Thrones” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO.