Warning: This contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 episode 1 “Winterfell”
After waiting a grueling 595 days since the end of season 7 of “Game of Thrones,” fans were treated to tons of fan-service and setups for the conflicts to come.
The episode opens with a callback to the first episode of the series with Jon and Daenerys arriving at Winterfell. Many scenes pay homage to the arrival of King Robert in the first episode of season 1. The young Northern boy weaving in between the people of Winterfell and climbing on top of a tree is a reference to Arya and Bran at the opening of the series pilot episode, as they tried to get a better view of King Robert’s procession. The same song, “The King’s Arrival,” which was played when Robert arrived at Winterfell in the pilot, plays when Jon and Daenerys arrive. As Daenerys and Sansa meet, viewers can feel the tension between the powerful female leaders. Eventually, Sansa says, “Winterfell is yours, your grace,” just as Ned told Robert in the first episode of the series.
The writing shines with the many reunions and meetings between characters who haven’t seen one another in several seasons. One of the best reunions was Sansa and Tyrion’s. They reflect on how the last time they saw each other was at Joffrey's wedding, moments before the cruel boy king drew his last breath.
Not to leave out King’s Landing, viewers watch as Theon storms his uncle Euron’s ship and rescues his sister, Yara. Euron brings Cersei her new army, The Golden Company, led by Captain Harry Strickland. Queen Cersei bribes Bronn to take a Lannister crossbow and sends him North to kill her two “treasonous brothers.” Theon and Yara escape King’s Landing and sail for the Iron Islands. Theon insists that he must go fight alongside the Stark’s the family he’d grown to admire, bringing his series arc of identity to a head.
Back in Winterfell, Jon and Daenerys learn that the dragons haven’t been eating. As the two approach the dragon, the shot transitions to an over the shoulder shot, facing the dragon that’s closest in relation to them. Daenerys walks towards Drogon, named after her husband and Jon walking towards Rhaegal, named after his father Rhaegar. The best scene in this episode was when Jon rides Rhaegal for the first time. As they fly past Winterfell and throughout the North, the people who see Jon atop a dragon are in as much awe as the viewer. As Jon gets off of Rhaegal, he tells Daenerys, “You’ve completely ruined horses for me.”
Eventually, Daenerys runs into Sam. The interaction is both funny and terribly sad as she tells him how his father and brother wouldn’t bend the knee to her, so she burned them both after their battle along the Blackwater Rush in the Reach. This leaves Sam devastated, and when he runs into Bran, he decides to tell Jon about his heritage.
With plenty of banter and catching up to do, Jon and Sam reunite in the Winterfell crypts. As they debate over Daenerys’ decision to execute the Tarlys, Jon storms off saying he wasn’t a king. Sam tells him that he’s the true king. Even though Jon’s shocked, viewers are left satisfied after waiting two seasons for him to learn the truth. The entire conversation is set in the Winterfell crypts and the direction harkens back to the conversation Ned Stark and Robert had about Lyanna Stark in the pilot episode.
As the episode comes to a close, viewers watch as Tormund and Edd search the Last Hearth. The two run into each other leading to the best quote of the episode. Edd yells, “Watch out, he has blue eyes!” Tormund responds, “I’ve always had blue eyes!” It’s a truly funny moment in an otherwise dark scene, and as they reach the castle, they find the young Ned Umber impaled on the wall in some kind of effigy. The boy’s eyes turn blue and he begins to attack the men in one of the scariest moments in GoT history. The men and viewers watch in horror as the boy burns, lit by Beric Dondarrion’s flaming sword.
The episode concludes with Jaime Lannister's arrival to Winterfell. As Jaime stands in Winterfell — grinning with pride knowing he’s doing the right thing — he’s left in complete shock seeing Bran stare him down.
While the beginning to season 8 can seem slow and anticlimactic with very little action and more character driven direction, making sure to emphasize the characters and their interactions as opposed to the large scale battles in the season 7 finale. What the episode lacks in action, it makes up for in heartfelt reunions liked Arya and Gendry rekindling the semi-romantic relationship they had and Jon seeing Sam for the first time since Sam left for the Citadel. As well set up for the wars to come.
It begins the story of Jon learning of his claim to the throne, which will cause a lot of conflict between him and Daenerys. It shows the preparation for the Battle of Winterfell coming in episode 3 and of course Cersei gearing up for the battles ahead of her. With plenty of great dialogue, like Jon and Arya’s banter and Tyrion addressing the Northern lords it certainly doesn’t lack in tension. The season premiere of the final season sets up the climactic conclusion of the World of Ice and Fire.
Contact Matt Mee at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.