When it was first announced that HBO was going to adapt George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels into a television show, the idea didn’t come across as hopeful for the future. Airing for the first time in April 2011, the cast and directors, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, didn’t think that the adaptation would spring into the much-hyped and hugely ambitious fantasy drama that it is today.
Told across hour-long episodes, the series is undeniably one of the most dense and popular shows that television has ever come across. Shot largely on location in the hills of Northern Ireland and Malta, it focuses on four rival dynasties that fathom for control over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, an imaginary world where seasons last longer than years. With the plot being intentionally complex, the scale of what the show has created over the past seven seasons is astonishing; the camerawork and scenery of the several locations being one of the best focuses of the show. The amount of characters that have played a part in the show have played a massive part in the audience’s lives – so it’s not surprising that the strict adult fare of blood, violence and shamelessly salacious acts would intertwine with the shows intriguing protagonists (and sometimes antagonists).
Since season one, the show has left people cursing at the fact that they have to wait a week for the next installment; but it was almost like a feeling of hell when Weiss and Benioff announced that the last season would be a wait of over a year. Through the time of waiting, fans have been binge-watching past seasons, coming up with multiple theories, and talking non-stop about past installments. But Sunday, April 14th, 2019 was the night that HBO aired the highly anticipated final season of Game of Thrones, and it was just what we were expecting.
Season 8, Episode 1, ‘Winterfell’
The first episode kicked off with an opening scene of a young boy running through the midst of Winterfell, heading towards the number of crowds gathered around the massive army of Unsullied soldiers entering Westeros, led by Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). As the young boy carries on to see the commotion, climbing up a tree high enough to see the activity, we see Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) as part of the crowd, looking directly at her adopted brother for the first time in years.
Part of this fleet is The Hound (Rory McCann) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie), two characters that Arya hadn’t seen for many seasons, as well as Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). The camera starts to expand and we get an aerial shot of Winterfell’s landscape, and Daenerys’ now only two dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, flying past the castle where Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) stands, looking unimpressed; the town, however, is reacting in shock.
A reunion between Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Jon Snow has been anticipated for quite some time for fans across the world, but it came across as almost awkward rather than loving – Jon stating, “Look at you. You’re a man”, to which Bran replies, “Almost.” Jon seems confused as to why his brother is acting like this, but the look that Sansa gives him bottles those thoughts as he hugs her and replies that his younger sister, Arya, must be “lurking somewhere.”
Jon introduces Daenerys to Sansa, as Dany says, “The north is beautiful as your brother claimed, as are you”, but the conversation gets interjected when Bran declares that “We don’t have time for all this. The Night King has your dragon, he’s one of them now. The wall has fallen. The dead march South.” The Queen of House Targaryen seems puzzled on how he knows all this, as well as Jon, who is confused as to how his younger brother who was once so lively and free can now talk with coldness and no emotion.
The next scene is in The Great Hall, where remarks are made about Jon’s position now that he has brought a Dragon queen to Winterfell. Young Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi) shows that she is not too thrilled with Snow’s actions and that his title of “King of the North” means nothing now that Daenerys is here, but Jon interjects saying, “It’s not important.” Lyanna seems offended by this and adds that, “It is important. We named you king of the north“, to which Tyrion quickly adds with a statement that isn’t too popular among the Northerners: “We have brought two full grown dragons and soon the Lannister army will join our cause but we must fight together or die.”
Sansa seems to have a series of more logistical concerns, bringing up that Winterfell does not have the food stores to keep two armies – let alone two dragons – fed. She asks, “What do dragons eat, anyway?” to which Daenerys answers, “Whatever they want.“, which results in a stare-down. The show portrays Sansa as the Lady of Winterfell, but Daenerys is portrayed with much more raw power at her disposal; and is not historically shy about reminding people of that fact.
Emotions Run High
Tyrion and Sansa reunite, since the last time they spoke was at The Purple Wedding way back in season four, where King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) was poisoned to death. It’s a sweet moment that they endure, Sansa saying, “We both survived“, with Tyrion adding that he underestimated her at the time, as did many, who are now dead. The moment shifts quite quickly though, with Tyrion telling Sansa that she has every right to be worried about her sister, and Sansa stating that she doesn’t believe she will help them in their war, adding, “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” It’s a cold comment, but it doesn’t shut down the amount of disappointment and fear that they’ve endured together through the past seasons.
Another reunion that left viewers the most emotional was that of Jon and Arya. The last time they had seen each other was way back in the second episode of the series, when Jon gifted Arya with her trusty sword Needle for protection. After catching a glimpse of him riding toward Winterfell with Daenerys, Arya waited until Jon was alone in the godswood to speak to him. With a tear-inducing hug, Arya reminds Jon that even though he bent the knee to a Targaryen queen, he’s still got the blood of a Stark. After the two share a moment together, Arya asks Jon how he survived a knife through the heart, to which he replies that he didn’t (though he doesn’t mention Melissandre having the power of resurrecting him). Jon goes on to mention that his little sister still has her sword, asking if she’s ever used it, to which she replies that she’s used it “once or twice.”
Since the first season, Arya has been the only one who has treated Jon like a real member of the family when he was a child, and he was the only one who treated her with the respect that she needed when she was a kid. By inviting a large army of foreigners into their home and bending the knee to a Dragon queen, Arya understands why he did it, but she’s still on Sansa’s side. She tells Jon that Sansa is defending her family, and he says that he’s her family too, but Arya adds, with a hint of sympathy, “Don’t forget that.” It’s a moment that fans, of course, loved, but it just shows that blood is definitely much thicker than water when it comes to the Starks.
Back at the Red Keep, Cersei Lannister is told terrible news from Qyburn (Anton Lesser) about the dead breaking through the wall, which the queen replies with, “Good“, as she stands looking out at the Golden Army’s ships coming into the harbor.
On one of the ships, Euron (Pilou Asbaek) has Yara (Gemma Whelan) tied up to a post in the basement of the ship. She asks him why he doesn’t just kill her, to which he responds that if he did, he’d have no one to talk to. Yara tells her uncle that he’s picked the losing side, to which Euron replies saying he’ll just serve somewhere else, but first he wants to “fuck the queen.” Yara is disgusted, but doesn’t comment on his stupid intentions.
Back in the Throne Room, Cersei is greatly disappointed that the Golden Company didn’t bring any elephants, which they are most known for, to help with her army, but she is told, bluntly, that they aren’t good with long sea journeys – especially the journey that the Golden Army took to Kings Landing. When the Golden Company leader Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann) proposes his purposes of being here with the queen, and eventually leaves, Euron starts to make an advance at Cersei, but is struck with her saying, “You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her.” While he still persists, reminding her of everything that he has done for her, yet still getting no return of affection, she tells him that she has executed men for less – however when she turns to leave, she stops, allowing Euron to join her, making him get his wish after all.
After they’ve slept together, Euron asks Cersei if he’s better than the late King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and her brother, which indicates how far her incestuous relationship with Jaime has spread. Cersei replies, nonchalantly, that Euron might be the most arrogant man she has ever met, and while she likes him like that, she now wants to be alone. Before leaving, Euron places a hand over Cersei’s stomach and says, “I’m going to put a prince in your belly“, making the queen show a slight smile when he is eventually gone – indicating that she knows that will never happen because she’s pregnant with Jaime’s child, and the audience already knows this as she announces it to the father and Tyrion in the previous season.
Later on, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is with a trio of whores, telling them that he was the only man to kill a dragon, but is interrupted by Qyburn, who tells him that he is needed by the Queen. He goes on to tell Bronn that the Crown has wronged him and they want to make things right with him, telling him that there is a chest of gold in a wagon right outside of the palace, waiting just for him. Qyburn carries on by saying the Queen’s brothers (Jaime and Tyrion) are unlikely to survive their adventures up north, but if they don’t, Cersei wants Bronn to kill them himself, using the same crossbow that Tyrion killed their father with in the finale of season four.
Having a history with both Jaime and Tyrion, the act the queen has opposed will be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, as it ultimately tells fans if Bronn will choose money over honor.
Back on the Iron Island’s ship, arrows go flying, killing a number of guards. Tension is drawn, until we realize that it’s Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), coming to save his sister Yara, who returns the favor by head-butting him, before picking him up as they leave together. The fans still haven’t forgotten Theon’s wild act in the second episode of season seven, when he panicked and jumped of the ship that was ambushed by Euron, leaving Yara alone to fend for herself; and even though the head-butting came across as anger, her helping her brother up indicates a sign of forgiveness and understanding of Theon’s battered and broken mindset at the time – and her affection is more clear later in the scene.
Yara says that it’s not possible for Euron to defend the Iron Islands and that they can take their home back, the way it used to be; but Yara knows that’s not what her brother wants to do. He wants to go to Winterfell to fight for the Starks. And although we don’t see Yara and Theon go their separate ways onscreen, the embrace that they share with each other shows that Yara has made peace with her sibling going off to fight for his adoptive family who have raised him for most of his life.
There’s a quick scene where Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) tells Tyrion that they need to earn the Northerners’ trust, if they’re to stay in Winterfell. He proposes that Daenerys and Jon should rule the Seven Kingdoms together, while Varys and Tyrion discuss the possibilities of their rule, as they watch them talk below.
A Family Affair
Daenerys tries to be gracious to Sansa when they first meet, but when Sansa tells her “Winterfell is yours“, tension is created, and Bran immediately picks up on this. He reminds everyone about the situation that they are in; and whoever holds the power is not something to squabble over as humanity faces a desperate threat.
Later on, Daenerys mentions to Jon that his sister doesn’t like her, adding that she doesn’t have to be her friend, but she is her queen. The press of concern that Targaryen feels seems to trouble her, as well as believing that her role as ruler in Winterfell isn’t as secure as she had hoped. This episode is definitely a piece in place for the rest of the season. With the Karstarks willing to fight with the Starks, it’s duly noted that they’ve pledged to fight for Jon, not Daenerys. The question of who has the power and what they’re planning on doing with it is huge. As we’ve learned throughout each previous season, everyone grapples with it in some way or another within every episode.
During the conversation that they’re having, Daenerys and Jon quickly head up to see the dragons, as one of the Dothraki soldiers tells their queen that they are barely eating. Daenerys refers to her dragons as her children and tells Jon that they don’t like the North. When she hops on to ride one, she tells Snow to do the same, but he struggles as he hasn’t ridden one before.
Being probably, one of the best moments out of the whole episode, we get to see Jon ultimately climb onto the dragon as it flies off, much to the delight of Daenerys, who follows after him. They fly around Winterfell together, soaring through the snow-filled valleys of the North, as Tyrion, Varys and Davos look up in awe. As they land, Daenerys looking at Jon with great surprise, Jon adding that she’s “completely ruined horses” for him.
Fans have long speculated that Jon would eventually ride one of Daenerys’ dragons due to his Targaryen heritage, but that moment still brought many chills.
At long last, a Game of Thrones reunion that we’ve all been waiting for: The Hound and Arya reunited and it all went down just as we had hoped – with zero violence and begrudging respect. The first time she saw The Hound in the season eight premiere was when she spotted him riding into Winterfell with the rest of Jon and Daenerys’ army. She seemed slightly shocked, though not entirely happy that he was alive-after all, he was the former Lannister solider who was on her list for killing her friend Mycah, the butcher’s boy, way back in the first season. However, since then, the pair have been through a lot. And as he explains to Brienne in the season seven finale, he just wanted to keep Arya safe in the wake of the Red Wedding, even though his initial interest was to gain money. Deep down, Arya knows that The Hound doesn’t wish harm upon her, and that surely means more to her than she’s willing to let on.
Back in Winterfell, Gendry is making weapons made out of dragon glass when The Hound starts provoking him, but is stopped when Arya interjects, telling him to let him be. The two stare at each other for quite some time, until The Hound finally announces that she left him to die, but Arya adds that she robbed him first, leaving the The Hound to stretch a smile, stating that she’s a “cold little bitch“, which is probably the reason why she’s still alive. The interaction is sweet, and filled with some hidden emotion. Now that Arya and The Hound are in the same place once more, she’s considered the fact that death isn’t ready for him, and that even if their interaction wasn’t exactly a warm embrace, it’s enough mutual understanding to make the idea of these two former enemies become reluctant allies…if possible. At the very least, The Hound seems to be erased from Arya’s list – for the time being.
When The Hound eventually leaves, Arya and Gendry reunite. Now that Gendry is in Winterfell now, and doing what he does best, Arya starts to take advantage of Gendry’s skills as a smith to get something for herself. But she doesn’t want anything of the usual, she wants something special. So when they officially reconnected after so many years of adventures and wanderings around the middle of Westeros together, they flirted a little bit and then she made her request. She pulled out a piece of paper with a design that looked like a sort of modular spear with a dragon glass tip, with a shaft that can be split in two on demand. We know that the spear tip is intended to be dragon glass, because it’s the only word on the page, but it’s quite unusual-though it makes perfect sense for Arya because she’s so small and her style of fighting fits well with it. Their interaction falls shortly, but leaves us hanging on the intention of Gendry and Ayra’s relationship in later episodes.
In the next scene, Jon comes to see Sansa, who tells him that their allies are not coming to join the fight after all, which causes the pair to argue about their new Targaryen ruler, with Jon stating that he’s not Sansa’s father. Tension starts to build quickly as Sansa abruptly asks if he bent the knee to save the North, or because he loves her, to which Jon doesn’t answer.
Daenerys visits Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) to thank him for saving her longtime friend Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who seeks to reward him service for curing him of his grey-scale. Samwell seems excited to hear of this gratitude and seeks a pardon, as he borrowed some books from The Citadel and borrowed a sword from his family – which Daenerys realizes is Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner), who she burned alive in season seven.
After hearing of this news, Samwell covers his emotion by replying that he’ll now be able to return home now that his brother Dickon (Thomas Hopper) is the Lord, but the Dragon queen announces that Dickon stood by his father and he’s dead too. Running out the room, Samwell finds The Three Eyed Raven (Bran), and asks him what he’s still doing outside, to which he responds that it’s time to tell Jon Snow the truth.
The Three Eyed Raven tells Samwell that Jon will trust him more than anyone and that now is the time.
Sam finds Jon in the crypt of Winterfell, where the bodies are buried and the series of myths of the dead live on. With his voice crackling with rage, Sam tells his most loyal friend the political consequences of his family’s tragedy: that the queen who has portrayed herself with such honesty and justice, might be the complete opposite. He insists that if Jon was in Daenerys’ position, would he feel the need to reason with what she had done, and the fact that he’s among the tombs leaves Jon to prioritize himself with mercy over vengeance; as he’s done before.
Jon rejects Sam’s test by stating, “I wasn’t a king,” which leaves Sam to add, “But you were. You’ve always been.” Confused to why his friend is saying this, he interjects, “I gave up my crown, Sam. I bent the knee. I’m not King in the North anymore.” Doing his mission to tell Jon the ultimate truth, Sam announces, “I’m not talking about the King in the North. I’m talking about the king of the bloody Seven Kingdoms.”
Sam, in the flickering candlelight of the Stark family crypt, goes on to explain the man who is both and is not at all Jon Snow, by reciting all the information that he learned from the High Septon’s diary. “Your mother was Lyanna Stark,” Sam tells his friend, “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.”
The reveal of this information has been long-awaited since the end of season six, and the fact that Jon found out about it in the very first episode of season eight was a pleasant surprise. In the second episode of Game of Thrones, right before Jon is sent off to the Night’s Watch, Ned Stark drops a hint that reveals something about Snow’s real heritage – “The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years, and you are a Stark. You might not have my name, but you have my blood.” Surely enough, Jon doesn’t have Ned’s last name because he’s a Targaryen, but he’s still a Stark because his mother is Ned’s sister. In that same episode, Jon asks what his mother thinks of him, or if she knows about him at all, but Ned, deflecting the question, says, “The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother.”
Jon never got to reunite with Ned, but his discovery in Sunday’s episode comes close enough, because it took place right where Ned was buried, along with his mother, Lyanna. And even though it doesn’t quite count as the next time Jon saw Ned, it’s still a meaningful moment that calls back to Jon’s past.
Jon’s reaction to what Samwell spills was to immediately recognize Ned: “My father was the most honorable man I’ve ever met,” and almost angrily defending Ned’s honor, “You’re saying he lied to me all my life?“. Ned Stark is a massive part of Jon’s life, even if he isn’t his real father, so the news his friend gives him comes across quite brutal. Sam responds to Jon, telling him that Ned promised Lyanna that he would always protect him, and if he didn’t, Robert Baratheon would murder him. Jon, speechless, stands motionless. Sam carries on, “You’re the true King. Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name, protector of the realm-all of it.” Jon staggers back, and breathes in heavily, taking in what Sam’s telling him. He interjects with, “Daenerys is our queen“, to which Sam replies, “She shouldn’t be.” Still under bewilderment, Jon stutters, “That’s treason“, but his friend quickly interjects boldly with, “It’s the truth.” Silence rings in the air, until Sam finishes with, “You gave up your crown to save the people. Would she do the same?” The scene cuts off, leaving chills among every viewer watching.
Somewhere in the North, Beric Dondarion (Richard Dormer) and Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) are seen alive and well, though it is unclear of their status after the season seven finale ended with The Night King destroying the wall, when they were at the Eastwatch. They are seen shuffling around in a dark castle when they run into Eddison Tollett (Ben Crompton), who shows them an un-dead boy spiked to a wall with various cut limbs circling around him. While the men start to talk about what this could mean, the un-dead comes screaming back before they set it on fire -showing a clear symbol of The Night King’s sigil – “A message from the Night King“, as Beric put it.
This spiral pattern has appeared on numerous other occasions as well. During the show’s first episode, when a trio of rangers from the Night’s Watch came across a group of wild-lings that had been slaughtered by the White Walkers, their body parts were rearranged in a similar marking.
During season three, Jon Snow, Mance Rayder and others revisited The Fist of the First Men, where they discovered that the bodies of the dead Night’s Watch members had vanished, but the severed remains of their horses were arranged in the pattern as well.
In episode five of season six, The Three-Eyed Raven explains to Bran how the White Walkers first came into existence, and we see the markings once again.
In season seven, episode four, Jon shows Daenerys various carvings on the walls of the caves beneath Dragon-stone – and becoming prominent to many eagle-eyed viewers watching, these inscriptions were laid out by the Children of the Forest and represent the period in which they united the First Men, despite being at war for centuries, to fight against the White Walkers.
At the most basic level-the Night King is sending a message of warning. His co-opted pattern could be a sign of threat, but the original messages seems to uniting for the greater good; which, hopefully, the humans choose to listen to as the war wages on.
The season eight premiere of Game of Thrones ended with one of the most shocking, and powerful, reunions that the show has ever put across our screens, and it was perfect.
Riding through the midst of Winterfell, a hooded figure arrives on horseback through the castles entrance, revealed to be Jaime Lannister. At first, he looks around the place he last visited in season one, but eventually comes in contact with Bran’s cold stare – the boy he pushed out of the Winterfell tower in the first episode of the entire series, which crippled him for life.
Jaime hasn’t seen Bran since that fateful encounter and may not have fully processed that the boy was still alive – much less all grown up – until now. Earlier on in the episode, Samwell asks Bran what he’s still doing hanging around in the Winterfell courtyard, to which Bran responds that he’s waiting up for “an old friend.” It’s a chilling moment that perfectly captures the sense of the show’s heady drama, but the conclusion of Jaime arriving at Winterfell to pledge his assistance to the North, may result in something less simple.
Like Jaime, Bran is on a journey to find out who he really is – even if Jaime’s has been about rediscovering his identity, Bran’s been more focused on stripping his identity away entirely. Having been paralyzed when he was a young boy, losing his mother, traveling beyond the Wall, and becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, he’s completely disconnected himself from his heritage as a Stark. But if we’ve learned anything from Sansa, Arya, and Jon, you can never stop being a Stark, no matter how hard you try. This scene is the one time, and maybe the only time for the rest of the series, that we’re seeing Bran reconnect with being a Stark again – even if it’s just for a second.
Jaime was once the embodiment of the little boy that Bran used to be, but he’s found a new path now, and so has Bran. In a sense, they’ve changed each other’s lives, even if they only interacted with each other for a brief moment. This meeting is a reminder of how connected they are, and how titles, fates, and names can never fully let go of the past. Being met with Bran’s drilling eyes, reminded him of everything when he silently freaked out in the crowded courtyard.
There wasn’t a great deal of action this first episode, but it’s definitely laying groundwork for what we’ll see in the remaining five episodes of the final season. The episode was full of parallels to the first episode of the series, and with the shows twisting, long journeys and major moments in Westeros, it’s clear that each character will uncover something of their own. The final season may have just only begun, but it’s already so much fun.
Game of Thrones season 8 will air each Sunday on HBO until its final episode on May 19, 2019.