Fair warning to all Game of Thrones fans: the night is dark, and full of spoilers.
Our watch has finally ended, Game of Thrones fans: on 14 April, the very first episode of the eighth season of GOT hit TV screens all over the world, in one of biggest television premieres in history. It was a tense moment for many fans, as this series marks the beginning of the end for the HBO show. And, perhaps more pertinently, it has taken us far beyond the story laid out in George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (the books upon which Game of Thrones is based) and into entirely unknown territory.
Thankfully, the first episode didn’t just live up to the expectations of fans: it surpassed them. Picking up where we left off in season seven, it reunited the likes of Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Cersei Baratheon (Lena Headey), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) - not to mention countless others - and saw them do their best to come to terms with the fact that Ned Stark’s premonition of old is finally coming true: winter is coming. And, worse, it brings with it the Night King and his White Walkers, a threat easily more dangerous than anything before seen in the Seven Kingdoms.
Here, Game of Thrones superfan Kayleigh Dray does her best to unpick all of the episode’s most important moments, and analyses what they may mean for the rest of the season.
Valar Morghulis, folks!
That beautiful callback to GOT season one
The opening scene is a gorgeous homage to Robert Baratheon’s arrival in Winterfell way back in the first season. From the music to the little boy clambering up a tree to get a better view (clearly a reference to the young Bran Stark), it played out in almost exactly the same way… bar a few crucial details.
Whereas Robert rode alone (Cersei was sat in the royal litter when the Baratheon contingent arrived in Winterfell all those years ago), Daenerys and Jon ride side by side - which is seemingly indicative of their united front, their respect for one another, and the equality of their claims to the Iron Throne. Sansa does not wait shyly in the yard: instead, she watches from the battlements and waits for Jon to come to her. Arya, likewise, doesn’t come to meet her brother straightaway: instead, she watches from the crowds and then disappears (“lurking somewhere,” Sansa notes, when Jon asks after his favourite sister). And the interaction between Daenerys and Sansa is vastly different to the Stark’s interaction with Cersei all those years ago, too. Then, she was young, and naive, and eager to please. Now, she is the Lady of Winterfell, she doesn’t approve of the Targaryen queen, and she isn’t afraid to show it, either.
Lyanna Mormont isn’t happy
Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) was Jon Snow’s biggest supporter in season seven. This time, though, she’s furious with the man she named King of the North, because he’s a) given up his crown almost immediately, and b) bent the knee to a stranger from across the Narrow Sea.
“You left Winterfell aking,” she notes coolly. “And you came back a… what?”
Her reaction mirrors that of pretty much everyone else in Winterfell. Indeed, as Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) later notes to Daenerys’ advisors, one can’t expect to stride into the North and instantly command their respect: instead, she has to earn it.
House Umber is being ruled by a very little boy
Many men died in the Battle of the Bastards, so it makes sense that some of the Northern hourses are being repped by children. This little boy seeks wagons and horses for his people, which Sansa promises him should he brign his men to Winterfell. He nods his assent and dashes off to do her bidding.
And neither is Sansa
We previously noted, way back in season seven, that the future didn’t look bright for Jon and Sansa. And we weren’t wrong, either.
“Her relationship with Jon is struggling because he’s so clearly in love with Daenerys and believes in her completely,” Turner explains to Entertainment Weekly. “Sansa thinks [Daenerys] is power-hungry and not the rightful queen. There’s a huge amount of fighting between Sansa and Jon.”
The actress adds: “She’s not happy because she’s going to have to feed these dragons. They require a lot of food and they have limited resources.”
Naturally, Sansa is even less happy when she points this out to Daenerys and is promptly informed that Drogon and Rhaegal will be eating “whatever they want”.
Anyone else suspect that thinly-veiled threat will not have gone unnoticed by Sansa, aka the very same woman who fed Ramsey Bolton to his own dogs? Exactly.
Tyrion and Sansa finally reunite
“The Lady of Winterfell,” notes the dwarf, as he meets his one-time wife on the battlements at Winterfell. “It has a nice ring to it.”
“So does Hand to the Queen,” fires back Sansa.
“It depends which queen,” he responds. And so begins the tenuous rapprochement of the former spouses, who last saw one another at Joffrey’s wedding (an event which “had its moments”, as Sansa puts it). While Tyrion is complimentary of Ned Stark’s eldest daughter and her vicious new methods (“many underestimated you, most of them are dead now”), Sansa is less so of her ex-husband.
“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” she notes coolly when he does his best to rally her to Daenerys’ cause, turning on her heel and promptly exiting the conversation.
And yet… well, many fans still suspect that George R R Martin’s tale is based on the War of the Roses, and that Tyrion and Sansa will step into the roles of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York to end the series. It would certainly be a “bittersweet” union - which is all we’ve really been promised by the GoT bosses - and both have proven themselves adept leaders and skilled diplomats. Could this be the shaky beginning to a beautiful friendship?
Arya and Jon’s reunion doesn’t go as expected
Back in season one, Arya and Jon were the closest of Ned Stark’s children. And their reunion under the Weirwood tree is every bit as emotionally-charged as we all hoped it would be (particularly when she proudly shows him Needle, the sword he gifted her back in season one, and he innocently asks if she’s ever used it - a funny moment, sure, but one which indicates the huge gulf that has opened between the duo).
However, there’s definitely some tension between the pair, too. Namely when he notes that he could’ve used her help when dealing with Sansa, and Arya responds that her sister is the “smartest person” she’s ever known and, as such, she trusts her judgement implicitly.
“You’re defending her?” an incredulous Jon asks of Arya.
“I’m defending our family,” she replies. “So is she.”
“I’m our family, too,” he says, still unaware of his true heritage at this point.
Pulling him into another tight hug, Arya smilingly informs him: “Don’t forget that.”
Addressing her character’s reunion with Jon in a recent interview, Williams says: “It’s not often you see a character siding with Sansa who’s not manipulating her.
“Last season it was really tough for Sansa because Jon was thinking with his penis and it kind of made Sansa look bitter. This season you see Arya teaming with Sansa and sometimes calling out Jon. It felt nice and powerful to stand next to Sophie. Sophie and I are the tightest of friends when sitting across from anyone, so no acting required.”
Cersei still hasn’t learned her lesson
When Qyburn informs Cersei that the dead have broken through The Wall into Westeros, Bad Queen Lannister simply smiles.
“Good,” she says, before revealing that she still intends to use this opportunity to her advantage: while everyone is busy fighting in the North, she will allow the majority of them to die defending Westeros, before sending in the Golden Company to pick up the pieces.
So… who are the Golden Company?
The group was first mentioned by Davos Seaworth in one of the earlier seasons, when he attempted to persuade Stannis Baratheon that he hire the Golden Company to help him win back the Iron Throne.
“Westeros is not the world, your grace. We need to look east for ships and men. Ten thousand skilled soldiers fight for the Golden Company,” he said, before noting that “they’ve never broken a contract”. While a disgusted Stannis dismiss the idea of using “sellswords” in his quest for power, though, Cersei seems all too willing to pay for warriors.
However, in the A Song of Ice and Fire books, it’s established that the Golden Company is made of the descendants of nobles banished from Westeros for backing the wrong Targaryen heir in a heated war for the Iron Throne. King Aegon IV Targaryen died without a legitimate heir, but a bunch of bastards. One of them, known as Bittersteel, fled to Essos with his supporters, and they became the Golden Company. There is a sense that these Westerosi exiles want to return home, and in the books, they support the claim to a long-lost “Aegon Targaryen.” So, you know, that could cause some wrinkles for Cersei…
Euron Greyjoy gets what he wants… and breaks Cersei’s heart in the process
All Euron has ever wanted to do, for as long as we’ve known him, is “fuck a queen”. And, in the season eight premiere, his wish finally comes true, despite Cersei’s initial reluctance.
“You want a whore, buy one,” she tells him. “You want a queen, earn one.”
After they do the deed, though, Cersei’s bravado is clearly shaken, particularly when Euron pokes fun at Jaime Lannister’s sexual prowess and vows to put a son in her belly. Indeed, she even sheds a few tears as he leaves her chambers, although it remains unclear as to why. Is it because she feels cheapened by her decision to take Euron into her bed? Is it because she misses Jaime? Is it because she previously informed Tyrion that she is pregnant (whether she’s lying or not remains to be seen)? Or is it because she has lost all her children and, thanks to Maggy the Frog’s prophecy, believes that she will die before she has another?
Bronn has a difficult decision to make
If there’s one thing we know about Bronn, it’s this: he is loyal to whoever pays him the most gold. However, when Qyburn bursts into his bedroom (startling three prostitutes, one of whom he notes will be dead of pox within the year), he’s faced with a difficult decision: will he serve Queen Cersei and murder Jaime and Tyrion Lannister with the very same crossbow the latter used to kill his father, Tywin? Or will he ride north, reunite with the two men he admires most in the world, and join them in their fight against the Night King?
Whichever he decides, it seems safe to bet that Bronn won’t survive until the end of season eight. Sad times, eh?
Theon saves Yara, but remains loyal to his chosen family
Theon never truly knew where he stood when we first met him in season one.
“I always wanted to do the right thing,” he once said. “Be the right kind of person. But I never knew what that meant. It always seemed that there was an impossible choice I had to make. Stark or Greyjoy.”
Ward to Ned Stark, he had been taken to Winterfell following a failed Greyjoy attempt on the Iron Throne. When he eventually returned home to the Iron Islands, he was persuaded to betray Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and even invaded Winterfell… an act which led to him being captured and castrated by Ramsey Bolton.
Now, though, we finally know which side his bread is buttered: Theon may have saved his sister, Yara, from their vicious uncle, but he has determined to return to Winterfell and join the Starks in their battle against the White Walkers. She grants him her blessing, too.
“What is dead may never die,” she says, echoing the words of the Greyjoy house. “But kill the bastards anyway.”
It remains to be seen how welcome Theon’s assistance will be, of course. However, he does have Sansa and Bran in his corner: he helped to save both in past seasons, her from Ramsey, and Bran from the marauding Greyjoys.
Davos, Varys and Tyrion are plotting a marriage alliance
Yup, these guys want to see Jon and Daenerys (“they do make a handsome couple”) married, in order to unite the people of Westeros under a Targaryen-Stark banner. We have a feeling they’ll be less keen to see our heroes wed, though, when they learn that they’re actually aunt and nephew…
Jon rides a dragon
’Nuff said, really. We imagine that the Night King will prove to be the third dragon-rider, but then again… well, Bran does have a lovely habit of warging into living beings. Perhaps the youngest living Stark will play a greater role in events to come, eh?
… and his relationship with Daenerys is very much based on equality
“It’s cold up here for a Southern girl,” he notes, when the pair find a romantic wintry spot far from the prying eyes of Winterfell.
“Keep your queen warm,” she responds with a smile (Daenerys smiles so much in this episode, doesn’t she?), wrapping her arms around him. Too bad Drogon’s there to ruin the moment, eh?
Arya and the Hound are back together
The last time Arya and the Hound saw one another, he’d been bested by Brienne and was bleeding to death on a scrubby hillside.
“Killed by a woman, I bet you liked that,” he said, when he saw her. “Go on. Go after her. She’ll help you. Going at it alone, you won’t last a day out there.”
Arya replied: “I’ll last longer than you.”
Then, in a totally predictable move, The Hound asksedArya to kill him, and reminded her of all of the awful things he’s done to her and the people she loves in a bid to get her to stab him.
She, however, just took his money and wandered away, ignoring his pleas for her to “kill me”.
“You left me to die,” the Hound notes, when he runs into Arya at Winterfell.
“First I robbed you,” she reminds him, causing his mouth to twitch up into an unwitting smile.
“Cold little bitch,” he says, as he staggers away.
And she’s back with Gendry, too
Gendry is busy transforming dragonglass into weapons for the big battle against the White Walkers, but he still finds time to chat to Arya, the girl who won his heart all those years ago. It’s clear from their faces that these two still think an awful lot of each other, but can they ever have a happy ending? Unlikely, to be honest: this is Game of Thrones, after all.
On that note… will Gendry kill a dragon?
“When the hammer shall fall upon the dragon, a new king shall arise, and none shall stand before him.”
This prophecy, which is outlined in Fire & Blood, isn’t assigned to any character in particular… but Gendry certainly seems to fit the bill, doesn’t he? Not only is he excellent with a hammer, but he’s part-Targaryen, too.
Oh yes: as we learned in Fire & Blood, the bastard founder of the house Orys Baratheon “was a baseborn half-brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered”, which means that Targaryen blood flows in the veins of the Baratheon line. Gendry, as a direct descendant, then, could he be fated to a) use his blacksmith skills to forge a new dragonglass warhammer, and b) kill off the (now) undead dragon, Viserion, before he can do too much damage to Westeros.
As for the new king? Well, that could be Gendry, sure… but it could just as easily be Jon, whom Gendry is working closely alongside in Winterfell. All we can hope is that this prophecy doesn’t refer to a zombie-Gendry killing off live dragons on behalf of the Night King. Because that would be intolerable.
Sam Tarly hates Daenerys
Fair enough, considering she murdered his father and brother and seems utterly remorseless about it.
Jon finally knows the truth
It makes sense that Sam is the one who informs Jon of his true R + L = A heritage, to be honest: the pair have been best friends for as long as we can remember, and, as previously noted, Sam has an axe to grind against Daenerys, too.
“You’re king of the bloody Seven Kingdoms,” he tells his friend. “You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.”
Naturally, Jon doesn’t take the news too well.
“My father [Ned Stark] was the most honourable man I’ve ever met,” he says, eyes blazing. “Are you saying he lied to me all my life?”
Sam points out that Ned only lied to keep Jon safe from those who would harm him (aka King Robert Baratheon, who had an unrequited crush on Lyanna Stark and a strong desire to wipe out the Targaryens), before twisting the knife a little further. “You gave up your throne to save your people,” he says, after asking Jon if he would have shown mercy to House Tarly had they refused to bend the knee. “Would she do the same?”
Hmm. It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?
Is Daenerys being set up as the villain of this piece?
Nobody seems to like Daenerys at the moment. Even Jon, for all his “thinking with his dick” (Williams’ words, not ours), seems to rapidly be going off her. And her new outfit doesn’t bode too well for the future, either (check out the fashionable fan theory here).
The Umber boy is already dead
Hope you didn’t get too attached to this kid, because the Night King got to him before he made his way home. Tormund and co find his corpse stuck up on the wall, inside the same spiral symbol which has become the White Walkers’ calling card (in season six’s The Door, Bran witnesses the creation of the White Walkers at the hand of the Children of the Forest, and an overview shot reveals a spiral of stone surrounding a weirwood tree. The Children then used these stones in a ritual to turn one of the First Men into a White Walke.)
When Beric sets the kid on fire (which is fair enough, because he’s “got blue eyes” and seems keen to bite Tormund in the face), the whole spiral goes up in flames. Could this be a foreshadowing of things to come?
Jaime is in Winterfell, but for how long?
Come the end of season seven, we saw Jaime ‘Kingslayer’ Lannister turn his back on Cersei and ride northwards to offer his aid to Jon and Daenerys in the battle against the White Walkers. And he’s equipped with Widow’s Wail, a Valyrian steel sword that he took from Joffrey after his death.
Why is this important? Well, Valyrian steel is one of the few things that can actually kill a White Walker, putting Jaime in a very good position to be the one who puts an end to the Night King and his reign of terror. So maybe that nickname of ‘Kingslayer’ has been a big endgame hint all along? After all, Jaime killed one fire king and was dishonoured. Wouldn’t it be beautifully poetic if his arc concluded with him sacrificing himself to take down an ice king, and finally earn the redemption he so desperately craves?
Too bad, then, that the first person he meets in Winterfell isn’t his brother, Tyrion, but Bran Stark. As in, yes, the very same kid he shoved out a window and paralysed way back in season one.
Will Bran have Jaime executed for his actions? It seems unlikely at this point: the adult Bran is nothing like the boy he once was, and his ability to see into past and future has changed his perspective on the world, too. Perhaps he will see that Jaime has an important role to play in future events and keep him alive. Perhaps he knows that Jaime was simply fulfilling the role of destiny when he hurled him from the tower window?
Or, y’know, perhaps he’ll have Arya stab Jaime with Needle before he can do anything else. We guess it remains to be seen, eh? Roll on episode two, already!