On Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 9:00 p.m., I experienced a moment I had been waiting for after almost two full years. It was the Game of Thrones premiere. The premiere is especially meaningful this year because it is the final season of Game of Thrones. Much of the audience, including myself, have followed these characters for years. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.
I started watching the show in secret during the break between season four and season five in 2014. Like many viewers, I was initially turned off by the show due to the large number of confusing subplots and the time it took to gain momentum. After forcing myself to watch the whole first season, I decided to take a break. I liked it and I intended to watch the rest but felt I needed a break from the emotional weight of the show. When I revisited the show a few months later, I binged it and fell in love. It felt like I made a grand discovery. At that point, millions had already made the same discovery that I did: Game of Thrones is a great show.
When the eighth season premiered on Sunday, I was incredibly anxious. I’ve followed these characters for almost five years and they feel like friends. Unfortunately, my friends are in incredible danger. Many of them are going to die and I just have to sit here and consume their deaths. It’s both wildly disturbing and exciting.
Of course, this is coming from an audience member that takes fantasy way too seriously because I know how incredibly good the show can be; I must hold it to a high standard. The first episode of the final season, “Winterfell” certainly delivered.
Winterfell's Many Reunions
One of the most satisfying parts of this episode were the many callbacks to the pilot. Instead of Arya Stark overlooking the king and queen’s grand entrance into Winterfell, we watch Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen enter through the gates. This time, the camera is following Ned Umber, an 11-year-old who was around the same age as Arya when the show started. Arya’s still watching but is now a part of the crowd.
The leaders of the show are all different than they were when the show started. Some have claimed the power that they always wanted (see: Cersei Lannister and Daenerys) and some have claimed the power they never wanted (see: Jon). Powerful leaders lead to powerful uprisings. Will any of the current leaders survive the new season? If the Night King wins, not a chance.
Prior to this episode, there have been only two other large gathering of characters: one with the king’s arrival in the pilot and the other in the season 7 finale in the dragon pit. Seeing these characters together is genuinely thrilling and it leads to many reunions of characters that haven’t seen each other in years.
Arya has the most reunions by far, reuniting with the Hound, Gendry and Jon. Arya and the Hound have a conversation that might feel like a cold reunion to a new viewer but those of us who watched them travel together for a full season know how meaningful it was for both of them to acknowledge their continuing existences. Arya and Gendry’s conversation is nicer than Arya’s with the Hound’s. It’s even a bit flirtatious. Some might argue that the reunions between the Hound and Gendry served little to no purpose in the long run. I would disagree. It’s a moment of catharsis for these characters that may never have the chance to talk to each other again. It also shows that the show runners care about us seeing these reunions. Is it a bit of fan service? Yes it is and that’s a good sign.
A lot of the collective anxiety around the final season is if it would have a satisfying end. No matter how it ends, some fans are going to be incredibly upset. If everyone lived happily ever after (they won’t), many fans would revolt. That would be way too unrealistic for the realm of the show. If everyone died (they won’t), many fans would revolt. The audience has grown too attached to the characters to accept their collective demise. For years, author George R.R. Martin, who is still writing the final two novels, has promised to offer an ending equally happy and bittersweet. If there’s anything I’m sure of about the end of the show, it’s that the ending will be bittersweet. For the characters that don’t survive the show, I’m faithful that all our favorites will receive satisfying send-offs.
Other reunions in Winterfell included Jon and Bran Stark, Jon and Arya and Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark. Jon and Bran’s interaction mirrored the way Jon left Bran in season one with a kiss on the forehead. Bran’s reception was much colder. He is unable to show much emotion besides anger ever since he became the three-eyed raven. Jon and Arya’s reunion is the happiest of the episode. Part of that is because Jon doesn’t know everything that Arya has been through. When Arya reveals she’s had to use Needle, the sword Jon gave to Arya before he left for the Night’s Watch, “once or twice,” Jon looks surprised and then understands. Arya is not the same person that left Winterfell all of those years ago.
Winterfell’s Character Meetings
While there were many reunions in the episode, there was also one key meeting: Daenerys and Sansa. Sansa arguably has had the most development throughout the show. In season one, she was just a bratty Stark girl. With the death of her parents and residency in King’s Landing, she began to change. She learned from her elders and has arguably overtaken Littlefinger’s status as the smartest character on the show. She cements this status when she shades Tyrion for believing Cersei would send her men to Winterfell to help the White Walker (zombie) threat.
When Sansa meets Daenerys, Sansa recognizes the importance of Daenerys’s help against the Night King. She also realizes the implications of Jon bending the knee to Daenerys. He didn’t have to bend the knee in order to receive Daenerys’s help. Jon recognizing Daenerys as the true queen undermines the North soldiers who still foster hate against the Targaryens for how the Mad King, Daenerys’s father, treated Westeros all those years ago.
Even if Sansa and Daenerys are able to come together, they still have to deal with the respective armies merging to one force. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t have the patience to truly dive into the resentment between the armies. The tensions between the North soldiers and Daenerys’s army must subside for now if either group wants to survive the impending war.
Daenerys and Sam also meet in a highlight of the episode. Daenerys comes to Sam to congratulate him on healing Jorah and then things get awkward when it is revealed that Daenerys quite literally roasted his family alive via her dragons. John Bradley, the portrayer of Sam, gives his best performance of the series during this scene.
Finally, Jaime and Bran meet again in quite possibly the show’s most awkward moment that also calls back to the pilot. The pilot ends with Jaime pushing Bran out of a window. Bran is left paralyzed from the waist down after his fall. Now, this episode ends with Bran, the three-eyed raven, confronting Jaime. If I were Jaime, I would be scared.
Jon’s True Parentage
Last season’s finale revealed that Jon Snow was actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The only characters that know this are Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly. Bran found out from his visions. Sam found out in his time at the Citadel. Unfortunately, this means that Jon’s budding relationship with Daenerys Targaryen is a little incestuous. This is Game of Thrones. Incest is a given, right?
At the end of this episode, Sam, who had been avoiding Jon, finally tells Jon of his true parentage. Jon is unable to comprehend it. By the time the scene is over, I don’t even think he’s processed that he shagged his aunt. Because he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, who was the heir to the throne before Robert Baratheon took it, Jon is the true heir to the throne. All this time, we’ve thought that Daenerys was the last surviving Targaryen. It turns out that not only is this not true; she is also not the rightful heir to the throne.
This might not surmount to anything if the White Walkers take over. Either way, the implications of Jon and Daenerys’s relationship just took a sour turn and it’s certain to be discussed in greater detail as the final season marches on.
Back in King’s Landing, Euron has brought his soldiers along with quite a few soldiers of the Golden Company from Essos, per Cersei’s request. Cersei realizes that Euron is quite literally her only ally. She is the queen of Westeros but she is also incredibly vulnerable. When she allows Euron to consummate the relationship, she does so for her own survival.
She is still haunted by the prophecy by her childhood. In an effort to prove the prophecy wrong, which states that she will be killed by the valonqar (meaning younger brother), she sends Bronn to kill both of her younger brothers in Winterfell.
Cersei is sure to lose power by the time the series is over. She might have the force but she doesn’t have dragons or allies that care about her. The only people she cared about were her family members. Now, her children and father her dead. Her brothers are now dead to her. The only thing she has left is the throne.
The Last Hearth
Offscreen, the White Walkers are advancing to Winterfell. Onscreen, we see Tormund Giantsbane and Dolorous Edd trying to find any survivors in the Last Hearth. Seeing Tormund onscreen is a nice revelatory moment because it was unknown if either survived the collapse of Eastwatch at the end of season seven.
The exciting moment is cut short when we realize that the White Walkers have murdered everyone at The Last Hearth, leaving behind only a boy nailed to a wall. The boy is Ned Umber from the beginning of the episode. Ned’s death is a grim reminder to the characters and to the audience of what the White Walkers are about to bring to Winterfell. It’s about to be ten times more deadly.
The new title sequence had me squealing of excitement. I also noticed that Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm) officially joined the main cast! Always a pleasant surprise to see recurring players upped to main status.
I was a bit surprised to see Brienne of Tarth have no screentime during this episode. It might not be a great sign for her overall survival, but she also did not have anyone to reunite with. The Starks take precedence!
Theon Greyjoy saves his sister Yara while Euron is busy consummating his new relationship. Theon and Yara plan on traveling to their home the Iron Islands together, but Theon decides to go off to Winterfell to help fight the White Walkers off in the upcoming war. Luckily, the Iron Islands are separate from Westeros. Free from the White Walkers.
“What is dead may never die... but kill the bastards anyway.”
Jon rides Rhaegal! Jon is a dragon rider! This scene is cool, but also riding a dragon is a much bigger deal in the books than the show portrayed it to be. Even riding Drogon for the first time was difficult for Daenerys. The show’s handling of Jon riding Rhaegal was lazy. The How to Train Your Dragon-esque flight was cool though.
Varys declares “nothing lasts” and truer words haven’t been said in Game of Thrones.
Two main actors are missing from the episode: Melisandre and Gilly. Gilly, Sam’s wife, is presumably offscreen. Although Melisandre was banished early last season, she’s sure to show up in the final season as she once prophesied to Arya that they would meet once again. The show loves nothing more than fulfilling a prophecy.
Speaking of prophecies, as Cersei’s prophecy appears to be coming true, she sends Bronn to kill both her younger brothers. Her undoing is after all prophesied to come at the hands of her younger brother. She probably believes this to be Tyrion, but since Cersei, a twin, was born first, it could also be Jaime.
Three Predictions for Next Week
Each week, I’ll make three predictions specific to the next episode.
- Jon tells Daenerys that he is a Targaryen, and Daenerys (unsurprisingly) doesn’t believe him.
- The White Walkers arrive in Winterfell by the end of the episode.
- New character Harry Strickland delivers exactly one line.
Who’s Still Alive?
Luckily, there was only one death this week, and it was a character that the audience didn’t really know well to begin with. With that being said, many more deaths are to come. Here, I will list everyone that is alive, and everyone that dies. I will also write tributes for each death for any identifiable character!
- Arya Stark
- Beric Dondarrion
- Brienne of Tarth
- Cersei Lannister
- Daenerys Targaryen
- Davos Seaworth
- Eddison Tollett
- Edmure Tully
- Euron Greyjoy
- Grey Worm
- Jaime Lannister
- Jon Snow
- Jorah Mormont
- Lyanna Mormont
- Podrick Payne
- Robin Arryn
- Samwell Tarly
- Sansa Stark
- The Hound
- The Mountain
- The Night King*
- Theon Greyjoy
- Tyrion Lannister
- Yara Greyjoy
- Yohn Royce
* = Although The Night King and Viserion are technically listed under alive, I acknowledge that they are dead entities aren’t truly “living” in the normal sense of the word.
- Ned Umber
To lil Ned Umber: we will pretend to miss you. We can’t say we do miss you because none of us knew who you were until you were dead. Rest in peace.