This week’s much anticipated Game of Thrones premiere, “Winterfell,”seems entirely self-aware that it’s time to start wrapping things up. In many ways, this was a return to the dynamics of the very first seasons: A royal army marching north; growing dissent within the ranks of the Northmen as the king brings home a foreign consort; lovers frolicking in bodies of water, vowing to stay there forever; and hushed conversations about Lyanna Stark in the crypt below Winterfell. This entire episode mirrors poor Theon (Alfie Allen), who so longs to go back to his early days watching Robb and Jon get their hair cut shirtless.
And it makes sense. If Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) adventures as the Three-Eyed Raven have taught us anything, it’s that A) the past repeats itself, and B) never, ever reveal truly crucial information that could spare those you claim to love the anguish of finding out they’ve just had hot sex with their aunt.
But before we dive into the truly insane machinations of this week's Game of Thrones premiere, let me just point you to the season seven season finale recap for a little refresher. Deep breath now: boat sex, Jon Snow's butt, incest, ice dragon, Night King, Littlefinger eats it, Cersei and Jaime part ways, everyone's heading to Winterfell, oh, and a big chunk of the Wall comes crashing down — there, you're all caught up.
The very first scene of season 8 is an immediate callback to the show’s very first episode: A boy runs through Winterfell, climbing up a tree as he watches Jon (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clark) head north with their combined armies. It’s a direct parallel — down to King Robert’s theme — to the scene in which Bran watched from the high tower as King Robert, Queen Cersei, Prince Joffrey, Jaime Lannister, and Tyrion Lannister arrived at Winterfell.
That scene is echoed once again once Daenerys and Jon actually make it into the courtyard to greet Sansa (Sophie Turner), who has clearly summoned the best of Cersei’s lessons in how to stare down your enemies. She gives Daenerys a frigidly polite welcome, as the words “Winterfell is yours” ooze out of her mouth like poison honey.
The other big theme of the night is reunions, which is what happens when pretty much every single person in the show ends up in one place. Jon greets Bran with a big hug, declaring “You’re a man now!” Bran makes a Three-Eyed Raven joke (“Almost”), which is funny because Jon has no fucking clue. But does he ever?
The Arya-Jon reunion is much sweeter, although my girl is quick to remind him that he best listen to Sansa. It’s good to see those two looking out for each other, especially since it seems the dynamic between Daenerys and Cersei will be more butting heads than girl power.
And speaking of Daenerys. She is not popular in the North. Little Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) rips into Jon for bending the knee without consulting anyone after they crowned him king. No one signed up for this, Jon. Sansa tells him pretty much the same in private later in the episode, questioning his motives: Is he really doing what’s best for his people, or does he just like a pretty blonde face? Even Davos (Liam Cunningham) has caught on, suggesting to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) that maybe the best way to get Daenerys the loyalty of the people is for her and Jon to tie the knot (and have a baby) — which may prove difficult, but we’ll get to that.
To make matters worse, Daenerys ‘dragons are not eating, which I guess will be a problem, but in this case just led into a classic sitcom setup of Jon not being quite sure how to get on a dragon, as he and Daenerys head out for a romantic ride through the snowy skies. (To cheer them up? Make them hungrier for sheep, or whatever lives in the North?) Which like, sure, but don’t you have other things you could be doing, given, you know, the war?
As it happens that moment, too, contains a throwback. When the two come across a waterfall, Daenerys says: “We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us.” That is almost verbatim what Ygritte (Rose Leslie) said to Jon in the cave, back in season 3. Apparently there’s something about his broody face that makes women want to be alone with him, forever, near a frigid body of water.
But you know what’s not cold? That steaming hot chemistry between Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie), by far the best reunion of this entire episode. (Except for Arya and the Hound, who tells her she’s a cold bitch, but like, in an admiring way.) That banter! That flirting! This is all I’ve been waiting for, thank the seven gods, the lord of light, and whatever other deities Westeros has in store for us.
Speaking of romance, though, I am not at all here for the Euron Greyjoy-Cersei action. He’s back in King’s Landing, having brought over reinforcements from the Golden Company. (With him is Harry Strickland, New Jersey accountant moonlighting as the head of the Golden Company.) But Euron, as usual, has sex on the brain, and though Cersei initially rebuffs his attentions, she eventually gives in. And she likes it? Cersei! Never trust a man who purrs that he’s “going to put a prince in your belly.” (Also, doesn’t she presumably already have one in there?)
Cersei has bigger concerns than Euron’s (Pilou Asbæk) amorous ways, anyway. Clearly, she hasn’t forgiven Tyrion, no matter how much wine they drank together during the Dragonpit meeting, and Jaime’s betrayal has stung. In a nice bit of poetic justice, she tells Qyburn (Anton Lesser) to hand Bronn (Jerome Flynn) the crossbow Tyrion used to kill Tywin. If the time comes, he might find a use — or two — for it. (Since Qyburn specifically says “treasonous brothers,” I’m guessing Cersei is planning to assassinate them both.)
None of this really matters all that much right now though, because the real prince is already out there. As we already know, Jon’s real parents were Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. As the son of the king’s eldest son and heir, he has a better claim to the throne than Daenerys (his aunt), does. And he finally knows it.
What’s amusing is that Jon might still be in the dark had Daenerys not completely stepped in it and told Sam that she burned his father and brother to a crisp last season, pretty much on a whim. Angry and distraught, he wanders outside, and runs into Bran, who tells him it’s time. And as it happens, Jon is in the crypt, where Ned Stark (whom he learns is his uncle), and Lyanna Stark (his real mother) are buried. It’s also where we first learned about King Robert’s justification for starting the rebellion all those years ago, back in the the pilot. After laying a lot of history and words, and fancy titles like “Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his name, Protector of the realm” (see, Daenerys, other people can have long names, too), on Jon, Sam challenges him with a hard bit of introspection. He was willing to give up his title to save lives. Will Daenerys? (I’m betting not.)
But again, as Jon has been warning everyone for the last two seasons, there’s no point in squabbling about titles if the dead kill everyone. And they are on their way. As the episode closes, Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) (both alive!) wander into Last Hearth, holdfast to the Umbers, which appears to have been overrun by Whitewalkers. There, they run into members of the Night’s Watch, on their way to Winterfell. The dead have left a calling card: The young Lord Umber, nailed to the wall in the same pattern as the little wildling girl in the opening sequence from the pilot. After some frightening jump scares, they burn him, and set off for Winterfell to try to beat the Night King there.
Then, for one last callback. In the very final scene, a hooded Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster Waldau) arrives at Winterfell, in an attempt to preserve his honour and help fight the good fight. But no sooner has he gotten off his horse than he comes face to face with none other than Bran Stark, the kid he once pushed out of a window. And yes, that was the closing scene of the pilot, too.
P.S. Theon saved Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and is heading back to Winterfell. I want to be happy for him, but I can’t summon the will to care.