RECAP | GAME OF THRONES season eight episode one - "Winterfell"
There was a bit of intrigue surrounding the season premiere. As it went to air, the episode had no title. Nothing to indicate what ground the episode would cover.
But what it lacked in a title, it delivered in a new opening sequence that featured just Winterfell and its crypt, the Wall and Kings Landing. It’s now all about the North and the Great War that is coming.
Without an official title (at this stage), perhaps we should call it a ‘Game of Reunions’ because episode one delivers some long awaited catch-ups: Jon and Arya, Jon and Bran, Jon and The North, Theon and Yara, Sansa and Tyrion, the Hound and Arya and Jaime and Bran.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The episode opens with soldiers marching through the snow and arriving at Winterfell as a young boy runs around trying to catch a glimpse of the army before climbing a tree for a better look.
It’s actually a nod to the very first episode of GoT, when a nimble and able-bodied Bran clambered around Winterfell as King Robert Baratheon and his entourage arrived.
In the crowd watching the arriving army is Arya, who smiles and almost yells out to Jon as he rides by. He doesn’t see her. Nor do The Hound, Gendry and Tyrion. It’s almost as if she’s ‘No One’ again.
It also means she’s not there to greet Jon and Dany in the great hall, where it’s almost as frosty inside as it is outside. The northern Lords and Sansa are unimpressed with Jon giving up his crown and bending the knee to Daenerys.
It’s a thread that runs throughout the episode and it could prove troublesome in future episodes. Will the north tolerate a Targaryen and a couple of Lannisters on their doorstep especially when ‘the big secret’ is revealed?
Which brings us to significant reunion number one: Jon and Bran
It’s been a long time since they last saw each other. Bran was lying unconscious after ‘falling’ out of a tower window. Jon was on his way to join the Night’s Watch as Ned Stark’s bastard.
They embrace, but Jon senses something has changed in Bran and it’s not just the passing of years. And after trying to charm Sansa, Dany locks eyes with Bran, who turns up the spooky.
“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.”
Yeah, Jon, Bran is a changed man. He ‘sees’ stuff now.
Daenerys is facing an uphill battle with the Lords and Ladies of the North, including Lyanna Mormont who was the first to declare Jon the ‘King of the North’.
“Your Grace? But you’re not, are you? You left Winterfell a King and you came back … I’m not sure what you are now. A Lord? Nothing at all”.
“I had a choice. Keep my crown or protect the north. I chose the north.”
This brings us to Significant reunion number two: Sansa and Tyrion.
A few years back, these two were married. And as Jon realises Bran isn’t the same boy, Tyrion is also made aware that Sansa has also changed.
“Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.”
“Cersei told you her army was coming north? To fight for you? And you believed her. I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”
Tyrion may actually have found his perfect match in this new version of Sansa. There’s tenderness between them, but it’s clear she’s now a player in the ‘Game of Thrones’.
Significant reunion number three: Jon and Arya
In the God’s Wood, Jon is looking all moody and reflective as Arya sneaks up on him. They bear hug. I cried. So did Jon. And he realises time has changed Arya as well.
For one, she’s had to use her sword Needle ‘once or twice’ and she’s also supporting Sansa. It wasn’t that long ago, they were at each other’s throats.
“You’re defending Sansa?”
“I’m defending our family. So is she.”
“I’m her family too”.
“Don’t forget that.”
Well, that’s a loaded comment. Is it family before love? Family before everything else? What happens when they learn of Jon’s true parentage?
In King’s Landing, Theon comes to the rescue of his sister Yara, who’s been held captive by their uncle Euron, who’s managed to talk his way into the Queen’s bed.
That development could give us to question her ‘pregnancy’ with Euron promising to ‘put a prince in her belly’. Surely he would’ve noticed she was already knocked up.
Then, in another nod to earlier seasons, where a brothel scene was almost obligatory, we find Bronn in the company of three scantily clad young women.
In walks Qyburn, the Queen’s hand, who makes him an offer too good to refuse: assassinate Jaime and Tyrion with the same crossbow used to kill their father Tywin.
Irony is officially spelt C.E.R.S.E.I
Back in the north, Jon and Daenerys are still oblivious to his Targaryen DNA, when he manages to ride a dragon. This is NOT a euphemism for anything.
Thank God, HBO gave them the budget for CGI dragons. It’s a great scene.
And finally, after some prodding by Bran, Samwell manages some alone time with Jon in the crypts below Winterfell, where he drops the bombshell.
“I’m not talking about the King in the North. I’m talking about the bloody Seven Kingdoms… Your mother was Lyanna Stark. Your father, your real father, was Rhaegar Targaryen. You’ve never been the bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.”
Jon’s in shock and it hasn’t dawn on him that he’s in an incestuous relationship with Aunty Daenerys. That will come later. Maybe he’ll get some sympathy from Jaime Lannister.
He’s arrived at Winterfell and shared an awkward moment of recognition with Bran. They both know exactly what things Jaime has ‘done for love’.
And if you were wondering whether we’d ever get to the Night King and the White Walkers, we do in the closing minutes of the episode.
The wildling leader Tormund and Beric Dondarrion are wondering around in the ruins of a castle, where they run into the surviving members of the Night’s Watch.
They’re led to the hall where we find the young Lord Umber nailed to a wall at the centre of a ‘swirl’ made of limbs. Again, it’s another nod to the prelude to the pilot episode.
Director David Nutter had urged fans to ‘get ready and hang on’ for the season premiere and he delivered an episode with very few disappointments.
It’s hard to contemplate that in just six weeks, the final credits roll and we say goodbye to Westeros.
And so, our watch begins..