Satisfaction was served hot and fresh throughout the entire premiere episode of the final season of Game of Thrones, “Winterfell.” Character reunions, first-time meetings, suspense resolved and forward movement– let’s just say that Jon Snow isn’t the only one who went for a wild ride tonight!
The episode opens with a little lad, young Lord Umber (Harry Grasby), running through the crowds at Winterfell to watch the massive armies marching in. Delivering the first moment of real satisfaction, the camera pans from the little boy to Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), hopefully boding well for the season in that she is the first recognizable character on screen. The Unsullied and the Dothraki, accompanied by Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Jon Snow (a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen) (Kit Harington) and their company, have arrived in the North. Arya watches from the crowd, and she appears a bit crestfallen when Jon rides by without noticing her.
As Jon and Dany move through Northern throngs, the people seem as chilly as the landscape. Jon reminds Dany that he warned her about Northern dispositions towards outsiders, but just then her dragons swoop past. The fearful reaction of the masses puts a smile on Dany’s face, and she rides on with her confidence reinforced while Arya marvels at the beasts overhead.
Jon’s return home is a mixed bag. Sansa (Sophie Turner) offers a rather frosty reception to her new queen and the hordes of soldiers and beasts (a.k.a. mouths to feed) that she’s brought with her. The Northern Lords and Ladies are not happy that Jon relinquished the crown they bestowed on him to kneel to an outsider queen. (Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) rips into him in her trademark way.) And Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is just weird now.
On the other hand, Jon and Arya reunite warmly under the family weirwood tree. Their embrace and comparison of swords is rosy with love. Jon is a little taken aback by Arya defending Sansa as the smartest person she’s ever met, and she reminds him that both she and Sansa are his family. There’s definitely some lost time to make up, but the love is there.
When Jon and Dany first arrive, Jon begins formally introducing everyone around. Bran interrupts to say that they don’t have time for that. The army of the dead has breached the wall and has one of the dragons.
Everyone in the castle gets to work preparing for the war, and in the midst of it other reunions and meetings take place– as well as the revelations that go with them. Arya discovers that The Hound (Rory McCann) is alive, and they meet each other face to face in the forge where Gendry (Joe Dempsie) has just finished fashioning a large battle axe for The Hound from dragonglass. Although The Hound calls Arya a cold little bitch, the warmth in his eyes gives away the fact that he’s happy to see her. Her wariness doesn’t communicate the same sentiment.
As soon as The Hound leaves, Arya and Gendry rib each other about her wealth and his skills as a blacksmith. They awkwardly comment on how good they each look. Then she gives him a diagram of a new weapon she wants him to make, and she leaves him with a look that promises more.
Elsewhere in the castle, Lady Sansa is approached by her long-estranged husband, now Hand to the Queen, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). He points out that they haven’t seen each other since Joffrey’s wedding and that it was difficult for him to have had his wife disappear just after the king was murdered. She responds that they’ve both survived, and he credits her with having exceeded the expectations of almost everyone– many of whom are now dead.
Tyrion has told everyone at Winterfell that the Lannister armies are marching north to join them, and Sansa asks him if he really believes Cersei. He says she has something to survive for, alluding to her presumed pregnancy, and Sansa counters that she once thought him the cleverest man in the world, before leaving him to confront the likelihood that his sister has lied to him.
When they aren’t navigating tricky relationships with Jon’s kin and countrymen, Jon and Dany are all flirty flirt. Their chemistry attracts the attention of Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), who tells Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion that he thinks the best way to win the stubborn Northerners to their new queen is for Jon to marry her. They don’t know if the young lovers will listen to their elders, however they’re lacking some key information that might make a wedding even more critical.
Dany invites Jon for a dragon ride, and for the first time he mounts Rhaegal (not even knowing it’s named after his real father!). He gets the hang of it relatively quickly, hanging on to whatever he can, per Dany’s advice. He impresses her with his handling of the beast and tells her she’s ruined horses for him when he lands near a majestic waterfall tucked into a snowy canyon. He also comments on how cold a place this is for a southern girl before being invited to keep his queen warm.
When she gets back to Winterfell, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) takes Dany to find the man who healed him of greyscale, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). At first, their meeting is very warm. Dany says she believes a man who would save Jorah when nobody else dared deserves a reward, and Sam half-jokingly suggests a pardon for stealing books from the Citadel– and the sword that had been in his family for generations. Dany asks what family, and that’s when she makes the connection between the Brother of the Night’s Watch who saved her best friend and the two Tarleys she executed by dragonfire.
She tells Sam that she offered them the choice between bending the knee and death, and that they both chose death. He is willing to roll with it when he hears about his father, but when he learns that Dickon is also gone, he cracks and asks to be excused.
As he runs from the room, he encounters Bran in the courtyard, where he is sitting to wait for an “old friend.” Bran tells him that now is the time to tell Jon the truth of his identity. Sam resists, suggesting that Bran should do it because he’s his brother. Bran points out that he isn’t actually Jon’s brother, then tells Sam that Jon trusts him more than anyone.
Sam finds Jon in the family crypt beneath Winterfell, lighting candles at Ned Stark’s grave. Before telling him about his true identity, Sam surprises Jon with the fact that Daenerys killed his father and brother. He challenges Jon on whether he would have done the same, and Jon reminds him that he has indeed executed men before and that Dany is a queen. That’s when Sam spills that Jon has always been a king, and that Ned was protecting him from inevitable murder by lying to him about his parentage. The truth leaves Jon reeling. (Leaves Aegon reeling?)
Aboveground, Stark bannermen are starting to defect because Jon opted out of being King in the North. Now that he knows his true identity, marrying Daenerys might not just be a way to unify the North– it might be the best way to stop the truth from becoming a deadly distraction in the face of coming war.
As the episode draws to an end, Bran finally sees his old friend enter the castle courtyard with a group of Karstark bannermen who’ve come to fight– it’s Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Jaime does a nostalgic spin to take in the scenery and freezes when he catches Bran’s eye and realizes who he is.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) is delighted when she gets the news that the Wall has fallen. At that very moment, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) is returning to her with the Golden Company, and she’s eager to dive into her plan of cementing her rule while her enemies die at the hands of the Night King (Vladimir Furdik).
Euron leaves his prisoner, Yara (Gemma Whelan), on his ship. He’s been keeping her there so he’ll have a fellow Iron Islander to talk to. He suggests to her that he’d even be happy to ditch Cersei and sail home– after he (has his way with) her.
While he is indeed collecting the price he desired from Cersei in her chambers, Theon (Alfie Allen) arrives with his crew and frees Yara. She knocks him flat for failing to help her initially, then gives him a hand up as a show of forgiveness. They sail away towards home, where Yara wants to establish a hold in a spot Daenerys can retreat to (but the dead can’t) if necessary. She can see in Theon’s eyes that he wants to be in the North, fighting with Jon, and she gives him her blessing to leave.
Now that Cersei has her 20,000 soldiers and a super arrogant fiancé (although zero elephants, which she’s unhappy about despite it being completely reasonable that the animals wouldn’t have done well on a sea voyage), she has some unfinished business to deal with. She has Qyburn (Anton Lesser) track down Bronn (Jerome Flynn) in a brothel (gratuitous) to give him several chests of gold and a specially selected crossbow with which she would like him to track down and kill her traitorous brothers.
Before leaving us hungry for next week’s episode, the question of whether Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) survived the fall of the Wall is answered. Both did, and they and the brothers of the Night’s Watch are searching the Last Hearth, the seat of House Umber, for living people. They don’t find any, but they do find young Lord Umber’s corpse displayed on a hall wall in the midst of a spiraling pattern of body parts. They realize that the army of the dead is now somewhere between them and Winterfell, just as Lord Umber reanimates and attempts to kill Tormund. Beric stabs him with his flaming sword, and they watch the new wight burn before doubling up on the available horses to race the Night King to Jon Snow.
Also in the season premiere: Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) attending a gathering in Winterfell’s hall, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) sharing a kiss on horseback on their way in through a sea of unfriendly white faces and Gilly (Hannah Murray), offscreen, but mentioned by Sam. Not mentioned or seen: Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma).
- If Jon and Dany survive the battle with the army of the dead that looks likely to dominate next week’s episode, they’d better tie the knot for the sake of the Seven Kingdoms.
- Jaime Lannister is in Winterfell, and surrounded by people who hate him, but Bran waited for him as an “old friend.” How will that unfold?
- No way Bronn kills Cersei’s brothers. She’s slipping if she’s giving up her favors to Euron so easily and trusting a man loyal to both of her brothers with their execution.
- Would Cersei really slip like that? She’s crafty…
- I say Bronn is headed north now to take Tyrion up on his offer to double someone else’s bid for his services.
- Overall review of episode one: YAY!