Game of Thrones – S8E1 “Winterfell”, Recap and Thoughts
It’s been 595 days, and Game of Thrones is finally back. I don’t know about y’all, but I think it’s been far too long. Viewers looking for another Battle of the Bastards, Hardhome, or Rains of Castamere will be disappointed. Instead, this episode seeks to merge several subplots and focus the show for the remaining 5 episodes and inevitable confrontation with the Night King. Let’s get right into it.
The episode begins with a young child running through a crowd of people, effortlessly moving under their legs. For those astute viewers, this indeed is a callback to the first scene of the first episode, where Arya was the enchanted child as King Robert Baratheon came to Winterfell. Daenerys Targaryen, now queen, rides in on her stallion, elegantly dressed in her glowing white military uniform contrasted with Jon Snow’s heavy, dark cloak, who bent his knee to her last season.
Arya, standing stoically in the crowd, has a gallery of her greatest hits begin to roll through. Gendry arrives, while Arya gives him a warm smile. The Hound arrives, followed by a fierce frown (as she later points out, she did indeed rob him and leave him to die). Daenerys’ dragons, now two as the other was possessed by the Night King, soar through the air, scaring most but impressing Arya.
The northerners do not like Daenerys. They see her as an outsider, a foreigner. They hold harsh regards to the previous Targaryen King, Dany’s father, who brutally murdered Rickard Stark and Brandon Stark, father and brother to the now-deceased Ned Stark. They are loyal to Jon Snow, the man who liberated them, but not to the woman he calls Queen. This is best exemplified with Sansa, Lady of the North, icily snarking to Dany when she begins with pleasantries in their initial conversation. Jon also attempts to greets Bran, but his newfound power of having the entire collective essence of time flowing through his brain has sullied his social skills.
In the next scene, Sansa has assembled the northern lords, all loyal to Jon Snow, for a roundtable discussion following his bending of the knee to Daenerys. The consensus among the room, best gauged by their grumbling, is that Jon yielded the North’s new freedom to a foreign woman. Jon counters this argument by arguing that his obligation is to protect The North; by yielding to Dany, he has brought 2 dragons and the “world’s greatest army”. This “world’s greatest army” is composed of Northerners, Dothraki, and as Tyrion, Hand of the Queen, reveals, Lannisters. This prompts fierce outcry by the Northern Lords due to their obvious distaste for Cersei.
Sansa and Tyrion have a quick aside in the next scene, their first reunion since the Red Wedding, where they speak candidly about their experiences. Both have survived until now, but their roles have almost been swapped. Sansa, once a spoiled brat, has been subject to rape by Ramsay Bolton and various other trials and emerged with a cold, analytical demeanor, while Tyrion has made several callous missteps while serving under Daenerys. Sansa, seizing this duality, comments that Tyrion was once the cleverest man she knew, implicitly drawing said connection.
We move to the Godswood, where Arya and Jon have a reunion. This may seem improbable, but this is the first Jon and Arya have seen each other since Jon departed for the Night’s Watch, gifting her Needle. The two were always close in Winterfell yet the chaos of past events has keep them separated in geographically opposite directions. In the most Stark way possible, the two compare their swords, Arya with the light Needle, having only used it “once or twice”, and Jon with his Valyrian Steel Sword Longclaw, which Arya comments is “too heavy”. The two talk about the current politics candidly, while Jon is surprised to hear Arya defend Sansa’s reservations towards him bending the knee. Arya comments on Sansa’s intellect and shrewdness, and how her intent is to defend the family.
Jon says he’s doing the same. Arya tells him to not forget that.
We cut to Cersei, still looking maniacal and domineering with her black dress and silver highlights (pay attention to the clothing design of Game of Thrones; it is often very revealing about a character’s emotional state). Clyburn, Hand of the Queen, informs her that the white walkers have breached the wall; she only replies with a cool “Good”. On the horizon, Euron Greyjoy, the pirate we met last season, returns with the Golden Company, a group of mercenaries. Underneath the ship is a restrained Yara, whom Euron uses to socialize with as his crew is incapable of speaking due to their tongues being cut (lovely!).
Unfortunately, elephants did not accompany Captain Strickland alongside his mercenaries, due to the logistics of transporting them across the long sea (or maybe, the producers don’t want to waste money on their CGI). Cersei is displeased by this. Euron requests a “private audience” with the Queen, which despite Cersei’s initial rejection, he gets with his own smooth words. After the “private audience” was finished, Euron gloats with Cersei, saying he’d put a prince in her belly, causing Cersei to wince as she sips her red wine. Obviously, we learned last season that Cersei said she was pregnant, though with my careful analysis (read: pausing and staring) I was unable to spot any obvious signs of a pregnancy.
A man appears on the ship Yara’s being held on and throws axes into faces! We’re met with Theon Greyjoy pulling an axe out of a face, reminding us that yes, this show has gore. Theon wordlessly frees Yara, only to have her headbutt him down, then offer a hand to pick him up in a great show of expression to the audience. Following this expression of brotherhood (or sisterhood? Someone suggest a good gender-neutral alternative), Yara states her intent to take back the Iron Islands, were Daenerys to need a safe spot were things to take a turn for the worst. However, Theon’s heart is fighting back in Winterfell; Yara notices this and tells him to go follow his bliss.
Winterfell, Part 2
The Dragon Ride
Varys and Tyrion, two exceptionally smart men, discuss who gets the Iron Throne if both Jon and Dany survive the upcoming war (note their pessimism), saying that both should marry and rule concurrently (a step towards democracy, I guess…)
Meanwhile, Dany and Jon visit the dragons, whose appetite has been decreased due to their dislike of the harsh winters. Dany mounts the large dragon, and sensing Rhaegal’s affinity for Jon, invites him to do the same. Jon mounts the dragon, and decides to learn best by experiencing. For those seeing a similarity in name, Jon is indeed riding the dragon named after his secretive father Rhaegar Targaryen, but of course he doesn’t know that (yet). Following a course that would inevitably end with the strongest of us losing our stomach contents, Dany and Jon dismount near some scenic waterfalls, while Jon begins to mount his second dragon.
Arya, Part 2
Arya speaks with Gendry, and gives him a blueprint of some of the weapons she’d like him to forge with the dragonglass mined. Dragonglass is capable of killing white walkers, so is invaluable to the combined force. The two use the situation as an excuse to exchange some quick flirts. Arya then “reunites” with the Hound, Sandor Clegane, where she coldly reminds him that she robbed him.
Daenerys meets with Samwell Tarly, who was off reading books or something. Dany thanks Samwell for curing Jorah’s greyscale, once thought to be incurable, and promises him a promotion at the Citadel, were the Iron Throne to be hers, along with a reward of some sort. Samwell asks for a pardon; he stole several books from the Citadel, as well as the Valyrian Steel Sword belonging to his house (which would eventually be his, in all fairness). Dany reveals to him that she burned the elder Tarly for insubordination after he refused to bend the knee. Samwell was distraught, but he kind of hated his father anyways, so he was relieved to hear his brother was now the lord. Of course, Daenerys also burned Samwell’s brother, who was with his dad at the time. Samwell is horrified by his actions and leaves, only to encounter Bran. Bran, with his infinite knowledge, tells Samwell to reveal the truth about Jon Snow’s parentage to him, which Samwell decides to do (despite his protests given Bran is his actual brother).
In the Winterfell Crypts, Samwell speaks to Jon, who’s delighted to see his closest friend once more. Samwell decides to tell Jon the truth; he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, true name being Aegon Targaryen, and is the true heir to the Iron Throne, superseding Dany. Jon angrily questions Samwell, asking why Ned, the most honorable man he knew, would lie to him, to which Samwell claims Ned did it to protect him from the wrath of Robert Baratheon were he to discover his existence, thus sullying his own name by fathering a fake bastard. Of course, Jon is reacting as reasonably as anyone would were they to discover they’ve been mounting their aunt. Samwell, obviously distraught with the news of Dany’s murder spree against his family, tells Jon he should be the ruler over her; claiming he would give up his crown to protect his people, but questions whether she would do the same.
The Last Hearth
Finally, we meet Beric Dondarrion, the man who can’t die and has a cool flaming sword, in the Last Heart, home of House Umber and the northernmost castle. It has been ravaged by White Walkers, who have passed through it in their conquest towards the south. Tormund also joins Beric, with no one being surprised he’s still alive (for now). They encounter remaining members of the Night’s Watch, led by Eddison Tollett. Inside, they find the dead body of Ned Umber, whom Sansa asked to get his remaining banners in the Great Hall scene, pinned to the wall, surrounded by a spiral of decapitated arms. The spiral is a white walker calling-card; indicating that they wanted this display to be symbolic.
As Tormund speaks, back against the wall, the eyes of Ned Umber reopen with his new icy white pupils illuminating in the dark room, indicating he has been reanimated as a Wight. He cries a blood curdling scream while raising a knife to attack Tormund, though Berric intercepts this attack and plunges his flaming sword inside him. The young lord Umber cries out as the fire envelopes the spiral and kills him.
Jaime, with a Beard
Jaime arrives in Winterfell, with some additional hair and a fuzzy amount of facial hair (still gorgeous though). As he looks around, he stares at Bran Stark, wheelchair bound, whom at the end of the first episode of the first season, he pushed out of a window after having a “private audience” with Cersei. Bran has probably had knowledge of this event occurring for quite some time, making the reunion all that much sweeter.