Not a lot has changed in Winterfell since the pilot.
Poor Ned Umber. You might not even recognize the name, but he has three major scenes in the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere and one of them is his untimely death. The boy can’t be more than 10 but he’s been through it, and if his death is any indication, Season 8 is not only going to be more brutal, but it’s now personal.
Game of Thrones is a notoriously difficult show to follow. HBO has tried to fix this with comprehensive pre-roll and some well-placed dialogue, but there are so many characters and plotlines that it’s easy to forget how people relate to each other or what specific characters are fighting for. Luckily for viewers, the first episode of Season 8 is all about catch-up. A lot has happened since the pilot, but not a lot has changed either.
The episode wastes no time reminding the audience what’s at stake. Previously, the intro was a showcase for the world’s various locations — The Trident, Meereen, Dorne — but now it’s just down to three: Winterfell, King’s Landing, and The Wall. This in effect shows us the three remaining sides. If you exist in the world of Game of Thrones you’re either with Jon Snow and Daenerys at Winterfell, the Lannisters at King’s Landing, or the White Walkers who in the Season 7 finale, broke through with an ice dragon.
There’s some padding here as we get detailed looks at various locations within those three main ones — the crypt under Winterfell and the trophy room in King’s Landing are just two. These will surely become important later. The Lannisters stored the bones of all the dragons they slaughtered in that room and now the dragons are back. The crypt at Winterfell becomes the meeting place for Jon Snow and Samwell later as they discuss a rather important bit of information.
First, though, we get a heroic ride into Winterfell. Jon arrives with Daenerys, the Unsullied, and two dragons in tow, which puts a lot of the Northerners on edge. Arya’s watching from the ground with the rest of the townsfolk as three important men from her past — her brother but also the Hound and Gendry — follow right behind. Sansa tells Jon that Arya is “lurking somewhere,” which is a direct callback to the pilot, where she watches the Lannisters and King Robert ride into the city. Seems not much has changed, and it’s just one of many parallels we see to the first episode.
This is Ned Umber’s first scene. We see him trying to push his way through the crowds of people watching the army arrive and Arya moves out of the way to give him a view. It’s a reminder of how far the Arya who couldn’t see the Lannisters arrive in the pilot has come, but also one of how young Ned is. He’s a child and this war is no place for one.
In the Season 8 premiere, things are pretty awkward in Winterfell.
Things are pretty awkward in Winterfell. Ned is sent to rally his family’s men and bring them to Winterfell. Lyanna Mormont tells Jon that they named him “King in the North” and later Sansa brings up similar concerns. How can the North trust Jon when he’s bent the knee to another Queen? Jon understands that this war against the dead has nothing to do with titles and everything to do with survival, but like everything Jon does, nobody listens, which is certainly going to have consequences later.
Now we get a glimpse of the other major player. After the most anti-climatic rescue in existence, Theon and Yara talk on the deck of one of the Iron Fleet’s ships. She wants to go back to the Iron Islands to support Daenerys because the White Walkers can’t cross water (yet). Theon, however, wants to return to Winterfell to fight alongside the Starks. Theon has been on his redemption arc since finally breaking free of Ramsay Bolton, and now that he’s made his amends to his family, he can make his amends to Bran and the rest of the Starks.
Meanwhile, Cersei and Euron, who are betrothed but just barely, are having a private meeting in her quarters. He wants to put a future king in her belly. She’s dubious. In another part of King’s Landing, her Hand, Qyburn, gives Bronn a crossbow. She’s ordered him to track down her traitorous brothers.
We get a moment of levity between Jon and Daenerys, who go on a dragon ride. Jon gets on Rhaegal’s back and flies through the countryside. It’s fitting considering who he learns is his father later in the episode. It’s also just another reminder that these are two Targaryens and only one of them gets the Throne. Tyrion, Davos, and Varys talk about what it would be like to have two rulers, but who knows if a united Seven Kingdoms is an option after this war with the dead.
Here comes another throwback. Jon and Daenerys land near a waterfall and Daenerys suggests maybe staying here forever. The last time we heard a woman recommend this to Jon it was Ygritte, and that didn’t end up too well.
Gendry, another contender for the Iron Throne in case you’ve forgotten, makes the Hound an ax. Then Arya walks in. The last time she saw the Hound she left him for dead, so that’s not the most comfortable encounter. She and Gendry exchange awkward but warm looks with each other as she gives him a design. He once again calls her “m’lady,” which she’s not fond of. She’s become more than just another rich girl since they last met. He’s also a lot more than a Flea Bottom blacksmith. He’s also the only person left alive who’s allowed to address someone as “m’lady” and get away with it.
In another part of Winterfell, Jorah and Daenerys meet up with Samwell, who saved Jorah’s life last season from greyscale. This, however, turns into a conversation where Daenerys tells Sam that she killed his father and brother when they refused to take the knee. It’s unclear how he feels about it. He’s never had the best relationship with his family. His father always said he wasn’t worthy, which is why he joined the Night’s Watch. However, that means Sam is now the head of his house, the last of the Tarly line.
He doesn’t get time to think about it though because Bran intercepts him and tells him he needs to tell Jon about his parentage. Bran has been lurking in the corners of every scene in Winterfell, staring and making eye contact with some specific characters. He claims he’s not “Bran” as we knew him anymore, but the way he looks at Jamie Lannister, who’s been hiding out in Winterfell this whole time, it’s clear there’s still a part of the original Bran left. The very first episode of the show saw Bran discovering that Jamie and Cersei were sleeping together, with Jamie pushing Bran out a window. It’s telling that this encounter is the final shot in the first episode of Season 8.
As we expected, Jon doesn’t take the news of his parentage particularly well.
Before we wrap up though, we enter the crypt below Winterfell, a fitting place for a familial revelation. Jon and Sam exchange hugs (remember, they haven’t seen each other since Jon was still Commander of the Night’s Watch back in Season 5) but get right into the topic at hand. Sam reveals the truth: that he’s Aegon Targaryen, the true heir to the Iron Throne. As we expected, Jon doesn’t take this particularly well, although it’s unclear if he’s more distressed by what this means for him as a pawn in this whole thing, or by what it means for him and Daenerys.
We also need to check in on the aftermath of the destruction of the Wall. It looks like the ragtag group of Tormund and the Brotherhood Without Banners made it out alive and are at Castle Black hoping to find survivors. Luckily, they run into a few members of the Night’s Watch and they all agree to ride down to Winterfell, beating the dead so they can prepare for battle. However, along with survivors they run into a cryptic message left by the Night King. Ned Umber’s body is attached to the wall, surrounded by severed hands in a spiral, which is a symbol we’ve seen used by the Night King before. This is a pattern that was created by the Children of the Forest, who were the originators of the White Walkers, but we still don’t know what exactly they mean. Considering what happened to Ned, who was sent out early in the episode to round up his house for the Starks, it can’t mean anything good.
But there is something more important to note here. This isn’t just the Night King taking any other victim. It’s personal now. The Starks sent Ned out for men and he’ll never come back. In a way, Ned’s storyline is a microcosm of everything in Game of Thrones. People had to grow up, get dirty, face death, and take on responsibilities they weren’t prepared for. This doesn’t bode well for the rest of our characters, but that’s a story for another episode.
Questions we want answered
- What’s going to happen to Jamie now that his location is compromised? What will the Starks do?
- Will Jon tell Daenerys about his parentage, or will it ruin their strategy?
- Will Gendry’s parentage also pose a problem?
- Is Cersei pregnant?
- Will Theon make it to Winterfell?
- From the promo, it looks like Tormund and the rest make it back to Winterfell before the dead arrive, but how long until the White Walkers get there?
- Will we get a Tormund and Brienne reunion?
- What does the spiral mean?
Who died this episode?
- Ned Umber. What is dead may never die.
- Remember Ed Sheeran’s controversial cameo last season? According to Bronn, the soldier had his eyelids burned clean off.
- The first line of dialogue this season was a testicles joke, just in case you forgot what kind of show this is.
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