'Game of Thrones' Premiere Recap: Reunions, a Rescue, and Jon Snow's Big Revelation
It's time for the Game of Thrones home stretch. One episode of six remaining is in the bank, which means we have five more left to go to see how this whole war with the Night King is going to play out -- he's already sending creepy spiral symbols! The premiere, called "Winterfell," was directed by series veteran David Nutter and written by Dave Hill, and it sets the table for the final season in a lot of exciting ways.
Here's everything you need to know about where each of the houses stands after the Season 8 premiere. It's winter, folks.
House Stark (or, a series of family reunions)
You might have noticed several callbacks to the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones in the Season 8 premiere, appropriately called "Winterfell," beginning with the procession of Daenerys and Jon Snow back to Winterfell. In the first season, it was King Robert Baratheon who came to Winterfell to get Ned to be his Hand of the King. What a long few years it's been, made the more obvious by the various Jon Snow reunion callbacks in Winterfell this week.
Jon reunites with Bran, who arrived at Winterfell last season after Jon had already taken off to Dragonstone. Although Jon and Bran weren’t the closest of the Stark siblings, Bran is the eldest male Stark… or he would be, except current version of Bran is more Three-Eyed Raven than the boy Jaime Lannister pushed out of a tower (which provides our character-mirror cliffhanger this week, when Jaime comes across Three-Eyed Raven version of Bran for the first time).
Jon also reunites with Arya, which is probably the most heartwarming of the Stark reunions. If you recall, Jon spent some time in the pilot getting Arya’s sword, Needle, forged for her before he left for the Wall. Not only has Arya kept Needle, even when it was dangerous to keep any part of her old life, but Jon gets to see her safe. There's a moment of levity when Jon asks her if she's used it, and Arya demures. However, the person forging a new weapon for Arya this time will be her crush from Seasons 2 and 3: Gendry!
The bastard of Robert Baratheon, who can't stop calling Arya "my lady," brings his craftsmanship to the table, helping build dragonglass weapons for the upcoming battle against the wights. Not only was he a pretty good blacksmith before he went North of the Wall, but now he’s one of the few soldiers alive who knows what they're facing. Character-wise, who wouldn’t love a bastard Baratheon and Arya Stark getting together? After everyone and everything that needs killing gets killed, of course. Until then, Gendry’s best move might be to flirt through weapon modification. The shortest way to an assassin girl’s heart is to update her ancient dagger for White Walker use.
Does the North remember, though? (or, the realities of short-term political memory)
The big event in Winterfell in the Season 8 premiere is the Northern Assembly, or everyone getting mad at Jon for letting last season play out the way it did. Jon Snow earned the respect of the Northern houses by re-taking Winterfell from Ramsay at the Battle of the Bastards, then proved himself a wise leader (or so it seemed at the time) by sparing House Umber and House Karstark at the beginning of Season 7.
Jon’s song has remained the same for a long time now: The living need more men to fight the Night King and his army of the dead. What changed at the end of last season is that he had sex with his Aunt-Queen and saw the Night King fell a dragon. None of these things make the Northern Houses feel any better about Jon's news that they're all under Targaryen rule again -- you can see it in Sansa’s face when she gave Winterfell over to Daenerys.
From a series standpoint, it's pretty amazing that the Northern houses are still a thorn in the side of anyone who's making good decisions at Winterfell. It doesn't matter who's running the show; it always seems like the other Northern houses live to doubt their leaders. Robb Stark took a Queen, which enraged the Karstarks and certainly didn’t end well for most of the Stark family. When the North fell under Bolton rule for quite some time after the events of the Red Wedding, Jon Snow liberated them and started prepping everyone for the true war. Sansa Stark amassed enough grain to feed the troops and refugees fleeing winter. Sansa can doubt Jon and Tyrion in private, but the other heads of Northern houses should recognize by this point that decisions are made above them, and that's probably for the best. Poor Ned Umber has to learn that lesson again.
House Greyjoy (or, FINALLY a successful rescue)
The long arc of Theon Greyjoy has finally begun to pay off. Leaving Euron aside for a moment, the siblings Greyjoy don’t have the best track record of rescuing each other. Yara abandoned her Theon rescue attempt in a previous season because of Ramsay's dogs, and last season, Theon’s trauma surfaced and he jumped ship rather than fight Euron for Yara. After last season’s pep talk from Jon Snow and beating the face of a doubting Ironborn, Theon was finally ready to make a successful Greyjoy and Greyjoy vs. Greyjoy rescue attempt.
Since Theon was freed from Ramsay and managed to un-Reek himself, the bond between him and his sister has grown into one of the most emotionally reliable bedrocks is the show's recent seasons. Sure, these characters might not make it until the end, but -- like many of the pairings this episode -- it's just great to see them back together. Sadly, they’re headed to the War in the North. It makes character sense that Theon would want to redeem himself in Winterfell after having redeemed himself as a Greyjoy, but odds of survival are pretty freaking low up there.
House Lannister (or, what is Cersei thinking about besides elephants?)
Cersei continues to execute the half of the plan that caused Jaime to ride North at the end of last season. If you don't remember: She’s going to let the Night King and the Wolves/Dragons fight it out up North, then mop up the survivors with her hired soldiers of the Golden Company. Euron managed to transport the Golden Company to King's Landing -- sans elephants -- and finally gets to sleep with the Queen, which has been his whole thing. Euron arc completed.
Cersei’s actions this episode are... curious. Last season she didn’t care if King's Landing knew she was sleeping with her brother, then she revealed she was pregnant. Yet here she is drinking wine and looking surly, then sleeping with Euron. Is there a baby that is getting a steady dose of umbilical wine (on top of those incest genes) that Cersei now wants to "legitimize" by pretending it’s Euron’s? That seems like a Cersei way to go about her latest pregnancy.
Meanwhile, you don't turn your back on Cersei, so there’s no rest for Bronn of the Blackwater, who is sent to kill the traitorous Lannisters up North. This seems like a dumb choice in assassin (though good choice in weaponry), as Bronn has more of an emotional connection to Tyrion and Jaime than gold. We're always told that Bronn's out for himself, but always seems to follow his emotions when he gets sucked back into the action. This reads more as a way to get Bronn up north to battle the Night King's army, but maybe we get some good showdowns between Bronn and the brothers Lannister in the future.
House Targaryen (or, Jon rides a dragon)
It's a bit unbelievable that Jon Snow is so taken aback by the reveal of his true parentage. Sure, he's been raised to think he’s Ned Stark’s bastard so fully that Cat hated poor Jon because Ned failed to disclose what he was up to in claiming Jon as his own. This sequence of events is covered in some painstakingly explicit dialogue during the premiere. Yeah, Robert would have tried to kill Jon, but maybe still tell your wife? Then -- wait for it, because we had to wait 67 episodes for this -- then Jon rides a dragon before knowing about his true lineage. He probably just thought he could ride dragons because their mother liked him, like how I can ride my girlfriend’s Great Dane.
Jon Snow, never the deep thinker when deep feelings are involved, is finally told that the power balance he caved to last season with Daenerys has been a lie from the very beginning: There is a living male Targaryen heir, and it’s him. We didn't get to see how this knowledge plays out, we just get to see it dropped on him like a ton of bricks. It’s a momentous event in the series, the final step to affirming R + L = J (telling J).
When’s the best time before a siege by the Army of the Dead to tell your girlfriend she’s your Aunt-Queen and you’re the rightful King? Asking for a friend.
As for the OG Targ in this episode: Daenerys does the best she can from a position of power. The North is resistant to her rule, but she’s also acutely aware of the real danger. She can’t stop making out with the King of the North, but she handles Sam Tarly in the most responsible way you can (after you’ve burned his father and brother alive).
The Army of the Dead (or, spiral out)
Just to track on your map of Westeros: Beric, Edd, and Tormund make their jump-scary discovery at Last Hearth, and the poor boy with the blue eyes and a stake through his chest is Ned Umber. We still don’t know if the symbols associated with the Night King and the Army of the Dead mean anything besides being creepy, but their inclusion here manages to pull together a lot of early-season wight stuff, at the very least. They are on the march south, and Winterfell isn’t ready to rise up to meet them, short as they are on troops; the Lannister army doesn’t show up in the end, just a single gold-handed man who once pushed a little boy out of the window.