Game of Thrones 8.1: Winterfell

Subtitle: Reunions and Revelations

It’s back! The final season of Game of Thrones starts just like the first season of Game of Thrones: a monarch converges on Winterfell with an expansive retinue and a demand that stirs up just as much trouble as it solves. A little North boy runs through forest and keep just like young Arya, before climbing up the walls of Winterfell just like young Bran.

Arya is in the crowd, too, and catches a glimpse of three men terribly important to her. I briefly feared that was all the interaction we’d get but this is the last season and this episode blows through what would take at least three weeks of an earlier season. They hit the ground running, marching, and flying. And especially reuniting.

Daenerys and Jon ride into Winterfell surrounded by a massive army and her collection of followers once pledged to someone else. The dragon queen has gotten used to people falling under her spell and into her service: the Dothraki, Jorah, Missandei, Grey Worm, Daario (not pictured) (lol, remember Daario), Tyrion, Varys, Yara, Ellaria, Olenna, and now Jon. She’s not used to the barely-if-at-all-concealed contempt of the North. It rattles her and Jon’s “I told you so” doesn’t set her at ease. But then her dragons swoop into sight and her smile lights up the storm.

Jon reunites with Bran, who is (almost) a man, and also still creepy af, and embraces Sansa before presenting the Queen. Sansa is all the North Attitude in one perfectly polished package: her eyes widen and harden at the sight of dragons, she welcomes Daenerys with the warmth of an arctic sunset, and she asks the questions that need asking such as “how are we going to feed all these people?” and “what do dragons even eat?” Daenerys quips “whatever they want” with a smug little smile that says she knows exactly what that sounds like and does not care. We don’t see Sansa’s reaction but I think they’d get along if they weren’t at odds.

Three others speak at this meet and greet: little Lady Mormont, who is super pissed about the King in the North’s abdication, Tyrion, who praises Jon, talks up the strength of Daenerys’s forces, and claims the Lannister Army is on its way to join the fray all of which goes over just as well as you think, and little Lord Umber who needs help getting his people to Winterfell and is definitely going to die by the end of this episode.

Tyrion finds Sansa up on the Stark Watching Wall and we have reunion number two. They speak awkwardly about how they were married that one time and then Sansa throws down another truth bomb: Cersei is a lying liar who lies and whatever she told him, there is a zero percent chance she’s sending the Lannister Army to help out, and Tyrion is a fool to believe her. Sansa is one hundred percent right about Cersei and Tyrion is starting to realize she is just as right about him.

Then at the Godswood we get the reunion we’ve been waiting six seasons for: Arya and Jon embrace, talk about swords, and argue about Daenerys versus Sansa. Jon’s sad no one likes his new girlfriend, and sadder that Arya backs Sansa. Now that Sansa, Bran, and Arya are all back in Winterfell, Jon appears haunted by old demons that he’s not really a Stark and his closest ally agreeing with the sister she never got along with hurts that much more. Arya isn’t turning against Jon, of course, she’s just realized Sansa is the smart one. I must say I quite like “[Sansa]’s the smartest person I’ve ever met” following right after “I used to think you were the smartest person in the world.” It’s not just Stark pride, though it is absolutely Stark pride. It’s Sansa and Arya being entirely over men telling them what smart is.

The Iron Fleet and the Golden Company pull up to King’s Landing under Euron’s direction and what matters here is that Yara Greyjoy is a) alive and b) on my TV. But Euron is on a mission to get into Cersei’s bed. And Cersei is on a mission to produce an heir, and also murder her brothers. She assigns this task to Bronn, which seems shortsighted, and gives him the crossbow Tyrion used to kill their dad, which is So The Drama. Good to know Cersei is still Scarsei.

Euron and Cersei have mutually beneficial sex, he is satisfied, gleeful even, and she is wondering how she got here and if it was worth it. It’s not explicit, but I get the impression that Cersei is not only not pregnant, she’s potentially not able to get pregnant. Nothing is going well in King’s Landing, all the scenes are dark, everybody’s in black, and Cersei’s elephants are on backorder. To be fair, I want elephants in this show, too.

While Euron is off with his Queen, Theon sneaks onto his ship to finally save Yara. She knocks him down for abandoning her and helps him back up because they’re family. That’s the reason Euron told her he’d kept her alive, but Euron murdered his brother. Euron and Cersei (and Tywin and Balon) talk about family but Yara and Theon (and all the Starks) understand what it really is. Yara loves her brother at his worst.

She’s also super pragmatic compared to most of the characters on this show. Instead of heading to Winterfell, where she’d be a fish out of water, she sets off to reclaim the Iron Islands so they’ll be ready when Daenerys has to evacuate somewhere the dead can’t follow. I do hope this is foreshadowing and not a throwaway line because Daenerys and Yara are my OTP now that Margaery is too dead to marry Sansa. Theon does want to go to Winterfell because he needs to make peace with his past misdeeds and Yara agrees because she also loves her brother at his best.

Back in Winterfell Tyrion, Varys, and Davos are conspiring to marry off Jon and Daenerys in order to secure the North’s allegiance. So anyone who thought that would happen: it will definitely not. Meanwhile, Daenerys and Jon are commiserating about how little respect Sansa has for them. Jon is sorta nostalgic about it and Daenerys is imperious. Maybe Jon was going to talk her down from her high horse, but instead two dothraki interrupt with the news that the dragons are hungry and Daenerys cares more about her babies than literally anything so they run off to check on them.

At which point we get the long awaited scene of Jon Snow riding the dragon named after his dad and it’s lovely. I could hear the How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack the whole time they were flying (apologies to Ramin Djawadi , I’m sure the dragon flying theme is great but I really love that trilogy). They land in a frozen meadow by a waterfall to consummate their forbidden love and now I can hear Anakin and Padmé’s love theme (apologies again, but “Across the Stars” is literally my favorite song in the world). Rhaegal stares at Jon in that way that says ‘I love my cousin’ aka just like Bran.

Time for two more reunions: Arya and the Hound spit and snark at each other – he whines that she left him for dead, she reminds him she stole his stuff first, exactly like he taught her to, and Arya wins that round –  and then Arya and Gendry flirt adorably. He straight up says “As you wish” which any proper fantasy fan knows translates to “I love you” and they are either endgame or will die tragically (or both, I guess). While I still think King Gendry and Queen/Hand Arya is a boring end, these two kids deserve happiness.

Sansa greets Jon with the news that Glover’s decided to sit out the latest Stark Boi war. Jon sighs a long suffering sigh and whines that he never wanted to be King in the North anyway. It’s a kind of poetry that Jon has the very best claim to the Iron Throne and the very least interest in claiming it. Sansa is Tired of Your Whining™ and once again bluntly asks the question that needs asking: why did he bend the knee? Because from where she’s sitting it’s another case of the puppy love that ended up killing the last Stark Boi King in the North.

Daenerys and Jorah find Sam in the library and she thanks him for saving her BFF’s life. Sam blushingly asks for a pardon for stealing from the Citadel and also the Tarley mansion aka his childhood home. Daenerys swallows hard and tells him not to worry about Daddy coming after him cuz oops, she burned him up. Sam is shocked but his dad was terrible and the world is probably better off, and hey, now that his bro is in charge he can go home for holidays. Except, oops, she burned him, too. And since Dickon was a doof, but a loveable one, this hits Sam hard and he flees her presence before she sees him cry.

This is both a bigger and a smaller scene than I expected. In any other season this reveal would have taken a lot more time, and I’m grateful it did not, it’s far smarter for Daenerys to own up to this straight off. Sam’s reaction is expected, and entirely reasonable, but Jorah ends the scene still fully in his Khaleesi’s corner, which if not unexpected, is interesting.

The distressed Sam runs into Bran, still creeping, who, in another example of the show’s full speed pacing, demands they tell Jon the truth about his parents. Sam heads down to the underground, where Jon is brooding with the statue of Ned Stark, and gives him some bad news followed by WTAF news. First, he explains about the whole ‘Daenerys burned my family alive’ saga. Jon starts to give her the benefit of the doubt – it’s war and all – but they were prisoners and this was an execution and that coupled with her earlier comments about Sansa’s lack of respect have him (and me!) concerned.

Then, Sam explains that it’s even worse. After seven seasons of clawing her way back to claim her birthright it turns out it’s not hers to claim. It’s his: Jon Snow is secretly Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name. Hilariously, Sam tells Jon his mum is Lyanna Stark before telling him Ned isn’t his dad – in a land with this much incest I would have lead with that, but maybe he’s trying to soften the blow that his new lady love is actually his aunt. Sam pushes hard for Jon to accept he’s the proper king and Daenerys should bend the knee to him the way she demanded he do it for her – but will she? The scene ends on the question but I think we can all agree it’s a nope.

Fire and Blood

In a dark hall in Umberland, Edd of the Night’s Watch meets up with Tormund and Berric Dondarrion just in time for them all to find Little Lord Umber stuck to a wall and surrounded by severed limbs in a pattern that looks more like the Targaryen sigil than anything. And given that Tyrion, Varys, and Davos were discussing sigils earlier, I find it important. The Night King being another secret Targaryen is bonkers bananas but also way more interesting to me than the Night King being Bran or the Night King being anonymous.

Finally, back in Winterfell a lonely soldier in a hood makes his way through the gate. Jaime Lannister looks around, clearly sad and tired, and finds Bran Stark waiting to welcome him. Way back in the very first episode of the series Jaime pushed Bran out a window to keep his transgressions secret and now Bran is keeper of allllllll the secrets: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. So that’s another theme of the episode/season: the past is catching up with everyone.

This episode is set up for the battle(s) to come but it has a lot of character moments, and even humor for all that, and is a solid start to the season.

Winning: Yara Greyjoy (pretty much everyone else has a cloud of doom bearing down on them)

Dead: Little Lord Umber

Next week: Jaime’s on trial and the battle begins.

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