‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 8 Premiere Recap: In ‘Winterfell,’ Jon Snow Learns His True Identity
Sunday night marked yet another bitter-sweet moment in television, as the eighth and final season of HBO’s hit fantasy drama series Game of Thrones premiered.
Any major fan of the show recalls exactly what transpired at the end of season seven, which ended in August 2017: the Army of the Dead, led by the terrifying Night King, stole one of Queen Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons (Viserion) and turned him into an ice dragon, which they used to destroy the Wall with blue fire. Thus, the zombie-like White Walkers are now dangerously close to the living.
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), aka “Khaleesi,” ride into the Starks’ home of Winterfell to substantially big fanfare and hope to unite a somewhat divided North with regards to how to approach the imminent invasion of the Dead. Jon reveals he gave up his title of King of the North to bow down to Daenerys — with whom he had sex at the end of previous season — as the true Queen. Little Lyanna Mormont makes very clear she is disgusted by Jon’s decision, and the feisty young lady can’t help but wonder why he would ever do this.
Jon finally introduces his cousin Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to Daenerys, who compliments Sansa for her good looks and beautiful home of Winterfell.
“Winterfell is yours, your grace,” Sansa tells Daenerys in perhaps the most dry and emotionless way possible. Of course, we can’t really blame Sansa for distrusting Khaleesi almost immediately, given the history between their two families. Daenery’s father Aerys II — the so-called “Mad King” — burned Sansa’s grandfather Rickard and uncle Brandon Stark by burning them alive. Daenerys, meanwhile, surely doesn’t like the fact that Sansa’s late father Ned helped Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) kill her father and then sent her into exile. Plus, Sansa strongly suspects Daenerys simply made Jon “bend the knee” to her and accept her as his queen by seducing him. Sansa even asks Jon point-blank later in the episode: ““Did you bend the knee to save the North? Or because you love her?” Obviously, we all know the real answer to that is “both,” although Jon would only likely admit to doing so to save the North. However, he doesn’t answer the question.
Jon also reunites with Arya (Maisie Williams) in perhaps one of the most adorable scenes of the episode. He is surprised by his young cousin’s bravery and bad-ass nature, while she can’t help but wonder how he managed to survive after being stabbed in the heart (literally) multiple times by the men of the Night’s Watch. After a big embrace and a brief showing off of their swords, Jon and Arya pledge to remain loyal to their Stark family, even when they may have disagreements with people like Sansa. Arya also gets to briefly reunite with Gendry (Joe Dempsie) in this episode, after telling Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) to essentially get lost. Gendry is using his blacksmith skills to forge weapons made out of dragonglass, one of the few materials known to kill White Walkers. The swords and axes end up glistening and looking amazingly lethal!
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Varys (Conleth Hill) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) all ponder their roles as wise old men and potential advisers to leaders Jon and Daenerys, while saying they believe the pair would make a good couple (they don’t even know they already are, at this point), although Varys is the one who most bluntly says in a pessimistic way, “Nothing lasts.” Tyrion and Varys — who is a eunuch — also exchange a few brief jokes about testicles near the beginning of the episode that briefly seem like they’re going to form a running theme, but thank God they’re not.
Jon also learns to ride one of Daenery’s dragons for the first time, after she essentially forces him to. Fittingly enough, he rides Rhaegal, the one named after his father and Daenery’s brother Rhaegar Targaryen. The scene of the pair riding dragons is visually pleasing, but Jon’s utter fear at some moments and seeing him hang on for dear life — by the creature’s scaly back? How is that not dangerous? — is even more entertaining. Jon and Daenerys then kiss and the dragons give him a glare that is utterly golden and meme-worthy.
Meanwhile, Theon Greyjoy (Alife Allen) recues his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) after she had been captured last season by their sociopath uncle Euron (Pilou Asbaek). After arriving at King’s Landing, Euron approaches Cersei (Lena Headey) and shows her how much he has supported her with troops and other resources to fight the Army of the Dead. Cersei does not seem impressed and realizes Euron is simply trying to get in her pants.
“You want a whore? Buy one,” she tells Euron. “You want a queen? Earn her.” Cersei ends up sleeping with Euron anyway, perhaps out of sheer boredom and loneliness. Euron reveals he knows she and her brother Jaime — the “Kingslayer” — were in an incestuous relationship, but she does not seem much perturbed by this. The two may be perfect for each other, as they’re both unbelievably crazy. There’s also the fact that Cersei told Jaime last season she is pregnant with his child, although she could simply be bluffing.
In a shocking scene — that was reportedly set to originally air at the end of last season — Qyburn (Anton Leser) interrupts Bronn’s (Jerome Flynn) sexual encounter with three prostitutes by telling him Cersei has made Bronn an offer: to kill Tyrion and Jaime with the same crossbow Tyrion killed his father Tywin, in exchange for a large sum of money. Of course, Bronn is best friends with both Jaime and Tyrion, so who knows what he could do.
At the end of the episode, Sam Tarly (John Bradley) finally meets Daenerys, who is accompanied by Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Daenerys thanks Sam for curing Jorah last season after he was afflicted by a skin disease known as greyscale. However, things get awkward and sad really quick, as Daenerys learns of Sam’s full name and realizes his brother and father were among two men she executed by having her dragons burn them alive after they refused to kneel to her. Unsurprisingly, Sam is a wreck upon learning this news and you can’t help but feel terrible for the poor guy. Sam then goes to Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who tells him he must reveal to Jon who he truly is and not Bran, as Sam and Jon were more close as “brothers” while serving together on the Night’s Watch.
In the crypts of Winterfell, Sam finally reveals to Jon that he’s not a bastard, but rather the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lynna Stark, his late adoptive father Ned Stark’s sister. Jon appears completely out of sorts — as anyone would be, honestly — upon learning he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, yada-yada-yada. He also seems angry that Ned lied to him all his life, even though it was to protect him. Jon calls Sam’s idea of making Daenerys yield her place to him as King “treason,” but Sam insists it should happen because of who Jon is. Plus, it will also soon hit Jon that Daenerys is his biological aunt, which makes their now-sexual relationship also incest… pretty repulsive, even if both of them are indisputably good-looking.
Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer explore the House of Umber and discover a little boy belonging to the family dismembered and plastered on a wall, in a jarring scene. To give the viewers an even bigger scare, the Umber boy briefly comes back to life and lets out a terrifying howl but is quickly destroyed with fire. This shows a clear threat from the White Walkers that they are inching ever closer to the North, and recalls the pilot, when the Night’s Watch members found several Wildlings dismembered. Another scene that hints at the pilot is the very last one of the episode: we see Jaime finally arrive at Winterfell and one of the first people he spots and is extremely horrified to see is Bran, whom he made a cripple at the end of the series’ first episode by pushing him off a tower after Bran discovered Jaime and Cersei having sex. No crime goes unpunished, Jaime! Will he suffer the consequences?
The preview for episode 2 doesn’t show much, unfortunately, except for Daenerys vowing to avenge her father’s murder and the North continuing its preparations for the battle against the Dead.