Over-analyzing ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 episode 1: ‘Winterfell’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Winter has come. After almost two years of waiting (and 67 hours of screentime), “Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 1 has revealed itself on HBO.

Here at Super, we wish to share our excitement by re-watching the episode with you. But instead of a recap, we will detail all the Easter Eggs, little references and how all the little clues tie in to the great story that George R.R. Martin—and by extension, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff—are telling. We will tie in every little thing in these episodes with the events that have happened in the past.

Yes, we will turn everyone in Three-Eyed Ravens, able to see the events on Westeros from season 1 to season 8 all at once. We will share and savor the Maester-level intelligence. This is the best, and we believe, the only way to truly appreciate for what the most anticipated season of TV ever.

So massive, SUPER SPOILER warnings on a level never seen before.

We get a complete new opening billboard, with a much more refined, more mechanical map. The astrolabe—originally literally the astrolabe in the Citadel library— is also different, now engraved with images from the previous seasons: Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) dragons being born with the Red Comet, the Red Wedding and zombie Viserion destroying the Wall. Previously, the astrolabe featured scenes from the far history of Westeros up to Robert’s Rebellion.

Locations identified: The Wall, Last Hearth, Winterfell, King’s Landing.

The credits also go into the locations: We can see things like the Crypts of Winterfell and the Red Keep. It’s important to note that this is the first major change in the opening credits. Yes, each opening sequence in the previous six seasons was slightly different—each showed which locations were featured in the episode—but here everything is different. The images literally “zoom in” on the locations to show the insides or around them the same way the show brings the viewers “inside” the happenings in these places.

After over a year and a half of waiting, this first episode, “Winterfell,” had to face a lot of expectations.

This episode has a LOT of callbacks, particularly the first episode of the first season, “Winter is Coming.” In fact, this episode is almost entirely a callback. The Wintertown kid climbing the tree and running among the people is a callback to Bran Stark (Issac Hempstead Wright) climbing the stone walls and Arya (Maisie Williams) running around.

This is confirmed when we see Arya looking at the Unsullied marching up to Winterfell. This happens almost immediately after the events of season 7’s episode 7, “The Dragon and the Wolf.” So Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is gathering the armies of the living at Winterfell to battle the army of the dead. The Starks are already at Winterfell, of course, and now we see the Unsullied—disciplined as always—and the Dothraki arrive there.

If you were looking for the weep-worthy Arya-Jon reunion, that doesn’t happen until later in this episode. Jon is riding up on a horse, so Arya is not in his line of sight. This is the same reason the Hound (Rory McCann) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) don’t see Arya.

Remember that the North is a very insular and untrusting place, so the literally cold reception all these “Southerners” (basically anyone not from a Stark hold) is to be expected. The show literally shows us people from Wintertown giving Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Messandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) cold looks because these folk have never seen people of a different race.

Dany’s entire entourage is here of course, with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleith Hill) exchanging balls jokes in the wagon. There are a lot of balls jokes in this episode.

Then Drogon and Rhaegal fly over everyone, triggering panic among the locals. Remember this is the first time these people have seen dragons. It would probably be the same if we saw a living dinosaur (yes, I took that one from “Jurassic Park”). These things are not myths after all.

In role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, there is such a thing as dragon panic. It’s a magical effect that causes beings who are in the presence of a dragon to experience irrational terror. That could be at work here.

So the dragons fly over Winterfell and we get the range of emotions that come with them. Arya seems overjoyed but Sansa (Sophie Turner) is none too pleased. Dany’s smug expression is priceless.

The arrival of Queen Daenerys at Winterfell deliberately echoes the arrival of King Robert in the very first episode, down to House Stark lining up to meet the regent in the courtyard.

Now remember, Bran arrived at Winterfell while Jon was elsewhere so these two haven’t seen each other yet either. This explains Jon’s emotional reaction, but of course Bran gives him the trademark Bran-eyed-Raven treatment. When Bran says he’s almost a man, he’s referencing the fact that he is now partially a magical creature, no longer completely human.

Another callback to season 1: Jon asks where Arya is. The reaction from Sansa: “lurking somewhere.” Yes she is, and we know now that Jon has been informed that Arya was safe in Winterfell.

The look that Sansa gives Dany is one of the many, many, many suspicious looks handed out this episode. Dany had arrived at Winterfell as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms so the Lady of Winterfell is essentially handing the settlement (and the territory) to her. She is as suspicious—if not more so—as her subjects of this Targaryen queen.

It’s important to remember that the Targaryens were a terrible plague upon Westeros, and the Starks—and the North—suffered immensely at their hands.

Sansa echoes her father when she tells Dany: “Winterfell is yours, your grace.” Ned Stark had told Robert: “Your grace, Winterfell is yours.”

Of course, all of this is broken up by Bran going all, enough with the pleasantries, oh by the way, miss queen, the Night King took your dragon. We find out from Dany’s shocked expressions that she didn’t know that the Night King had indeed resurrected Viserion as a wight ice dragon at the end of last season. This cold, calculating personality that Bran has is the latest sign he is transforming into something not quite human.

It also indicates that the living humans do not have a complete survey of where the army of dead is or what they had done. They are living with generalities.

This is why Qyburn (Anton Lesser) is quite general when he tells Cersei (Lena Headey) the dead have broken through the wall. It’s a general observation.

With her answer (“Good”) and her menacing shoulder pads, Cersei has clearly completed her own transformation from secret operator for the Iron Throne to actual comic book villainess. She doesn’t care about the collateral damage; she wants the dead to wipe out the resistance so she can in turn wipe out the dead.

It takes someone as deluded and as devious as Cersei to think this is a possibility. It never occurs to her that all she rules over can indeed be threatened by the supernatural threat of the Night King. Or maybe she does, she just doesn’t care.

As the shot zooms out, we can see the boats of Euron Greyjoy’s (Pilou Asbaek) Iron Fleet in Blackwater Bay. Euron is delivering Captain Harry Strickland (Mark Rissmann) and the Golden Company, the famous mercenary company, come to fight for Cersei’s coin.

Perhaps the standout meme from the episode comes when Cersei is clearly disappointed that the Golden Company did not bring their famous elephants. “I was hoping for elephants,” she sneers.

In the books, the Golden Company is well known for bringing their war elephants to bear in combat, helping their fearsome reputation. But Strickland’s explanation (elephants don’t do boats) makes sense. When Dany brought the Dothraki and the dragons with her across the Narrow Sea, the concern was whether the horses (infamously afraid of crossing big bodies of water) and the dragons would not panic. Apparently, the horses made it, and as we saw from the previous season, the dragons simply flew. It is important to note that in the books, the Golden Company were a big deal.

Cersei of course needs the Golden Company (all 20,000 men and 2,000 horses) to fight the gathered (or surviving) forces of the North because her own army was decimated when attacked by the Dothraki and the dragons in last season’s episode 4, “The Spoils of War.”

Euron hasn’t forgotten what he was promised, and, after some fighting words, Cersei decides to go for it. Their intentions are different. Euron wants the bragging rights of having banged a queen, but he also wants something else: “I’m going to put a prince in your belly.” Cersei just smirks and drinks wine, clearly showing that she was lying when she told Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) that she was carrying his baby. Cersei is most likely pulling Euron’s strings since she needs his ships and fighting men.

Euron’s men aren’t doing a lot of fighting. Someone is picking off the men on his ship.

It turns out to be Theon (Alfie Allen), come to rescue his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan). After being freed, Yara gives Theon a good head butt—she hasn’t forgotten Theon ran away when she got captured—but she helps him up and the two escape.

Yara wants to go back to the Iron Islands because, with Euron and the fleet in King’s Landing, she figures they can take them back. But Theon is hesitant. He wants to go to Winterfell and fight alongside the Starks.

This is redemption for Theon, who had come full circle. He began as an unwilling ward of the Starks, betrayed them for the Boltons, abandoned his sister and suffered ridiculously in the process. But he has not only successfully rescued his sister, but now wants to fight alongside his adoptive family on his own, without reward.

The two exchange the Greyjoy motto: “What is dead may never die.” But Yara is referring to the army of the dead when she tells Theon: “But kill the bastards anyway.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a scene with three prostitutes (Tyrion was introduced this way) but now it’s Bronn (Jerome Flynn) enjoying himself. He has clearly decided not to ride North with Jaime.

A little trivia is here: One of the prostitutes talks about “Eddie,” the ginger-headed boy who got his face burned off in the dragon attack. She is clearly referring to actual singer Ed Sheeran, who made a much-mocked cameo as a Lannister minstrel in the last season.

Bronn is interrupted by Qyburn, who has come on Cersei’s orders with wagons of cash, telling Bronn to kill Tyrion and Jaime. The implication here is that Bronn should ride North, pretend to join ranks with the brothers and then kill them. It is because Cersei wants to be the only ruling Lannister left when the dust settles—but also because she hates the two for turning their backs on her—even though she is already batsh_t crazy. Ultimately, it’s a perverse idea of family that motivates her.

Qyburn hands Bronn a golden crossbow. Viewers should be familiar with the weapon—Joffrey liked playing around with it and Tyrion used it to kill his father Tywin.

One of the most awaited reunions finally happens as Jon and Arya reunite at the Wyrwood tree. This is a genuinely emotional moment, tamped down by the fact the two of them are so different now, especially Arya the assassin who has to admit sheepishly that she has used Needle (the sword Jon gave her) “once or twice.”) There is also the slight tension of Jon still advocating for Dany and Arya essentially advocating for Sansa, underlining the true power struggle going on in Winterfell.

There is unhappiness in Winterfell as the Northern lords are not too keen on their King in the North bending the knee to a Targaryen queen. Jon is just frustrated that they don’t get how big a problem the White Walkers are. Most unhappy of all is feisty Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey, still awesome).

Singled out in the discussion is Ned Umber (Harry Grasby), the boy who leads his own house, House Umber at Last Hearth. He asks for more horses to bring his fighting men to Winterfell.

Ostensibly Stark bannermen, the Umbers have an interesting back story. Big Jon Umber died fighting for Robb Stark. Little Jon (who was not so little) betrayed the Starks and died fighting for Ramsay Bolton at the Battle of the Bastards. Last season, little Ned (he’s literally named after Ned Stark) was supposed to take the brunt of the punishment along with Alys Karstark (Megan Parkinson) for their betrayal once Jon had retaken Winterfell. Jon had instead pardoned them in exchange for their renewed allegiance. There are three children in charge of northern houses: Lyanna, Ned and Alys.

The tension in the council reflects the tension in the streets. It is however Sansa who takes the biggest bite by complaining about not having enough food to feed the Dorthraki, Unsullied and the dragons.

It was also not surprising that the northerners did not agree with Tyrion. He is a Lannister after all. His assumption that his sister was sending her forces to join them reflects the weird sentimental shift that Tyrion had gone through since the dragon attack on the Lannisters. Even Jaime knows Cersei is not going to send men to reinforce them. There’s a bit of wish fulfillment in there.

So it’s not surprising that Sansa calls out Tyrion later on for this. Remember these two were married and essentially tortured emotionally in King’s Landing until Joffrey’s murder (courtesy, we know now, of Oleanna Tyrell) at the Purple Wedding (great nickname) and both eventually fleeing the capital. But these two have always been kind and honest to each other, so it is actually devastating that Sansa essentially tells Tyrion he’s not clever at all to believe the Lannisters would help them. This shows that Sansa is on the money and Tyrion may not longer be as effective as the Hand of the Queen as he once was.

This carries over to the conversation that Tyrion, Varys and Davos (Liam Cunningham) have regarding Jon and Dany. They all think it’s a good idea for the two to get together and rule together. Tyrion, who carries a torch for Dany, seems lukewarm to the idea.

Meanwhile, we finally get the pay-off we’ve been waiting for Jon finally becomes a dragonrider (random shout out to the excellent Anne McCaffrey series “Dragonriders of Pern”). Dany seems to think she is willing Rhaegal to let Jon ride him, but we know Jon is of Targaryen blood, therefore entitled to ride a dragon. This whole sequence is wonderful. Rhaegal, of course, is named after Jon’s father, Rhaegar. The north is indeed beautiful and Drogon seems unhappy Dany and Jon are getting it on. He’s probably just being protective. Very good animation on the dragons—they havce never looked more lifelike.

Instead of the different characters being in so many different places at once, season 8 has almost all the characters coming together at Winterfell, creating a kind of Chekhov’s sword effect.

Representing Arya’s past, the Hound is fetching his now Dragonglass-bladed axe from Gendry when Arya arrives. It does not go well. Remember that Arya left a badly wounded Hound by the road in season 4 after refusing to put him out of his misery. The fact these two didn’t duke it out in the Winterfell means it went well enough.

The flirty exchange between Arya and Gendry goes far better. This is the new ship-worthy couple of the show, with many hoping they will somehow end up together and alive after the show is over. In the meantime, Arya has brought plans for a new weapon, a kind of double-ended spear with a removable part. Arya wants one end to be topped with Dragonglass, and it looks like the other end by her Valyrian Steel dagger. Either way, it is clearly a long weapon to battle the wights with, and we know she trained with the staff in Braavos. We already know from the trailer that she will indeed be using this weapon against the undead.

Continuing the unhappy meetings, representing the Citadel, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) is now doing his research at Winterfell. He finally meets Dany, who has the unenviable task of informing Sam that both his hated father and beloved brother were executed by dragon. Many viewers may have forgotten that the two Tarlys were indeed Sam’s immediate family. This part features Bradley-West as the best actor in this episode. Just devastating stuff.

Last season, Sam and Bran were the only two people who knew of Jon’s true parentage. Now Bran plays a bit of the puppet master and tells Sam it was time to tell Jon the truth.

Down in the Crypts, Jon is overjoyed to see Sam. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since season 5, when Sam left Castle Black for Oldtown and eventually the Citadel. Probably still angered by Dany’s revelation, Sam tells Jon who he realty is, bringing to fruition the epic R+L+J (Rhaegar and Lyanna equals Jon) theory that’s haunted the show for so long. Though done very simply, it cannot be stated how important this scene is, as it sets perhaps the final big internal conflict for the show. Jon reels from it, yet knows that he must tell Dany. And eventually everyone must know.

Jon also is shocked that his adoptive father, a man of honor, Ned Stark, had lied to him his entire life. But Sam says Ned was instead fulfilling a promise to Ned’s sister Lyanna to protect him. In fact, we know that Ned fully intended to tell Jon the story when they see each other again after parting in episode 2 of season 1, “The Kingsroad.” Unfortunately, that was the last time they saw each other.

This brings back into focus Ned Stark’s fealty to honor, the motivation that led to his death and now still is in play as the secret he had been carrying has been revealed. Remembert that Catelyn Stark actually died never knowing who Jon really was and realizing that Ned had never been unfaithful.

Speaking of honor: Sam points out that, as Aegon Targaryen, Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, the one true king, but would Dany willingly give him the throne after wanting it for so long?

Jon’s right, though, this business is technically treasonous to Dany as queen. It also interestingly brings Sam’s arc to a close, as all that’s left now is for Sam to take care of Gilly and child.

Jon has a lot of explaining to do.

Now it is time for a Westerosi geography lesson, something that could be gleaned of you zoomed in on the opening credits. Part of the Wall, Eastwatch-by-the-sea is the northernmost outpost. Next up is Castle Black, and then the Umbers’ settlement of Last Hearth.

We know that Eastwatch was destroyed by Viserion at the end of last season and th army of the dead starting flowing into the north.

This episode confirms that Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) both survived the fall of the wall. We see the two of them and some surviving wildlings ranging in Last Hearth, which has apparently been hit hard by the dead.

The question of has Castle Black fallen is answered when this party meets Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton) and the surviving rangers of the Night’s Watch with this great exchange:

Edd: Watch out, he’s got blue eyes!

Tormund: I’ve always had blue eyes!
Remember, the White Walkers and the reanimated wights have very bright blue eyes.

A bro-hug ensues.

So Castle Black had fallen as well.

The underground sequence, with these survivors walking carefully lit by Beric’s flaming sword underline an oft-underrated aspect of the show: Its masterful usage of horror. This entire sequence is terrifying from beginning to end.

That is, unfortunately, little Ned Umber pinned to the wall. The pattern is the trademark spiral of the Night King. He is sending a clear message to the humans who come to Last Hearth: I am coming.

Though easy to predict, the jumpscare with Ned Umber coming to life and trying to attack them only to be burned by Beric is the best scare of the episode. It’s also a very bleak and saddening development. Yes, the showrunners decided to kill off a kid in this first episode.

Beric and Ed info-dump that the army of the dead is now between them and Winterfell. They need to warn Jon, but can they do it? They say that the army of the dead will arrive at Winterfell within days.

In the primer for next week, we know that at least Tormund makes it back to Winterfell safely and warns the gathered forces that the Night King will arrive by day’s end.

This whole Last Hearth scene is a set-up for the arrival of the dead at Winterfell.

It is at Winterfell when we get the final reunion of the season opener. The hooded man who arrives on horseback is of course Jaime. He has spurned his sister to fight alongside the Starks because it is the right thing to do.

This also brings Jaime’s redemption arc almost full circle. From the careless cad in season 1, he has become a man of principle, a fighting man of honor, shedding the title of “kingslayer,” mostly due to Brienne of Tarth. But now he must deal with the consequences of his old actions.

First, he must deal with the boy he threw out of the window in “Winter is Coming.” Yes, as shocking as it is, Bran and Jaime have not seen each other since the first episode of the first season eight years ago. This meeting was inevitable, and Bran was already waiting for it, sitting in his Professor X chair in the cold courtyard and telling Sam he was waiting “for an old friend.” He was waiting for Jaime, who is stunned upon recognizing Bran. He did not imagine this would happen, and the episode ends on that note.

The primer for the next episode shows that Jaime had to further answer for his other actions as his offer to help is deemed suspicious enough that he is brought in from Dany, who threatens all kinds of violence to the man who killed her father, Aerys Targaryen, the “king” in Jaime’s “kingslayer” tag. Jaime, too, has a lot of explaining to do.

The primer tells us that they will spend the next episode preparing for the imminent arrival of the army of the dead (see Tyrion looking out over the battlements at night) with the Battle of Winterfell set to happen in episode 3.

Yes, that’s a lot to unpack for one episode—kudos to David Nutter for putting it all together. Remember: “Winterfell,” despite all the stuff in it, is actually a regular-sized GOT episode at 55 minutes. Some of the upcoming episodes—we don’t know which ones yet—will be feature-length, so at last 90 minutes (an hour and a half).

For its first seven seasons, GOT had one huge advantage: That, despite the presence of books for decades, the show was completely unpredictable, especially after it literally overtook the content in the books (around season 5). Viewers had no idea what would happen and when.

Now that the show is locked into a final season of six episodes, there is a kind of checklist of things that have to happen in order to tie up the entirety of the happenings. And the world is watching.

This episode saw the requisite Stark reunions, but it has two important items on the story checklist: Jon Snow finding out about his true parentage, and Jon Snow riding a dragon.

The next episodes face the daunting challenge of ticking off items on that checklist without becoming completely transparent.

It’s easier being the most popular show on the planet when no one sees you coming.

Five episodes to go.

Death tally: Little Ned Umber, and technically all of the Umbers, meaning their house has been eradicated. Still, nobody in the main cast died this episode, something that will not be true by the time we get to episode 3.

Best line: Tormund: “I’ve always had blue eyes!”

See you next week for the next Super Nerdy Over-anaylsis!

“Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 2 airs on HBO on Monday, April 22 at 9 a.m. (Manila time), with a replay at 9 p.m.

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