In the first episode of season one of HBO’s smash-hit “Game of Thrones,” “Winter is Coming,” viewers witness Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) clambering around in a helmet and outfit several sizes too big for her. She wants to get a good view of the then-king, Robert Baratheon, who enters the threshold of Winterfell with a full parade of his court. The pomp and circumstance is captured with an upbeat and grandiose score by Ramin Djawadi as Arya anticipates seeing her heroes.
Several years later, a young boy follows in Arya’s footsteps as he climbs a tree to get a good view of the arrival of the legendary Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), Arya’s supposed half-brother, and the “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), self-proclaimed queen of Westeros. The two enter Winterfell, Jon’s home, to meet a less-than-receptive host of northerners along to the sound of a reprise on Djawadi’s theme from the original episode.
Fans have waited 20 months since the finale of the previous season of “Game of Thrones” to see how their favorite characters’ stories resolve.
The seventh season left off with Sam Tarly (John Bradley) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) discussing Jon’s parentage, and the Night King destroying The Wall and allowing the armies of the dead to march south toward Winterfell.
This coming season is the culmination of years of character arcs, both from the books (which the television series has surpassed in its plot) but also from the perspective of seeing actors and actresses grow up with the show.
There are spoilers ahead for the first episode of season 8.
“Winterfell,” the first of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” is by-and-large an exposition-filled collection of obligatory scenes that set the tone for the final act of George R. R. Martin’s story transcribed to television. Many characters have pleasant, emotion-filled reunions that seem like feel-good fan-bait, but it’s all essential to establishing where Westeros is at preluding the perilous fight with the legions of dead.
Director David Nutter and writer Dave Hill utilize the 54-minute-long episode to establish the growing tension not only between the living and the dead, but also among the different factions of Westeros and beyond.
While everyone is happy to see Jon Snow return to his home in the north, they hold great disdain for his new liege, Daenerys Targaryen, whom they see as a foreigner. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is happy to see Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), but doesn’t like his allegiance to Daenerys, either. Arya welcomes Jon back into her life, after being apart for years, however she too is mistrustful of Daenerys.
Perhaps the greatest shock in the episode is Daenerys’ revelation to Samwell Tarly that she executed his father and brother in the previous season. Bradley’s acting is impeccable — the announcement of the death of his father, who treated Sam like an outcast, makes him sad, but Bradley turns the soft-hearted Sam into a blubbering child at the news of the death of his brother. All the while, Daenerys looks on, heart as steely and cold as the gaze she holds on Sam.
One of the last scenes of this episode comes a major advancement in the plot. Sam reveals to Jon a truth bestowed by Bran Stark in the previous season: Jon Snow is not, in fact, a bastard son of Ned Stark. He is in fact Aegon Targaryen, secret child of Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenarys’ older brother) and Lyanna Stark. Rhaegar was the crown prince when his family held the throne. This makes Jon the true heir to the seven kingdoms, a title Daenerys, his lover and aunt, claims.
Audiences will have to wait until episode two releases next Sunday on April 21 to see how Jon moves forward with that news.