Game of Thrones season 8, episode 1 analysis and recap: Winterfell

Game of Thrones is back! We've waited a long, long time for the premiere of season 8 – the final season of the show – and last night, it finally arrived. Like most of the premiere episodes in previous seasons, this one basically just existed to set the stage for what's ahead. In the case of season 8, episode 1, "Winterfell," that meant a lot of reunions and not a lot of action. Unfortunately for more action-minded fans, that means the various conflicts at the core of season 8 will need to wait another week.

Obviously, this article will comprehensively spoil last night's episode, so if you haven't watched it yet, stop reading here. Seriously, we're taking a deep dive into the episode, so get out of here. I recommend reading this instead.

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 1 recap

Do you like reunions? Hopefully you do, because boy does this episode have them in spades. Basically everyone who isn't Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy wound up in Winterfell by the end of the premiere, which means that this episode really knocked it out of the park as far title choice is concerned.

Daenerys, Jon, Tyrion, and their legion of supporting characters were the first people to arrive in Winterfell. We first see a somewhat awkward reunion between Bran and Jon. Jon comments on how much Bran has grown up and Bran weirds him out a little bit, as he is wont to do now that he's picked up the mantle of Three-Eyed Raven.

Sansa and Daenerys seem to get off on the right foot, with Sansa telling Dany that Winterfell is hers, but it quickly becomes clear that there's a tension between the two. In fact, the whole of Winterfell seems to hate that Jon Snow just rolled back into town with a Lannister and a Targaryen in tow. Even worse in their eyes is the fact that Jon gave up the title of King in the North – a title the minor houses of the North gave him – to ally with Daenerys for the impending war with the White Walkers.

Jon points out that he gave up his crown to protect the North, and Tyrion adds that even though the houses of Westeros have been at odds in the past, the choice now is to either band together or die. This is after Bran told everyone that the Night King turned Viserion into an undead dragon, toppled the Wall, and is now marching south to turn the entire country into a wasteland. Everyone still seems uneasy about the whole alliance, though, which begs the question of what it's going to take to get the Northerners to shelve their pride and band together with outsiders.

In any case, we're then treated to a reunion between Sansa and Tyrion in which the former tells the latter that he's a fool to believe Cersei would actually march her army to Winterfell to help defend against the White Walkers. After that, it's Arya's turn to be reunited with Jon. Jon is a bit perturbed that Sansa doesn't like Daenerys – who, keep in mind, is also Jon's new lover – but Arya says her hesitance is out of a desire to protect their family.

Then we make a brief trip to King's Landing, where Euron Greyjoy is returning to Westeros with the Iron Fleet and the 20,000-man strong Golden Company from Essos. We see that Euron still has his niece, Yara Greyjoy, captive on his capital ship. Cersei is introduced to the leader of the Golden Company, who informs her that they actually didn't bring any War Elephants on the journey across the Narrow Sea and everyone's excitement for season 8 dwindled just a little bit after that.

Cersei and Euron then consummate their alliance and it turns out the two are a perfect match for one another. While those two are being gross, Theon and a group of men sneak onto Euron's ship, kill everyone aboard, and rescue Yara before making off with a few of the ships from the Iron Fleet. Maester Qyburn tells Bronn that Cersei wants him to ride north and kill Tyrion and Jaime in return for untold wealth, and Bronn is hesitant to believe that he'll actually be rewarded because the Lannisters have cheated him out of promised gifts before.

Back in Winterfell, Jon and Dany then take a ride on her two remaining dragons and have a nice romantic moment in front of a scenic waterfall, which is just a bit uneasy for us since we know that Dany is actually Jon's aunt. As those two fly off for some private time, the blacksmiths (including Gendry) in Winterfell are working the forges to make weapons out of dragonglass – one of the few things that the White Walkers are vulnerable to.

Arya reunites with both Gendry and The Hound, the latter of whom she left for dead at the end of season 4. Some of the minor houses of the North choose not to answer Sansa's call to rally at Winterfell because they don't want to pledge allegiance to a Targaryen queen. Dany thanks Sam for saving Jorah's life and informs him that she burned his father and brother alive for refusing to bend the knee. Sam is sad, meaning that by extension, all of us are sad.

With tears welling up in his eyes, Sam excuses himself and heads outside, where he finds Bran sitting in Winterfell's courtyard. Bran cryptically says that he's "waiting for an old friend," before pushing Sam to tell Jon about his true heritage. Sam finds Jon in Winterfell's crypts and ends up blurting out that Jon is, in reality, Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, making him the true heir to the Iron Throne.

A quick scene set in Last Hearth – a hold north of Winterfell – shows us that Tormund, Beric, and Edd Tollett survived the White Walker attack on the Wall at the end of last season. They're currently making their way to Winterfell per Jon and Sansa's orders, and they're racing the White Walkers there.

In the show's closing shot, none other than Jaime Lannister arrives in Winterfell. He's alone, with no Lannister army backing him up after Cersei revealed that her pledge to help in the war with the White Walkers was all a sham. The first person Jaime sees upon his arrival is Bran Stark, and the episode closes with Jaime's realization that being a Lannister in Winterfell could get a little bit tricky.

“Winterfell” analysis and predictions

Those who were hoping for a lot of action in this episode were probably disappointed, as there wasn't very much to speak of outside of Theon's quick rescue of Yara. That doesn't mean there wasn't any conflict, though – on the contrary, there was plenty of that, as everyone in Winterfell seems to hate each other.

Maybe "hate" is too strong a word, but Sansa and the other Northerners clearly aren't okay with the idea that they should bend the knee to some Targaryen woman who claims rights to the Iron Throne. The North has been fighting for independence since the beginning of the series, so this mentality shouldn't really come as a surprise, but as numerous characters tell them throughout the course of this episode: Figuring out who rules the North is a conversation for another time.

Bran, being the time-travelling omnipresent God that he is these days, knows just how dire the situation is. While Sansa and Daenerys are formally greeting one another and adhering to etiquette, Bran interrupts them by saying that they "don't have time for all this." He knows that the White Walkers have broken through the Wall and are moving south with speed. Now is not the time for niceties or political grandstanding, it's time to raise an army, make weapons, and bolster defenses. Winter is coming and it doesn't care who is King in the North or who sits upon the Iron Throne in King's Landing.

Bran is right, of course, but this is still a situation that Dany and Jon will need to navigate carefully. If Dany attempts to bend the Northerners to her will through intimidation, that makes her no better than her father, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, or Cersei in King's Landing; a despot that needs to be disposed of. Dany needs the Northerners as much as the Northerners need her – if they don't band together, the White Walkers will kill everyone in Seven Kingdoms. She needs to approach this with a delicate touch, because if she goes in too heavy handed, she risks destroying an already uneasy alliance.

As I said at the beginning of this article, this episode mostly just set up for the rest of the season. That means a lot of characters were reunited after not seeing each other for months or years. Most of these reunions we unsurprisingly tense, including the reunion between Jon and Arya. We've been waiting for these two to meet up again since the first season, and though it is a happy event when they finally see each other, it becomes clear that Arya agrees with Sansa's hesitance about Dany. Jon has his work cut out for him if he's going to get his sisters to trust Daenerys.

The scene with Dany and Jon riding the dragons as if Game of Thrones is suddenly some kind of throw back to Aladdin definitely felt a little out of place, but we're clearly being set up for some kind of conflict between the two in the episodes to come. Things are peachy between Jon and Daenerys here at the beginning of season 8, but that can't last considering Jon's heritage and his rightful claim to the throne.

As Sam pointed out in the crypts, what happens from here depends on Dany's reaction to the news that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen and the heir to the Iron Throne. "You gave up your crown to save your people, would she do the same?" Sam asks. Daenerys has spent too long trying to raise an army and return to Westeros for the answer to that question to be "yes," so we might be headed toward some kind of three-way conflict that sees Jon, Dany, and Cersei competing for the Iron Throne once the White Walkers have been dealt with.

We don't know how Dany is going to react to the news that Jon is a Targaryen, nor do we know if Jon even wants the Throne (though based on things he's said in the past, he probably doesn't). What we do know is that this is going to be a new point of contention for a group of people that already have plenty to disagree about, and it threatens to further derail the defense against the White Walkers.

We also learned how many men Cersei has contracted through the Golden Company: 20,000, plus 2,000 horses. That's in addition to whatever remains of the Lannister army after last season's battles, so she's got a formidable force at her disposal. It probably won't be enough to defend against the White Walkers should Winterfell fall, but it'll be interesting to see how these mercenaries affect the battles that are to come.

The episode ends with one final reunion: Bran and Jaime, who haven't been in the same shot together since Jaime pushed Bran from the top of one of Winterfell's towers in the series premiere all those years ago. Jaime has arrived in Winterfell, which is chock full of people who have every reason to hate him, but it remains to be seen if Bran is one of those people. The Bran of the past would have obviously been fuming at Jaime, but now that he's the Three-Eyed Raven, maybe Bran no longer cares about such worldly things as attempted murder.


So, after the season premiere, we're no closer to knowing who will take the Iron Throne or how any of these conflicts will play out. We'll probably know soon enough, though, as the teaser for the next episode shows Winterfell preparing for the arrival of the White Walkers. It also looks like Jaime is in for a very uncomfortable conversation in front of Dany and the Starks, so that should be a treat to watch as well. While we wait for Sunday to roll around, head down to the comments section and let us know what you thought of this week's episode!