Game of Thrones Recap: “Winterfell”

*To the tune of “Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT*

Eight hundred, fifty-two thousand, two hundred miiiiiiinutes.

Its been that long – since Jon fucked his Aunt.

That’s right y’all, Game of Thrones is back, baby! And with the return of GoT, so return my (mostly bullshit) recaps.

Overall, I thought this – surprisingly hilarious – episode was one of the better season premieres we’ve gotten. If only because of the amount of spectacular acting and reunion-reaction shots. There was a lot going on so, for the last time ever, let’s dive into the premiere. Remember, full spoilers ahead.

Opening Titles

Before we even see a snippet of new footage, we’re treated to a completely redesigned theme song and title sequence. Our new map of Westeros is complete with a broken wall, ice creeping south, and an updated pictorial story on the shiny-globe-thing above the map.

It’s a bold move, considering that Game of Thrones has one of the most iconic opening title sequences since Cheers. But to quote Jonah Hill in describing the proposed Men in Black / 22 Jump Street crossover:

“I think that’s clean and rad and powerful.”

Outside Winterfell

Alright! Now we’re officially in it. We follow a young boy in one of the small towns outside Winterfell. He’s creeping and parkouring his way to see something big. He pushes through the crowd and sees the hordes of Unsullied and Dothraki marching. Daenerys Targaryen has officially arrived in The North.

One thing I love about this sequence is how it mirrors Bran in the pilot, climbing around the castle to get a better view of King Roberts army approaching. Luckily, this kid wasn’t needlessly thrown out a window by an incestuous prick (more on that later).

Who’s standing next to this kid, observing as “the greatest army the world has ever seen” marches north? Arya. She looks on, and it’s from her point of view we get our first looks at many of our favorite characters. I stood up and fist-pumped when she saw Gendry, and a slight smile crept over her face.

Plenty happens on the road, but we learn quickly that The North is reluctant to accept a Targaryen ruler.

Winterfell’s Courtyard

Jon and Dany march in to be greeted by Starks, Knight’s of the Vale, Brienne’s of Tarth, basically everyone who was there last season.

One of my favorite things of last season was watching characters meet Bran, and this scene did not disappoint. Jon ran over to give him a hug, and then quickly realized he was hugging the person equivalent of a wikipedia page.

Sansa, through gritted teeth, surrendered Winterfell to Dany, and Dany gave her some weird compliments about her beauty. Right from the get, we can see that the tension between Dany and Sansa will be a significant factor this season.

But we can’t waste to much time on that, Bran lays it all out, telling them the wall has fallen, the Night King is marching south, and “We don’t have time for any of this.”

The Great Hall

Thanks to Sansa’s leadership, all the northern Lords and Ladies have assembled in Winterfell and are awaiting their orders. There’s some business about getting the rest of the Umber’s to join them (bye Ned Umber…), and then the drama hits.

Someone calls Jon “Your Grace,” and it sets Lyanna Mormont the fuck off. She asks what exactly the hell Jon was thinking, by bending the knee to a southern queen when The North specifically asked him not to.

Lyanna Mormont continues to be the only character who tells it like it is, and we stan a legend.

Jon explains that he chose to make alliances and save The North rather than keep a crown for his own sense of pride. The northern lords are somewhat appeased by this, but northmen are always going to be a bunch of stubborn bastards anyways.

Whether it’s true or not, I actually love this explanation. It really reinforces further that Jon will always try to do what is right for the people who put their faith in him. He may not be a great king, but he’s the right man to lead fight against the dead.

Then Tyrion tries to mansplain how great it is that Dany is now their Queen, completely oblivious to the fact that literally no one wants to hear anything from him.

Oh, and he mentions that the Lannisters are marching north, something northerners have not-so-fond memories of from last time it happened. Take a lap Tyrion, and maybe sit the next one out.

Sansa, maybe the only one who knows what the fuck she’s doing, takes lead next. She’s expresses genuine gratitude that Dany and her army have come to fight the Army of the Dead, but raises some logistical concerns about how to feed and house a new fighting force, and two dragons.

“What do dragon’s eat, anyways?”

“Whatever they want.”

Dany reminds Sansa that sure, while she may need to keep a “gracious guest” facade up to save face, she’s still their queen, and has a habit of burning those who step out of line.

The Godswood

Jon does some Original Recipe Brooding™ under the weirdwood tree, and we get his reunion with Arya. This was my most anticipated reunion of the season, and it did not disappoint.

We get some awesome character work form both Kit Harrington and Masie Williams. They trade brief stories about what they’ve been up to since old Ned died, and then compare swords as only battle-hardened siblings can. The way Jon lights up when he see’s Needle, the sword he had commissioned for her in season one, was priceless.

Then the tone shifts, as Arya makes it clear that she shares Sansa’s concerns about Dany.  This does a couple of things.

First, it sets up a clear internal conflict for Jon this season: Stark or Targaryen. Arya doesn’t mince words when she says “don’t forget that [you’re a Stark, too].”

Second, it shows Jon that Arya is no longer a little girl who likes to play with swords. She’s a warrior, one who’s fiercely loyal to her family. She doesn’t need Jon’s protection, she needs his trust.

Last, it really hammers home that Arya and Sansa are allies. I didn’t love their story line last season, but I’m glad the result is the Stark Sisters on a united front.

Kings Landing

Cercei learns the Night King has broken through the wall and marches south. She’s pleased in a twisted gleeful manner that only Lena Heady can pull off. If you thought Cercei was gonna be less of a heartless monster this season, you’re shit outta luck fam.

Cut to Euron Greyjoy, that Westeros version of a forty-year-old guy screaming “Saturdays are for the boys!” while shotgunning a Natty Light.

Euron is shuttling The Golden Company, a legendary mercenary group, back to Westeros to fight for Cercei. But he’s still got enough time to chat with his niece/prisoner Yara, ensuring her that he can fuck real good, and intends to show the queen.

In the Red Keep Cercei meets Captain Strickland, Leader of the Golden Company and namesake of anyone from a pirate movie in the 1930’s. Cercei’s as disappointed as I was that there won’t be any elephants fighting this season in the war to come.

This felt like the creators of the show very tenderly saying to us, “Look, we know. We wanted elephants too. No one is more disappointed than us that we don’t have Battlephants to show you. Please forgive us.”

Apology not accepted, HBO.

While Cercei is still visibly upset about there only being a few thousand new members of her army, Euron does what Euron does. He pleads with her, saying he’s fulfilled his end of the bargain, and now she owes him some adult-recreational time.

Cercei initially rejects him, “If you want a whore, buy one. If you want a queen, earn her.” But realizes that if she wants to keep this military alliance, sacrifices have to be made. And a Euron kept close is far better than a Euron running wild.

A little later, we’re up in Cercei’s chambers post-coitus. Cercei thinking about elephants while completely ignoring Euron’s sexy-talk might be my favorite recurring gag on the whole show. “I had to have sex with that and I didn’t even get any war beasts out of it?”

There’s plenty said and done, but it all boils down to Euron being a pig, and Cercei not giving two shits about him. Ser Pounce, feel free to claw his eyes out any time.

A Very No-Nonsense Brothel

Bronn is enjoying the benefits that bags of Lannister gold bring, and we learn that Ed Sheeran doesn’t have a face anymore.

Qyburn interrupts, letting Bronn know that he has a new mission and probably also syphilis. I choked on my drink at:

“She’ll be dead within the year from the pox.”

“Which one!?”

Bronn’s new mission, should he choose to accept it: Head north and kill both remaining Lannister Brothers. Bonus points if he uses the crossbow Tyrion used to kill Tywin.

While in no way do I think Bronn would ever actually kill either Lannisters, I think this is a fine way to bring home Bronn’s series character arc of “Sellsword” to “Honorable Knight.”

The Silence

Hey look! It’s Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! Oh cool, It’s Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley!

Oh shoot… they dead…

In a completely dialogue-free sequence, Theon leads a group of Ironborn to eliminate the guards on Euron’s ship (The Silence) and get Yara back. I love how the issue of Theon allowing Yara to be captured is handled, in it’s entirety, by one swift punch.

Back on Yara’s ship, they decide that Yara will go prepare the Iron Islands as a retreat point for Dany and Jon’s armies. Meanwhile, Theon will go fight with the Starks at Winterfell, the only true home he’s ever known.

Can we just take a brief pause to acknowledge how damn good Alfie Allen is on this show? Everything he says and does is so intentional an clearly thought out, I love it.

The Walls of Winterfell

Tyrion, Varys, and Ser Davos all walk around talking about how exactly they’re gonna keep Ice and Fire from blowing up in their faces. Davos says what every fan has been shouting at their TV since last July, “A proposal is what I’m proposing.”

Also Tyrion doesn’t like being compared to an old man. Tyrion, as a wise man once said, “the years start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’.”

Meanwhile, Jon and Dany are flirting in a war camp, as all young lovers are wont to do, when a Dothraki lets Dany know that the dragons aren’t eating. And what’s a better fix for a picky appetite than taking your mom on a date and watching her bang your cousin, right Drogon?

As cheecky and “Rom-Com” as it may have been, I loved the sequence of Jon riding Rhaegal. We’ve been waiting so long to see someone else ride these dragons, and it finally happened. Plus, Jon is now ready to bring some literal firepower to the dead in a couple of episodes.

In between make-out sessions and dragon side eye’s, Dany says she’s worried that Sansa doesn’t much like her. Jon comforts her, but yeah no shit she doesn’t like you Dany.

You brought an army to her home, and constantly threaten to burn her and he people alive. Plus your dad killed her uncle and grandfather. Maybe try to understand why not everyone wants to worship you one hundred percent of the time.

Winterfell

Jon and Sansa are wondering why that kid they sent up north isn’t back yet, when Sansa brings up her skepticism of Dany. Jon again assures her, saying she’s a good queen and good for The North, but Sansa isn’t convinced. She asks Jon point blank if he bent the knee for The North, or because he’s in love with her.

Look Jon, “Both” is a fine answer. It’s ok to be horny, it’s cold on the wall, no one will blame you.

Something the showrunners have stated is that the characters in the show, haven’t seen the show. So while we’ve spend years watching Dany be the breaker of chains, from Sansa’s perspective, shes just a woman who claimed their lands as her own, and brought a bunch of people Sansa has to feed.

While I may not love having Sansa in another “Women fighting women” plot line, it feels more legitimate this season.

A Balcony

Sansa leaves her meeting with Jon and bumps into Tyrion, her ex-husband. Sansa is my favorite character on the show, and this scene underscored why.

Through her verbal sparring with Tyrion, questioning whether or not Cercei will actually help The North, we see her fully come into her own.

Tyrion used to be the smartest one in the room, but no more. Sansa has gone through hell, but she came out of it stronger, wiser, and the single best political player in the game. I will not be surprised if she’s on the throne when all’s said and done.

The Armory

Two quick reunions here, as Arya pays The Hound and Gendry a visit. While the hound is expectedly short with her, Arya and Gendry share some flirtatious exchanges. And what’s more romantic than presenting your potential suitor with schematics for a zombie-killing weapon?

I know this will never happen, but I so desperately want this show to end with the two of them ruling over Storms End together.

Last Hearth

Here’s our only real sequence with the White Walkers, or rather, one Wight. Turns out that Umber boy making everyone impatient back in Winterfell got himself killed and turned into a gruesome art installation.

But! We can confirm that Dolores Edd, Beric Dondarian, and Tormund Giantsbane are alive and headed to meet up with Jon.

A quick aside: A friend of mine asked me if I thought Tormund would survive to the end, and there’s absolutely zero percent chance of that happening. He’s a fan-favorite character with very little impact on the overall plot, his death would be trademark Game of Thrones.

Prepare yourselves, because his end is coming, and I will cry.

A Library

Now for my two favorite scenes of the episode. Dany want’s to thank the man who saved Jorah’s life, and he brings her to meet Samwell Tarly. They exchange some pleasantries, she pardon’s him, and then Sam makes the mistake of saying his last name.

Dany explains that she not only burned his father alive (not a huge loss), but also his brother Dickon (insert Bronn laughing gif). Dany then explains that it was, like, totally chill that she killed them because she’s like, a super cool ruler.

Watching actor John Bradley’s face run through so many emotions, all while trying to keep it together in front of a queen, was fantastic. It was far and away the best performance of the episode.

Sam runs out of the room, and Bran (who somehow is just everywhere this episode), explains that it’s time to tell Jon who he really is.

The Crypts

Jon’s in the crypt for some New Coke Flavored Brooding™. Sam comes to meet him, and the two share a warm embrace. There aren’t a lot of pure friendships in Game of Thrones, but this relationship is just perfect.

But things don’t stay nice for long, as Sam reveals: Dany killed his parents, Jon isn’t actually Ned Stark’s bastard, he’s the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, he’s the rightful heir to the throne, and, inadvertently reveals that he’s been having sex with his aunt.

So that’s a lot.

I love how this all played out. Placing this scene right after Sam learns about the fate of his family makes the decision to tell Jon something rooted deeply in character and emotion. It could have so easily been an exposition dump, and the writers found a nice side-step to the issue.

It also further drives home what will likely be Jon’s season long internal struggle: Choosing between Dany and his family (well, his family that isn’t his girlfriend. Because apparently Game of Thrones is Alabama now?).

Jon is visibly shaken, and it’s clear that this isn’t something he’ll be able to ignore. Unlike that one time when he died, and everyone was just real cool about it.

Another Courtyard

Finally, in a scene that also mirrors the pilot episode, Jamie arrives in Winterfell. Now, last time he was here, he tried to kill one of the Starks, and then went to war with their King. He’s clearly pretty nervous, but all he has to do is fly in under the radar until he can get in touch with someone in charge.

But he screws all that up, as he’s immediately recognized by the kid he threw out a window: Bran, who’s just so goddam mobile for a guy in a wheelchair on snow.

To quote Cercei, “I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister.” Nice one Jaime.

Conclusion

This is definitely a “Table Setting” style episode. You’d be forgiven for thinking that not much in the way of action happened, but I think that’s the fault of speculation, not the show itself. Everyone I know, myself included, has been talking and speculating about what would happen in this final season for years.

But honestly, a lot happened here. Reunions were had, characters were rescued, and dragons were ridden. If the goal of this episode was to re-introduce us to Westeros, and set up the rest of the season, they’ve done a rather superb job.

Quote of the Episode:

We start this season with a tie:

Jon: “[This is] treason.”

Sam: “It’s the truth. You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”

— And —

Ed: “His eyes are blue!”

Tormund: “They’ve always been blue!”

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