Game of Thrones Recap, Season 8 Episode 1: Winterfell
Summary: Qyburn breaks the news to Queen Cersei: the army of the dead has breached the Wall and is marching south. Cersei is more concerned with the recent return of Euron Greyjoy’s fleet, now carrying 20,000 men of the Golden Company.
LORE: THE GOLDEN COMPANY
Euron wants an advance (yes, the naughty kind) on his payment of a betrothal to the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and after an initial rebuke, Cersei brings him to her chambers.
While otherwise occupied, Cersei sends Qyburn to Bronn with a finely crafted crossbow and a request to assassinate her brothers, Tyrion and Jaime.
Analysis: I’m starting to get some serious Tywin Lannister vibes from Euron, if Tywin dressed more like Aldous Snow and thought less critically. Euron now has the largest known fleet in the kingdom parked in Blackwater Bay and a recently negotiated contract with the Golden Company. If times get tense, will Euron be able to command the Golden Company to attack the Lannister forces in King’s Landing? He’s demonstrated little interest in long-term planning, and his possible double-entendre to Yara, “but first I’m going to fuck the queen” doesn’t inspire much confidence. Cersei may be following the Mad King’s footsteps even more closely than I thought.
With Jaime gone and the Mountain held close at hand, Cersei’s choice of Bronn as the assassin of her brothers makes sense. Assuming she isn’t interested in paying for the services of a Faceless Man, he’s the most qualified hit-man in her Rolodex. Before we get carried away, though, remember what Tyrion told Bronn back in the Vale: “Whatever their price, I’ll beat it”. It may not be enough to stave off Cersei’s orders indefinitely, but I guarantee Bronn won’t be killing Tyrion without testing that offer.
In the Narrow Sea
Summary: Theon Greyjoy leads a small raiding party onto Euron’s ship, successfully rescuing Yara. As their ships head back towards the Iron Islands, Theon requests leave to head towards Winterfell.
Analysis: The Iron Islands, if properly provisioned, would be an effective hiding place for retreating Northern troops. You’d need a Dunkirk-esque extraction to get a sizable army there, but the undead army in the show appears incapable of crossing water. With two dragons (and now two riders) to ward off the Night King and Viserion, it may provide Dany and Jon’s army with time to recover if the battle at Winterfell goes poorly. I’ll have more on this possibility in our Season 8 Predictions post.
Summary: Dany and Jon arrive amidst a massive army of Unsullied, with a two-dragon flyby for dramatic effect. Their crew now includes Tyrion, Varys, the Hound, Gendry, Missandei, and Grey Worm, among others. Their reception is mixed; Jon is overjoyed to see Bran (who can’t really return the favor), but the Northern lords aren’t as enthusiastic. Lyanna Mormont voices their primary concern: Jon left a King and returned as something less, and they swore their swords to the King in the North. Jon attempts to rationalize, explaining that they’ll need Dany’s dragons, Unsullied, and Dothraki to defend against the approaching threat. It’s a tough pill for the Northern lords to swallow, and the mood doesn’t improve when Tyrion mentions the addition of the Lannister army making its way up the Kingsroad to join their cause.
Arya finds Jon in the godswood shortly after, and they share a long-awaited and very warm reunion. After comparing weapons, Arya responds to Jon’s allegation that “Sansa thinks she’s smarter than everyone” by pointing out Sansa is the smartest person she’s ever met.
While Sansa shares a lukewarm reunion with Tyrion and attempts to plan the housing and feeding of a massive new army, Jon and Dany visit Drogon and Rhaegal, who aren’t eating as much as they usually do. Hoping to lift their spirits, Dany encourages Jon to climb on Rhaegal’s back, and together they head off on a joyride.
Arya visits Gendry at the forge, where he’s busy creating obsidian weapons as fast as possible. After sharing some grudging respect with the Hound, she gives Gendry a weapon design which looks like a dagger capable of being used as a projectile with obsidian heads:
Jon tries to make a case for Dany to Sansa, who asks if he bent the knee for the good of the North or for love. Jon, troublingly, doesn’t have a response.
Jorah leads Dany to where Sam Tarly is studying, crediting him with curing his greyscale. Dany thanks him for his service, but the conversation turns sour when she’s forced to tell him she executed his father and brother.
A distressed Sam leaves the building, where Bran tells him it’s time to let Jon know about his parentage. Sam finds him in the crypts and tells him he’s the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Jon is naturally taken aback at the reveal.
As the battle preparations continue, Jaime rides into Winterfell with a hood thrown over his head to conceal his identity. Bran has been waiting for him, and they make eye contact as Jaime dismounts.
Analysis: No one should be surprised about the tension in the throne room. The North has long been suspicious of anything and anyone from south of the Neck, and their renewed loyalty to House Stark is untested to this point. The consolidation of people and resources currently underway is no different than preparations for every winter in memory, when the population of the North heads to Winterfell to take advantage of proximity and the natural hot springs in the area to survive. Lord Glover changing his mind just months(?) after refusing to support Jon in the Battle of the Bastards makes perfect sense, and Lyanna has been the most vocal advocate of Northern self-determination since her letter to Stannis Baratheon in Season 5.
We had been waiting for a lot of these reunions for quite some time, and they lived up to expectations. Someone really needs to take the lead in explaining Bran’s condition to new arrivals, just to expedite things. Seeing Jon and Arya embrace and appreciate Needle was a perfect reminder of the close bond those two shared, and a throwback all the way to the first episode of the show. I thought the most fascinating interaction was between Sansa and Tyrion; Sansa by now is fully aware of the favorable treatment Tyrion showed her, but she’s right to say “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” Between supporting the wight-smuggling in Season 7 and believing Cersei about anything, he’s really lost his edge.
The only immediately significant moment of the episode took place in the North. Jon riding Rhaegal is huge news, giving the army of the living a true 2:1 dragon advantage. Hopefully the shared flight was enough to revitalize Drogon and Rhaegal, because two healthy dragons and two dragonriders are imperative if there’s any hope of stopping the Night King’s advance south. The dragons are obviously lethal in combat, but they also provide massive advantages in terms of mobility, whether used for escape or scouting.
Scouting, by the way, is something the army in the North might want to consider. How you can have dragons and not be aware of the inaction of the Lannister army is beyond me. It wouldn’t be as big of a loss if Bran felt compelled to continue sending out ravens, but he’s too busy asking Sam to tell people about important stuff he’s seen.
Summary: As the remaining forces from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea make their way south towards Winterfell, they’re investigating what appears to be an abandoned Last Hearth. They run into Dolorous Edd and some members of the Night’s Watch before finding the young head of House Umber, Ned, pinned to the wall in what appears to be a ritual execution with the White Walkers’ trademark spiral pattern formed around him in limbs. They’re forced to kill Ned again when his eyes pop open, and prepare to ride south as fast as possible to get word to Winterfell of the rapidly advancing undead army.
Analysis: First of all, big props to this exchange between Edd and Tormund: “Stay back, he’s got blue eyes!” “I’ve always had blue eyes!” gave me a real laugh in a tense moment. Secondly, another example of non-existent scouting from the Northern armies. Unless you truly have no outriders and Bran isn’t sending some ravens now and then to see what’s going on, you should be able to track the movements of a massive undead army pretty easily. I’m going to lose my mind if the Night King somehow gets the drop on the Winterfell defenders. Assuming he doesn’t just ask his whole army to throw hoods over their heads and wander in like Jaime, that is.
Dragonflame Burn of the Week
Thanks for checking out our recap! If you need some more historical context for what you're seeing, you can check out our Game of Thrones Lore series, which details the history of Westeros and some of what we know of Essos. Check back for another recap next week, and until then, remember: just because someone thinks they’re smarter than everyone doesn’t mean they aren’t.