Game of Thrones kicked off its final season on a valedictory note. The season-eight premiere “Winterfell” didn’t just look forward to the impending battle against the Night King and his White Walkers, but also backward, with plenty of nods to the show’s glory days. After you contemplate the episode’s many reunions and elephant jokes, inform the court musicians to strike up Vitamin C and let’s reminisce about all the times these characters shared together.
The Opening Scene in Winterfell
Thrones gave us the most direct callback at the very top of the episode, with a montage that parallelled another royal entrance into Winterfell, eight whole TV years ago. Back then, it was King Robert Baratheon coming North to ask his old friend Ned Stark to take up the job of Hand of the King. Now, both those men are long gone, and the new monarch, Daenerys Targaryen, has come to aid Winterfell against the coming invasion of the dead. (The score in the new scene borrows heavily from season one’s “The King’s Arrival.”) Back then, it was Bran Stark, a little boy who loved to climb, who first spied the royal caravan; now there’s an unnamed Northern lad who gets up in a tree to catch a better view of the new retinue, which includes Unsullied, Dothraki, and the mother of dragons herself. And once again, the new monarch is greeted in the courtyard with a receiving line of Winterfell’s finest. Each time, Arya would rather skip the pleasantries and mingle alongside hoi polloi; in both episodes, Sansa has no idea where she is.
Jon, Arya, and Needle
Jon and Arya’s reunion was one big reference to the last time they saw each other, all the way back in the show’s second episode. Or rather, it was one little one, as the pair discussed the tiny sword Jon had made for Arya as a parting gift. It’s also an occasion for one of the episode’s darkest laugh lines, as Jon tenderly asks if she’s ever had to use it. Oh, my sweet summer child.
Oh, Bronn, trying to get his rocks off with three comely women while the world ends. Dropping important plot points while attractive people wear no clothes has been part of the Game of Thrones legacy since the first season, and this little scene, featuring Bronn just trying to have a nice time, is a classic of the genre. But this is season eight, and Game of Thrones is the tiniest bit self-aware now. Rather than your typical sexposition scene, where the main characters talk about serious matters of the day while naked people cavort in the background, the final season’s premiere episode included this cute little twist on the genre. Bronn’s all ready to have a nice time, but his three prostitutes just keep chitchatting about the new dragons, how much damage they can do, and the state of the world right now. Game of Thrones’ final season: What if in the sexposition scene, the ones delivering the exposition … were the sex workers!
Also in that brothel scene, an update on everyone’s least-favorite Lannister soldier, “Eddie, that ginger boy.” Sad to say, the shape of him is a little worse for wear since the season-seven premiere. “He got his face burnt right off” in that dragon battle, a prostitute says. How bad is it? “He’s got no eyelids.” Hopefully things have worked out better for the Frey soldier played by the guy from Coldplay.
Jon Snow’s (New) Cave
Back in season three, Jon Snow and his OTP Ygritte spent a night of passion in a cave north of the Wall, where they invented cunnilingus. The season premiere didn’t quite get as steamy, but after Daenerys helped Jon ride a dragon for the first time (Targaryens call it losing your D-card), the pair snuck away to a hideaway that just so happened to feature another cave, its entrance marked by another waterfall. There’s a chance it could even be the same cave; the books have legends of an underground passage that connects both sides of the Wall. And just as Ygritte did, Daenerys teases Jon with the possibility of sitting out the war by staying forever in the cave. “We’d be pretty old,” he tells her, though they’re already both noticeably older than in their first romances.
Arya’s scenes with Gendry let the GoT writers get their Tennessee Williams on, by which I mean they allow them to mix unspoken sexual tension with heaps of class anxiety. The pair’s reunion in Winterfell’s forge saw both characters fall back into their old chemistry, with Gendry spitting the customary honorific for a highborn woman back in Arya’s face, just like he did in their farewell scene. “I could be your family,“ she told him back then. His response: “You wouldn’t be my family; you’d be m’lady.”
Bran and Jaime’s Long-Awaited Face-off
These two haven’t seen one another since the very first episode, and although the scene between them is certainly a reunion, its placement in the season-eight premiere also feels like a distinct nod to the show’s past. The pilot ended with Jaime pushing Bran off the tower; it, as much as anything else, was the way Game of Thrones communicated how ruthless and brutal it would be. Now, nearly a decade later, the premiere episode of season eight mirrors the pilot by ending with a new sort of Bran-Jaime showdown. Bran waits for Jaime to walk into Winterfell, at last prepared to deliver some comeuppance for Jaime’s crimes. (Maybe he’ll mete out some justice. Or maybe, because Bran’s such a weirdo now, he’ll just stare at Jaime and say something opaque and meaningful about Jaime’s future.)
That Creepy Spiral Symbol
Although we’re not sure why the White Walkers seem to enjoy making spirograph art out of their victims, the fiery arm situation in “Winterfell” is most definitely something we’ve seen before. Our first glimpse of White Walker body art was in the pilot, and since then we’ve seen it on walls and at the sites of big massacres. What does the spiral mean? Do you need to make the spiral in order to make new White Walkers? Is the Night King just a fan of doodling? Season eight has a lot of questions to answer.