Game of Thrones 8.1: “Winterfell”

Game of Thrones 8.1: “Winterfell”

A Binge Guide for Season Eight, Episode One – “Winterfell”

by Greg Enslen

Details

  • Episode Number: S08E01

  • Original Air Date: April 14, 2019

  • Time: 54 minutes

  • Synopsis: Jon and Daenerys arrive in Winterfell and are met with skepticism. Sam learns about the fate of his family. Cersei gives Euron the reward he aims for. Theon follows his heart.

Opening Credits

For the first time, the animated map during the credits has been completely revamped. This new version eliminates the “world view” concept of swooping between all the major plot locations, narrowing it down to just three: the Wall, Last Hearth, Winterfell, and King’s Landing. The animation was also updated and is much more detailed.

They added new carvings to the astrolabe, the spinning globe with the light in the center. There are also many new details included in this new sequence, including: the fall of the Wall, the Red Wedding, and the birth of Daenerys’ three dragons. For the Red Wedding, a Frey soldier holds the severed head of Grey Wind, Robb’s direwolf, as depicted in S03E098 and S03E10.

The map itself starts at the Wall, showing the large hole blasted into it by the Army of the Dead. The flipping tiles represent the march of the Army of the Dead, passing through the fallen Wall and approaching Last Hearth. Interestingly, Last Hearth sits on a small hill with a spiral pattern similar to those left by the White Walkers.

At Winterfell, the animation travels inside and includes the Great Hall and the Stark crypts beneath the castle. In King’s Landing, the animation moves through the city, showing the gates and the painted blue map of Westeros, then swooping down through the Red Keep to show the dungeons, dragon skulls and the Iron Throne, complete with Cersei’s Lannister lion sigil (replacing the Baratheon stag sigil.) The Sept of Baelor has been removed. According to an interview with Elastic, the CG company responsible for the credits, they simplified them due to the reduced number of locations and added more detail.

  • Notes: This is the first appearance of Last Hearth, the ancestral seat of House Umber, in the opening credits. All the locations in the opening credits are limited to Westeros.

Arrival at Winterfell

A boy runs through the snow-covered land near Winterfell. An army approaches, and the boy climbs a tree to see better. Arya Stark and the others watch as Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and her assembled army arrive at Winterfell. Columns of the Unsullied march through the town, followed by the Dothraki. Jon doesn’t notice Arya in the crowd, which seems less than impressed by the new army in their midst. Jorah Mormont, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Gendry Baratheon ride among with the Unsullied while Lord Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys follow in a wagon. Arya seems pleased to see both Jon and Gendry.

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Missandei and Grey Worm arrive with the Dothraki and are unimpressed by their cold reception. Jon tells Dany that the “northerners don’t much trust outsiders,” but then her dragons arrive, bringing a smile to her face—and sending the Winterfell folks into a panic. Arya can’t believe what she’s seeing.

At Winterfell, Sansa Stark watches the dragons fly over and land nearby. Brandon Stark and others, including Lady Lyanna Mormont, Lord Robett Glover, Brienne of Tarth, Podrick Payne and Yohn Royce wait in the courtyard as Jon and Dany arrive. Jon greets Bran and asks after Arya. He then introduces Daenerys to the gathered nobles and others, and she and Sansa share a friendly greeting. Bran says they “don’t have time for all this,” saying the Night King has one of Dany’s dragons. “The Wall has fallen, and the dead march south.”

  • Notes: The boy climbing a tree to see better is a direct call-back to Arya and Brandon Stark climbing into the back of a wagon and up the walls of Winterfell in S01E01 to see King Baratheon and his troops arrive at Winterfell to visit House Stark. Arya hasn’t seen Jon Snow since S01E02, when he leaves to take the black and she’s leaving with her father to travel to King’s Landing. Arya hasn’t seen The Hound since she left him for dead in S04E10 before traveling to Braavos. Arya hasn’t seen Gendry since S03E06, when he was taken prisoner by Melisandre. Jon Snow hasn’t seen Bran Stark since S01E02.

The Great Hall

In the Great Hall, Sansa says that they know the Wall has fallen and she’s called all their forces back to Winterfell. Lord Ned Umbar, a young boy, says his people need horses to evacuate from Last Hearth. Jon wants to send ravens to Castle Black to tell the Night’s Watch to come to Winterfell as well to fight the Army of the Dead. “We will make our stand here.”

Lyanna Mormont questions why Jon gave up the title of King in the North and pledged fealty to Daenerys. He explains that working with the Mother of Dragons and her forces is the surest way to defeat the Night King. “I had a choice: keep my crown, or protect the North. I chose the North.” Tyrion explains the extent of Daenerys’ forces and adds that the Lannister army is also marching north to help. This is greeted with skepticism. Sansa is unsure they can feed another army, asking what do dragons eat? “Whatever they want,” answers Daenerys coolly.

The Courtyard and the Godswood

In the Winterfell courtyard, Gendry oversees the creation of more weapons and tools made from dragonglass, a substance known to be able to defeat white walkers and ghouls. Tyrion talks to Sansa, discussing King Joffrey’s wedding and his trial for the king’s murder. Sansa is skeptical that Cersei will actually send her army north, but Tyrion reassures her that it will happen.

In the Godswood, Arya and Jon are reunited. He asks after Needle, the small sword he had forged for her in S01E02. “Have you ever used it?” he asks. “Once or twice.” He shows her Longclaw, his sword, and they discuss Sansa’s interests in protecting the Stark family.

  • Notes: Sansa and Tyrion haven’t spoken since King Joffrey’s wedding in S04E02. She fled just after Joffrey was murdered. Arya has killed at least SIX people with Needle, including a stable boy in King’s Landing, a Frey soldier just after the Red Wedding, a Lannister soldier during a fight at the Inn of the Crossroads, Polliver, Rorge and the Waif. She also killed many other people; according to an article on The Wrap, she’s up to at least 64 victims, including Petyr Baelish, Walter Frey and every male member of House Frey, and many others.

  • Quotes: Sansa Stark: “Cersei told you her army was coming north. You believed her.” Tyrion Lannister: “I believe she wants to survive.” Sansa Stark: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”

King’s Landing

In King’s Landing, Qyburn informs Queen Cersei Lannister that the “dead have broken through the Wall.” She seems unconcerned. Behind them, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane guards the queen.

Just off shore, Euron Greyjoy is returning to King’s Landing with his fleet of 1,000 ships. He talks with Captain Harry Strickland, the head of the Golden Company—they have been hired by Cersei to defend the city against any enemies and are being transported by Euron’s fleet. Below decks, Euron speaks with Yara Greyjoy, his prisoner and niece.

In the throne room, Strickland informs the queen that he’s brought an army of 20,000 men and 2,000 horses. She is disappointed that they didn’t bring any elephants, but those don’t do well on ships. Euron reminds Cersei of her promise—and she invites him to her bed.

In a brothel, Bronn of the Blackwater listens as three whores discuss which of the Lannister army members were killed by dragon fire at the Battle of Blackwater Rush in S07E04. Bronn says he shot Drogon the dragon and “nearly killed it.” Qyburn interrupts the festivities, saying that one of the whores will die from the pox and offers Bronn a deal: kill Cersei’s brothers. He hands Bronn a crossbow to help with the deed, the crossbow Tyrion used to murder their father, Tywin, in S04E10. Tyrion shot his father on the toilet twice with his own crossbow.

In her chambers, Euron and Cersei discuss her former husband, “fat” King Baratheon. And on board Euron’s ship, Theon Greyjoy arrives and rescues his sister from captivity. After they escape, Yara vows to retake the Iron Islands. Theon asks to go to Winterfell to help them defend the Stark home.

  • Notes: Ser Gregor was fatally poisoned in the “trial by combat” with Prince Oberyn Martell in S04E08, and Qyburn asked to care for him afterward. He used unsanctioned arts to reanimate the man and add him to Cersei’s guard. Bronn and the whores are discussing Dany’s dragon attacks on Lannister forces in S07E04. One of the whores mentions Eddie the “ginger” who came back with his face burnt off. This character was played by singer Ed Sheeran in S07E01. Here we get confirmation that the character is still alive. Presumably-pregnant Cersei drinks wine after having sex with Euron, even though she refused to have any wine when speaking with Tyrion in S07E07. It is very possible her pregnancy is just a ruse. One of the Greyjoy soldiers that Theon kills is actor Rod McElhenney from the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Theon asks to defender Winterfell as he spent many years there as a ward to Ned Stark and considers it his true home.

  • Quotes: Cersei Lannister: “You're insolent. I've executed men for less.” Euron Greyjoy: “They were lesser men.”

Winterfell Prepares for War

More northern troops, including Alys Karstark, arrive at Winterfell as the Unsullied and other soldiers work on defenses, including several wooden catapults. Davos Seaworth, Lord Varys and Tyrion discuss the preparations for war and their uneasy alliance. Davos suggests that Jon and Dany might wed to secure the relationship.

Dany is concerned about her dragons, saying they’re not eating enough. Jon pets one of them and hops aboard, and the dragons fly through air above Winterfell as the others look on in wonderment. They land near a waterfall and kiss while the dragons watch.

Gendry works on a dragonglass axe for The Hound when Arya arrives. The Hound says “you left me to die,” and Arya reminds him that she robbed him first. Arya reunites with Gendry and asks him to make her a weapon, a double-ended dragonglass spear.

Sansa argues with Jon about his decision to cede power to Dany. Jorah Mormont and Dany find Samwell Tarly and thank him for saving Jorah’s life from Greyscale. Realizing who she’s talking to, Dany informs Samwell that she had his father and brother executed.

Sam leaves and finds Bran in the courtyard “waiting for an old friend.” They discuss Jon’s true parentage. In the crypts, Samwell surprised Jon, reuniting with him and telling him the truth: Jon’s actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. His true name is Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of his name. Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne.

  • Notes: Dragonglass is being embedded along the ramparts and tops of all the walls of Winterfell in preparation to fight the Army of the Dead. When Gendry says “as you wish, milady,” it’s a callback to Season Two, when they were both being held by the Brotherhood without Banners. Samwell Tarly saved Jorah from Greyscale in S07E02. Dany executed Sam’s father and brother, Randyll and Dickon Tarly, in S07E05. The “old friend” Bran is waiting for is Jamie Lannister, who pushed him out of a window in S01E01, crippling him for life and setting him on the journey to become the Three-Eyed Raven. Jon last spoke to Samwell in S05E10, when Samwell left Castle Black to travel to Oldtown.

  • Quotes: Daenerys Targaryen: “Go on.” Jon Snow: “I don't know how to ride a dragon.” Daenerys: “Nobody does. Until they ride a dragon.” Jon: “What if he doesn't want me to?” Daenerys: “Then I did enjoy your company, Jon Snow.” Jon: “Where do I hold on to?” Daenerys: “Wherever you can.”

Last Hearth

At Last Hearth, Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion search for survivors. They find nothing but an empty castle—and Dolorous Edd and other members of the Night’s Watch. They stumble upon the dead, reanimated body of young Lord Ned Umbar, pinned to the wall at the center of a spiral of body parts created by the white walkers. Tormund and the others flee outside, seeing the approaching Army of the Dead. Back at Winterfell, a cloaked figure among a throng of refuges rides unnoticed through the open gates: it is Jamie Lannister. He looks around and sees Bran, the young boy he crippled, staring back at him.

  • Notes: The spiral pattern is similar to several related to the white walkers: men of the Night’s Watch found a circular pile of bodies in S01E01; horses heads arranged in a spiral at the Fist of the First Men in S03E03; Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven see a spiral of standing stones in a vision of the Children of the Forest creating the Night King in S06E05; and spirals and other patterns seen by Jon and Dany at the cave on Dragonstone in S07E04; Jamie Lannister has not seen Bran since S01E02.

  • Quotes: Eddison Tollett: “Stay back! He's got blue eyes!” Tormund Giantsbane: “I've always had blue eyes!”


Critique:

Okay, here we go, the first new episode of Game of Thrones in nearly two years. Did you miss me? I missed this show, even though Season Seven has more than it’s fair share of rough spots. How will this season go? Will it pay off nicely or leave everyone angry? Who’s to say. The shortened season of only six episodes means that each one will be longer and likely PACKED with stories, battles, reprisals and the like. Let’s dive in.

I didn’t like the redone animation—I liked the old one, which gave a sense of the scale of the world. Now we’re down to focusing on just two or three locations, it felt weird to completely re-do the animation sequence, especially since they were the same style for the first 67 episodes and now they’re changing it for the last six. I REALLY liked the “flipping tiles” showing the advancing Army of the Dead—I hope they keep going just so we can track their progress!

The opening shots of Dany’s arrival at Winterfell are well done and show the truly massive scale of her forces. As if the column after column of marching Unsullied isn’t enough, here come TWO dragons! I’m surprised they didn’t show the Dothraki running around out of control, maybe carrying out a little “light” pillaging, just to sell the obvious point that the people of the North are skeptical and Dany’s forces are unwelcome.

I’m going to refer to this episode as the Great Reunion Show, mostly based on the fact that there are SO MANY. Arya has been in Winterfell for a while but here gets to reunite with Jon, Gendry, and The Hound, while the Dany arrival means many of the main characters on the show are meeting for the very first time. Sansa, Bran and Arya meet Dany and her whole crew, and then Jon gets to explain why he “bent the knee” and gave up control of the North. It is the subject of several conversations, but I have to side with him: at this point, it doesn’t really matter who is running the show as long as they all unite to stop the Night King.

I loved seeing Arya sneaking around and just “showing up” in different places. Jon has no idea she’s standing there, and neither do Gendry and The Hound. She’s a sneaky one. I loved the whole “Needle” conversation—go ahead, Arya. Tell Jon you’ve killed more people than he has. Or at least you’re in the running.

The stuff at King’s Landing was dull and boring—I have to say, Cersei isn’t really doing anything but just waiting around to see what happens. I’d expect her to be making moves, seizing territory or making alliances to cement her power while everyone else is distracted with the war in the North. And the whole Bronn situation just came out of nowhere. Maybe Qyburn concocted the whole plan and Cersei didn’t even know? Who knows. And while I like Bronn, I’d like to think he’s a little more loyal to Tyrion and Jamie than he is to Cersei. I guess we’ll see.

Euron bedding Cersei was just annoying, as was Theon’s SUPER SIMPLE rescue of Yara. Remember when Yara’s rescue of Theon took up like four episodes? Here, they’re in and out and sailing away in ten minutes. I guess Euron was too distracted with Cersei to remember to post a guard. Also, doesn’t he have a fleet of 1,000 ships? Wouldn’t HIS ship be the HARDEST one to infiltrate? Theon and his merry band literally stroll in, free Yara, and run away. Yeesh.

Sansa’s conversation with Tyrion is a blast. “Yeah, you kinda screwed me over when Joffrey died and you just bailed!” Tyrion went on trial and Sansa went on a fun boat ride with Petyr Baelish. Okay, that boat ride turned out to have a suck Bolton-themed twist, but at least everyone’s back in Winterfell again, safe and sound. For now. I liked the war preparations, getting things ready. Will the Army of the Dead attack Winterfell in the next episode? It sounds like Tormund and Company will be racing back just in time to get murdered when the Night King and his ten-trillion man undead army appears.

Lastly, I liked the reveal of Jon’s parentage. This is one of the biggest secrets/reveals in the lore of the show, and it felt right that the information was coming from Samwell, a person Jon trusts with his life. I’m not sure Jon would have believed anyone else, something Bran might have understood as he pushed Samwell to be the one to tell Jon. The scene lingered long enough on the information to give it real weight, and I liked Jon’s reactions as he was given each new piece of information. Well done.

Episode Notes:

The title of the episode refers to Winterfell. Have you heard of it? Of course you have. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict a battle may take place there soon. Like, next episode. But the title also refers to the fact that this is the first time Dany, one of the biggest characters on the show, and her whole crew, visit Winterfell. This also marks Jamie Lannister’s return to the castle, which he last visited in Season One.

The title of the first episode or any of the episodes from this season were not revealed ahead of airtime.

Entertainment Weekly reported that the episode was watched by a record-breaking 17.4 million people in the U.S., the most-watched show in network history.

Nudity and Violence:

  • The Ginger—Bronn spends some time with a trio of King’s Landing whores (23:30)

  • The Boy—The young Umber boy is pinned to the wall among a spiral of severed body parts (52:20)

References:

NOTE: All sites accessed on accessed May 22, 2019.

This article, “Winterfell, A Binge Guide for Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 1 by Greg Enslen” is copyrighted by the author and displayed here for informational purposes only. Do not share or distribute without the written permission of the author.

Greg Enslen is an Ohio author and columnist. He's written and published eight books, including four fiction titles and four collections of essays and columns. Several are available through Gypsy Publications of Troy, Ohio. To receive updates on upcoming titles, sneak previews and appearances, subscribe to Email Goodies. For more information, please see his Amazon Author Page or visit his Facebook fan page.