Winter is finally upon us and, over 20 months since the last episode, Game of Thrones is back for one final season. The first episode of six arrived tonight (or late last night for those who stayed up to watch with the US) and there is a lot to get our teeth stuck into.

So here’s a breakdown of some of the most important scenes, moments and meetings in Season 8, Episode 1, ‘Winterfell’.

WARNING: This article is dark and full of spoilers.

Callbacks Galore

With such rich history and lore, Game of Thrones has become prolific at callbacks to previous scenes in the show. An opening episode of a season, which has more reunions then you could count on two hands, is the perfect opportunity to do just that.

There are multiple nods to the first episode of the very first season (‘Winter is Coming’). Opening on a royal arrival to Winterfell, Daenarys may have brought along a few more guests than Robert Baratheon did in season one, but her entrance is not too dissimilar at all, with composer Ramin Djawadi even weaving in King Robert’s musical theme throughout.

While it was Bran climbing the tower walls and Arya looking on excitedly at the King’s arrival, this time it was a young boy in Winterfell climbing a tree and the more world-weary Arya looking on at the Mother of Dragons’ dramatic entrance.

Then at the head of a welcoming party, replacing Net and Catelyn, was the Lady of Winterfell herself, Sansa. She utters the exact same words her father said all those years ago – “Winterfell is yours, your grace” – though her words feel a little less earnest than honourable old Ned’s.

The detail doesn’t stop there, with Arya and Jon’s heartfelt reuniting hug bearing a stark resemblance to their goodbye embrace in the pilot.

And for the episode’s biggest scene – Jon Snow discovering his true parentage – eagle eyed viewers noticed a reference to Ned’s promise to Jon that, “the next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother”. Of course those were fateful words as the two would never meet again, but even as a dead man Ned is able to keep his word to some extent, since the big reveal happens in the crypts of Winterfell, right below the nose of his uncle’s statue. Poetic.

There are a whole host of other easter eggs in there, but to round off a self-referential episode is an interaction between the same two characters who ended ‘Winter is Coming’. It’s the first time Jaime and Bran, the latter having seemingly waited out in the cold all night for the Kingslayer, have locked eyes since the sister-loving Lannister pushed the Stark child from a tower window. Ah, an episode of nostalgic reunions.

Accelerating the Greyjoy Narrative

Almost every relevant character in the show is holed up in Winterfell right now. We did, however, get to see some action further south. And there were steps forward regarding certain Iron Islanders which provided some of the biggest surprises of the episode. I think it’s fair to say no one expected Cersei to give in to Euron Greyjoy’s crude advances so soon. It probably isn’t love, let’s be honest, but it’s a sad sign of the Queen’s limited resources that she felt the need to keep him close. And, in fairness, you probably couldn’t find two more despicable characters in the Seven Kingdoms, so perhaps they are a perfect match after all.

On a more positive note, while Euron was busy serving his Queen, his nephew Theon was given another rare hero moment. Sneaking onto his ship and rescuing sister Yara, killing a Greyjoy guard who had a suspicious resemblance to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney, he was swiftly thanked by his loving sister in the form of a headbutt. Those Iron Islanders sure do know how to express themselves.

Bronn’s Mission

A fan favourite but somewhat out of the loop now, Bronn needs something to do this season. And after finding him in the most ‘Bronn’ location imaginable – in bed with three sex workers – he was given a darkly poetic task by Cersei. Armed with the crossbow which killed Tywin Lannister, Bronn must kill Tyrion and Jaime if he wants that wife and castle he craves for so much. This optimistic viewer refuses to believe Bronn would kill the two men we’ve seen him bond with so much. But nevertheless it is a fascinating plot point moving forward, and he is a sell-sword after all…

Tormund’s Horror

Everyone’s favourite bear-shagging wildling is currently en-route to Winterfell with Beric Dondarion, only they’re behind the Night King and the army of the dead. Searching through home of the Umber’s, Last Hearth, you could sense the creators toying with us as they threatened to kill off two great characters straight off the bat.

Luckily the Night King had moved on and all Tormund and co. found was the remaining members of the Night’s Watch, led by Lord Commander Edd. It’s a neat bit of writing to bring them together to follow the tracks of the big bad, but we were also given a genuine horror moment as young Ned Umber’s undead self woke up to give us all a fright. Luckily Beric’s fiery sword (which now doubles as a torch apparently) was on hand to take care of the white. With the episode two trailer suggesting Tormund arrives at Winterfell before the army of the dead, it will be interesting to see what this merry band of travellers do next.

Conclusion

There’s a hell of a lot to unpack in that opening episode. We’ve not even mentioned Jon and Dany’s dragon ride (not of that kind, this time, you sickos), Drogon’s stare or the emotional peak of the episode, Samwell Tarly’s complex reaction to the news that Dany executed his family. It’s a very strong beginning of the end from GoT and we already can’t wait to see what happens next. The Night King approaches, Jaime has some explaining to do and Jon needs to have a chat with his auntie.

Image credit: Movie DB

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