Game of Thrones has finally returned, after almost two years, for its final season. A long wait but well worth it. While this final season is also its shortest—at only six episodes—it doesn’t skimp on content. The season 8 opener, entitled, “Winterfell”, pulls no punches. This episode doesn’t just set the groundwork for the rest of the season, it’s also packed with unforgettable moments, gasp-worthy surprises, a surprising amount of comedy, and quality storytelling.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
As the episode begins, we’re greeted with a new opening credits, and judging by its major visual upgrade, this final season of Game of Thrones has been given a budget to send the show off properly. The entire episode has a cinematic quality to it that I’m sure will carry on for the rest of the season. Even the first scene of the episode is a sight to behold as Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen arrive in Winterfell with her army of Unsullied and Dothraki warriors, along with her dragons soaring above. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle with the epic scale fans of the series have come to know and love.
This premiere episode has the task of setting the groundwork for the rest of the season, moving the pieces on the chessboard into place. A good portion of this episode sees Winterfell adjusting to their new guests and preparing for the coming battle against the Night King and his army of White Walkers, and the other major portion of the episode follows Cersei Lannister and her wicked plotting. While set-up episodes tend to feel slow, “Winterfell” refuses to take its foot off the gas pedal, giving us an episode packed with so many long-awaited reunions and major plot moments.
There are many reunions this episode that I’m sure fans have been waiting a long time for. Jon finally reunites with Bran and Arya, bringing the surviving Starks back together to Winterfell, and it’s especially emotional knowing the last time they were all together in one place was way back in season one. There’s also a reunion that closes the episode that will leave fans eager for the next episode, but I won’t spoil it here. Perhaps the biggest plot moment this episode was Jon learning that he’s a Targaryen and the rightful heir to the throne, something long-time fans have been theorizing since the first book when it was published in 1996. Jon’s learning of his lineage is sure to have major implications moving forward, but for now, Jon believes it would be treasonous to even mention this revelation to Dany. Unfortunately, since this episode is packed with so much, some scenes end up feeling too rushed, like when Theon rescued his sister, Yara. There isn’t much violence in this episode, but the violence it does have is brutal and grotesque. There’s an especially unsettling scene toward the end in which the Night King leaves behind a gruesome message for Tormund and his group to find.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite scene of the episode where Jon rides a freaking dragon! Dany allows Jon to ride Rhaegal and together, with Dany riding Drogon, they soar through the northern landscape, as if in a dance. One could say it’s like a dance of dragons (sorry, I’ll see myself out).
“Winterfell” is the beginning of the end. With only five episodes left, it’s sad to see this series come to a close. Game of Thrones has become a global phenomenon, captivating millions of people around the world over the last eight years. If this premiere episode is any indicator, the final season of Game of Thrones looks to be an unforgettable thrill ride. Even with the occasionally rushed pacing, “Winterfell” is one of the best season premieres this series has had.