WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season eight, episode one, “Winterfell.”
Game of Thrones season eight kicked off with an hour-long episode simply titled “Winterfell.” From the back-to-back-to-back references to the pilot episode and some meaningful scenes between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, we’re here to breakdown all the layers of subtext hiding in plain sight throughout the season eight premiere. Keep reading for a look at 13 details you might have missed on the newest Game of Thrones.
First things first: The opening credits were changed to tell a new story.
Previously the astrolabe device had bands of artwork showing Robert‘s Rebellion and other historic tales known far and wide in Westeros. Now it starts with the most recent cataclysmic event on the continent: The Night King bringing down the Wall at Eastwatch by the Sea. You can see a row of the Army of the Dead in the lower right corner and Bran‘s ravens flying off from the top left side.
Now three dramatic events are shown on the astrolabe: The Wall’s breach, the Red Wedding, and the birth of Daenerys’ dragons.
On this band, a dead wolf (Lady Catelyn) hangs from the towers of the Twins (House Frey’s castle) while a Flayed Man (House Bolton) holds up another wolf’s head (King Robb Stark). To the left, a lion (Tywin Lannister) holds a fish in its jaws (House Tully).
The last motif shows Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons being hatched from their fossilised eggs.
The birth of three dragons was the closest thing to a miracle most people in the world had seen in a long while. Unfortunately now the Night King has used one of those dragons to attack the realm of men, but Daenerys and Jon Snow won’t go down without a fight.
Which brings us to the episode’s actual opening, showing Daenerys and Jon arriving to Winterfell.
This introductory scene was a callback to the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, when King Robert and the royal party visited Winterfell. The young boy climbing up the tree was a direct reference to Bran Stark scaling the castle walls for a better look at the coming guests.
Most important of all, the Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi wrote a new iteration of a soundtrack piece we haven’t heard since that first pilot episode, called “The King’s Arrival.” That musical cue added to the familiarity of the opening sequence.
Arya also repeated parts of her experience with royal arrivals in Winterfell.
Back on the pilot, Arya also stood outside the walls of the castle and watched the royal party trot into town.
She specifically noticed Sandor “The Hound” Clegane back then.
On the season eight premiere, Arya looked rightfully less excited at the sight of Sandor Clegane among Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen’s retinue.
The Winterfell welcome party is also drastically different all these years later.
Just as King Robert presented Cersei Lannister to the Starks on season one, Jon Snow introduced Daenerys Targaryen to the lords and ladies in Winterfell. This time Sansa and Bran Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Podrick Payne, Maester Wolkan, Lyanna Mormont, and Lord Yohn Royce made up the greeting crew.
Here’s how House Stark welcomed their last royal visitor:
Bran and Sansa Stark, Theon Greyjoy, and Jon Snow are the only four people in this photo who survived past season three. Jory, Robb Stark, Ned Stark, Maester Luwin, Catelyn Stark, Ser Rodrik, and Rickon were all murdered or executed.
Let’s hope the welcome party from season eight has better survival odds (though with the coming battle, we doubt it).
Jon greeted Bran with a kiss on top of his head — mirroring the exact way he said goodbye to him back on season one.
On season one, episode two, “The Kingsroad,” Jon said goodbye to Bran before heading to the Wall. Though Bran was in a coma and couldn’t hear him, Jon made his younger brother (well, cousin) some promises. Little did he know how much Bran would experience and overcome.
“We can go out walking beyond the Wall if you’re not afraid,” Jon said.
This goodbye scene was one of the first times an iconic piece of Game of Thrones music was played. The track, titled “Goodbye Brother,” is the basis for what you’ll recognise on the show as the general House Stark theme music that plays during any significant scenes with Arya, Sansa, Bran, and Jon.
When Jon and Arya finally reunited, their hug mirrored the way they last parted ways.
They embraced as Jon picked Arya up off her feet, in the same way he hugged her after gifting her with Needle on season one, episode two, “The Kingsroad.”
These over-the-shoulder shots were pitch perfect.
Arya named her sword Needle during her hug with Jon on season one. But this time when they embraced, Arya was warning Jon not to forget that she and Sansa are his family.
In King’s Landing, Qyburn came to Bronn with a deadly proposal.
Qyburn told Bronn that Cersei was giving him an advance payment for the murder of her brothers, Jaime and Tyrion Lannister. Then he brought out a crossbow and said Cersei had a “keen sense of poetic justice.”
Tyrion famously used a crossbow to kill Tywin Lannister.
Cersei has decided hiring Bronn, who previously worked for both Jaime and Cersei, is the best way to try to get them both killed. But will Bronn go through with it?
He’s quite friendly with both brothers, but he’s also always made it clear that his sword is for hire to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile something is going on with Cersei.
After sleeping with Euron for the first time and hearing him tell her he’s going to “put a prince in [her] belly,” Cersei seems visibly distressed. Her chin trembles and tears spring in her eyes — but why? Is she just sad about Jaime and their unborn child? Or upset she’s come to the point where she’s sleeping with Euroy Greyjoy just to hold on to her power?
We have another theory, which is that she might have miscarried and therefore Euron’s comment triggered a reflexive emotional response. For more on that, read our breakdown here.
Back in Winterfell, Jon Snow rode his first dragon, and the one he hopped on was named after his father.
Daenerys named her dragons after three important men in her life: Khal Drogo > Drogon, Viserys > Viserion, and Rhaegar > Rhaegal.
Viserion was killed last season and now belongs to the Night King, and Daenerys has always had a strong preference for Drogon. So that left Rhaegal, the greenish beast named after Jon Snow’s father (though Jon had no idea at the time), as Jon’s ride for the afternoon.
Jon and Daenerys had a semi-romantic moment by a cave and waterfall.
Though Drogon was doing his best to interrupt, Daenerys tried to set an intimate mood with Jon. “We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us,” Daenerys said to the former King in the North.
This was a reference back to Jon’s first romantic experience.
“Let’s not go back. Let’s stay here a while longer,” Ygritte told Jon. “I don’t ever want to leave this cave, Jon Snow.”
On the fourth season, as she died in Jon’s arms, Ygritte mentioned the cave once more. It’s become a symbol of the rare peace and romance found on Game of Thrones, and so the invocation of it for Jon and Daenerys’ scene was contentious. Could they really have a happy ending? If their love story is anything like Jon and Ygritte’s was, the answer is a sad “no.”
In Winterfell, Arya requested a special kind of dragonglass dagger/spear from Gendry.
Arya specifically seems to want a dragonglass-tipped spear or dagger, where the top can be easily swapped out or changed. We’re pretty certain this weapon was already shown in the first season eight trailer, but next week’s installment should reveal more about the new blade.
Toward the end of the episode, we saw Beric and Tormund enter Last Hearth — the castle of House Umber.
One way to tell it was Last Hearth was by the crossed chain sigil of House Umber on the courtyard’s banners.
And inside, of course, was the young Lord Umber, killed and pinned to the wall.
Little Ned Umber had been turned into a wight, and woke up shrieking and writhing until Beric set him on fire.
The flame spread to severed arms that were nailed onto the wall in a familiar spiral pattern.
This pattern is one of the symbols the White Walkers often leave behind.
The rock formation where the Night King was first created was in this spiral shape, so it’s likely just a pattern the Night King has chosen to use as his marker.
Perhaps there’s some deeper importance to the swirl, but for now all we know is the White Walkers like to leave corpses behind in artistic patterns as a way of sending a “message” to the living who will find them.