‘Game of Thrones’ Final Season Premiere Recap ‘Winterfell’: A Crown for a King

In the ‘Game of Thrones’ recap for the final season premiere, Jon and Daenerys arrive at Winterfell, Cersei amasses her armies and the truth about a bastard is finally revealed…

By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer

After 20 long months of waiting, the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ has arrived.

Picking up within weeks of the season 7 finale, the last six episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ promises at least two great wars ahead as the dead come for the living and the battle for the Iron Throne still lies ahead.

Over the course of the past seven seasons, the series has largely split apart the characters after nearly everybody was together in the pilot episode when King Robert Baratheon arrived in Winterfell to ask his old friend Ned Stark to travel with him back to King’s Landing to become the new Hand of the King.

That sparked a chain reaction of events that led to House Stark being obliterated before eventually being rebuilt, House Baratheon is all but extinct now and House Lannister is sitting on the Iron Throne with the current Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei Lannister ruling over everything.

Now as the final season begins, ‘Game of Thrones’ are throwing all sorts of heartfelt reunions at us — and a few that are much grimmer.

It stands to reason that everything is condensing down to two major locations in this final season with Winterfell serving as the backdrop to the upcoming war between the living and the dead and King’s Landing where Cersei intends to defend her throne against all usurpers.

There’s a lot to cover so without further ado, let’s recap the ‘Game of Thrones’ final season premiere episode titled ‘Winterfell’…

The Queen’s Arrival

The final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ begins much as the first one did except this time instead of a king’s procession arriving at Winterfell, it’s Queen Daenerys Targaryen alongside Jon Snow and the greatest army that the world has ever known.

In a mirror from the first episode of the series, a little boy is running through the crowd and eventually climbing a tree just to get a glimpse of the dragon queen much like Arya Stark did in the pilot episode as she attempted to look at the king’s court. In the middle of the crowd, Arya is actually standing and watching the procession with a smile on her face when she spots Jon Snow and then a less welcoming look when she sets her eyes on “The Hound” Sandor Clegane.

As for Daenerys, she can’t help but notice the icy stares she’s receiving from the Northerners, who aren’t out her to greet her as much as measuring the woman they have now been told will be their queen. The Northerners have good reason not to trust any king or queen from the south.

King Aerys II Targaryen invited Rickard and Brandon Stark (Ned’s father and older brother) to King’s Landing and then had them both burned alive. King Robert Baratheon’s arrival to Winterfell took Ned Stark away from the North and he was later beheaded by the new King Joffrey Baratheon.

So it’s understandable why the people of the North might be apprehensive about bowing down to a new queen after they just recently united under a new King in the North in Jon Snow.

The icy arrival from the queen’s procession is broken up in rather dramatic fashion when Daenery’s dragons then fly overhead. Dragons have rarely traveled to the north since Aegon I Targaryen first conquered the Seven Kingdoms and the animals have largely been extinct for the last generation, which means most of these people have never even seen one before this particularly rattling experience.

Once they arrive, Jon reunites with his brother Bran Stark, who is transforming more and more into the Three-Eyed Raven with each passing day. Jon then introduces Queen Daenerys to his sister Sansa Stark, who gives her a rather knowing look up and down before offering her invitation into the kingdom.

“Winterfell is yours, your grace”
~ Sansa Stark

The way Sansa says that to Daenerys is almost as warm as offering a ‘fuck you’ upon her arrival and the tension only ratchets up once the royal party goes into the castle to discuss the upcoming battle plans against the Night King and his army.

Bran is forced to remind them that as wonderful as these introductions and reunions might be, they’ve got much bigger problems to deal with right now.

“We don’t have time for all this. The Night King has your dragon. He’s one of them now. The Wall has fallen. The dead march south.”
~ Bran Stark

Inside the hall at Winterfell, Sansa rattles off a state of affairs after telling all of the Northern bannermen to leave their castles and reconvene at Winterfell where they will be much safer. One of the last houses that still needs to make the travel is House Umber, who you will remember is the northern most of the houses who support the Starks. That house sits closest to the Wall of anybody in the North. That will be an important piece of information to remember by the end of this episode.

Sansa then informs the new queen that food supplies were stocked for the people of the North but she didn’t prepare to provide for the greatest army that ever was much less knowing what to offer two full grown dragons for dinner.

Sansa: “What do dragons eat anyway?
Daenerys: “Whatever they want”

The tension is thick in the air and it only gets worse when Lyanna Mormont reminds Jon Snow of the oath that the North made to him when he was crowned King in the North. Now he’s bent the knee to a southern queen, which is exactly what the Northern lords never wanted again.

Jon attempts to relay to all of the Northerners that titles don’t matter much right now with the army of the dead already breaking down the Wall and making their way south, which will eventually lead them right to the front door steps of Winterfell. As proud as Jon was to become King in the North, he knows that without Queen Daenerys, her army and the two dragons that they had no chance whatsoever to survive.

“I had a choice. Keep my crown or protect the North. I chose the North.”
~ Jon Snow

Tyrion does his best to calm the anger in the room by reminding them that they are all awaiting a much greater enemy than any Targaryen or Lannister has ever been. This is an enemy that you can’t negotiate with and they bring death to every living thing that they touch. Tyrion even mentions how Queen Cersei, in all her wisdom, has decided to team up with the dragon queen by sending the Lannister army to the north to help stop the march of the army of the dead.

This is the battle to end all battles because losing this one doesn’t mean a new monarchy is installed and somebody is sitting in the Iron Throne. Losing this war means everybody is dead.

The North Remembers

Following the extremely tense meeting, Tyrion greets his former wife Sansa outside as they speak privately for the first time since Joffrey’s wedding and reception where he was poisoned, choked and died. Tyrion was tried and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit while Sansa was whisked away by Lord Petyr Baelish after conspiring with Lady Olenna Tyrell to ensure King Joffrey never saw another name day.

Now years later everybody else in that conspiracy is dead but Sansa and Tyrion are still alive.

Sansa then questions Tyrion about his speech where he claimed that his sister Cersei was sending her army to fight for the North against the army of the dead. Sansa got to know Cersei rather well during her years spent living in King’s Landing when she was meant to marry King Joffrey and then ended up marrying Tyrion instead. Tyrion knows his sister well — Sansa knows her better.

Sansa: “Cersei told you her army was coming north to fight for you?”
Tyrion: “She did.”
Sansa: “And you believed her?”
Tyrion: “She has something to live for now. I believe she wants to survive.”
Sansa: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive”

Obviously we know that Cersei has no intention of sending her army north as she already betrayed that promise within minutes of the meeting with Jon and Daenerys in the season 7 finale. Tyrion still believes her but Sansa knows better. Sansa learned through painful experience that Cersei’s only concern is herself and her family. She’d sooner watch everybody in the north burn and die before risking her kingdom to save them.

Outside of the walls of Winterfell, Jon sits by a weirwood tree when the reunion we’ve all been waiting for finally happens — he see his sister Arya Stark for the first time since before she left for King’s Landing and he left to join the Night’s Watch. Jon was the only one of the Stark children who treated Arya like an equal while also choosing to allow her to be herself rather than what everyone else wanted her to be.

Jon was the one who had her sword Needle forged for her just before he left for Castle Black. Now years later, Jon and Arya embrace after they’ve both gone through a lot to get back here.

He asks if she’s ever had a chance to use Needle, she answers once or twice. She then gets a look at Jon’s weapon of choice, Longclaw. Jon then quickly turns his attention to the matter at hand as he tries to convince the Northerners along with his family that Queen Daenerys can be trusted and will be a just ruler to them not to mention she’s going to try to save everybody’s lives by battling against the Night King and his army of the dead.

As much as Arya was his ally years ago when they were all still children, she actually tells Jon that Sansa is the smartest person she knows and her instincts should be trusted. Jon is shocked to find out that Arya agrees with Sansa when it comes to her opinion on Daenerys and the Targaryen army sitting just outside the gates of Winterfell.

Arya: “I’m defending our family. So is she”
Jon: “I’m her family, too”
Arya: “Don’t forget that.”

Arya knows the death and destruction that her family has faced ever since King Robert showed up to take Ned away as his new Hand. Arya was there at the Red Wedding when the Freys betrayed her brother and mother and had them slaughtered. She stood there when the executioner’s sword swung down and beheaded her father Ned. If anyone has a reason to believe that the Starks should only rely on family, it would be Arya.

Arya continues to make her way through Winterfell to reunite with more faces from the past including a tense exchange with ‘The Hound’ after they run into each other again. She looks at him with disdain but he stares back at her almost with a glowing sense of admiration that she not only survived but came out stronger on the other side. Of course, his words to her aren’t exactly what you’d put on a greeting card but it’s about the best you’re going to get out of ‘The Hound’.

“You’re a cold little bitch aren’t you? I guess that’s why you’re still alive”
~ “The Hound” Sandor Clegane

Arya then reunites with her old friend Gendry, who is busy forging weapons out of dragonglass for the battle that lies ahead against the army of the dead. Arya had quite a crush on Gendry back in the day except now she’s all grown up. This time around, she’s impressed by Gendry’s skills as he’s forging weapons and she asks him to make one for her as well.

It’s a weapon made out of dragonglass as you can see, but it’s not clear what exactly she wants him to make. It appears to be some kind of projectile weapon but with the battle against the dead starting any day now, it probably won’t be long before we find out what he’s building for her.

Lesser Men

Back in King’s Landing, Cersei receives the ‘bad news’ that the Night King has brought down the Wall and his army of the dead is headed south. That might rattle most people but Cersei seems to show very little concern about that bit of information because that just means her enemies are that much closer to smiting each other.

Cersei is more concerned about the ships that just arrived from Essos after crossing the Narrow Sea. It’s Euron Greyjoy ferrying back 20,000 sellswords from the Golden company, who have been bought and paid for to fight in her war to keep the Iron Throne.

Before arriving, Euron can’t help but taunt his niece Yara, who he is still holding prisoner after attacking and essentially destroying her armada of ships last season. Once the Iron Fleet lands at King Landing, Euron brings Golden Company captain Harry Strickland into the Red Keep to meet the queen.

She’s happy to have an army ready to defend her throne, although admittedly Cersei was a little disappointed that the Golden Company didn’t bring their elephants with them on this particular trip. The Golden Company is the most infamous of all the sellsword mercenaries in the known world and using war elephants is part of their offensive strategy in battle. Unfortunately, the elephants don’t do well crossing water so they were left at home.

After greeting her new army, Cersei then has to have an audience with Euron Greyjoy, who is finally ready to cash in on his expected prize — namely Queen Cersei Lannister. He’s been lonely out there on the seas to bring back her army and Euron wants a little payback for all the loyalty he’s shown to the crown.

His arrogance and persistence eventually pays off after Cersei invites Euron into her bed for the first time.

Following a romp in the sack, she requests to be left alone while Euron promises that he’s going to impregnate her with a mighty prince that will be both Lannister and Iron Born. At the end of last season, Cersei revealed that she was already pregnant with another child from her brother Jamie, unless she was lying. If not, perhaps Cersei plans to pass off her latest child as Euron’s much like she did with all three of her previous children, who were told Robert Baratheon was their father.

As for Ser Bronn of the fucking Blackwater, we catch up with him as he was trying to bed three prostitutes but all they could talk about is the battle from last season where Daenerys and her dragons torched the Lannister army. They are widly captivated by the boys who returned home with their faces melted off.

Before Bronn could even enjoy himself, he receives a visit from Qyburn, the former disgraced master who is now the Hand of the Queen.

Qyburn informs Bronn that his services are needed once again but unlike the promises that have been made to him in the past, Queen Cersei is more than ready to follow through including several trunks of gold that are sitting outside his front door right now.

It seems Cersei wants Bronn to help execute both of her brothers — Jamie and Tyrion — after believing that they have betrayed her. Qyburn hands Bronn a crossbow — the same one Joffrey designed that Tyrion later used to kill their father Tywin when he escaped King’s Landing several seasons ago.

“When the Citadel expelled me, I thought I would die poor and alone but in exchange for my service, Queen Cersei made me her Hand. What would she do for the man who rids her of her treasonous brothers?
~ Qyburn

Meanwhile, as Euron was busy with the queen, his ship ‘The Silence’ was left unattended outside of a few guards, who are quickly shot down with arrows. After several are killed, it’s revealed that Theon Greyjoy has led the rescue party to get his sister Yara back after she was kidnapped last season. Theon personally cuts her loose, which earns him a smack in the face after he failed to stop their uncle from taking her last season.

They escape the ship and set sail with Yara leading the crew yet again. She suggests a return to the Iron Islands where they can take back their family legacy. With Euron preoccupied in King’s Landing, the Iron Islands have been left undefeated, which means Yara can take them back.

Yara suggests that perhaps this is the best plan of action because if the dead end up winning the great war, then the queen and her people might need somewhere to run. The Iron Islands could be the perfect place considering where they are located and knowing that White Walkers can’t swim.

But Theon doesn’t want to go home with his sister — he wants to finally make up for his betrayal of House Stark by returning to the North to help defend Winterfell against the army of the dead. Theon has never lived down the way he turned his back on his brother Robb Stark, all in an effort to appease a father who hated him.

Now Theon wants to go back so he can once again fight beside his family — the only true family he’s ever known.

A Just Woman and an Honorable Man

Back in Winterfell, Jon and Daenerys are taking a lay of the land while Davos, Varys and Tyrion wonder what it will take for the North to finally accept a dragon queen. Davos understand that the northern people are as ‘stubborn as goats’ and that it’s going to take a grand gesture to get them on board for this new plan to bow down to Daenerys.

That’s why Davos believes that perhaps Jon and Daenerys should marry — it would unite two great houses and it would serve as a sign that they are in this together, forever, and it would help squash a lot of bad blood simmering within the northern houses.

“What if the Seven Kingdoms for once in their whole shit history were ruled by a just woman and an honorable man?”
~ Davos

The suggestion seems like a good one considering the budding relationship between Jon and Daenerys. While discussion how much Sansa hates her, Daenerys learns from her Dothraki guards that the dragons haven’t been eating much since arriving in the North.

She takes Jon out to visit her ‘children’ who are just finishing off the bones of the food that they have eaten. Daenerys knows that the dragons have been uneasy since first arriving so she decides to take Drogon for a ride and she invites Jon to jump on the back of Rhaegal.

Jon: “I don’t know how to ride a dragon”
Daenerys: “Nobody does until they ride a dragon”  

Jon is eventually able to mount the great beast and the two of them ride off into the sky, much to the amazement of the northern people who see their former king now taking flight on the back of a mighty dragon. Now it’s important to note that the relationship between dragons and their riders is part of the lore surrounding these mythical creatures.

There is an idea that only Targaryens are able to mount dragons and that theory comes from the origins of the beasts from a place called Valyria. That is where the dragons were first born and bred and it’s said that only people with Valyrian blood can ride the dragons. The Targaryens were originally from Valyria before escaping to conquer the Seven Kingdoms before their homeland was demolished in the Doom of Valyria.

So it’s possible that the reason Rhaegal allows Jon to mount him and ride is because he senses that there is actually Targaryen blood in him. Then again, Daenerys seems to almost give him permission to ride the dragon and it appears that Rhaegal is listening to her commands. Either way, Jon’s ability to ride a dragon will surely come back into play during this upcoming battle against the army of the dead.

When the two young lovers fly out to a desolate spot near a waterfall, Daenerys comments how they could get lost out here forever and no one would find them. It’s a similar statement that Ygritte made to Jon before she died. The two of them embrace and kiss while the dragons keep a watchful eye on them.

Back at the castle, Jon is once again meeting with his sister Sansa after they received news that House Glover will pass on relocating to Winterfell with the army of the dead on the way. House Glover plead fealty to the King in the North, not the Targaryen queen. It’s clear they are rebelling against the idea of serving another southerner after what happened to Ned Stark and then the disaster of living under House Bolton.

Sansa is still upset that Jon returned home with a new queen in tow but he explains to her that without bending the knee and combining their forces, there would be no way they could survive the fight against the army of the dead. Jon promises that everything he’s done has been for the good of the North.

“Did you bend the knee to save the North or because you love her?”
~ Sansa

It’s another tense encounter between Sansa and Jon, which will likely be a reoccurring theme this season. As for the queen, she makes her way to the library to meet with Samwell Tarly, the man responsible for saving Jorah Mormont’s life and helping him battle back against the greyscale that was consuming him. She then offers Samwell any request that he might make of her as payment for a job well done.

Samwell then asks for a pardon after stealing some books from the Citadel as well as stealing the ancestral sword that belongs to his family. That’s when Samwell reveals his last name and Daenerys realizes that she’s speaking to the son of Randyll Tarly and the brother to Dickon Tarly — two people she had roasted alive after they refused to bend the knee to her last season.

Daenerys is forced to break the bad news to Samwell that both his father and brother are dead. Samwell isn’t all that upset about his father after he was tormented by him for much of his life but he’s clearly distraught hearing about his brother being burned alive. Samwell excuses himself and goes outside where he meets up with Bran Stark, who is sitting alone in the courtyard while telling the maester-in-training that he’s out there waiting for an ‘old friend’.

Bran tells Samwell that it’s time to finally tell Jon the truth about his heritage. Now that he’s home, they can’t wait any longer to explain to him how he was born and the reality of his parents.

A Crown for a King

Down in the crypts of Winterfell, Jon is lighting a candle for his ‘father’ Ned Stark when he then reunites with his closest friend and former brother of the Night’s Watch as Samwell arrives to pay him a visit. First he tells Jon about Daenerys burning his father and brother alive after they were her prisoners.

He then tells Jon the truth about his parents — he is son to Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. He was never a bastard. His name is Aegon Targaryen. And he is the true heir to the Iron Throne.

“You’re the true king. Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name, Protector of the Realm, all of it.”
~ Samwell to Jon

Obviously, Jon is shocked by this revelation. He held his ‘father’ Ned Stark up as the example for everything he’s ever done in life. From serving in the Night’s Watch to his declaration for House Targaryen last season, Jon has done everything just as he hoped Ned would have done and now he’s being told that the man who was supposed to be his father was really his uncle that lied to him for his entire life.

Samwell explains that if King Robert had found out that Rhaegar and Lyanna had a son, he would have been murdered before he reached his first birthday. So the only way for that child to be protected would be for Ned to pass him off as his own son in order to stop anyone from looking at him as the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna.

Also just a quick explanation about why Jon would be the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms when technically Daenerys is Rhaegar’s sister, which makes her a direct descendent from the last Targaryen queen, her father ‘The Mad King’ Aerys II Targaryen.

The line of succession for kings in Westeros goes father to eldest son. The only time it skips to someone else — at least based on the rules of succession — is when the eldest son dies or there is no eldest son. Even in the North, Ned Stark became the Warden of the North only after his older brother Brandon was killed by ‘The Mad King’. Otherwise, Brandon was actually going to marry Catelyn and become the Warden of the North after their father died.

‘The Mad King’ had numerous children but Rhaegar was the oldest and thus called the ‘crown prince’ because he was the next one in the line of succession. By right, once Aerys II Targaryen died, Rhaegar would have been the next in line to be King. Unfortunately for him, Rhaegar died in battle when he was crushed by Robert Baratheon’s war hammer.

The natural line of succession would then make Rhaegar’s eldest son the next king and because his other two children were killed by ‘The Mountain’ Gregor Clegane, that would make Jon Snow aka Aegon VI Targaryen the true heir to the Iron Throne and the next King of the Seven Kingdoms. By rights of succession and blood, Jon Snow is the true heir to the Iron Throne, not Daenerys Targaryen.

Still, Jon scoffs at the idea that he should be king and says that they already have a queen. Samwell then reminds Jon that her right to the Iron Throne has now been thwarted because another Targaryen exists and it’s the one who should be king. Samwell knows that Jon gave up his title as King in the North for the good of his people — would Daenerys do the same?

“You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”
~ Samwell Tarly

There’s no telling what Jon will do with this information now that he knows the truth. Does he bury it and refuse to believe that Ned Stark wasn’t his father? Does he tell Daenerys that she’s been sleeping with her nephew? There’s a lot to unpack from that shocking bit of news just revealed.

The Things I Do for Love

Tormund Giantsbane, Beric Dondarrion and the last remaining members of the Night’s Watch that were still manning Eastwatch-by-the-sea when the Night King arrived on the back of his dead dragon are making their way south to try and get to Winterfell.

The first castle along the way is Last Hearth — the seat of House Umber.

Inside the castle walls, Tormund and the rest of the men see blood stains in the snow but no bodies. When they finally get inside, Tormund, Beric and the rest run into another group — it’s Dolorous Edd, the man who was left to lead the Night’s Watch after Jon Snow decided he didn’t want to be Lord Commander any longer after they betrayed and murdered him.

Edd received a message from Jon at Castle Black that they should bring the last remaining members of the Night’s Watch to Winterfell to prepare for this battle against the dead. Now both groups are exploring what appears to be an abandoned castle with nothing but blood stains on floor.

That’s when they make it into the main hall and they find a gruesome message that’s been left behind. It’s little Ned Umber — the child leader of House Umber and son of Smalljon Umber, who was killed by Tormund in the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ — and he’s been dismembered with his body parts nailed to the wall in a spiral pattern. It’s the same pattern that we’ve been seeing around the White Walkers for several seasons now and it traces back to the magic used by the Children of the Forest when they first created the Night King thousands of years ago in an attempt to make a weapon powerful enough to kill off the First Men. No one knows exactly what that spiral pattern means, but it’s the same symbol seen consistently any time the White Walkers are around.

Ned Umber then wakes from his sleep as his eyes turn blue and he lets out a shriek. Beric sets him on fire with his flaming sword but there are bigger concerns to face right now.

For one, the Night King just saw his army grow even larger after taking House Umber as one of his own — that explains why there were no corpses at the castle. Second, the Night King has already made it this far south, which means he’s not terribly far away from Winterfell with his army of the dead.

Tormund hopes that along with the horses from the Night’s Watch that they can race to the south and get to Winterfell before the army of the dead arrives. They need to warn Jon Snow what’s coming and try to find protection behind the walls of Winterfelll because otherwise there’s little chance any of them survive.

Finally the next morning at Winterfell, a group of people arrive at the castle including a cloaked Jamie Lannister, who rode by himself from King’s Landing after giving up on his sister a season ago. Jamie vowed to help the fight between the living and the dead and he’s going to live up to that promise.

As he dismounts his horse, Jamie looks around the courtyard — a place he hasn’t seen for several years since he went there with King Robert when they retreieved Ned Stark back in season one. Jamie turns and sees Bran Stark sitting and looking back at him. That was the ‘old friend’ Bran had been waiting to arrive.

Remember, Jamie pushed Bran out of a window after he discovered that the Lannister children were having sex with each other. He saw Jamie and Cersei together so the only way to ensure he wouldn’t tell anybody was to push him from the window to an untimely death.

Unfortunately for Jamie and Cersei, Bran lived although he never remembered who shoved him from that window — until now. Jamie is stunned to see Bran there waiting for him because for all his good intentions to join this war against the dead, it’s his past sins that are coming back to haunt him now.

‘Game of Thrones’ will return next Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.

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