Review: Game of Thrones – “Winterfell” (Episode 801)

By Mlgagne

Arya (Maisie Williams) joins the Northern spectators watching as Daenerys and Jon arrive in Winterfell. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.

Winter is finally here for one last hurrah, as the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday, April 14 – and the episode certainly did not disappoint! For the final season, the FoCC Blog will be focusing on episode reviews instead of recaps (HBO has posted a recap of the episode to their Viewer’s Guide) – so, if you are all up-to-date on the series, continue reading for my thoughts on the episode, entitled “Winterfell.”

(But, just to be extra cautious…SPOILERS below!)

As far as Game of Thrones’ series premiere go, I think that “Winterfell” was one of the best. One of the aspects that makes it so great is the fact that many of the scenes mirror the first episode of the entire series. The arrival of Jon and Daenerys at Winterfell closely resembles Robert’s arrival; even some of the shots are done in a similar fashion. Another example of this is the shape created by the Night King around Ned Umber’s body at Last Hearth, which calls back to the bodies that are discovered by the man of the Night’s Watch – who is later beheaded as a deserter by Ned Stark – in the cold open of the first episode. And, of course, there is the scene at the very end of the episode where Jaime and Bran meet again for the first time since the pilot, which ended with the infamous scene of Jaime pushing Bran out of the window of Winterfell’s tower. These moments are done brilliantly, as they offer the viewer a nostalgic reminder of how far the series has come.

Arya (Maisie Williams) and Jon (Kit Harington) finally reunite at Winterfell for the first time since season one. Photo: HBO.

Additionally, unlike many of the season premieres throughout the series’ run, “Winterfell” didn’t simply serve as a set-up for the episodes to follow. Instead, the episode’s core is truly based in the relationships between the characters, one of the many aspects of Thrones that has enthralled me since the beginning. The episode gave us plenty of reunions between characters who haven’t seen each other for seasons: Bran and Jon (awkward), Sansa and Tyrion (even more awkward), Jaime and Bran (without a doubt the MOST awkward), Arya and Jon (I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying!), Arya and Sandor/The Hound (with Sandor acting like a proud uncle), and Arya and Gendry (who you’re probably already shipping – I know I am!). So many of these relationships have pushed the story along over the course of the years – for instance, it was Jon who gifted Arya with Needle in the first season, and Jaime pushing Bran out of the window in the series’ premiere was the catalyst that set off a chain of events leading the characters to where they are now. Seeing these characters interact again after so much time has elapsed not only re-establishes those relationships, but it also gives fans the long-awaited satisfaction of seeing how the relationships have changed.

Sam (John Bradley) meets Daenerys for the first time. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.

One reunion in particular that I felt was particularly significant to the story in an unexpected way was Sam’s reunion with Jon in the Winterfell crypts (though they haven’t been separated as long as some of the other characters). While it was satisfying to see Sam finally revealing Jon’s true parentage to him, and while Jon’s reaction to the news was very – ahem – Jon, the aspect of this that I found the most intriguing was the perspective that Sam brings on Daenerys. Sam had never met Daenerys prior to this episode and, upon learning that she burned both his father and brother alive when they refused to bend the knee to her, he views her as a potentially dangerous ruler. When Jon protests that he has killed disobedient men before, Sam is quick to remind him that he has also spared people.

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harington) share an intimate moment. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.

Furthermore, with Jon being Rhaegar’s legitimate son and therefore having the best claim to the Iron Throne, Sam questions Daenerys’ underlying nature. “You gave up your crown to save your people,” he says to Jon. “Would she do the same?” Realistically, the answer to this is “no,” and I think that deep down, Jon knows this; however, he is blinded by his love for Daenerys, which also explains his inability to see the perspective that both Sansa and Arya hold on bringing a stranger to the North and bending the knee to her. Sam is probably one of the people that Jon trusts the most in the world, so his opinion likely holds more weight than those of Sansa and Arya; even Bran says that Sam is more family to Jon than the remaining Starks. Moreover, the audience trusts Sam; we see him as an honest and loyal man, one of the few characters who may be completely “good” in a sea of moral grayness. As a result, with Sam’s mind now made up on Daenerys and his opinions being clearly communicated to Jon, it feels like viewers are finally being made aware of something that, in my opinion, was always inevitable: the fact that Jon’s inherent character would make him a far better ruler than Daenerys, despite the fact that he wants nothing to do with the Iron Throne. This fits in extremely well with my theory that Jon is the one who is meant to unite the Seven Kingdoms and is the person who will fulfill the Azor Ahai prophecy that Melisandre believed referred to Stannis for so long. After all, if the Night King represents ice and Daenerys represents fire, then Jon is the middle man between the two; he is literally the “song of ice and fire,” with his true parents being Lyanna Stark (ice) and Rhaegar Targaryen (fire). Thus, it feels to me like Sam’s perspective on Daenerys is a subtle and brilliant way of gently nudging the audience towards the direction in which the last five episodes of the series are going – but we’ll see how that theory pans out over the next few weeks.

Overall, I enjoyed the episode immensely, and I look forward to seeing what episode two has in store for us. In the meantime, enjoy some of my other highlights and questions from “Winterfell” below.

“Winterfell” Highlights and Notable Moments

  • This is the first episode of the series to feature a brand new, more detailed set of opening credits, actually going inside both Winterfell and the Red Keep and showing us different views of both castles (as if the credits hadn’t already been detailed enough in the other seasons). The final image is of an empty Iron Throne in the Red Keep’s throne room, a sign that the end of the series is nigh. Also, if there was any doubt in viewers’ minds that the spinning images in the credits are one and the same with the spheres in the Citadel’s library, there shouldn’t be anymore; they’ve become even more pronounced in these new credits, like the show is trying to hit us over the head with it. This gives even more credibility to my theory that Sam will be the one to chronicle the events of the series, titling the history A Song of Ice and Fire; but again, we’ll see how that theory pans out over the next few weeks.

    Sansa (Sophie Turner) is wary of Daenerys and the arrival of her army and dragons in Winterfell. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.
  • The tension between Sansa and Daenerys could be cut with a knife – and to me, Sansa has not asked anything unreasonable by questioning how she’s supposed to feed an army and two dragons she didn’t account for (though I suppose this is mostly due to Jon’s lack of communication with her). Daenerys’ apparent insistence that Sansa and the Northerners respect her right off the bat, though Jon has told her multiple times that Northerners are mistrustful of outsiders and it will take time to earn their trust, furthers the idea that Jon is more suited to be a ruler than she is.
  • The interaction between Jon and Arya regarding Sansa was refreshing, because Arya tells him that Sansa is “the smartest person [she] know[s].” Not only have the sisters learned to respect one another, but someone is finally giving Sansa credit as a strategist. About time!
  • Cersei’s disappointment that the Golden Company has not brought any elephants to Westeros is hilarious. I’m not sure if she thought that she could fight them against the dragons, but I’m glad that we don’t ever have to find out.
  • Cersei + Euron = VOMIT. I’ll say no more.
  • Theon rescuing Yara – and Yara subsequently giving him leave to go North and fight alongside the Starks against the undead – is beautiful.
  • Davos’ suggestion that Jon and Daenerys be married could certainly provide an excellent solution to Daenerys’ desire to be Queen even though Jon has the better claim. However, Davos doesn’t yet know that the duo are – ahem – related. And, as Varys says, “Nothing lasts.” These words are ominous at best, and something tells me that they are foretelling of what’s to come.
  • Jon getting to ride Rhaegal was absolutely magical. Aside from the breathtaking scene of watching them fly through the air alongside Daenerys and Drogon, it’s bittersweet to think that the dragon who has chosen him was named after his true father. Also, the ways that Drogon and Rhaegal are creeping on Jon and Daenerys tells me that, unlike Davos, the dragons totally know that the couple is related.
  • I’m glad to see that Edd, Tormund, and Beric all survived the Wall’s fall! Edd never fails to crack me up, and his initial insistence that Tormund is dead because his eyes are blue (“I’ve always had blue eyes!”) is no exception.
  • When Ned Umber rose as a wight and began shrieking as if he were trying to wake the dead, I literally yelled and almost jumped over the couch. Yikes!
Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) has no time for social niceties now that the Night King and his army have marched past The Wall. Photo: HBO.

Questions Following “Winterfell”

  • Why does everyone at Winterfell seem to be so nonchalant about the fall of the Wall and the Night King adding Viserion to his army? While Bran’s announcement may have completely lacked any social graces, it still seems to me that the news warranted more of a reaction from Jon and Daenerys, at the very least.
  • What exactly is Cersei’s master plan here? The Golden Company has arrived with 20,000 men while everyone else is in the North, and she is gladdened when Qyburn tells her that the undead have broken beyond the Wall. Does she plan to attack the North while their defenses are down?
  • With the Golden Company in play, could we see the return of Daario Naharis in the coming weeks? He was a sellsword prior to pledging himself to Daenerys, so it’s entirely possible that he went back to the trade after she left him behind in Meereen. His appearance on the opposing side would definitely be an interesting move.

    Cersei (Lena Headey) seemingly takes the final steps to solidifying her plans. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO.
  • Will Bronn actually follow through on Cersei’s request to kill Jaime and Tyrion? He, too, is a sellsword at his core, so it’s entirely possible that he will decide the gold Cersei has given him outweighs his relationship with the Lannister brothers. Tyrion has always said he would beat any competitor’s price for Bronn’s services – but with the Iron Bank backing Cersei, Bronn would undoubtedly question the likelihood of that ever happening.
  • Will Sandor/The Hound have a reunion with Sansa in the coming weeks? I’m more than curious to see how Sansa would react to seeing him after all this time. Something tells me that she definitely wouldn’t be afraid of him anymore, as she’s more than learned that monstrosity doesn’t always have to do with looks.
  • Has the entire Umber family been wiped out after the attack of the undead, or were there any survivors? Because if they’re all dead, it certainly doesn’t bode well for the impending battle at Winterfell.
  • Based on the episode two preview, it looks like Jaime will be facing trial at Winterfell – though it looks to me that he should be more fearful of Daenerys than Bran, as she looks like she wants to burn him alive. However, Sansa looks like she might somewhat more sympathetic to the situation, and we already know that she and Daenerys aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on things. So, what will be the outcome of this trial? In my opinion, this is likely going to be the show’s equivalent of yet to be resolved the plot from the books where Lady Stoneheart pits Jaime and Brienne against one another. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that Jaime would come out of that scenario alive and fighting for the North, so I’m hopeful for a similar outcome here.

Are you watching the final season of Game of Thrones? Join the conversation on FoCC!


Melanie (Mlgagne) is an actor/producer and a lover of pop culture and the entertainment industry. She is a passionate fan of various TV shows and films, including (but certainly not limited to) PREACHER, GAME OF THRONES, THE WALKING DEAD, RIVERDALE, and X-MEN. She is a regular attendee of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC), and she has attended New York Comic Con (NYCC), WonderCon, and Walker Stalker Con in the past. You can follow her on both Twitter and Instagram @mlgagne.

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