The grandest and most beloved stories come full circle in the end, and Game of Thrones‘ Season 8 premiere proved that it intends to do just that. In an episode full of parallels to the show’s pilot from eight years ago, we got ready to send Thrones off with full nostalgia for the episode that started it all.
The North remembers.
On the most basic level, this episode was titled “Winterfell”; it took us back to the place where our story began to prepare us for the beginning of the end. “Winterfell” could easily have been the show’s pilot title, but that episode was “Winter is Coming” – and as we well know, winter is now here.
1. The procession
Season 1, episode 1 brings us the pomp and circumstance of King Robert Baratheon’s arrival at Winterfell, complete with banners and horses and strangers from the South whom Winterfell regards warily (and with just cause). Even the music is a variation on “The King’s Arrival,” a theme we hear only a handful of times throughout Thrones‘ history.
2. A climbing spectator
Bran Stark may be the one known for climbing, but it was Arya who pushed through a crowd of onlookers to find higher ground and watch the king’s procession in “Winter is Coming.” This time, it’s a young Northern boy, whom we’d advise against climbing, given the history.
3. The Stark lineup
Once in Winterfell, Robert’s coterie is greeted by the full Stark family – the first and last time we see the entire nuclear Stark unit on-screen together. Jon and Daenerys arrive to a glaringly abridged lineup, but a strong one nonetheless: Sansa, Lady of Winterfell, her dramatic stoner teen brother, Brienne of Tarth, Podrick Payne, Lyanna Mormont, and the rest of the Stark banners.
4. Arya lurking
The first time we meet Arya Stark in Season 1, she shoots an arrow at Bran’s target after hiding and watching unbeknownst to any of the Stark men. When Jon returns in Season 8, she’s hidden in the crowds that had greeted him – a girl who became no one.
5. Arya and Jon
The long-awaited reunion between these two cousin-siblings did not disappoint, with a heartfelt hug and the kind of emotional and open conversation that all the other Starks deserve but don’t get (Arya and Sansa deserved better in Season 7, don’t @ us).
Arya’s older brothers always had a soft spot for her, but it was Jon who gave her Needle to support her unconventional interests as a highborn lady, and Needle became Arya’s only constant for years.
6. A hopeful engagement
Davos, Varys, and Tyrion plot Dany and Jon’s marital alliance from a distance, just as Robert and Ned planned to betroth Joffrey and Sansa. It might not matter, but uh, those two didn’t really work out. And neither did the other political marriage laid out in “Winter is Coming”: Daenerys and Khal Drogo.
Also a fun note: In the pilot, Sansa all but begs to be engaged to Joffrey (“It’s all I’ve ever wanted!”) and in the Season 8 premiere, she looks back on his murder almost fondly.
7. The crypts
Ned and Robert – brothers by choice if not by blood – speak in the crypts in “Winter is Coming,” about joining their families and, notably, about Lyanna Stark.
Years later, Night’s Watch brothers Sam and Jon speak about Lyanna again – this time with full disclosure about Jon’s parentage.
8. Bran lurking
“Winter is Coming” told us a lot about the middle Stark siblings’ M.O.s before we knew them well; Arya could sneak around, even as a known face, and Bran’s penchant for climbing had him seeing and hearing things he wasn’t supposed to know about (now he does it professionally and works remote).
In “Winterfell,” Bran spent hours – nay, days? – “waiting for an old friend” in the courtyard, popping up now and then to stare uncomfortably at someone because why not play to your strengths?
9. The Night King’s message
Game of Thrones began with people finding White Walker carnage in the North – dozens of dead bodies, with the dismembered limbs arranged in a crude and curious circular formation. More advanced versions of this symbol appear throughout the series when the White Walkers have a big kill (horses, humans, etc). We see it in the cave at Dragonstone and learn that it dates back to the Children of the Forest and the creation of the Night King himself.
10. A child who becomes a wight
Speaking of Lord Umber, let’s not forget that within the first few minutes of the Game of Thrones pilot, before we had even heard that iconic theme song, a little girl was turned into a wight, and the threat was immediate and real. Cersei may have needed convincing, but Thrones viewers have been aware and terrified of the Northern threat for years.
11. That final pairing
Both “Winter is Coming” and “Winterfell” end on a pivotal Thrones duo, and not one you’d expect to hold such significance: Jaime and Bran. The two haven’t met since the shocking final seconds of “Winterfell” in which Bran caught Jaime and Cersei together and was unceremoniously defenestrated with a casual “The things I do for love.”
Catelyn and Ned figured out who tried to kill their son, but Bran barely fixated over the years on the man who changed his life forever. In the meantime, Jaime’s been charming everyone from Brienne to literally all of us in the audience with a redemption arc for the ages. Bran is the final piece of that, but will the Three-Eyed Raven forgive? (Cause he sure can’t forget.)