Spoilers for the entirety of HBO’s Game of Thrones will follow.
We’ve done it folks. We’ve arrived at the final season of Game of Thrones, nearly two years after the previous season aired in the summer of 2017. It’s been a long wait, and a lot has been building up to this moment in our culture. It truly feels like a lifetime ago that Bran Stark was pushed out a window and Ned Stark’s death shocked us all. HBO has now reported that their previous record for viewership has been broken with this episode, with 17.4 million viewers tuning in Sunday night, beating out the Season 7 finale by half a million viewers. Much has been talked about with the end of this series being the end of any semblance of a monoculture – the last show that we will all be watching together – and these numbers certainly back that up. Sunday night we all got in front of our TVs, shifting our attentions away from all the different streaming options (yes, I know this show is “streaming” too) and we banded together to watch the first episode of the final six in this, the Game of Thrones.
The theme of the episode seemed to be reacquainting viewers with the characters and where they are at in the story as it stands. For the most part, that takes us to Winterfell, where the majority of our remaining characters seem to have collected. Daenerys and Jon have arrived in Winterfell where they are greeted by Sansa and Arya. We of course had already gotten the Sansa and Jon reunion moment last season before he went off to meet with Daenerys, but his warm embrace with Arya was one that had been long in the making since the first season. This stood out as being one of the most emotionally resonant moments of the episode.
Seeing these four characters on screen together in the same place at the same time provoked a notably weird feeling. Jon, Dany, Arya and Sansa are four of the most key characters we have been following since the very beginning. They have had the most significant and memorable character arcs, not to mention we have seen the actors literally grow up before our eyes. They have also spent the majority of the series in completely different regions of Westeros with markedly different experiences. Now they have all been brought together for these final episodes with the collective hope of banding together to fight the oncoming doom of the Night King and the White Walkers.
There are many things at play in “Winterfell” besides happy reunions, such as Sansa’s skepticism of Daenerys, Tyrion reckoning with his place in the hierarchy of this new reality, Bran being the ultimate wildcard, and other fringe characters like Sam and The Hound finding their place as well. All of this is happening in Winterfell, and it seems to be building up to the biggest battle the show has ever had. Daenerys has collected several armies to fight for her along the way, not to mention Jon and Sansa’s people of Winterfell and Jaime arriving at the end of the episode to bring some more Lannister punch. There is still a lot more to work out within all these relationships and that is sure to be the main point of discussion in the next episode. Jaime will surely get his reunion with Brienne, and Bran and Jaime locked eyes in this episode’s final moments, suggesting we will see a confrontation there soon.
Perhaps the most pressing revelation out of “Winterfell” was Sam’s reveal to Jon Snow of his parentage. By telling Jon that he is the son of Raegar Targaryen and the rightful heir to the throne, Sam has also potentially driven a wedge between Jon and Daenerys. This has to be the most fundamentally key point to the show moving forward, as it will likely determine who will be left on the throne at the series’ end.
The other points of emphasis in the episode outside of Winterfell took place in King’s Landing, where we now see Cersei Lannister residing on the throne without any opposition. There, with Yara his prisoner, Euron Greyjoy attempts to swoon Cersei with his charms, to no avail. While doing so, we see Theon come to Yara’s rescue, releasing her from captivity before making it clear that he intends to go join the Starks in Winterfell. Very much looking forward to Theon reuniting with Sansa, remembering when the two of them were able to find solace in each other during a time of immense distress at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. As for Cersei, she has made it clear that she wants no part in the fight against the White Walkers, so it will be interesting to see what the payoff will be for the hopeful demise of her villainous character.
With only five episodes and nearly two years since our last hour in this world, this was a necessary episode in reminding the audiences of the stakes and setting up what the story is building up to in its final moments. If it wasn’t already made clear, the four remaining Stark children along with Daenerys are the “heroes” of our story, with Cersei acting as a functional villain and the Night King and the White Walkers looming on the outside. There are an abundance of supporting characters sprinkled around that we have ties to as well and their stories have been some of the most fruitful up to this point, but with only a few hours left, it is clear what the showrunners want us as viewers to hold onto. Hold on tight we shall, as this is a moment in our culture we will always remember; one we will strive for and will likely never again recapture.
‘Game of Thrones’ continues Sunday night at 9pm ET on HBO