The first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones premiered earlier today and with just the opening intro, it showed how far the series has come from its humble beginnings. A map that used to span the whole of Westeros and Essos now has only three significant areas of interest - Last Hearth, Winterfell and King’s Landing. The last Hearth is named so because it is the final place that gives people south of The Wall a sense of home and warm fire before they venture north to the colder confines of Westeros.
It is the northernmost castle in the country (not counting the three that belong to the Night’s Watch alongside The Wall) and is the seat of Umbers, bannermen to Starks. It is here that Tormund and Beric Dondarrion run to from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, which was breached by the Night King in the last episode of last season. There they are joined by the 999th Lord Commander of Night’s Watch, Edd Tollett who has brought men and horses from Castle Black.
What they find here is a spiral pattern that is very similar to what Jon Snow and Mance Rayder found way back in Season 3. This pattern could be one of two things:(a) The White Walkers saying they are coming after the Children of the Forest. As shown in flashbacks, The Children were the ones who used to have these patterns.(b) The Night King was an ancient Targaryen or he is coming after Dany because the spiral pattern is very similar to the sigil of House Targaryen.
Talking of Dany, she and her army of Unsullied, Dothraki and two dragons all march into Winterfell. This entire sequence is reminiscent of the last time a king came to Winterfell - the first episode of the first season. That is not the only call back in the episode though. It is also about how Sansa Stark says, “Winterfell is yours, my Grace,” to Daenarys nee Eddard to Robert. Another character is asking. “Where is Arya?” similar to how Ned did. We first got to know about Stark and Targaryen relationship in S1E1 and we get to know an even bigger truth this time around. It then proceeds to confirm certain theories surrounding Jon and Daenarys (individually and together) whilst also teasing some surrounding Arya and Sansa.
The best throwback is saved for the last as Jaime Lannister rides on a horse and removes his cloak as we see his bearded face - all a stark contrast to his first season appearance. I really want to write a thesis on how beautifully two characters evolve over 8 seasons after one chance meeting that changes everything for both of them.
The episode largely helped in establishing each of the big characters (and it is a huge character list), a quick recap of their journey, their dynamics with each other and their current motivations all in Winterfell. But amidst all these old faces, we saw the arrival of someone completely new quite late into the endgame - The Golden Company of Braavos. It is a huge fighting force and it confirms my speculation that King’s Landing increasingly will be the final stand for all the living.
This is evidenced not only by the intro (there is a throwaway scene there of a confrontation between the Lannister lion and White Walkers holding the head of a wolf), but also because of the name “King’s Landing”. It is where the Seven Kingdoms were established after the arrival of dragons and Targaryens and it makes sense if everything in its current form ends there.
Talking of King’s Landing, one of the most enduring theories from last season might just have been proven right. I’ll just say it concerns Cersei’s pregnancy. My most favourite scene of this episode as far as King’s Landing is concerned - another callback to the cyclical nature of this show - was Qyburn giving a crossbow to Ser Bronn of Blackwater. I don’t know if you remember but both GRRM and D&D told that Varys’ riddle of the sellsword is one of the most important plot points in the whole novel/series.
The riddle went - “Three great men sit in a room - a king, a priest and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword to kill the other.” Varys answers the riddle by saying, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It is a trick. A shadow on the wall. A very small man can cast a very large shadow.”It has been years since the riddle came into being on the show, but the answer to that question is still thrusting this story forward. Winter is Coming was the title of the first episode. Winterfell is the title of this one. The story spiralled outward but now it is firmly self-contained. Like a circle. Much like the cyclical nature of this story.