The show returns with the arrival of Daenerys, Jon Snow, and her army at Winterfell. We watch this arrival from Arya’s perspective. She is delighted to see Jon and Gendry, but far less so The Hound, and it is nice to see more of the old Arya again. We are then treated to the first of many reunions as Jon meets Bran, although he is still standoffish and cold. Bran then lets the new arrivals know about the fall of the wall and the return of Daenerys’ former dragon. At a meeting Lyanna Mormont and Sansa are less than happy about Daenerys’ presence and Jon forsaking his title as The King in the North. Tyrion makes an impassioned speech in an attempt to win over the northerns about their need to work together, but Sansa remains unconvinced.
After the meeting we see Tyrion and Sansa’s first meeting since Sansa was smuggled away following the Purple Wedding. Sansa questions why Tyrion would ever believe Cersei, saying she used to believe he was the smartest man in the world, but clearly unimpressed now. We have another big reunion between Jon and Arya, where Jon says he wished she had been at their meeting to help with Sansa. Arya however is supports Sansa, as she is loyal to their family. When Jon say that he is a port of that family, she tells him not to forget that.
Whilst watching more Northern families, including former enemies the Karstarks, arrive at Winterfell Davos suggest to Tyrion and Varys that Jon and Daenerys should be married if they are able to survive the coming battle against the White Walkers. We see Jon and Daenerys growing closer as they visit her dragons. Daenerys encourage Jon to attempt to ride one, and we see him learning how. They stop in the middle of nowhere, and continue their relationship that began on the journey to Winterfell.
Gendry is continuing his old job as a smith, helping to craft a number of dragonglass weapons with the materials that Jon harvested from Dragon stone. Amongst these is a special axe for the Hound. They are interrupted by Arya, who the Hound notes is a cold hearted person for leaving him for dead. After he leaves Arya makes a request for a special weapon from Gendry, and there is some heavy flirting between the two. Meanwhile Sansa notes that some houses, such as the Glovers, won’t join the fight at Winterfell because they swore allegiance to Jon, not Daenerys. Jon fights back saying he only ever wanted to defend the North, not to wear a crown. Sansa however shrewdly asks him whether he truly bent the knee to Daenerys for the North, or because he’s in love with her.
With Sam returned to Winterfell Daenerys and Ser Jorah come to thank him for his work in saving Jorah’s life. As reward he asks for a pardon for stealing books from the Citadel and his father’s sword. On realising he’s a Tarly Daenerys tells Sam about killing his father and brother for refusing to bend the knee to her. A heartbroken Sam leaves, running in to Bran who tells him that it is time to let Jon know the truth. In the crypts Sam tells Jon about what Daenerys did to his family. When Jon defends her Sam questions whether Jon would have done it. Jon responds by saying he isn’t a king, but Sam then reveals him to be Aegon Targaryen, the true king, and the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
The episode ends with Jaime’s arrival in Winterfell amongst the refugees. As he dismounts his horse, he looks on in disbelief that Bran is there, after Jaime’s attempt to kill him back in the first episode.
Whilst Cersei awaits the return of Euron with the 20,000 strong mercenary army, the Golden Company, Qyburn brings news of the dead’s passing of the wall. We learn that Euron is keeping Yara prisoner, and that his allegiances to Cersei are tenuous, admitting to Yara that if Cersei beings to lose he will sail the Iron Fleet somewhere else. Cersei is introduced to Harry Strickland, the commander of the Golden Company, and is disappointed that he brought no Elephants with the army. After Euron manages to talk Cersei into beginning a relationship with him. Whilst Euron is distracted with Cersei, Theon sneaks aboard the Iron Fleet and rescues Yara. Yara insists upon returning to the Iron Islands as a defensible position, but sees his desire to join the fight at Winterfell sends him to the North. Meanwhile Qyburn visits Bronn telling him that, unlike Jaime, Cersei will keep her promises, giving him order to ensure the deaths of both her brothers, Tyrion and Jaime.
We see that Tormund and Beric Dondarrion along with a handful of others survived the Night King’s attack on Eastwatch at the end of Season 7. They reach Last Hearth, the home of House Umber in ruins with the White Walkers already having marched through there. They also encounter Dolorous Edd with those from The Night’s Watch. Together they find the body of young Ned Umber, who then reanimates as a wight before Beric burns the body.
As we’ve come to expect with season openers ‘Winterfell’ isn’t packed with grand action sequence, instead it is more content to be the moment where many characters are brought back together for the first time in seasons, some since the first episode. It’s clear that the showrunners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, know what the biggest prevailing theories around the show are, pushing both the idea of Daenerys and Jon marrying and that of them turning on one another to the forefront, with the conflict and political machinations that are happening with so many key characters all in one space again. The episode sets Sansa up as initially distrustful of Daenerys, and shows two of those Jon trusts most, Arya and Sam siding more with her. The key moment is clearly Sam revealing Jon’s parentage to Jon, along with the fact that she murdered his family for not bending the knee in ‘The Spoils of War’ last season. His last line to Jon about would she be willing to give up her crown to protect the people clearly has some kind of impact with him, and I cannot wait to see how this will affect how he is with her in the next episode. Especially given that they had grown closer over this episode, with him even riding a dragon with her, a moment that had some truly beautiful music from composer Ramin Djawadi.
But this was really an episode mostly full of reunions. And it was truly joyous to see so many of these characters, who have been apart for so long. We saw Arya reunite with Jon, Gendry, and The Hound. Jon also reunited with Bran and Sam. Sansa reunited with her former husband Tyrion. There were also a number of smaller reunions in the episode as well. This could easily have become repetitive, but writer Dave Hill and director David Nutter did a good job ensuring that it didn’t. It was also nice to Arya come back a bit more to her old self in her scenes with Jon, and especially Gendry. Her storyline really lost its way in Braavos, and her character became far more unlikable, but it was great to see her joking around with Gendry like she used to.
It is very clear that Cersei hasn’t taken Jaime’s departure well. She seemed far more distant, in this episode, and was visibly upset after beginning a relationship with Euron at his suggestion of putting a royal baby in her belly. She knows she is missing the father of her unborn child, and one of the few people she truly cares for. This may well have been the moment that Cersei chose to have Bronn attempt to assassinate her brothers, as she is truly feeling the lack of Jaime’s presence now. Lena Headey was exception in these scenes, and continues to be one of the stand out actors on the show. As for Bronn’s mission, I’m guessing that he won’t be able to go through with it, he did always seem to genuinely get on with Tyrion and Jaime, so seeing them again in the North may be just the spark he needs to join their fight, but you really never know with him.
Overall ‘Winterfell’ is kind of what we’ve come to expect from an opening episode to a season of Game of Thrones, and we did need to move all of the players into position and see all these reunions, as well as setting up the potential discord between Jon and Daenerys, that may yet still end up being the finale of the show. But given that there is only five episodes left after this, ‘Winterfell could certainly have been a more explosive episode.