WARNING: There are, obviously, plenty of spoilers ahead.
Let’s review the first episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, mysteriously just titled “Episode One.” We start with a little boy, whom we later discover is Stark bannerman Lord Umber, dashing through a crowd outside Winterfell. The Northerners are gathered to see a procession of Daenerys’ armies. We see Arya in the crowd of onlookers; she sees Jon, the Hound, and Gendry, but none of them see her. Inside the gates of Winterfell, Jon is reunited with Bran and Sansa. Sansa makes her distrust for Dany clear, and they trade veiled barbs, but Bran interrupts, reminding those present that their common enemy is the important thing.
The Stark bannermen are displeased with Jon’s choice to give up his title of “King in the North” — which they bestowed on him — in order to gain Daenerys’ aid. Jon insists that he prioritizes protecting the North over actually ruling it, and Tyrion stresses the importance of working together against the destruction of Westeros. Sansa, putting her people first in her role as Lady of Winterfell, asks how they are expected to feed the armies Jon has returned with, not to mention two full-grown dragons. Daenerys replies that dragons eat “whatever they want,” a not-so-veiled threat that has Sansa fans biting their nails.
Following this tense meeting, Tyrion finds Sansa outside and they speak for the first time since the ill-fated “Purple Wedding” at the beginning of season four. Sansa questions Tyrion’s willingness to invite a Lannister army into their midst. Tyrion observes that Cersei is unlikely to sabotage herself now that she has “something to live for” — the fake pregnancy she used as a bargaining chip last season — and Sansa observes, “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” before walking away.
Arya finds Jon in the Godswood, and they are reunited for the first time since saying goodbye to each other in season one, episode one. It was Jon who gave Arya her sword, Needle, and he remarks upon the fact that she still has it. Arya says little about her adventures since Ned’s death, trials which might upset her loving elder brother, but does warn Jon to keep in mind that Sansa is family, and that the Starks must stick together.
At the Red Keep, Cersei hears from Maester Qyburn that the Wall has fallen, to which she responds, “good;” we are reminded that her plan is to let the White Walkers and Northerners kill each other off, leaving her in charge. Euron Greyjoy has his fleet parked outside the city and is keeping his niece Yara captive there. He meets with Cersei and suggests some “alone time” with her. Cersei reminds Euron that they had agreed not to commence any romantic relationship until the war was over, but she changes her mind and they leave the room together. Qyburn, in the meantime, tells former mercenary Ser Bronn that Cersei is willing to “pay in advance” for his services with several trunks of gold. Bronn, catching on quickly, asks who she wants him to kill; Qyburn presents him with the crossbow Tyrion used to kill his father Tywin Lannister, and tells Bronn that Cersei wants both her brothers — Tyrion and Jaime — dead. Bronn befriended Tyrion in season one, and won his title fighting under Tyrion’s command in season two. Later, after Jaime lost his right hand, Bronn helped him relearn to sword fight with his left, and they formed a strong friendship as well. Will Bronn be able to betray both his friends in the name of the “side with the winner” philosophy he has always stuck to?
Back in Cersei’s chambers, after some cold post-coital banter, Euron claims he’s going to put a prince in Cersei’s belly. Let’s hope not. While Euron is occupied, Theon frees Yara from captivity on Euron’s ship. Yara tells Theon she wants to retake their homeland, the Iron Islands, from Euron, but gives Theon her blessing to go to Winterfell and fight for the Starks. Theon calls her his “Queen,” and they part affectionately.
At Winterfell, while Varys, Tyrion, and Davos are discussing the possibility of a marriage between Dany and Jon, Dany and Jon visit the dragons. Dany gets on Drogon’s back, and seeing Jon petting Rhaegal, tells him to give it a try. Jon does so, and fans get a moment they’ve long awaited: seeing Dany and Jon riding on dragonback side by side. A delightful dragon race ends with the two of them landing by a secluded waterfall, flirting and kissing. It’s all very sweet, which is usually a bad sign on this show.
Gendry, meanwhile, is forging dragonglass blades — one of the few ways to kill a White Walker — and the Hound stops by to pick up his. Arya enters, seeing both her former travel companions (Gendry from season two, the Hound from season four) for the first time in years. The Hound observes, somewhat fondly, that Arya left him to die, and walks away. Gendry flirts, and Arya requests a special blade from him.
Jon finds Sansa in her office, and the two argue about the wisdom of his abdicating his title as King in the North. Sansa asks Jon whether he abdicated for the good of his people, or because he loves Daenerys. Meanwhile, Dany and her faithful servant Jorah Mormont find Samwell Tarly, who cured Jorah of a deadly affliction called greyscale, and Dany thanks him. Sam mentions stealing his ancestral sword from the home of his Tarly ancestors; when Dany learns that Sam is a Tarly, she is forced to inform him that she killed his father and brother for refusing to surrender in the aftermath of a battle last season. Sam flees the room, only to run into Bran, who insists that Sam must tell Jon what the two of them learned last season: that Jon, son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, has a claim to the Iron Throne in his own right. Sam finds Jon in the crypts of Winterfell and reveals his true parentage.
At the Wall, Beric Dondarrion, Tormund Giantsbane, and Edd Tollett are exploring the ruins of a Night’s Watch castle that has been invaded by White Walkers. In the dining hall, they find the corpse of little Lord Umber pinned to the wall amidst a spiral pattern of severed limbs. The corpse reanimates as a wight, and they are forced to set it on fire, though it still takes several moments to die. With this sobering reminder of the difficulty of the coming fight, we are directed to the last scene: Jaime Lannister arrives at Winterfell, and the first person he sees is Bran, whom he pushed out a window in the very first episode of the show.
What does it mean?
The North is divided over Jon’s decision to bend the knee to Daenerys, a tension that could weaken their alliance against the encroaching White Walkers; Cersei is playing a dangerous game, depending on her enemies to destroy each other; Yara is back in play as a commander; Sam has learned of his father’s and brother’s deaths and distrusts Daenerys; Jon knows of his true parentage and possible claim to the Iron Throne; the Night King is out for blood.
Jon and Dany’s magic dragon ride, a long-awaited milestone filled with delight and wonder.
Cersei’s imaginary fetus. We hardly knew ye!
Lord Umber. Not a major character, but a cute kid. Turns out, war is hell, especially when ice zombies are in the mix.