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Stars: 4.5/5

The night is dark and full of spoilers, and so is this article. Seven blessings to you. 

The last two years felt torturous wandering in the Red Waste as “Game of Thrones” fans awaited the return of the series, but on April 14, HBO and series co-creators and showrunners D&D, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, rewarded us with the first episode of the eighth and final season. 

The episode, adequately titled “Winterfell,” starts with Jon (Kit Harrington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) arriving in, you guessed it, Winterfell. A displeased Sansa (Sophie Turner) begrudgingly welcomes Dany to the North. The lords and ladies are displeased with Jon’s choice to bend the knee to Dany, particularly Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey). 

Another character who strategically bends the knee is Cersei (Lena Heady), to Euron Greyjoy (PilouAsbæk), allowing for Theon (Alfie Allen) to rescue his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan). Yara decides to retake the Iron Islands and tells Theon it’s OK for him to return to Winterfell to fight for the Starks. Allen is such an underrated actor with amazing subtext. 

Jon is reunited with Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Arya (Maisie Williams) as well as Sam (John Bradley) who delivers the most paramount piece of information in the series to Jon. Dany, in turn, tells Sam some brutal news. Accounts of the Wall falling spread throughout Westeros as everyone in the North prepares to fight the Night King and his army of the dead. 

This episode had so many heartwarming and hilarious moments. The parade of reunions was only made more personal by the fact that this was also the fans’ reunion with the show. Dany and Jon riding Drogon and Rhaegal, respectively, then Drogonwatching as they shared a kissed was a comical — albeit creepy — perfect GoT scene and a great hint from D&D to Jon being a Targaryen and Rhaegar's son.

The episode is riddled with parallels from season one, episode one. The child in the opening sequence lurking to catch a glimpse of the arriving queen mimics a young Arya sneaking around the crowd to see King Robert (Mark Addy) arrive in Winterfell. Similarly, the dead Lord Umber stuck to the wall resembles the dead little girl stuck to the tree from that episode that preceded the first sighting of white walkers in the series.

The most significant moment of the episode – the moment we’ve been waiting for since everyone put two together – was when Sam told Jon the truth about his parentage, and it felt anticlimactic because of everything else going on in the episode that detracted too much attention from it. 

Jon finally knows he’s Aegon Targaryen, the legitimate son of Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi) and Rhaegar (Wilf Scolding), and true heir to the Iron Throne (and Davos thought he had no titles). His angry reaction toward Ned (Sean Bean) for having lied to him all his life was far too subtle, not to mention, he had nothing to say about Dany being his aunt. I guess he took to the Targaryen lifestyle quickly. 

Another significant moment involving Sam was when Dany told him she’d murdered his father and brother. While there was no love lost between Sam and Randyll (James Faulkner), Sam was fond of his brother Dickon (Tom Hopper). This prompted Sam to remind Jon that Jon gave up his crown for his people and ask if he thought Dany would be the same.

It was a theme throughout the episode for characters to contrast Jon with Dany as regents. Dany’s evident increasing aggression and intransigence are particular points of concern, especially for her advisers Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Davos (Cunningham) and Varys (Conleth Hill), who remarked what a suitable match and handsome couple they make. I can’t wait until they hear the news. 

This constant contrast alluded to a question that’s been on everyone’s mind for awhile – when the war with the dead is over, who will sit on the Iron Throne? We’ve been rooting for Dany from the beginning but Jon consistently demonstrates how he might be a better ruler. But Jon’s soft while Dany has no qualms making tough decisions. 

Inarguably, they compliment each other, but would Dany share her crown with her nephew, the true heir? And how’s she going to react to the news? With her recent behavior and her joking that if Rhaegal killed Jon, it was nice knowing him, I wonder if she’d just have Jon killed. Was that foreshadowing?

The episode culminated with the arrival of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in Winterfell having a staring contest with Bran (Bran spent most of the episode unblinkingly staring at people). This made the episode come full circle with season one, episode one as that episode ended with Jaime pushing Bran off the tower, causing him to lose use of his legs. The characters hadn’t seen each other since.

GoT episodes are usually lengthy with interspersed crucial moments. The season eight premiere was a mere 45 minutes, yet the episode was packed with pivotal points and long overdue reunions. It was a lot to unpack in such a short amount of time. If this is a preview of how the season’s going to go, we’re all going to be on Valium by the end of it.

While the episode was every bit as good as the rest of the series, it wasn’t a standout episode like “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome.” Furthermore, the episode being so busy made it lose some of its luster. Regardless, it is GoT, thus the acting, writing, costumes, effects and overall production create a superior experience so that even a perfunctory episode is better than most other shows’ best episodes. 

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