After 20 anxious months of waiting, theorizing, and re-watching the series, fans were finally treated to The Game of Thrones season premiere. Millions of people gathered around their televisions, computers, or even phones to get their first taste of the end. (Though, some fans with DirectTV got their chance to watch it a few hours early.) Though the show premiered in April of 2011, this is the ending of a saga nearly 23 years in the making. Beware! Spoilers ahead!
The show is based on the Song of Ice and Fire series written by George R. R. Martin, first published in August of 1996. Since then the author published four more novels with two as-yet unpublished that would bring the saga to a close. Astonishingly, he’s only published a single book since the show premiered. Fans wonder if he’ll ever finish them. Yet, executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are working from an outline Martin laid out for them. Critics of the past season complained that the show moved too quickly. In tonight’s Game of Thrones season premiere, they slowed things down considerably.
Why the Long Wait Between Game of Thrones Seasons?
Like The Sopranos before it, The Game of Thrones season premiere comes more than a year after its last season. The David Chase-helmed mob series was a cultural touchstone that helped HBO establish its reputation. Chase routinely took more than a year to complete the next season, much to the consternation of fans. Yet, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff beat Chase’s longest hiatus, 15 months between seasons four and five, by five more months. With only six episodes in the entire season, it’s fair to ask: What took so long? The answer, according to the show runners, is that this season is the most epic of the series.
In the first season of the show, the producers executed creative measures to help keep costs down. The season followed the first novel in Martin’s series, also titled Game of Thrones, very closely. Yet, when it came time for the great battle sequence in the third act of the book, the show skipped it. Tyrion Lannister was meant to fight in the battle, but his ally knocked him unconscious accidentally. He only awoke when it was over. Since then, each season has featured one giant battle sequence. Season six, however, promises at least two, possibly more. This takes time to shoot. In Belfast, the real-world stand in for North Westeros, the crew spent a full year finishing off the final season. Also, though this is not confirmed, this is one of the first seasons that all of the characters will be in the same places.
The Queen in the South: Cersei Plots and Waits
If we’re being honest, all the truly interesting things happening in the Game of Thrones season premiere happen in the North. Still, what Queen Cersei gets up to in King’s Landing is important. Though, the ramifications of her actions will likely play out towards the end of the series. Pregnant and defiant, Cersei remains content to let the dead and the North fight their war without her men. This sent her brother and lover, Jamie Lannister, off to fight the dead alone. Despite this, when she learns that the dead of broken through the wall and march on Winterfell, she’s actually pleased. She welcomes the Golden Company, and their leader Harry Strickland, to the Red Keep. This adds 20,000 men and 2,000 horses to her own forces. Though, she’s quite displeased to learn that they didn’t bring an elephants, which they are known to ride into battle.
Bron The Sellsword Sells Out
Even though Cersei just hired 20,000 sellswords, it appears that she needs at least one more. She has a job specifically for fan-favorite character Bronn, the mercenary who befriended both Tyrion and Jamie. Qyburn, the creepy ex-maester who practices necromancy and serves as her hand, interrupts Bronn as he gets intimate with a trio of sex-workers. Bronn is known to enjoy a good roll in the hay with whomever is willing. Yet, even before he’s interrupted, he seems disturbed. It’s unclear if he’s more bothered by surviving a fight with the dragons or Jamie Lannister leaving without telling him.
Qyburn is there to offer Bronn a job, but it’s one that we know he’s likely going to struggle with. Presenting him with a crossbow, like the one Tyrion used to kill their father, Qyburn names Bronn’s targets. Cersei is willing to pay him wagons of gold, and maybe much more, if he kills Tyrion and Jamie. Of course, there is no guarantee either will survive the Army of the Dead. Yet, if one or both does, Bronn has to murder both of his friends or face the wrath the of the Mad Queen.
The Kraken and the Lion (Greyjoys Versus the Lannisters)
Despite some rocky patches, the show makes it clear that Cersei and Jamie love each other more than a brother and sister should. The audience never sees Cersei order her twin’s death. In fact, the show gives us clues that Qyburn might be working his own angle here. Euron Greyjoy expects Cersei to marry him, thereby making him a king and their children princes and princesses. (He does not know that Cersei is already pregnant.) Yet, we can assume that even Cersei does marry him, she only has eyes for her brother. Perhaps his betrayal hurts her, but did it hurt enough for her to want him dead?
The despicable Euron uses his audience with the Queen to, essentially, ask her to sleep with him for delivering her army. The Queen all but rejects him outright, but at the last moment she relents. Pausing at the door, she silently encourages him to join her in her bed. Once their tryst is finished, Cersei betrays her disgust at the man. It’s possible that Qyburn knows she will never accept another man so long as Jamie is there. Removing him from the equation makes it more likely that Cersei’s alliance with Euron (and his fleet) remains intact.
The Greyjoys Go Home
While Euron enjoyed his dalliance with Cersei, his niece Yara sat on one of his ships tied to the mast. Last season, Euron took her and her allies—who killed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella—prisoner. While he turned over the Sand Snakes to Cersei, Yara he kept for himself. In a scene with the two, he confesses that he keeps her alive just “to talk” to her. When he took her prisoner, her brother Theon jumped overboard into the sea rather than be captured. However, Theon rallied the rest of Yara’s men to stage a rescue mission. One he carries out in the Game of Thrones season premiere.
Using bows and arrows, Theon and his men quietly slip onto the deck of Euron’s ship. Theon kills the guard outside of Yara’s makeshift cell, looking determined and slightly mad when reveals himself. He frees Yara, who thanks him for his earlier cowardice with a head-butt. Then she offers him her hand, which he takes. Later, as they make off with the ship, Yara suggests going to their ancestral home and taking it back from the guard Euron left behind. Theon, however, has other plans. With his sister’s leave, he plans to head to Winterfell, where he grew up, to fight the Army of the Dead.
The North Remembers (and Hugs)
The Game of Thrones season premiere opens with a scene reminiscent of one in the first episode. A child scampers through crowds and up to a high perch to watch approaching soldiers enter the gates of Winterfell. In the first season, the child was Arya Stark and the approaching soldiers were those of King Robert. Here, it’s just a random child, who passed by a much-older Arya. She smiles when she sees the dragons flying overhead while the rest of the watching Northerners flee in terror. Jon Snow reunites with his sister Sansa, his brother Bran, and Arya, the latter two he’s not seen since the third episode of season one. Jon tightly embraces his crippled little brother, but he saves his biggest hug for Arya.
When they left each other, they were both naïve lords and ladies playing at being warriors. Now, they’ve both fought vicious battles and taken their share of lives. Yet, in each other’s eyes, they are still the same beloved sibling they were before the events of the show. Finally, Arya reunites with her former traveling companions the Hound and Gendry. Just a child when they last shared scenes together, Arya and Gendry are definitely flirting as they reconnect. However, more importantly, Arya asks Gendry to make her what appears to be some kind of long-distance weapon, she might just use against the Night King.
Outsiders in Winterfell
While there are plenty of hugs to go around for Jon Snow in The Game of Thrones season premiere, his traveling companions aren’t so warmly received. Queen Daenerys, Tyrion, and their spymaster Varys are met with wary suspicion from the Northerners. Sansa and Daenerys trade subtle barbs while meeting with the Lords and Ladies of the North. The Queen knows Sansa doesn’t trust her, despite Daenerys’s relationship with Jon. The Mother of Dragons knows that Sansa does not need to be her friend, but the queen in her will not tolerate disrespect. However, Sansa is the perfect Northern lady, because she gives everyone the cold shoulder.
While fans may expect there to be tension between Sansa and Daenerys, her reunion with fan-favorite character Tyrion is surprising. During their arranged marriage, when Sansa was just 14, Tyrion went out of his way to be kind to her. When she fled the wedding where King Joffrey died, she left Tyrion to face the fallout alone. Still, he is respectful and contrite when talking to her. She is not unkind to him. Yet, she does imply that he’s a fool for believing that his sister would send her armies North to fight alongside her enemies. As the scene ends, we see that Tyrion immediately realizes she’s right.
A Queen’s Gift to Samwell Tarly
In the last season, Ser Jorah Mormont faced certain death from a disease called “Greyscale,” that covers the body in hard, gray skin. Samwell Tarly, in training to be a master, saves his life. In the Game of Thrones season premiere, Jorah takes Daenerys to meet Sam and thank him for returning her champion. She wants to give him a gift. Sam, who doesn’t really want anything, jokes that he needs a pardon. When she asks what crime he committed, he confesses to taking books from the Citadel, where the maesters train. He then tells her about stealing the Valyrian steel sword belonging to his family, House Tarly.
That’s when Daenerys drops a metaphorical bomb in his lap. Last season, Daenerys and her forces fought the Tarlys. Sam’s father wouldn’t bend the knee and recognize her rule. So, she had him burned alive by her dragons. This news hurts Sam, even though his father was nothing but cruel to him. He, again, jokes that at least he’s allowed back home now that his brother is in charge. That’s when Daenerys informs him that his brother died, too. This news levels him. Barely holding it together, he actually thanks her for telling him. Then he runs off to process this horrible news.
The King In the North: Aegon Targaryen
Before Sam can cry over the deaths of his family, he runs into Bran. In the very final scenes of the last season, Bran and Sam figured out who Jon Snow’s parents were. He isn’t the illegitimate son of Ned Stark and some unknown woman. Instead, he’s actually Aegon Targaryen, the grandson of the Mad King. By the rules of succession, this means that his claim to the throne is better than that of Daenerys. Sam tells this to Jon, who both can’t believe it and knows it to be true. It’s unclear how he’ll react to this news, but after learning of what she did to his family, Sam wants Jon to be king.
Yet, this news shouldn’t come as a surprise to Daenerys. In one of the best sequences in the episode, she allows Jon to ride one of her dragons. (Rhaegal, in fact, the one named after Jon’s father.) He’s unsteady on the dragon’s back, but Jon gets the hang of it quickly. We see a shot of Varys, Tyrion, and Ser Davos Seaworth staring up in utter shock at the sight of it. They fly to a large waterfall, where they reveal that they are still very much in love. How this changes with the revelation of Jon’s parentage (and claim to the throne) remains to be seen. However, the Targaryens were the only family in Westeros allowed to intermarry, so it may not be a problem at all.
What’s Next on Game of Thrones:
This episode ended not with the revelations of Jon’s true lineage, but rather with one more unwelcome guest crossing the gates of Winterfell. Jamie Lannister arrived, the only person from the Lannister army willing to fight for the living. However, he is met by Bran, who’s not seen Jamie since he pushed him out of a window crippling him. Before Jamie gets to fight the dead, he may just have to fight for his life.
Anything we missed? Tell us, along with your favorite moments, in the comments below!
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.