Unsullied Recap—Game of Thrones, Episode 801—”Winterfell”

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Spoiler note: “A girl says nothing. A girl keeps her mouth closed. No one hears.” — Girls, boys, and everyone alike, Jaqen H’ghar has spoken, so please remember: Spoilers don’t make friends. Feel free to take book discussions over to our book-reader’s recap here at WIC, but keep all spoilers to yourself. Thank you!


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Game of Thrones’ two-year hiatus between its penultimate and final seasons was quite long enough, so let’s dive right into the much-anticipated premiere episode.

We begin the final season just as the series began: with the arrival of a royal southern retinue to the North. We even get a few good shots of a little boy getting his parkour on as he watches the party march in. (Don’t go sneaking into any broken towers, kid; there are some things you can’t unsee, and you might get pushed out of a window. Bran could tell you all about it.)

The collected armies cut an impressive figure as they march through the winter town, and the crowd watches with obvious reservation. Jon and Daenerys may present a united front, as he’d suggested they would back in season 7, but now Jon reminds her, “I warned you. Northerners don’t much trust outsiders.”

Indeed, Daenerys seems rather out of her element, but her confidence blossoms anew with the appearance of her dragons. They’ve been with her from the beginning, after all, and they remind her of who she is in this uncertain place. But the dragons don’t inspire everyone so positively, as the Northern crowds demonstrate with their fearful reactions.

It’s not a promising start to the Stark/Targaryen alliance. Something tells me the inter-family drama will persist regardless of the White Walkers’ impending attack. Much as the audience can see the bigger picture — i.e., humanity’s survival — the show has always weaved the human and supernatural threats together. Tackling one problem at a time has never been an option; it’s all utter chaos. And, hey, it makes for better television.

Arya watches the procession from the sidelines, where she gets a look at some major players in her life before any official reunions take place: Jon, the Hound, and Gendry — all men who’ve played significant roles at different stages in Arya’s development. It will be interesting to see how they fit into Arya’s life, and what part they might play now that she’s more self-assured of her identity.

At Winterfell, Jon has heartfelt reunions with Bran and Sansa. Hugs, forehead kisses, and meaningful gazes abound. The pack is back, baby!

Jon makes introductions. Daenerys attempts to ingratiate herself to the Lady of Winterfell when she says, “The North is as beautiful as your brother claimed, as are you.”

Points for effort, Daenerys, but Sansa has been wooed by such southron charms before. After all she’s experienced and endured, those niceties, regardless of their sincerity, fall flat. Sansa has long grown wary of anyone who means to lay claim to the North. After all she and Jon did to win it back from the Boltons, relinquishing it is a battle all its own. Cue that inter-family drama.

Bran, however, is in no mood. As rather cold courtesies are being exchanged, he cuts in to say, “We don’t have time for all this,” thereby dropping the sassiest attitude any Three-Eyed Raven’s ever possessed. He automatically wins this episode.

Or maybe not, since evidently he doesn’t have time to pull Jon aside for his DNA test results, either. The parentage reveal has been pretty relentlessly teased and I, for one, am ready for it to be done with. We all know! Someone tell Jon so he’s got time to brood about it before the White Walkers come a-knockin’! The last thing anybody needs in the middle of a medieval zombie apocalypse is Jon Snow’s patented teen angst.

I swear, this parentage reveal buildup gives any episode of Maury a real run for its money. Even still, alas, it’s back to White Walker business as usual for now.

The Northerners gather in the great hall for another rousing argument, which is presided over by Sansa, Jon, and Daenerys. The dynamic is wildly uncomfortable. There is little trust and a lot of tension, and not much time to resolve any of it. I can’t say how that will play out as the season progresses, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Lyanna Mormont does what she does best: speak up and demand to know what the hell is going on here. She voices the North’s disapproval that Jon would give up the crown they gave him only to hand it to another foreign ruler. Jon assures his people that he did what was necessary “for the North,” a sentiment reiterated from season 7, before he left for Dragonstone. Now that he’s back, though, his people’s loyalty to him seems to have wavered.

Tyrion steps in to diffuse the tension, but his reassurances only raise more questions, which Sansa poses:

"May I ask, how are we meant to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen? While I ensured our stores would last through winter, I didn’t account for Dothraki, Unsullied, and two full-grown dragons."

During this statement, the camera cuts to a slightly troubled-looking Daenerys. Could she perhaps be rethinking her decision to burn all the food stores during last season’s Loot Train Attack?

"SANSA: “What do dragons eat, anyway?”DAENERYS: “Whatever they want.”"

That answer isn’t likely to put anyone at ease, or gain their trust. Know your audience, Daenerys!

Tyrion’s next shot at smoothing things over doesn’t go over much better than the first. He and Sansa have had their ups and downs but, as she tells him, they “both survived” despite it all. Tyrion’s still got a good measure of her, too, as he says, “Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.”

Still, Sansa is unimpressed and disappointed that Tyrion took Cersei at her word. As the audience knows from season 7, Cersei Lannister has no intention of keeping her promise to aid in the war against the dead. In terms of the narrative, however, for now Sansa is the only one who isn’t underestimating her old mentor/nemesis.

We have another, more affectionate reunion when Arya and Jon meet in the godswood. They bond over Needle and a mutual appreciation for Valyrian steel, but Arya’s got to slap some sense into Jon’s hurt feelings, too. The girl never was one to beat around the bush.

"JON: “Where were you before? I could’ve used your help with Sansa.”ARYA: “She doesn’t like your queen, does she?”JON: “Sansa thinks she’s smarter than everyone.”ARYA: “She’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.”JON: “Now you’re defending her? You?”ARYA: “I’m defending our family. So is she.”JON: “I’m her family, too.”ARYA: “Don’t forget that.”"

This exchange, while gentle and reassuring, also presents the heart of the Starks’ journeys: the importance of their family, and what lengths they’ll go to to protect each other. In season 6, Jon told Sansa, “We need to trust each other,” and that holds just as true now. The solid relationship Arya now has with them both makes her the ideal mediator. It speaks to her character development from a hot-headed, argumentative girl to this more reasonable, family-first young woman. Arya has been starved for her family for years, and she won’t have it fall apart now that they’ve come back together.

Next we take a trip to King’s Landing, where Cersei is legitimately pleased to hear Qyburn’s news that “[T]he dead have broken through the Wall.” She must assume that the White Walkers will take out her enemies in the North, as well as the threat Daenerys poses to Cersei’s claim on the throne.

Listen, Cersei, your outfit is bomb, but your thought process needs a little work. It’s no guarantee that your enemies will completely destroy each other, so you might want to prepare at least a little something. Call it a precautionary measure.

Euron Greyjoy approaches King’s Landing by boat, Golden Company and all. He’s holding Yara prisoner, whom he regales with his dearest ambition to “fuck the queen,” as if we all haven’t been made well aware of that by now. But I suppose we all need to have goals.

Now that Cersei has the troops she demanded (even if they don’t include elephants), Euron puts the moves on her again. Cersei gets in a couple of good barbs, as is her legacy and why I admire her so, but she eventually relents. I can only assume this is so he’ll stop talking. It doesn’t work, as Euron expresses his second dearest ambition to “get a prince in [her] belly.”

I’m willing to bet that’s not going to happen, especially considering she’s already pregnant with Jaime’s child. We’ll see how that pans out.

Meanwhile, Bronn tries to get busy with a few hired lady friends, but they’d rather make pointed comments about how destructive the dragons are. That’s about all Bronn gets for his money before Qyburn interrupts with an offer: In the event that Jaime and Tyrion survive the wars to come, Cersei wants Bronn to make sure they don’t live much longer. Qyburn says it’ll be worth his while, though Bronn sums up his dealings with the Lannisters quite succinctly when he sighs, “That fuckin’ family.”

Don’t we all know it, man.

Cersei has wanted Tyrion dead for perhaps his entire life, and Jaime’s abandonment surely stings. Hiring their trusted man to take them out would just add insult to injury (or death, in this case). It’s a very Cersei move, but I like a self-aware villain so it’s hard to give her too much grief for it.

While plots and treachery run rampant on land, Theon and his men steal onto Euron’s ship to rescue Yara. We get another heartfelt family reunion when Yara headbutts her brother only to help him to his feet, all indiscretions now forgiven. As someone with three siblings of my own, I’d say that exchange is pretty authentic.

Safely aboard their own ship, the Greyjoys discuss their next move. Yara elects to return to the Iron Islands, which will offer a safe place to retreat should the Stark and Targaryen armies be forced to flee the White Walkers. However, she recognizes Theon’s desire to return to Winterfell so he might fight alongside the Starks. There seems to be an unspoken understanding between them, that he wanted to save her, but he wants to do right by his other family, too. Theon has been righting the wrongs of his past, and Yara bids him go to Winterfell to continue doing so.

"What is dead may never die… But kill the bastards, anyway."

Yara, you are the badass light of my life. Never change.

The episode then takes us back to Winterfell, where Tyrion, Varys, and Davos discuss strategy to ensure the Stark/Targaryen alliance, and the people’s loyalty to them. Davos broaches the possibility of a marriage between Jon and Daenerys, which is something I was surprised wasn’t suggested in season 7. An alliance between the houses would have been more easily forged that way. But then, the news of Jon’s parentage will likely throw a wrench in this plan, so it’s best the two aren’t already married. Varys articulates this possible oncoming trouble for Jon and Daenerys when he says, “Nothing lasts.” An ominous thought, but when you’re right, you’re right.

This trouble is only expanded upon in the pair’s dialogue:

"DAENERYS: “Your sister doesn’t like me.”JON: “She doesn’t know you. If it makes you feel any better, she didn’t like me either when we were growing up.”DAENERYS: “She doesn’t need to be my friend, but I am her queen. If she can’t respect me…”"

A few Dothraki interrupt before Daenerys can finish her thought, but the implication remains. There is certainly animosity brewing between the two women, and veiled threats aren’t going to help anybody. Arya told Jon not to forget who his family is earlier this episode, so these moments once again foreshadow the choices Jon will have to make soon enough: Stark or Targaryen? Or could he try to follow his own advice to Theon last season?

For now, he’s showing off those Targaryen roots, even if he’s unaware of it at present. When Daenerys suggests he give Rhaegal a spin, it ends up working out for him, likely because the dragons know a Targaryen when they see one. The scene is all very Harry-Potter-rides-a-hippogriff-for-the-first-time. The most unbelievable thing, though, is that neither Jon nor Daenerys suffers windburn at the end of it.

When they land at the local scenic waterfall, kissing ensues, though Jon is quite rude about it as he keeps opening his eyes during, and thus the romance fails to deliver. Drogon keeps a close watch, either because he’s a creep, or maybe because he’s thinking what I’m thinking: Dude. Jonathan. That is your aunt.

Is this why the parentage reveal was delayed, HBO? So you could get in a shot of two hot people kissing before they know it’s incestuous? I thought that’s what we had Missandei and Grey Worm for, and their chemistry always bats a hundred. Talk about a waste of resources.

Arya and Gendry reunite next (another pair who could have provided the episode’s makeout session; we were robbed). There is a short interlude between Arya and the Hound, who make amends in a reflection of their past companionship: honestly, harshly, but there’s an undercurrent of familial affection that lends a softness to the interaction.

That softness disappears like a magic trick when the focus turns to Arya and Gendry. It’s all flirtatious sexual tension, and I’m rooting for it. How could you not, when Gendry pulls that “As you wish, m’lady” line like he’s auditioning for The Princess Bride? And he’s making her a wicked dragonglass weapon, too. Take notes, everyone — engagement rings are out, get your girl a spear.

Jon and Sansa have another unsupervised candlelit argument, a la season 6. Lord Glover and his men have abandoned their cause due to Jon’s abdication in favor of a Targaryen queen. This of course brings them to the problem at hand: the White Walkers and how best to defeat them. Jon thinks it can’t be done without Daenerys’ dragons and armies, and again claims he did what was best for the North. (I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that Bran’s role as the Three-Eyed Raven, the Night King’s ancient enemy, should not be discounted by the audience. His part in this war may prove to be more substantial than any dragon.)

"JON: “Do you have any faith in me at all?”SANSA: “You know I do.”JON: “She’ll be a good queen. For all of us. She’s not her father.”SANSA: “No, she’s much prettier.”[…]SANSA: “Did you bend the knee to save the North, or because you love her?”"

Jon seems taken aback by the question — so much so that no answer is given. This exchange is something of a callback to Sansa’s warning to Jon last season: to not be like Ned or Robb, the latter of whom met his end because of his love for a foreign girl.

Elsewhere in Winterfell, Jorah escorts Daenerys to a meeting with Samwell Tarly. She thanks him for curing Jorah’s greyscale, and all is going well, right up until Daenerys learns his surname.

"DAENERYS: “I offered to let [Randyll Tarly] retain his lands and titles if he bent the knee. He refused.”SAM: “Well… at least I’ll be allowed home again, now that my brother’s the lord.”DAENERYS: “Your brother stood with your father.”"

Sam is visibly distraught by the news, and he excuses himself in tears. His relationship with his father was nothing short of abusive, but Sam has a good heart that would prevent him from being anything resembling pleased by the news. Furthermore, Randyll wasn’t executed for his treatment of Sam, so there is no justice in his death, anyway. In any case, Sam clearly loved and admired his brother, and the show took the time to write Dickon Tarly as a kind and loyal man, just as Sam is. Whatever his feelings towards his father, Sam’s grief for his brother is quite enough to be getting on with.

Bran comes along to drop another burden on Sam’s shoulders: Tell Jon the truth of his birth. Bran tells him, “He trusts you more than anyone,” and he does have a point, even if now’s not the best time for Sam to unpack this drama. But for god’s sake, someone has to unpack it, and at this point I barely even care who it is. Let’s get to it.

Sam finds Jon in the crypts, and he just goes for the emotional jugular because we’ve wasted enough time as it is. Now the time has come for Jon Snow to brood over something new.

"SAM: “Daenerys… She executed my father and brother. They were her prisoners.”[…]SAM: “She didn’t tell you.”JON: “I’m so sorry. We need to end this war.”SAM: “Would you have done it?”JON: “I’ve executed men who disobeyed me.”SAM: “You’ve also spared men. Thousands of wildlings when they refused to kneel.”JON: “I wasn’t a king.”SAM: “But you were. You’ve always been.”"

Aaaaand boom goes the dynamite.

Jon brings up his single-minded focus to end the war against the White Walkers in an effort to justify Daenerys’ decision, as her armies and dragons are assets they can’t afford to lose. But Sam points out a fundamental difference between Jon and Daenerys: one of them shows mercy when it’s called for, while the other doesn’t. At the time of the Tarlys’ execution, Tyrion advised Daenerys to take them prisoner instead, but she chose to make them an example. In doing so, she’s now alienated Sam, and perhaps made Jon realize he doesn’t know her any better than Sansa or the rest of the North.

Nor does he know much of himself, either, as Sam explains to Jon that his real parents are Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, who rather unfortunately christened him Aegon. My thoughts on questionable baby names aside, Jon has an identity crisis to get through.

"SAM: “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”"

It’s another question about Daenerys that Jon can’t answer. And with the White Walkers fast approaching, not to mention Cersei’s broken promise to contend with, he doesn’t have a lot of time to figure these things out.

Further north at the Wall, the survivors of the Night King’s attack reconvene. Because there is still some mercy left in this world, Tormund, Edd, and Beric Dondarrion are among the living. Mercy stops there, however, as we discover the gruesome scene of little Lord Umber’s death, surrounded by a spiral of human limbs. It’s apparently a message from the Night King, though what it means is anybody’s guess. To be honest, I can’t be bothered to guess, because little Lord Umber’s corpse chooses this moment to screech and spontaneously combust. These are some straight-up horror movie shenanigans, from which I’ll only recover after half a season of Broad City before bed.

A touch more mercy is granted when this is not, in fact, the last scene of the episode. Back at Winterfell, a mysterious cloaked figure rides into the courtyard, only to reveal said mystery within about five seconds. Jaime Lannister has arrived, in all of his ruggedly handsome, tortured soul glory. Bran is conveniently nearby to exacerbate that torture, though he’s much more chill now than he was when Jaime shoved him out the window. Maybe it’s the wisdom of age, or maybe it’s the supernatural force inhabiting his body. Or maybe none of us are chill when we’re pushed out a window, so who am I to judge?

Next. Build your own Small Council!. dark

And so the first episode of the final run ends, rather like it all began: uneasy alliances at Winterfell, wars on the horizon, and a shift in the relationship between the Starks and the Lannisters.

Will Jaime make amends with Bran? How will the North handle Cersei’s lies and the threat she poses? Will Daenerys prove to be a threat to them as well? Will the Iron Islands serve as a safe haven for the living? How is Jon going to handle the reality of his parentage? When are Arya and Gendry going to make out? Where, for the love of god or Cher or whichever divine entity is responsible for this, is Ghost? And can any of this truly be settled before the White Walkers arrive?

As mentioned earlier in the recap, the characters on Game of Thrones have never been able to solve one problem without another dozen popping up in-between. The only thing for certain now is that winter is here, and chaos is coming.

Remember — speculation is encouraged, spoilers aren’t! Thanks, and see you next week!

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