Spring has officially sprung, but winter is far from over for the record-breaking 17.4 million viewers smart enough to tune into HBO on time for the epic final season of “Game of Thrones.” And after 595 days of waiting, the premiere of Season 8 thankfully did not disappoint. For those of you still behind, consider this your spoiler warning.

Bran greets an old friend...

In an episode featuring several long-awaited reunions—Tyrion’s with Sansa, Jon’s with Bran and Arya, Arya’s with Gendry and the Hound—Bran’s silent-but-deadly reunion with Jaime was one of the most satisfying scenes of all time. The simple look of realization that the 10-year-old boy Jaime threw from the window all those years ago does, in fact, remember, was all that we needed. It also proves that Brandon Stark still exists somewhere deep down and he’s ready to face the man who crippled him.

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The Stark we underestimated...

Although Tyrion declared midway through Season 2 that Lady Sansa Stark “may survive us yet,” many continued to underestimate her...and for good reason. Sansa is a self-proclaimed slow learner, but she learned; and as Tyrion smartly pointed out, most who underestimated her are dead. Even Arya, the least likely Stark to admit it, claims Sansa is the smartest person she has ever met. Sansa was essentially raised by some of the most manipulative and clever people in the game—Littlefinger, Cersei, Margaery and even Ramsey—so it was only a matter of time before the student became the teacher.

In fact, Sansa currently seems to be the one holding down the fort, concerning herself with critical matters like how the North is going to feed the world’s greatest army plus two full-grown dragons. If that’s not “fighting for the living,” I don’t know what is. Although Dany describes 18 goats and 11 sheep as “barely eating,” the bigger concern is how many people those 18 goats and 11 sheep could have fed—and that’s only in one day. Better hope the war ends soon or the Northerners will not only run out of food, they’ll also have to add dragons to the list of bloodthirsty beasts to worry about.

Maybe Sansa hasn’t seen White Walkers or met wargs or trained with Faceless Men or faced dragons, but she has seen people, and she understands people better than any of the remaining Starks. With Jaime on hand to confirm Sansa’s suspicion that Tyrion was a fool to trust Cersei, Dany will realize sooner rather than later how valuable an ally Sansa really is. If we can get past the Army of the Dead predicament, Sansa is officially Dany’s best chance at defeating Cersei.

Cersei has either lost it or has something brewing...

In my mind, Cersei’s thrill at hearing that the dead have broken through The Wall is a defense mechanism, because the only viable explanation of Cersei’s actions in the first episode is that she is afraid. She hopes the monsters will kill each other in the North while she broods over her lack of elephants. She sleeps with Euron Greyjoy for fear of losing her only alliance (if not in hopes that she can later claim Euron as the father of her child). She hires Bronn, a man she despises, to assassinate her brothers because she is out of options.

On the other hand, every time we think Cersei is down and out, there is something else up her sleeve. Maybe her true intention with Bronn was to have him catch the pox from that one prostitute so he lives just long enough to do her bidding. (Frankly, Bronn would be smart to head North on Tyrion’s word that he will double the offer of anyone who tempts Bronn to “sell him out.”) Maybe Cersei isn’t carrying a child at all—after all, she did entertain Euron with drink in hand despite refusing wine last time we saw her. Maybe she couldn’t care less about Euron’s allegiance and just needed some company in Jaime’s absence. Or maybe her entire plan revolved around those elephants and now she’s just royally screwed.

A Greyjoy and a Stark... 

Just when fans thought there was no way Yara Greyjoy was getting out of her uncle’s clutches alive, Theon managed an epic rescue—finding his sister not only breathing, but chilling on a ship with all body parts in tact. With assurance from Jon in the Season 7 finale, Theon has finally accepted that he is both a Greyjoy and a Stark, and now it appears his sister has, too. Sensing Theon’s disappointment in hearing she doesn’t intend to sail North, Yara realizes her brother’s allegiance lies as much with the Starks as with his own house—and she understands his need to prove his loyalty to them as he has with her. As satisfying as the moment already was, she sends him off with the episode’s greatest line, What is dead may never die, but kill the bastards anyway.”

Some fun but ominous parallels…

Arriving at Winterfell. For seven seasons we’ve been hearing that the Northerners are a stubborn bunch, and the entire country has seen Daenerys as a “foreign invader” from the start, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see the less-than-pleased faces of Dany and Jon’s welcoming party. It was only fitting that the entire opening scene should resemble Cersei Lannister’s arrival at Winterfell with King Robert in the pilot: the triumphant music playing; a young boy climbing the highest walls to catch a glimpse of the parade; Arya missing from the Starks’ receiving line; the Lady of Winterfell welcoming the queen unenthusiastically into her home…Even Sansa’s icy proclamation, “Winterfell is yours,” is a line straight out of her father’s opening scenes.

A love not unlike the first. Daenerys has finally fallen for a man who is not only worthy of her, but is also a good political match. I would find it hard to believe, however, that Jon isn’t seeing the parallels between Daenerys and Ygritte. Dany has the same stubborn determination that his wildling lover had as well as the same tendency to call “Jon Snow” by his full name. In recognition of that, one of Ygritte’s most memorable lines, “I never want to leave this cave, Jon Snow,” was reflected in Dany’s line at the waterfall, “We could stay a thousand years; no one would find us.” Ygritte uses her final breaths to tell Jon that they never should’ve left that cave, so it will be interesting to see whether the parallel forecasts a similar end to Dany’s story.

The king who never wanted to be king. Lyanna Mormont has lost faith in Jon Snow in an eerily similar way to Olly, his faithful steward at Castle Black. Olly idolized Jon Snow only to later plunge that final knife into his heart, showing no sign of regret even after Jon rose impossibly back to life. Jon has been constantly reminded to be smarter than Robb Stark, whose men were right to believe that he lost the war the day he married Talisa. With Dany now in the picture, all signs point to Jon meeting a similar fate if he doesn’t heed one final warning from Sam Tarly—that Jon is not only the rightful king, but that his new love interest might not be as willing as he is to put her people above her crown.

“Always the Artists.” The symbols left by the Army of the Dead paired with the Night King’s tendency to leave at least one living person behind has been a major question mark since the very first scene of the HBO series. It starts small with the Night’s Watch deserter who is left behind by wights and later beheaded in the pilot. Our first real glimpse of the army doesn’t come until the Season 2 finale, during which the Night King’s lieutenant intentionally leaves Sam Tarly cowering behind a rock as he marches past. In both of these instances and throughout the series, the army also leaves a marking behind in the snow—most commonly the one we saw Sunday night on the wall at Last Hearth with the late Ned Umber pinned at its center.

It can’t be a coincidence that in large-scale scenes—like at the frozen lake in “Beyond the Wall,” where the Night King could have easily taken out any one of Jon’s men as they all stood helpless at the center of the lake, or as the Wall comes tumbling down in the Season 7 finale, where Tormund and the others come out unscathed—there always seems to be a handful of people kept alive. Although his motive remains unclear, every move the Night King makes is calculated. In this case, the Night King knows Tormund & Co. are close enough behind him to get the message, and he knows they’ll make it back to Winterfell before his army. (Which is now even larger due to Ned Umber’s failure to bring his men south.) All we know for sure is that the dead are marching south, and they want Jon’s armies to know about it.

A theory behind the Night King’s message...

The King Beyond the Wall alludes to this particular marking in Season 3, when Jon sees it himself for the first time at the Fist of the First Men. For years, many have suggested that the symbol closely resembles the Targaryen sigil, which would mean one of two things: the Night King is either a Targaryen himself, or he has a vendetta against Targaryens. In the behind-the-scenes segment that immediately follows the Season 8 premiere, screenwriter David Benioff specifically tell us that “only Targaryens can ride dragons.” In this scenario, he’s referencing Jon’s first ride and how it should have been a sign for him, but we still can’t discount the fact that the Night King is also out there somewhere riding a dragon.

Speaking of the slaughter at Last Hearth…

Skipping the intro is a mistake. If you were surprised to see our young Lord Umber clinging to the wall of an empty castle in the premiere’s final moments, you shouldn’t have been. For seven seasons, HBO has brilliantly teased who and what might be waiting on the other end of the theme song through symbols on the map of Westeros. The new intro clearly depicts the hole in The Wall, followed by the Last Hearth, home to the Umbers and the closest Northern castle to Eastwatch by the Sea. The symbolic ice blocks of the intro move swiftly past the Last Hearth (presumably killing everybody in their path) and toward Winterfell. (Between which, by the way, is Karhold—so let’s just say it’s lucky Lady Alice and the Karstark traitors were hastier than the Umbers.)

Meanwhile, more importantly and perhaps more interestingly is the duration spent for the first time inside these castles. The “camera” visits the Winterfell Battlements, Great Hall and Crypts before immediately making its way to King’s Landing and inside the Red Keep—more commonly known as the home to the Iron Throne.

The emphasis on specific locations within each stronghold is a significant indicator of what’s to come in the final episodes—or at least where some prominent scenes will occur. Previews have already shown that the Crypts of Winterfell will play a major part in the final season, and with every passing episode, Dany’s Season 2 vision of standing at the edge of a snow-dusted Iron Throne inside a destroyed Red Keep seems more likely to have merit. Bran’s early vision of a dragon’s shadow flying over King’s Landing—unless it was a vision of the past—has also yet to play out.

Davos makes a simple suggestion…

There’s no way around this, Jon has to tell Dany what he has learned. So now he is faced with two decisions: whether to wait until the fighting is done and whether he even wants to claim his rightful seat on the Iron Throne.

For argument’s sake, let’s just say they don’t care about the aunt-nephew debacle…With the exception of the fact that the Northerners want to be an independent kingdom, it seems to me that a marriage alliance would solve just about every other issue. They are already in love; Dany (we think) might still be able to have kids; Jon would still be a king; Dany—who left Daario Naharis behind for the sole purpose of finding a suitable husband—would still be the queen; and all would be fair in love and war.

But this is Game of Thrones, and nothing is ever that easy.  

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