After nearly two years without it, Game of Thrones returned in a big way this week, reuniting scores of characters and teasing new storylines as Westeros geared up to face its greatest challenge – coming up with a final series that doesn’t completely enrage the fans.
And with a lot to set up, this opening episode had a LOT going on – never before has a dragon riding scene been used as a comedy b-plot – as well as a few lingering mysteries that we’ll be puzzling over until the next episode.
So, while we begin the new (slightly shorter) wait for the next instalment of the story, here’s what we’re wondering…
Were those new opening credits?
Yep, after eight years and 67 episodes HBO seems to have decided to change things up a bit for Game of Thrones’ opening sequence, which now also travels INSIDE the clockwork representations of Winterfell, King’s Landing et al to show us their workings in a slightly different style.
We’ve described the changes in slightly more detail elsewhere, but don’t worry – that classic theme tune isn’t going anywhere.
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Isn’t anyone suspicious that Jon can ride a dragon?
No sniggering at the back now – you know what we meant.
Jon’s flight on the back of Rhaegal, the dragon named after his real father (Daenerys’ brother Rhaegar) makes perfect sense to viewers, as we know the secret of his heritage – but wouldn’t it make anyone in Winterfell suspicious?
Famously, dragons can’t be ridden by just anybody, with Targaryens and others with the blood of the destroyed Valyrian Freehold having something of a monopoly over control of the species (with some rare exceptions).
If Jon can ride a dragon, he has to have a more interesting (and realistically, Targaryen given how few other Valyrian families are still alive in Westeros) bloodline than we previously realised, and it seems likely someone would realise that.
Look OK, maybe not absolutely everyone in Winterfell would be au fait with the rules of dragonriding centuries after they previously died out, but wouldn’t Daenerys have some inkling? Or Winterfell’s maester? Or maybe even Tyrion, who has previously suggested he’s read a lot about dragons and their upkeep?
All we’re saying is, all the clues are there if anyone’s bright enough to spot them…
Was that the last we’ll see of Yara?
Theon (Alfie Allen) fairly quickly rescues his sister in this episode, finally paying her back both for abandoning her to Euron and rejecting her own rescue of him a few years previous – but now that Yara is safe and heading back to reclaim the Iron Islands, will we see her again?
After all, with Theon heading to join the main fight and Yara confident that she can take Pyke easily in Euron’s absence, is there any need for us to check in with her storyline this year? Or is this another example of the series clearing the decks a little, shuffling away characters without a major role so it can focus on the main storyline in the scarce episodes remaining?
For now, we’ll have to wait and see – but we wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see much more of Yara this year, which is a shame.
Did Cersei lose her baby?
Now here’s an interesting one. One of the odder scenes this episode comes when Cersei (Lena Headey) unexpectedly agrees to sleep with Euron Greyjoy then goes through with it, sadly sitting with a glass of wine afterwards as she knocks back his self-aggrandising comments.
And it’s the wine that has us wondering – because one of the reasons Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was able to deduce his sister’s pregnancy last series was by the fact that she was unusually declining a drink. Could this fall off the wagon mean that Cersei is no longer pregnant, making Euron’s crude offer to “put a prince in [her] belly” more important to the Queen than usual?
Of course it could just be that Cersei is lonely now that Jaime has abandoned her (and disappointed that no elephants turned up), and she might be drinking again because she wants to. The medicinal benefits on abstaining from alcohol might not be too widely known in Westeros anyhow.
But still, we do have to wonder – if Cersei doesn’t have her child to live for any more, what is she capable of? And what revenge will she wreak on her brothers and other enemies now that she’s truly alone?
Was that an Ed Sheeran reference?
Ed Sheeran in Game of Thrones (HBO/Sky)
Remember Ed Sheeran’s largely unpopular cameo last series as a Lannister soldier with a lovely singing voice? Well, the show does, because they seemed to give his character a pretty grisly end in this episode.
During a scene where a few brothel workers chat to Bronn (Jerome Flynn) about the top customers they’d lost during Daenerys’ dragon attack, one mentions “that boy Eddie” known for his distinctive ginger hair – and who apparently had his face burned clean off.
Sometimes, fans DO get what they want.
What did Arya want Gendry to make for her?
Aside from all the flirting (Gendrya lives!), the main takeaway from Gendry and Arya’s reunion this episode is that the Smith is making a rather special-looking weapon for the former faceless assassin.
While we didn’t get too close a look, it looked like Arya was requesting a spear with a long wood handle and a dragonglass point, not a million miles away from the staffs she trained with in The House of Black and White while blind.
Intriguingly, though, the design also seemed to suggest that the top of the spear (with the dragonglass) could be detached in some way, either to act as a projectile or to allow Arya a shorter-range melee weapon when taking on the Army of the Dead.
Who needs a Valyrian steel dagger anyway?
How on Earth (or Planetos) did Tormund and Beric survive?
Kristopher Hivju as Tormund and Richard Dormer as Beric in Game of Thrones (HBO)
If you wanted to see last series’ grand cliffhanger resolved in this episode, well bad luck. Despite standing on top of the Wall when a section was destroyed by the Night King and his undead dragon, fan-favourite characters Tormund (Kristopher Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) just pop up alive and well with no explanation for their survival.
Hopefully, future episodes may explain how they stayed among the living – though based on the horrific tableau they found at Last Hearth (poor little Ned Umber!) it may be that the series never quite finds the time to lay it all out.
Will Jon and Daenerys ACTUALLY fight over the Iron throne?
Before watching this episode, we would never have thought that Jon would try and contest Daenerys’ claim to the Iron Throne – but based on his reaction to the death of Sam’s family (Samily?) at her hand, it does seem like the show is presenting some tension between the two remaining Targaryens.
“You gave up your crown to save our people – would she do the same?” Sam (John Bradley) asks his friend, trying to convince Jon that ruling the Seven Kingdoms could go JUST as well as when he ran the Night’s Watch for two months (net result – several stab wounds).
This could still be misdirection at this stage, and we’re sure Jon is more occupied with the upcoming march of the dead rather than a possible succession crisis for a throne that might not even exist in a few weeks, but don’t count out a final contest for that pointy chair.
And finally, will Jon fall out with his sisters when they learn his true heritage?
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 (HBO, Sky Atlantic)
Again, this would have been unthinkable before, but after seeing Sansa and Arya’s frosty reception to Daenerys, and dire warnings about the need to “protect our family” and for Jon to not “forget” his place within it, could his foster sisters turn their backs on him when they learn he’s not their true half-brother?
True, he’s still their cousin and was raised alongside them, but he’s also half Targaryen, and possibly not the figure they always thought he was – and when kingdoms and thrones hang in the balance, one could imagine the Stark sisters getting a bit ruthless with poor Jon. Bran was certainly happy enough to point out Jon wasn’t REALLY his brother, after all.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine Arya throwing her beloved brother under the bus quite so quickly, but who knows what’s coming in the next few episodes? After all they’ve been through, it might be that the young Starks decide there’s no room for a dragon in their wolf pack…
Game of Thrones continues on NOWTV and Sky Atlantic at 2am and 9pm