Even the most ardent non-watchers couldn’t escape talk of the GAME OF THRONES season eight premiere on Sunday. And fans who’d been patiently waiting for the last year and a half were nearly denied the experience by an HBO outage. But here we are, after the moment we’ve been waiting for, and whether you are exhilarated or disappointed, there’s a lot to talk about. Let’s count down the top moments from this week’s episode of GAME OF THRONES.

The list contains spoilers for the season eight premiere and everything before it, so read at your own risk.

1. Season Eight Premieres a Revamped Opening

Right off the bat, the season eight premiere is letting us know that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The iconic opening credits, which feature 3D animations of the locales featured in the episode, have received a facelift for the final season. First, we pan over the golden bands that spin around the sun and tell the history of Westeros, though that history has changed. It shows Viserion breaking down the wall. Later, a Lannister lion watches a Stark wolf get beheaded at the Twins. Our flying camera follows the path of the White Walker army, first through the broken Wall, then to Last Hearth, the home of House Umber and a new location for the credits.

Winterfell is a common one for the credits, but we now dive into the city itself, through the crypts and meeting hall — two very significant spots in this week’s episode. King’s Landing gets the same treatment. The gates of the city close behind us and we soar through the halls to the throne room, where the Iron Throne itself raises up with a Lannister sigil prominently behind it. Finally, our golden band shows the birth of three dragons under the Red Comet — a reversal of the Doom of Valyria that appeared in the original credits.

2. Call Backs to the First GAME OF THRONES Premiere

As GAME OF THRONES comes to a close, the nostalgia factor has been cranked up to eleven. The season eight premiere featured some callbacks to the very beginning of the show that shaped the season to come and harkened us back to a simpler time. The opening scene of Daenerys’s procession into Winterfell mimics Robert Baratheon’s own arrival in the series premiere. A young boy races through the crowd and climbs to get a better view, just as a young Arya did. Current Arya watches him wistfully, remembering her own excitement before everything falls apart.

Not all the callbacks were so cheerful, though. By the end of the episode, we’re drawn back to the very first scene of the GAME OF THRONES premiere. Young Lord Umber is found dead at Last Hearth, in the middle of a spiral of bodiless arms. Our introduction to this universe was with a similar discovery: Night’s Watchmen discovered a mysterious arrangement of mutilated wildlings. We now know that the spirals are a symbol of the Night King, some kind of threat that only gets more terrifying when ablaze. We’ll surely find out more about them and the connection to the Children of the Forest as the season progresses.

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Suspiciously similar to a sigil we’ve seen somewhere… Courtesy of HBO.

In the last scene, we get our most “oh crap” throwback of the season eight premiere. Jaime arrives in Winterfell. Bran, as he’s been doing the whole episode, is sitting in the square. They make eye contact. It goes on for a while. Then it clicks in our minds. The last time these two were in the same place at the same time was when Jaime pushed Bran out a window and set into motion the entire series’ conflicts. Oh crap.

3. Old Friends

Fans have been waiting for the characters to reunite in the season eight premiere for the last, well, seven seasons. The Stark family has been torn apart by tragedy and we finally got the last reunions of the Stark kids. Jon and Bran had a suitably awkward meeting, while Jon and Arya had hardly missed a beat over the years. They were always the closest of the Stark siblings, with Arya loving Jon as a true Stark and Jon respecting Arya for who she truly is. And nothing has changed, even though everything has changed. They talk about swords like kids comparing trading cards and have a real, mature conversation about the drama in the family. It’s enough to warm even the coldest and deadest of hearts.

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Arya also learned her sword fighting and, apparently, hairstyling from her brother. Courtesy of HBO.

Likewise, Arya reunites with her brother from the road, Gendry. They’ve both come a long way since schlepping it towards the Wall, with Gendry now leading the dragonglass-smithing team. They have a genuine friendship, which is something that really doesn’t exist on this show. Some fans want them to become a romantic item, and it does kind of seem like the season eight premiere might be setting that up. It would be a shame to see one of the few actual friendships on this show be forced down that route, but it is good to see them together again. Arya also asks him to make her a special weapon, which is the basis of any lasting friendship.

Exes and Ohs

When it comes to “things we kinda all forgot happened,” Sansa and Tyrion’s marriage has to make the list. It didn’t last very long and so much has happened since then that it’s easy to forget. But it did happen, and the exes (are they technically exes? Was their marriage ever formally ended after Sansa fled and Tyrion was tried for Joffrey’s murder?) have reunited in Winterfell, still on opposing sides.

Despite their troubled past, the two have always respected one another. Sansa sees the kindness of Tyrion and Tyrion sees Sansa’s intelligence and potential to lead. And that is all on display at their reunion. Sansa can hardly believe that Tyrion would be so stupid as to trust his sister but recognizes that family is his soft spot. Sansa learned from him and everyone on her journey, eventually becoming the master of the student. And Tyrion — and by extension, the show itself — finally recognizes that. “Many underestimated you,” he remarks. “Most of them are dead now.”

4. New Enemies

Of course, you’re not going to get along with everyone you meet. That is certainly true when the North and South, fire and ice collide in the season eight premiere. As expected, Sansa is not happy that Daenerys is in town after Jon gave up his title for her. She has been through enough to know better than to blindly trust anyone, even if a loved one vouches for them. And as Lady of Winterfell, Daenerys’s presence causes her a lot of trouble with her people and the logistics of caring for the North.

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Daenerys’s reception is as cold as the North itself. Courtesy of HBO.

Sansa is also one of the few people to openly defy Daenerys without losing her head. Dany has to learn how to work diplomatically since violence isn’t an option here. The same is true for the northern lords. Lady Mormont isn’t going to back down from this fight and Daenerys certainly has never met an opponent so formidable.

The exciting part about all these different worlds colliding is that it gives fresh eyes to every character. We, the audience, get to experience familiar characters through unfamiliar eyes. The actors get new scene partners to play with. Sansa and Dany’s conflict, for example, allows for new arguments to come up in the age-old North vs South, White Walker vs Human war debates. And putting two such iconic and indomitable women in the same scene breathes fresh life into a show in its eighth season.

5. Cersei Losing Her Grip

Cersei is pretty much the only main character left in King’s Landing. That slow trickle of character away from the capital seems to be having an effect on her. Her brothers abandoned her, her advisors turned on her, and everyone else is dead. It’s just her, Qyburn and the Mountain. Oh, and Euron and the mercenary army he brought her. Cersei is readying herself for war, but her edges are starting to fray. She is greatly disappointed that the Golden Company hasn’t brought its elephants, though she is certainly smart enough to know that you can’t bring elephants on a ship. But that’s what Cersei wants, as Cersei expects to get.

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She may have the throne, but she has no one left to share it with. Courtesy of HBO.

And she isn’t the only one. Euron has held up the end of his bargaining by providing the Golden Company and expects his reward: Cersei herself. She rebuffs him at first, saying he can have his reward when the war is won. But she ultimately concedes, spending the night with him. We have to assume that Cersei knows what she’s doing on the whole, but it’s rare to see her cede her power in any way. It’s even less common to see her change her mind on someone else’s suggestion. It’s too early to say this is the beginning of her demise, but there is definitely something up with her.

6. The Greyjoys

The Greyjoys have never been one of the top-tier families on GAME OF THRONES, but their dynamic is fascinating. The Iron Islands proudly defy many of the norms of the mainland and that extends to the family’s values as well.

Yara is still Euron’s prisoner in the season eight premiere after Theon literally jumped ship in a lost season seven battle. But Theon redeems himself by dramatically freeing her with a few well-placed arrows. The fact that he had some serious PTSD last time we saw him doesn’t seem to matter. Yara gives him a solid head-butt for good measure — as real siblings do — and they are on good terms again. Yara is setting sail back to the Iron Islands to regroup, but Theon’s heart is pulling him elsewhere. He wants to go to Winterfell to fight alongside the Starks.

Theon’s family ties have been knotted since day one. His father lost a rebellion against the Starks, so young Theon was taken as a hostage, essentially, to guarantee good behavior. He’s a Greyjoy by blood but grew up as a Stark against his and his family’s will. He was part of two families and no family at the same time. He tried to go whole-hog Greyjoy by taking over Winterfell, but that didn’t go so well. Now, he’s reckoning with his dual identity. He can care for the family that raised him and honor his sister as queen of their homeland. His redemption arc will lead him to the Battle of Winterfell, and based on the tone of his goodbye to Yara, he won’t make it back to the Iron Islands.

7. Love is in the Air

When Jon and Daenerys finally got together at the end of season seven, it had the air of a “this changes everything” moment. There was talk of babies and incest and claims to the throne, but we never really stopped to think about the relationship between the two characters. It’s clear now in the season eight premiere that Jon and Daenerys are actually very much in love. Their mutual respect and trust have blossomed into something more.

That isn’t an emotion that is explored very often on this show. The few examples of romantic love that we have either end quickly (Daenerys and Drogo, Jon and Ygritte) or have been around since long before the start of the show (Jaime, Cersei, Ned and Catelyn). We don’t get to watch love grow and develop. So it feels quite out of character for the show at this point to see our main protagonists make heart eyes at each other for extended periods of time.

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The standard look of someone trying to figure out how the heck you ride a dragon. Courtesy of HBO.

And because we see it so infrequently, it’s hard to tell if the way these characters act is actually as out of character as it feels or if it’s just a side we haven’t seen. Daenerys, in particular, feels like an entirely different person when she’s with Jon. She remarks on how Sansa doesn’t like her and it feels kind of childish. The Dany we know doesn’t give much thought to whether or not people like her. If she spent her time trying to make people like her, she wouldn’t have the massive coalition she’s built. But now she’s trying to impress her boyfriend’s family, which is almost too relatable for Dany.

A Second Act for Dany in the Season Eight Premiere

But at the same time, this relationship is allowing Daenerys to be vulnerable for once, which is far from a flaw in the character. When she and Jon fly off into the sunset (oh yeah, that happened), she tells him, “We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us.” To some extent, that seems like the exact opposite of what Daenerys would want. She doesn’t want to live a long, simple life. She wants to rule the kingdom and secure her family’s legacy. But it does show that that possibility has crossed her mind. She does have doubts and moments of weakness like everyone else. Even for a fleeting moment, she has considered giving it all up. Whether she’d give it up for Jon or if he just inspired that contemplation is another question entirely.

Whatever the case, this injection of puppy love in the season eight premiere has brought a new angle to the show. It’s something the audience hasn’t experienced yet. And while it seems like small potatoes compared to the threats coming from all sides, maybe it’ll prove that love is, in fact, all you need.

8. All Will Be Revealed

It would have been simply unfair if GAME OF THRONES had left us sitting with such major info at the end of season seven only to not reveal it in the season eight premiere. Luckily, they’ve got everything out in the air up front so we can watch it unravel as the season progresses. First, we get a cute scene between Sam, Daenerys, and Jorah. It filled the smile quota for the episode as Dany thanks Sam for curing Jorah’s grayscale and someone finally appreciates Sam’s bookishness.

But then it takes a bit of a turn for the worse when Daenerys has to reveal that she executed Sam’s father and brother because they wouldn’t swear fealty. Sam didn’t exactly have the best relationship with his family but it hurts nonetheless. And it changes Sam’s whole perspective on the situation. The kind and generous woman before him suddenly showed her colors as a ruthless leader.

You won’t like Sam when he’s angry. Courtesy of HBO.

It’s Time

Instead of counting to ten and cooling off, Sam (with Bran’s input) decides to tell Jon the truth. He confronts Jon in the crypts, appropriately surrounded by all his dead Stark relatives — though none of them are who he thinks they are. Still reeling, Sam asks if he would’ve done the same thing Daenerys did. Jon had spared people before. But he wasn’t king, Jon argues.

Time to drop the bomb. “You’ve always been king,” Sam tells him. He’s a Targaryen, the true heir to the throne.

Jon was taken aback first by the accusation that Ned Stark was lying to him. The man he looked up to really kept that powerful secret from him. Then it all starts to set in. Kit Harington plays it beautifully and we get to watch it unfold on his face. He reckons with each piece of it, trying to find excuses.

“Daenerys is our queen,” he says.

“She shouldn’t be,” Sam counters.

“It’s treason.”

“It’s the truth. You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”

Sam (and John Bradley’s choices in this scene) adds a new dimension to the news by not just delivering it neutrally. He’s upset and slings some of it at Jon like he’s trying to hurt him or Daenerys. He doesn’t just want Jon to know the truth. He wants him to act on it. He’s forcing Jon into the game of thrones. It’s not just a discussion of heritage. It’s a discussion of who’s fit to lead and who’s best for the people of Westeros. We thought we’d finally come to a conclusion on that, with the North joining Daenerys, but now the chess board has been thrown into the air and we again don’t know where the pieces fall.

Honorable Mention Moments from the Season Eight Premiere

  • Northerners seeing people of color for the first time
  • Each cut to Bran sitting in the courtyard making eye contact with someone (and the memes it’s inspired)
  • The Hound’s proud father reacts to Arya robbing him and leaving him for dead
  • Drogon stares knowingly and disapprovingly at Jon Snow

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