Daenarys and Jon Snow arrive at Winterfell to a welcome colder than anticipated as Cersei prepares a message and the Night King leaves one.
The endgame is upon us as the final season of "Game of Thrones" kicked off Sunday night and the world held its breath to see how the war between the living and the dead would play out.
They're still holding their breath.
It turns out that despite the Night King's massive army heading south of the Wall to close out Season 7, we're still not quite ready for the real war for the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. In fact, the Night King didn't even make an appearance in this episode; and only one very creepy white walker did.
Let's just say the Night King knew how to make his presence known to Tormund Giantsbane and his allies from the North and it quickly proved that the forces at Winterfell are in for a wild and nasty battle. And something tells us we won't be able to look for Gandalf "at first light on the fifth day."
In the "Game of Thrones" you win or you die. For this final season, we're going to track the biggest game moves each week from the remaining players, and then break down what went wrong for each player that loses, i.e. dies. And then we'll declare our "Player of the Week" until we make our way to the finale and the ultimate winner. Who will it be?
First of all, though, we have got to address those drastically different opening credits. While the map remains as intricate and clockwork delightful as ever, we took deeper dives into the inner workings of the two locales we spent the vast majority of this episode in.
It was a fascinating exploration of the depths and layers of Winterfell and King's Landing in ways we'd never seen them before. There was an unsettling element to peering so closely into these cities, though that may have to do with how the whole thing opened.
The new intro kicked off with a look at the gaping hole left in the Wall and a symbolic ice path marching southward as the Night King moves toward the heart of the Seven Kingdoms with his army of the dead. Even though we didn't see them this week, the intro was enough to give us that sense of foreboding because we know he's coming.
Now we're intrigued to see if there's enough time in future episodes to open up further locations, or at least revisit some of our favorites from throughout the show's run. We were kind of hoping for a massive intro before the final episode that visited every city we've been to, but with this whole new exploration this week, we don't know what to expect!
The most flamboyant move kicked off the whole season as Dany rode dramatically into Winterfell with her armies of Unsullied and Dothraki and dragons, but the North is not so easy to claim as just showing up. And Winterfell itself has seen some sketchy lords over the past few years. Let's just say the North is jaded and a pretty face and dragons aren't going to seal that deal just yet. Still, it was quite a sight.
Sansa Calls Out Tyrion
Sansa was all over the place, regal and commanding and skeptical as everyone else in the North. She wasn't impressed with Dany or her army, concerned with the practicals of how to feed them. Sansa was asking all the right questions and had her skepticism right where it belonged.
That's why it was so satisfying to see her call out Tyrion for foolishly believing Cersei when she said she's send the Lannister army north to fight the army of the dead. Cersei doesn't care about any of that; she's way too short-sighted. Arya was right when she told Jon Sansa was the smartest person she's ever met. Through everything she's endured, Sansa has emerged with the greatest understanding of the darkness in people and the world she finds herself in.
She's the real force to be reckoned with, and it's why Dany is actually concerned that Sansa doesn't like her. She knows the power Sansa wields in the North. Plus, she's used to bullying people into compliance with her dragons these days, so this intelligent and practical resistance is something new. Like Jon, Dany is a bit impulsive and doesn't always think first. Lady Sansa is all thinking these days.
Theon continued his redemption turn by rescuing his sister from their treacherous uncle so she can sail back to the Iron Islands and reclaim their family's throne for her own. He's been humbled enough by all he's been through and knows she is the true ruler there.
Even more surprising, though, was his desire to return to Winterfell and help the Starks in the coming war against the Night King. Yes, he played a key role in helping Sansa reclaim her rightful position there, but he also did plenty of horrible things on his own that can't be forgotten completely. And in all honesty, it's hard to imagine a completion to his arc here that doesn't end in a very brave and very noble death ... his own.
Cersei Hires Bronn
Cersei is every bit as mad as the Mad King, and perhaps even moreso as evidenced by her attempts to hire Bronn to assassinate her brothers via crossbow. We can understand the decision to kill Tyrion. Not only is he the Hand of Queen Daenarys -- which is treason -- but he also killed their father and she kind of hated him anyway.
But is she truly so lost in her rage now that she would kill the only man she's ever loved because he walked away from her? Who are we kidding, of course she is. Cersei is every bit as cruel as her son Joffrey was; she just doesn't revel in it quite as much. And she might even regret killing Jaime later, but she'd still try to do it.
She's also every bit as short-sighted and dimwitted. She knows the real threat of the dead marching south and yet she applauds their breaking of the Wall and still would try to kill two people who would stand between her and the dead. She had that much confidence the North can take them down?
This was both a baller move in general, but also a huge testament to Jon's courage and possibly even his lineage. Targaryen's ride dragons, and yet Dany had no problem telling him to mount one. Does she suspect his true bloodline? Probably not; she can be short-sighted, too. Probably she thinks it only means her dragons approve of Jon as a mate.
In a way, it does. It also sets Jon up to ride a dragon into battle, taking on an even more pivotal role in the war to come when the Ice King shows up on his ice dragon. It's always nice to have one of the biggest playing pieces on the board.
Bran Waits for Jaime
Speaking of baller moves and bravery, how about Bran sitting in the courtyard and waiting for "an old friend," as he told Sam. Who expected his old friend to be Jaime Lannister? The two last saw each other way back in Season 1 when Jaime was pushing Bran out of a window in hopes he would die.
Jaime has come a long way since then as a character, humbled and actually making the decision to fight for the living, but if you thought Theon had some past transgressions to make up for? Bran is all creepy and cryptic and weird now, so we fully expect him to leave Jaime even more confused than ever.
What will be more interesting is how Jaime will receive Bran. At this point, everyone kind of knows about him and Cersei and it certainly doesn't matter with the Night's King on the march. But does he have genuine remorse? Or is it just a thing that made sense at the time, didn't work out and oh well, here we are?
Bran is setting himself up as the creepy oracle and he even set the stage for the biggest move of the week by sending Sam down to the crypts to finally tell Jon the truth.
After one of the houses abandoned the Starks and returned home, the Night King used them to leave a strong message for Tormund, the Wildlings and the Night's Watch coming south behind the army of the dead and it was one of the creepiest things we've ever seen.
The symbolism itself was sinister and terrifying enough, but it was nothing to when the young lord awakened as a wight and began shrieking and screaming even as he burned to a second death. The Night King has dead that can only be killed by fire and dragonglass and he has the psychological terror of seeing them rise at all. He's definitely in a strong position.
Sam Breaks the News
It was important that it be someone Jon trusts to lay down the lie of his entire life and cover it with the truth of his royal lineage. "Your mother was Lyanna Stark and your father, your real father, is Rhaegar Targaryan. You've never been a bastard. You are Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne."
It's a lot to take in and almost too much for Jon. He's a little slow on the uptake, but in this case he had to absorb it. We're not sure he's yet processed what this means about his relationship with Daenarys, but that sort of thing doesn't matter quite as much in this kind of era. What it does mean, though, is that Jon has more of a claim to the throne than even Daenarys.
And with that, Jon Snow -- or make that Aegon Targaryen, sixth of his name, etc. -- finds himself in the most compelling position of them all. He is both a Stark of Winterfell, trueborn, and a Targaryen. He is the heir to the Iron Throne and the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. He unites the crown and the North by blood.
He is everything he needs to be to unite the Seven Kingdoms, except that there are a few things to consider. For one, Cersei Lannister has usurped the crown for herself and is unlikely to give it up so long as she is living. For another, Daenarys Targaryen has commited her whole life to becoming the Queen and even though she and Jon are hooking up, is she ready to bend the knee to him?
Would she for anyone?
And finally, none of this matters at all until the Night King is defeated and his army vanquished. But here's why Jon remains our "player of the week." Not only is he the true heir to the throne, he learned how to ride a dragon and positioned himself even better to lead the North into battle.
He's ready to emerge as the leader they need and when all is said and done, he may be the one to bring peace to all the land, united under his bloodline and his rule. Dany has already lost one dragon to her headstrong and impulsive nature. Could she lose her life as well? It may be the only way she'd step aside and accept his legitimate claim to the throne she covets.
The game plays on as "Game of Thrones" final season continues every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.