Well, here we are. After eight years; 67 episodes; countless deaths — actually, make that 2,339 deaths; approximately that many fan theories and predictions; and enough content to keep the entire Internet full, we’ve made it to the home stretch. These are the last six Sunday nights we get to spend with “Game of Thrones” and like the Unsullied marching toward Winterfell, we have a lot of ground to cover.
So let’s take inspiration from both the straightforward fact-recitation style of Samwell Tarly and the sarcastic quip style of Euron Greyjoy and look back at the episode titled, simply, “Winterfell.” (I will also point you, as always, to the complementary recap from our pals over in Opinions, this week with Drew Goins pinch-hitting for Alyssa Rosenberg.)
Jon Snow finds out that he is Aegon Targaryen
Last season we (the viewers) found out that the most popular fan theory was, in fact, true: Jon Snow was not Ned Stark’s bastard son but was the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. And not just that, but he was the legitimate son of those two, which makes him the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.
And now Jon Snow knows the truth about his heritage as well, thanks to a visit in the Winterfell crypt from an old pal. While Jon is paying respects to his not-dad, Ned, he hears the sound of a bumbling man that could only be one person, Samwell Tarly. He is there to deliver the news to Jon that he’s not who he thinks he is. Why is Sam the one to deliver this news? Because Three-Eyed Raven Bran, who has taken to just chilling in the middle of the Winterfell town square like a weirdo, told Sam that he’s the one Jon trusts most. Sam tried to convince Bran that since he was Jon’s brother the news would best be delivered coming from him. But, of course, Bran actually isn’t his brother.
Jon is pleasantly surprised to see Sam in the hard-to-access crypts of Winterfell, even though Sam is supposed to be hundreds (thousands? The geography of the Seven Kingdoms has always been tough to figure out) of miles away at the Citadel. In the interest of time, they decide not to dwell on the unlikely nature of their meeting and soon enough Sam drops the bomb on Jon. He read a Septon’s diary and confirmed with Bran and … whatever he’s got going on … that Jon’s parentage makes him true “king of the bloody Seven Kingdoms."
“My father was the most honorable man I ever met. You’re saying he lied to me all my life?” an incredulous Jon asks Sam, who tells him that Ned was in fact being honorable because he promised his sister he would keep her son safe, which meant hiding his identity. (And doing this knowing that it meant lying to his wife, Catelyn, and making her think he was unfaithful to her.)
Unsurprisingly, Jon has trouble fully taking in this information. He’s lived his entire life as Jon Snow, now all of a sudden he’s told that he’s Aegon Targaryen and is the one who should be sitting on the Iron Throne. Jon (we’re going to keep calling him Jon, the same way we kept saying Ol’ Dirty Bastard instead of Dirt McGirt) is a man who follows protocol, and he has already professed his support (and that’s not all) for Daenerys. She’s our queen, he tells Sam. You gave up the crown to protect your people, Sam tells him, adding: “Would she do the same?”
Cersei Lannister always has a plan
In last season’s finale, Cersei pledged her army to support the battle in the North against the White Walkers and the army of the dead, but of course she was lying. She was really in league with Euron Greyjoy, who arrives back in King’s Landing with a whole bunch of ships carrying 20,000 mercenary soldiers called the Golden Company. (Love to have brand new armies introduced into the story line a few episodes before the end.) That’s why Cersei is happy when Qyburn brings her the news that the White Walkers have broken through the Wall; she plans to use her new army to defeat whoever is left standing.
Euron, some dude named Captain Strickland of the Golden Company and 19,997 or so of his men (apparently there was a dice game gone wrong that resulted in the loss of a few soldiers) are now in the service of Cersei. She’s also got a couple thousand horses but no elephants, to her great disappointment. (Apparently elephants are tough to transport by sea, who knew?) Having delivered on his promise to Cersei, Euron would like to “talk in private” with the queen. At least that’s how he said it in public; while talking to his captive niece, Yara, while sailing back to King’s Landing, he put it a little more bluntly: “I’m going to f--- the Queen.”
Cersei isn’t so quick to give Euron what he wants, telling him they can talk in private “after the war,” which honestly I’m going to start using for when someone tries to schedule a meeting that I don’t want to attend. “You want a whore, buy one. You want a queen, earn her,” Cersei snaps at him. He counters that he’s given her justice (remember the Sand Snakes), an army and an iron fleet. Cersei grudgingly allows him to follow her to her personal quarters.
After the deed is done, the only thing on Cersei’s mind is that she really wanted those elephants. Unbothered by what seems like a decidedly negative review of his abilities, Euron wants to know how his sack skills compare to the late Robert Baratheon (pushing it) and then the Kingslayer himself, Jaime (too far). “You might be the most arrogant man I’ve ever met,” Cersei tells him, which she notes is a compliment, but it’s very hard to be convinced that Cersei actually enjoys his company. Before leaving her, Euron promises to put a prince in her belly; too bad for him that there already is probably one in there, although that’s not been confirmed, and neither has the possible father.
Daenerys and Jon in Winterfell
Unsurprisingly, most of “Winterfell” took place in Winterfell, where Jon and Daenerys rode in with their Unsullied/Dothraki armies in an attempt to show a unified front and build popular support for the coming war with the army of the dead. This might be a tough task for a variety of reasons. For one, the Northerners are as “stubborn as goats” (well put, Ser Davos) and their loyalty must be earned. They’re loyal to Jon, not Daenerys, and look upon foreigners with suspicion at best, scorn at worst.
Then there’s the houses they are counting on for support. Poor Lord Umber is at the age where he should still be getting tucked into bed at night, but instead he’s charged with finding soldiers who will follow him into battle against the White Walkers. Another young house leader, Lyanna Mormont, is just angry at Jon for leaving Winterfell as King in the North and coming back as … whatever he is now. Lord? Nothing at all? Boy toy?
Tyrion (remember him? Used to be the main character/best character on the show, now mostly an afterthought? That guy) steps in to say that if everyone survives, Jon will be thanked and that he knows the prospect of Northerners teaming with the Lannisters seems preposterous, but this is the situation that calls for it.
The Karstarks come back to support the cause; Lord Glover does not. Sansa, who has been viewing the Jon and Dany alliance skeptically since their arrival, delivers the news about Lord Glover to Jon, which makes Jon go into his whole spiel again about how he never wanted a crown, he only wanted to protect the North and really, Jon, we get it: You are truly the most selfless person to ever walk the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa has a more direct question for Jon: Did you bend the knee to save the North or because you love her? It’s a question we don’t get an answer to.
But do we really need an answer? Didn’t Jon and Dany Go Dragon Riding Through the North give us all the answer we need? They fly off to a secluded waterfall where Jon is worried that the Southern girl isn’t built for the Northern cold. “So keep your queen warm,” she tells him. One of the dragons starts to get red with envy as the two embrace, but maybe he was just blushing because of the bad dialogue, or his dragonsense was telling him that aunt-and-nephew shouldn’t be getting along like this.
Sam finds out the fate of his family
It’s supposed to be an uplifting moment when Jorah and Daenerys find Sam to thank him for saving Jorah’s life back at the Citadel, curing him of his greyscale. Dany wants to give him something. Sam says she could help out with some overdue fees on a few library books that are a bit past their return date and that he also stole the Tarly family sword that had been in his house for generations that his father had other plans for.
“Not Randyll Tarly?” asks Daenerys, realizing that she is talking to the son of the man that she had executed by burning-to-a-pile-of-bones-by-dragon-fire. She says she offered to let the elder Tarly retain his land and title if he bent the knee, but he didn’t and so … Sam is shaken but not exactly upset; it’s not like Randyll was good to Sam in the slightest. And at least he’ll be able to return home now that his brother is in charge. Which makes Dany basically say, see, about that . ..
Bran and Jaime Lannister meet again
Arguably the most intriguing moment of the episode was the final one. A cloaked figure rides into Winterfell and removes his hood to reveal that he’s Jaime Lannister — a decidedly more grizzled, less-blond Jaime Lannister. And who is the first person to greet him upon his arrival? None other than Bran — the same Bran whom he paralyzed by pushing out of a window at the end of the first episode of the first season.
Bran was expecting Jaime. Earlier when Sam came up to Bran to ask why he was sitting in the middle of the square, Bran mentioned he was “waiting for an old friend,” so his all-seeing abilities seem to be working well. The previews for next week show us that Jaime will have to deal with some (rightfully) angry Starks on their home turf.
Who else is around?
Gendry, who seems to have the only grooming kit in the North because he is looking sharp and put together compared to those ragged Northerners he’s surrounded by. He’s also making some sharp stuff — a dragonglass ax for the Hound and a weapon TBD for Arya.
Speaking of those two, they see each other for the first time in ages, since Arya left the Hound for dead. It’s a short conversation in Gendry’s iron shop: “You’re a cold little b----, aren’t you? I guess that’s why you’re still alive,” he tells her.
Bronn thought he had it bad when one of the three prostitutes he was with wouldn’t stop talking about bodies charred by dragons, but then Qyburn walked in to really kill the moment. He came to deliver a message — the queen’s brothers were not likely to survive their time in the North, but if they did … and with that, Qyburn handed Bronn a crossbow, the weapon that Tyrion used to kill the Lannisters’ father, Tywin. Bronn has always been consistent in saying he works for whatever money is best. Would he really kill both Jaime and Tyrion for the right price?
We didn’t actually see any White Walkers in this episode, but we did see their handiwork. Tormund, Beric and their exploring crew run into Lord Commander Eddison and his exploring crew and find what they believe to be a message from the Night King — poor little Lord Umber, very dead and left in some sort of pinwheel of arms.
And the redemption of Theon Greyjoy continues as he and a small extraction team are able to rescue Yara Greyjoy from under Uncle Euron. Upon untying her hands, Yara brutally head-butts Theon since it was his abandonment of her that helped get to this point, but then they reconcile. She seems to be headed back to the Iron Islands to reclaim their home; he seems to be off to Winterfell to help with the battle there.
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