In our all-new The Episodic Take series, we're taking a deep dive into specific episodes and figure out the meaning within. Today we're looking at Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1, an episode of homecoming. Let's dig into the Stark reunions, Jon's new-found self-knowledge, Daenerys' future and more.
Homecoming - Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1
The Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones is all about homecoming. The episode is entitled “Winterfell,” and features all of the show’s key characters returning to each other at the Starks’ ancestral and childhood home. These reunions we see highlight how, in their time apart, each character has come into their own. And beyond all of the meetings, homecoming here is even more about the truth finally being revealed, as Jon Snow arrives at last at self-knowledge.
“You're Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.” - Samwell, S8E01 (“Winterfell”)
This episode also lets the audience go back to the main place in the show that’s inspired warm, sentimental “home” feelings in us. And once again we get the joys of experiencing Winterfell through beloved characters’ eyes, without any Boltons or Littlefingers or pre-reformed Theon Greyjoys spoiling the view.
So the new Game of Thrones season brings together all of this emotion at the home of this story, just as this home is about to be under attack, and that gives the fighting we’re about to see unprecedented emotional stakes. The episode also echoes the pilot, which featured a King riding to Winterfell. Now it’s a foreigner Queen distrusted by the northerners and bringing with her what Tyrion calls “the greatest army the world has ever seen.”
This premiere feels like a lot of set-up because it has to communicate the feelings of so many reunions, often through meaningful glances and succinct, loaded exchanges. We get that longed-for hug between Jon and Arya who’ve been separated since the pilot. There’s Arya’s little smile after she sees her girlhood crush Gendry, and their callbacks to past flirtations. And Tyrion’s awkward reminder that he and Sansa are still kind of marriage (although in keeping with the customs of the Seven Kingdoms, as the union was never consummated, people seem to consider it dissolved.)
What’s underlined in each reunion is that all of these people have been away on long journeys, and now they have become themselves. They know who they are now.
Homecoming also includes the new meetings of characters who’ve been destined to come together for a long time, resulting in some comic “meet the family” encounters and Arya’s inspirational first sight of a dragon as she gets confirmation that magic (and super mass killing machines) do exist in this world.
Most fundamentally, though, homecoming here is about the inevitable return of the truth. It stands for self-enlightenment and coming home to oneself. This is the episode in which the Jon Snow who knew nothing finally becomes Aegon Targaryen, who knows something he really didn’t want to. Significantly, the last time Jon saw his presumed father, Ned Stark told him, “The next time we see each other, we'll talk about your mother.” Now the next time Jon sees Ned in the crypt, he at last does learn about his mother.
“Your mother was Lyanna Stark. And your father your real father was Rhaegar Targaryen.” - Samwell, S8E01 (“Winterfell”)
We witness Jon’s turmoil and even anger at learning the truth. Throughout the show, Game of Thrones emphasizes that knowledge is not just a powerful thing, but a dangerous one, a weapon. This secret of Jon’s parentage has been one of the most potent and perilous truths of all.
“Robert would have murdered you if he knew.” - Samwell, S8E01 (“Winterfell”)
“He’s being told something that he both knows is true and can’t handle… The truth that Sam tells Jon is probably the most incendiary fact in the entire world of the show.” - D.B. Weiss in Inside the Episode (Season 8 Episode 1)
And now it has the power to drive a wedge between Jon and the woman he loves. So this pivotal scene underlines how truth can be ruinous and destructive -- it threatens to shatter the fragile happiness these characters are clinging to.
Varys utters one of the most important lines in this episode, “Nothing lasts.” He’s referring to the beauty of youth, and new love. But the other deep meaning of these words is that illusions and false stories can only protect us for so long from the cold hard truth.
What’s striking in this episode is how stupidly these Lords and Ladies bicker and worry about titles and allegiances when they’re all going to be lucky to survive the next few days. Jon keeps trying to make them understand this and that gets him accused of being naive. But as Sam points out, this willingness to give up a crown or a throne is what makes him so particularly well-suited to lead.
So this scene of Jon’s unwanted self-knowledge raises a crucial doubt about Daenerys, not just her blood claim to the throne, but also more importantly, her worthiness as a leader. The series has been filled with characters hailing her as the savior of the people, coming to restore something lost to this corrupt, deteriorating Westeros. But this scene chips away at that myth. We’ve seen various signs of her changing as she gets closer to the Iron Throne, like her earlier insistence that Jon bend the knee before she would help him and ruthless treatment of dissenters like Samwell Tarly’s defeated Father and Brother, which leads Sam to question her judgment. Even her appearance is morphing -- she looks more regal than ever, echoing how entitled and demanding her behavior is becoming. And she also has that classic Targaryen silver-haired look, making us think of her father, the Mad King. In fact, she’s starting to look like a White Walker, reminding us of her coloring in House of the Undying prophecy and making us wonder even more about her ultimate morality.
Homecoming also entails the past catching up to us, and Jon is not the only character here who has to face an unpleasant truth. Near the end, we get the mostly unnoticed arrival of Jaime Lannister, the only piece of the Lannister army who’s truly coming. And the episode ends with his look of recognition as he spots Bran. We see in his face the guilt and horror he feels of what he did in the pilot. This look captures how much Jaime has changed since then, and the noble, deeply feeling person who has always been buried underneath the haughty Kingslayer persona and all-consuming devotion to the manipulative Cersei. Jaime’s slaying of the Mad King was in fact an act that saved lives, and his attack on Bran unintentionally jumpstarted the boy’s journey toward becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. So again Jaime’s role as the presumed villain masks his greater destiny as the unappreciated instigator of world-changing events that must come to pass.
Back in King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy returns, too, as promised. And Cersei lives up to her part of the deal, evidently so that she can pass off Jaime’s baby as Euron’s, although her sad look at the end of the scene suggests that on some level she regrets driving away her true love. Meanwhile, Theon finally returns to himself as he rescues Yara, who wants to go home to the Iron Islands while he wants to go back to his true home and redeem himself to his true family.
There’s also some foreshadowing in the episode. Arya asks Gendry to make her a special weapon of dragonglass, which could hint that she has a plan to kill either the Night King or his Ice Dragon. And that might make us think of Melisandre’s prophecy of all the people Arya would eventually kill.
“Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever.” - Melissandre in S03E06 (“The Climb”)
The Night King could be the blue eyes she’s destined to shut, reminding us that this stone-cold killer will be central in the upcoming battle. Meanwhile, the most horrific moment of the episode (the discovery of the transformed little lord of House Umber) calls back to both the opening of the show and the symbols of the Children of the Forest (which we also have a whole video on.) This symbol looks strikingly like the Targaryen sigil, which speaks to the importance of the Targaryen heirs in what’s to come.
On that note, in this episode we get to see Jon ride a dragon, even though it’s a scene that’s played for humor, and neither of the lovers grasps that the dragon’s willingness to let Jon ride him is a hint of his bloodline.
“Only Targaryens can ride dragons, and that should be a sign for Jon. Jon’s not always the quickest on the uptake, but eventually gets there.” - David Benioff, in Inside the Episode (Season 8 Episode 1)
The theme of homecoming can’t help but make us think of The Odyssey, Homer’s ancient Greek epic which is the most classic piece of literature about returning. Just as The Odyssey deals with the aftermath of the Trojan War, Game of Thrones is defined by its offscreen story of Robert’s Rebellion. The Odyssey is about a long, roundabout, hard journey home after the war, and that’s exactly what we see in game of Thrones -- the long, hard journey to home and to one’s true self, in which any apparent shortcuts are merely illusions, sirens, or fast ways to a quick death.
The intriguing parallel between Game of Throne and The Odyssey, brought to light in this episode of homecoming, might give us a key clue about the final hero to come. But we’ll explore that in detail soon, in an upcoming video.