WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones.
HBO's Game of Thrones kicked off its eighth and final season this week with "Winterfell," which brought many of the key players together at the Stark ancestral home, in preparation for the battle against the Night King's army of the dead. Fittingly the episode also serves as a mirror of sorts to the beginnings of the hit series, which premiered eight years ago, almost to the day.
With at least for memorable moments, Game of Thrones came full circle, emphasizing character arcs and long-running plot threads, and rewarding faithful viewers.
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ARYA'S VANTAGE POINT
In the pilot episode, "Winter is Coming," Arya Stark scurries around Winterfell, attempting to get a proper view of the arrival of King Robert Baratheon, Queen Cersei and their entourage. However, she's too short, and with all the adults blocking, she climbs horse carts and other objects for a better look.
The Season 8 premiere shares a visual parallel, when another royal procession comes to Winterfell under vastly different circumstances. This time, an older Arya has no trouble seeing Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, the Unsullied and the Dothraki make their grand entrance. She even moves aside as a child, like her years before, seeks a better vantage point.
JAIME AND BRAN'S STAREDOWN
In the pilot, a 10-year-old Bran was often found climbing towers of Winterfell, and he too was trying to sneak a peek at King Robert's arrival. Bran's mother, Catelyn, often warned him about the dangers of climbing, and in the episode's final scene, he scaled the wrong tower and caught Jaime Lannister and his twin sister, Queen Cersei, in a compromising position. The confused boy stared at them, and after a brief exchange in which it seemed Jaime would spare him, the Kingslayer pushed Bran off the ledge. He was left crippled, and began his journey to become the Three-Eyed Raven.
"Winterfell" returns to this moment with its final sequence, as a weary Jaime arrives at the ancestral home of the Starks. He dismounts, and as he removes his hood, his eyes lock Bran, who has been waiting for "an old friend" in the courtyard.
JON AND ARYA'S NEEDLE MOMENT
The second episode of Season 1, "The Kingsroad," split the Starks apart forever. Ned went to King's Landing with Robert and Cersei, while Jon left with Uncle Benjen to join the Night's Watch. But before Jon left, he gave a gift to his favorite sibling, Arya: a thin sword that she named "Needle." He warned her to keep it close and to stick enemies with "the pointy end" as they embraced and said goodbye.
We now the agony that followed. However, the two are reunited by Winterfell's Weirwood Tree in the Season 8 premiere. As they reconnect, Jon spots Needle and asks her how many times she's used it. "Once or twice," she replies. It's an important moment, because it mirrors their last exchange, and demonstrates how strong their bond is. And just like last time, Arya reminds him of the importance of family, with a cryptic warning about Dany.
NED STARK'S PROMISE
In "The Kingsroad," just as Ned and Jon part ways, the young bastard asks whether his mother is alive or even cares about him. Ned, already burdened with his trip to King's Landing, didn't feel this was the right time and said, "The next time we'll see each other, we'll talk about your mother. I promise." As we know, Ned would never see him again.
But while they never reunited, "Winterfell" honors Ned's promise in the Stark family crypts. As Jon tends to Ned's statue, Samwell Tarly reveals the secret the late Lord Stark kept: Jon is the son of his sister, Lyanna, and Rhaegar Targaryen.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, Game of Thrones stars Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark, Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow.