WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Season 8 premiere of Game of Thrones.
HBO's Game of Thrones has come a long way since it premiered in 2011 as a modest, if ambitious, fantasy dramas. Now, it's one of the biggest shows on television, and an intrinsic part of pop culture. Given the way Season 7 ended, there's incredible anticipation surrounding its final episodes. The White Walkers are on the move south of the Wall, and war is brewing on multiple fronts. Yet, instead of diving straight into the action, the series took time to breathe in the Season 8 premiere, and offered important character moments that will drive the story forward.
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More than that, "Winterfell" demonstrated just how carefully constructed the series is. The episode brought events full circle by featuring an ending that mirrored the final moments of the pilot episode, which premiered almost exactly eight years ago.
The appropriately titled "Winterfell" takes place almost entirely in the Stark's homestead, much like the pilot did. The episode features the reunion of many characters -- some heartwarming, others a bit more chilly -- who have not seen each other in years. But where the episode most echoes the past is in its final moments.
The season premiere ends with a cloaked figure entering into Winterfell on horseback. Upon removing his hood, he's revealed to be Jaime Lannister, who road off North from King's Landing, and Cersei, in the Season 7 finale. And who is there to greet him at the gates? Bran Stark, who has been waiting for this "old friend" to arrive. As the two characters lock eyes on each other, the episode comes to a weighty end.
In some ways, the reunion is a payoff to the pilot's ending. "Winter Is Coming" ended with a shocking scene: After he witnessed Jaime and Cersei Lannister being intimate at the top of one of Winterfell's tower, Bran was pushed out of the window by Jaime, in hopes of keeping their secret. The fall left Bran a cripple, and his memory foggy of what led to his "accident." At the time, this was one of the scenes that demonstrated Game of Thrones wasn't your typical show, and that no one, not even children, were safe.
But that fall was only the beginning of Bran's arc, which led him to becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, a powerful mystic who can see everything -- past, present and future. So now, of course, Bran knows what caused his fall -- which is why his reunion with Jaime, after all this time, is loaded with tension.
It appears as if Jaime will finally face the consequences of his actions. Like Bran, he's come a long way, and isn't be the same character he was eight years ago. But the Kingslayer will still have to face the surviving Stark children -- not to mention Daenerys Targaryen -- for everything he's done.
The final moments of the Season 8 premiere brings events full circle, not only by calling back to the pilot, but by showcasing the evolution the characters have undergone.
Game of Thrones Season 8 premieres Sunday. The HBO drama 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.