It may have required an almost two-year wait, but the Game of Thrones season premiere finally got around to answering such major fan questions as: “When will Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen get to take a magic dragon ride?” and “Where is Jaime Lannister going anyway?” With five episodes left to go until the series wraps up for good, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss couldn’t resist adding some new details for us to obsess over. Here are the top three burning questions we have after watching “Winterfell” again… and again… and again.
What happened to the Westeros map we knew and loved?
Written by Dave Hill and directed by David Nutter, “Winterfell” announced that Game of Thrones was boldly marching into new territory right up front in the opening credits sequence. The ever-changing map of Westeros featured its most extensive overhaul yet, starting with the now-broken Wall through which a Viserion-riding Night King led his White Walker army at the end of Season 7. Their path south from the Wall to Winterfell — notably passing by House Umber’s Last Hearth homestead on the way, which foreshadowed one of the Season 8 premiere episode’s the last scenes and our last burning question — was charted by gray tiles that flipped to icy blue with every zombie step. (Watch the opening credits below.)
As noted by The Verge, the other big innovation with this version of the credits sequence is that audiences got to venture deep inside the various landmarks the all-seeing astrolabe showed us. Hence, Winterfell literally opens up before our eyes to reveal its dank, dark crypts — the location where Samwell Tarly sets off a seismic truth bomb before the episode ends. As teased by one of the many Season 8 trailers, these labyrinthian corridors will also be the place where the normally unflappable Arya Stark encounters a foe that makes her scared enough to run… for her life. After leaving Winterfell, our next stop is a deep dive into the depths of King’s Landing, followed by an upwards climb to the majestic Iron Throne, making its first-ever appearance in the opening credits, as a reminder of the prize that awaits the (unlikely) survivors of the looming war between human and zombie-kind.
As Twitter obsessives pointed out, the map isn’t the only thing that’s seen some between-seasons changes. Freeze frames reveal that the astrolabe has all-new symbols as well, which refer to such major events as Robert’s Rebellion — which arguably started this mess in the first place — as well as the apocalyptic Red Wedding.
But the freshly engraved symbol that’s really thrown the internet into a tizzy is the inclusion of a fourth dragon alongside Dany’s three children, suggesting that the show’s cast of flying reptiles is about to grow by one. Additional evidence is furnished by a comet that can be glimpsed alongside this now-quartet of dragons, a reference to the Red Comet of legend that heralds the rebirth of dragonkind.
What weapon has got Arya and Gendry so excited?
Based on the Twitter reaction to their flirty interaction last night, Arya and Gendry have instantly become Westeros’s one true pairing. It does make sense: Besides the fact that their fathers — Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, respectively — were best buds, these two share such common interests as the science of weaponry and the art of feeling alone in a crowd. But before any romantic sparks can burst into flame, they’ve got to help bring about the Night King’s downfall, which requires an interesting weapon for interesting times.
Arya has sketched out exactly what she has in mind, and while we aren’t privy to a lingering glimpse at her design work, fans have interpreted what Gendry saw based on what they already know about Arya’s fight training and combat preferences. Besides her ever-present sword, Needle, the former Faceless Assassin is also currently in possession of a Valyrian steel dagger, a high-class weapon that the lower caste Gendry can’t help but tease her about.
Despite his good natured ribbing, Gendry seems genuinely impressed with what she’s invented: a weapon that will incorporate zombie-killing dragonglass as an appendage that can be removed and attached to one of the staffs since she’s so skilled at swinging. That would give her the option to ditch close-quarters combat in any situation where she’s outnumbered (or just overwhelmed) by White Walker opponents.
What’s up with that burning symbol?
Alas poor Ned Umber! We knew him... kind of. The young leader of House Umber became Season 8’s first casualty, killed by White Walkers in his own home of Last Hearth. And his murderers left a cryptic message behind, one that hearkens back to the early days of the show, as well as the early days of Westerosi history. Theories about the exact nature of the spiral shaped calling card that the Night King’s forces designed have been bouncing around Twitter since the episode ended.
Personally, we like the theory that The Ringer is advancing, namely that the White Walkers are referencing the Children of the Forest, the earliest residents of Westeros. We first saw this spiral message in the series premiere of Game of Thrones, so it’s no accident that it’s reappearing as the endgame approaches. One of the longstanding theories amongst fans is that the forest children may have created the White Walkers or may even be the White Walkers. Either way, this really is a case where the past comes back to haunt the present.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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