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'Game of Thrones' premiere has truth bombs, emotional reunions and dragon flying lessons

Let Aladdin and Jasmine have their magic carpet ride: On tonight’s Game of Thrones season premiere, Daenerys Targaryen introduced Jon Snow to a whole new world of dragon riding. It’s a moment that fans have been waiting to see since House Stark’s resident bastard was revealed to have Targaryen blood flowing through his veins.

And who better to give him his first lesson than Aunt Dany? Not that he’s aware of their familial connection at that moment in time, as evidenced by the way he eagerly accepts her invitation for some post-flying canoodling. Drogon and Rhaegal’s side-eye at this intrafamily PDA spoke for all of us at home and on Twitter.

Jon and Daenerys’s dragon flight was the … um, high point of the premiere, giving viewers a break from earthbound concerns like the impending war against the Night King’s army of undead White Walkers, who surprisingly went unseen in this episode. It also features some of the best visual effects work the show’s digital wizards have achieved yet, promising an even grander spectacle to come. Here are five other standout moments from an hourlong episode that eased viewers back into Westeros with a series of emotional reunions and one major truth bomb.

The secret is out

Let’s start with that truth bomb. Like almost everyone else in his House, Jon Snow has spent his entire life (both of them) believing he was Ned Stark’s bastard son. That was the promise that his guardian made to Jon’s actual mother, Lyanna Stark — Ned’s sister and wife of Rhaegar Targaryen. Their star-crossed love story is part of the secret history of Westeros, kept hidden from the public as it would upset the justification for Robert Baratheon’s self-serving rebellion against Rhaegar’s father, Aerys II, a.k.a. the “Mad King.” Bran Stark uncovered the truth of Jon’s origins using his time-traveling Three-Eyed Raven powers, and passed word along to Samwell Tarly who had stumbled upon the Lyanna/Rhaegar marriage during a deep dive into the Citadel archives.

It’s Sam’s job to break the news to Jon, which he thankfully does at the end of the season premiere rather than waiting until, say, the fourth episode. Kudos to Kit Harington for the look of slow-motion horror that crosses Jon’s face as he absorbs this information. It’s really a four-stage realization: Stage 1 is processing the shock that Ned isn’t his father; Stage 2 is the realization that he’s next in line for the Iron Throne; Stage 3 is the recognition that his heritage technically makes him Daenerys’s rival for the crown; and Stage 4, of course, is the absolute alarm that he’s shacking up with his aunt.

The mother of all family feuds

We’re not sure exactly what reaction Daenerys was expecting when she met Jon’s siblings … but it’s safe to say it wasn’t the cold shoulder she received from Sansa. To be fair, the eldest Stark daughter has been holding down the fort at Winterfell while her brother has been gallivanting around Westeros, so it’s a shock to have him return only to admit that he’s ceded his authority as “King in the North” to a woman she’s never met before. You can also chalk her skepticism about Daenerys up to Littlefinger; although that particular snake was slain last season, his not-so-casual suggestion that Sansa is more suited to running things than Jon is still very much present in her brain. And if she decides that she’s also a better ruler than Dany, House Targaryen’s path back to the throne just got more complicated.

New couple alert!

We weren’t the only ones who felt the flames of romance stirring between Arya and Gendry. Twitter took immediate note of how Ned Stark’s youngest daughter and Robert Baratheon’s bastard son seemed to be vibing over their mutual interest in metallurgy and weaponry. We even got an “As you wish” moment, and everyone knows what that means.

Theon’s hero moment

The years have not been kind to Theon Greyjoy, but then again, he’s the kind of person who is easier to root against than root for. Last season ended with the former Reek taking baby steps towards redemption, a journey that continues in the premiere as he leads a surprisingly successful mission to rescue his sister, Yara. And rather than retire in semi-glory to the Iron Islands, he decides to make his way back to Winterfell to fight alongside the family he once betrayed. Don’t get us wrong, we’re still expecting/rooting for Theon to be one of the final season’s casualties, but if he keeps these heroics up, maybe we’ll actually weep over his grave instead of kick extra dirt into it.

Sometimes, the dead come back

As mentioned before, the Night King’s undead army remained offscreen during this hour. But we did get one killer zombie moment in the form of a climactic jump scare that Jordan Peele would applaud. While exploring the House Umber homestead, Last Hearth, Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion discover the seemingly dead body of young Ned Umber. Only he’s not so dead...

Well, OK, now he is. Whoever placed bets on Ned Umber being the first to go just got a giant payout.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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