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“Dark wings, dark words.” It’s one of the great quotes from HBO’s Game of Thrones, signaling the dark omens baked into the words that ride on the backs of ravens, sprung from the minds of the sprawling cast: Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and so many others.
Throughout the final season, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Westeros beat reporter Josh Wigler (that’s me!) will round up some of the most important lines of dialogue featured in the past week’s episode of Thrones, offering context and divining clues about the hidden meaning in a weekly column: Dark Words.
Up first: “Winterfell,” the final season premiere, loaded with no less than 15 choice quotes.
1. “We don’t have time for all of this.”
If nothing else, Isaac Hempstead Wright’s Bran Stark is keeping it real. When everyone first meets at the heart of Winterfell, the Three-Eyed Raven cuts through the frosty tensions with a terse reminder that there’s no time left for ice-breakers, and even less for infighting. It’s a bit of meta-commentary as well. After “Winterfell,” only five installments remain in Game of Thrones. Time’s short; why waste it on conversation? It’s certainly the perspective from some viewers in the Thrones audience, while others are more than content watching the characters they love trade barbs one last time, before they start the bloody process of trading lives.
2. “Whatever they want.”
What is “what do dragons eat” for $100? It’s one of the funniest lines of the premiere, as the frosty tensions between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Daenerys Targaryen become clearer and clearer. While so many Northerners are doing their Northern thing in opposition of Daenerys, Sansa’s actually thinking the problems through logically — namely, that there isn’t enough food to feed the entire army of the living, and that includes feeding the dragons. For Dany’s part, such practical considerations have never been her strongest suit. It’s part of why the Mother of Dragons is such a great character — and it’s part of why she’s someone we should be questioning, Sansa style.
3. “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”
Another zinger from the Lady of Winterfell, this time aimed at her first husband Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). The two meet at Winterfell and discuss the coming arrival of Cersei, which Tyrion believes will only help boost the odds in the face of the White Walkers. Sansa, of course, knows better. The moment not only demonstrates Sansa’s place as one of the smartest players left in the game, but also highlights Tyrion’s falling star. His character arc has ebbed and flowed throughout the series, of course, which an emphasis on ebbing in recent seasons. Tyrion was once the cleverest person on Game of Thrones by a good stretch; these days, not as much.
4. “Once or twice.”
Jon Snow and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) finally reunited in “Winterfell,” sharing the screen together for the first time since the second episode of the series. The scene delivers many different examples of how much the two have grown and changed, but none better than their conversation about Arya’s sword, Needle. Jon remains naive enough to think Arya could have survived all she survived without ever once having to draw her weapon. Arya, knowing how much her history of violence would break Jon’s heart, lies about the details — a testament to the game of faces she learned at the House of Black and White, and potentially an indication of her own remorse about her past.
5. “He has no eyelids now.”
Speaking of Arya, remember that one time she hung out with Ed Sheeran? It was back in the season seven premiere, when she dropped arms and enjoyed a meal alongside a group of well-intentioned Lannister loyalists. Whatever happened to him after that fateful meeting? A scene in “Winterfell” boasts the answer, as Bronn (Jerome Flynn) overhears the news from a brothel worker: “That boy Eddie … came back with his face burned off.” It’s not just a grisly answer to what happened to the pop singer’s Westerosi alter ego, but also yet another of the premiere’s indictments of Daenerys Targaryen. If the Mother of Dragons’ conquest for Westeros is going to leave Ed Sheeran without eyelids, can we really trust her with the Iron Throne?
6. “She has other plans for the Targaryen girl.”
While we’re busy debating Daenerys’ moral compass, Cersei Lannister has designs on how to bring her down. It’s a blink-and-you-missed-it moment in the conversation between Bronn and Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser), as the Hand of the Queen tries to recruit the sellsword into assassinating Cersei’s brothers. At first, Bronn misinterprets the assignment, identifying Daenerys as the target. Qyburn lets Bronn know that Cersei has a very different agenda in mind for “the Targaryen girl.” Keep a close eye on the Cersei scenes moving forward, then. The wheels are clearly in motion for Cersei’s masterstroke.
7. “I’m going to put a prince in your belly.”
Cersei, meanwhile, finally relented and slept with the insufferable Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Aesbak), the most arrogant man she’s ever met — her words, not ours, though it’s hard to disagree! In any case, Euron draws so much pride from finally sleeping with the Queen that he promises to get her pregnant. Little does he know, she already has a potential prince inside of her — although there’s a contingent of Thrones viewers who feel Cersei may be faking the pregnancy. It’s hard to imagine why she would do such a thing; then again, the late Queen of Thorns would warn against failing to imagine the extent of Cersei’s chaotic cruelty.
8. “What is dead may never die … but kill the bastards anyway.”
Among the many reasons why the season eight premiere lands so well: It yadda-yaddas the Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) rescue mission, rather than forcing the issue for an extended arc. I suspect viewers will be especially grateful about Theon (Alfie Allen) feeling free to travel to Winterfell in time for the battle against the White Walkers. The odds of our heroes beating back the Army of the Dead at Winterfell are tragically low; the survivors will need a getaway vehicle, and fast. Dragons can only carry so many people. A smooth-sailing ship in the Greyjoy fleet, however? Consider it the Westeros equivalent of an Uber XL.
9. “You’ve completely ruined horses for me.”
Who needs a horse when you have Rhaegal? Jon Snow experienced a couple of life-changing events in the premiere, including his first time riding a dragon all on his own. In addition to being a highly anticipated moment for viewers due to Jon’s secret Targaryen lineage, the dragon ride accomplishes a couple of practical matters. For one, it helps Jon work through any rookie nerves as a dragon-rider; the next time he’s behind “the wheel,” expect a lot more confidence. It sets the stage for Jon to aid Daenerys in flying away from a failed battle at Winterfell a few episodes from now, should such an event occur. It also pits Jon and the Night King against one another, as the two enemies can now face each other down on dragonback.
10. “As you wish, milady.”
Gendry (Joe Dempsie) breaks out his best impression of Westley from The Princess Bride during his reunion with Arya in the forge of Winterfell, which itself calls back to their earlier adventures together on the road. Back then, Gendry would needle (Needle!) Arya about her connections to House Stark. He does it again here, to much warmer results. Indeed, the sparks between Arya and Gendry are hard to miss; are we actually being set up for an eventual romance between them, or is this more setup for an eventual tragic ending? In case you missed it, our predictions for Arya’s fate aren’t exactly sunny…
11. “I’m waiting for an old friend.”
Shortly after his awkward first meeting with Daenerys, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) bursts out into the Winterfell courtyard and runs into a familiar face: Bran Stark, who utters the aforementioned line. At first blush, it feels like it’s a nod to Sam, as it leads the Night’s Watch intellectual into his next climactic scene. But on reflection, it would appear Bran was actually talking about someone else: Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the “old friend” Bran meets at the end of the episode for the first time since the series premiere.
12. “You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, the true heir to the Iron Throne.”
Game of Thrones viewers waited a full season and change for this moment. A Song of Ice and Fire readers waited even longer, some since the earliest days of author George R.R. Martin‘s saga. Everyone had a version in their minds of how the news would drop. Some feared it wouldn’t come out until the end of the series; others worried Jon may never learn the truth about his parents at all. But the business is dealt with in the cold comfort of the Winterfell crypt, right here in the season premiere, with the veritable ghost of Ned Stark serving as witness. No matter what else happened in the first episode of the final season, at the very least, it stuck the landing on one of the most anticipated reveals of the series.
13. “She shouldn’t be.”
It’s how Sam leaves Jon, our current final note on both characters, not to mention the “she” in question: Daenerys. The entire premiere works hard at making viewers question the purity of Dany’s Iron Throne pursuit. Here, Sam takes that subtext and puts it in plain English: “She shouldn’t be” the queen of Westeros, is what he’s telling Jon, Daenerys’ lover. It’s a loaded statement; treasonous even, according to Jon, and we know what happened to the last two treasonous Tarlys. Whatever happens next for Sam, and whatever happens next for Dany, at the very least we as an audience are left more uncertain about the silver-haired dragon-rider than ever before.
14. “I’ve always had blue eyes!”
Not too much to dig into here; it’s just an incredible moment between Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and the men of the Night’s Watch he encounters at Last Hearth. It might be the last truly funny moment we get for a long while, too. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter this week, Isaac Hempstead Wright offered this warning about the future of the final season: “Well, if you noticed, the first episode was quite funny. I suppose that’s a warning, to ease you back in before all the pain that’s about to come.”
15. “It’s a message. From the Night King.”
Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) recognizes the White Walkers’ handiwork the moment he comes across the late lord of Last Hearth, nailed to a wall, surrounded by limbs that eventually form a flaming spiral. Ever since the episode ended, fans have worked overtime to piece together the Night King’s message. Is there a deeper meaning to the spiral? There very well may be — but the popular theory, that it’s a sign of the Night King’s secret Targaryen heritage? Forgive me, but I don’t buy it. I dig into the reasons why a bit more on this week’s Series Regular podcast, for those who care to listen. The short version: If you’re deeply invested in the White Walkers’ leader having a genetic connection to the Targaryen line, I think you’re in for a disappointment.
Bonus: Wordless Moment of the Week
Every week in Dark Words, we’ll close out with a tip of the hat to the greatest moment of silence, one that says everything with nothing more than a look. For “Winterfell,” it’s not even close: Bran Stark, on one side of the Winterfell courtyard, staring down Jaime Lannister, the man who pushed him out a window so many years ago. It says so much without a single spoken word; what’s more, it spawned a litany of memes about Bran, leaving even Isaac Hempstead Wright reeling with laughter.
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