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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the final season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “Winterfell.”]
When it comes to Game of Thrones, premiere episodes aren’t always worth writing home about. Granted, it’s Thrones, which means there’s almost always something to chew on and consider, but the opening hour of a given season often exists as an entry point for everything that comes next.
House Baratheon is going to be a major force in season two? The premiere will set that up. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) will rise to the role of Lord Commander during season five, and fail epically in the process? Again, the premiere will set those wheels in motion. Every year, the HBO series begins by setting the table, offering just enough of an appetizer to hook you in for the main meal.
How was the final season premiere in that regard? It certainly paved the way for the final path ahead, and then some. Here’s where the episode lands in our rankings of all the Game of Thrones premiere episodes, from the very beginning all the way through to the start of the bittersweet end.
8. “The North Remembers” (Season 2)
The second book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series begins with an intense prologue focused on Stannis Baratheon’s (Stephen Dillane) maester conspiring to assassinate Melisandre (Carice van Houten). The season two premiere rushes through the scene and places it smack dab in the middle of the episode. It’s fine; still an episode of Game of Thrones, so well worth watching, but rather forgettable in the grand scheme of things. Well, there’s one unforgettable moment: the final montage, in which all of Robert Baratheon’s (Mark Addy) bastard children are murdered at the crown’s command.
7. “The Wars to Come” (Season 5)
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) inadvertently starts his Lord Commander campaign by assassinating Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), an act of mercy in the face of a torturous death. It’s also the first episode of Thrones to feature an extended flashback scene, when a young Cersei (Lena Headey) meets a woods witch with a dark prophecy about what her future entails — a future that’s very much coming to bear, based upon what we’ve seen in the subsequent episodes.
6. “The Red Woman” (Season 6)
Good luck forgetting Melisandre’s episode-closing transformation, in which the audience learned her most private secret: She’s impossibly ancient, disguising her true form with the use of magic. Outside of that big reveal, “The Red Woman” was a table-setter for everything that came next, filled with moments that cast an ominous shadow over the rest of the season. Special shout-out to that time Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) accidentally threatened to eat a baby.
5. “Valar Dohaeris” (Season 3)
It’s the great comeback episode for Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), who spent the entire previous season completely absent from the screen. In the books, Barristan joins Daenerys under an alias, a ruse that wouldn’t play on television due to practical differences between the mediums. Still, Barry the Bold bursting back onto the scene by saving Dany’s life is one of the most uproarious moments of the show’s early going. Another monumental moment: Jon meeting Mance Rayder for the very first time, the start of his undercover mission within the wildling camp.
4. “Winter Is Coming” (Season 1)
As the episode that started it all, the first-ever season premiere deserves its fair share of accolades. It also didn’t come into existence without its own share of headaches, as HBO was forced to reshoot much of the pilot, an effort that involved recasting a few key roles (including hiring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys). The episode marks one of very few instances where most of the show’s major characters existed in the same location — the Starks and Lannisters both in Winterfell — though it certainly wasn’t the last.
3. “Two Swords” (Season 4)
In the season four premiere, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) melts down Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) sword into two new weapons. It’s a powerful symbol in the wake of the Red Wedding, making it plainly clear that the Lannisters were at the height of their power. It went swiftly downhill from there, what with King Joffrey (Jack Gleason) dying one episode later, and Tywin himself meeting his maker (or his progeny, rather) at the end of the season. “Two Swords” scores extra points for the incredible closing scene, in which Arya (Maisie Williams) and the Hound (Rory McCann) take on an entire tavern filled with Lannister loyalists.
2. “Dragonstone” (Season 7)
The breakneck pace of the season seven premiere was so notably different from previous premiere episodes that it almost played more like a finale. The Hound seeing visions of the future; an undeniable instance of magic for a man who rarely takes such things seriously; Arya Stark avenging the Red Wedding by killing the entire Frey family; Daenerys finally in Westeros, albeit a bit further afield in Dragonstone. These are the types of scenes that usually come at the end of a Thrones season. The fact that this was the launching point was a tone-setter for the drama’s final thirteen episodes, including…
1. “Winterfell” (Season 8)
Long ago, King Robert (Mark Addy) marched the core members of the Baratheon regime to Winterfell. Almost seventy episodes later, a new monarch arrived in the North: Daenerys Targaryen, alongside her army of Dothraki and Unsullied warriors, not to mention a couple of dragons. A momentous occasion for the series on its own, the final season premiere also featured powerful reunions (Jon and Arya, Arya and the Hound, Jaime and Bran) alongside crucial revelations, like Jon learning the truth about his Targaryen origins. From a character standpoint, it was absolutely action-packed, providing all the necessary building blocks for Thrones to bring its journey to a proper end.
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