Well, you didn’t expect the battle to get started right away, did you?
After more than a year’s worth of anticipation over a final season of “Game of Thrones” that reportedly cost upward of $15 million an episode and generated countless considerations of “GOT’s” cultural impact and how it all might end, the series earned a moment to refresh the pieces on the board before hurtling toward what’s hopefully, for all concerned, a satisfying finish.
As if looking to justify the delays and hefty costs right from the jump, the show’s creators had the courtesy to remake that board with an updated (and very pricey-looking) opening credits sequence, which included sweeping animations of the blasted-open Wall, tiles of ice cascading toward a newly redrawn Winterfell and dragon skulls in King’s Landing. Kudos, everyone. This will all make a heck of a board game one day.
And although the subsequent episode revolved around many reunions — Arya and her brother Jon, Arya and the Hound, Sansa and Tyrion, Yara and Theon, and, this is awkward, Jaime and Bran — the biggest and perhaps most impactful coming together of the night may have been Jon with his old friend Samwell Tarly.
Sam was encouraged by the increasingly distant and mystic Bran to break the news about Jon’s actual parentage, which is not, as he thought, the bastard combination of the late Ned Stark and an anonymous woman, but Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark in an affair that started a war.
This was the long-held “R+L=J” theory that was finally revealed last season, and in the span of a conversation in the crypts below Winterfell, the three-word prefix long attached to Jon Snow’s name by his departed love Ygritte could no longer be: “You know nothing.”
Whether it was Cersei hiring Bronn to assassinate her brothers or the fireworks display of disembodied limbs left behind by an otherwise absent Night King, there were a lot of dominos left teetering after Episode 1. But Jon finally learning he’s actually named Aegon Targaryen may be the heaviest one to fall.
For all the discomfort and confusion that may result when Daenerys discovers her partner in dragon-flying (among other things) is actually her nephew, of greater importance may be the break in an already fragile, kingdom-spanning alliance to battle the Night King. Once word gets out that Jon is the rightful heir to the throne and not Daenerys, as the series has long presented, an already unconvinced North seems certain to switch allegiances, including the fiercely scowling Lyanna Mormont and Jon’s sister — er, cousin — Sansa, who flexed some regal side-eye toward Daenerys in the early going as she staked a claim as Winterfell’s reigning Lady of Shade (“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” she told Tyrion before cutting short their chilly reunion; clearly, winter is here).
As for Sam, his loyalty to Jon was never in doubt. But he’s bound to keep advocating for Jon’s claim to the throne after Queen Daenerys uncomfortably breaks the news that she executed both his father and brother for disloyalty after the Loot Train Attack. That’s the sort of old-guard cruelty that, true to the warning from her hand Tyrion last season, won’t win hearts and minds. And what will Tyrion think once this news spreads? He already seems amenable to a proposal from Varys and Davos about a sort of split rule with Jon once the fighting ends, given the messy state of affairs in the North. How long will his loyalty to Daenerys last once it’s revealed she’s the usurper, especially with Jaime now in Winterfell?
Of course, Jon’s never been the ruling type, and dragons — one of whom sure seemed to be giving him a “Hey, don’t I know you?” kind of look after their joyride with Dany — have a strong history of settling disputes in this story. At least, that is, until that massive army of the dead and its penchant for grisly wall art arrives.
As Bran said, none of the remaining players in “Game of Thrones” have time for this. But even as so many of these characters are coming back together, they’ve never felt so close to breaking apart. Though a war for humanity’s survival seems sure to provide needed perspective, what Jon Snow now knows could also hurt them.