Warning: This Game of Thrones article contains spoilers for Season 8, Episode 1.
If the first five seasons of Game of Thrones were often defined by the separation of loved ones, then the final few seasons of Game of Thrones have increasingly been defined by the long-awaited reunions of those characters who have survived the brutal world of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
This was especially true for the Season 8 premiere, which managed to be both a massive Stark family reunion and move along the major plots of the larger narrative. “Winterfell” was filled with character reunions that we viewers deserve, dammit, after so many seasons of misery and bloodshed. We’re taking the time to rank the reunions in tonight’s episode, from least to most rewarding.
Some ground rules before we being: It may be obvious, but we’re not counting first meetings (such as the one between Dany and Sam, or Sansa and Dany) as reunions. While fascinating and often very narratively rewarding, those scenes tend to have less emotional whollop than the ones that featured the reunions of characters long kept apart. We’re also disqualifying reunions following shorter periods of time, for example seeing Sansa and Jon catch up here was fun, but they did see each other just last season, so…
Without further ado, here is our ranking of all of the reunions from the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere…
9. Jorah and Sam
In this unexpected gut-punch of a scene, Jorah introduces Dany to Sam, still thankful for that time Sam was the only one who would cure Jorah’s greyscale, only for the conversation to take a painful turn once Dany realizes she has murdered most of Sam’s immediate family. (I hate when this happens to me at cocktail parties.)
While this scene ended up being one of the most unexpectedly emotional moments of the entire episode, as we had to watch Dany tell Sam that she had murdered the father he hated and the brother he loved, the actual reunion between Sam and Jorah, while sweet, was more of a blip in this parade of reunions than a main event.
8. Theon and Yara
While it was nice to see Theon save his sister and queen, in an episode titled “Winterfell,” the reunion felt like more of an aside than a main event. Even Theon and Yara’s own reunion, which happens far away from Winterfell, becomes about the Starks as Yara senses that Theon wants permission to join the Starks in the war to come. Now there‘s a reunion I am eager to see. Theon hasn’t seen most of the Starks since he betrayed them (somewhat understandably, given his history as the Stark family’s child hostage) in the War of the Five Kings, an act that led to Robb’s death and a dark path for Theon himself.
7. Arya and The Hound
Arya and The Hound have always had such a fascinating dynamic, one that defined both of their storylines in Season 4. They don’t particularly like one another, but they deeply respect one another. It’s not hard to imagine how they might have ended up friends had the world put them on the same sides of its violent acts. Their reunion should be awkward—as The Hound points out, last time they saw one another, Arya left him to die. As Arya points out, she robbed him, too. But it’s not awkward, it’s begrudgingly respectful, which is so them.
6. Gendry and Arya
The last time these two crazy kids saw one another was in Season 3 before the Brotherhood Without Banners straight-up sold Gendry to Melisandre. Back then, Gendry was one of the only consistent, positive presences in Arya’s life. Before he joined the Brotherhood, she even called him family—which, on this show, is basically the highest compliment you can bestow on another. (Even though it seemed like Arya meant it more in a crushing-on-you sort of way than a sibling-y sort of way.)
It was nice to see these two come back together, even if it was somewhat distracted from by Arya’s reunion with The Hound, which happened just prior in some kind of reunion traffic jam situation. This reunion was a muted one, which makes sense for these two stoic characters, but it was obvious the two were happy to see one another. They agreed they both looked good, and got to the important business of fashioning a mysterious weapon for Arya.
5. Bran and Jon
OK, here’s when I admit how I will always be a little bit sad whenever I see Bran in Three-Eyed Raven mode. It’s cool and everything that he has gained access to this awesome, higher power, but it is also tragic that he has seemingly had to sacrifice his connection to the rest of humanity to do so.
It’s not that I think Bran is amoral—far from it—but, in becoming the Three-Eyed Raven, he has seemingly had to leave the ties to his humanity, i.e. his loved ones, behind. So much so that when he is reunited with Jon after so many years apart, he seemingly feels nothing. Or at least is not able to express it.
It’s painful to watch Jon, who is so very relieved and joyful to see the brother he thought he might never see again, only to get so little response from Bran. In some ways, Jon won’t ever see his younger brother Bran ever again. That boy, that person, is gone. More than any of the other characters on this show, Bran has transformed into someone else. And that makes this reunion bittersweet, and also very powerful.
4. Tyrion and Sansa
“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive,” Sansa tells Tyrion when they meet again for the first time since Season 4, demonstrating just how much power Sansa has managed to accumulate since she was that scared girl who had to make due with so little. Meanwhile, while Tyrion may be the Hand to Queen Dany, emotionally, he has lost a heck of a lot. Tyrion murdered his father and murdered the woman he claimed to love before making his way out of King’s Landing and into Dany’s good graces.
This episode of reunions could have felt redundant, but, it did not—in no small part because every reunion was so informed by the unique character dynamics of this show. We got some wonderful reunions between people who love and have deeply missed one another, but some of the meatiest moments came in reunions between characters who don’t love one another, but have shared some of the most important (and, often, terrible) periods of their lives. Sansa and Tyrion definitely fall into the latter category.
(This reunion also gets extra points for Sansa’s line that Joffrey’s wedding had its moments. Sansa never feels more like her mother than when she is throwing shade.)
3. Sam and Jon
Much of this episode involved Jon having to play the politician—something Jon is very uncomfortable doing. When he sees his best friend, a person who knows Jon as Jon and not a pawn in some larger game (even if Sam, ironically, holds the information that confirms Jon as a much more important playing piece), Jon literally throws himself into Sam’s arms.
Plot-wise, the scene is arguably the most important one of the entire episode, as Sam tells Jon about his true parentage, but it’s also a testament to the friendship and love these two characters have for one another that it happens as gently as it does. On a show known for its violence, Jon finds out about his claim to the throne, a truth that will no doubt cause some bloodshed, in the kindest way possible.
2. Jamie and Bran
This reunion was more of a tease of a reunion to come than a reunion itself, but damn what a moment. These two haven’t seen one another since Episode 1 of the show. When they did previously share a screen, they didn’t have a relationship. Jaime pushed young Bran out of a window in order to prevent him from telling anyone about his incestuous relationship with Cersei. Years and seasons later, the ripples from that one moment, that one choice, are still being felt on the show.
Reunions aren’t just about dynamics, they are also helpful barometers of how much characters have or have not changed. For both Bran and Jaime, so much has changed. Jaime has grown into a man who actual feels remorse over having paralyzed a young boy for such a selfish reason (not to mention for a sister whose loyalties have proven, um, unreliable).
On the other side of the character equation, Bran has been forever changed by his transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven. He is the kind of almost-man who either cannot feel or cannot express emotion over being reunited with his brother. I’m curious to see how this version of Bran will respond to seeing the man who changed his life so drastically forever—especially after Bran spent all episode simply waiting for Jaime to arrive.
1. Jon and Arya
The reunion of Arya and Jon is one that we’ve all been waiting for since Season 1. While all of the Stark siblings care deeply for one another, Arya and Jon are different—they actually like each other, too. Growing up in House Stark, they found in one another a kindred spirit. As pointed out in the “Behind the Episode” featurette, Arya was the Stark that always treated Jon like he belonged, and Jon was the Stark that gave Arya the respect she deserved. They are one of the most important dynamics in the entire show, not to mention two of the fan favorite characters.
The fact that this reunion wasn’t the simple, loving reunion it could have been, but also found some room for Arya to pledge her allegiance to Sansa and warn Jon about the dangers of allying himself with Dany was just icing on the cake. These two love each other fiercely, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be torn apart by the coming war—and that makes their reunion, in the shade of the weirwood heart tree, that much more precious.