Winter is here. At last. While about a month ago, folks in Punxsutawney might have bent the knee before a large rodent in hopes of a dream of spring, for the Westerosi faithful, it has been a much longer and grueling season of darkness as we’ve waited nearly two years for Game of Thrones Season 8. Yet that time is finally upon us, and the flagship series of HBO has returned for its final season. For months, fans have eagerly waited for scraps of footage and any teaser that actually teased sequences we’d see in the final six episodes. Now, with barely a month to go before Game of Thrones’ April release date, the first real trailer has dropped.
Aye, and with it an interesting question has been answered: How much do you need to market a popular TV show that everyone and their Old Nan already watches? The answer is you show a lot of close-ups of beloved characters anguished for the battle ahead, but very little beyond the pure existential dread of it. There is a literal army of familiar faces who get a shout-out in the trailer, and plenty of teasing of the White Walkers’ approach, yet there are, we suspect, the sprinklings of actual plot points buried beneath the blood-stained snow.
Watch it here if you haven’t already…
Now join us as we unpack what we can below.
We begin our breakdown with this image of Arya, because it’s how we like to think of her. Strong, fiercely confident and independent, and maybe just a wee bit smug with overly violent tendencies. Our Arya, the girl who knew at a tender age that castles and knights were not for her. In this scene she almost sneers at the threat of White Walkers. “I know death. He’s got many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.” Let us savor that arrogance, because…
This is how the trailer actually begins: Arya is scared, alone, and in hiding. When Death comes with the face of glowing blue eyes and a crown of ice—perhaps his purest form in this world—Arya runs in sheer terror. We do not see the Army of the Dead in the trailer, but the implications of the final battle are sold entirely by the prospect of it scaring Arya, something we haven’t seen since perhaps the Red Wedding.
Over the next few moments the trailer reintroduces several characters, including Sam in Winterfell and Cersei and Qyburn in King’s Landing. However, it is easy to be deceived about which off-screen voice is saying, “Everything you did now brought you where you are now, where you belong: home.” That voice is Bran Stark, aka the Three-Eyed Raven, and we can deduce he is talking to Jon Snow, the older half-brother he adored and has not seeing with his own eyes since Jaime Lannister pushed him out a window. That was a lifetime ago though, and Bran is no longer a boy nor really even Bran. We imagine this will be a bitter, bittersweet reunion between the two (never mind when he brings up some unexpected details about Jon’s new girlfriend…), but the wistfulness of it is teased by this boy watching Daenerys’ army arrive at Winterfell. Echoing how Bran and Arya watched King Robert’s procession in the very first episode of Game of Thrones, it appears history will repeat itself in a fashion. Right down to Jon, instead of Ned, going to find solace in the loneliness of the weirwood and Heart Tree.
Thus enters Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and… you know the rest. We also know from previous press coverage that this will be the first scene of Season 8. Daenerys and Jon Snow arrive back to his home of Winterfell as lovers, as well as he the second King Who Bent the Knee. We imagine it could be a cold homecoming from the Lady of Winterfell or even Arya, if not for the fact that Daenerys has dragons.
Here is a shot of Sansa Stark genuinely awed by the sight of dragons. It’s a power move Game of Thrones has pulled on Westerosi characters for the last few seasons, beginning with Tyrion’s shock at seeing a dragon in the ruins of Old Valyria and culminating with the look of abject horror on the face of Jaime Lannister as he sees one roast thousands of his men into pudding. Sansa’s reaction falls somewhere in between and it is still a breathtaking moment of inspiration even now.
Also, here again is Arya’s own shock for good measure.
Aye, dragons soaring above Winterfell is a glorious sight, as well as in the more beatific parts of the North not punctuated by marauding corpses. Yet, as we’ve intimated before, this is all the calm before the storm. In fact, we suspect save for a few images we’ll save for last, everything we’ve glimpsed is from the first three episodes of season 8. We already know the Battle for the Dawn (Winterfell) will be the third episode of season 8. That means there is another three to five hours of television after that which HBO is keeping almost entirely hidden, because win or lose, the ramifications of that battle are not being shown. Instead we have these previews of the deep breath before the plunge, including for:
Brienne and Podrick…
Missandei and Grey Worm…
Jorah Mormont, who looks to be in really bad shape of surviving the third episode if he is riding on horseback to meet the Night King…
Even the Hound who looks happiest with a sword or axe in his hand and enemies exploding into a balloon of bone, puss, and juicy fragments.
Jaime Lannister told Cersei he’d keep his vow to fight in the North against the White Walkers, and this is one oath he will not break, although that look on his face suggests he might’ve wished he had.
But where is Cersei in all this? Here we have Cersei in her basic element: scheming, smirking, and slurping wine like it’s water. But she is all alone in King’s Landing, left to her alleged pregnancy and thoughts. Cersei with time to think, however, is a dangerous thing and we suspect much of the back-half of season 8 will have to do not with White Walkers, but with this icy queen all her own making maneuvers while everyone else is out playing in the snow.
A big one will have to do with these ships. That is a Kraken sigil on those ships, signifying it belongs to the Greyjoys. Last we saw of them, Euron Greyoy claimed he was going back to the Iron Islands to wait out this winter, and Theon was in pursuit, but of course Euron and Cersei have no designs on waiting for their enemies to wipe each other out and then the survivor come for them. Rather Euron was secretly sent to Essos to retrieve the Golden Company, an army of sellswords we have never really seen on the show or even much in the books… until now. Those golden armored bastards are Cersei Lannister’s reinforcements, and will prove crucial in the true final conflict, not between the living and the dead, but between the North and South—Winterfell’s survivors and the ultimate survivor of the great game.
Let us not forget though the true enemy, even if Cersei can never even understand what that means. The trailer confirms we’ll be returning to Castle Black, and that Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion survived the sprint between Eastwatch-by-the-sea and Castle Black. They are also there to warn Dolorous Edd the Wall is breached, and the Dead march. Could the Night’s Watch prove the deciding blow between victory and complete annihilation in Winterfell?
One thing is certain: Winterfell will need every man and woman they can get. We don’t even see the White Walkers’ savagery in this trailer, but just a single shot of the Night King’s steed within trotting distance of Winterfell should send shiver down your spines.
Which raises an interesting question about this shot. It is clearly framed to allude that Jon will ride Rhaegal (the green dragon that unbeknownst to Jon is named after his father) while Daenerys will mount the favorite, Drogon. However, even if this is the case, they are not riding into the battle for Winterfell. This conflict occurs at night, and this is the break of day. They could be “joy riding” (though I didn’t spot Jon on the shot of the dragons flying between the canyons), but a more likely scenario is they’re headed south together. Win or lose Winterfell, a speedy return to the Red Keep will become necessary. And if that is the case.
The look of apprehension on Tyrion’s face as he stares at divided loyalties between the remainders of his House and the Queen he loves—mayhaps too much so—could prove the most fatal and secreted conflict of the season.
I suppose we’ll know more when Game of Thrones Season 8 makes landfall on April 14. You can read our theories and predictions (written long before trailers) right here.