Winter is here! The first episode of the hotly anticipated final season of HBO's Game of Thrones aired Sunday night, and it proved a solid, if not scintillating showing. There were reunions galore, a bit of sniping and tension, a nifty new opening credits sequence, and the dragons (the true stars at this point) got plenty of screen time.
(Spoilers for first seven seasons; mild spoilers for last night's episode.)
Based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO's Game of Thrones long ago outstripped the novels in terms of plot, although the author had some early input in shaping the TV series' broad narrative arc. We've seen plenty of sex, blood, and horrifying death over the course of seven seasons, and now it's time for the end game. This being George R.R. Martin, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.
It's a complicated show with a massive cast, even after killing off so many major characters to clear the board a bit. When we last left off, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) had improbably outlasted all rivals (including her own children) and ascended to the Iron Throne, with the help of her own Doctor Frankenstein, Qyburn (Anton Lesser). Her younger brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), had joined forces with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who also won the loyalty of Stark family bastard and new King of the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Dany came to Westeros to battle Cersei for the Iron Throne, but is convinced to call a truce by Jon, who proves that the White Walkers (led by the Night King) and their undead zombies, the wights, (a) exist, and (b) are preparing to conquer Westeros and wipe out the living once and for all.
The Stark family has regained its ancestral home, Winterfell, with Sansa (Sophie Turner) in charge in Jon's absence, aided by her sister-turned-faceless-assassin Arya (Maisie Williams). Their only surviving brother, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), is now a powerful seer called the Three-Eyed Raven, although his exact role in the end game is still unclear. (He spends most of his time looking dreamily solemn and occasionally makes portentous observations.) We know from earlier teasers that Dany and Jon come to Winterfell, and Sansa reluctantly cedes Winterfell to her, since Jon had "bent the knee" and declared his loyalty to the Mother of Dragons.