The much-anticipated final-season premiere of Game of Thrones offered what we’ve come to expect from this show’s premieres — lotta catching up with where characters are now; lotta place-setting for the season to come — but on a far more epic scale. That will happen when three-quarters of the surviving major characters on the show march into Winterfell in the episode’s opening minutes, all under the menacing grandeur of two dragons.
Our heroic company stomped onto Winterfell, where Queen Daenerys got a frosty greeting from Lady Sansa, which was pretty much predictable. It was their first meeting and already one of them was usurping the ancestral rule from the other. But while Sansa/Daenerys is a conflict we’re sure to be seeing more of in the coming weeks, “Winterfell” was more concerned with a bevy of character reunions, some of which we’ve been waiting for since the show’s very first episode.
With all that anticipation built up for these long-awaited meetings, which reunions were the most satisfying? We ranked the 8 most significant ones, based on the quality of the scene, the emotion on display, and the implications for the show going into its final 5 episodes.
8. Jon and Bran
Jon Snow’s reunion with the two living Stark children who have thus far eluded him in his return from the Wall ended up in wildly divergent emotional spaces. Let’s start with his brother: Bran’s newfound identity as the Three-Eyed Raven (sample dialogue: “I am the Three-Eyed Raven”) means he’s more naturally aloof than he used to be. Yes, it’s heart-warming to see Jon wrap his baby bro up in a big old bear-hug, but it’s telling that Bran no longer feels close enough to Jon to reveal the big secret about Jon’s parentage.
7. Theon and Yara
It’s been less than a full season since we last saw the Greyjoy siblings together, which makes this particular reunion more muted than the others. Still, you had to be at least a little intrigued how Yara would receive her brother after he abandoned her to Uncle Euron and his marauding ships. Yara wasting away as a prisoner on one of Euron’s ships was a loose end that Game of Thrones wanted to tie off right away, clearly. So the newly emboldened Theon storned the ships, liberated his sister (who got in one very deserved slap before they got out of there), and then got her permission to travel to Winterfell to fight alongside his adopted family, the Starks. The actual scene between Theon and Yara was actually very well done, a rare inspirational and dare we say sweet moment for the Iron Islanders. It’s just hard to get too excited about the reunion when we get the strong impression that we won’t be revisiting Yara again.
6. Arya and The Hound
It’s been many seasons since Arya and the Hound parted ways, and not happily either. After spending season 4 traversing the Riverlands and the Vale together, the Hound teaching the young Stark girl how to kill, he fell to Brienne in battle, and Arya saw her chance to check the Hound off her kill list (he killed a friend of hers back in King’s Landing in season 1, it was a whole thing). Their reunion here is chilly, which is only appropriate since she robbed him and left him for dead. Naturally, though, he’s more than a little bit proud of her surviving all these years, like it’s a testament to him. He may have a point — all Arya’s most bloodthirsty instincts were nurtured by the Hound.
5. Arya and Gendry
After getting the Hound to leave them alone, Arya and her old Harrenhal crush Gendry got a sweet, if understated moment together. We hadn’t seen the two of them together since the Brotherhood Without Banners sold Gendry to Melisandre in mid-season 3. Both characters have changed a lot since then, and now it feels like we’re picking up a hint of romance in the air. Will there be time for it once the Night King comes a-calling?
4. Jon and Sam
That Jon and Sam don’t have the most awkward reunion of the episode is really a testament to Game of Thrones’ commitment to making its other interactions as uncomfortable as possible for the final season premiere. As it stands, Jon and Sam’s warm reunion was quickly tempered by 1) Sam’s continued ill temper over his father and brother having been roasted by Daenerys and Drogon last season and 2) Sam’s inability to tell a lie, meaning he had to tell Jon the truth, right away, about how he’s the Targaryen heir and thus schtupping his aunt (and is the rightful king of the seven kingdoms, yes). Way to bum us all out, Sam.
3. Arya and Jon
A reunion that’s been building since EPISODE 1. That’s some patience. Of all the Stark children, there was always a special bond between Arya and Jon, and when they parted ways in the pilot — he headed for the Night’s Watch, she headed for King’s Landing with their father — it was an emotional moment for both. Their long-awaited reunion was plenty emotional as well, but with an acknowledgment of how far they’ve both come. Arya was able to communicate an important message to Jon — that he shouldn’t lose sight of his Stark loyalties after swearing himself to Daenerys — without the kind of competitive static he and Sansa often run into.
2. Sansa and Tyrion
The most unlikely ex-husband and ex-wife pair in Westeros, Sansa and Tyrion haven’t seen each other since Joffrey was murdered and Sansa was spirited out of King’s Landing, leaving Tyrion to face murder charges alone. He brings this up — they even share a dark smile over the demise of Joffrey — but he’s self-aware enough to know he’s in no position to hold any grudges. In fact, Sansa and Tyrion have a mostly relaxed conversation, even if it’s obvious they’re not exactly simpatico. Sansa does get one dig in, as she can’t believe Tyrion took Cersei at her work that she would send Lannister troops to aid their efforts. “I always thought you were the smartest person I’d ever met,” Sansa says in a withering put-down of the latest man who’s disappointed her. Sophie Turner and Peter Dinklage play great off of each other, so fingers crossed this dynamic keeps recurring.
1. Jaime and Bran
The best reunion by a mile was yet another callback to the first episode. Kudos to the way it was filmed, too, as we saw Jaime ride into Winterfell under a hood, then emerge from his horse and look around with clear nostalgia in his eyes. “Hmmm, when was the last time Jaime was in Winterfell?” the audience was led to wonder. And then it hit us: we remember how episode 1 ended. With castle-climbing Bran getting an eyeful of siblings Cersei and Jaime shtupping in one of the castle towers, then Jaime shoving Bran out the window to his near-death in order to cover up their family scandal. That one act of violence, more even than Littlefinger and Lysa conspiring to murder John Arryn, set so many stories into motion (and gave Jaime one more thing to heap upon his eternally guilty conscience). All those years, all that guilt, all of Jaime’s current conflict in defying Cersei and coming to Winterfell to fight alongside his brother … all of it was communicated in Bran’s thousand-yard stare. Of course, Bran stares that way at everyone these days (Bran: “I am the Three-Eyed Raven”), but Jaime doesn’t know that yet. For now, it’s one big “J’ACCUSE!” being thrown across the Winterfell courtyard, and Jaime has to just sit with it.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.