Game of Thrones: The Ending of ‘Winterfell’ Explained

The following article contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones and the preview of next week’s episode.

Almost two years have passed and Game of Thrones has finally returned. The anticipation couldn’t be higher, but as we all know, the first episode of any season of Game of Thrones is essentially one that establishes what is to come. “Winterfell” was no different, but the stakes feel higher than ever before. So let’s talk about that ending.

After Dany informs Sam about the death of his father and brother at her command, Sam runs into Bran, who then tasks him with the job of telling Jon about his true parentage. Sam finds Jon in the crypts, and almost immediately reveals this information to him, leaving Jon shocked and confused.

For years, the show has slowly hinted at and then revealed this information to us, most notably in the Season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter,” when we see the flashback of Ned and Lyanna right after Jon’s birth. And then again in the Season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” when Bran and Sam put together Jon’s validity as an heir to the throne.

To see Jon finally hear this information himself feels epic in a way that only years of waiting for this reveal can accomplish. It is an extremely emotional moment that the entire series has been leading up to and that Jon’s entire character has been built around. The bastard learns that he is no bastard, but in fact, a king.

Sam then makes the argument that Jon, not Daenerys, should rule. Not just because it’s his birthright, but because he would be better at it.

I never thought Sam would be the devil on Jon’s shoulder. Of course, encouraging Jon to consider who would be a more just ruler is not a bad thing to do. I love Dany, but especially after what Sam just learned about his father and brother, her reign is a pretty reasonable thing to question. But if the Wall is coming down and the Night King is on his way, maybe Bran is right. Maybe we don’t have time for this infighting over the Iron Throne.

Jon has never been one to set out for power. Earlier in the episode, he even tells Sansa that he didn’t want to be king. He just wants to protect the North. Sam’s suggestion here, though, seems to strike a nerve in Jon in a way that we haven’t seen before in him throughout the few times in which he had such destiny at his fingertips, the power that people are so ready to offer him. After all, if Jon were to walk through, tell the Northerners in Winterfell he’s king and Dany’s out, who amongst them would object at this point? Other than Dany’s entire army, of course.

This reaction may just be dramatic tension for the ending of a season premiere or solely the weight of Jon learning the most important information of his lifetime, but it’s not Jon’s vanity Sam is appealing to through suggesting he claim the throne. He’s hitting on his moral compass, which is the only thing Jon has really ever lived by. Even if it is his birthright to rule, it is Jon’s nature to deny himself this power. The only thing that could change this is if he becomes even slightly convinced that taking the throne is the most honorable thing to do and will best serve everyone. Then, in classic Ned Stark fashion, that might now be the type of burden he is willing to bear with this information he just had thrust upon him.

So, we may be in for a war between Jon and Daenerys, whether literal or internal, as much as neither one of them probably want that at this point. Especially after their romantic dragon ride in the middle of the episode, which “Winterfell” also throws a major wrench into now that Jon must process the fact that Dany is his aunt.

In one sense, that’s almost a secondary concern to the conversation he and Sam have in the crypts. It is never explicitly mentioned, but it looms over the entire scene just as it dominated the long offseason within the fandom. While Jon and Daenerys have always been star players in the series, with (as Melisandre said last season) both having major roles to play, this episode did the groundwork of setting up the tension between two figures with perhaps too much power and destiny on their shoulders.

It’s still a little difficult to picture Jon fighting for or making any sort of claim to the Iron Throne, but it will be interesting to see how he handles this information next week.

Meanwhile, after what is perhaps the biggest plot point in the entire series, Tormund and Beric run into Edd and the rest of the remaining Night’s Watch at Last Hearth, where the show’s ticking clock was most prevalent, reminding us not to forget the real war to come. There was a nice joke between Tormund and Edd about Tormund’s blue eyes, that derived from the shared trauma they recently experienced at the Wall.

The comic bit was short lasted, however, and quickly turned into a full-on horror spectacle at the sight of an undead little Lord Umber alongside a spiral of dismembered body parts. A clear sign of the White Walkers, that we’ve long ago learned since episode 1 of Season 1. In case we all forgot that this medieval fantasy is also in part, a zombie story; a zombie story that is about to come to fruition, too.

Even though it still remains mostly unclear what the dismembered body parts mean to the White Walkers themselves, we know for sure what it means for everybody in Westeros, especially those in Winterfell. The Night King and his army have made their way past the Wall and are too close for comfort at this point.

The threat of the White Walkers has been teased for so long that it was almost easy to forget them altogether in this episode, aside from Bran’s abrupt reveal of information at the very beginning, even though it is also the reason everyone has come together at Winterfell. But this scene was a stark reminder that they’re here now, and the next two episodes at least are sure to deal with this threat once and for all.

To finish the episode, we get the most intense call-back to the pilot, even if it may not have been the most anticipated or even expected reunion of the night. Jaime arrives at Winterfell and removes his hood to see a now older Bran Stark staring right at him. No dialogue is spoken, but all that needs to be said is expressed through the horrified look Jaime gives Bran, and the look Bran gives in return.

All the history between them, where they are in their lives today, began when Jaime pushed Bran out of that tower at the end of the first episode.

It was the first major hook in the series, and both since then have drastically changed. What this scene really drove home was the fact that Jaime is no longer a man who would throw an innocent child out of a window. His redemption throughout the series has been one of the strongest character arcs. He is, after all, returning to Winterfell to help fight the army of the dead, against Cersei’s command. But in doing so, he will have to come head to head with his past sins, including the confrontation between him and Daenerys about her father, teased in the “next week on.” And this scene between him and Bran was just the beginning of that continued redemption arc now being put to the test as it comes full circle.

Natalie Mokry: @NatalieMokry Film lover and pop culture enthusiast.