• Entertainment
  • Television

How Season 8’s Many Callbacks Are Setting the Table for the Game of Thrones Ending

8 minute read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.

Daenerys may have sworn to “break the wheel,” but it looks like Game of Thrones could be a circular story: A number of shots and plot points in the seasons 8 premiere on Sunday night mirrored similar scenes in Game of Thrones’ 2011 series premiere and other seasons.

Together, the callbacks, easter eggs and similarities signal to the audience just how little some things have changed in Westeros, even after so much death and destruction has ravaged the Kingdom in the last several years. But, at the same time, the cyclical nature of the plot reveals just how much the characters have evolved over the seasons.

The Starks, especially, have grown from an innocent, loving family into a more calculating clan. Now, presented with many of the same situations that their parents faced years before, the show asks whether they will make the same foolish decisions as their ancestors or if they can diverge from the cycle and survive.

Here are all the ways that the Season 8 premiere mirrored early episodes of the show.

A child watches an army approach Winterfell

Season 8 of Game of Thrones began with a child running through a crowd trying to get a better view of Daenerys’ massive army approaching the Winterfell castle. The camera then pans up from the boy to Arya Stark, who back in the very first episode of Game of Thrones, jockeyed for a better position to see Robert Baratheon’s army entering Winterfell. The creators even use the same music, King Robert’s theme, for both scenes.

When Arya was a child, she was scolded for not joining the receiving line with her brothers and sister as the Baratheon army approaches. In season 8, when she’s an adult and no one can tell her what to do, she’s absent from the receiving line altogether.

Sansa, however, takes on the role of her father, repeating the same words Ned said to Robert all those years ago: “Winterfell is yours, Your Grace.” But Sansa has learned from her father’s mistakes: She’s immediately suspicious of Daenerys and offers her a cold welcome.

Jon kisses Bran on the head

When Jon left for the Wall in season 1, he said goodbye to a then-comatose Bran by kissing him on the head. The two almost met again during the raid on Craster’s Keep, but Bran decided not call out to Jon and head beyond the wall to meet the Three-Eyed Raven instead.

Bran is similarly emotionless in the scene where the two “brothers” reunite, not because he’s asleep but because he’s not really Bran anymore. Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven and doesn’t do hugs anymore. So Jon greets him the same way he said goodbye — with a kiss on the head.

Jon and Arya hug

Jon Snow picks Arya up off the ground as he hugs her, the same way the two embraced back in season 1. Jon also asks whether Arya has used Needle, the sword he gave her in the second episode of the show. She replies, “Once or twice.”

Rejected by Catelyn Stark, Jon always felt like an outcast as a child growing up in Winterfell. Arya’s love was one of the few things that kept him emotionally bound to the Stark family. In this scene, Arya uses their warm reunion to emphasize to Jon that he should prioritize his family over Daenerys.

Jon finds out he’s a Targaryen, not a Stark, a few scenes later, so the question of his loyalty is about to get a lot more complicated. But this happy greeting between Arya and Jon implies that their love could keep them from turning against one another.

Interruptions in a brothel

In the first ever episode of Game of Thrones Jaime interrupts Tyrion in a brothel near Winterfell. In the first episode of season 8, it’s Qyburn who interrupts Bronn as he’s with prostitutes. Qyburn gives Bronn an order to kill — guess who — Tyrion and Jaime.

Another parallel? Qyburn hands Bronn the crossbow Tyrion used to kill the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, to kill Tyrion and Jaime. The queen, Qyburn explains, has a sense of “poetic justice.”

The alliances within the Lannister family have shifted over the years, but it’s worth remembering that Tyrion and Jaime have always been bonded together. Tyrion will likely play an important role by sticking up for Jaime when both Daenerys and the Stark children inevitably question his loyalty in the fight against the dead, given that Jaime has hurt members of both their families.

Jon’s romances

Helen Sloan—HBO


Jon and Daenerys kiss in Game of Thrones season 8 episode 1
Helen Sloan/HBO

Jon enjoyed a second moment of escapism during an endless war during the season 8 premiere. He and Daenerys take a quick jaunt on their dragons and dismount in a secluded spot. Dany comments, “We could stay here a thousand years. No one would ever find us.”

That’s a callback to Jon’s moment with Ygritte in the cave. Ygritte said then, “I don’t ever want to leave this cave, Jon Snow. Not ever.” There’s even a waterfall in both scenes.

Given how Ygritte and Jon’s relationship turned out, this seems like a bad omen for Jon and Dany’s romance. Remember that Ygritte told Jon, “We should have never left that cave” as she dies in his arms.

Arya and Gendry sitting in a tree

Helen Sloan—HBO

Arya and Gendry finally reunited as well, and Gendry has resurrected that “m’lady” joke he made to Arya seasons ago when he discovered that she was a princess. This time he even borrows the famous line from Princess Bride, “As you wish,” to further emphasize their class difference — and flirt with her.

But really, Gendry and Arya may have been fated to fall for each other since the premiere of Game of Thrones. In that episode, Robert says to Ned, “If your sister had lived, we’d have been bound by blood. Well, it’s not too late. I have a son, you have a daughter. We will join our houses.”

Robert thought that he was talking about Joffrey and Sansa. But of course, Joffrey wasn’t actually Robert’s son by blood. However, Gendry is the last remaining bastard of Robert Baratheon. He and Arya could still unite the Baratheon and Stark houses as their fathers plotted so many years ago.

A discussion about Rhaegar and Lyanna in the crypts

In the first episode of the show, Robert Baratheon asks Ned Stark to be his Hand in the Winterfell crypts while standing in front of a statue of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark, who was once betrothed to Robert. They discuss Lyanna’s alleged kidnapping by Rhaegar Targaryen.

“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert says about Rhaegar.

“It’s done, your grace, the Targaryens are gone,” Ned responds.

Now we know the Targaryens are still very much alive. Lyanna and Rheagar fell in love, eloped and bore a son, Jon Snow. In the first episode of season eight, Sam tells Jon that he is the heir to the Targaryen throne in those same crypts, by the statue of the man Jon thought to be his father, Ned, and his real mother Lyanna.

The White Walkers Making Geometric Shapes


The first time we met the White Walkers in Game of Thrones’ pilot episode, we discovered the ice zombies are not only fond of killing humans but also using their body parts to make frightening geometric shapes. In that scene, they pinned a wildling to a tree and created shapes with human limbs nearby.

In season 8, Beric, Tormund and Edd find Ned Umber dead and pinned up on a wall. Just as the dead Wildling girl opens her now-blue eyes in the early scene, Umber awakes and starts screaming in season 8. Beric stabs him with his flaming sword, lighting up a seven-armed symbol that the White Walkers have used a few times in the show. It’s a calling card of sorts, and a potent one.

In season 6, Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven used their greenseeing abilities to watch the Children of the Forest create the first White Walker by stabbing a man tied to a Weirwood tree through the heart with dragonglass. The Children had created a seven-armed spiral of stones around the tree. Now we see the seven arms appear again.

An encounter between Jaime and Bran

At the very end of Season 8, Episode 1, Jaime arrives in Winterfell and sees Bran. It’s the first time the two have locked eyes since Jaime pushed the Stark boy out of the tower, crippling him, in the last scene of the very first episode of the show.

When Jaime pushed Bran, he did it to protect his love for Cersei: Bran had just caught the two siblings in bed. But now Jaime arrives in Winterfell having finally abandoned his sister. That recent development could save Jaime if he’s put on trial by Daenerys and the Starks.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com