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Game of Thrones: the most satisfying reunions from the season 8 premiere

From Arya’s smile to Bran’s cold stare, here are the highlights from an episode full of characters reuniting.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Heading into “Winterfell,” the first episode Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season, there were a number of character reunions we were hoping to see. Thankfully, the episode delivered nearly all the encounters we had on our list, many of them with exactly as much drama as we were looking for.

But which “Winterfell” reunions were our favorites? For our part, the Stark kids finally getting back together again was worth the price of admission — but, spoiler alert, Jon Snow’s relationship to his siblings is about to change in a major way, so we know to take this episode’s halcyon moments as the calm before the storm.

Spoiler warnings dead ahead as we look back at the top five character reunions from “Winterfell.”

1) Jon Snow and Arya Stark

The peaceful moments before Jon finds out how Arya’s really been using that sword.
Helen Sloan/HBO

This was our most anticipated reunion of the new season, and Game of Thrones teased us a little by making us wait for it — and by first showing us Arya’s conflicted reactions to seeing all three of the characters from the major reunions she had this episode, as they rode by her in procession in the opening scene: Jon, the Hound, and Gendry.

Though Arya clearly wasn’t sure to make of the brother who’d returned with a strange queen at his side, Jon was clearly eager to see his little sister again. When they finally did reconnect, the moment was loving and warm. When was the last time these two kids had a proper hug? Our hearts are so full right now.

Of course, the meeting wasn’t without friction: Jon tried to get Arya to join him in a little lighthearted ribbing of their sister, Sansa, but Arya wasn’t having it, defending Sansa and issuing a reminder to Jon to remember who he is. Looks like the Stark family tomboy is all grown up and not as easy to needle as she used to be.

2) Sansa and Tyrion

Game recognizing game.

Sansa’s reunion with Tyrion was at least 50 percent exposition, as they spent time reminding themselves and the audience when it was they last met. A quick recap: The two were forced by the Lannisters to enter a sham marriage at King’s Landing after the death of Sansa’s father, which Tyrion refused to consummate because Sansa was still just a terrified girl. But when Sansa was subsequently used as a pawn in the plot to assassinate King Joffrey in the Purple Wedding episode of season four (“The Lion and the Rose”), she was rapidly spirited out of the city by Littlefinger, leaving her husband to take the fall entirely for Joffrey’s death.

Tyrion had nothing to do with said death, but it sparked a catastrophic series of events for him nonetheless, ultimately resulting in him murdering his father and his girlfriend, which created a rift in the Lannister family that has yet to heal. The resentment Tyrion felt toward Sansa for leaving him on his own after the Purple Wedding added an unexpected salty note to their “Winterfell” reunion — but it also sweetened his acknowledgment that she’s become a legit player in the Game of Thrones, a survivor who’s outlasted countless enemies who underestimated her.

Sansa didn’t seem quite so willing to return the compliment. She immediately picked up on Tyrion’s flawed belief in his sister Cersei’s willingness to help the North in the fight against the Night King, and delivered what must have been a huge burn for Tyrion: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” Oof.

3) and 4) Arya and the Hound and Arya and Gendry

Cold bastards of a feather.
Helen Sloane/HBO

To put it mildly, Game of Thrones fans were gleeful about Arya’s potential reunions with both her long-lost frenemy the Hound and her long-lost childhood buddy (and crush), Gendry. And “Winterfell” gave us both in a single scene, which made for a nice depiction of just how complex and full of contrasts Arya has become.

On the one hand, we totally relate to the Hound’s declaration, made after a ruthless mutual staredown, that she’s a “cold little bitch.” But there was also a touch of real affection in the Hound’s voice that he couldn’t fully disguise, and we can’t blame him for that, either. After all, Arya clearly chose not to cross him off her notorious Kill List a few years back — when she left him for dead after his epic swordfight with Brienne at the end of season four — and now he seems somewhat happy to see her alive. Given that these two were probably never gonna just hug it out, this reunion was about as satisfying as we could have hoped.

In contrast, Gendry is Arya’s best friend from childhood; over the years, she’s used her sword to protect and avenge him more often than anyone else. So it’s fitting that he didn’t bother with hugs, instead settling right in with teasing and flirting and effectively putting the biggest smile on her face that we’ve seen from her in literal years. When Arya Stark smiles, the whole world smiles with her, giving us hope that she’s probably not entirely a ruthless sociopath.

5) Jaime and Bran

Bran Stark has become so disinterested in the human race that Game of Thrones has basically used each of his recent reunions to deploy the same joke over and over: Bran sees someone he knows, they’re overjoyed to see him, and he palpably doesn’t give a shit, leaving them to react with confusion. This has made for some hilariously awkward moments, and in “Winterfell,” his long-awaited reunion with Jon was no different.

But that reunion with Jon also set us up for one heck of a closing scene. This “Winterfell” was in many ways a mirror of the series’ very first episode, “Winter Is Coming,” which memorably ended with Jaime Lannister pushing Bran out of a turret window. Both characters have changed tremendously since then: Jaime has been fully redeemed, and Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven, no big deal. But Jamie hadn’t seen Bran since that fateful encounter and may not even have fully processed that the kid is still alive — much less all grown up — until now. The result: Jaime, arriving at Winterfell to pledge his assistance to the North (and to break the news that Cersei’s army won’t be following him after all), sees Bran across a crowded courtyard and freaks out.

Bran, of course, seems only half present as he watches Jaime’s arrival, which is normal for Bran by now. But don’t be fooled — he tells Samwell earlier in the episode that he’s waiting up for “an old friend,” which tells us that in this instance, his not-giving-a-shit-about-anyone shtick is all a mask, and this is one encounter he really cares about. And it pays off: Jaime’s face fills with horror as he’s confronted with the physical reminder of one of his gravest past sins, and Bran’s cold stare makes the moment that much harsher.