Game of Thrones Season 8 started with a bang. After seven seasons of gorgeously styled credits that encapsulated the game-like nature of the show’s plot, the first episode of Season 8 “Winterfell” swapped out the gold color palette and world-hopping locations for a new opening that hammered home the final season’s new world of winter.
The old Game of Thrones credits were known for sweeping around the maps of Westeros and Essos, highlighting which locations were going to be featured in the coming episode. While the new credits also do that, they focus more on how much the world of Thrones has changed since Season 1 and took the audience inside the show’s final arenas of conflict.
Before even showing the map, however, the credits open on a new version of the astrolabe that has served as a symbol for Thrones since its inception. The old astrolabe had carvings that told the story of Robert’s Rebellion — the Dragons setting things on fire; the Stags, Lions, and Wolves rising against them; and the Stags becoming king in the aftermath. In the premiere, those symbols have changed.
The first carving looks to show the Night King’s assault on the wall. The dragon looks skeletal like the undead Viserion and the army of undead is waiting below for the dragon to finish burning a path through the ice. Behind the wights and White Walkers is the blowing winds of winter, swirling in wait to bring a deadly chill to the realms of men.
Changing this part of the credits reorients Game of Thrones to fully represent the “new history” of Westeros, as the heroes and villains of Robert’s Rebellion are nearly all dead and the story of the continent is completely different in these darker days. The rest of the astrolabe tells more of the story, but it doesn’t appear until later in the credits.
It’s possible that the flipped-over blue tiles will continue to represent the Night King’s movements as the season goes on.
After the first carving, the new credits begin farther north on the map than ever before and zoom forward through that giant hole created by the undead Viserion and the Night King. The floor of the map, rendered mostly in the grays and whites of winter, features tiles that flip over and reveal a bright blue path heading south — the blue path represents the progress of the White Walkers as they march south of the wall and end at a castle that has been mentioned but never seen before in Game of Thrones.
Last Hearth is the castle of the Umbers, the Northern family that sided with the Boltons at the Battle of the Bastards and who had their lands and titles restored by Jon Snow, much to Sansa’s disappointment. Ned Umber, the child Lord of Last Hearth, journeyed back home to hold the castle, and, as we find out later in the episode, was slaughtered and left behind to reanimate.
Just a lil’ hello from the Night King, in case anyone forgot what that pointy-headed bastard was capable of.
Considering that one of the hallmarks of the old Thrones credits was their ever-changing nature, it’s possible that the flipped-over blue tiles will continue to represent the Night King’s movements as the season goes on. They led right to Last Hearth before the show revealed what happened there, so it’s worth it to keep an eye on the blue path for clues as the season continues.
After Last Hearth, the blue tiles stop at what appears to a river south of the castle. The White Walkers have historically fared poorly when water is involved, so the undead army may be hindered by Last Hearth’s geography. Maybe later episodes will show them overcoming this, but the time constraints of the new season may not allow for in-depth looks at the Night King’s fording strategy.
The next part of the credits move on to Winterfell, which is seen from a new angle and also has its signature white weirwood tree in much fuller leafy bloom than it has ever been before. This might be a reference to the fact that Bran is in residence at Winterfell now, and his presence as the Three-Eyed Raven restored the luster of the weirwood. It may even be the Main Weirwood now, considering that the old Three-Eyed Raven’s central tree above the wall was likely destroyed in Season 6’s grotto attack.
Here’s where it gets awesome. The Game of Thrones credits have never gone inside any of the buildings on its map, but after sweeping by the godswood the new credits took a surprising turn into the interior of Winterfell castle, showing off its impressive battlements, great hall, and mysterious crypts. Important scenes in the first episode took place in all of these places, but it remains to be seen if these inner locations will change in later credits sequences.
At this point, the second new carving on the astrolabe appears, this one explaining the modern history of the Starks.
On the left is a Lannister lion with a Tully fish in his mouth, alluding to the Lannisters’ murder by proxy of Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding and their seizure of the Riverland family’s ancestral house. In the middle is a wolf riddled with arrows, which refers to Robb Stark dying of multiple arrow wounds at the Red Wedding as well. The image on the right shows a flayed man, the sigil of House Bolton, holding a severed wolf head in his hand, which references Ramsay Bolton’s murder of Rickon Stark (and the earlier decapitation of Rickon’s direwolf Shaggydog).
Next on the map is King’s Landing and the Red Keep, which also looks different to how it did in previous seasons. The Great Sept of Baelor is still represented on the map of the city, but its edifice doesn’t rise and appears to be a bit green, which makes sense considering how that particular sept met its end in the Season 6 finale.
The Red Keep was updated to show the improvements Cersei has made in her time as queen, and takes a moment to peek down at the map she had painted on the floor of the castle’s central courtyard. Its bright blue color is hard to miss in the sea of muted red, and is a fun nod to how transformative her reign has been to the capital.
As in Winterfell, the credits also zoom further into the Red Keep, first taking a trip down the spiral staircase in what might be the Tower of the Hand and ending up in the castle’s dragonbone–ridden dungeons. The camera moves quickly over the ballista Bronn used to shoot at Drogon in Season 7’s loot train battle, and shows that the ballista is aimed directly at a giant dragon skull.
Back in Season 7, Cersei watched as that same machine shot a hole in a dragon skull to demonstrate its terrifying power, and this may be the credits’ way of telling us that she still has that anti-dragon weapon locked and loaded in case of an attack on King’s Landing.
The final room in the tour of King’s Landing is the throne room, which adds the Iron Throne as a game piece of the map and highlights the Lannister lion wrought in iron in the window above the throne. Just in case anyone forgot who’s in charge these days. Hear her roar.
Then, the last carving on the astrolabe. This one is harder to interpret.
There appear to be four dragons, a bunch of horses or cows, and a falling star. This could represent Daenerys (the largest dragon) and her three “children” rising as leaders of the Dothraki, who are represented by the horses who appear to be bowing to the Dany-dragon. The falling star may be the red comet seen in Season 2, which some characters interpreted as a sign of the return of dragon-based fire magic to the world.
The carving could also show the burning of Astapor, the moment in which Daenerys first flexed her Mother of Dragons powers and gained her Unsullied army, or somehow symbolize the Battle above the Wall. If it does show the Battle above the wall, then the falling item may be the dying Viserion, and the four shown dragons are meant to be Drogon, Rhaegal, Daenerys, and Jon — the fourth, unexpected dragon in that battle.
It’s very on brand for Game of Thrones to want to throw its audience off from the get-go and the new credits certainty set an eerie tone for the remainder of the series. If the credits continue to change to show the evolving nature of the final chapter, then there’s a lot to be gained from keeping an eye on how they change as the story barrels towards its end.
Just a little something to think about while the theme song continues to slap.