Game of Thrones

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Earlier this month, HBO announced its month-long “Iron Anniversary” – a celebration marking 10 years since Game of Thrones premiered on the service on April 17, 2011. The premium cable network/streaming giant has also recently announced a slew of Game of Thrones spin-offs that will keep fans of George R.R. Martin’s dragon-filled tomes and the original TV adaptation satisfied for the next 10 years. At least. (First in line: a prequel taking us back 300 years from the events of Thrones to a very turbulent period for the Targaryens called House of the Dragon.)


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So, we’ve got fire and ice on the brain this week. Which was a perfect reason to go back in time ourselves – just two years, mind – to the time when the very last episodes of Game of Thrones arrived on HBO: an, um, turbulent period for fans of the series, many of whom began season 8’s six-episode run with expectations soaring and ended it in a state WTF disbelief. Story arcs felt rushed, they complained, and characters were taking very out-of-character turns; meanwhile, even the best moments were marred by questionable creative choices. (How much better would “The Long Night” have been if we could have actually seen it?).

Just how much did fans dislike the final season? Its Audience Score sits at just 30%, and critics were only slightly more generous, with their reviews combining to form a Tomatometer score of just 54% – the only Rotten score for any Game of Thrones season. (And it was a big drop from previous years: Every other season is Certified Fresh with a score of at least 90%.)

But was season 8 really that bad? Did a few wrong moves overshadow a whole ton of awesome moments? Was Bran really that terrible a choice for the Iron Throne? That’s what we’re asking in the latest episode of podcast Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong (A Podcast from Rotten Tomatoes). Joining hosts Jacqueline Coley and Mark Ellis this week is Andres “Ace” Cabrera, co-founder of YouTube channel First Cut and co-host of podcast The Meaning Of. Will he be House Rotten Tomatoes… or tear that Tomatometer score down like some suddenly unhinged dragon queen laying waste to a city and all the innocent civilians who dwell there? Tune in to find out.



Check in every Thursday for a new episode of Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong (A Podcast From Rotten Tomatoes). Each week, hosts Jacqueline and Mark and guests go deep and settle the score on some of the most beloved – and despised – movies and TV shows ever made, directly taking on the statement we hear from so many fans: “Rotten Tomatoes is wrong.”



If you have a suggestion for a movie or show you think we should do an episode on, let us know in the comments, or email us at rtiswrong@rottentomatoes.com.


Meet the hosts

Jacqueline Coley is an editor at Rotten Tomatoes, with a focus on awards and indie coverage but with a passion for everything, from the MCU to musicals and period pieces. Coley is a regular moderator at conventions and other events, can be seen on Access Hollywood and other shows, and will not stand Constantine slander of any kind. Follow Jacqueline on Twitter: @THATjacqueline.

Mark Ellis is a comedian and contributing editor for Rotten Tomatoes. He currently hosts the Rotten Tomatoes series Versus, among others, and can be seen co-hosting the sports entertainment phenomenon Movie Trivia Schmoedown. His favorite Star Wars movie is Jedi (guess which one!), his favorite person is actually a dog (his beloved stepdaughter Mollie), and – thanks to this podcast – he’s about to watch Burlesque for the first time in his life. Follow Mark on Twitter: @markellislive.


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In 2019, Rotten Tomatoes turns 21, and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating with a series of features that look back at the brightest moments on screen of the past two decades – and one year – and the things that have us excited for the future.

Game of Thrones is the latest title in the history of era-defining television – Seinfeld, Friends, The Sopranos – to reach its conclusion. Now that we know more – that Dany’s visions of the Red Keep at the House of the Undying so many years before was about ash, not snow, for one – some of the standout moments that brought us to this conclusion become clearer as well. We also talked to director Alan Taylor about a few of the epic scenes he oversaw. Read more of our interview with Taylor here.

Below are 21 of the biggest moments in the series’ eight seasons. Don’t like our picks? Take our poll or tell us your top moments in the comments.


21. “Hodor”

(Season 6, Episode 5: "The Door" 98%)
Directed by: Jack Bender
Written By: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Bran wargs into Hodor to help fight the wights invading the Three-Eyed Raven HQ. When Bran and Meera are safely out the door, she pleads with Hodor to “hold the door” – a refrain that young Hodor hears in Bran’s time-travel realm, forever changing the character.
MVP: Kristian Nairn
Why It’s On the List: Understanding how Hodor came to be afflicted was hugely satisfying, harrowing, and unforgettable.


20. Cleganebowl

The Hound versus the Mountain in Cleganebowl in season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 5: "The Bells" 49%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: The Hound finally faces off one-on-one against his brother.
MVPs: Rory McCann, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
Why It’s On the List: It’s the battle royale that fans had been clamoring for, and the series did not disappoint.


19. Battle of Blackwater


(Season 2, Episode 9: "Blackwater" 100%)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Tyrion summons all of his bravery and leads the King’s Landing forces against Stannis’ army.
MVP: Peter Dinklage
Why It’s On the List: Dinklage’s delivery of Tyrion’s speech: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them.”


18. The North Remembers


(Season 6, Episode 10: "The Winds of Winter" 99%; Season 7, Episode 1: "Dragonstone" 93%
Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik; Jeremy Podeswa
Written By: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moments: We’re cheating a little here, combining two moments — one season’s finale and the next season’s opening — into one. First, Arya Stark shows us what epic vengeance looks like when she plays the role of serving wench to feed Lord Walder Frey two of his sons, Black Walder and Lothar Frey, in a pie in season 6’s finale. Then in season 7’s premiere, she sports the face of Lord Frey to poison his brood of murderous sons with wine. She peels off the old man’s face and turns to his stunned wife: “When people ask you what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
MVPs: Arya Stark, David Bradley
Why They’re On the List: At the time, the extermination of House Frey was Arya’s bravest and most brutal move yet.


17. Cersei’s Walk of Atonement


(Season 5, Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming" 100%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Cersei finally escapes imprisonment by the High Sparrow by agreeing to his walk of atonement.
MVPs: Lena Headey with Hannah Waddingham as Septa Unella
Why It’s On the List: It was an unforgettable turn of fortunes for Cersei.


16. Jaime Pushes Bran from the Tower

Game of Thrones, season 1, episode 1, Jaime Lannister, Bran Stark screencap (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 1, Episode 1: "Winter Is Coming" 100%)
Directed by: Timothy Van Patten
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Climbing a Winterfell tower, Bran Stark happens upon the queen, Cersei, having sex with her twin, Jaime. The latter pushes Bran from the tower hoping to permanently silence him.
MVPs: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isaac Hempstead Wright
Why It’s On the List: Jaime’s act set the tone for the series to come: no one is safe.


15. The Execution of Littlefinger

Game of Thrones: Episode 67 (season 7, episode 7), debut 8/27/17: Maisie Williams, Aiden Gillen, Isaac Hempstead Wright. photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Season 7, Episode 7: "The Dragon and the Wolf" 88%)
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Sansa Stark puts Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on trial at Winterfell and sentences him to death for his crimes. Arya carries out the sentence.
MVPs: Sophie Turner, Aiden Gillen, Maisie Williams
Why It’s On the List: Machiavellian Littlefinger – the man who betrayed Ned Stark in season 1, then traded Ned’s daughter Sansa to the Boltons – finally gets the end many thought he long deserved.


14. Mountain Vs. the Viper

Viper versus Mountain, Game of Thrones (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 4, Episode 8: "The Mountain and the Viper" 96%)
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Accused of regicide in the death of his nephew Joffrey Baratheon, Tyrion Lannister opts for trial by combat. Cersei chose violent, cruel, and massive Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane as her champion. Tyrion named his brother, skilled swordsman Jaime, to fight for him, but was refused because the elder Lannister was far away fighting in the Riverlands. Because the Mountain raped and killed Elia Martell and murdered her children, her brother, Dornish prince Oberyn Martell – “The Viper” – steps up to defend the former acting hand of the king. Instead of a triumphant victory, he gets his eyes squished out of his head after taunting The Mountain.
MVPs: Pedro Pascal, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Indira Varma
Why It’s On the List: One of the series’ most gruesome moments, the Viper’s death was the eye-squishing that shocked the world. The events lead to a complete breakdown of the Martell family’s rule over Dorne. The Viper’s lover, Ellaria Sand, stages a coup of the kingdom-state, murdering Prince Doran Martell, and later allies with Daenerys Targaryen.


13. The Purple Wedding (Death of Joffrey)


(Season 4, Episode 2: "The Lion and the Rose" 100%)
Directed by: Alex Graves
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Olenna Tyrell facilitates the poisoning of cruel King Joffrey at his wedding to her granddaughter Margaery Tyrell.
MVP: Jack Gleeson
Why It’s On the List: After 31 episodes of Joffrey, “The Lion and the Rose” provided fans with a brutal end to the kingdom’s first vicious, idiot king.


12. The Murder (and Resurrection) of Jon Snow


(Season 5, Episode 10: "Mother's Mercy" 92%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Several disgruntled Night’s Watch brothers, led by Alliser Thorne, lure Jon Snow into a corner of Castle Black’s courtyard and take turns stabbing him.
MVPs: Kit Harington, Owen Teale as Alliser Thorne, Brenock O’Connor as Olly
Why It’s On the List: Another Stark family death that no one saw coming – based on the show’s history, there was no reason to think that a Stark would come back – except the Red Woman. Melisandre’s presence rightly gave viewers hope that Jon would be resurrected, but they would have to wait until season 6 to find out.


11. The Trial of Cersei Lannister

(Season 6, Episode 10: "The Winds of Winter" 99%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Don’t remember Cersei’s trial? That’s because there wasn’t one. The Queen Mother blew up the Great Sept of Baelor – and one-fourth of King’s Landing along with it – with wildfire rather than submit herself to examination by the High Sparrow and his righteous thugs.
MVPs: Lena Headey, Dean-Charles Chapman, Natalie Dormer, the VFX team, editors, and composer Ramin Djawadi
Why It’s On the List: Cersei’s simmering glee, Queen Margaery’s desperate terror, the green plumes of ignited wildfire, and King Tommen’s utter devastation after the explosion – all accompanied by Djawadi’s haunting score – added up to a beautiful symphony of treachery, mayhem, and death.


10. The Wall Falls


(Season 7, Episode 7: "The Dragon and the Wolf" 88%)
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane are on hand to witness a terrifying and historic moment for the Seven Kingdoms – and for fans of the show – when the Night King appears out of the fog riding ice dragon Viserion, who blasts a hole in The Wall. Thousands of wights and their White Walker overlords stream through the passage created by the fallen ice.
MVPs: VFX team
Why It’s on the List: Ice dragon + falling 700-foot magical ice Wall = top 10.


9. Aegon Targaryen

Jon Snow and Rhaegal in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 1: "Winterfell" 92%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: Dave Hill
The Moment: Samwell Tarly tells his best buddy Jon Snow who his birth parents are: “You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne…sixth of his name — all of it.” The next episode, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” followed this moment with its companion scene: Jon telling Daenerys (to her horror). Sam and Jon’s chat was also preceded in the season premiere by Jon riding Rhaegal (pictured above) — as if Dany needed more proof of his lineage.
MVPs: John Bradley, Kit Harington
Why It’s On the List: It wasn’t the splashiest scene or the most dramatic, but it finally aired out the best-kept secret in the Seven Kingdoms. It was a highly anticipated moment and it had arrived.


8. Burning of King’s Landing

Drogon destroys King's Landing season 8, episode 5 of Game of Thrones, "The Bells" (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 5: "The Bells" 49%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: The Northern coalition led by Jon Snow and Grey Worm meet the Golden Company at the gates of King’s Landing. While they stare each other down, Daenerys has been busy blowing the Ironborn fleet to hell with dragon fire on Blackwater Bay. When she’s done there, she starts on the city’s ramparts, destroying the scorpions meant to bring down her dragon, and finally makes her way to the main gate where she surprises Harry Strickland and his men with a blast of dragon fire from behind. Daenerys takes a breather with Drogon on the wall waiting for the bells to ring, signaling the city’s surrender. The bells do ring, but the Dragon Queen gets a wild-eyed look and sets upon the streets of King’s Landing, unleashing Drogon’s fiery vengeance. “You slaughtered a city!” Tyrion later scolds her.
MVPs: VFX team, Emilia Clarke for her effort in selling a moment that no one wanted
Why It’s On the List: Many didn’t agree with this plot turn, arguing that the behavior Daenerys displayed was out of character and only served as a cheap way of getting to an end; that is, giving Jon Snow irrefutable cause to also act out of character and execute her. The episode landed dead last on the Tomatometer of all 73 episodes. The burning of King’s Landing makes our top 10 here for its artistry, horror, and infamy.


7. Viserion Becomes an Ice Dragon

Viserion blue eyes Game of Thrones season 7, episode 6 (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 7, Episode 6: "Beyond the Wall" 84%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Traveling beyond the Wall to save Jon Snow and his wight-hunting party, Daenerys finds out that her dragons are vulnerable when the Night King hurls a lance and kills Viserion. Before he can reload his magical throwing arm, she loads up Drogon with the hunting party (minus Jon) and flies away back to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
MVPs: VFX team, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke
Why It’s On the List: From the wight army threat to the dragon flame, exploding ice, and downing of the great beast, everything in the final fight of the episode up and through the moment of Viserion’s death was epic, and the turning of the dragon was one of the series’ most surprising twists. Plus, the emotional investment the actors put into the moment was palpable and perfect.
Director’s Note: “The fact that you’re basically killing a puppy,” Taylor told Rotten Tomatoes, “you know it’s gonna have a very strong resonance with the audience, so I was really grateful to be able to handle that moment. And the reveal of the turn at the end, of course, was one of the yummiest episode-enders I’d ever been given – when we see the blue eye open and know what that means.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the birth of ice dragon Viserion.


6. The Battle of the Bastards / The Death of Ramsay Snow


(Season 6, Episode 9: "Battle of the Bastards" 98%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Technically two moments, but so intertwined that the latter could not have happened without the former – and Sansa Stark gets mad credit for both. From her “I’ll do it without you” shaming of Jon at Castle Black, to calling in the Knights of the Vale, to releasing the hounds on Ramsay: all Sansa. “Your words will disappear. Your house will disappear. All memory of you will disappear.” Jon swung the sword, but when all hope was lost, the future queen’s diplomacy and strategy saved the day.
MVPs: Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Iwan Rheon
Why It’s On the List: All corners of the episode from performance to directing, to production and art design, costuming, and the pure blood, sweat, and tears – surely there were tears! – that made this scene come together were superb. The episode won six Emmys in 2016: Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic), Outstanding Special Visual Effects, Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour), Outstanding Single Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series. The series also won Outstanding Drama Series that year.


5. Arya Stark Kills the Night King

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 3: "The Long Night" 74%)
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Theon Greyjoy finds redemption protecting Bran Stark from the wight horde and the Night King, but loses his life. Just when it seems all hope is lost, the hero of Winterfell breezes past the White Walkers before they even know she’s there, and puts a knife in the Night King’s belly. He shatters into a million ice shards, the White Walkers also explode, and the wights, including ice-dragon Viserion, all crumble to the ground as so many rotting bags of bones.
MVPs: Maisie Williams, Alfie Allen
Why It’s On the List: Thus, the war against the dead ends.


4. Dragons!

Daenerys Targaryen Game of Thrones (HBO)HBO

(Season 1, Episode 10: "Fire and Blood" 100%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Daenerys Targaryen honors her dead husband with a king-size funeral pyre and places her dragon eggs alongside him, she adds the witch for a taste of vengeance, sets the lot on fire, then walks into the inferno. At daylight, Jorah Mormont and Rakharo approach the smoldering embers and find Daenerys, naked with three newly hatched dragons.
MVPs: This was Emilia Clarke’s moment with an impressive debut by three adorable baby dragons
Why It’s On the List: The arrival of Daenerys’ children delivered the fantasy to this fantasy epic after an entire season of talk of magic, monsters, and dragons.
Director’s Note: “A lot was going on there, obviously. It’s a tragedy, it’s a funeral, it’s the end of things, and as we discovered, it’s the beginning of everything, too. I know — I’ve heard this, and we spoke about it — that Emilia did not think her character expected to die in the flames…There’s a wonderful look she gives to Iain Glen, when he’s all torn up, when she’s about to walk in, she looks at him, and it’s such a forgiving, letting-go look, from such a place of wisdom, that I thought it was really beautiful, and that for me, was sort of the attitude that Emilia had Daenerys take into the flames, that she knew the rightness of what she was doing,” Taylor said. “She’s a Targaryen, and I think in her mind, she sort of knew flames were not gonna be the problem…that it wasn’t necessarily her death that she was walking to. I don’t think, certainly nobody, including her, expected the birth that happened, with her three sidekicks. But that was the beginning of the new dawn.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the hatching of Daenerys’ children. 


3. Jon Snow Kills Daenerys Targaryen

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 6, series finale "The Iron Throne" (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

(Season 8, Episode 6: "The Iron Throne" 47%)
Written and directed by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: So it’s all come down to this. Eight seasons of following the adventures of the young Night’s Watch warrior and the Dragon Queen, worrying about their choices and the dread of what’s to come, feeling their heartbreak and pain, and witnessing their phoenix-like rebounds, only to have the one (Ice – not the sword) kill the other (Fire). And to punctuate the moment, Drogon melts down the Iron Throne.
MVPs: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, and the episode’s VFX team for Drogon
Why It’s On the List: Putting aside other major developments from the finale – that Bran the Broken is now king of the Six Kingdoms, the North seceded the union and crowned Sansa queen in the North, and Arya is now a famed and feared assassin-adventurer of Westeros – this was the true end of the tale, the “Song of Ice and Fire.” That this Targaryen love story couldn’t have a happily-ever-after ending was devastating to a vast swath of fans who hoped or expected that the characters would choose love, not tyranny and assassination. Vocal fans on social media weren’t the only ones grousing; critics weighed in and gave the episode one of the worst scores in the series’ 73-episode history, and, in perhaps an even more stunning turn of events, the season is now Rotten on the Tomatometer.


2. The Death of Ned Stark


(Season 1, Episode 9: "Baelor" 100%)
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: King Joffrey fools everyone, promising that Ned Stark will get to confess his sins against the crown and head to the Wall to take the black, joining the Night’s Watch. Instead, and seemingly on a whim, he decides that Ned should lose his head.
MVPs: Sean Bean, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Jack Gleeson
Why It’s On the List: Ned’s death set the stage for his son to be named King in the North – and every tragic consequence of the Seven Kingdoms’ split.
Director’s Note: “The most emotional moments [of the scene] for me were some of the stuff between the way we crosscut between Ned and his daughters and certainly between Ned and Arya, who sort of inherits the narrative, at the end of that episode. We hand off from Ned, and sort of take it to her in a way that I was happy with, because of course, her character, like all characters, has a long road ahead of them,” Taylor said. “Ned Stark was the lynchpin, the centerpiece of the whole thing, and his performance, I still think, is just heartbreaking and beautiful, and it’s partly because I have daughters…but I think I identify with him up there: kind of a combination of anguish and shame and despair. His performance was perfect.”

Read more of Taylor’s take on the beheading of Ned Stark.


1. The Red Wedding


(Season 3, Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere" 100%)
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
The Moment: Roose Bolton along with Walder Frey and his brood of murderers kill Robb and Talisa Stark, their unborn child, Catelyn Stark, and the Stark army.
MVPs: Michelle Fairley as the Stark matriarch, and David Bradley as the head Frey in charge
Why It’s On the List: The Red Wedding drew the ultimate line in the sand between the Lannisters and the Starks – between ruthlessness and decency. From that point forward, the series became a battle of good and evil.


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Game of Thrones returned for its eighth and final season on Sunday night, picking up more or less precisely where season 7 left off: “No time skipping, no flashbacks or flash-forwards, just straightforward storytelling mostly set in a single location: Winterfell,” according to Den of Geek critic Ron Hogan. Maybe a few weeks of travel time had passed, but that’s about it.

While a few critics found the episode lacking in action and momentum, the vast majority were wooed by sentimental references to episodes of yore, long-awaited reunions, and icy introductions, which drove the initial Tomatometer score to the high 90s. The score has since settled closer to 93% — while good overall, making it one of the lowest-rated season premieres of the eight:

season 8: 93% Winterfell
season 7:  93% Dragonstone
season 6:  86% The Red Woman
season 5:  96% The Wars to Come
season 4: 95% Two Swords
season 3:  98% Valar Dohaeris
season 2:  100% The North Remembers
season 1:  100% Winter Is Coming


Rhaegal and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

Surprised that the return of HBO’s powerhouse series scored so high on the Tomatometer (compared to normal TV)? Then check out our “All Game of Thrones Episodes, Ranked by Tomatometer” — of more than 60 episodes, only one has turned up Rotten and more than 20 sit comfortably at 100%. “Winterfell” is currently hovering in the range of the season 7 premiere, “Dragonstone.”

HBO on Monday reported that a record 17.4 million viewers watched the episode, and the premiere marked the largest night of streaming for HBO. The premiere exceeded the previous series high of 16.9 million viewers for the season seven finale and grew by 1 million viewers over the season 7 premiere audience. The network also reported that Sunday’s viewing was the most tweeted about episode of Game of Thrones ever with more than five million tweets and 11 million mentions over the weekend.

See what critics had to say about the season 8 premiere — Episode 1: "Winterfell" 92% — below.


Have we seen these scenes before?

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

There were plenty of callbacks for all the loyal viewers who have stayed the distance; from the little boy running through the crowded Winterfell streets and climbing a tree to see the arriving army led by Jon and the Mother of Dragons… to tiny touches like Arya wearing her hair like her late, much lamented father Ned Stark did.— Lucy Mangan, Guardian

Episode one was very much set up with the chess pieces all assembled for the last great game – Jaime Lannister was the final one to show up as he met Bran for the first time since the season one premiere. The encounter between the two served again as another cyclic moment that reiterated the end is nigh.— Neela Debnath, Daily Express (UK)


Let’s Break Down Those Reunions and Introductions

Arya and Jon in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Daenerys and Sansa have problems with each other from the jump. Daenerys tries to be gracious to Sansa when they meet, and Sansa tells her that Winterfell “is yours,” but there’s tension between them… It doesn’t take long before having a “king,” a queen, and the woman in charge of Winterfell all in one room becomes an issue. — Ben Kuchera, Polygon

One of the most interesting reunions was between Tyrion and Sansa Stark as the former husband and wife reminisced. He complimented her but she warned him that he’d grown foolish by trusting Cersei Lannister. — Neela Debnath, Daily Express (UK)

In a really lovely scene, Arya and Jon hug it out and compare swords… She then asks Jon to never forget that he is their family, which is the foreboding of what comes later in the episode when Jon finds out the truth about his parents. — Sinead Brennan, RTÉ (Ireland)

The biggest takes place in the crypts of Winterfell, when Sam approaches Jon and breaks the news to him of his parentage. Jon’s understandably shell-shocked to learn of his very legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, especially since he’s always been the one who’s least fancied himself a king. There’s also the not-insignificant matter of his blooming romance with Dany, which is about to get infinitely more complicated now that he’s in the loop about not only who he is but what that makes her to him (other than an ideal dragon-riding companion). — Isaac Feldberg, Boston Globe

There were so many reunions that it’s hard to pick my favorite! — Paul Dailly, TV Fanatic


Is It Sentimental?

Bran and Jon in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Winterfell plays on the viewer’s emotions and sense of history, because the bulk of the episode is characters who have been apart from one another having reunions, all the while the episode’s general layout echoes the pilot episode of the series. — Ron Hogan, Den of Geek

The reunions were generally really satisfying and well done; there was warmth, emotion and humour without them ever coming off as too twee. The same cannot be said for the dragon date Jon and Daenerys go on… Don’t get me wrong, it was cool to see Jon riding Rhaegal, especially considering his Targaryen bloodline, but it felt a little bit Jasmine and Aladdin and not so much Game of Thrones.— Sinead Brennan, RTÉ (Ireland)

As it happens that moment, too, contains a throwback. When the two come across a waterfall, Daenerys says: “We could stay a thousand years. No one would find us.” That is almost verbatim what Ygritte said to Jon in the cave, back in season 3. — Anne Cohen, Refinery29

There’s a massive difference between the meaningless banter exchanged between Arya Stark and her old captor, The Hound, and the far more meaningful reunion Arya shares with Jon Snow.— Aaron Riccio, Slant Magazine

The eighth season premiere was, by Westerosian standards, a sedate affair, concentrating largely on retrenchment, and narrowing the scope of the narrative and emotional landscape. This was doubtless disappointing to the many who expected nothing but mighty spectacle all the way down the home straight. — Lucy Mangan, Guardian


How Does It Look?

Jon Snow and Rhaegal in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

The good news is that HBO seems to have ransacked the Iron Bank, because just about every shot looks beautiful, and while previous seasons often rationed out the effects shots, it seems like everything is on the table visually for this table-setter. — Ben Kuchera, Polygon

Some fans might be frustrated by a dialogue-heavy, action-light hour so close to the show’s ultimate finale, but it felt right to allow the characters to breathe before diving back in to the Great War. Thrones is, after all, a show built on drawn-out arcs of power struggle between well-drawn, charismatic characters: they are people first, chess pieces second. — Anna Leszkiewicz, New Statesman

[The] dragon ride is, admittedly, a spectacular feat of CGI and injects a bit of whimsy into an episode that needed to march a lot of characters into place in very quick fashion. — Hillary Kelly, New York Magazine/Vulture


 What Lies Ahead?

The Battle for Winterfell looks set to take place midway through the season; after that comes the reckoning. — Lucy Mangan, Guardian

What is the state of Cersei’s pregnancy? It’s a question this episode only hints at.— Andrew Bloom, Consequence of Sound

What does Jaime’s arrival in Winterfell portend for him and for their upcoming battle? Where will Bronn’s loyalties take him after Cersei pays him to murder Tyrion and Jaime, the only two men that the mercenary might comfortably call his friends? These moments all feel inevitable. — Todd Gilchrist, Birth.Movies.Death.

The previews for next week show us that Jaime will have to deal with some (rightfully) angry Starks on their home turf. — David Malitz, Washington Post

Forget winter. The Great War is coming. Armies are marching. Evil queens are scheming. There is no time to waste. The end is near, just five episodes away. — Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times


Final Verdict? A Worthy Beginning of the End (Mostly)

Tormund, Berric and the Night's Watch in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

After a two-year gap and a dragon’s-feast worth of hype, fans probably wanted grand plot movements. Instead, they got a buffet of inevitabilities… Yet I’d argue that this was one of the best Thrones episodes in a long time. — Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic

Nothing so freighted with expectation could possibly live up to it, and the first episode of season eight doesn’t… In most respects, it is a classic opening throat-clearer, clocking in at just 50 minutes without adverts and bringing us up to speed. — Ed Cumming, Independent (UK)

What makes this premiere work is the way it combines necessary plot milestones with sequences of straightforward indulgence. — Kathryn VanArendonk, New York Magazine/Vulture

Kickass team-ups, dragonfire takedowns, and Sansa snark? Wonderful things one and all. But as Game of Thrones prepares for the final battle between ice and fire, let’s hope it remembers that a spoonful of poison will help the sugar go down. — Sean T. Collins, Rolling Stone


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Daenerys and Jon in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

The title of Game of Thrones’ season 8 Episode 1: "Winterfell" 92% was kept secret right up to the premiere on Sunday night. It’s not like that title is a spoiler — we knew from the season 7 finale and from the first trailers that this ride was “Next stop: Winterfell. ” Did anyone really think we were going to sail to White Harbor with the characters and brunch with House Manderly?

In any case, the television event hit like a freight train, with each major character’s name trending on Twitter in the U.S. at once.

Twitter - Game of Thrones trending April 14, 2019 screencap

“He’s never been a bastard. He’s the heir to the Iron Throne. He needs to know. We need to tell him.” So said Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) of his cousin Jon Snow (Kit Harington) at the end of season 7, and we were here for it.

But those weren’t the final words of season 7. The final words were: “Run! Run!” Thank  Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) for that keen observation.

Rewatching the final scene of the final episode of the season, I looked in the distance of the scene for the Umber family home in a morbid car-wreck-waiting-to-happen sort of way, and thought that after the dead decimate Last Hearth, they will run into the Last River. Since they can’t swim, they’ll need to go around it, if the geography of the North in the series stays true to books here.

The season 8 premiere settled some of those concerns with the new opening credits showing Last River and including a visit to Last Hearth to bear witness to the carnage.  That moment and more were among the highlights of the episode.

Take our poll below to tell us what your favorite moment was. Don’t agree with our eight? Tell us in the comments.


1. New Opening Credits

Were you paying attention or were you making a cocktail in the kitchen and singing along with the theme song when the opening credits played? They took us inside Winterfell and the Red Keep to their depths. The credits have always been a foreshadowing to one degree or another. The season 8 credits first show the Wall destroyed, then a rolling motion to Last Hearth, a pause in that motion at the river between. The perspective then flows down to Winterfell, a journey down into the depths of the crypt, then an image of the astrolabe with a lion with a fish in its mouth (remembering that Lannisters are the lions, Tullys are the fish, and the only Tully left is Edmure, so what could that mean – Cersei will control Riverrun?), a hung hound (THE Hound?) — or wolf — riddled with arrows, and what looks like the Night King with a wolf’s head and a dagger in his hand (if that’s a metaphor for Arya, I’m out, but maybe it’s literally a wolf, as both Nymeria and Ghost are still somewhere about).

Next, to King’s Landing. The Red Keep rises, as we descend into its basements, where Balerion the Black Dread’s huge skull faces down the ballista (or “scorpion”) that Cersei shot at it. Up to the throne room, where a lion rises above the Iron Throne, then back to the astrolabe where a four dragons and a shooting star (with what appears to be a dragon’s head) fly over uncertain geography (or are those skinny horses?).

The main title is still surrounded by dragon, a lion, a wolf and a stag (with only one antler – Gendry?). The credits then reveal that the episode was written by Dave Hill and directed by David Nutter.


2. Battle of the Sass: Sansa vs. Mother of Dragons

Game of Thrones HBO season 8 tease (2019 preview); Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

A collection of moments, really. Whenever Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) was near Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), they each let the sass fly.

Upon first introduction, Daenerys tries flattery on Sansa, who is not having it: “The North is as beautiful as your brother claimed – as are you.”

Sansa (eyeballs Daenerys with a tight grin): “Winterfell is yours, Your Grace.”

Bran: “We don’t have time for all this.” (Preach, brother!)

Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Then, the major characters convene with the North’s bannermen. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) attempts to soothe the concerns of Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) and smooth over tensions in the room, but makes matters worse mentioning how many men and beasts came with Jon and Daenerys.

Sansa: “May I ask, how are we meant to feed ‘the greatest army the world has ever seen’? While I assured our stores would last through winter, I did not account for Dothraki, Unsullied, and two full-grown dragons. What do dragons eat, anyway?” she asks the air.

Daenerys, staring out into the same air: “Whatever they want.”

Jon stares forward as the two women exchange a glance across him.


3. Theon Rescues Yara

Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Just that. Wasn’t a particularly flashy rescue, but that he was there and killed people to get to her – it means something between siblings. She gives him an affectionate headbutt in thanks. Sometimes just showing up is all that matters.


4. Jon Rides Rhaegal

Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

Jon accompanies Daenerys (after she notes that his sister doesn’t like her), ostensibly to see what’s wrong with Drogon and Rhaegal, who aren’t eating as much as they should. She climbs up on Drogon and prompts Jon, “Go on,” after Rhaegal noses at him. “I don’t know how to ride a dragon,” he warns. She replies, “Nobody does – until they ride a dragon.” He: “What if he doesn’t want me to?” She: “Then I’ve enjoyed your company, Jon Snow.” He successfully mounts the dragon: “What do I hold onto?” Daenerys: “Whatever you can.” Varys, Tyrion, and Davos’s mouths drop to the ground when they see Jon do a flyby of Winterfell on Rhaegal, who does not make it easy on his rider.

We’d celebrate the birth of a dragonrider, but remember season 7, episode 6 “Beyond the Wall”? The Hound, Berric Dondarrion, Jorah Mormont, and even a wight all rode a dragon before Jon, so there’s that.


Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

When they land, Jon tells Daenerys, “You’ve completely ruined horses for me.” Drogon growls at Jon when he kisses Daenerys. Despite her encouragement to have no fear, Jon opens an eye to see Drogon staring laser beams at him. We love this relationship already.


5. Daenerys Sort of, Kind of Admits to Sam That She Killed His Father and Brother

Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Daenerys ventures into the Winterfell library escorted by Ser Jorah to thank Sam for saving her advisor. When he gets to the part where he mentions he’s a Tarly, Daenerys does the right thing and begins telling him that his father wouldn’t bend the knee. Before she can fully confess, Sam guesses the rest, but then stumbles again when she notes that his brother stood with his father.

Viewers had to be grateful that Sam is a smart guy and guessed what happened before Daenerys had to get into specifics. It was awkward and really uncomfortable, but a highlight because it had to be done, and she accepted her role and began to confess it as soon as she made the connection.


6. Sam, Bran, and Jon in the Winterfell Crypts: “Now’s the Time”

Jon Snow in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Coming away from a tragic meeting with Daenerys, Sam runs into Bran sitting in his chair near the Winterfell crypts. Sam’s bummed about his father and brother and doesn’t want to have to tell Jon about his birth parents and that he’s heir to the Iron Throne. “He trusts you more than anyone,” Bran says. “Now’s the time.”

Down in the crypts, Sam and Jon have a warm reunion. Sam informs Jon that his new girlfriend executed his father and brother. Then he gets to the real reason we’re gathered here today: “Your mother was Lyanna Stark. And your father – your real father – was Rhaegar Targaryen. You’ve never been a bastard. You’re Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.” Wow. Let’s take a minute to let that settle in. “You’re the true king: Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of His Name, Protector of the Realm. All of it.”

Excellent. But what’s he going to do with that information?


7. The Fate of the Umbers

The Night's Watch at Last Hearth in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

A group of men march toward a snowy building. It’s Last Hearth, the Umbers’ castle. We see Tormund, Berric, and a small group of what must be Night’s Watch survivors from Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. It’s a slaughter in the central hall. They meet up with Edd Tollett and more Night’s Watch men. They go to a hall where the Night King has mounted young Lord Umber on the wall in the center of a swirl of human limbs. Stay classy, Night King!

“It’s a message from the Night King,” Berric says. They propose heading down to Winterfell by doubling up on horses, which sounds like a terrible idea from the horses’ perspective. Just then, the Umber boy wights alive, screaming, and Berric sets him on fire with his flaming sword–torch combo. If someone in the scene has alcohol, now’s the time to pass it around.


8. Bran Stares Down Jaime Lannister

Game of Thrones, season 8 (HBO)

(Photo by HBO)

That look. Jaime looked like he’d never faced a more fearsome foe. The reason it was so meaningful had more to do with what it promised for episode 2, than just the weight it carried as the attempted murderer faced his would-be victim.


And More…

Gendry and Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 premiere (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Some other stand-out moments: Tyrion’s reunion with Sansa, who promptly questions his smarts; Qyburn approaches Bronn to kill Jaime and Tyrion; Cersei awards Euron his prize, and he offers to put a prince in her belly; Arya’s exchanges with Jon and The Hound; and Arya flirting — flirting — with Gendry.


Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO

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In the world of Game of Thrones, conventional wisdom would suggest Daenerys Targaryen has proved herself a fair and just leader, powerful, and compassionate, but firm. Others may see it that Jon Snow, aka Aegon Targaryen, truly is the rightful ruler by Westeros tradition, given that his father was the uncrowned king of the land Rhaegar Targaryen, killed before he could reveal his legitimate marriage to Jon’s mother, Lyanna Stark. Or maybe possession really is nine-tenths of the law, and Cersei Lannister, who in no other way is the legitimate ruler, should continue to reign.

Why bother watching season 8, when you can read our hot takes on who should sit the Iron Throne?


Should Take the Throne: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Some in Deanery’s shoes would be content to rest on their laurels: She has two dragons and a rightful claim to the throne – case closed. But Daenerys has gone above and beyond to earn her place on the Iron Throne. She’s endured personal losses (her dear dead Drogo, their unborn child, her dear undead dragon) and inspired audiences over and over again with moments of strength and steeliness. Most of all, across seven seasons of city-hopping and army-charring, she’s proven a master strategist and builder of alliances, bringing together groups as disparate as the Dothrakis and the Unsullied to form a formidable force as she moves towards what’s rightfully hers.


Should Take the Throne: Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Don’t dismiss Tyrion Lannister as the Miss Congeniality of Thrones’ remaining contenders. He may be likable and gentle-hearted – at least in Westerosi terms – but he is also the shrewdest political mind left, a key skill to have in a place that gets so stabby. He’s in many ways one of the series’ ultimate survivors, managing to make it to adulthood despite his family’s unbridled hatred of him, and working his way to Daenerys’ side (the likely winning side). It should be noted he’s also part of the reason there’s still a throne for the series’ aspirants’ to sit on at all, stopping the destruction/sacking of King’s Landing not once but twice – and earning his scar in the process.


Should Take the Throne: Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

One key to good leadership is growth, and few characters have grown quite as much as Jaime. After all, the wounded, chisel-jawed hero who has slowly won your heart over seven seasons was not so long ago the sister-bonking cad who pushed Bran out of a tower in the final moments of Thrones’ first-ever episode. It’s been a “journey.” Throughout that journey, we’ve seen Jaime develop a number of the traits that would steer him well as king (but perhaps make his reign somewhat short): a developing sense of selflessness, a propensity for mercy (it was to be a painless death for Olenna), and an eye for talent in people, as demonstrated by his connection to Brienne.


Should take the Throne: Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)

Game of Thrones season 6, episode 10 - Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. photo: courtesy of HBO

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

If Game of Thrones were a particularly bloody and blindside-filled season of Survivor – Outwit! Outslay! – no one could compete with Cersei’s case at final Tribal Council. Just look what she’s both achieved and been through on her little island of King’s Landing. No one has suffered as much: she’s lost, what, all of her kids; her glorious long locks; her dad; her lover/brother/Hand; and been paraded through the streets totally naked (shame!). And she arguably pulled off one of Thrones’ most stunning strategic moves in the destruction of the great Sept of Baelor. Sure, you can admire all those fresh-faced and ambitious kids in the North, forming unlikely alliances and proving themselves in battle as they seek to usurp her, but sometimes staying in power is harder than taking power. For holding on so tightly – and never dropping a drop of red while doing so – Cersei deserves to maintain her place on her throne.


Should take the Throne: Jon Snow (Kit Harington)

Kit Harington. photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

We learned in season 7 that Jon has the strongest claim to the throne, given that his dad was Rhaegar Targaryen, whose marriage to his mother Lyanna Stark was legit, but he also has Thrones’ ultimate mic-drop argument: He died and came back. Who else among these would-be throne-sitters can top that? (Berric Dondarrion isn’t really in the running.) Or say that they led a successful defense of The Wall against attack by the Wildlings? Or that they later forged a key alliance with those same Wildlings – an alliance that could prove key to defending everyone against the oncoming White Walker invasion? No? No one? We’re listening… As if that wasn’t enough, Jon has proved himself the bravest of Thrones’ lead contenders. Recall when he went beyond the Wall. Or when he stood, sword raised, circled by enemy forces in the Battle of the Bastards? And it’s not just cocksure bravery and resurrections that have us rooting for Jon. He’s a sharp mind, too, and one who puts ego aside to “bend the knee” for love.


Should take the Throne: Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

Sure, Jon’s survived the Wall, epic battles and, well, death. And Arya has been dodging swords and arrows all across the continent for several years now. But Sansa is the Stark offspring who has survived in arguably the most dangerous places in all of Westeros: under Cersei’s roof, under Littlefinger’s thumb, and in Ramsay Bolton’s bed. The once-naïve wannabe princess has had to grow up very quickly over seven seasons of Thrones, and her developing understanding of how the world really works and a growing skill to move within it have led her safely and triumphantly back to Winterfell. Also, if ruling the Seven Kingdoms requires a strong ability to deal with toxic men, Sansa should be your top pick: Not only did she manage to outlive a spiteful Joffrey, she escaped the physical and mental clutches of Ramsay and Lord Petyr Baelish, before killing both in wonderfully satisfying fashion.


Should take the Throne: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams)

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

A girl has no name, perhaps, but she is a strong contender for the throne. More than any other Stark – living, at least – she has had to fight for her life, time and time again, and prove her skills in deception and combat (who else can go toe-to-toe with Brienne, as she did?). Arya’s racked up quite the lethal résumé in her journeys through Kings Landing, Braavos, Riverrun, and beyond: She can fully disguise herself, thanks to skills picked up with the Faceless Men; she’s developed a ruthlessness – sorry, Hound! – that will serve her well when ruling over a court of would-be usurpers; and she’s executed some of Thrones’ biggest moves, chief among them her delicious, crusty vengeance against the House of Frey. “They’re already here, my lord…” Chills.


Should take the Throne: Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright)

Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark in Game of Thrones season 8 (Helen Sloan/HBO)

(Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO)

If we’re going to consider other Starks for the Iron Throne, why not also the god-like all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven? Voted “Most Likely to Know About His Surprise Birthday Party” among the Stark kids, Bran’s childhood physical agility has given way to supernatural mental acumen now that he’s in his teens. He’ll foresee any and all plots against him, he can time travel to take lessons from the greatest rulers in the history of Westeros and beyond; with his all-seeing eye, he can find more dragons in the east and train them based on the methods of the best dragon riders ever; and he was a kind and sweet child and still seems so at heart. Honestly, other than his unsettlingly detached demeanor — which is far sight better (pun intended) than some of the crazies that have sat the Throne recently — Bran may actually be the very best choice to rule.


Should take the Throne: The Night King

Game of Thrones, Episode 66 (season 7, episode 6), debut 8/20/17: Vladimir Furdik. photo: courtesy of HBO

(Photo by HBO)

You may not think Thrones’ own Ol’ Blue Eyes has much of a claim, given that we haven’t seen so much of him over the shows’ seven seasons and that we don’t actually know too much about his motives. But when we have seen him, he has almost always outsmarted the living. Case in point: In season 7’s mammoth battle north of the Wall between Daenerys and her dragons and Jon’s forces against the White Walkers and wights, he saw an opportunity in battle to take out Viserion and then resurrected the beast as a Wall-felling ice dragon. So, he’s smart. He’s strategic. And he’s patient, another key quality for a good ruler. He has waited some 8,300 years for summer to end, after all.


Game of Thrones season 8 premieres on Sunday, April 14 at 9 p.m. on HBO.


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