The Old Gods and the New gifted me with a last-minute ticket to the world premiere of the first episode of Game of Thrones’ final season. I put on my fanciest Dothraki gown and headed over to Radio City Music Hall to watch television—and breathe air in the same room as Emilia Clarke herself!—along with a bunch of HBO executives, publicists, media, and some lucky fans.
I can’t tell you much, but I can say it was an emotional event, even before the episode aired.
The crowd inside Radio City was excited, and everyone arrived very dressed up to basically just watch TV. We weren’t anywhere near the red carpet, but we were able to watch the cast arrivals on a closed circuit TV that was broadcasting inside the hall. Between “Best Of” clips of major GoT events, we got to see the pretty famous people showing off their elaborate dresses. People clapped as each actor smiled for the camera. Varys has hair in real life! Gwendoline Christie had the most gorgeous, billowy extra dress you’ve ever seen! Jason Momoa brought back all those great, brief Khal Drogo moments! And then there was George R.R. Martin himself!
Also: Sean Bean. Ned! The crowd went absolutely bonkers and that’s really when I think it hit everyone that this is really, really the last time that so much of the cast will be together in one place.
Once everyone was settled in, it was time for some brief, emotional speeches from HBO’s head of programming, Casey Bloys, and showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. There was also a cute but very stern audio warning from Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner, doing their best Stark sisters banter, to caution the audience against any cellphone use. The entire cast took a bow on stage—I was in the nosebleed seats and even there you could see how big those Clegane boys are. It was a nice bit of well-deserved self-congratulation for the team at HBO, as well as a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Martin and his books.
But let’s be real: Pomp and circumstance is great, but we were all here to see the first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones.
The relatively sedate crowd livened up as soon as the opening credits began with that now-famous score. I felt like I was suddenly back at Barclays Center watching the season four premiere with several thousand die-hard fans (and of course the HBO folks count as die-hard fans, too).
The new season’s credits let you know right away that this is the final season, the situation is dire, and there is only one thing to focus on: the White Walkers and their army of the undead. From the first moments, there’s an immediate sense of urgency to this season. Everything is at stake.
[Warning: The rest of this article contains some non-specific reporting of what to expect in the first episode. No major spoilers, but if you don’t want to know *anything* about the show ahead of time, run away!]
There were also a lot of hotly-anticipated reunions happening in this first episode, much sooner than I would’ve thought. Some happy, some decidedly not. There was confirmation on who survived (and who didn’t) when Viserion, now an ice dragon, destroyed the wall at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. There was crying, but not all of it was sad. There was kissing, except when certain characters blocked others’ moves to hilarious effect. And there were some great one-liners from Jon, Dany, and Tyrion. Of course, there was a lot of tension. And not a lot of new faces. We don’t have time for new people! Winter. Is. Here.
And, unfortunately, that’s really all that I can say until the press embargo is lifted on April 14th. We’ve been hearing about these super-sized final episodes, but the first episode of season eight definitely didn’t feel much longer than an hour. I was disappointed in the nicest sort of way; I wanted more! And we’ll get it… soon.
In the meantime, the one downside to being among the lucky few to see Game of Thrones early is that now I’ve got even longer to wait until episode two!
Game of Thrones returns Sunday, April 14 on HBO.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com covering TV, book reviews and sometimes games. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about pop culture for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Send her a raven via Twitter.