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.
The urgency was palpable at the start of "Game of Thrones'" eighth and final season, which arrived Sunday after a near two-year absence that had fans deconstructing everything from the artful arrangement of corpses in Season 1 to the gentle drift of a tiny snowflake in Season 7 for clues about who might capture the Iron Throne.
Carefully laid theories blew apart Sunday as the paths of key players finally converged, and at a rapid clip, in the most dynamic and eventful season opener in the HBO drama's nine-year history.
Within minutes of the lengthy cogs-and-wheels title sequence, the arduous separation saga of the Starks came to an end when Arya (Maisie Williams), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) reunited in Winterfell for the first time since the series began in 2011.
Dots were connected at a brisk pace Sunday in the episode directed by David Nutter, but not at the expense of eloquently cut dialogue, ongoing character development, stunning scenery and an often wicked sense of humor.
When Daenerys Targaryen, or Khaleesi (Emilia Clarke), urged Snow to climb atop the fire-breathing Rhaegal for a joyride above the Northern wilderness, he was reticent.
"I don't know how to ride a dragon," said Snow.
"Nobody does until they ride a dragon," she replied.
"What if he doesn't want me to?" he asked.
"Then I've enjoyed your company, Jon Snow," Khaleesi said, and took off in a bluster of wind and wings.