This piece contains multiple spoilers concerning the plot of Game of Thrones seasons 1-8
Despite Winterfell-strong defences on the scripts of Game of Thrones, plenty of spoilers from season eight managed to leak out anyway. All, that is, except the changes made to the show’s opening credits, which proved a genuine Thrones surprise. What's more, the new sequence has proved to have contained some of the more fascinating Easter eggs as the final season has progressed.
To the casual viewer, the new titles won’t look wildly different: the same clockwork-style map acts as the setting, the camera glides over the Seven Kingdoms in the same avian fashion and that spinning gold orb (an astrolabe, if we’re being technical) still acts as the beating heart of the thing.
But for Thrones nerds there have been oodles to be picked over ever since the sequence arrived on YouTube the day before season eight, episode one was released. And in the weeks that have passed, significant winks to who might end up on the Iron Throne have been folded in. Here are some of them:
We go inside the castles
The crypts of Winterfell, the dragon skulls at the bottom of the Red Keep, the greatest difference between the previous and new credits is that the viewer is no longer merely hovering above the grand seats of the different Houses, but invited inside. There’s a reason for this, credits creator Kirk Shintani told Vulture: “This season is a lot more intimate and grounded. Narratively, they are doing a lot more than just flying from location to location. There’s a lot more story to it.”
The new credits have allowed certain changes to be made, and interior shots mean we get to see them. For instance, Kings Landing no longer has its Sept after Cersei’s insane pyrotechnics at the end of season 6, and the sigil over the Iron Throne is the Lannister lion rather than the Baratheon stag – although who knows how long that will last.
What Shintani failed to explain was how integral these cloistered spaces would be to season eight. The Crypts of Winterfell have been the backdrop to no less than: Jon Snow telling Daenerys that he is Aegon Targaryen, Sansa and Tyrion’s emotional reunion, the supposed safekeeping of Winterfell’s women and children and, of course, the horror show of the ancestral dead turning into zombies thanks to the Night King.
But there was plenty of foreshadowing in King's Landing, too. The camera panned over the enormous Scorpion created by Qyburn with the distinct intent of bringing down Daenerys’s dragons, which happened in The Last of the Starks as Euron Greyjoy brought down Rheagar. And as for that enormous dragon skull, we saw its chalky likeness in the bowels of King’s Landing as Jaime and Cersei were reunited only to die under the collapse of their home in The Bells.
And outside them
The Weirwood tree at Winterfell bloomed in the original credits, too, but this time around there seems to be a more lingering focus on the magical tree in the Stark seat. Weirwoods had been shown to carry the potential to destroy wights, leading some to believe the trees might offer much-needed defence against the army of the dead. Of course, this didn’t happen. But the stately tree has had pivotal significance in season eight. It was here that Arya reunited with Jon, it was here that Jon and Bran told her and Sansa that he wasn't Ned Stark's bastard at all, and of course, it was here that Arya killed the Night King. No wonder it attracts the lingering glance of the camera.
There are familiar events on the astrolabe
Those gold band that rotate around the orb and occasionally flash in front of the camera used to be decorated with events from Westerosi history such as the Rise of House Baratheon and the Doom of Valyria.
In the update, though, there are three new ones, and they’ve been covered with familiar major scenes from the past eight seasons of Game of Thrones. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot three major events: the beheading of Ned Stark, the ascent of Daenerys Targaryen and then her dragon, Viseron, burning down the Wall while being ridden by the Night King.
“Anybody who’s watched the show will recognise those three seminal events that are now inscribed in the astrolabe,” Angus Wall, one of the credits’ designers, said: “But then very quickly you realise the world has been recast in a different light, in a whole different look.”
The White Walkers were on the map
While the expanse of the previous opening credits forced the cameras to, in the words of their creators, “haul ass to get from place to place to fit six or seven locations in”, those for season eight are “a little more stately”. They also have a distinct sense of direction, namely from the gaping hole in the Wall, past Last Hearth – the last Castle before the Wall which, as Jon Snow predicted (turns out he does know something) was the first to fall to the Walkers – and down to King’s Landing. “With the White Walkers’ seeming inevitable crush southward, it seemed to make sense to start north of the Wall,” Wall told Buzzfeed.
It’s dramatic enough to see that massive hole in the Wall, but those clicking icy blue tiles are a subtle but undeniably eerie representation of the creep of the undead. What’s more, the credit designers carved the mountain Last Hearth sits on in the shape of that chilling spiral symbol marker the Walkers leave everywhere.
For a while, people thought this suggested that the Night King is destined to land on the Iron Throne, which is depicted in all its spiky glory at the credits’ end? If so, it’s entirely by chance – the designers don’t know any more of what happens in season eight than we do: “I’d be a little bummed out if I knew what was going to happen before it happened,” Kirk Shintani told Vulture. “Frankly,” added Wall, “It wouldn’t help very much making each season’s title sequence.”
But, of course, they never got that far, which is why, in the wake of the Battle of Winterfell, the path from the Wall is still and glossy with the symbolic bodies of the undead.
It will change next week
Shintani told Buzzfeed that there “are differences in every single episode,” with regards to the credits – and they will be there for a reason. “From episode to episode, pay attention, because there’s lots of hints scattered around.” So far, aside from the fallen White Walkers and the charred Last Hearth, Winterfell's inner sanctum has been shown to be crumpled after the battle. As the last ever episode airs, the state of the Throne Room will be shown in the credits long before we witness it in the show.