Note: this piece contains multiple spoilers concerning the plot of Game of Thrones seasons 1-8
I can’t have been the only Game of Thrones observer to have found the orchestral swoops of the show’s theme tune appear in my head around lunchtime on Sunday. The show may have a reputation for sex and dragons but it’s that theme music, and the equally ambitious accompanying credits, that stir the blood of its regular viewers. I even know of one couple who, despite knowing what happens at weddings in Westeros, walked down the aisle to an organ rendition of it.
When, on Sunday, HBO quietly released a new two-minute-long opening credits, the excitement was considerable. Plot details may have been leaked, rumours had proliferated for months, but few had expected a new opening sequence – and here it was, a genuine Thrones surprise.
So what can be deduced from these new titles? Well, to the casual viewer, they 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 is oodles to be picked over here, with Easter eggs folded into blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments and significant winks to who might end up on the Iron Throne. Here are the moments to be savoured:
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.
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. It has been shown that Weirwoods carry the potential to destroy wights – could these trees offer much-needed defence against the army of the dead?
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 recognize those three seminal events that are now inscribed in the astrolabe,” Angus Wall, one of the credits’ designers, said: “But then very quickly you realize the world has been recast in a different light, in a whole different look.”
The White Walkers are 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.
Does this suggest 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.”
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.”