Game of Thrones viewers who took the time to pay attention to the show’s opening animation sequences on Sunday night (or those who didn’t fast forward through them when they watched on their DVRs) may have noticed something new. Specifically, the new animation of the Westeros map shows not just the locations relevant to the episode from the top and from the sides, as in previous seasons, but also from below as well.
And as Buzzfeed reports, there’s meaning behind it.
NOTE: The remainder of this article will contain spoilers for the current season and previous seasons of Game of Thrones.
For seven seasons, Elastic, the animation studio behind the opening sequence, has given viewers roughly the same thing in every episode: a camera panning over a map of Westeros (and in some cases, neighboring continent Essos), closing on cities, castles, geographic features, or other locations specific to that episode. Each important location has been represented by a series of gears and machines moving in such a way as to fully flesh out the location on the map.
However, beginning with Sunday night’s episode, the animation changed significantly. It still retains the same “look,” still panning over Westeros and still showing the gears moving. But instead of showing locations from just the sides and tops, the new animation also shows the same locations from the perspective of being underground.
And there are reasons for that.
— Polygon (@Polygon) April 15, 2019
The first, says Elastic creative director Angus Wall, is a practical one. Put simply, there are fewer locations to show in the Season 8 episodes. That’s because the individual storylines in the show are stories of journeys, and those journeys are coming to their ends. Characters driven from their homes (most notably the Stark children plus Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy) are returning and reuniting with each other. Other characters driven hither and yon by events in the series are finally arriving wherever they need to be.
With fewer locations to highlight in each episode, animators needed something to fill the time.
The other reason is more of a metaphorical one, says Wall. The imagery of gears and machines was meant to evoke the machinations in play by the various characters in order to achieve their goals. Now, by going underground, the animators are referencing the fact that things are going on beneath the surface, so to speak.
“We wanted to explore the idea that there was more under the surface than previous seasons, and that there was an interior and a depth in terms of the layers beneath the surface that we had only hinted at before.”
There’s another layer to the new animation as well, according to Polygon.
You may recall that the final frames of the opening sequence did and still do show what’s called the “Astrolabe,” the giant hanging structure that moves around a central light source. The entire thing is meant to evoke a machine that itself represents the movement of the Westeros/Essos planet around its star.
Carvings on the Astrolabe, at least in Seasons 1 through 7, all showed roughly the same thing: images meant to represent the ancient history of Westeros (the Doom of Valyria, the Targeryans crossing the Sea on dragons, the Baratheon dynasty taking the Iron Throne). The new carvings are meant to show the recent history of Westeros: the Stark children taking over Winterfell, the dragon Viserion magicking a hole in the Wall, and the Red Wedding, among other events.
So do the new animation sequences portend any spoilers? Likely not yet, as far as anyone has been able to figure out. But since the Game of Thrones community loves pouring over every pixel of every frame looking for Easter eggs, foreshadowing, and references, there may yet be a fan theory emerging from the new animations before Episode 2 drops next Sunday.