In an era when television is no longer water cooler conversation — and a time when you can ask 10 people and get 10 different favorite TV shows — Game of Thrones may be the last show that still creates a massive worldwide conversation.
Season 8 will mark the long-awaited finale of the fantasy epic that has captured the public imagination for almost a decade, culminating in six jam packed new episodes. When it premiered in 2011, Game of Thrones was an under-budgeted fantasy show based on source material that many people had never heard of. When the last episode airs on May 19, it may well be the biggest event in television history.
Trailers are dropping. Fans are speculating. Winter is here. As you get hype for the long awaited crescendo of the Song of Ice and Fire, let’s refresh our memories on everything you need to know as you journey back to Westeros for one last dragon ride.
1. We Don’t Know Who “The Prince That Was Promised” Is
Given the events of Season 7, it appears that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and/or Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) will be the “Prince That Was Promised,” the reborn form of the legendary figure Azor Ahai, returned to save Westeros.
The obvious choice for Westeros’ great liberator seems to be Daenerys, since she is the “breaker of chains” and has already set a lot of people free, kicked a lot of ass, and filleted bad guys with her dragons.
Additionally, part of the prophecy predicting the rebirth of Azor Ahai states, “When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.” Sounds like Dany!
But author George R.R. Martin was never one to give us a storybook ending, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have tended to follow the same devastating playbook of unexpected twists and turns. The prophecy also states, “In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” Unless we missed something, this part hasn’t happened yet, even though Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) does have a flaming sword.
2. Jon Snow Is a Secret Targaryen
We recently discovered that Jon Snow has Targaryen heritage, meaning that he has royal blood, is next in the line of succession for the throne, and that he is a not too distant relative of Daenerys (he is her nephew). Familial “love” is more of a positive than a negative for Targaryens, but if this discovery becomes public, it could complicate some of the alliances that are being forged. And since we last left these two love birds getting busy on a ship, there could be some personal complications as well.
It looks like many of our favorite characters are coalescing around Dany as queen, but that could all change if people try to scrutinize the bloodlines a little more closely. Technically speaking, Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and even if he’s cool with playing second fiddle, his family and loyal lords may have other ideas.
3. All Is Not Well in Winterfell
Towards the end of Season 7, it looked like Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) might be headed for some serious conflict. Though they are family, their long separation seemed to have left them with very different perspectives on the world. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) tried to prey on these differences before he learned the hard way that blood is thicker than water.
The Stark family bond is about to be tested again. Sansa may be the Lady of Winterfell, but she is going to be asked to get in line with Jon in bending the knee to Daenerys. In the recent first-look footage, the tone with which Sansa says, “Winterfell is yours your grace,” to Dany doesn’t sound very hospitable. And Sansa certainly has reason to be a little suspicious of the queen from across the sea. Arya has taken a very different path in which she learned that people’s faces, let alone their titles, can be deceiving. All this is to say that the long-awaited Stark family reunion may not be as simple as a cheerful picnic.
4. The Greyjoys Are More Divided Than the Starks
While the Starks have some stuff to hash out, the Greyjoys are living a full-blown family cataclysm. Yara (Gemma Whelan) has been captured and may be dead, Euron (Pilou Asbæk) has taken control of the Iron Islands and allied with current reigning Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei, and everyone’s favorite castrati Theon (Alfie Allen) wants to even the score, even though he has become a laughingstock among many of his countrymen.
It’s too soon to tell how the saga on the Iron Islands is going to turn out, but it probably isn’t going to be pretty.
5. We Don’t Know Where Jaime Lannister’s Loyalties Lie
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has become one of the most compelling and enigmatic figures on the show. Jaime started the show in high style, shoving a child out of a window in order preserve the secret love between he and his sister, Cersei (Lena Headey). Since then, life has thrown pain, shame, and mutilation Jaime’s way, and it seems to have turned him into a more compassionate person (questionable rape scene in Season 4 aside). By contrast, the deep pain Cersei has endured has only hardened her resolve against her enemies.
We last left Jaime and Cersei when she told him that her plan was to make a move on Westeros while everyone else was busy fighting the White Walkers. Jaime was clearly appalled, and he responded by riding off on his own. But is this enough to finally turn him away from his sister/lover? Will Jaime’s love story end in tragedy, like Mark Antony and Cleopatra, or will he finally leave his queen behind and seek a less destructive royal allegiance?
6. Cersei is Probably Going to Die
Regardless of what happens to Jaime, if you take a look at Cersei’s... aggressive... behavior, you could guess that she is not long for their world. Fans will remember that her death has already been prophesized seasons ago, when we saw a young Cersei have a run-in with a witch.
“Queen you shall be until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear,” the witch once told her. There are a couple candidates there, including dearly departed Margaery Tyrell, but both Dany and Sansa seem like they might fit the bill.
In the books, the witch also told young Cersei “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." Again, there are a number of obvious choices for her murderer – “Valonqar” translates to “little brother” in High Valyrian, and it’s not too hard to imagine Jaime or Tyrion delivering the final chokehold.
7. Melisandre and Varys Are Probably Going to Die
It’s easy to forget about Melisandre and Varys now that the story is full of zombies and dragons, but there was a time when these two were turning the wheels that put things into motion. The two mysterious characters had a confrontation last season that indicated where things are headed for them. It’s not pretty.
“I have to die in this strange country, just like you,” Melisandre told Varys as she headed off to Volantis for reasons only she knows. Though Melisandre’s record of prophecy has been mixed to say the least, this sounds like one prediction that is pretty believable. Varys is certainly taken aback by it, partially because it lines up with a prophecy he heard when he was being mutilated as a young man. And Melisandre is one of the names on Arya’s infamous kill list, so her death wouldn’t be terrible surprising (even if she already has had a good 400 year run).
8. Six People are Still on Arya’s List
Speaking of Arya’s kill list, there are still six names left on it, and seeing as she is one of the best trained assassins in the world, they may want to think about a decent life insurance policy. The names are Cersei, Melisandre, The Hound (Rory McCann), the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus "Thor" Björnsson), Ilyn Payne (Wilko Johnson), and Beric Dondarrion.
9. Cersei Owes the Iron Bank
At the end of Season 7, it was teased that Cersei has engaged the services of The Golden Company, an elite group of mercenaries backed by the Iron Bank. The Iron Bank has been happy to provide loans to Cersei and to her late father before her, largely because they know that “A Lannister always pays their debts.” But, with Cersei running out of allies and presumably cash, this truism may not be what it once was. And the bank only really cares about getting paid.
Will the Iron Bank provide troops to add to the burgeoning Lannister-Greyjoy alliance or will they decide that they can make better investments elsewhere?
10. Tyrion Knows More Than We Do
We saw Cersei commit to assist Jon and Dany when Tyrion came to visit her at King’s Landing. We also saw Cersei plan to backstab the alliance, hoping that she can kill off the remains of whichever army triumphs up near the remains of the Wall.
But, Tyrion talked a bit more with Cersei. They discussed family and duty, and Cersei revealed her new pregnancy to him. And there was some conversation between them we didn’t see. This has led to speculation that Tyrion might choose family over his new friends. Even if his loyalty to Khaleesi is unwavering, there still may be more to all of this than meets the eye.
Tyrion has been one of the best players of the game throughout the series, and it's a safe bet that he has at least one more trick up his sleeve.
11. Someone Else is Going to Ride a Dragon
In the books, Dany receives a prophecy that “the dragon has three heads.” Most GoT fans take this to mean that three people are going to ride dragons. Dany and the Night King have already saddled up their respective dragons, but Rhaegal is still riderless. We know that Jon Snow is part Targaryen, and there has long been speculation the Tyrion also may have dragon riding potential because he has interacted with them without being burnt to a crisp.
It’s unclear which of them is meant to fly atop a scaled beast, but you can bet that if and when it does happen, it will be cool as hell.
12. The Hound Has Unfinished Business
The Hound has become one of the breakout characters in Game of Thrones with his charmingly mercenary attitude. The Mountain is one of the show’s most reviled figures, thanks to the events of the great Season 4 episode “The Mountain and the Viper.”
It’s easy to forget that these two are brothers: Sandor and Gregor Clegane. Hardcore fans have long dreamed of a “Clegane Bowl” which would feature the great warriors facing off in one last showdown. Will they get their wish or will the battle be left on the cutting room floor with only six episodes left to go? Our money's on the former.
13. The “Game of Thrones” Isn’t Over
With all the cataclysmic action going on north of the Wall (rather, where the Wall once stood), it is easy to forget the title of the show, and what the entire series has been about. Who is going to sit on the Iron Throne?
Though Cersei currently sits on the Throne, we have already outlined just a few of the many reasons that she probably won’t be there for long. While Jon and Daenerys have the best claims to the Throne, we know from past experience that this doesn’t necessarily mean much. Gendry, The Night King, Cersei’s unborn child, and hell, even one of the Greyjoys, could end up making a claim. We won’t know until the dust has settled and winter is over.
Speaking of which…
14. Winter Is Here
If you’re a GoT fan, you probably won’t have trouble remembering this, but perhaps the most important thing to remember ahead of Season 8 is that the Night King is on the march and it looks like he is out for human blood.
While the noble houses of Westeros squabbled over crowns and land in the early seasons of Game of Thrones, the Night King was busy raising an army of the dead in the frozen tundra north of the Wall. Of course, the powers that be could have been doing more to mitigate this *cough* climate adjacent disaster, but they are just now getting around to dealing with it now that the threat is imminent (sound familiar?).
Rumor has it that this season might feature the biggest battle in TV history, pitting the undead army of the Night King against the forces of humanity. No one but the show’s cast and crew know how it will turn out, but one thing is clear: winter has arrived.
'Game of Thrones' Season 8 premieres on HBO this Sunday, April 14.