Two more seasons. 14 more episodes. That, as far we know today, is how much of Game of Thrones is left before the credits roll a final time.
HBO has only officially renewed the show through season 7, which show director Jeremy Podeswa recently confirmed would consist of seven episodes but showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss made it clear leading up to season 6 that they would only need 10-15 further episodes to conclude their take on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. It seems logical to assume the final season will be roughly the same in length as season 7, though we likely won’t know the shape of season 8 until next year at the earliest.
Beyond seeking story brevity, it is highly likely a big reason behind shortened final seasons is to spread the budget from the cut episodes to make the coming conflict between the White Walkers and people who aren’t White Walkers as epic as it needs to be.
While Game of Thrones Season 6 was the first season to “officially” move past the books, the ratio of old and new material has become steadily skewed since the very faithful Season 1. Indeed, it was never really true; these “post-book” seasons has seen probably as much old/remixed content (the return of the Greyjoys, the Riverlands trip this year) as it did new (Tyrion meeting Dany, Stannis burning Shireen last year). After last night’s finale (my recap here), everything is finally either caught up or beyond the jumping off point of where Martin left them.
As such, there’s a lot to speculate and theorize about. So let’s begin!
1. Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed Raven and the White Walkers
Benjen exited the story stage left because reasons so now it’s Bran and Meera at a weirwood tree close to the Wall. Granted they have some distance, but it’s not like the undead need to rest. Come on, Uncle Benjen, just come back already, we know we’re seeing you again anyway.
Speaking of the undead, I made a bold prediction that didn’t pan out in the finale: the White Walkers bringing down the Wall. That didn’t happen, but there is Bran’s Night King mark – the thing that breached the magic of the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave. Did he tell Benjen? Because if his passage through the Wall is what allows the Night King to bring down the Wall and its undead-repelling magic with it, I’m gonna flip.
2. Jon Snow, the King in the North + Littlefinger/Vale
King in the North and secret Targaryen/Stark child. That’s a lot to take in for a guy who was literally dead the first two episodes of the year. Jon Snow is now in the great game, as Tyrion calls it. He sent off his resurrection insurance after Davos forced her to admit to Shireen’s murder. Whether this was a story choice or simply a way to get people to stop asking “Why doesn’t Melisandre just resurrect them?” we don’t know yet. The Red Woman’s future is TBD. My guess? Another meeting with her fellow red priest Thoros of Myr and his Brotherhood Without Banners (now with 100% more Hound!)
Jon’s crowning seems to have unified the causes of Tormund’s Wildlings, the Northern lords (among them the penitent Lord Robett Glover) and the Knights of the Vale. And as Littlefinger told Roose Bolton last season, the last time the North and the Vale were aligned, they toppled the Targaryen dynasty. But speaking of poor Petyr, he saw his dream, elucidated to Sansa as sitting the Iron Throne with her as his queen, possibly dashed when she sided with her half-brother.
Their knowing look-turned-glare is joined by Cersei and Jaime’s after her crowning, both the kind of looks that say “Season 7” in neon. I assume this conflict, and Littlefinger’s inevitable demise, will conclude some of the political aspects of the show until it is utterly dwarfed by the White Walkers’ invasion. Thus, the narrative purpose of Littlefinger will be to show how petty and meaningless his manipulations and betrayals were in the face of winter once it’s arrived.
3. The Riverlands
Brienne’s parting gaze with Jaime in episode 8 turned out to be her parting gaze for the audience too. We won’t see the Beauty and her young squire Podrick until next year, presumably upon their return to Winterfell. Or, if you follow me down this seasonal rabbit hole, perhaps she meets with the Brotherhood, as in the novels and we finally (finally!) get Lady Stoneheart? It’s probably not but it’s nice to dream.
More preciently, with Arya’s murder of Walder Frey and his two sons (heirs?), there’s no named characters other than Edmure Tully left in the area. The Riverlands have historically been a wartime playground, suffering from its wide borders with rival kingdoms. But there’s always been a leader. Now, who’s in charge? And who will come to fill the vacuum?
4. Euron Greyjoy, King in the Iron Islands
Last seen losing his head start and presumably a large portion of his fleet to his fleeing niece and nephew, the new King of the Iron Islands and Westeros’ own Donald Drumpf Euron Greyjoy, is facing a problem. He won the throne by promising his people all of Westeros but right now, all he has them doing is building ships, which is pretty much exactly what Yara promised. Right now, this revolutionary’s plan is not all that revolutionary.
But with Ramsay finally gone and the Night King a personality-free force of nature, it’s likely Euron has entered to pick up the villain slack for the show’s endgame. In the books, his role as a grandiose, perverse (and magical) outsider is more played up as he shakes up quite a few Westerosi plots. I’d like to see more of Pilou Asbaek’s Euron, evolve more into the book version of Euron, especially now that Ramsay has had Big Bad status ripped away by his own dogs. The show is very meaningfully not introducing or keeping around many extraneous characters so his introduction this season hopefully is to set up some major Euron happenings in Game of Thrones Season 7 (and possibly 8). More on this ahead in the section “Sam in Oldtown,” where we discuss PoorQuentyn’s awesome “Eldritch Apocalypse” theory.
5. Cersei Lannister, the Mad Queen
Cersei Lannister “The Mad Queen.” It has a nice ring to it, though I wouldn’t dare say it in her presence. Now childless, she is the defacto Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, for what that’s worth now. Her domain includes merely the Riverlands, her home the Westerlands and, if we’re being generous, maybe loyal Baratheon houses in the Stormlands. Her epic immolation of all her enemies in King’s Landing, while successful, united her enemies outside it against her. We see Olenna allying the Tyrells with Dorne, with Varys adding Dany to the deal. Meanwhile, there are new kings in the Iron Islands and the North to contend with and of course the Night King and his undead army are coming.
So while her victory will probably be short-lived and pyrrhic, the finale proved she is not to be underestimated. I can’t help but be impressed with how Cersei, friendless and without power, in one fell swoop became the most powerful woman in the history of Westeros – at terrible cost to herself and everyone around her. A delicious and epic deconstruction of the evil queen archetype is about to reach it’s crescendo. A childless Cersei is the most dangerous Cersei. The question is, what does she want now? I honestly have no clue but one thing is certain: a lot of people are going to die.
6. Samwell Tarly and the Order of Maesters in Oldtown
Sam’s arrival in Oldtown to study becoming a maester takes him back to forefront, centering him at the center of a number of plots. Arguably one of the most fascinating Chekov locations awaiting Martin’s further elaboration. In the meantime, superfans like PoorQuentyn have put together fascinating theories on what’s going on and where it’s headed. There’s so much cool stuff in there I hate to summarize I’ll try to give you the gist.
With the caveat that we have no idea how much of this story will make it in forthcoming episodes, Euron has his (third) eye on Oldtown for conquest for multiple reasons: a Faceless Man is there to steal the only copy of a blood-stained manuscript titled “Death of Dragons,” Sam carrying a magical horn that can bring down the Wall and the maesters working the stamp out magic. There’s also a theory that Euron is a Valyrian fanboy (hence his adoption of their “dragons=conquest” strategy) and a greenseer like Bran, perhaps a failed student of the Three-Eyed Raven akin to a evil Bran. What does this mean? It means Oldtown is a magical pot poised to boil over and potentially go full Lovecraft in Game of Thrones Season 7. While PoorQuentyn’s Eldritch Apocalypse is based on the books, its a tantalizing tease of what the show has up its sleeve next year.
7. Arya Stark, the Lone Wolf
I truly thought “No One” would be the last we’d see of Arya this year, leaving us on the satisfying note of her going home. But in an episode that liberally used Littlefinger’s Magic Teleporter, to the point that time itself became a blur. But whatever, so she’s in Westeros now and killed Walder Frey. Is Cersei next on her kill list? Because in the books, it’s accepted that Jaime is her most likely killer.
I also hope the writers don’t shy away from how Arya’s ruthless murdering isn’t actually a great solution to emotional trauma. On the Inside the Episode, they highlight this, so I have hopes this won’t simply be a rah-rah reptilian brain thing where the writers equate cold-blooded murder with morally just behavior. I trust them to examine the complexities here fully. My most idealized prediction sees Arya also meet with the Brotherhood Without Banners* and renouncing her killing-for-pleasure/revenge ways after seeing the Hound has done so. Basically, I just want the Arya and Hound to be together again.
*As you can see in my speculation, if there’s a loose character lying around, I think they’re meeting with BWB, Westeros’ own island of misfit toys.
8. Dany + friends journey home
Dany started off this season seemingly back on her own after all her trials. But knocking her down was really just a tactic to show how fast she could pick herself up after seasons of character development. And pick herself up she did, burning down the Dothraki patriarchy, defeating the Masters and gaining the Greyjoy siblings (and their fleet) as allies instead of their loathsome uncle. Not to mention Varys’ secret Westeros mission, which was revealed to be an entreaty to Ellaria Sand of Dorne, themselves just allied with a vengeful Olenna Tyrell.
A Dothraki horde, the Unsullied, the Second Son mercenaries, the Iron Fleet, both Dorne and the Reach and last, but not least, her dragons, finally fully-grown. With the slave Masters defeated and the Seven Kingdoms on brink of collapse after years of warfare, Dany is indisputably the most powerful person in Westeros or Essos. And she’s heading home. But home has different meanings.
In my opinion, before she can inherit the Iron Throne, she has one last stop to make – Valyria, the home of her Targaryen ancestors. I expect that to be the last stop on Dany’s journey of self-discovery, perhaps even where a confrontation will Euron occur, as he is the only known person to have gone to the Doom and back. This could also provide a reunion with Jorah, who’s greyscale infected storyline needs either a cure or closure.
I’d also like to see something, even lip service, to her unenviable task of corralling a clash of cultures among Mongolian horselords, Viking analogues and Spanish Xenas. How with Dany wrangle all these disparate factions? This is prime Martin realty he’d really delve into but given the truncated seasons available, I wonder how much will require suspension of disbelief.
A year is a long wait but if seasons 7 and 8 of Game of Thrones pack half the punch of last night’s finale, the shortened episode counts will be well-worth it. Now I’m going to go re-watch that finale for the fourth time.