This article was written by someone who had not seen a single Game of Thrones season 7 spoiler, either via paparazzi photos or online rumors… nor even trailers. So there are no spoilers here, just educated guesses based on the first six seasons.
Winter is here. The cool breeze that was first promised by Sean Bean during a cryptic teaser trailer oh, so many moons ago has finally blown across Westeros, and while Game of Thrones season 6 certainly brought an explosive conclusion to its fast-moving and exciting year, it is the quiet unknown that lingers in the mind after those closing credits. Varys promises Lady Olenna Tyrell that in the wars to come, there will be fire and blood to quench her thirst, and with that closing shot of dragons flying in a westward direction toward King’s Landing, it’s clear he’s not whistling “The Rains of Castamere.”
Game of Thrones season 7 is still a painful four months away, but even with that long gap, the pieces are finally falling into place, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a pretty clear table set for their series’ endgame. Also if their initial statements hold true, there are only 13 hours left to revel in this world before that final curtain, and certainly only seven installments in 2017.
Yet, be that as it may, the question remains of what will occur in those seven chapters. We have some ideas. Below is how we think the few remaining storylines that were not streamlined in a glorious emerald blaze above the Steps of Baelor will play out in a year’s time.
Cersei, Queen of the Three Kingdoms, Not Long May She Reign
The obvious place to start is with the new occupant of the Iron Throne. Cersei now has the rather uncomfortable looking chair that they all covet, yet none ever seem to reach with any seeming remnants of grace or humanity. Joffrey came into power through the duplicitous murder of his “father” and the contested challenges offered by Renly, Stannis, and even Ned Stark who intended to fight on Stannis’ behalf. Likewise, Joffrey’s predecessor took the Iron Throne through blood when he slaughtered Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident, and his successor proved to be a feckless little monarch that got Joff’s hand-me-downs following one hell of a wedding party.
But now that Tommen has elected to end his life and rest for all time by his wife’s side instead of spending one more day as his demonic mother’s pawn, a rather unique power vacuum has opened up in King’s Landing. And Cersei is not-so-convincingly filling it. More than love for her children, Cersei has always worshipped at the altar of political domination, and with no clear successor in place following the complete annihilation of the Baratheon line—and her own children—Cersei sits awkwardly in a chair that hasn’t looked so bleak since the days of the Mad King.
And it will be almost exactly like the Mad King that Cersei departs the Game of Thrones that she nicknamed.
At this precise moment in the series, Cersei is not Queen of the Seven Kingdoms despite what Qyburn said at her muted coronation about being “Protector of the Realm.” She couldn’t even protect her son from her own scheming when she left him alone to watch the smoking embers of his legacy drift from the ruins of Baelor all the way to the far side of Blackwater Bay. Cersei is a fool that created this threat of the High Sparrow to destroy Margaery, and in the process destroyed her own sanity, the mental well-being of her son, and finally the capital itself.
Now, Cersei is actually only the queen of three kingdoms: the Crownlands in which King’s Landing rests, the Westerlands where her family hails from, and the Stormlands which have lost the rule of both her late husband and his two now equally dead younger brothers. But Dorne has already murdered one of Cersei’s children, and now the queen has sent what’s left of House Tyrell into the arms of Ellaria Sand, whose combined fighting force likely already surpasses House Lannister’s 8,000 men.
Further, the Iron Islands have been in perpetual rebellion for years, and still nobody has put them down. The Riverlands are a chaotic mess since House Tully has been more or less shamed from existence, and the Freys (the one still super-loyal family to House Lannister) have lost their patriarch, as well as his two potential heirs that he’d groomed.
Oh, and Winterfell has a new King in the North. Again. Whose sister is one of Cersei’s most hated enemies.
The point is that the union of the Seven Kingdoms has collapsed, and Cersei’s ability to offer it a new center of gravity appears doomed. It is not even clear if she will have the fearful obedience of the King’s Landing smallfolk since she slaughtered their very popular equivalent to the Pope, as well as the much more beloved younger queen, in an attack that undoubtedly left thousands dead. Another way to put this is that the French rebelled for less than blowing up the Vatican.
No, Cersei remains unloved by all now, including her incestuous brother. And with Daenerys set to make landfall early next season, the Stranger’s embrace beckons for this queen. The tragedy for all is that she knows this deep down and will do everything to thwart it, including perhaps use the remaining wildfire to burn the capital to ash, just like the Mad King previously dreamed of doing.
Hence why I personally suspect that the end of season 7 (if not earlier) will feature Daenerys’ dragons and armies making short work of King’s Landing’s defenses, and the people rebelling in the street against their “Lord Protector.” Seven Hells, they might be doing that before then once Highgarden cuts off the food supply in retribution for slaughtering most of the Tyrells. In that moment, Cersei will attempt to repeat history and choose to burn the capital down. This will occur after five or more hours of Jaime Lannister witnessing his sister becoming the same murderous despot that Aerys II had been when he stabbed him in the back.
So too will he probably plunge his sword through Cersei’s heart. However, when Tyrion and Dany finally step foot in the throne room, excited to confront their conquered enemies, they will not find a leering Kingslayer mockingly sitting in the Iron Throne, but rather a dead one who killed himself by his own hand after reluctantly slaughtering the love of his life for the greater good. No one will remember why this happened, but maybe Tyrion will feel something resembling pity for his brother?
Daenerys Brings the Fire and Blood
Of course for this to occur, Dany will have her work cut out for her as she cuts a bloody path across the continent. Before “The Winds of Winter,” I wondered if she might land in the Iron Islands and set Yara up for life while just bypassing the whole Southron madness. But now that she has a firm pact signed with Dorne, and King’s Landing has gone to the pits, she will almost certainly be landing in either Dorne or the Reach. Granted, she could just land right on top of King’s Landing, and let her dragons and Iron Fleet do the fighting. But Daenerys is a conqueror and needs to form a battle strategy of her own.
Again, Dany now has the armies of Dorne and Highgarden at her disposal, plus her Dothraki horde who prefers fighting on horseback over a ship’s deck. Ergo, it makes the best sense to land in Oldtown (the Reach) or Sunspear (Dorne). From there, she can consolidate forces and lead a land-based siege against King’s Landing, which could play out satisfyingly over a handful of episodes. And with that kind of military might, it is a foregone conclusion that Cersei is doomed. It’s just a matter of whether Jaime’s merciful blade or Daenerys’ ravenous dragons reach her first.
Some Old Faces in Oldtown
Yet while on the subject of Oldtown, “The Winds of Winter” left Sam and Gilly in an awkward spot while waiting for the maesters’ bureaucracy to get sorted. Indeed, their final scene in season 6 felt like Terry Gilliam’s vision of paper pushing purgatory transposed into a whole new genre. Sam also got a nice signoff when he was allowed to play Belle to the Citadel’s Beast in that towering library.
Presumably, there is much knowledge, both ancient and new, tucked away in all those books. It even makes me wonder how Westeros is overall so uneducated with this kind of intellectual hub. I am starting to theorize that the maesters hoard knowledge instead of sharing it to enlighten the world. Whatever the case might be, I am fairly confident that there is a cure for greyscale located somewhere in that ivory tower. After all, Shireen was cured by somebody before it consumed her whole body as a baby.
For that reason, on top of finding out new ways to fight White Walkers, Sam could prove instrumental in offering a cure to Ser Jorah Mormont. His queen commanded him to find a cure somewhere in this world to his disease, and the Citadel of Oldtown is probably the most learned spot in all the land. They could even chat about Jorah’s long departed father.
The King in the North, and the Watchers in the Wings
Still, I imagine more than Jorah or Sam, it is the latter’s brother in black that many viewers are most anxious to return to in season 7. Aye, Jon Snow is now King in the North, which begs the question of why do they still call him Jon Snow? Jon Stark should suffice at this point if there is a crown on his head, methinks.
In any event, it was ever so satisfying to see Lady Mormont put all the grown men in Winterfell’s great hall to shame: she and her fighting 62 stood by Jon and Sansa’s side at the Battle of Winterfell while so many other northern houses stuck their heads in the snow. Now, she looks pleased as peach to crown Jon as King in the North, which will give him all the forces he needs to start building a truly massive army for fighting the White Walkers in the great war.
But showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would like to sow the seeds of doubt with the stolen glances between Littlefinger and Sansa. This was doubly confirmed in the press with ominous words hinted at by Sophie Turner and Liam Cunningham in interviews following season 6’s closure.
This is a smoke screen of misdirection. I say this partially because I would be so thoroughly disappointed if the first two Starks to reunite betrayed each other. However, I also believe “The Winds of Winter” pretty resoundingly gave answers to both Starks’ allegiances. Sansa has become quite the paranoid young woman following a childhood ruined in King’s Landing and a family either murdered or scattered to the wind. I hesitate to use the word “betrayal,” but she has certainly done a great disservice to Jon by not telling him of either Littlefinger’s initial offer or of the Vale’s last minute assistance. Then again, it was her craftiness that allowed her and Petyr Baelish to take advantage of a trap that Jon Snow walked into (and he still would have even if he had a larger army behind him).
Both characters acknowledge this with Sansa being the first to insist that Jon Snow is a Stark. He tries to refuse their parents’ master bedroom and then tries to forsake ownership of Winterfell; he wants Sansa to take credit and become Wardeness of the North. She refuses that and looks genuinely happy for Jon as he is declared King in the North. Before that moment, Littlefinger tries to plant a dangerous idea into the She-Wolf’s head, stating that she is Ned and Cat’s trueborn heir; Jon is a motherless bastard.
This is because Littlefinger wants Sansa for himself, and he wants them to rule on high from King’s Landing. Ignoring the fact that Baelish is oblivious that Daenerys is about to turn the order of the Southron Kingdoms upside down—which along with the White Walkers will make Littlefinger’s schemes obsolete by the end of season 7—Sansa herself has no interest in returning to King’s Landing. The capital ruined her life.
Much service will be paid to Littlefinger trying to turn Sansa against Jon Snow in season 7, which was hinted at in the finale. Baelish needs Jon out of the way so that Sansa can be declared Queen in the North. When that happens, Littlefinger could marry her and call himself king, which would then lead to another war for the Iron Throne. And if there were no dragons or White Walkers on the horizon, he’d have a pretty good shot at dethroning Cersei. Unfortunately for the Master of Treachery, there are those things.
Plus Sansa will never marry him.
Thus when push comes to shove, and the parentage of Jon Snow is revealed (which will give him a claim in both the North and South for any manner of thrones), Littlefinger will test Sansa’s allegiance against her brother. And hopefully, he’ll lose his head in the process.
Arya Finds Her Pack
Yet, if I am optimistically predicting that two Starks will stand united in their ancestral home (especially with an Army of the Dead approaching), I doubt another will even see Winterfell in season 7. More than any other family member, Arya might have suffered the most of the living Stark children. And she has definitely hardened the most as a result.
When we met the youngest Stark sister, she yearned to learn “water dancing” and fence with the boys. It’s a far cry from the rather deadened young woman whose eyes only come alive with something approximating ecstasy when she is murdering her foes. Admittedly, I was also delighted at the sight of Walder Frey’s life draining from his face. However, these kind of actions will continue to take a toll on a girl that for two seasons almost became “No One.”
Arya claimed to Jaqen that she is going home, but I imagine that she already knows she never can. Not really. She will eventually wind up in Winterfell but not until the last possible moment when the hour is late and the living’s dominion over the dead will be in check. Or in other words, season 8.
In the meantime, I find it highly plausible that Arya does become reunited with her last father of sorts, Sandor Clegane. As previously seen, the Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners are headed to the North in order to fight in the wars to come, and Arya is looking for a wolf pack in the same Riverlands.
Despite growing disillusioned with the Brotherhood’s cause, she and the Hound might actually be elated to see one another again. If so, just please throw in a chance encounter with a long abandoned direwolf named Nymeria, and Arya should be on the rebound in season 7 as she and her band of outlaws merrily kill their way to Winterfell.
Bran Stark Breaks Down Barriers
One Stark that I do think will return home next year, however, is the one who can reveal Jon Snow’s parentage much to Littlefinger’s chagrin. Bran Stark’s ability to command history, prophecy, and animals will be crucial in the war against the Night King, and for that to happen he’ll need to get back to Winterfell. Once Jon Snow knows that he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark—for which Meera’s father should also be on hand at Winterfell to confirm—the entire power dynamics in both the North and South will shift.
But first, Bran Stark will have to get to Winterfell, and in doing so, he will likely precipitate the great war in the process. This was the horrible, world-ending event foreshadowed by Benjen Stark when he said he was not allowed to cross the Wall. It is built not just of ice but also by old magic that keeps the White Walkers at bay. Alas that Bran and Meera did not feel the need to tell Benjen that just as he was cursed by White Walker magic, so too has Bran been similarly touched.
The scar on Bran’s arm is what undid the ancient magic that protected the Three-Eyed Raven at the great heart tree, and that cursed arm will be what allows the Night’s King to finally cross the Wall that has kept him out of the vast majority of Westeros for millennia.
When Bran crosses the Wall, this apocalypse may not happen overnight but it will allow the Army of the Dead to pay a visit to Castle Black in a future season 7 episode. Thus their collective Watch will end forevermore.
Dany, Jon, and the Dead
All of this leads to the obvious question: When and how will “A Song of Ice and Fire” be played? The literary title of the entire George R.R. Martin saga obviously pertains to the stories of Jon Snow (ice) and Daenerys Targaryen (fire). Also, her dragons versus the White Walkers is as inevitable as the falling sheets of frost descending upon Winterfell.
I suspect that this question will be primarily left to season 8. While a crowned Jon Stark might have his first battle with the White Walkers in season 7, Daenerys will likely stay in the South, saving their fateful meeting for the very final season.
As for whenever that introduction should occur, we are still left to also wonder if it shall be as friend or foe. The most obviously fan-pleasing outcome would be for Daenerys and Jon Snow to marry. Technically, she is his aunt but that would have been cool in actual medieval times, and it certainly would be acceptable in a land where Targaryen siblings frequently wedded. Together, theirs is the song of Ice and Fire that will save the world from the Long Night.
The breadcrumbs were present in “The Winds of Winter” since Daenerys said that she plans to conquer Westeros partially through marriage, and Tyrion Lannister would probably be keen to suggest a marriage to Jon Stark even before knowing of the Targaryen angle since Tyrion was a friend to Jon and has a soft spot for the First Family of the North.
And that is exactly why I don’t think it’ll happen. Or at least that will not be the ending if wedding bells do indeed ring. Conceivably, season 7 could end with Jon and Dany in a dire situation with the spreading of zombies, thereby choosing to align their Houses and even their beds. But the friction between them is inevitable. If the series actually ended with the two most popular living characters, at least excluding Tyrion and Arya, marrying in a big happy ceremony, it would ring false. Too J.R.R. Tolkien and not enough George R.R. Martin.
Personally, I expect, for one reason or another, Daenerys and Jon Stark to go to war by the middle of season 8. Perhaps they’ll clash before joining forces against the White Walkers—thus leaving an uneasy alliance impossible to end in marriage—or maybe it will be after the messiest political divorce in television history. It just seems inauthentic for this show to give viewers the equivalent of a happily ever after. I do not see Jon Snow ever being content in King’s Landing. He’s got too much of Ned in him. Nor do I think Daenerys even necessarily wants to be married.
Besides, what use was building up Bran’s warging abilities for seven years if he doesn’t use them to fly as a dragon? And why would he have to commandeer a dragon if Dany and Jon are always on the same side?
A more likely scenario for season 8 would be Jon and Daenerys forming a shaky alliance against the White Walkers, and after it is over a détente between North and South being reached because Bran disarms Dany’s dragons. Daenerys will rule the Five Kingdoms to the South, lest she decides to welch on Yara and keep the Iron Islands, and the North will be allowed to self-govern. Jon Stark will be remembered as the King Who Didn’t Kneel.
If he marries someone, I wouldn’t put it past this show for it to be his technical cousin, Sansa Stark. Albeit, that theory is mostly based on the fact that in the original outline for “A Song of Ice and Fire,” George R.R. Martin envisioned Jon Snow marrying Arya Stark (whose age was undetermined in the pitch, so she might have been closer to Sansa in years). And it would certainly leave viewers feeling conflicted and probably a little queasy.
Now that is a George R.R. Martin kind of ending.
But words are wind. We’ll find out for sure how all the pieces on the board fall over the next year and a half. Until then, valar morghulis.
This article was originally published on June 27, 2016.