This article contains major spoilers from all of Game of Thrones.
The Long Night might be averted on the series, but it’s been springtime for all viewers ever since Game of Thrones returned with new episodes. The first three hours are over, and with the Night King defeated in “The Long Night,” the question of who will win the true endgame is only beginning. Intriguingly, this is so far playing out more or less how we predicted. Below is an article we originally published right after season 7 ended. While it was an enjoyable year, it felt like a placesetter before an endgame that was building on two very different tracks: those involving White Walkers and those involving Cersei Lannister. We had our theories of how they would intersect (or not) and below you can find our unaltered speculation has been more or less pretty solid so far.
There are no real subplots left. Now is the time of only a singular plot, which will grind up many characters we love and definitely wreak havoc on our emotions. So as we approach that bitter end, here are our predictions for how it will fade out.
A War to End All Wars… But Doesn’t
Since the very beginning—we’re speaking of the prologue that prefaced the first episode—Game of Thrones has been building toward a decisive battle between the living and the dead. Between the Starks and the White Walkers. And as the Night King rides Ice Viserion above the ruins of the Wall, that inevitable clash has never appeared closer.
This struggle will undoubtedly be what most of the final six episodes deals with. However, I am already happy to report that it’s now apparent this isn’t the true end of the series. Jon Snow has called the Army of the Dead the only enemy that matters, and he is correct to fear zombies over mere humans. Yet George R.R. Martin’s world has never been Middle-earth. Hence why it could never truly be about just the forces of good overcoming the forces of evil in an epic battle on the border of Mordor. While J.R.R. Tolkien included the “Scouring of the Shire” as one of his many epilogues in Lord of the Rings (which is perhaps the only thing of substance Peter Jackson cut from his movie adaptations), it is now obvious that Martin, and Benioff and Weiss, are making the post-war skirmishes and power vacuums a critical part of the main story.
While Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and even Jaime Lannister have become united in fighting the White Walkers, Cersei will be building her army and ready to strike a terrible blow to those who survive what should be the war that ends conflict for a generation.
As for that war itself, Benioff and Weiss have perhaps too heavily foreshadowed how it will go down. I suspect that Jon and Daenerys will receive news at White Harbor that the Wall has fallen, and the Dead are marching towards the south. The biggest question will thus be if Jon and Dany choose to engage the army immediately or return to Winterfell. Inevitably there will have to be a major battle they lose to the Night King before what will likely be a last stand at Winterfell. And the role of the dragons might define which order this occurs in.
It is for that reason that I think they will return to Winterfell first. This provides enjoyable drama as Sansa and Arya meet Daenerys, and size up their supposed new queen. Arya herself has a long overdue reunion with the Hound too. Yet the main purpose for going to Winterfell first will be for Jon to finally reconnect with his younger siblings, Bran and Arya. Arya is Jon’s favorite, but all that emotion will be supplanted by Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly inevitably revealing that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen.
This reveal needs to come sooner than later, because it will be the inevitable icy wall constructed overnight between Jon and Daenerys. If Sam’s book (as well as maybe Meera Reed’s father?) can confirm to Dany that Jon is her nephew, it will create a tidal wave of conflict between them. Suddenly she should be required to bend the knee to him. While I do not think Jon wants the Iron Throne nor will ask her for it—and he may not even reveal to the Northern lords he is a Targaryen—this will gnaw at Dany. And after some likely tempestuous accusations, It will also be what forces her finally allow someone else to fly a dragon into battle. Jon will ride his father’s namesake, Rhaegal, alongside Daenerys on Drogon, into their first season 8 engagement with the White Walkers.
And yet, the inclusion of the Night King riding Viserion will likely cause this to be a massacre. Perhaps even Drogon will go down in a battle against the reanimated corpse of his sibling, as I suspect Dany’s destiny is to let go of her dragon heritage. In this vein, Dany said during the season 7 finale that the Targaryens began to lose their power when they put their dragons in a proverbial cage—the Dragonpit—just as she had done in Meereen to Rhaegal and Viserion. Her season 8 arc will in part be about realizing that Jon Snow becoming king might also likewise be caging her… and that she will need to let the past and her sense of entitlement go.
This is all theory, but I’m dead certain the final battle with the White Walkers will occur inside the walls of Winterfell. All of our favorite characters are converging on the Stark ancestral home—the same location that served as the second scene in the series’ very first episode. In addition to the living Stark children now residing in Winterfell, Sam, Gilly, Davos, the Hound, Brienne, Jaime, Tyrion, Varys, Jorah, and even Daenerys’ dragons are all headed to this one place. It will be the last stand for the living.
The final battle between the two forces could play out any number of ways, and with any number of casualties (the final subsection of this article includes my predictions of who lives and dies). But a few things definitely need to happen. Bran needs to fulfill his Three-eyed predecessor’s promise that “he’ll fly.” This could refer to the ravens and crows he takes command of already, but we all know it must really mean he’ll commandeer a dragon. If Daenerys and Jon are allies, even a bit bitterly after she learns he’s a Targaryen, then the only dragon Bran will need to take control of is Viserion.
Admittedly, we have never seen Bran warg into a White Walker before, nor a wight. Yet Viserion was a magical creature before being turned, and simply put, I think it is the only way for the good guys to survive an Ice Dragon breathing unholy hell down upon their last refuge.
Also during this epic showdown, Jon Snow will kill the Night King with Longclaw. The battle against the White Walkers has always leaned heavily into epic fantasy tropes. It is Martin basking in the kind of Tolkien-esque fantasy he’s otherwise skewered. So I suspect this is how Benioff and Weiss will rationalize pursuing the most predictable and superheroic ending: the good guy (Jon Snow) kills the bad guy (Night King) in a duel, and as a result all of his underling White Walkers and wights fade away—receding like snow before the first breaths of a dawning spring.
They also might be able to get away with this bit of formulaic Avengers-styled plotting, because the fight against the Dead isn’t the real ending to Game of Thrones.
War of the Two Queens, Part II
In reality, life has never ended happily for a generation with a grand triumph on the battlefield. World War I concluded in a brittle armistice that still somehow brought about an even more cataclysmic, bloody sequel a mere two decades later. Americans thought they earned peace for a generation after nuclear bombs fell over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not even five years later, our country was embattled on the Korean Peninsula.
Conflict will always begat conflict, and there will inevitably be parties who seek advantage even in supposed black and white, good versus evil struggles. That ugly truth about humanity, and its knotty emotional toll, is what Martin genuinely seeks to infuse into Westeros and high fantasy, and it will again be crystallized when Cersei Lannister’s forces attack a war ravaged Winterfell with the aim of wiping out the beleaguered survivors. Season 7 beautifully set up that Cersei will hire an army of sellswords in the Golden Company (who ironically have a long contentious hatred for the traditional Targaryens in “A Song of Ice and Fire”), and she’ll use them to wipe out her perceived enemies.
If Jon Snow or Daenerys were to die, or likely any other major Stark or Lannister character, it will not be while fighting zombies. It will be during this grim continuation of a war Cersei lied about pausing. However, I don’t think Daenerys can die… at least not this point.
Like Martin or the Hound, I tend to roll my eyes at prophecies in this world. Stannis Baratheon believed he was the Prince Who Was Promised, and look what happened to him. Cersei, however, has created a self-fulfilling one for herself. Chased by the whispers of Maggy the Frog, Cersei made the conceit of her children all wearing gold shrouds a reality by inviting the Sparrows into power so as to depose Margaery Tyrell. Consequently, she ultimately killed Margaery and cost herself Tommen’s life in the process.
Cersei choosing to make war with Daenerys and Jon after the Long Night’s final battle will likewise be Cersei undoing, bearing the grotesque fruit of Maggy’s vision.
“Aye. Queen you shall be. Until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear…. And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands around your pale white throat, and choke the life from you.”
After the Golden Company, and mayhaps Euron Greyjoy, slaughter some major heroic characters on Cersei Lannister’s orders, this prophecy will come to its most Shakespearean end. Once upon a time, Cersei feared that the younger queen could be Sansa Stark until she was later convinced it was Margaery Tyrell. Yet nay, they were both innocent. That younger queen is Daenerys, and even without any dragons at this point, it’s the Khaleesi who’ll lay a final siege for power on King’s Landing with what’s left of her forces. With the playing field evened—or even favoring Cersei given how few of Dany’s forces might remain—Cersei will then have her last vestiges of control shattered not by dragons, but by two “valonqar.”
The term “valonqar” means little brother. All her life, Cersei has assumed the little brother who will strangle her to death would be Tyrion Lannsiter. But it is so obviously really Jaime Lannister, who was born just a moment after Cersei left the womb. He and Tyrion will be Cersei’s undoing, leading “10 good men” through one of the hidden passages they know of near the Red Keep (we saw Tyrion use one such entryway in season 7).
Plus, it has to be Jaime who takes Cersei’s life. Whether she’s still pregnant or has had a miscarriage by this point, Jaime cannot allow her to live. Not when she completes her possession of the Mad King Aerys II’s soul. Realizing that Tyrion and his “good men” have opened the gates of King’s Landing, she’ll follow in Aerys’ footsteps and try to burn the whole city to ruin and take the world with her. Jaime won’t let her do that. Wrapping his arms around her like he did in season 1, promising that they’ll kill everyone “until we’re the only ones left,” they really will be the only ones actually left in the throne room. Standing before the Iron Throne, they’ll burn with the power Cersei covets.
Whether by dragonfire or (more likely) Cersei commanding Qyburn to light the wildfire underneath the Red Keep and hoping it spreads, Cersei shall choke her last breath in Jaime’s golden hands as they are incinerated, taking the chair that drives men—and women—mad with them.
When Daenerys finally steps foot inside King’s Landing, it will be the culmination of the vision she had within The House of the Undying in season 2, with the Iron Throne and all its remnants of power left as smoky ruin. Even if Tyrion, Jaime, and her men save the citizens of the capital beyond the Red Keep, Daenerys will still be queen of the rubble. Allowed to build her new world from horrible scratch.
The Fate of the King in the North
Yet the most debated question that many fans will continue arguing over is the fate of Jon Snow, a Targaryen in name but ever a Stark in personality. Where will he land when all of these storylines are done? Does he stay in the North, as Ned should have done, and rule from Winterfell as a loyal warden? Does he go to war with Daenerys and claim the Iron Throne as his own? Or do they simply tie the knot and ride off into that proverbial sunset, ruling on high in King’s Landing, a la Aragorn and Arwen in The Return of the King?
Technically, historical precedence is on the last and most fan-pleasing conclusion’s side. As we’ve detailed here, Daenerys Targaryen is heavily inspired by Henry VII, the first Tudor King of England who ended the War of the Roses, in part, by marrying his third cousin on the opposing side, Elizabeth of York. The easiest solution to the imminent insecurity Dany will feel upon discovering Jon’s heritage will be to marry him like a good incestuous Targaryen and take him with her to King’s Landing for the inevitable endgame.
However, I do not think Jon’s happy ending lies in King’s Landing, if anywhere. Despite precedence, it is hard to imagine Martin giving Benioff and Weiss the happily ever after ending between Jon and Daenerys. Additionally, season 7 has repeatedly underscored how much of Ned Stark is still in Jon Snow. He lacks a politician’s tact when he bends the knee to Daenerys Targaryen in spite of not needing to, as she already was all in with supporting his fight against the Dead.
He then doubled down and repeated Ned Stark’s foolish error by telling Cersei Lannister the truth. If Ned had not warned Cersei that he knew her children were bastards born of incest, she would not have rushed the death of Robert, and Ned would still have his head. Jon Snow, meanwhile, telling Cersei that he is pledged to Daenerys is the kind of idiocy that reinforces what Tyrion also warned Jon about in season 7: Starks do not fare well whenever they ride south. Jon as King of the Seven Kingdoms will end in the kind of chaos and incompetence that followed Robert getting the Iron Throne after his rebellion, or Ned Stark pursuing Stannis’ claim while not seeing the advantage of using Renly to at least keep Cersei in check.
Nay, I do not think Jon will want to be married to his aunt and live in King’s Landing during a decades-long reconstruction project. So what happens to Jon? I’ve long speculated he will remain King in the North when all is said and done, but I’ve reconsidered this in season 7, because the series has so heavily foreshadowed Jon and Daenerys making a human baby.
Then again, Jon openly questioning whether Dany can get pregnant might suggest the showrunners realize this is fan service plotting, and that it’s not meant to be. I believe Daenerys when she says she is barren, hence why the Khaleesi never got pregnant despite plenty of unintentional trying with Daario. However, Jon Snow is not a normal man, as he is like Dany in that he’s been touched by blood magic, which Melisandre used to resurrect him from the dead. Having a fire wight’s heart, he might be able to give Daenerys something she thought impossible: a child.
Either way, Dany’s arc will be about somewhat putting her family’s history behind her. If all her dragons have died by the end of season 8, yet she has a human baby, she now has a future she previously thought was impossible. The Mother of Dragons will have to give up her mythic mystique and embrace a fleshy reality. But if this does occur why would Jon Snow not ride south and be miserable in King’s Landing? After being a bastard himself, there’s no way he’d let his own child be raised as one by the Dragon Queen.
Which brings us to my prediction: Jon Snow does not survive season 8. The Bastard of Winterfell will die and still be known to the world as Ned Stark’s son. As Jon told Theon in the season 7 finale, Ned is the Greyjoy’s real father, just as Ned is Jon’s real father too. It doesn’t matter if he has Targaryen blood. Like the rest of his real family, Jon can only bloom in the cold of winter.
I suspect that Jon will not ride with Daenerys, even if she is carrying his child, because he will be one of the first to fall when Euron Greyjoy’s forces descend upon Winterfell. Losing Jon, after likely doubting his loyalty for several episodes, will send Daenerys into a rage and a dark place when she takes her forces to King’s Landing. It will be a darkness that other characters will be forced to save her from (which I’ll get to in the next section). And while Melisandre will also inevitably wind up back in Winterfell, which she teased to Varys in season 7, I do not think she’ll raise Jon Snow again. He does not want it, and his role will have been completed by killing the Night King.
Perhaps he will even die before the Northern lords ever knew he was really part-Targaryen. This would force Sansa to make the affectionate but melancholy choice of not letting anyone know Jon wasn’t an official Stark. After struggling with him as her king, she’ll bury him as Jon Stark in the crypts, next to Ned.
How’s that for your “bittersweet” ending?
Still, since this is all conjecture, I’ll add an alternative scenario. Jon and Daenerys are joined together. He is the icy rose she foresaw in the House of the Undying. Maybe Jon isn’t the one who will have to leave their union. What if Dany is the one to die? It could make sense. They might both live to march on King’s Landing, and maybe she is wounded with her last dragon, going down and dying from her injuries. In this context, it is hard to imagine that she’d have a child, but in classic fantasy lore, the boy king, Jon Snow, has greatness thrust upon him. Despite not wanting to be King of the Seven Kingdoms, after Daenerys dies he’d have no choice but to take the crown.
There is even the long simmering theory that he might also be destined to marry Sansa Stark. In “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the complementary “Dunk and Egg” novella series, it is discreetly hinted that she’ll at least be courted by a Targaryen suitor. However, I personally believe this is referring to a character not on Game of Thrones (an imposter Aegon Targaryen). Nevertheless, I have noted that Benioff and Weiss have definitely played up the iconography and narrative echoes of Jon channeling Ned Stark and Sansa channeling Catelyn. As technical cousins, could they be the Stark couple who choose not to go south? Learning from Ned and Cat’s mistakes?
While this is entirely still possible, I supect the answer is no at this point, that line of uncomfortable thinking seems mooted. Sure, George R.R. Martin’s original outline for “A Song of Ice and Fire” included a romance between Jon and Arya (very gross, indeed), but this bit of ickiness clearly got transferred to Jon and Daenerys. I don’t think there will be two sets of Jon Snow incest pairings, and Jon’s destiny has always been wrapped around Dany’s. In the remote possibility that she dies, Jon will probably rule a lonely Bastard in King’s Landing while Sansa will take Winterfell as his distant wardeness.
But since Jon would just be another Robert/Ned styled level of incompetency, I don’t think this is meant to be. Jon has had his whole life prepare him for martyrdom. Dany has readied hers as one of a philosophical queen. So let her rule begin. Build that better world.
The Endgame for Everyone
So when the smoke clears, and Cersei’s rule goes the way of the Night King’s, who is left alive and what becomes of them? This is where we must kill our darlings and say goodbye to their journeys as everything heads into night.
While it seems unlikely the White Walkers will get to kill any major leads if the war against Cersei follows in quick succession, it will be a time to clear the deck of a lot of secondary leads. Based purely on gut feeling, I think those who could and will fall during these wars are Davos, Beric Dondarrion, Tormund Giantsbane, most of the Night’s Watch, Podrick, and even Brienne of Tarth. If they’re washing away Jaime at the end with Cersei—as is my final prediction—then Brienne might also die for him in order to provide that opportunity during the final battle of King’s Landing.
An what is almost as sickening is if Bronn plays a role in Brienne’s death. He has permanently sided with Cersei, so it’s imaginable Bronn could fight with the Golden Company against the Northerners. Ergo, Tyrion or Jaime will have to rid the world of Bronn, making a painful conclusion to their three-way bromance.
As for Tormund and Beric, it is unlikely that they died in the season 7 finale by virtue of not seeing their bodies. In that case, maybe they’re stranded at the top of the ruined Eastwatch. Season 8 could very well begin with them running all the way to Castle Black and getting the Brothers in Black to realize they’ve failed their oaths, and they must march south and fight (and die) while trying to crush the Ice Zombies against the forces of Winterfell. Another fun idea is if they show up just late enough to save Winterfell from getting wiped off the map by Cersei’s Golden Company.
In any event, the Hound won’t be among those early casualties, since he will have to be part of Daenerys’ foray against Cersei Lannister in King’s Landing. The series never had to give fans “Cleganebowl,” with Sandor versus Gregor, until they promised it in the season 7 finale. So it’s entirely plausible the Hound will kill Gregor and Qyburn before he can burn down King’s Landing on Cersei’s order. But in a perverse tragedy, Sandor facing his fear and challenging Gregor may still end in both their deaths if Gregor is able to start the wildfire blast that swallows the Red Keep whole. Sandor can win the duel but still be taken by the flames he always feared.
Whatever the case, when the smoke clears, there will only be a handful of survivors that I’m going out on a limb and saying will be the living Stark kids, Dany, Tyrion, Varys, and possibly Grey Worm and and Missandei. If the showrunners really breakup Dany and Jon like I predict, as well as refuse to give fans either Brienne/Tormund or Jaime/Brienne, then leaving these two crazy kids together for the lovers and dreamers out there will be a desperately needed concession.
Sansa is destined to rule Winterfell. She deserves it, as she seems to value it more than Jon, and unlike Jon, she has the gifts of a politician and administrator. Even so, it’ll be bittersweet, because she will only get what she wants after everyone else leaves her. If Jon dies, she keeps Winterfell due to tragedy. Bran has made his intentions known as well: he’ll return to the massive weirwood Beyond the Wall and resume his proper role as the Three-eyed Raven. I also think Arya is unlikely to stick around in Winterfell after the spring comes. While winter is a time for wolves, all things must pass.
Arya has made up with Sansa, but she will not stick around Winterfell to be her sister’s muscle and executioner, nor is she going to become a lady in a castle, married to a lord. That’s not her. Yet, just maybe, Gendry will also live, offering the romantics another lifeline. If that does happen, it won’t change Arya’s destiny. She’s not sticking around Westeros and neither will Gendry. I see them boarding a ship and pursuing Arya’s fantasy: sailing west and discovering whatever the equivalent of America is in this nutty little world. They can row together.
As for why I insist on Tyrion and Varys living? They must be around to talk Daenerys down from the edge after Jon dies. The Mother of Dragons asked Varys to check her if she ever got egotistical or tone deaf to the smallfolks’ needs. And he and Tyrion will be there to prevent her from going the full tyrant on Westeros after Cersei is wiped away.
Some viewers are already speculating that Tyrion betrayed Daenerys off-screen. This is why he looked sad when Jon and Dany were hooking up. This is possible and would be a real warped George Martin inspired twist. But I don’t see it. He betrayed Tommen for Daenerys when he sought the Dragon Queen out in season 5. Why now bet against the said queen who can build a better world on the hope that Cersei’s next child will be more of a Tommen or Myrcella, as opposed to another Joffrey?
I honestly am not sure what Benioff and Weiss are setting up for Tyrion in that scene other than he’s lonely, but he will need to be there to walk Dany down from the edge and help her build her new world. It will be one where she rules alone, without Jon Snow or any other husband. She’ll instead take on the pose of Elizabeth I, offering a golden age of peace for Westeros. And at Tyrion and Varys’ urging, she will introduce to the realm to a rudimentary form of democracy by signing the equivalent of the magna carta and building the Seven Kingdoms’ first parliament above the ruins of the Great Sept. Medieval religious power will be replaced by secular reason.
And who better to become the first political leaders of a legislature than Varys and Tyrion? Again, this will be baby steps toward democracy. And the guy there to document it all will be Samwell Tarly. Gilly’s fate might go either way, but Sam will survive to pen “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a history of the wars between Robert Baratheon’s death and the ascension of Daenerys Targaryen, the First of Her Name.
It’s bitter, bittersweet, yet true to the world’s aesthetic. A Westerosi Renaissance to the very end.
… Or at least that’s our guess. What’s yours?