In the game of thrones—in which, you know, you win or you die—the dice are heavily weighted toward death. Compounding the peripheral casualties of the big battles, the crumbling wall, the general chaos running rampant throughout the seven kingdoms, Game of Thrones’s penultimate season saw the tragic (and less tragic) demises of some major players: Lord Petyr Baelish, alias Littlefinger, after trying and (obviously) failing to turn Arya and Sansa Stark against each other; the dragon Viserion, felled (and then resurrected) by the Night King; Olenna Tyrell, who poisoned Joffrey Baratheon; Ellaria Sand, who poisoned Myrcella Baratheon; and all the seasons that aren’t winter. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Winter is really, truly here, and the game of thrones has finally been whittled down to its final contenders, who have aligned themselves into their final teams. In the last episode of last season, snow had just begun to fall on King’s Landing, and just seven episodes are left for Westeros to find a new ruler or else be overrun by the Army of the Dead. Let’s see where everyone stands ahead of the eighth and final season premiere, which airs on April 14.
Down in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister is still queen, presiding over…well, what exactly? The whole of Westeros is so fractured and eager for her crown that it’s not clear what the reign of Queen Cersei even means. What are her politics? Her policies? Who are her subjects? Meanwhile, her own brother/lover Jaime Lannister has been a little defiant lately—never mind, of course, that she’s carrying his child. At least she has her faithful, zombie-fied Mountain by her side, and a very horny Euron Greyjoy willing to bend to her every whim.
It bears repeating: Cersei is pregnant. Two of her kids were poisoned by enemies and the other leapt from a window, so we’ll see how this goes. At the end of season seven, she invited the whole array of would-be usurpers down to King’s Landing to discuss winter and how it’s coming; outwardly, at least, she seems amenable to uniting against the Army of the Dead, but inwardly she’s absolutely scheming.
Though he has a shred of love in his heart for Tyrion still, Jaime has cast his lot with the Lannister name. After all, his sister is once again carrying his baby. Still, he’s been getting a little feisty lately, which could either mean he’s going to fare alright this season or he’s absolutely doomed.
Still a zombie. Still on Cersei’s team.
The usurper of the Iron Islands and Westeros’s foremost Grailed shopper has set off for Essos, where he’ll round up the mercenary fleet of the Golden Company to rally to Cersei’s aid. He’s conquered one throne; now he’s got his eye on all the Seven Kingdoms. He’s also kidnapped his niece, Yara Greyjoy, sister of Theon and the actual heir to the Iron Islands throne, which may turn out to have been a bad idea.
Up north, Arya and Sansa have really come into their own; good money’s on them to make a strong showing in the game of thrones this season. At the end of last season, they easily unraveled Littlefinger’s deceptions, revealing how this whole political disaster was his doing, starting with the assassination of Jon Arryn right on through the execution of Ned Stark, the Red Wedding, and pretty much everything bad that has happened over the course of seven seasons. Oh, and they executed him, despite his sly attempts to pit them against each other. Meanwhile, Bran and Sam put their heads together to figure out Jon Snow’s true heredity—not a Stark, not even illegitimate (someone’s going to have to rename the Battle of the Bastards)—while down in King’s Landing he and his half-sister are getting it on. (This show loves incest.) But Winterfell is also the closest castle of the major houses to the now abandoned Wall, so as the Army of the Dead makes its way south, it’ll fall to the Stark children to fight on the front lines.
This heartless assassin bitch (and we really, truly mean that in the most complimentary way possible) made her way through the House of Black and White with her sense of self intact, which was no small feat. Home in Winterfell at last, she and Sansa are closer than ever, and the Stark kids seem like the only ones who are doing their part to piece together how this whole political mess even came to be.
Sansa has been capably manning Winterfell ever since the death of her parents and since her brothers decided to go off swinging swords and such. She fended off Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton, and Lord Baelish; it’s about time she is no longer subjected to the violent impulses of the men around her. But Westeros, in the end, is not a feminist utopia. Everyone’s still calling Jon Snow the King in the North.
Excuse us, the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran’s still doing his thing, which at Winterfell involves gazing admiringly at trees and occasionally uttering such pearls of wisdom as “I remember everything.” He just happened not to remember Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark’s secret wedding until Sam reminded him of it at the end of last season, but that’s a minor detail. He remembers everything else, which will probably come in handy.
Sam, once an aspiring Maester and washed-up member of the Night’s Watch, abandoned his studies at the Citadel to come to the aid of his friends. What a loyal pal. Now he’s with Gilly (who actually figured out the Rhaegar Targaryen–and–Lyanna Stark thing, thank you very much, only to have it mansplained by Sam) and their son at Winterfell, where, hopefully, he’ll just keep reading things and turning up useful intel.
Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen set off for the G-20 summit of the Seven Kingdoms at the end of the season seven, at which point Jon Snow refused to come to a truce with Cersei Lannister (prompting Tyrion to sort of go off: “Have you ever considered learning how to lie? Just a little bit?”) and nearly compromised them their whole mission—to get everyone on the same side, united against the common enemy. We’d think they can all agree that a swarm of undead zombies hell-bent on destruction takes precedence over the petty game of thrones, but, then again, maybe not.
We regret to inform Dany that she is no longer next in line for the throne. We will not be taking questions at this time. And despite the impending threat of the Army of the Dead, Daenerys’s aspirations for the throne have not dulled since she mounted her campaign from far out in Essos.
Excuse us, Aegon Targaryen. That’s right: Jon Snow is no longer the bastard King in the North, nor is he, as Bran Stark proposed, Aegon Sand, the surname granted to illegitimate children in Dorne. He is, instead, the very legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, which makes him Daenerys’s nephew and puts him ahead of his extremely competent aunt in line for the Iron Throne. “He’s never been a bastard; he’s heir to the Iron Throne,” Bran murmurs, breathless, in the season seven finale. Again: Westeros, not a feminist utopia. Still, Jon (whom everyone is calling the King in the North, despite the fact that Sansa has been holding it down while Jon is gallivanting about King’s Landing) has thrown himself behind Daenerys’s cause, declining a truce with Cersei Lannister in favor of proving his devotion. At least he got laid.
The current tally: Two alive, one zombie.
A Lannister in name only, Tyrion has cast his lot with Daenerys, pledging himself to her campaign for the throne and leading her to name him Hand of the Queen. He’s still got the cute little pin and everything, from when Tywin named him Hand, only now that he’s back in King’s Landing he’s most definitely not playing on the Lannister team. How times have changed.
The wildling Tormund, with his red hair and too-obvious crush on Brienne of Tarth, might be the best thing about Game of Thrones right now. A leaked cast list for the final season seems to indicate he survived the fall of the Wall, but it remains to be seen how that’s even possible.
Like Kristofer Hivju, Richard Dormer was included on the leaked cast list for season eight, so it appears that they’ve both made it through. For now, that is.
Last seen fleeing fast in the opposite direction of pretty much everyone else after she burned Stannis Baratheon’s daughter Shireen at the stake and used leeches on Gendry Baratheon (oh, and post-reviving dead Jon/Aegon), Melisandre seems to be sailing west once more this season—i.e., Carice van Houten was also included on the cast list. We’re eager to see which team she aligns herself with, and perhaps even more eager to see if anyone really wants her on their team. Before she departed for Volantis, Melisandre told Lord Varys that she, like he, was fated to die in Westeros, so it’s a pretty safe bet she’s not in the running for political office.
It took Jon Snow bringing a wight in a box down to King’s Landing—a feat worthy of winning a high-school science fair—for anyone to believe that the Army of the Dead was real and that it was coming, but by the end of season seven, everyone seemed to grasp that this is a legitimate threat, maybe even more threatening than any internecine political struggle. (Sounds a lot like how no one believed Voldemort was back in Harry Potter, and just look how that turned out.) But the Army of the Dead walks super, super slowly, so, you know, the Seven Kingdoms have got time to sort out this whole succession thing.