This post contains a multitude of spoilers. Otherwise, it would be very short. Also, the videos below contain violent images and coarse language.
Real quick: Where are all the major characters right now?
Greyjoys: We last saw Yara Greyjoy in King’s Landing, where she was delivered to Cersei Lannister’s armed guards as a prisoner after Euron Greyjoy, her uncle, ambushed Yara’s fleet. Euron, who saw the wight Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen brought to King’s Landing, said he was on his way back to the Iron Islands to wait out the undead’s land invasion, but Cersei later said that he’s actually en route to Essos to escort a for-hire-army to fight on her behalf. Theon Greyjoy managed to pull himself together enough to set off for King’s Landing to rescue Yara.
Starks: Sisters Sansa and Arya Stark finally had a heart-to-heart in Winterfell and stopped feuding. Bran Stark is also back home, flexing his all-seeing powers. We’re throwing Jon Snow in here as a Stark, who we last saw on a ship en route to the North and, well, having sex with his aunt.
Daenerys Targaryen: She is heading north to fight the dead and, well, see above. Both she and Jon are under the impression that Cersei will help them fight the coming invasion from north of the Wall.
Lannisters: Jaime Lannister noticed snow falling as he rode north to join the fight against the dead, staying true to his oath and, in doing so, abandoning his sister/lover. Cersei revealed she had no plan to help in the fight for humanity and remains in King’s Landing, where she’s apparently with child. Tyrion Lannister is sailing north, but all is not well: He appeared very concerned that Jon and Daenerys hooked up.
Davos Seaworth: As Jon Snow’s right-hand man, he’s likely aboard the ship, too.
Jorah Mormont: He unsuccessfully tried to persuade Daenerys to fly to Winterfell, since she has many enemies in the North. Instead, she took Jon’s advice that arriving on ships as a united front would be good PR to the people of the North. He’s likely northbound.
Grey Worm: He’s sailing with the rest of the Unsullied, with plans to reunite with the Dothraki crew on the Kingsroad as they ride to Winterfell. (The trailer for Season 8 shows he will reunite with Missandei.)
Brienne of Tarth: We last saw her in the Dragonpit at King’s Landing, where she served as Sansa’s representative. She’s likely on her way back to the North.
Samwell Tarly: He’s gabbing about Jon Snow’s true parentage with Bran Stark in Winterfell.
Lord Varys: The man with the little birdies whispering secrets aligned himself with Daenerys. He was at the Dragonpit but didn’t say much, so he’s likely northbound as well.
What’s the Iron Throne, and why does everyone want to sit on it?
“Game of Thrones” is set on a map not vastly unlike our own. Most of the action takes place on the main continent of Westeros. The unified realm consisting of most of the continent and its small islands is called the Seven Kingdoms, which were established by Aegon the Conqueror, the first king of the Targaryen dynasty, some 300 years ago.
The whole shebang is ruled over by the King or Queen of the Andals and the First Men, which is the fancy title for whoever sits on the Iron Throne.
So, much like the field of potential Democratic nominees for the 2020 election, everyone wants power — and the Iron Throne is the epitome of that.
What is R+L=J?
Anyone born a bastard in this world is given a last name based on the region of their birth. A bastard born in the icy North would receive the last name “Snow.” Jon Snow, one of the show’s main characters, is presented as just that: the bastard child of Ned Stark.
From the jump, something about this scenario seems off. The elder Stark was presented as a virtuous dude, but the audience is led to think that he strayed in a time of war. Not everyone was fooled, however, and the theory known simply as “R+L=J” began circulating. In the Season 7 finale, it was proved to be true.
The theory centers on Jon Snow’s true parentage, which, as it turns out, does not involve Ned Stark. He’s actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen (son of the Mad King and brother to Daenerys) and Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister).
Part of the reason for Robert’s Rebellion was Rhaegar kidnapping Lyanna when she was engaged to Robert Baratheon — or at least that’s how most people on the show have described what went down. This eventually led to Robert killing Rhaegar and Jaime killing Aerys Targaryen II, i.e., the Mad King.
But, as we discovered in last season’s finale, Lyanna and Rhaegar were actually in love, and they secretly married before Lyanna became pregnant with Rhaegar’s child and died giving birth.
In the show, Bran Stark has a vision of Lyanna covered in blood in the Tower of Joy, telling her brother, “Promise me, Ned.” That promise was to raise Jon Snow as his own and to keep his identity a secret to save the child from then-King Robert, who would have executed any Targaryen heir.
How are Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen related?
Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King and the sister of Viserys and Rhaegar. Given “R+L=J,” that makes Daenerys the aunt of Jon Snow. Unfortunately, the only characters who know this are Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly — and news didn’t reach Jon and Daenerys before they had sex in the Season 7 finale.
What happened to the six direwolves?
In the series premiere, Ned Stark happened upon two dead animals: a stag and an older direwolf. Among them were six little direwolf puppies. Ned gave one to each Stark child, including an albino runt for Jon Snow.
Time, though, has not been kind to the litter. At this point, only two remain alive.
Nymeria (Arya’s): Arya’s loyal direwolf attacked then-Prince Joffrey Baratheon while defending her early in Season 1. To protect the pup, Arya chased her away. In Season 7, however, she saw Nymeria for the first time in years. The grown direwolf is now leading a huge wolf pack in the Riverlands, one of the first direwolves to ever be seen so far south.
Ghost (Jon’s): Ghost and Jon, two outcasts, share an incredibly strong bond. Ghost, who followed Jon to the Wall and beyond, is hanging around Winterfell.
Lady (Sansa’s): Since Ayra spared Nymeria’s life, Cersei had no direwolf to punish. So she ordered Ned Stark to put Lady down instead, which he did by his own hand.
Grey Wind (Robb’s): Poor Grey Wind got it bad. Robb took the teethy pup with the Stark army as it marched toward King’s Landing, where Ned was being held. But at the Red Wedding, both Robb and Grey Wind were decapitated. The direwolf’s head was then sewn onto Robb’s body, which was put atop a horse.
Summer (Bran’s): Summer, who once saved Bran from an assassin, trekked with the boy beyond the Wall. They were attacked by a bunch of wights. Summer gave his life to the icy creatures, allowing Bran to escape.
Shaggydog (Rickon’s): This jet-black direwolf joined Rickon and Bran as they fled from Winterfell. Eventually, Bran sent Rickon and the cleverly named Shaggydog to hang out at the Last Hearth with the Umbers, who supposedly offered them protection. Instead, they gave Rickon up to Ramsay Bolton, who skinned Shaggydog to use as a carpet. Ramsay later killed Rickon at the Battle of the Bastards.
What do I really need to know about Bran Stark? And what’s the three-eyed raven?
In Season 2, Bran embarked on a long journey, during which he learned he might be a Warg, someone who can control the minds of animals and see out of their eyes. He also began dreaming about and finally seeing a three-eyed raven, which he sought beyond the Wall. That was where he found the three-eyed raven, who turned out to be a very old man in a cave. The three-eyed raven has many abilities, including seeing things that happened back in time, and he trained Bran to use these powers.
During a trip through time, Bran witnessed a dying Lyanna Stark asking Ned to watch after her child, whom Ned named Jon Snow. Later, Samwell Tarly confirmed this account after reading about the child at the Citadel.
Eventually, Bran attempted to see through the eyes of the Night King, which created a psychic bond between them, allowing the Night King to enter Bran’s mind and vice versa. The Night King brought white walkers to the cave, where they killed the three-eyed raven. Bran escaped and, in doing so, became the three-eyed raven himself.
What’s that green fire stuff, and where does it come from?
It’s called Wildfire. Made by the Alchemists’ Guild, an old group of pyromancers who claim it’s magical, it’s an extremely powerful substance that, once lit on fire, can burn until it’s all but disappeared or smothered with sand. It can be applied on any substance, including water. Think of it like uber-powerful lighter fluid used by soldiers.
Tyrion used it to destroy most of Stannis Baratheon’s fleet during the Battle of Blackwater. And, long ago, the Mad King stored barrels of it under King’s Landing with plans to destroy the city during Robert’s Rebellion, but he was killed before he got the chance. Years later, Cersei used it to blow up the Great Sept of Baelor with most of the Sparrows and House of Tyrell inside.
So, where do the dragons come into play?
Remember Aegon the Conqueror, who conquered most of Westeros and set up the Iron Throne some 300 years before the current story? He was able to do all that because he was riding with three basically indestructible dragons. They had long been a staple of the Targaryen household. These were the final three in existence, however; most of the others died in a giant volcanic eruption called the Doom of Valyria about 150 years ago, at which point dragons were thought to be extinct.
Fast-forward to Season 1, when Daenerys was given three petrified dragon eggs as a gift to celebrate her betrothal to Khal Drogo. She was drawn to the eggs, beginning to believe they could be hatched. But then a witch betrayed her, destroyed the baby in her womb, took away her ability to bear children and turned Khal Drogo into a vegetable. (Daenerys then killed him out of mercy).
When Daenerys built a funeral pyre for Drogo, she tossed the eggs (and that witch) on top for good measure. After lighting it, she walked into the flames, because, why not? Everyone thought she died, but instead, the next morning she awoke to three dragon pups hanging onto her. She named them Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion.
The long story short is that these are incredibly powerful creatures who bonded with Daenerys and will probably determine the war to come.
But what about the zombie dragon?
Okay, okay, we were getting to this. So, Daenerys learned to fly the scaly monsters — and used them in a few battles, which terrified her enemies, as they feared she could conquer Westeros as Aegon did.
In Season 7, however, the Night King threw an ice spear at Viserion, killing him. The Night King then reanimated the fallen dragon’s corpse, which was pretty bad news for everyone, particularly since the dragons can break through the Wall — which was exactly what zombie Viserion did, allowing the Army of the Dead to enter Westeros proper, setting up the show for the big war to come.
So who is this Night King guy anyway?
That icy, blue-eyed fellow was the first White Walker, who was created when the Children of the Forest, a nonhuman race who originally inhabited Westeros, stabbed one of the First Men with dragonglass thousands of years ago. He now serves as the leader of the White Walkers and their wights.
What’s the difference between wights and White Walkers?
Not all icy creatures are created equal. White Walkers have the important superpower of reanimating human and animal corpses by turning them into wights. While we know the Children of the Forest turned some First Men into White Walkers, we don’t know if all of the White Walkers can make more of their own kind. We do know that the Night King can change human babies into White Walkers with merely a touch.
Wights have no such power to turn corpses and living people into other things, and they make up most of the Army of the Dead.
It appears that the White Walkers simply want to conquer the world, and that makes sense given their origins as basically being the weapons of the Children of the Forest. They’ve attacked before, thousands of years ago, and despite that “long winter,” they were eventually defeated, driven north and kept there by a newly built Wall.
But we haven’t gotten their side of the story yet, so who knows? Maybe they actually have some kind of just cause aside from total domination.
What weapons are needed to kill them?
We know of two substances that can take down the White Walkers: dragonglass and Valyrian steel.
The former is a volcanic glass that’s fashioned into such weapons as spears and daggers. Samwell Tarly learns of its effectiveness after traveling beyond the Wall, when he stabbed a White Walker in the shoulder and the White Walker shattered. Sam later learned there is a massive store of the material in a mountain on Dragonstone. It’s important to note, however, that dragonglass is also used to turn men into White Walkers, making it one heck of a double-edged substance.
Valyrian steel, meanwhile, is metal that was forged in the era of the ancient Valyrian civilization. Myth has it that the pieces were forged with magic and dragonfire, although no one knows for sure. All we do know is that the weapons cannot be forged any longer, and there is a finite amount left in the world.
We know of a few Valyrian steel swords floating around. There’s Oathkeeper, which Jaime gave to Brienne (who currently possesses it), and Widow’s Wail, which Jaime carries. Jon Snow carries Longclaw, and Sam took Heartsbane from his family home before setting out for the Citadel. Meanwhile, Arya carries a nameless Valyrian steel dagger.
Stabbing and cutting up wights with regular weapons won’t do much, but they are flammable, don’t seem to be able to cross water and can be felled by the two substances that kill White Walkers. The most efficient way to get rid of a bunch of wights seems to be destroying the White Walker that transformed them.
Arya’s training as a faceless killer felt eternal. What was the point?
You may remember two full seasons of Arya hanging out with the Faceless Men to learn how to become an assassin. She acquired the right skills but refused to give up her identity, causing her to be essentially disavowed by the other Faceless Men. Somehow, though, she retained her new powers.
In short, Arya can transform into different people. The rules surrounding this aren’t exactly clear, but it’s implied that she can only become people who have died.
It’s a pretty useful skill to have if you happen to have a revenge list, filled with enemies you want to kill (including Queen Cersei) — like Arya does. The first person(s) she took down after leaving the House of Black and White was every male under the tutelage of the now-late Walder Frey as revenge for the Red Wedding. It was in this moment that she uttered the instant-classic phrase, “Leave one wolf alive, and the sheep are not safe.”
Is Littlefinger gone gone?
Yes, we saw Arya cut the throat of Petyr Baelish, a.k.a. Littlefinger, a.k.a Mr. Chaos Is A Ladder. But we’ve also seen now that it’s possible for people to not be who they seem to be.
One popular fan theory is that Littlefinger will actually be the one to land on the Iron Throne. The thinking goes that, after Bran revealed he was on to Littlefinger by citing the “chaos is a ladder” speech, Baelish organized a switch with one of the Faceless Men. It’s an intriguing line of thinking, but for what it’s worth, actor Aidan Gillen has said he won’t be appearing in Season 8.
What special powers does Melisandre actually have?
Be a Lord of Light skeptic all you want, but we’ve seen several instances in which Melisandre (“the Red Woman”) has worked some serious magic. The main one: She resurrected Jon Snow from the dead. Although it’s worth noting that she’s not the only one to wield this ability. Remember Thoros, who brought his buddy Beric back at least a half-dozen times?
The Red Woman also gave birth to some shadow demon that killed Renly, has excellent skin despite being a few hundred years old and foresaw that Jon Snow and Daenerys needed to come together, saying that they “have a role to play” in the “long night to come,” which, presumably, refers to the White Walker invasion.
Still, the Red Priestess is far from infallible. She backed Stannis as the one who would be victorious over all other rulers, not to mention she encouraged him to sacrifice his daughter, Shireen, in the process. She’s admitted to making mistakes.
How powerful is Euron Greyjoy?
Unless he has even more tricks up his sleeve, Euron is thoroughly in Cersei’s corner. He has plans to marry the queen once all this warring business settles down, and he even brought a couple of gifts to seal the deal: Ellaria and Tyene Sand, whom he captured during his attack on his niece Yara’s fleet. Euron delivered the remaining Sand Snake and her mother to Cersei, who was itching for some revenge after the Dorne crew poisoned Cersei’s daughter, Myrcella.
And revenge did Cersei exact: Mother and daughter were chained apart, as Tyene was poisoned with the same substance that killed Myrcella, so mother Ellaria has to spend her remaining days watching her daughter slowly die in front of her eyes.
And, as stated above, Euron didn’t actually flee to the Iron Islands but went to ferry Cersei’s paid fighters.
When are we seeing the Cleganebowl?
The closest we came to a final showdown between rival brothers Gregor Clegane (the Mountain) and Sandor Clegane (the Hound), was in Season 7, when the two finally met in the Dragonpit (although, by this point, the Mountain is basically a zombie).
“Remember me? Yeah, you do,” the Hound told the Mountain, who isn’t talking much these days. “What did they do to you? Doesn’t matter. It’s not how it ends for you, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.”
Now, remember that the Hound told Arya that he got his scars as a child when his brother burned his face over a toy. The Hound has avoided fire ever since. But when pushed to look into a fire in Season 7, the Hound saw a vision of a dead army, ice and a Wall. He mentioned seeing a mountain, as well — leading some fans to posit that this could be a reference to his brother/nemesis. And, as one theory goes, the Hound didn’t get his scars over a toy, but after seeing a fire vision of his brother’s end, which then caused the Mountain to try to burn the Hound’s face off.