Winter Is Here: Remembering the Plot of “Game of Thrones”
Friends, the time has come. We’ve received our invitation ravens, donned our custom-made fur-collared Stark suits, and remembered concepts like sellswords, kill lists, and Beric Dondarrion. Clutching a goblet of wine and unearthing our knapsack full of faces, we eagerly assume our place on the couch: National Poetry Month is here! And so is the final season of “Game of Thrones,” which we have watched for sixty-plus hours and many years of our lives. A friend observed that, when the series began, she was drawn to handsome, young Jon Snow and Robb Stark, but these days she sees the appeal of the Ned Starks and Jorah Mormonts of the world. In and out of Westeros, we’ve aged, starting out as Aryas and ending up as wimpled Lady Olennas. (One could do worse.) In the coming weeks, before it’s all over, we’ll endure a Long Night, watch the living battle the dead, straighten out which incest we like and which incest we don’t, and learn which witch’s pregnancy prophecies prove accurate. Who will win the Game of Thrones? HBO, obviously—but in the post-Richard Plepler era of big hits and creative freedom, the victory may prove bittersweet. Oysters, clams, and cockles, it’s a complicated world.
So where are we, exactly? If you’re like me, you’re flapping around in a Narrow Sea of plot and valiantly dog-paddling toward the friendly shores of Dragonstone. For much of this past season, you’ll recall, as the White Walkers loomed ever more menacingly, there was much zipping around the Seven Kingdoms, by ravens and humans alike; contextual warging by the Three-Eyed Raven we used to call Bran, with additional research by Sam and Gilly, at the Citadel; famous heroes finally meeting and Starks finally reuniting; interminable bloviating about bending the knee; strategizing atop Cersei’s floor map and in Daenerys’s war room; switcheroos, betrayals, and the eager mining of information and dragonglass. And, beyond that, Dr. Tarly cured greyscale with more abrading than I would have liked.
In the Season 7 finale, the whole regal gang got together, like the Super Friends at the Hall of Justice. The good guys—the motley affiliation of Targaryen enthusiasts, etc.—were trying to convince the bad guys—Cersei and company—to team up with them to fight the real enemy: the undead. Did this work? No. But it was fun to watch Cersei get rattled by a wight as the Hound and Jon Snow calmly demonstrated how to cut it in half, set it on fire, and give it the ol’ dragonglass shiv.
In the end, as we expected, Cersei remained a jerk, Jaime remained comparatively valiant, and the White Walker Army breached the Wall, snarling toward us like death, taxes, and continued violations of the emoluments clause. This final Wall scene was thrilling in its gorgeous horror; rewatching it, as the undead Viserion dracarysed his awful blue laserfire onto the Wall, I was annoyed to hear John Cougar Mellencamp in my head. I had poor Tormund and Beric to worry about, somewhere in the collapsing rubble. The Season 8 trailer indicates—phew!—that they’re alive.
It also shows us Dany and Jon, whom the showrunners have said are now “together together,” heading toward their dragons in a snowy wilderness, like a two-car family going off to work. In the Season 7 finale, they had decided to sail together to the North, rather than fly, to indicate that they were helping, not conquering. But it would have been foolish not to bring the dragons, as, of course, dragon fire is the best defense against militarized ice. Meanwhile, had any of us expected the Targaryen restoration to be so erotic? How will our heroes find out that they’re nephew and aunt? And how will their dreamy facial expressions change? Will they shrug and say, “Nobody’s perfect”? And Jon Snow has such a great name—do we have to call him Aegon now?
What else to expect? Arya, the trailer indicates, knows death’s many faces, and is looking forward to seeing at least one of them. (My money’s on Cersei, still on the kill list.) At and around Winterfell, the Starks will be among the first to deal with the undead, and the siblings may poke around in the crypt; Bran will continue to snoop, eyeballishly, throughout time and space, and we will finally learn whether Sansa’s steadfast shoring-up of grain reserves proves adequate. Gendry, having rowed back into our hearts and onto our screens, will, I assume, try his hand at blacksmithing dragonglass weaponry, and people will eventually find out what a fine regal bastard he is. In Essos and beyond, we will see what eyelinered Pacey Witter, a.k.a. Euron Greyjoy, looks like leading a mercenary army of men, horses, and elephants. We’ll find out whether Theon, Yara, Daario, Melisandre, or other back-burner forces show up unexpectedly to save any number of days; which of Old Nan’s bedtime stories will be most prophetic; and whether Podrick’s surprising lovemaking skills return as a plot point. Qyburn will keep tinkering, like a demented Merlin, and I suspect that somebody, or many somebodies, will be reanimated by fire. Lyanna Mormont will charm us. Battles will groan on at length. And whoever ultimately sits on that spiky, unpleasant sword-throne, the ending will not be a happy one. How could it be? Much of the magic of “Game of Thrones,” despite all of its dragons and necromancy, has always come via its realistic ratio of happiness to suffering—that is to say, a little within a lot—and from characters becoming wiser and worthier, bit by bit.
Chief among these character arcs is Jaime’s reshaping by hand loss, humility, and Brienne of Tarth—into something much nobler than a smirking, child-defenestrating sister-shtupper. A series of scenes in the Season 7 finale made his transformation especially vivid. Watching the episode in 2017, when the negotiations in the Dragonpit fell apart after a seemingly hard-line stance that Jon Snow took about truth and lies, I remember being annoyed at his childish-seeming lack of pragmatism. “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything,” Jon says. “Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies. And lies won’t help us in this fight.” Rewatching it this week, after another year and a half of American politics, the speech felt much different: later in the episode, when Cersei reveals that she lied to her fellow-negotiators, and to Jaime, too, we share Jaime’s horror. After all that, it was a joy to watch Jaime turn his back on Cersei and ride north. In Season 8, he promises to “fight for the living” and to keep his promise. Valar dohaeris, everybody.