Winter has come.
The final season is here. No doubt calendars around the world are marked in anticipation of the event. It’s a moment of both catharsis and reluctance, as we are meant to say goodbye to characters we love, places we’ve only dreamed of visiting, and the magic that weaves it all together. It’s a long journey for the cast and an even longer one for the fans, as we excitedly crowd around our television screens, biting our nails in fear of what may happen next. And finally, after over a year of waiting, we will know. We will discover the fate of Daenerys, Jon Snow, Cersei, the intentions of the Night King and just who will claim the Iron Throne and rule Westeros once and for all. And though such a climax may seem straightforward, it is the accumulation of seven seasons worth of betrayal, greed, unforeseen twists, epic battles, blood-lust and a prophesied war between ice and fire.
As a reminder of the high stakes, we’ve listed the most important events of each season to refresh the memory and provide a much-needed remembrance to the characters we’ve lost, and the tragedies and successes we’ve witnessed. So – fair warning – this contains major spoilers.
Viewers are introduced to the Starks of Winterfell, whereby Ned Stark rules as Warden of the North with his wife Catelyn, and his six children Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon and Jon Snow, his bastard. Robert Baratheon, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, pays a visit to the castle and asks Ned to become Hand of the King – this is the moment when the family’s lives are irrevocably changed. Accepting his offer, Ned journeys to King’s Landing, capital of Westeros and home of the Iron Throne, with his daughters. Meanwhile, his bastard son Jon Snow, feeling out of place at the castle due to his illegitimate birth and the constant disapproval from those around him, travels north to become a member of the Night’s Watch, a military-esque order of men that guard The Great Wall, the ice border that separates the seven kingdoms from the savagery of the lands beyond.
Back at home, the divided Stark family suffers a great upheaval when Bran is pushed from a window by the King’s wife Cersei after he witnesses her engaging in an incestuous act with her brother, the Kingslayer and honoured knight Jaime Lannister. Things quickly begin to spiral out of control when the realm learns of Daenerys Targaryen, the sole surviving daughter of the Aerys Targaryen, who, having ruled before Robert, was driven mad with power and set the kingdoms ablaze with dragon fire. Daenerys and her brother Viserys are the last of their house, which has been wiped from existence after Robert Baratheon led a rebellion and executed their father. She is living in exile on the eastern continent of Essos, where she is sold to Khal Drogo, a brutish horse warrior of the Dothraki and becomes his wife.
Once Ned learns of the murder of the former Hand Jon Arryn, chaos erupts in the capital. He is beheaded, which provokes his eldest son Robb to go to war against the crown. As for Daenerys, suffering rape, abuse, witchcraft and treachery, the dragons eggs she was gifted at her union with Drogo hatch, and the mythical beasts enter the world for the first time in decades.
The Seven Kingdoms are at war, with five different parties laying claim on the Iron Throne: Robb Stark, dubbed the King in the North, Renly and Stannis Baratheon, brothers to the now-deceased king Robert, Balon Greyjoy who rules the Iron Islands and favours the sea, and Joffrey Baratheon, son of Robert and Cersei Lannister, a boy who has inherited the crown but is more concerned with cruelty and torture. Sansa Stark is now a prisoner in the capital, and Arya has gone missing upon witnessing her father’s decapitation.
Sent back to his home by Robb to negotiate an alliance, Theon – Balon Greyjoy’s son and Ned Stark’s ward – hatches a plan of his own and decides to invade an unprotected Winterfell. Fortunately, Bran and Rickon are able to escape and head north towards Castle Black, where Jon resides as part of the Watch.
In the east, Daenerys has lost everything. Her husband Drogo succumbed to battle wounds at the end of season one, and she is left to wander the vast desert with nothing but a handful of loyal supporters and her wild dragons. At the same time, multiple assaults are launched in the name of each so-called ruler: Jaime Lannister becomes a prisoner of war after being defeated by Robb’s forces, riots and pillaging are abundant, and Stannis Baratheon plots with divine forces to lay siege against the capital. By the wit of Tyrion Lannister, brother to Cersei and Jaime, and with the help of the Tyrells’ army, a wealthy house serving as Warden of the South, Stannis’ fleet of ships are sunk.
The game of thrones continues, with Robb struggling to form valuable alliances and gain the upper hand, despite having won every battle he’s fought. Arya Stark is hiding out in the wilderness, dodging the royal forces meant to bring her back to the capital to use her as leverage against her brother. In the capital, Sansa is forced to marry Tyrion Lannister, and Joffrey, much to his mother’s dismay, decides to marry Margaery Tyrell, a beautiful, well-loved woman who threatens Cersei’s goals of becoming queen.
In the meantime, Jon has ventured beyond the Wall and infiltrated the Wildling community, a primitive people who hate the lords of Westeros and the order they impose, as well as the Night’s Watch, who are their sworn enemy. The Wildlings are led by Mance Rayder, a man who means to scale the wall and invade the civilised lands. This is where Jon meets Ygritte, and falls in love with her despite the Watch’s code never to engage in sensual affairs. Across the sea, Daenerys’ fame grows as she frees thousands of slaves across Essos, and her unwavering conviction intimidates those who wish harm upon her.
The season ends with the notorious Red Wedding, where Robb Stark, his pregnant wife, his mother, and his forces are brutally murdered by his allies the Boltons and they switch sides to join the crown.
Another wedding is underway; dubbed the Purple Wedding, during which reigning king Joffrey officially marries Margaery, only for an unknown traitor to poison him. Upon his death, Sansa Stark becomes a suspect and she flees the capital, heading to the Vale, where her Aunt Lysa lives and House Arryn reigns as Warden of the East. The Boltons have been granted control of Winterfell and the north, their methods of torture suppressing the people they mean to rule. Arya Stark heads for Braavos, hoping to join the ranks of the faceless assassins and start crossing names off her vengeful hit list of those who hurt her family.
As for Daenerys, her strength and numbers steadily grow, and she sets her sights upon the rich city of Meereen. She soon learns that Ser Jorah, one of her closest confidants, has been spying on her for the king in Westeros and exiles him. Jon Snow is back at Castle Black and prepares the Watch for the Wildling attack. This chapter ends with Tyrion, having stood trial and found guilty for Joffrey’s death – of which he is innocent – and escapes Westeros, but not before killing his father for all the abuse he suffered at his hand.
The crown is facing serious financial debt due to the prolonged war, and yet another of Cersei’s incapable sons have claimed the throne, this time naive Tommen. The rivalry between Cersei and Margaery grows. A radical religious group called the Sparrows have moved into King’s Landing, aggressively concerned with bringing sinners to justice, which includes Loras, brother of Margaery, and Cersei herself.
In Braavos, Arya is accepted into The House of Black and White, training grounds for the faceless assassins who call themselves “no one.” Sansa faces troubles of her own as Littlefinger hands her over to marry Ramsay, Lord Bolton’s heir, in order for his family’s claim on the north to be more legitimate in the eyes of the people. Daenerys faces rebellion upon conquering Meereen and the streets are plagued with violence. Now in Essos, Tyrion travels to Meereen to meet her and decides to support her claim to the Iron Throne. Daenerys makes him her Hand of the Queen.
The White Walker army is coming: hordes of icy men and women once dead, but brought back to life by the Night King. Elected as the new Lord Commander of the Watch, Jon attempts to unite the Wildlings and the brothers of the Watch in preparation to fight the inevitable attack from the White Walkers. Not every man is so accepting of such an endeavour; they conspire in secret and shortly after, Jon is murdered.
Sansa and Theon were able to escape Ramsay’s clutches. While Theon returns home, Sansa journeys to Castle Black with the help of Brienne of Tarth and Poderick Payne, a lady knight and her squire who have sworn allegiance to protect Sansa. Jon is resurrected by Melisandre, a Red Woman in possession of divine powers. Jon and Sansa are reunited at last and together they plan an attack against Ramsay, dubbed The Battle of the Bastards. Jon emerges victorious, but not before Ramsay murders his little brother Rickon who he had been holding captive in the dungeons of Winterfell.
In the capital, Cersei launches an attack against the High Sparrow, and Margaery’s family. She blows up the Great Sept where all of them are gathered. Hearing of Margaery’s death, her son Tommen kills himself and Cersei officially ascends to the throne as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Bran Stark, who ventured beyond the Wall and gained prophetical powers of the Three-Eyed Raven, a powerful magical force, learns through past visions that Jon is not really Ned Stark’s bastard; he is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, the prince who was meant to rule Westeros after the Mad King. Across the sea, Daenerys is kidnapped by the Dothraki. She escapes, killing the other Khals by setting the region on fire. As a result, she takes command of the Dothraki people. Finally ready, she sets sail for Westeros.
Having left Braavos, Arya ventures to the Twins and murderers the entirety of House Frey, one of the noble houses who assisted in the murder of Robb during the Red Wedding. Daenerys sets herself up at Dragonstone and seeks more allies in order to attack Cersei. The Greyjoys and Martells have joined her. She summons Jon Snow to bend the knee, a gesture he is hesitant to do but eventually fulfills in exchange for her help in fighting the approaching Night King and his army.
Back at Winterfell, Sansa is presiding over affairs. Bran and Arya finally come home. We learn, during a crown-led attack on Highgarden, that Margaery’s grandmother Olenna was the true culprit behind Joffrey’s death. Littlefinger attempts to divide Sansa and Arya. However, the girls are fully aware of his treachery and together they execute him, knowing that it was his doing that set the events of the series in motion by murdering the original Hand of the King, Jon Arryn.
Jon and Daenerys try to capture a White Walker to prove to Cersei they are real. Sam, Jon’s best friend from the Watch, discovers the location of dragon glass, the only material capable of permanently killing the White Walkers. In a confrontation gone horribly wrong, one of Daenerys’ dragons is killed, and resurrected by the Night King. With this newly attained weapon, the Night King destroys a section of the Wall and invades Westeros.
What’s next? For hundreds of people, this eighth and final season marks the ends of a great era in modern television. For me, it’s bittersweet: I can hardly contain my excitement at what’s to come, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to bid farewell to a story I admire so heavily. I’ve cried (endlessly) when my favorite characters were killed, cheered on those who faced unfathomable odds, I’ve gripped at my chair and practically thrown the snacks from my lap at shocking reveals I never thought could possibly occur.
The show has won a record-breaking total of 47 Emmy awards, and has been praised by critics and fans alike. Despite its frequent depictions of nudity and violence, Game of Thrones has become known for its incredible set locations, visual effects, memorable quotations – “You know nothing, Jon Snow” – and strong female characters.
The only question that remains now is: whose side are you on? As for me, even though my top choice for the Iron Throne was killed off five seasons ago (Robb Stark would’ve made the perfect king and you know it!), I’ll be treasuring every single minute of it. “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.” Will you survive?
The final season of Game of Thrones premieres tonight, April 14th at 9pm, on HBO.
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Literature student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), but Canada. She’s deeply in love with popcorn, French fries and chicken mcnuggets. When’s she’s not chugging back on tea, you can most likely find her at the cinema or tucked away in the corner of a bookstore. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, Casino Royale and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95
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