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Game of Thrones trailer explained: The Great War

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At the end of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, the narrative gameboard of HBO’s hit fantasy series had been radically upended. Longtime competitor-families like the brutal Boltons and the cunning Tyrells lay in ruins. Daenerys Targaryen sailed toward Westeros with her allies, while up in the ever-chillier North, the Stark remnants allied around the resurrected Jon Snow, declaring Ned Stark’s bastard as the new King of the North.

That meant trouble for Cersei Lannister, newly-crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. And that’s where we pick up in the new trailer for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, which will debut on July 16.

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“Enemies to the east,” Cersei says. “Enemies to the west. Enemies to the south. Enemies to the north.” The East brings Dany, allied with her despised brother Tyrion and the fleet controlled by Yara Greyjoy. From the West come more Greyjoys, led by their own newly-anointed king Euron. Northward lie the Starks (to say nothing of the horrors beyond the Wall that will arrive in winter.) And at the Southern tip of the continent, the Martells have entered an alliance with Olenna Tyrell and with the approaching forces under Dany’s control.

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Cersei’s in a tight spot, but she’s not concerned. “Whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it.” We see soldiers marching under the Lannisters’ golden lion sigil…

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…and we see another Lannister, Cersei’s brother, arrived home in the continent of his birth, witnessing the arrival of Dany’s dragons, much larger than the cute baby-dragons who used to get lost constantly in season 2.

HBO

Dany herself takes up residence in Dragonstone, formerly the seat of power for Stannis Baratheon, one of the show’s many wannabe Kings. Dany’s in it to win it. “I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,” she promises us. “And I will.”

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Perhaps Dany would be wise to temper her ambitions. We see a remnant of the powerful force that once held Dragonstone: Melisandre, Stannis’ chief lieutenant and spiritual guide, who promised him the throne of Westeros and left him to die alone on a chilly battlefield. Melisandre seems to be back in Dragonstone, after departing south from Winterfell last season. Has she allied herself with Dany’s forces, thereby achieving the oh-so-rare Triple Crown for alliance-shifting? (First Stannis, then Jon, now Dany… if she meets up with Euron, that’ll be a record-breaking four sovereigns!) Is Daenerys Stormborn the ruler promised by the Red God?

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Meanwhile, up North, Jon is holding court in Winterfell. Things are going great!

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Except things aren’t going great because we can’t have nice things! “Your father and brothers are gone, yet here you stand,” Littlefinger whispers to Sansa. “The last best hope against the coming storm.” It’s still unclear what Littlefinger’s endgame is here. We know how badly he wants to sit on the Iron Throne, with Sansa at his side as Queen. Is he trying to turn Sansa against her half-brother? Official bloodlines are important in Westeros, and Sansa could make a claim to being her father’s final heir.

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But then there’s Lord Baelish’s reference to “the coming storm.” Is he referring to the coming wave of White Walkers and ice-zombies from up north? Has Littlefinger developed an environmental conscience??? We see the gate of the Wall open…

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And we see an area that appears to be beyond the Wall, with some stragglers – Wildlings? – running from some unseen evil.

Which is scary, obviously, but at least none of our favorite characters are up in this frozen landscape, it would be especially sad if some long-suffering member of a ruined family was just hanging out in the middle of the frozen wilderness full of monsters…

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…AAAAHHHHH NO ARYA NO GO SOUTH IT’S SUNNY IN DORNE AND THE ONLY GOD THEY WORSHIP IS PLEASURE! Yes, Arya Stark has aimed north on her return trip to Westeros. Unclear if Arya is aiming to reunite with her remaining family members or continue her vengeance quest.

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But hey, gang, this show isn’t just about battle and political gamesmanship and monstrosities and climate change. It’s also about love! Grey Worm and Missandei look to be finally entering the “will they” stage of their long-simmering relationship…

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….BUT FORGET THAT! Yara Greyjoy is locking lips with Ellaria Sand, the grieving lover of Oberyn turned vengeful monarch of the Dornish forces. This is a classic opposites-attract type thing. She’s the overlooked seafaring badass from a family of frowning islanders, and she’s the ascendant matriarch to a family of hedonist warriors, and together they are EllYaria or GreySand or I dunno Sandjoy. See, gang, season 7’s not just about Starks and Lannisters and Targaryens. (NOTE THOUGH: It’s probably mainly about Starks and Lannisters and Targaryens.)

Anyhow, this is also a show where insanely massive battle sequences take place with increasing frequency…

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…so we see Jon Snow, flanked by Tormund Giantsbane, truly the Winter Soldier to his Captain America. They’re running from something, it’s snow. Man, I bet Kit Harington has a regular dream where Benioff & Weiss come to him and say, “Good news, this season Jon is heading to King’s Landing.” Then, in the dream, Kit Harington spends two months in Dubrovnik basking in the sun, getting tan, even buying land and opening up his own vineyard on the Peljesac peninsula, the neighborhood children call him “Papa Kit” when he goes to the beach every evening for a sunset wakeboarding sesh, and then he suddenly wakes up to a KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK on his trailer. It’s Benioff & Weiss who say, “Great news, the temperature dropped below zero last night, so you can head out to straight to the glacier for the next 36 hours.” Kit Harington’s such a pro that he doesn’t complain. But between scenes, while they’re reapplying blood makeup and pouring mud onto him, he checks Instagram. Lena posted a picture of her and Guy Who Plays The Mountain hanging out at their favorite Croatian restaurant by the water with the sunset in the background. And maybe then a single tear falls down his face — which totally adds to the performance.

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Also, the Dothraki have arrived in Westeros!

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And so have the dragons! Horselords + Dragons = Death for the Lannisters? Jon Snow promises us that “the Great War is here,” which almost certainly refers to the great defining Ice and Fire conflict – not merely Starks vs Lannisters, not even humans vs humans, but literally the battle of life versus death.

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Speaking of life and death! Let’s close on the most tantalizing shot of the trailer: A hand riddled with greyscale, emerging from what looks like a prison cell. Could this be poor noble Ser Jorah Mormont, last seen in the early stages of the debilitating disease? Dany made him promise to find a cure, but we may recall that Jorah made his own promise: That he would end his own life before becoming a greyscale-ridden stone-creature. The disease has clearly progressed since last we saw him – and given that we left Jorah an ocean apart from the rest of this trailer’s action, it will be interesting to see how he factors into season 7.

RELATED: Game of Thrones Cast: Season 7’s Faster Pace Will Stun You

For ongoing Game of Thrones coverage, follow my colleague James Hibberd on Twitter, @jameshibberd for the latest news. Subscribe to our GoT newsletter for breaking news alerts, and check out our GoT podcast.

Game of Thrones returns July 16.