By Shirley Li
Updated July 12, 2017 at 01:29 PM EDT
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Like the night to a red priestess, a new season of Game of Thrones can seem dark and full of terrors.

But hold the door — EW has ventured on the set of season 7, debuted sneak peeks at what’s coming next, and mined so much insight from the hit drama’s creators and cast it could fill volumes in the Citadel. (Without spoilers, of course.) Jon Snow may know nothing, but we know a fair amount about the seventh season in the Seven Kingdoms. Below, we’ve compiled all our coverage to prepare you for the watch to come.

The Great War is here…

Credit: HBO

Season 7, which debuts July 16, is about fire meeting ice (hey, remember that Facebook Live?), about the supernatural meeting the political, and ultimately about the “one war that matters,” as Jon Snow said in the very first teaser for the season. A White Walker’s blue eye loomed over the crumbling sigils in that video, and the Night King’s blue eye loomed over the three players vying for the Iron Throne (Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister) in the second teaser. The message was clear: These rivals have a mutual enemy — and that mutual enemy could care less about who’s sitting in the Red Keep when winter is here.

…and so is Daenerys.

Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen is in Westeros with everyone else, finally. The first official trailer for the season showed the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Giver of Zero F—s at Dragonstone and gazing over the Painted Table, while the second showed her tearing down the Baratheon banners hung by Stannis’ crew. She’s here to finally take the Iron Throne — which means she and the Unsullied will be clashing with Cersei and the Lannister forces very soon.

However, her presence is only one of the reasons why season 7’s stakes are as high as the Eyrie on the Mountains of the Moon. Even without the Boltons and the Tyrells in play, there are still dozens of pieces left to upend the status quo in Westeros. Bran and Meera, armed with the knowledge of Jon’s true parentage, are headed south of the Wall to Jon at Winterfell; Littlefinger has his sights set on using Sansa, also at Winterfell, to propel him to the Iron Throne, which heightens the ‘tension’ between Sansa and Jon, Kit Harington says; Euron Greyjoy will likely clash with Yara and Theon as the season’s potential trump card (because what is Ironborn may never comply); the Tyrells and the Sand Snakes have joined Daenerys’ side; and, oh right, the Night King is more than happy to destroy them all. (Read Darren Franich’s deep dive of the first trailer for a thorough breakdown.)

There are even more hints to the plot found in all the season 7 photos released so far — and if that’s not enough to feast on, then gaze at the official character posters (including this one of the Night King) and EW’s exclusive photoshoot of the Starks reunited and (gasp!) looking happy for once.

Finally, there are the episode titles for the first three episodes — “Dragonstone,” “Stormborn,” and “The Queen’s Justice” — which provide a few more hints to how this season is shaping up. These titles (or at least the first two) definitively point to Daenerys, whose Hand of the King, Tyrion, is also bracing for a potential family reunion. “He’s returning home, and returning home a new person,” actor Peter Dinklage told EW. “He’s bracing himself.” At least others on Daenerys’ team will enjoy some happiness: Nathalie Emmanuel says her character Missandei and Grey Worm will likely “confront their emotions and feelings to each other.” After all, there’s not much time left — and as writer Bryan Cogman says, eight seasons is enough for Game of Thrones — which means everyone needs to play the game or, well, die.

Expect a bigger season in every way (despite the number of episodes)…

Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have promised bigger scope, bigger battles, and bigger moments that’ll shock even the most stone-faced of fans. (Sorry, Jorah.) The stars have gotten more screen time — enough main characters have perished by the end of season 6, and the ones still living are set to converge and share scenes, so… — and the faster pace also has them stunned. The show’s longest episode ever will air in season 7. Daenerys’ dragons are now the size of 747s. Game of Thrones set the most people ever on fire for a TV production. Oh, and Ed Sheeran is a guest star. (Your mileage on that last one may vary.) In other words, this season is big — the size of Joffrey’s ego big.

…and a season of connections.

Credit: HBO

“The human collisions are every bit as powerful — in a different way — as horses running into each other,” Weiss told EW. “It’s characters running into each other that you’ve known for so long.” What collisions could he mean? For his Game of Thrones cover story leading up to season 7, EW’s own Three-Eyed Raven James Hibberd watched the filming of a scene involving Jon Snow loaded with “familiar characters” and an “unprecedented pairing of fan favorites that will cause all sorts of buzz this season.” (Plus, if Jaime actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is to be believed in his late-night interview, then Jon Snow will indeed be known as Jon Stark-Targaryen soon enough.) Sounds like Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran, chose the perfect word to tease what’s coming: “connections.”

Of course, there will be at least one new addition — Jim Broadbent will play an archmaester in five of the season’s seven episodes, with scenes opposite John Bradley’s Sam Tarly — as well as one long-awaited return, but not to the cast: Alan Taylor, who last directed episodes of Thrones (including “Baelor”) in 2012, isone of the directors listed for season 7. Notable director veterans sitting out this year include Miguel Sapochnik, who handled “Battle of the Bastards,” and David Nutter, who won an Emmy for the season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy.” Better come back next year, fellas — there will be even fewer episodes to choose from.

For ongoing Game of Thrones coverage, follow @jameshibberd for the latest (non-fake and spoiler-free) news; subscribe to our GoT newsletter for breaking news alerts, and check out our GoT podcast.

Game of Thrones is back on July 16.

Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

  • TV Show
  • 8
  • 73
  • TV-MA
  • David Benioff
  • D.B. Weiss
  • HBO
stream service