Game of Thrones small council: Besides the Great War, what will happen in season 8?
During the seventh season of Game of Thrones, EW’s Darren Franich and Shirley Li have ventured into the weeds of Westeros every week to untangle the latest burning questions, ruminate over theories, and trace the show’s remaining connections to the unfinished books. Consider this EW’s small council, made of two people far too obsessed with everything Thrones. This year’s burning question: Besides the Great War, what will happen in season 8?
SHIRLEY: Darren, here’s where we stand. The Wall has fallen, and Tormund and Beric possiblywith it. (They wouldn’t give Thoros of Myr a longer send-off than the one for Mr. Giantsbane, would they?) The Army of the Dead have Flappy Bird for a dragon and blue fire as their official interpretation of what a zombie dragon would breathe. So the Great War is coming!
But… that can’t be all there is to the final six episodes, can it? A series of extended battles, one after the next, between the Night King’s forces and those of Jon and Daenerys doesn’t sound like a very interesting way for this show to go out, does it? Other than the looming showdown up North, whatever Cersei’s planning down South appears to be the biggest question mark. Not that it wasn’t logical for her to turn her back on even the most; the move felt like peak paranoid Cersei, who’s always been more interested in keeping control of her power over working for the greater good. In fact, this finale gave Cersei a far bigger spotlight than I expected it would: She got to be the star of the Dragonpit stage, the con artist in her confrontation with Tyrion, and then grit her teeth as she nearly had the Mountain take out Jaime. That’s a lot of time spent on a dead woman walking, and I can’t help but think that D&D have something larger in store for her next season.
That said, Darren, what do you think will be her next move? We spent all season underestimating her longevity, but now she’s sent Euron off to bring her the Golden Company and she’s turned her back on both of her brothers. Once she has her sellswords and her elephants (can Euron even transport them?), what will she do? March on Winterfell for, I don’t know, fun and extra resources? And could Euron bring back more than what he set out to find? I’m sure Westeros has enjoyed all the attention lavished on it this year, but maybe we should start thinking about those players in Essos again.
DARREN: The strangest achievement of this very strange season is how utterly it rescrambled my loyalties as a viewer. Next season, the remaining Starks will unite in Winterfell, and Jon’s Targaryen ancestry will come to light, and regular orange flame will mix with blue flame to create purple flame, maybe? And I would be totally happy if the season 8 premiere never leaves King’s Landing. All Hail Queen Cersei, the only strategist left in Westeros! Bring on the Golden Company! March, elephants, march! Call her a cynic, call her a villain, but at least there’s still someone on this show with the foresight to worry about tomorrow’s war today.
I guess you could criticize Cersei for a lack of foresight. The Army of the Dead will kill everyone, and therefore everyone must fight back. We’ve heard this constantly: It’s a simple moral binary. The fact that the Night King is commonly accepted as a climate-change metaphor seems to only deepen the sense of Cersei as a selfish evil. (Queen Lannister = ExxonMobil!) But George R.R. Martin constructed his original story with the thrilling amorality of actual history. And in that tradition, Cersei skipped the metaphors and did the math. She’s got two enemies, essentially unstoppable. One enemy is way up north and has an army of zombies. Another enemy is going up north and has one less dragon than she used to. Whoever wins, Cersei loses in the long-term. “Let the monsters kill each other” is her gamble, and as gambles go, I think it’s a sharp one. And I know some people will say, “BUT THE NIGHT KING HAS AN UNDEAD DRAGON WHO COULD DESTROY KING’S LANDING TOMORROW!” Good news on that front: Qyburn’s got a ballista, and there’s a certain island full of dragonglass not far from King’s Landing that is about to be vacated.
Plus, this gamble involves bringing in the Golden Company, a mercenary subculture that believes in kicking ass and conspicuous consumption. The Golden Company haven’t appeared on the show yet, but they have an intriguing role in A Dance With Dragons. In that book, they become the official muscle for a potential Iron Throne-sitter in a precarious position. Holy crap, Shirley, what if Cersei is becoming Young Griff??? If that’s the case, her next move will be to shore up her dominance of the South. Hell, since Cersei is so un-nostalgic that she left Casterly Rock empty, maybe she’ll even flee to a more defensible position, as far as possible from the Great War up north. Does it even snow in Dorne?
What do you think her next move is, Shirley? And how do you interpret the burgeoning, befuddling theory that she is somehow in cahoots with Tyrion? My hot take on That Tyrion Shot Everyone’s Talking About is that it means “nothing.” But what do I know? I thought Littlefinger had a plan!
SHIRLEY: I think what I’m struggling with when it comes to imagining an ending for all this is that I always thought it would be… bigger. That sounds like an unfair assessment to make with a show that’s managed to deliver three dragon battles in one season, but I think I had expected this to be a far more complicated game than it’s turned out to be. I’m glad you brought up Young Griff; that remains one of the plot points (aside from the Dornish conspiracy, and everything up north with Skagos and Wyman Manderly and, oof, I could go on) I wish the show had time to adapt. Young Griff scrambled the pieces on the board late in the game, because we had a whole new series of questions to contend with: Is he really the supposedly dead Aegon, whisked away by Varys to be bred into the perfect Westerosi king? Is he a Blackfyre posing as a Targaryen? What will Dany think?
In other words, I think what we lack is a proper wild card to raise the stakes further. The dead is the enemy, sure, but let’s not forget the living. Maybe in the show, that wild card will be the Golden Company, maybe it’ll be Melisandre and the red priestesses, or maybe D&D really is setting up Tyrion to be a final-act game-changer. I know you’re not into the theory that Tyrion is working with Cersei now that she’s carrying a child, but I’m going to be watching him closely whenever the next season arrives. It does make the most sense that he’s simply wary of twue wuv entering the Jon-Dany alliance, but maybe the existential crisis they’ve all been in since seeing the wight has driven him to think several dark steps ahead. If Daenerys falls, where would Tyrion go? And if Daenerys begins making rash decisions because of her love for Jon, might Tyrion go for the lesser of two mad queens? Would he and Varys jump ship? At the very least, it’s a theory I like better than the one about Tyrion possibly being in love with Daenerys.
And now, I’m going to toss out an insane theory of my own: Cersei’s next move is to die — and then be raised from the dead by Qyburn. (The camera lingered on him and that wight arm a little too long, in my opinion.) She’ll be the undead wild card. Enemies to the North, enemies to the South, but this time, it’s Jon and Dany caught in the middle, not Cersei herself.
Then again, I thought she’d die this season, so obviously I know as little as you do. But what do you think, Darren? Does it bother you as much as it does me that we’re probably heading toward a tidier ending than the one set up in the books? And what of Winterfell? With the Starks in full control but winter descending heavily onto the castle, should we be expecting them to move elsewhere next season? Bran, I imagine, will stay behind. Three Eyed Ravens have no need for warmer climates.
DARREN: If we talk too much about Young Griff then I’ll wind up talking about my poor beloved Quentyn Martell, fortune’s fool, the pointless prince, a whole subplot about the dangers of believing that the world has room for destiny. Not to linger too long in Book Stuff Most Normals Don’t Worry About, but didn’t Jon Snow kind of BECOME Quentyn Martell this season, a far-traveling royal seeking alliance (and more!) with Queen Dany? Isn’t it weird how the show suggested that, yep, there is a place in this world for attractive young lovers seeking righteous world-saving glory?
I love everything you’re saying about Tyrion and Cersei. I love the idea that Tyrion actually learned some lessons from this season: That, if nothing else, it’s good to have a back-up plan. And I love the idea that Qyburn will study the wights and come up with his own death-defeating synth-zombie formula. There’s a counter-read on the recent years of the show that Qyburn is some sort of necessary Westerosi evil, a provocative progressive scientist inventing late-Medieval technology. (His methods are unsound, but didn’t Da Vinci supposedly hire graverobbers?) Maybe I’m entering the late-nihilist phase of my Thrones fandom, but I like the idea that Tyrion and Cersei could wind up saving their family after a lifetime spent tearing it apart.
I buy that sibling drama even less than I bought this season’s Winterfell sibling drama. But what a joy, to see Sansa and Arya united, just like they were already united a few episodes ago before the raven-hacking scandal! I don’t think they’ll depart their ancestral home. Actually, I’ve always imagined that some final momentous battle with the Night King will happen at Winterfell. Such an event would unite several disparate story strands. The suggestion that the Night King is a Stark. The book-ending fact that Thrones began at Winterfell. And consider this possibility: Someone could sum up the victory against the Army of the Dead with the phrase “Winter fell at Winterfell.” I’m thrill-drunk just imagining the scene where Arya and Jon go all Legolas-and-Gimli on the Winterfell battlements. And I’m almost tearful, imagining a fled-north Jaime guarding Bran in the tower where their problems began.
How do you think the story proceeds up North next season, Shirley? What do you think the reaction to Jon’s Targaryen news will be? Will Dany and Jon even care?
And, thinking broader: What do you want to see in season 8? What will feel appropriate in a six-episode season? Do you want six one-hour movies, Marshall/Sapochnik style? Are we trending toward a climax, or a purposeful anticlimax?
SHIRLEY: I want Sapochnik, MacLaren, Bender, and Shakman (“The Spoils of War” is the best episode this season, don’t @ me) as directors. I want six movies. I want at least one huge battle episode. I want an episode told through flashbacks. I want an end to deus ex machinas. I want a Brienne-centric hour. I want to know if Ser Pounce is doing alright.
Okay, so I’m not sure what I want, really. I am hoping, however, that we won’t spend the entire season on the Great War; the Night King should perish and his army disintegrate sooner rather than later, because I don’t think the ultimate message of this series is that the living can conquer the dead.
Instead, I think we’re headed toward something surrounding faith. I like your idea of Winterfell as the final location, and not just because I gasped at the phrase “Winter fell at Winterfell” — I’m equally impressed and infuriated, Darren! — but also because the North has been established as the only kingdom where the old gods still matter to its people. The series has woven the idea of different beliefs throughout the seasons, and though you could argue it was all for world-building and not for the series’ endgame, I have a feeling something spiritually abstract could be in store in the final season. We know about the red priestesses’ Lord of Light, the Faceless Mens’ Many-Faced God, the Ironborn’s Drowned God, the North’s old god (will we ever see more Children of the Forest?), and pretty much everyone else’s Faith of the Seven, and I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of how closely religious themes in the books — oops, back to Book Stuff — has been tied to prophecies about our two leads.
After all, we’ve discussed the significance of Azor Ahai before, but to what end? Will we see Jon and/or Daenerys wield a sword/arm/thingy of fire? Will we see Jon and/or Daenerys murder the other to light it, as the story goes? Is that where we’re headed with the two of them, as the final season will have to reveal their familial connection? My point is: I think Dany and Jon will care because the plot dictates it, and because there’s something bigger at work here. Now I’m starting to think the final season will go all Battlestar Galactica and involve some wonky philosophical material that ends in — eight-year-old spoiler alert! — them beginning New Life, while one of the leads sacrifices him/her/itself by venturing into, I don’t know, the Land of Always Winter. Yeah, this isn’t making a lot of sense.
But look, the first war in Westeros ended with a pact between the Children of the Forest and the First Men at God’s Eye. (Book Stuff again, yikes.) Could the Great War end not in conflict but with another pact? Could a higher power get involved? Who knows! Earlier this season, I thought we would transcend politics, and here we are, with Cersei intact! So tell me, Darren, am I going a little nuts and thinking too broadly now? I realize I didn’t even think about what’ll happen specifically with the Starks. All I know is we’ve gotta reunite all of ‘em before it’s too late. And what are your kookiest theories for these remaining episodes?
DARREN: I am here for your wonky philoso-spiritual final act! Perhaps we are building to a meeting between envoys from all the godly abstractions: the Lord of Light speaking through Melisandre, Arya as the unsuspecting envoy for the Many-Faced God, Three-Eyed Bran representing the Northern deities, Cersei the incarnation of at least Four of the Seven (Maiden, Mother, Warrior, Stranger), and good old Theon Greyjoy representing for the Drowned God. And maybe when they meet, the ethereal sounds of “All Along the Watchtower” cascade downward through the corridors of Winterfell. And then Ygritte flies down and says she knows where Earth is!
I kid, but I don’t kid. Like the books, the show started off in a realm of near-realistic Medieval Fantasy. This season jumped all-the-way into the realm of magical monsters, but you’re right to point out how it also kept circling around the various deities worshipped by the characters. I’d love if the last sequence of episodes pushes further into the realm of Weird Fantasy. If they defeat the Night King, does that also somehow alter the curious Westerosi climate – ending winter itself, or at least resetting the seasonal schedule to something more familiar to us regular earthlings? Is THAT the New World that Dany will create after she breaks the wheel – not just a new set of Seven Kingdoms ruled by her benevolent hand, but a whole new Westeros, reshaped and terraformed by the clash of ice and fire?
I truly don’t know. Benioff & Weiss have always seemed hesitant, maybe understandably, to explore the supernatural stuff too deeply. Two people separately told Bran this season that they have no idea what the Three-Eyed Raven is. I assume that’s some teasing confession from the showrunners; and hell, it’s not like I really get it, either. My personal prediction is that the Great War will be an all-time TV smash-up, a Sapochnik-ian battle epic rife with main-character death and dragoncide. After that, we’ll have an episode – or maybe a couple episodes – of eerie, ambiguous, MacLaren-esque anticlimax, with the future of Westeros plotted in the shadows.
I haven’t thought much about the Starks’ future, but I have high hopes that Sansa remains the Lady in Winterfell: Arya kerfuffle aside, I remain enamored with her journey these last couple of seasons, and the implication that she has learned harsh lessons from awful people and come out the other side a more clever kind of Stark, as noble as her father but a much more cunning politician. I doubt Jon will wind up sitting on any throne, and I wonder if the Red God’s resurrection magic was a shorter-term fix than we realize.
My boldest and possibly dumbest theory: After the Great War comes the cold war. The tattered forces up North turn south and discover that Queen Cersei has laid claim to the other six kingdoms. And in a shocking twist, Cersei is a popular Queen: A force of order in a land that’s fallen into constant chaos ever since the death of King Robert. A détente ensues. The years flash by. We pick up with Cersei and little Tywin Lannister II in the Red Keep, some years later. Tywin 2 runs outside to pull the wings off of butterflies. Out of the shadows steps Arya, planning to cross out that one final name from her list. They’re alone in her room together, the Queen and her hopeful assassin.
“If you kill me,” Cersei says, “the country will descend into chaos.” The North and South will go to war, she tells Arya. And worse: Bannerman will turn on each other, treaties only recently signed will be forgotten. “What’s more important,” Cersei asks Arya, “your vengeance or your country?”
While Arya ponders this, and perhaps ponders the meaning of everything in her life since the day the direwolves came home, we pull away through Cersei’s window, into the sky above King’s Landing, skyrocketing upwards until we can see all of Westeros spread out beneath us. A country at peace… but maybe not for long.
Game of Thrones
HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'