Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Since we last visited the world of Westeros, winter has come and gone—as have all the other seasons. It’s been more than a year since “Winds of Winter” left us breathlessly reciting all the reasons it was the best finale and maybe the best episode in the show’s history. And I’d forgotten most of what happened until re-reading our review and wondering how Ser Benioff and Ser Weiss packed all that in a single episode.
Since you’re the connoisseur of outlandish fan theories, I’ll let you tackle where we might be headed, but first let’s set expectations. We’re only getting seven episodes this summer, and while some of them will be long, none of them will be directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who you dubbed Lord Sapochnik, King of the Andals, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Warden of Cameras, Maester of the Mise-en-Scène. This run of seven Sundays will be over before we know it. Of course, we no longer have storylines competing on opposite sides of the Narrow Sea, and we lost at least seven named characters that I remember: Walder Frey, Lancel Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, Tommen Baratheon, the High Sparrow, Grand Maester Pycelle, plus various ingredients of meat pie with the surname Frey (along with Lyanna in a flashback). Almost half of the 40 characters played by “main cast” and the vast majority of supporting characters, according to Wikipedia, are dead.
So the sprawling story is actually getting condensed into a handful of locales that matter. We can assume that any new characters are actually just Arya in a mask. And there’s no reason to think shit be slowing down.
As they say in that ancient American sport, the table is set. Daenerys is on her way to Westeros, and though the Iron Throne isn’t hers yet, the Hand of the Queen is readying for a family reunion. Thanks to Varys, she has two of the Seven Kingdoms already in hand. Up north, Winter Is Coming, and Jon Snow and his cousin Bran stand in the gap.
We’ve still got Olenna and the Sandsnakes with Varys. Samwell and Gilly getting their learning on in Oldtown. Cersei wearing a crown on her head and a whole lot of blood on her hands, with Jaime and Bronn coming home to The Mad Queen. Petyr Baelish being unreasonably stupid. Plus Melissandre on the loose, some Greyjoys plotting against each other, and Hot Pie making animal-shaped meat pastries somewhere, happy and warm.
I can’t wait, and I know you feel the same. So tell us about what you think we can expect from this Sunday night’s episode and the rest of Season 7?
Ser Shanerys Rygaryan, of House Outlandish Theories, reporting for duty.
First off, I want to let you know that I’ve spent the offseason developing my own personal Game of Thrones birther obsession, and I will be pursuing this agenda nonstop over the next seven weeks of glorious television. My contention is simple: Jaime Lannister is Azor Ahai, aka the Prince that was Promised, aka the Lord of Light, aka Hyrkoon the Hro, aka Yin Tar, aka Neferion, aka Eldric Shadowchaser. Put simply, he is the warrior savior of Westeros. It’s the Kingslayer—not Daenery’s Targaryen, not Jon Snow, not Bran Stark—who will become the principle hero of the war for the dawn, and who will vanquish the Others. I wish I could say this was my idea, but like everything good in this world, it originally came from Reddit. Still, I wrote about it, and I encourage all theory-lovers to check it out—you will become obsessed, just as I did, and together we can troll Internet forums demanding Jon Snow’s birth certificate.
However, I have to admit that if—sorry, when—the truth of Jaime’s secret identity is revealed, we will likely be well into season eight. So I’m getting ahead of myself. Rather than speculate about the narrative of season seven, let me ask a few questions that have been weighing on my mind. Maybe you have some insight:
This, to me, is the defining question of season seven. We will obviously be treated to a lot of Westerosi drama, especially with Dany’s imminent arrival, but I want to know more about the invaders from the north. We know they were created by the Children of the Forest in ancient times as a desperate survival play—extinction at the hands of man was the only other option—but so far, they’ve only been depicted as mindless agents of evil. That can’t last. George R.R. Martin doesn’t write in good vs. evil parables, and I don’t believe for a second that the Others are mere ice zombies hellbent on destruction and nothing else. They want something, and while death is clearly part of the master plan, there’s got to be more to it. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that the first time man “defeated” the Others, there was some kind of truce that has been unwittingly broken, inspiring this second campaign. I look forward to further revelations.
Time to don my book nerd cap: Martin’s Littlefinger is a fascinating, complex, and savvy operator, and one of the best characters around. HBO’s Littlefinger? Dude sucks. He’s sucked at least since this scene from season one, when he basically accused Cersei of incest in the most ham-fisted, let’s-get-myself-killed way possible. The Petry Baelish of the books is a master of ambition and manipulation, but a huge part of his success is that he makes himself valuable and, yes, likable to his betters. In the show, he makes arch observations and sulks in corners. In fact, the last time we saw him, he was literally sulking in a corner as Jon Snow was declared KING IN DA NORF. The end of Littlefinger has been telegraphed from a mile away, and even hinted at in trailers—he tries to get Sansa to turn on Jon Snow, he fails, someone kills him. But I hold out hope that there’s some way to salvage a bit of the genius we see from him in the book before it’s all over.
I will be SHOCKED if Cersei Lannister is not dead by the end of this season. Other than Littlefinger, I think she takes the “most likely to get merked” prize. She’s a corrupt and tactless leader, she has a penchant for losing friends, and even Jaime may be fed up with her, if you want to believe trailer symbolism. Her death is inevitable. So who’s going to bring the hammer down? Is it Jaime or Tyrion, fulfilling the Valonqar prophecy? Is it Euron Greyjoy, who seems to be pal’ing around with her? Or someone we can’t possibly guess, like Bran warging into a dragon and re-enacting the tower scene from season one, except this time instead of Jaime pushing him out, Jaime goes, “oh shit, a dragon,” and then he and Cersei get roasted?
You know who I mean: Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, Sansa Stark, Hot Pie. Just kidding, Arya Stark is the last one. These are the unkillables. Even when they get killed, they don’t actually die. But surely, knowing how GRRM took Hemingway’s “kill your darlings” advice way too literally, they can’t all make it to the end. And yet, it’s impossible to picture even one of them gone. Maybe they’ll each rule one of the seven kingdoms in a great alliance, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity. (Hot Pie would obviously become king of the Iron Islands in this scenario.)
Dude is so weird. In terms of show psychopaths, we graduated from Joffrey to Ramsay Bolton to Euron, and I think the last stage of this evolution of horror may be the worst. Also, will we get to see a real live kraken?
We are about to see Benioff & Weiss unmoored. Sure, we got into post-book plots last season, but this will be the first entire season without any book text to rely upon. Do you think they’re pissed at GRRM for writing approximately six words per day? Did they think when they started that the end of the story would have been written by the time they got to season seven? And how will they fare without Martin’s work to guide them?
—Shanerys Rygaryan, first of his name
I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish here. No one ever came to power by spouting ridiculous conspiracy theories about the origins of someone’s birth. The people of Westeros are too smart for that…
I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see the White Walkers as something else than evil, but we may see them humanized a bit. What we know of their history, one of the early Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch allied himself with the Others, marrying a sorceress with pale skin and blue eyes and sacrificing to the White Walkers. Mindless, no. Evil, unquestionably, I think. They’ve slaughtered all the peoples of the north. I can’t wait to see some of those baby White Walkers growing up.
The craftiest characters in the book, Tyrion, Varys, Littlefinger and Tywin all translated well into the TV series, except Littlefinger, who showed so much promise early on. Those Petyr/Varys scenes early on popped with intrigue, but I gradually realized I was projecting cunning onto Littlefinger because of the books, long after the TV character had earned it. Still, I wouldn’t count out Martin, Benioff and Weiss reserving a few tricks up his skinny sleeves. He’s been in it for the long play, and some of the stupid maneuvers might be more intentional that we know.
It’s got to be Jaime, even if your Azor Ahai prophesies prove as false as all gods save the Lord of Light! (Just kidding about the Red God, but I’m so very curious where the power to raise the dead comes from. That’s still one of the most intriguing parts of the story to me, especially now that Melissandre has been humbled). But I can’t see anyone else doing the deed. Kingslayer. Queenslayer. Kinslayer. And maybe Prince Who Was Promised.
I think the Stark Sisters are the most likely not to make it to the end, but I don’t think we lose either this season. I’ll say Sansa dies next, but not until Season 8. That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of death this season.
I agree that Euron is going to be this season’s Big Bad. Joffrey, Ramsey, Walder Frey: all just warm-up. Time to release the Kraken.
I think they proved themselves up to the task, finishing last season where no book had gone before. The real question is how much of a vision did Martin have to wrap this story up in a way that could serve as a guide? And what do we want from an ending? To see these characters who’ve come through so much triumph in the end? To be surprised in ways that Reddit hasn’t thought of yet? To have every god, monster and mystery satisfactorily explained? I’ll be shying away from trying to figure out what is to come and leave that to you. I’ll just enjoy the ride.
By the way, I just rewatched “Battle of the Bastards” last night and confirmed there was no television these last twelve months that eclipsed either of those last two episodes of Game of Thrones. I can’t wait for Sunday, but I don’t expect it to quite reach those heights, even if Ned Stark reappears, head in hand.
A few final questions for you: Which characters are you most excited to revisit? How do you think you’ll react when you find out Stannis is not actually dead? And can anything this season top the Hodor moment from last year? Is it possible for any single episode to match up with “The Winds of Winter”?
Me, frantically: Hey Josh! Just brainwash everyone into thinking the Others are pure evil so we don’t question the Westerosi lore!
(Cut to: Josh as a child playing in the yard, suddenly falls to the ground and goes into a trance seizure as ghost time traveling Shane watches him)
Josh: Just brainwash everyone into thinking the Others are pure evil so we don’t question the Westerosi lore! Just wash every think Others evil don’t question lore! Jus wash ev ink Oth don’t quest lore! Jash ink d’est ore! Jash dore! JOSHDOR! JOSHDOR! JOSHDOR! JOSHDOR!
Finally, you have an origin story!
To tackle your first question on characters I’m most excited to see in season 7, here’s my personal top 12. Note: I am leaving Tyrion out, because Tyrion is the King of Characters, and obviously he’s my perpetual no. 1.
12. Olenna—something is up with her and Varys, and it’s going to be awesome, though I suspect she might not have much of a role to play beyond pledging her loyalty to Dany, which has already happened.
11. Cersei—Lena Headley rules, and King’s Landing is going to be a hot mess because of Cersei, even if she does get sororicided in the end.
10. Jorah Mormont—I have a friend who won’t stop insisting Jorah is the prince who was promised, and I’m keeping him this low out of spite, even though I’m legitimately interested in what he’s up to, and whether he can beat greyscale.
9. Daenerys—I still like Dany as a TV character, but I do think she’s suffered a bit in the translation from book to TV, probably because she is constantly on her own away from everyone else we care about in Westeros. But now she’s in the mix, and I have a feeling this will be her best season yet.
8. Bronn—We have to get Bronn back, right? I refuse to believe he’s just going to live out his life as a lazy lord somewhere.
7. Jon Snow—Is the brooding king in the north going to start making intelligent decisions on a semi-consistent basis? It’s time to stop being dumb, Jon, and the Battle of the Bastards may have been your dumbest moment yet.
6. Bran—Mostly, I think Bran is going to show us a ton of shit that happened in the past through his Weirwood visions, and it’s going to answer some questions that have literally been decades in the offing.
5. Arya—We had to deal with a lot of build-up, some cool, some boring, to lead up to the Arya Assassin era. Time to start killing! Time for needle to see some serious action. I kinda want Arya to fall into a fugue and just start killing everyone she sees.
4. Varys—There is never a bad time for Varys. SOMEBODY’S GOT TO CARE ABOUT THE DAMN REALM.
3. Sansa—Sansa is about to start kicking ass.
2. The Hound—My gut tells me he’s going to be the best character in the entire season.
1. Jaime—Do I really need to explain myself? I was promised a prince!
I was too afraid to put Euron, but I’m kinda excited for him too.
As to the rest of the questions, I fully expect Stannis, Ned Stark, Catelyn, Robb, and everyone else who has died to actually be alive. Nobody has died in this show. And finally, I have no idea if we’ll get a Hodor moment, or anything that comes close to the bastard battle, but I can’t wait to see them try.
Until Sunday, Josh! Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin,
Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter. Check back Monday for their review of the season seven premier.