Here we finally are, at last, on the very cusp of the final season of Game of Thrones. In just six more episodes, we will know if Jon and Daenerys defeat the Night King, if Cersei is dethroned, and who, ultimately, gets to rule Westeros if she is. There's going to be blood! Betrayals! Prophesies! Magic! And, if we're lucky, war elephants.
Here are 19 questions I have going into the final season (and here are 23 more that Lili Loufborrow had after the end of season seven).
1. Will we learn any more about what kind of leader Daenerys might be?
Daenerys Targaryan wants to "break the wheel" and dismantle the ruling class of Westeros, which sounds good except that her natural inclination toward achieving her goals seems to be "mercilessly burning people to death."
There have been quite a few disturbing hints that Daenerys might have a streak of the tyrannical madness of her father, including her execution of the Tarlys, her crucifixion of the masters of Essos, her impulse to storm King's Landing (which would have resulted in innocent people dying), and her disastrous test-run in governance in Meereen.
And, as we've wondered before, there's the whole mystery about what exactly her dragons have been eating this whole time ...
2. How are Jon and Daenerys going to react when they learn they're related?
Season eight closed by confirming rumors that Jon Snow is Daenerys' nephew and, therefore, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. I tend to think the taboo is going to be a fairly minor issue: The Targaryans were famously incestuous, and the show has made a big deal about un-villifying relations between family members with Jaime's weird "we don't choose whom we love" speech to his daughter.
The bigger deal for Jon and Daenerys is the line of succession. Daenerys has spent her whole life believing she and her brother were the only surviving Targaryans; after Viserys' death, she thinks she became the princess who was promised. How will she react when confronted with what appears to be evidence that she was wrong?
3. Has Game of Thrones utterly given up on realistic geography?
Game of Thrones has thrown its hands up when it comes to respecting the geography of the continent of Westeros — characters have been traveling thousands of miles in, seemingly, one afternoon for several seasons now. Will there be more flagrant violations of the time-space continuum this season?
4. Does it matter that the Starks are getting too powerful?
With Arya now able to assume the appearance of anyone she kills and Bran having evolved into the Three-Eyed Raven, the youngest surviving Stark children have become so powerful that they threaten to break the narrative entirely.
If Arya can look like anyone she's killed, for instance, it becomes very hard to trust anything. Anyone at any moment could actually be Arya, giving some credence to even the most ridiculous theories like that she's wandering around as Cersei's handmaid. It makes the obstacle of killing Cersei seem obnoxiously easy and therefore uninteresting. Couldn't Arya just kill people increasingly close to Cersei until she can murder the unsuspecting queen herself?
The same goes for Bran, who, it is suggested, can actually affect the past. Can he go back and stop the formation of the Night King with his greensight? Or, alternatively, could he just warg into the Night King and force him to commit seppuku with dragonglass? Perhaps most concerning of all, will Game of Thrones be able to avoid such cheap tricks — and still be able to explain why the characters didn't try them?
5. Speaking of which, is Bran going to warg into a dragon?
Because that would rule.
6. Whose gods will win?
Throughout the past seven seasons of Game of Thrones, we've been introduced to devotees of various religions. But do the gods of dueling religions co-exist?
There's a pretty good case to be made that the Old Gods, worshipped in the North, have some sort of power over the affairs of man. Bran's development into the Three-Eyed Raven has been directly tied to the heart trees, which are used by Northerners to get closer to the Old Gods. The Old Gods are likewise worshipped by the Children of the Forest, who turned out to be real. Ergo ...
More mysterious is the Lord of Light, who is apparently responsible for resurrecting Jon Snow as well as for giving Melisandre the glamour to appear young. There is also the fact that Lord Varys, a nonbeliever, heard a voice in the flames when he was castrated, and the Hound, also an atheist, correctly sees the army of the dead approaching the Wall when he looks into the fire.
On the other hand, maybe Sansa is onto something when she says she doesn't pray anymore — and none of them are real.
7. Will Gendry get a personality?
The only surviving bastard son of Robert Baratheon disappeared for three entire seasons only to abruptly reappear with a pretty good claim to the Iron Throne. Complicating matters is the "Gendry birther theory," which suggests Gendry is actually the son of Robert Baratheon and Cersei. Way back in season one, Cersei told Catelyn Stark that she gave birth to a "black-haired beauty" who died, while Gendry recalls having a mother with yellow hair who would sometimes visit him in Flea Bottom before she died. As we know by now, people who we're told are dead in Game of Thrones often aren't.
There's only one problem: Gendry has absolutely no character. He's about as interesting as a bowl of Flea Bottom brown. Even if Gendry isn't going to be king, he deserves at least a semblance of a personality, especially since he presumably reappeared, after all this time, for a purpose.
And no, having a battle hammer is not a personalty.
8. Are there lady dragons out there somewhere?
Will we ever learn where Daenerys' dragon eggs came from? More importantly, are there more of them? Are there female dragons anywhere in the realm, or are Drogon and Rhaegal really the end of the line?
9. Will the show be able to justify its inflated runtime?
The final three episodes of Game of Thrones are slated to be over an hour long, pushing the show dangerously into "movie runtime" territory. While that might be epic, it could also be ... really boring?
The episode I'm most nervous about is the hour-long Battle of Winterfell in episode three, which will pit the forces of the living against the forces of the dead. The episode is already historic for having "the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film," and EW reports that it took 750 people some 11 weeks of night shoots to create. That's all well and good, but even Lord of the Rings' Siege of Helm's Deep — the previous record-holder for the longest battle on film, at 40 minutes — could get dull. Look, I'm gonna say it: Relentless battle just isn't that interesting.
Still, the episode is in good hands, with Miguel Sapochnik directing. He also did "Battle of the Bastards" and "Hardhome," two of the best episodes on the show to date. Let's hope he doesn't lose his momentum here.
10. Are we going to get to see war elephants?
While the upcoming Battle of Winterfell has gotten the most attention, it will be far from the only major fight in season eight — keep in mind that Theon Greyjoy is on his way back to the Iron Islands to take on Euron and free his sister, while Cersei has revealed to Jaime that she has no intention of joining forces with the Dragon Queen to fight the army of the dead. The battle I'm personally most excited for is the one involving Cersei's hired mercenaries, the Golden Company. "Highgarden bought us the most powerful army in Essos, the Golden Company," Cersei revealed to Jaime just before season seven ended. "Twenty-thousand men, horses, elephants, I believe." Excuse me, war elephants? I love the elephantine mûmakil used in the Return of the King, so I can't wait to see what this means for Cersei. That being said, Drogon would make pretty short work of an elephant.
11. Is there going to be a dragon fire beam-of-war?
A "beam-of-war" is what TV Tropes calls that overused cliché when two equally-matched opponents shoot beams at each that go back and forth in a kind of tug-o-war (apparently it's also based on bunk science. The more you know!). My question is: Will Drogon and Viserion recreate the battle between Pyro and Iceman in X-Men: The Last Stand?
12. Who's actually pregnant?
Daenerys' belief that she can't have children is called into question by Jon Snow in season eight when he points out that the witch who murdered Khal Drogo "might not have been a reliable source of information" on the matter. That seems like some pretty obvious foreshadowing. Is Daenerys going to get knocked up and solve that whole thorny issue of succession this season?
Additionally, there is a whole lot of speculation over if Cersei is actually pregnant. I happen to believe that something is going on — we've caught her suspiciously whispering to Qyburn about her health, and maybe he assisted in helping her conceive in some mad scientist sort of way. If Cersei's baby survives, though, is a whole other question.
13. Fine, I'll bite: Is Bran the Night King?
One theory that's been around basically forever, but been gaining momentum this off-season, is that Bran is actually the Night King.
The short version of the explanation is that Bran goes back in time to try to stop the Night King by warging into him, but accidentally gets trapped in the Night King's body. Other fans have attempted to debunk the theory, which is both completely outlandish but also exactly the kind of trick Game of Thrones might pull.
14. Will any of the prophecies mean anything?
It remains unclear how much we can trust the prophecies in Game of Thrones. To start, there is the one the witch Maggy the Frog made when she predicted Cersei would have three children, all of whom would die. That much had come true. But the witch also made another proclamation — that Cersei would be cast down by a queen who is "younger" and "more beautiful," and so far that hasn't happened. It seems like the younger and more beautiful queen must almost certainly be Daenerys, although Sansa and Yara Greyjoy are also contenders. Maggy's additional prediction in the books that Cersei will be strangled by a "little brother" has been excluded from the show, leaving some question as to how (or if) she will die.
Then there is the ancient Westerosi prophesy that the prince or princess "who was promised" will return to save Westeros; the red priestess Melisandre believed the savior to be Stannis Baratheon, although she was proven wrong.
Finally, Melisandre tells Lord Varys that they both will die in Westeros, suggesting we will see her prediction come true in season eight ... at least if there's any stock we can put in prophecies.
15. Will Jaime be redeemed?
The Kingslayer has been on a seasons-long redemption arc, going from being Cersei's closest ally to, by the end of season seven, perhaps her newest enemy. His vow to "fight for the living" as well as his friendship with the woman knight Brienne of Tarth seems to suggest that he could be one of season eight's heroes.
16. Which beloved characters are going to die?
Dead Gilly? Dead Arya? Dead Podrick? Grab a box of tissues, someone you love is going to die.
17. Who will be sitting on the Iron Throne when the credits roll for the last time?
There are at least six characters that I count as having convincing claims to the Iron Throne, but there is always the chance that Game of Thrones is going to ignore all of that "rightful heir" stuff and show that raw power is what really wins kingdoms (shout-out to Team Queen Sansa).
18. What does a "bittersweet" ending mean, exactly?
One has to imagine that the nondisclosure agreements for the final season of Game of Thrones are insane, but author George R.R. Martin has let slip that he doesn't believe in fairytale endings. "People ask me how Game of Thrones is gonna end, and I'm not gonna tell them … but I always say to expect something bittersweet in the end," he told students at Northwestern back in 2015. "You can't just fulfill a quest and then pretend life is perfect." What would make the ending of this story be described as "bittersweet"? There are a lot of possibilities.
19. What sort of cliffhanger is the show going to end with?
Think everything is going to tie up nicely and we're all going to be able to sleep at night when this is all over? Think again.
Game of Thrones is an enormous cultural phenomenon, and I expect the franchise to be milked for all that it's worth. That means ending Game of Thrones in a way that encourages fans to stay hooked and excited for what's coming down the pipeline. There are already, reportedly, five different prequel scripts out there, and casting is underway for one of them, which has the working title The Long Night. And while there are no Game of Thrones movie rumors yet, there is always the chance we see the show get the Downton Abbey treatment in a few years.
The bad news for us: That means leaving some of the many mysteries of Westeros unsolved.