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What Will Happen in the Battle of Winterfell on ‘Game of Thrones’?

The crypts are probably not that safe, everybody

HBO/Ringer illustration

Get to the crypts, because the dead are finally here. This weekend, the assembled forces of the living will finally confront the Night King’s army with some hope of finishing with something better than a no-decision. But all the dragonglass and Valyrian steel in the world won’t be able to make the Battle of Winterfell go off without a hitch. What surprises are coming? Ringer staffers have some guesses.


The Unsullied Are Going to Prove Their Worth As Soldiers

Zach Kram: Immediately after Daenerys recruited the Unsullied back in Season 3, her new troops scored a win, massacring the masters in Astapor to start Dany’s campaign as the Breaker of Chains. But since that moment, they have done little to live up to their reputation. This problem is one of deployment, though: In Meereen, they were frequently bested by the Sons of the Harpy because the Unsullied are suited best as soldiers, not policemen, and at Casterly Rock, they won the Lannister family home but only by overwhelming an intentionally weakened defense.

At Winterfell, they finally will fight in a familiar formation, and they will receive the opportunity to shine. The Unsullied’s most famous act was their defense of Qohor centuries ago, when a group of 3,000 repelled a 50,000-strong Dothraki khalasar in front of the city gates. Now, Dany’s Unsullied should occupy the main defensive line in front of Winterfell, where they will be severely outnumbered yet tasked with preventing the castle from being overrun.

Grey Worm is going to die. That much was clear the moment he and Missandei began discussing their far-off future plans last episode (and when Nathalie Emmanuel teased the possibility further on Twitter). But before he does, he and his men can prove their mettle with their first real chance under Daenerys’s banner.

This Battle Won’t Be Decisive

Michael Baumann: The good guys in Game of Thrones, last seen erecting defensive fortifications outside Winterfell, have two enemies to dispatch in the season’s final four episodes: The army of the dead to the north and the Lannister army to the south. The former is an unprecedented existential threat to humanity, while the latter is a collection of mercenaries protecting a queen who’s on the verge of losing not only her noodle but what remains of her popular support. Defeating the Night King and then Cersei, in that order, feels narratively unsatisfying for three reasons. First, Game of Thrones is about the struggle not among the living for power, but between the living and the dead—this much has been made clear since the show’s very first scene. Second, it’d be weird to defeat the big bad in Episode 3, then turn around and go after the lesser evil in Episode 6. It’d be a letdown. Third, Cersei taking the Night King’s invasion as an opportunity to shrug off a rival is immense hubris, and it’d be a gigantic dropped plank for her not to be punished for that hubris in the form of a direct confrontation with the Night King.

So I think we see Jon and Daenerys’s army take a body blow, but someone gets Bran out of the godswood and takes him south. The Night King breaks off the battle, fights Cersei’s army, and then Jon and Daenerys’s army follows them south for a truly decisive battle later in the series. Maybe Cersei escapes so we can get the climactic West Side Story–style Jaime kills Cersei, Bronn shoots Jaime, Tyrion kills Bronn ending. I just can’t imagine the Night King being taken off the board this early.

Beric Dondarrion Will Die Two More Times

Ben Lindbergh: With several significant characters almost certain to suffer death by undead this Sunday, the question we’re all wondering shouldn’t just be “Who’s going to die?” but “Who’s going to die twice?” The obnoxious thing about battling White Walkers is their tendency to turn fallen comrades into resurrected adversaries, which not only creates reinforcements for the enemy but is also a heck of a way to wage psychological warfare. The only battlefield bummer bigger than losing a friend is being forced to fight that same friend as his corpse tries to tear you apart. There’s no way we’re getting out of this episode without one of our heroes coming back to some semblance of life and needing to be burned or decapitated by an anguished erstwhile ally.

If someone has to die and be brought back, it might as well be Beric. The leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners is recognizable enough for his final downfall to feel like a real loss but also expendable enough to exit stage wight without disrupting the rest of the story. Plus, he’s already perished six times, so he’s had plenty of practice. With Thoros gone, Beric is technically on his last life, but the Lord of Wight could pick up where the Lord of Light left off. The Energizer Beric is overdue to run down. Two more deaths should do it.

Tormund Does Something Romantic on the Battlefield Before He and Brienne Both Die

Alyssa Bereznak: “The big woman still here?” Tormund asked, mere moments after his return to Winterfell. Yes, last we left her, Brienne of Tarth was alive and well, defending her dear friend, Jaime, and politely averting her eyes while Tormund bragged that he once suckled the teet of a giant. But let’s be real: Brienne’s impromptu knighting ceremony wasn’t just a way to spotlight a beloved character and hardworking warrior. It was an obvious goodbye. From both a practical and narrative standpoint, Brienne’s death is imminent. For one, she’s volunteered to fight on the front lines in the battle against the White Walkers, who—MAY I REMIND YOU—have an ice dragon and thousands of terrible, lemminglike sword-wielding skeletons that even a skilled warrior such as her cannot overcome. But also, she doesn’t have much else to accomplish. Brienne vowed to kill Stannis and protect the Starks. She did both of those things, and along the way, also taught a notorious kingslayer how to be a respectable person. What more does she have to stick around for?

While we’re talking life purposes, let’s take a moment to meditate on Tormund. Does he want to kill the White Walkers and save the human race? Sure. But, more than that, his mind is occupied by “the big woman.” If Brienne is going down, he is too. And knowing Tormund, he’s going to try to win her heart until the very end by hacking through wights in increasingly showy, maybe even romantic ways. I mean, as romantic as hacking through the fleshless bodies of the dead can be. (Call it Battle Flirting, if you’d like.) And eventually, as the onslaught becomes overwhelming, he will do something heroic and sweet but also very, very deadly. He will die trying to impress and/or save Brienne. Then Brienne will die a few minutes later, because at least some beloved characters have to die in this battle in order for us to believe it. It’s going to be sweet and sad at the same time. And no, I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Theon Dies and Botches His Job

Dan Devine: In a last-ditch attempt to save Bran after the Ironborn’s protective efforts go bust against an onslaught of wights, Theon hustles everybody’s favorite awkward teen into the crypts through the secret passageways Maester Luwin put him up on during the Sack of Winterfell ... which is how the cold-forearm-mark-seeking Night King makes his way into the crypts ... which is how the Kings of Winter join the road team and everything goes shithouse.

Maybe Benioff and Weiss found a way to make Theon a hero in his final act. It’d make more sense in the context of this show, though, if the guy who’s spent the last seven seasons either stepping on his dick or losing it finds one more way to make things worse, despite his best intentions.

Yeah, No, Seriously. Theon is Definitely Going to Die.

Andrew Gruttadaro: The second Sansa Stark jumped into Theon’s arms—welcoming him back to Winterfell, the place he had shamefully forsaken years ago—I turned to my fiancée and said, “He’s dead.” A few scenes later, Theon was pledging to stick by Bran’s side in the godswood while he awaits a confrontation with the Night King.

Our man’s story has ended. He’s gone from brother in arms to petulant usurper to child-burner to emasculated captive to traumatized survivor to finally, redemptive adoptive son. After jumping ship in the face of a confrontation with his uncle Euron, the Zumiez of Westeros, in Season 7, Theon finally took enough punches to stand up for himself and regain a shred of integrity. In the Season 8 premiere, he rescued his sister Yara, and now he’s come to fight for the Starks in Winterfell. It’s the perfect circle, Sansa’s bedroom eyes be damned. On Sunday night, the Night King will visit the godswood, and one way or another, Theon will find himself face to face with death itself. It will be one of the more moving moments of the episode, and we all realize that we cared for Theon much more than we ever wanted to admit.

Zombie Rickon Joins the Stark Family Reunion

Miles Surrey: Have you heard? The crypts are safe. Yes, the Winterfell masterminds have surmised that the best place to keep a bunch of women and children and Lord Varys from the clutches of an Ice God with the power to reanimate the dead is in a place where a bunch of dead people are chilling. This felt like a foregone conclusion, even before everyone kept beaming about how gosh-darn safe those crypts are gonna be in the last episode.

And who will be in those crypts? Ancient Starks, who could begin terrorizing the hapless people hiding down there. But seeing the skeleton of someone like Artos Stark isn’t going to elicit a huge emotional response from someone like Arya or Jon—or for us watching at home. And while the remains of Headless Ned would definitely be heartbreaking, I don’t understand how headless reanimation works in this universe (if it’s like The Walking Dead rules, he can’t come back) and whether his clothes from King’s Landing is enough of an identifier. Which is why it seems like Zombie Rickon is the safest bet to crush our spirits.

Rickon is, unfortunately, the newest addition to the crypts—and while I don’t want to get too in the weeds of body decomposition, perhaps the cooler temperatures of winter would make him recognizable. Enough so that, when Zombie Rickon emerges from the crypts with the intent of killing every living person in sight, his half-rotting visage will be enough to mortify the living Starks tragically reuniting with their little brother. (Could this be the moment that had Arya so shaken in the Season 8 trailer?) In any case, the deployment of Zombie Rickon would be devastating turn of events, especially if he’s learned to run zigzag.

RIP, Drogon

Kate Knibbs: I don’t actually have complete confidence that this will happen—I’d say it’s a much surer bet that Theon will die defending Bran, that something fucked up will happen in the crypts, or that either Grey Worm or Missandei is a goner—but I want it to happen. Dany has had her dragons as her trump card since the end of the first season. It’d be interesting to see how she manages without her main weapon.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.