There are just two episodes and approximately three hours of screen time remaining in Game of Thrones. The Last War is upon us, and a surprising number of important characters are still alive and scheming. Heading into the show’s final conflict, it is assumed that there are still some twists to come. Who, though, will destabilize the balanced war that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and Big Crossbows have created? Here are the characters (and real-life people) Ringer staffers believe will betray their sides on Sunday’s episode:
Miles Surrey: I suppose, depending on how you interpret Jaime Lannister’s elite fuccboi move with Ser Brienne of Tarth on Sunday night, the Kingslayer is either betraying his allegiances or sticking to them. For whatever reason, Jaime’s swift exit from Winterfell and sordid confession that he’s, essentially, addicted to all things Cersei makes it seem like he’s going to rejoin her side in the Last War. But given all we’ve seen from Jaime in the past two seasons, it’s more likely that he’s going to try to become the Queenslayer, fulfilling that pesky valonqar prophecy from the books. (Why couldn’t he tell Brienne straight up that he’s gonna kill Cersei? A great question for the questionable minds behind the show!)
Any intent to kill his sister-lover should place Jaime in harm’s way, especially since she’s always flanked by Zombie Mountain—who may have his own sibling reunion to reckon with. There are just two episodes remaining, so whatever Jaime cooks up is shaping up to be the character’s last stand. And it oughta be memorable. We know by now the things he’ll do for love.
Shaker Samman: In the start, there was an orphaned girl and her brother, sold off to a warlord on the edge of the world with no money, armies, or land. She had a name, yes, but not much else to show for it. Slowly (And I mean slowly. Y’all remember how much time we spent in Meereen?) she acquired all three, as well as three dragons. Rather than use that power to bulldoze a continent, she spent time learning to rule, tending to her peoples, and freeing slaves, giving viewers the sense that, in a world dictated by greed and chaos, Daenerys Targaryen—a monarch who spoke of breaking the wheel and providing salvation to those it would otherwise roll over—was the ruler best suited to lead the people of Westeros.
As she left Essos in her wake at the end of Season 6, it seemed like she’d have little trouble winning capitulation from her foes across the Narrow Sea before becoming the first worthy leader the realm would have had in years. But then the past two seasons happened. We’d seen inklings of Dany’s Mad Queen tendencies in the past, like when she fed a slave master to her dragons under Meereen’s great pyramid. Still, beginning with her flambéeing of Dickon and Randyll Tarly after the Loot Train Attack, all the way through to her menacing look at the end of “The Last of the Starks,” it’s become clearer that the flickers in her eyes aren’t merely reflections from candle light. That’s pure Targaryen fire. Daenerys might still win the Iron Throne. But she’ll turn the country—and those she pledged to serve—to ash to get it.
Also Daenerys Targaryen
Claire McNear: Daenerys has been breaking bad of late—dark glares, fiery revenge, and a lust for total power are, it seems, her new M.O. As a result, she appears to be squaring up for a showdown with lover-turned-rival Jon Snow, who, we have been repeatedly reminded, is good, noble, and would make a fine—maybe finer than Dany, if you take her less-than-loyal advisers’ word for it—ruler. At some level, Daenerys seems to recognize this, hence her jealousy of both Jon’s claim to the throne and his soldiers’ affection, and her (unheeded) pleas that he keep his heritage to himself.
I posit this: At some point very soon, Daenerys will betray ... herself. There will come some pivotal moment in the fight with Cersei’s forces when Jon’s life will be in danger, and Daenerys—who has spent her entire adult life seeking the Iron Throne, which she has always believed above everything else to be rightfully hers—will throw herself in the way of the Scorpion, or sword, or wildfire, or whatever it is, and sacrifice herself to save Jon. After a lifetime of pursuing the throne, this will be her gift to the people of Westeros: a ruler even better than she could be.
Ben Lindbergh: Remember Harry Strickland, the disconcertingly normal-named sellsword we saw for a few seconds early this season? No? Well, here he is. He may have left his elephants in Essos, but he’s about to be pretty important.
Strickland is the leader of the Golden Company, some portion of which is pictured above, looking as golden as advertised. We’ve covered the Company much more than the show has, but suffice it to say that it’s famous for not betraying people who pay for its services. That would seem to exempt the Company from the list of likely candidates, but there’s still reason to think it might turn on Cersei.
For one thing, the show hasn’t spent enough time on the Golden Company for viewers to care if it isn’t true to its word, and there’s plenty of precedent in the series for sellswords acting fickle (Bronn being the latest example). Even in the books, the typically trustworthy mercenaries make an exception to their no-betrayals policy, breaking a contract with Myr to support Young Griff’s claim to the Iron Throne. If the TV Company mirrors the book Company, then it’s composed primarily of exiles and descendants of exiles, many of whom are eager to pursue power in Westeros. If it starts looking like Cersei won’t be in a position of power, the Company may prioritize its survival over its reputation. Plus, the Iron Bank is footing the bill. If the bankers decide that supporting Cersei’s enemies is the best way to recoup their costs, the Company could technically switch sides without backstabbing its benefactors. Even Lannisters can’t pay their debts if they’re dead.
Andrew Gruttadaro: So, here’s the general theory that’s picked up steam among fans: Tyrion has been secretly playing for Cersei for a while now. All of those L’s, and all of that “Oh no we mustn’t do the most obvious thing and burn the Red Keep with our many dragons” stuff was Tyrion making decisions with his sister’s best interest in mind. He knew she wasn’t going to send the Lannister army to Winterfell; he made sure she knew that Dany and her dragons (RIP, Rhaegal) were sailing to Dragonstone. (This would also explain why Cersei didn’t riddle Tyrion’s body with arrows as he stood in front of the gates of King’s Landing in the previous episode.) Tyrion has been the mole for seasons, more tied to restoring his dignity in his family’s eyes than he’s let on, and in the coming episodes, he will continue to make decisions that diminish Dany’s chances of prevailing. Finally, when she’s dead, he will re-dye his hair blond and take up his rightful spot as the hand to the queen of the Seven Realms.
OK, now that we’ve covered that, let me just say: I’m pretty sure this is not what’s going on. If Tyrion and Cersei have a secret deal in place, Jaime doesn’t know about it, which seems off. And mere episodes ago, Cersei sent Bronn away to murder both of her brothers. The only reason this theory exists—and has so many subscribers—is because fans are desperately searching for a plausible reason for why Tyrion has suddenly become the dumbest character on the show. Unfortunately, there is no good explanation: Tyrion is not a traitor; he’s just dumb.
Benioff and Weiss
Katie Baker: It has become meta-canon that when GoT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss approached George R.R. Martin about adapting his epic tale for HBO, he asked them a few questions—including “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?”—to gauge their true engagement with and understanding of his books. “George didn’t actually say whether or not we were right or wrong,” Weiss said during a 2013 panel, “but his smile was his tell. We knew we had passed the Wonka test, at that point.” D&D may have ultimately won that lifetime supply of chocolate from the whimsical Wonka of sprawling fantasy, but lately it’s all been melting under the heat.
GRRM’s lil pop quiz suggested that, unsurprisingly, he prioritized fidelity to his Westerosi world and trusted that D&D felt the same. And they did! … (extremely Maggy the Frog voice) … for a time. It’s not totally the showrunners’ fault that the past couple of seasons of GoT have felt so different from the early seasons of the series; after all, the source material has famously dried up. Still, the showrunners have rushed to wrap up the series in an oddly speedy fashion over the past two seasons, and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly whose team these two are even on, anyway. Are they allied with the audience? With the story’s creator? With the story? They’re bigger ciphers right now than the Golden Company, though there is a key difference: Wherever they go these days, there’s definitely an elephant in the room.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.