The Night King is dead. The living, seemingly, will remain alive for the indefinite future. But who will lead them? And is the competition for the Iron Throne really even the most compelling story in Westeros? With three episodes of Thrones remaining, Ringer staffers picked the unresolved plotlines that they find most intriguing.
Figuring Out Whether Thrones Still Wants Bran in Its Diet
Miles Surrey: Aside from being Westeros’s most potent source of memes, Bran Stark was the person—sorry, [takes earth-shattering bong rip] the Three-Eyed Raven—who best kept the other characters’ impulses in check. Whereas Sansa and Daenerys wanted to know what would happen with the North’s independence and their claim to the Iron Throne, respectively, Bran reminded them that none of this matters if the Night King and his minions reduced the realm to an endless winter of death and despair.
But now that the Night King is defeated and our protagonists are moving on to the “Last War” against Cersei, where does this leave Bran and his visions? Is he emblematic of the show’s tendency to write off the fantasy elements of George R.R. Martin’s material in favor of geopolitical musical chairs? Does the show even care about Bran now that the White Walkers no longer pose a threat? I’d like to think Bran has a few more tricks up his sleeve; he literally contains all the knowledge of the realm, which is why the Night King targeted him first. But as Thrones reaches its fast-approaching endgame, the quicker the series has eschewed the complexity and consequences that made the initial seasons so captivating. And that’s certainly extended to Bran.
Think of it this way: When Bran peaced out in the midst of the Battle of Winterfell, lots of viewers wondered where he was warging for large swaths of time. We assumed Bran was doing something beyond getting a raven’s-eye view of the Night King; that he was devising some Galaxy Brain–level plan to save humanity. (He did gift Arya that fateful Valyrian dagger, after all.) But when the credits rolled, we knew as little about what Bran was up to as before—and that might be the best we can hope for with all things Bran going forward. At least the memes are dank.
The Golden Company’s (Lack of) Elephants
Andrew Gruttadaro: Look at the face of this woman…
… compared to the face of this woman:
You might not realize it, but that’s the same woman: Cersei Lannister, before and after she found out the Golden Company wasn’t bringing their elephants to Westeros. Her face looks so different, so much less determined, when it’s shaded by shattering disappointment.
After defeating the Night King, the army of the North—whatever’s left of it; two dragons at least—marches south, as the final three episode of Game of Thrones will presumably address the “Last War.” The elephants will not be in attendance, much to Cersei’s chagrin. I’m happy to continue to make elephant jokes, and I suspect Game of Thrones will be too, in the same way that they’ve made a point of dunking on Kit Harington’s height in Season 8. But at the same time, I wonder whether the absence of elephants is a legitimate bit of foreshadowing in regards to the Golden Company and the deal they’ve supposedly made with Cersei. Famously, the Golden Company never breaks a contract—we know this because characters say it all the time—but isn’t that exactly what they’ve done? Cersei was promised elephants; she did not receive them. And if the Golden Company is capable of breaking one element of their deal, who says they won’t break another? Who says Euron, of all people, didn’t strike a different, non-elephants-guaranteed deal with the company behind Cersei’s back?
Cersei’s going to war behind an army that’s been bargained for—but they didn’t bring their elephants, and that may be a bigger deal than we initially expected.
Kate Knibbs: Gilly’s monstrous father is dead, her horrible, undead White Walker brothers are gone, and her hostile prospective father-in-law was roasted by Daenerys. She has already had the greatest upswing in fortunes on Game of Thrones, going from an illiterate wildling in a frigid Room-type situation to the respected, well-read partner of the show’s nicest character, and now that she, Adult Sam, and Baby Sam have survived the crypts, it’s truly Gilly season. The upcoming “Last War” will certainly involve bloodshed, betrayal, and tears for big players like Jon, Tyrion, Sansa, and Dany, and I’ve decided that my most emotionally reasonable course of action is to assume something bad will happen to all of them and to shift my energy onto a less-doomed character, one who truly doesn’t care about power and who understands Westeros as an outsider, as someone who has traveled to many of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond, and who also has noble connections. I’d like the show to end with the monarchy dissolved and the common folk finally building a democracy on top of the long-promised broken wheel of power. And I hope when that happens, Gilly gets her chair in the Westerosi parliament, freeing Samwell up to stay at home and write A Song of Ice and Fire.
Dany and the Small Council
Megan Schuster: Now that our Westerosi heroes have finally ousted the show’s Magical Big Bad and are likely skipping around the godswood singing “Ding, dong, the Night King is dead,” we turn our attention to the Human Big Bad: Cersei. To defeat the self-crowned queen, Daenerys, Jon, and Co. won’t need Valyrian steel swords, or dragonglass, or special Three-Eyed-Raven insight. They just need to rely on the people who know her best—most of whom happen to be in Dany’s small council. TL;DR: UNLEASH VARYS AND TYRION.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Varys and Tyrion—unquestionably two of the show’s smartest and most well-connected characters—actually be useful. (I’m sure it’s hard to be an asset when strategizing about an undead opponent whom your “little birds” have heard about only in scary stories.) But both of these guys know Cersei probably better than anyone but Jaime, and hopefully both will be instrumental in planning her demise. Yes, there are a whole host of prophecy-related issues tied up in Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, and sure, Arya’s been saying Cersei’s name in her bedtime lullaby list for seasons upon seasons, but even if neither Varys nor Tyrion is one to actually go after Cersei himself, just seeing them back plotting in their element one last time will be enough for me.
Jaime vs. Cersei
Ben Lindbergh: As Game of Thrones enters the second half of its final season, many eyes are on the last two Targaryens, Jon and Dany, whose relationship was recently strained by the dual revelations that they’re related and, thus, that they hold conflicting claims to the Iron Throne. But that couple-come-lately shouldn’t distract us from the series’ One True Incestuous Pairing, Jaime and Cersei, who’ve been balancing illicit love and designs on ruling the Seven Kingdoms since before the first episode.
Things have been better between the Lannister twins, who had a falling-out the last time they talked. Cersei asked her brother-lover “Are you a traitor or an idiot?” and strongly suggested that the answer was “both.” Although she declared that “No one walks away from me,” Jaime did just that. Since then, Jaime has fought alongside Cersei’s enemies, and Cersei has shacked up with Euron and ordered a hit on her brother(s). At the same time, the estranged Lannister lovers are (probably) expecting! Love can be complicated.
Maybe Jaime will change allegiances and support Cersei once more, or maybe he’ll help depose her, making Maggy’s final prophecy come true and leading to a less loving repeat of a pose from the pilot.
However it ends, the last act of the lifelong and serieslong often-icky romance between two of TV’s most compelling characters is Thrones’ most must-watch element in a post–White Walker world.
Katie Baker: “Though I would treasure your friendship,” Tyrion tells the celebrated sellsword Bronn of the Blackwater in Season 1, “I’m mainly interested in your facility with murder. And if the day ever comes where you’re tempted to sell me out, remember this: Whatever the price, I’ll beat it. I like living.” Say what you will about the tenets of mercenarism, at least it’s an ethos. And dating all the way back to Season 1, Bronn of the Blackwater has made it clear that he has one guiding motivation in his life: wealth, in its various forms. Bronn wants lots of gold, and Bronn also wants some sweet, sweet real estate of which there is a vanishingly short supply, and Bronn will do/kill whatever/whomever it takes to procure both. (Is Bronn a proto-techbro?)
Which is why he’s been sent by Cersei on a mission he ostensibly can’t refuse: to murder both Lannister brothers—both of whom he has spent some significant bro-on-bro hangout/jail time with—with the same crossbow that Tyrion once used to kill his dad on the loo. With these instructions, Bronn suddenly turned into one of the most central characters and crucial lynchpins in the show’s final season: Will he do the dirty deed? Will he kill the next person to tell him that a Lannister always pays their debts? (“Don’t fucking say it,” he told Jaime once; he also once told Jaime that “Til I get what I’m owed, a dragon doesn’t get to kill you. You don’t get to kill you. Only I get to kill you!”) Will he take Cersei’s money (and/or Tyrion’s doubling of it) and run? Pre-paying an independent contractor for their work is thoughtful labor praxis, but it’s not without risk.
In a typical feel-good tale, Bronn would almost certainly find it in his feelings to overcome his greed and NOT become the Kingslayerslayer. But Game of Thrones is not typically feel-good, and what’s more, we haven’t really been shocked and saddened in a good while. Which means that in messed-up Westeros, those Lannisters actually could be goners.
Dragons Burning Down King’s Landing
Claire McNear: We know, generally, what comes next: Winterfell’s survivors will march southward, where they will face off against Cersei & (Golden) Co. for the Iron Throne. Courtesy of a pair of visions, we also know a couple specifics: First, via Bran, that a dragon will fly over King’s Landing, and second, that the Red Keep’s throne room will be reduced to ruin as either snow or (much more likely at this point) ash rains down, a prophecy we first glimpsed when Daenerys was in the House of the Undying back in Season 2. Prophecies can be wrong, certainly, and Dany has subsequently insisted, gleeful arson to the contrary, that she does not wish to be queen of the ashes—but given we know war is coming, we’re awfully likely to see a dragon in combat in the capital. And given that Cersei has yet to seem very worried about the prospect of total war—well, let’s just say ashes in the throne room don’t seem like a bad bet.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.