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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: If We Haven’t Seen Your Corpse, Are You Really Dead?

What do we say to death, friends? Not today! In the land of ice and fire, demise isn’t always final. So could any presumed but not inarguably dead characters follow in the footsteps of their returned forebearers to grace our screens anew in Season 8?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 41 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.


The Loose End

Game of Thrones has earned its reputation as a bloody, unpredictable show that frequently kills off main characters at a moment’s notice. We all remember Ned’s beheading, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Khal Drogo’s death, Renly’s death, Tywin’s death, and the Mountain turning Oberyn’s head into a scramble. Characters die often on Thrones, even—sometimes especially—when their character arcs are unresolved and their plans remain in motion.

Yet Thrones has also shown that death is not always a permanent condition in Westeros. Most famously, of course, Jon Snow’s death proved temporary, but he was far from the first character to miraculously re-join the ranks of the living. Beric Dondarrion has come back to life six times, and the Mountain moved again after a season spent in Qyburn’s lab. In the books, one other main character is resurrected as well.

And still other characters were thought to be dead, only to reappear at later moments. Benjen was presumed dead after going missing beyond the Wall in Season 1, but then he turned up to save Bran and Meera from an army of wights in Season 6. Sure, Benjen was a little worse for wear, with pockmarks scarring his face and the dragonglass dagger the Children of the Forest stuck into his chest tethering him to life—but he was alive nonetheless. In Season 4, meanwhile, the Hound appeared to be mortally wounded following one-on-one combat with Brienne, and Arya left him to die, denying him a mercy killing. Yet Sandor returned two seasons later, having healed with a small religious order that saved him and took him in. Crucially, we never saw Benjen or the Hound’s corpses, which kept alive the possibility that the characters were, well, alive.

Given that precedent, which other characters who supposedly died, but for whom we never saw a body or other definitive evidence of permanent death, could return in Thrones’ closing run?

Why This Loose End Matters

We’re talking about long-missing characters returning after being presumed dead! The right person reappearing at a crucial time could have massive consequences—good or bad.

How Season 8 Could Address It

Season 8 represents Thrones’ chance to go out with a bang, and there are bound to be some unexpected twists and turns. Grab your tinfoil hat and let’s stretch the bounds of plausibility to see which long-lost characters could return in the final six episodes:

Syrio Forel

Arya’s dancing master was supposedly killed in Season 1 by Meryn Trant after Robert died and Ned was imprisoned. Despite being armed with nothing but a wooden sword, Syrio was skilled enough to quickly fend off four Lannister men before going one-on-one with Meryn. He buys Arya enough time to escape to Flea Bottom—if it weren’t for Syrio, Arya would have been held captive in King’s Landing alongside Sansa.

The outcome of Syrio’s duel with Meryn happens off screen, but the last shots of him paint a bleak picture of his chances. Syrio’s wooden sword breaks, seemingly leaving him defenseless against the armed and armored Kingsguard knight in front of him. Arya couldn’t stick around to see the conclusion and had to run.

Syrio said that he never runs, so he either defeated Meryn with a broken stick, or was killed. We know he didn’t kill Meryn, who appears in later scenes and never indicates that he lost this fight. Arya assumes that Syrio died and tells the Hound in Season 4 that her teacher perished. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed this when in 2016 they told Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, that Syrio is unequivocally dead. But thanks to Syrio’s teachings, what do we say to death?

NOT.

TODAY.

Could Syrio have beaten Meryn even without a fully intact weapon? The former First Sword of Braavos is an expert fighter, while some of Westeros’s other skilled swordsmen frequently mock Meryn’s skills. When Barristan Selmy is stripped of his role as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, he says cutting through the other five present Kingsguard knights—including Meryn—would be as easy as “carving a cake.” Bronn says to Meryn’s face that he’s “a grub in fancy armor who’s better beating little girls than fighting men,” and Sandor exclaims that “any boy whore with a sword could beat three Meryn Trants.”

Syrio didn’t have a sword, but he had to beat only one Meryn Trant. Given that Syrio was specifically shown to be quick and agile, which are traits that should make him difficult to cut down, it’s possible that Syrio evaded Meryn and escaped.

But where would he have gone? It’s worth noting that Syrio is from Braavos—the same city Arya travels to when she wants to become a Faceless Man. Syrio says that the only true god is death, which mirrors the sentiment of Thrones’ other prominent Braavosi: Jaqen H’ghar.

Could Syrio and Jaqen actually be the same person? This theory gets pretty tinfoil-y, but it could explain another loose end of the series, which is how Jaqen—a Faceless Man and skilled assassin—somehow ended up in a cage headed toward the Wall among the Night’s Watch recruits Yoren collects from King’s Landing at the end of Season 1. Perhaps Syrio’s safest escape route was one that put him temporarily behind bars, and when he happened to cross paths with Arya again, he stuck around to oversee his former protégé.

The hole in that theory: If Jaqen is also Syrio, why didn’t he reveal that fact to Arya when the two met up again in Braavos and began Arya’s Faceless Man training? Syrio’s eccentric personality also contrasts heavily with Jaqen’s dry temperament (“a man has patrol duty!”), so if Syrio = Jaqen is true, then Arya’s dancing master changed more than just his face.

While we can doubt the personality matches of those two characters, we can’t doubt that Syrio is a truly skilled fighter, while Meryn Trant is a pompous loser. Syrio may indeed have died at Meryn’s hands; as the Hound notes in Season 4, Meryn had armor and “a big fucking sword,” two things Syrio lacked. But no one should be surprised if he pops back up in Season 8 to water dance with the dead.

Stannis Baratheon

Brienne appeared to cut Stannis’s head off in Season 5 when she found him in the woods, badly injured after his unsuccessful battle against the Boltons. But we only see the sword fly down—the screen cut to black before we see the sword touch Stannis, or his head hit the ground.

I’d dismiss the idea that Stannis could still be alive if it weren’t for his final words: “Do your duty.”

Brienne is the most loyal and honor-bound character we’ve seen since Ned Stark, and she drones on and on about the vow she swore to Catelyn Stark. She treks up and down the continent for three seasons looking for Catelyn’s daughters. She names the sword she carries Oathkeeper. Brienne is all about duty, and Stannis is referring to the duty she has to Renly as a former member of his Kingsguard. Brienne was sworn to protect and obey Renly, like all Kingsguard knights, but the Kingsguard isn’t sworn to seek revenge. Brienne definitely wants vengeance, but her current and overriding duty is to protect Sansa and Arya.

Brienne is supposed to be waiting for Sansa to light a candle to signal that she needs rescue. But Brienne leaves her post, and strands Sansa:

HBO

Is it possible that Brienne, upon being told straight to her face that she needs to honor her vows, remembered what her duty actually is and returned to it? Brienne swings a sword, sure. But we don’t actually see her lop off Stannis’s head.

Brienne later tells Melisandre and Davos that she killed Stannis, which seemingly confirms his fate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she delivered a fatal blow. Perhaps she thought that leaving him in the woods, injured and bleeding, would be enough to kill him the same way Arya believed she’d left the Hound to die.

But if Stannis is alive, what’s he been doing all this time? The Lord of Dragonstone burned his daughter alive in sacrifice, then lost his wife to suicide, Melisandre to abandonment, and all of his men in a hopeless final battle anyway. He was at the end of his character arc.

Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully

After narrowly escaping the Red Wedding thanks to a timely intrusion from his bladder, Uncle Brynden next appears in Season 6, when he’s holding Riverrun while it’s under siege from the Freys and Lannisters. Brynden refuses to surrender the castle, so Jaime comes up with a new plan. He sends his prisoner Edmure to the gates, and the Riverrun soldiers let their lord in despite the Blackfish’s protest. Edmure orders the Tully men to drop their weapons, lower the drawbridge, and surrender. He also orders his men to find the Blackfish, put him in chains, and hand him over to the Freys.

As the Lannister men march in, Brynden finds Brienne and Pod, who were previously sent to Riverrun to try to bring the Tully troops to Winterfell for Sansa. He sets Brienne and Pod up with a boat so the two can make their escape, but refuses to join them.

“I’ve run before, in the Red Wedding,” he tells Brienne. “I’m not running again.”

The Blackfish draws his sword before leaving Brienne, saying he’ll make “a damn fool of himself.” In the next scene, a Lannister guard reports to Jaime that they found the Blackfish, but that he died fighting.

In the books, the Blackfish does run, fleeing the castle after Edmure surrenders it by swimming down the Trident River, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

It’s possible that the Blackfish did something similar in the show, and that the Lannister men simply lied to Jaime to save face after they couldn’t find Brynden. But that seems unlikely—why would he have jumped into the cold waters when he could have simply hitched a ride with Brienne and Pod?

Perhaps the Blackfish did go to fight, but when the battle proved impossible, fled. Could you blame the Blackfish if he didn’t want to pointlessly sacrifice himself to be butchered by the Lannisters?

Tyene Sand

In Season 7, Euron brought Tyene and her mother, Ellaria, to Cersei as a gift. Cersei wanted revenge for the death of her daughter, and decided to give Tyene the same poison Ellaria gave Myrcella, administered by the same method: with a kiss. Then she locks the two in a dungeon together so Ellaria can watch her daughter die and rot. If you come at the Queen, you best not miss!

The camera never returns to the dungeon, which is probably for the best—no one needs to see Tyene’s decaying corpse. But that makes her a candidate to come back this season, since her death has never been confirmed.

Still, a return for Tyene seems unlikely. The show seemed to be ready to clean its hands of the Dornish plotline in Season 7, killing off Obara and Nymeria Sand during Euron’s raid in the second episode. Ellaria is presumably still alive in the dungeon, but it’s hard to think there is any way the poison didn’t work on her daughter. So while we could see Ellaria again in Season 8 if someone rescues her from King’s Landing, Cersei would never have allowed Tyene to live.

Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Doreah

All the way back in Season 2, Xaro and Doreah schemed to betray Daenerys while the Mother of Dragons was staying in Qarth. They stole her dragons and gave them to Pyat Pree and the warlocks at the House of the Undying in an attempt to make Xaro the King of Qarth. After Dany killed the warlocks and recovered her dragons, she imprisoned Xaro and Doreah in his vault, which was supposed to be filled with treasure … but was actually empty.

Daenerys took the only known key to the vault with her, and Xaro and Doreah couldn’t have lasted long on the inside. But if Xaro lied about what was inside the vault, he could have lied about how to open it—or whether there are any secret passageways on the inside. It’s not like Dany or her crew did a thorough check of the interior before they closed the door.

In the books, Xaro never betrays Dany, and thus is never imprisoned and is still alive in Qarth (though he hasn’t been heard from in quite some time), while Doreah died in the Red Waste, before Dany’s khalasar reached the city. It’s possible that both are still alive in the show, plotting a revenge on the khaleesi who—oh, who are we kidding. There is no way the show is returning to Xaro just so he can drone on about how he built himself up from nothing for the hundredth time. He’s like Thrones’ Howard Schultz—no one cares!

The Waif

When Arya and the Waif battle in Season 6, Arya wins by cutting the lights and beating the Waif in blind combat—just the way our favorite Stark assassin had been trained to. In the very next scene, we see the Waif’s face hanging in House of Black and White. But are we really sure that face belonged to the Waif? It looks like it could be anyone’s.

There’s a theory that the Waif actually defeated Arya in the off-screen fight, and stole her face to travel to Westeros. But if that’s true, it’s unclear why the Waif, posing as Arya, would bother to hunt down Walder Frey in the season finale. And in Season 7, Arya’s long-lost wolf Nymeria recognized her when she was traveling through the Riverlands—the direwolf would have immediately sniffed out whether Arya was an imposter.

The only other explanation: Both Arya and the Waif lived. Maybe after Arya cut that candle, she and the Waif talked out their differences, and realized that they had more in common than they thought; that the real Many-Faced God is the friends they made along the way.

Olenna Tyrell

Olenna drinks the poison Jaime brings for her, but we never see her actually die from it. That said, she uses her last words to inform Jaime that she murdered his son Joffrey, and the Kingslayer seems pretty upset about it. Cersei wanted Olenna’s death to be painful and savage (because of course), so Jaime’s poison is mercy. Based on the way he stormed out of the room after learning of Olenna’s betrayal, it’s unlikely that mercy would have extended to letting the Queen of Thorns live.

Robert Baratheon

Though King Robert complains in his final hours that he stinks of death—a smell he would know well—his death happens offscreen. Throughout his seven episodes, the King constantly told Ned how he hated being King, and missed the days where he could run around the seven kingdoms without having to rule them. Perhaps he faked his death, assumed a new identity, snuck out of King’s Landing, and lived the happily-ever-after he had come to crave.

On the other hand, if the King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm dies and his body just goes missing, there would be a lot of questions around King’s Landing. I’d love to see Robert smash in the Night King’s pointy head with his hammer as much as anyone, but he is definitely dead. At least his bastard son Gendry is swinging a hammer in his stead.

Ser Pounce

In February, Thrones showrunner David Benioff said that Ser Pounce, Tommen’s cat, had been killed offscreen, and told Entertainment Weekly that “Cersei hated the name ‘Ser Pounce’ so much she could not allow him to survive. So she came up with her most diabolical [execution]. Ser Pounce’s death was so horrible, we couldn’t even put it on the air.”

I call bullshit. This is clearly misdirection, much like everyone involved in the show had to lie through their teeth about Jon’s being permanently dead between Season 5 and Season 6. Ser Pounce lives!

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.