In 40 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
Let’s consult the Thrones Wiki for some updates on various seats of Westerosi power. What’s the situation in Dorne, now that the Martell line has been extinguished and Ellaria Sand is chained beneath the Red Keep? “Leaderless.” How about in the Stormlands, where there are no remaining trueborn Baratheons to rule? “Leaderless and thus in an ambiguous status and a power vacuum.” What of the Reach, which lacks both Tyrell and Tarly lines to lead? Also “in an ambiguous status and likely a power vacuum.” And finally, what’s the deal with the Riverlands, formerly commanded by the Tully and Frey houses? “In disarray and their political status ambiguous.”
The continent of Essos contains a region literally called the Disputed Lands, and that setup isn’t as perplexing as that which appears in Westeros at the moment. Which begs the question—who leads those regions at the moment, and who will lead them as the show reaches its end?
Why This Loose End Matters
It would be incredibly strange for a show that spent so many hours focusing on politics, geography, and alliances to leave so many uncertainties of that kind unresolved. While the thrust of the show’s politics has narrowed to only the North (Stark), Vale (Arryn), Iron Islands (Greyjoy), Westerlands (Lannister), and Crownlands (formerly Targaryen, presently Lannister), those other regions still exist, and presumably someone has to rule them.
Sites like Storm’s End—the ancestral seat of House Baratheon, and the castle Stannis defended under siege for a year during Robert’s Rebellion—in the Stormlands carry great tactical value as well, and could prove vital in both Dany’s fight against Cersei and the upcoming war against the Night King. The Riverlands could host the season’s climactic battle, if the first teaser trailer—which showed fire and ice meeting in the middle of the continent—is meant to be taken literally in addition to symbolically. It’s natural to wonder who’s in charge there, and in the other regions our main characters have traversed during their battles.
How Season 8 Could Address It
We know, at least, that the rulers are thinking about this kind of realpolitik in strategic terms. Early in Season 7, Jaime scoffs that Cersei is queen of “three kingdoms at best,” and he convinces Randyll Tarly to declare for Cersei by, in part, promising him the title of Warden of the South pending victory in the war. Arya also encounters a segment of the Lannister legion that has been dispatched to secure the Riverlands—though that maneuver comes before Cersei is aware that Dany has landed on western soil, and it’s unlikely she would leave that capable fighting force lingering leagues away while the regions closer to King’s Landing are under threat of invasion.
But beyond those brief references, we don’t have much to go on. Let’s check region by region to see which family might be ruling. Outside a brief recitation back in Season 4, the show hasn’t introduced any Dornish houses besides the Martells, perhaps because the showrunners learned their lessons from Season 5’s Dornish missteps; prominent book families like the Yronwoods never made their way to our screens, while the Daynes were introduced via just one character in a decades-old flashback.
The Stormlands include a few familiar faces, but no obvious candidates to lead. House Tarth was pledged to the Baratheons, though we know Brienne’s not ruling there and have never seen any of her family members; ditto for House Dondarrion and Beric, House Selmy and Barristan, and House Trant and Meryn. There are also smaller families like Peasebury and Musgood who are only mentioned, never seen, and don’t boast much ruling potential anyway; Stannis sneers that the latter doesn’t have enough men to raid a pantry.
The Reach is in similar straits. Most Tyrell bannermen haven’t been seen or mentioned since Joffrey’s wedding at the latest. The Florent family includes several prominent wives—Selyse, Stannis’s wife, was a Florent, and her cousin Melessa is Randyll Tarly’s wife and Sam’s mom. But the Florents proper haven’t been mentioned since Melisandre burned Selyse’s brother Axell in Season 4, and both Randyll and Dickon Tarly burned last season. Melessa and Randyll’s daughter, Talla, tells Sam she is to be betrothed to a Fossoway, and that house serves the Reach, yet this family hasn’t actually appeared on the show.
The Riverlands, finally, have a few vassal houses that were nuisances to the Freys after the Red Wedding: the Brackens, Blackwoods, and Mallisters. But again, none include any prominent characters, and they’re mentioned more in passing on the show than anything else. The puzzle continues, unsolved.
After the Great War in Season 8, however, the possibilities expand. If Cersei were to maintain the throne through the end of the show, as unlikely as that outcome may be, she would run into the same problems she has currently, which include trying to wrest command over the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms while in effect controlling just a few. The fact that she needs to turn to the Golden Company to provide further soldiers indicates how few allies she has left in Westeros. If she wins the war, she’ll have to muster every ounce of Machiavellian instincts she inherited from her father to bribe, coax, and frighten families across the continent until she finds a set of friendly regional wardens she can install.
If Dany or Jon were to win the throne, conversely, more potential options would present themselves. They could, for instance, legitimize Gendry, the bastard Baratheon, and award him the Stormlands; remove one-time Tarly heir Sam from his Night’s Watch vows and give him the Reach; and rescue embattled Lord Edmure from his lengthy dungeon spell and return the Riverlands to Tully control. Dorne remains a question for the aforementioned reasons, but overall, this path would allow them to maintain the pre-war status quo as closely as possible by keeping power with traditionally powerful houses.
Of course, that plan requires an awfully tight threading of a needle. The victors would have to defeat all their foes without losing any of the key allies who rank among the final surviving members of once-great houses. It means hewing rather close to the existing metaphorical wheel instead of breaking it. And in the case of Gendry returning Baratheon power to the Stormlands, it could mean Dany allowing the family that usurped her family’s throne to regain ancestral rule.
Aegon’s initial conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, for comparison, yielded new ruling families in the Stormlands (Baratheon replaced Durrandon), the Reach (Tyrell replaced Gardener), the Riverlands (Tully replaced Hoare), and the Iron Islands (Greyjoy replaced Hoare). If not that first solution, perhaps history would repeat itself with Dany raising previously lesser houses after her invasion—though there are scant options for such a move, as the characters aligned with the Mother of Dragons mostly come from houses we’ve known all along.
House Tarth ascending in the Stormlands is one possibility, if the Targaryen–Stark alliance sees fit to reward Brienne for services rendered in battle. Another option could involve a separate region entirely: the Westerlands, where Tyrion could assume control following the war or—in a more far-fetched but fun possibility—if Tyrion dies or stays on as Dany’s Hand, the region could go to Podrick Payne. The House of Payne (not to be confused with House of Pain, of “Jump Around” fame) is one of the few known western families left. Pod could even then marry Sansa—a wonderful pairing—to unite the Westerlands and North.
That idea is tricky, too, though, and perhaps not particularly feasible. Could the Tarths watch over the Stormlands from an island? Is Pod “Warden of the West” material? Who would even be a candidate to assume control in the Reach or Dorne if such a plan were under consideration? And so on.
Yet another path would be the most tumultuous. Nothing says Jon and Dany have to stick to traditional regional orthodoxy. Orys Baratheon, the founding member of his house, was Aegon the Conqueror’s childhood friend and rumored half brother, a bastard conceived on Dragonstone by Aegon’s father and an unknown woman. He proved to be a formidable commander and killed the Storm King in single combat, after which Aegon rewarded him with the dead opponent’s castle and lands.
If Jon claims the throne, this precedent provides some evidence for the idea Sam could come to rule the Reach, which would also bring the slayer’s journey full circle—the only reason he met Jon was because his father had threatened to kill him rather than let him ascend to his lordship by right. No direct comparison exists for Dany, however, as she sadly lacked a true childhood friend, but the general idea could hold. If she wins the throne, will her Dothraki bloodriders return en masse to Essos, or will some or all stay on the new continent? Dorne would offer a familiar climate. In Season 7, as Bronn pesters Jaime about his long-promised castle following the sacking of Highgarden, the upjumped knight motions to the ancestral Tyrell home and asks, “How about that one? It’s available.” Indeed—for any ally who earns the right to rule and become Warden of the South. At this point, with Dothraki crossing the Narrow Sea for the first time in history, and with the dead streaming down from beyond the Wall, tradition might have fallen from the window like Bran back in the premiere.
Or, the army of the dead’s march could mean this entire complicated set of sequences and plans is for naught: Maybe the whole continent will be so ravaged by White Walkers that the current setup won’t much matter for Dany or Jon or any human victory. Remaining Westerosi civilization will have to rebuild from the ground up. Or maybe the Walkers will even win the day, and none of this will matter at all. The Night King presumably doesn’t concern himself with bureaucracy.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.