In five 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
Last season, Sam and Gilly fled the Citadel with a musty stack of books and an urgent mission: to help save the realm through the power of archival research.
In their defense, GoT’s hottest literary couple had by far the least preposterous plan in Season 7. Please remember that this was the season when half the cast agreed that “trudge through the ice for days to sneak alongside the Night King’s gigantic army, without wearing winter hats, to steal a single wight and then somehow walk back without getting caught even though the army of the dead doesn’t stop for rest and at that point the humans will be very tired and gravely outnumbered, and then ship the wight across half a continent of occupied territory to show a known bloodthirsty sociopath how scary it is so she gets spooked enough to help, even though it is a well-established fact that she adores chaos and actively wants us all to die” was a good, normal plan. While undeniably dorky, at least Sam and Gilly’s scheme made sense and was relatively safe.
The last time we saw Sam, he and Bran were piecing together Jon’s secret status as the heir to the Iron Throne. Bran was able to use his Three-Eyed Raven powers to figure out that Rhaegar and Lyanna are Jon’s parents, but it was Sam and Gilly’s reading that confirmed that Rhaegar and Lyanna were also married—giving Jon trueborn standing. Earlier in the season, Gilly had flagged a section of the High Septon’s diary she was reading, noting that the High Septon had annulled Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage to Elia Martell and married him to someone else in Dorne; Bran confirmed that someone was Lyanna Stark. This was a huge discovery. Daenerys is both Jon’s aunt and behind him in the line of succession, but Jon has already bent the knee and stiffened another part of his body for her.
The first few episodes of the season will likely deal with fallout from this whole “Jon is the true heir” discovery. But Samwell and Gilly arrived at Winterfell with a number of books. They have more secrets to uncover.
Why This Loose End Matters
As the army of the dead approaches Winterfell, Sam and Gilly are in possession of some of the most important tools the living have at their disposal. Jon answered Daenerys’s call to go south in part because Sam sent a raven informing Jon that Dragonstone was sitting on a cache of dragonglass. So much of the history of Westeros has turned into apocrypha and “crib tales” that separating fact from myth could turn the tide of the war, and Sam and Gilly haven’t finished reading. The duo will also have another voracious reader at their side soon since Tyrion is headed toward Winterfell, upping the odds of discovering something useful. “My mind is my weapon,” Tyrion tells Jon in A Game of Thrones.
Bran’s visions as the Three-Eyed Raven provide another way to access history, but at times it can seem like there is too much for Bran to sift through to make sense of it all. Sam and Gilly could help him figure out which chapters of history he should replay. They could also help convince people that Bran isn’t just making this shit up. After all, there’s no reason for Dany or the Northern lords to believe the weird teen who hangs out by the tree all the time when he says Jon is actually Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son. Even Jon might try to shrug the whole you’re-not-a-bastard vision quest thing off as a poorly timed pubescent phase. It will be a lot harder to refute actual evidence, though. As Samwell noted last season, the High Septon wrote down everything that happened to him in minute detail. It is likely that there is more information about the romance of Rhaegar and Lyanna, which could be used to convince Daenerys that Jon is the rightful heir and the Northern families that Lyanna Stark was not kidnapped and that their animosity toward Rhaegar was misplaced. While this wouldn’t smooth over the conflict about who should rule, it would at least get everyone on the same page about the truth.
How Season 8 Could Address It
In addition to providing proof about Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne, Sam and Gilly’s research could come into play quickly in Season 8 as the characters prepare for an invasion. We know that they have access to a book called Legends of the Long Night. We also know quite a bit about what is in the book because the text shown in Season 7, when Gilly reads from it, is taken from the 2014 book The World of Ice & Fire, which George R.R. Martin wrote with Elio García and Linda Antonsson as a companion piece to his series. The World of Ice & Fire is written as an in-universe book in the voice of a Maester Yandel, and originally was started for King Robert but was finished during Tommen’s brief reign. While the book does not offer any pat answers for defeating the Night King, the historical context it provides could help Sam and Gilly figure out what to tell Bran to look for. This book recounts several stories of the Long Night and the “last hero” who ended it by going on a quest to find the Children of the Forest, who helped him break the seemingly endless winter; reading the chapter may spur Bran to find out what really happened, or to urge Jon and Dany to seek the Children of the Forest, as the book indicates that they were necessary to defeat the enemy. Later, it notes that the Children have been rumored to be found on the Isle of Faces, under the protection of the green men—perhaps Sam and Gilly’s research could prompt a quickie field trip?
(At the end of the chapter on the Long Night in The World of Ice & Fire, there is a note about how another Archmaester, named Fomas, had speculated that the “Others” were, in fact, just another tribe. “That they became monstrous in the tales told thereafter, according to Fomas, reflects the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion.” It would be interesting if reading a passage like this in Legends of the Long Night would lead Sam, Gilly, and Bran to discover that the White Walkers aren’t actually the one-dimensional death force that they appear to be!)
Legends of the Long Night isn’t the only book they stole from the Citadel, though, and we don’t know what other volumes Sam and Gilly have or what they may say. Although the exact method of forging Valyrian steel was lost in the Doom of Valyria, the books could provide enough information that Sam and Gilly could help Gendry fill in the blanks. At the very least, they might provide the locations for additional Valyrian steel weapons. They might describe other ways to repel or appease the White Walkers (many fan theories center on the crypts of Winterfell). If things look especially dire, perhaps their research into the previous Long Night will reveal parts of the world that escaped the winter, and they could at the very least suggest an evacuation to some peaceful corner of Sothoryos to ensure the continuation of the human species.
In addition to helping the humans at Winterfell win or flee, the knowledge within the Citadel’s books could also help the humans recover after a loss. Sam was able to cure Jorah Mormont’s nasty case of greyscale by following instructions he found in one of the Citadel’s books, even though he had never performed the surgery before. We also saw him assisting Archmaester Ebrose with dissections, so we know he’s familiar with internal anatomy too. This could come in handy after Winterfell is attacked; even if they couldn’t fully save people, perhaps they could stop them from joining the army of the dead by halting the wightification (?) process in the same way that the Children stopped Benjen’s transformation. Having a bunch of gray-faced, sorta-dead folks running around the North wouldn’t be ideal, but it’d be far better than ice zombies or regular corpses.
Speaking of gray, sorta-dead people, in its ultimate progression, greyscale turned normal humans into dastardly stone men; perhaps Samwell could use the knowledge he gained from treating Jorah to figure out a link between greyscale and whatever exactly is going on with the Walkers. Perhaps Sam and Gilly could even figure out a cure for the White Walkers. After all, the Children of the Forest made them. It could be possible to unmake them.
One popular fan theory is that Samwell Tarly will live to write A Song of Ice and Fire. I love this theory and want it to be true. The idea that Sam’s reading will matter is seeded very early on in the books. “Sam read every book in his father’s library,” Jon pleads with Maester Aemon in A Game of Thrones, asking Aemon to let Sam be his steward. “The Night’s Watch needs every man. Why kill one, to no end? Make use of him instead.” In the show, we see Archmaester Ebrose announcing his intentions to essentially write ASOIAF, but he calls it A Chronicle of the Wars Following the Death of King Robert I. “Possibly something a bit more … poetic?” Sam suggests.
If Game of Thrones ends with Sam returning all the books he absconded with to the Citadel and promising to write down what happened in lieu of paying a late fee, it’d also be very fitting. And should anything happen to dear Sam, Gilly could write it, which would also be an apt ending. For starters, it’d retroactively give Shireen’s life even more meaning, because she taught Gilly to read. But mainly, it would be the perfect ending for the character who has quietly been on the most inspirational hero’s journey of the show. Gilly made it all the way from her place as an illiterate prisoner in a monstrously abusive household to reading history books with her kind, highborn partner in the temperate Citadel. She was under no obligation to go back to the North, but she is on her way with Sam anyway, which is heroic. While Sam’s authorship of ASOIAF has been hinted at in both the book and the television show, it’d be cool if Gilly took on the project instead, and it’d be in keeping with GoT’s reputation for subverting fantasy expectations.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.