Warning: (as you might expect) contains season 7 spoilers.
Game Of Thrones season seven, we hardly knew you. You arrived, secretly fitted all your characters with invisible jet packs so they could zip around whole continents as if they were just popping to the shops, and then in the flap of a dragon’s wing, you were gone. Three episodes shorter than the previous runs, the seventh season solved the show’s annual ‘how to top last year’s massive episode nine’ problem by simply not having one. Genius.
Figuratively though, there was an episode nine in season seven. It was episode four The Spoils Of War. And episode six Beyond The Wall. And a little bit episode seven The Dragon And The Wolf. The point being that the battle spectacle and dragon-based fireworks were spread out over seven episodes featuring reunions between long-separated characters, the reappearance of old faces, and newly forged alliances. Here’s a recap of all the major action.
In the North, Winterfell welcomed home two errant children. First Bran, then Arya Stark returned to their family seat after separate long and perilous journeys. They came back to find Sansa installed in their parents’ former chamber and acting as regent for Jon Snow, the absent King in the North. Sansa proved herself a talented ruler, skilled at strategy and planning sensibly ahead for the long winter like a true Northerner.
Bran’s return was as disturbing for Sansa as it was comforting. As Meera Reed said when he coldly dismissed her after she’d spent years protecting him, Bran Stark died in that cave, what’s left is the Three-Eyed Raven. Being the omniscient Three-Eyed Raven meant that Bran knew all about his sisters’ travails during their separation. He ‘saw’ what Ramsay did to Sansa, and he knew which names remained on Arya’s kill-list.
Crucially, Bran also knew all about Littlefinger’s many lies and schemes. When Petyr Baelish, still at Winterfell following his decisive role in the Battle of the Bastards, tried to curry favour with the Stark heir by gifting Bran the dagger used in the season one assassination attempt on his life, the Three-Eyed-Raven was wise to his shenanigans. That includes the moment Littlefinger drew a knife on Ned Stark, the murder of Lysa Arryn and every whispered conversation the brothel owner ever had.
Littlefinger’s scheming earned him no rewards in season seven. He plotted to turn Sansa and Arya against one another, encouraging Sansa to see her little sister as a threat, and leading Arya to believe Sansa was a Lannister sympathiser who wanted to usurp Jon’s crown. With Bran’s help though, the sisters saw through Baelish’s plot and turned the tables by executing him for the murder of their aunt. Littlefinger’s throat was cut by Arya using the very dagger with which Bran was almost killed. Despite Littlefinger’s machinations, the Stark siblings ended the season united, recognising that “the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”
Arya’s kill-list, which currently features: Cersei Lannister, Gregor Clegane, Ilyn Payne, Melisandre, and Beric Dondarrion, was what brought her back to Westeros. In the season seven premiere, she used her Faceless Men magic to disguise herself as the deceased Walder Frey and fatally poison his entire family in revenge for their collusion with the Lannisters at the Red Wedding. She left only Frey’s young bride to tell the tale, telling her to spread the message “the North remembers.”
Next on Arya’s to-murder list was Queen Cersei, but on hearing (from Hot Pie! Hot Pie lives!) that Jon had reclaimed Winterfell from the Boltons, she diverted her journey to King’s Landing and instead headed North. On her way home, Arya encountered her direwolf Nymeria, who’d been living wild since being sent away to protect her from Cersei’s wrath in season one. They had a moment, and went their separate ways. Once at Winterfell, Brienne of Tarth agreed to train with Arya, clearly impressed by her proficiency with a sword.
Oh, and Ed Sheeran was in it. He sang a song.
Someone whose name Arya struck off her list without killing, Sandor Clegane aka The Hound, continued his search for redemption with the Brotherhood Without Banners. Returning to the cottage of a farmer and his daughter the Hound had robbed in season four only to find them dead, he buried the corpses in atonement for his earlier crime. At the cottage, Sandor had a vision in the flames of the Night King’s army, which pushed the group to continue their journey North.
Bran, whose warging and greenseeing powers had enabled him to use ravens to spy on the Night King’s army throughout the season, also learned some game-changing info about Jon Snow. Bran already knew that Jon wasn’t Ned Stark’s bastard, thinking him the love child of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned’s sister Lyanna. Not quite. Thanks to Gilly reading through some old manuscripts at the Citadel, Samwell Tarly learned that Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled, then remarried in secret. Jon’s true name is Aegon Targaryen and he’s therefore no bastard but a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. Game-changer.
Samwell spent the first half of the season training to be a maester at the Citadel in Old Town under the tutelage of Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent). A frustrating time, Sam was mostly given grunt work and forbidden access to the texts he’d come there to study in order to learn how to defeat the White Walkers. He did however, learn that a vast seam of Dragonglass, a material able to kill White Walkers and Wights, was located underneath Dragonstone. He wrote to Jon about his discovery, which helped to convince Jon to accept an invitation to Daenerys’ Westerosi base camp.
Sam rebelled against the archmaester’s rules by carrying out an experimental medical procedure on Ser Jorah Mormont, who’d come to the Citadel in search of a cure for his greyscale. In an especially gross sequence, Sam cured Ser Jorah, who then travelled to Dragonstone to serve Dany.
After the Citadel’s maesters refused to act on Bran Stark’s warning to the Seven Kingdoms about the impending threat from the Night King, either believing it a fantasy or trusting in the impregnability of the Wall, Sam stole some restricted books, took Gilly and Little Sam, and headed North. There he met with Bran, where he learned of Jon’s true parentage and shared his knowledge of Jon’s father’s secret marriage.
Daenerys, meanwhile, had set up shop at her birthplace of Dragonstone (home to the Targaryens before Stannis Baratheon lived there) with a band of allies against Cersei, which included Tyrion, Varys, Yara and Theon Greyjoy, Olenna Tyrell and Dornish leader Ellaria Sand. Instead of flying her dragons straight to King’s Landing and setting the place on fire like she wanted, Tyrion advised Dany to avoid slaughtering civilians and instead target Lannister family seat Casterly Rock. While the Greyjoy fleet would sail to Dorne to mobilise Ellaria’s Dornish troops, the Unsullied would take the Lannister castle.
At least, that was the plan. What actually transpired was that Euron Greyjoy attacked his niece and nephew’s fleet en-route, killing two Sandsnakes and capturing Tyene and Ellaria Sand and Yara Greyjoy. Theon bottled the chance to fight to save Yara and literally jumped ship before being rescued by the last surviving Greyjoy ship.
Theon and his Ironborn men returned to Dragonstone, where Jon Snow first threatened, then forgave Theon for betraying the Starks at Winterfell. Theon later began to redeem himself when he engaged in a brutal fight with one of Yara’s men who had refused to mount a rescue attempt for her. Mid-fight, Theon learned that a weakness can also be a strength when his opponent couldn’t injure him by kicking him in the nuts as, well, Ramsay had removed that particular vulnerability.
Speaking of eunuchs and vulnerability, Grey Worm and Missandei shared a romantic scene in which he declared that he now had an unprecedented weakness—her. They shared a night of passion before he went off to battle.
Missandei, it’s worth mentioning, had earlier raised an important nerdy translator point about Melisandre’s much-discussed prophecy about Azor Ahai ‘the prince that was promised’ who was destined to bring an end to the impending darkness. In the original High Valyrian, ‘prince’ is genderless and could refer to either a man or a woman, i.e. Dany is now very much a front runner for the position.
When the Unsullied arrived at Casterly Rock and found it all but undefended, it was clear they’d also been had. Anticipating his younger brother’s military tactics, Jaime Lannister had sacrificed the family seat in order to lure the Unsullied fleet to a vulnerable position where Euron Greyjoy could destroy it. The Unsullied were thus stranded and preoccupied while the Lannister and Tarly armies sacked the Tyrell castle of Highgarden. Jaime’s plan seemed to go off without a hitch, and he killed Lady Olenna by making her drink poisoned wine. Before she died, Olenna confessed that it was her and not Tyrion who poisoned Jaime and Cersei’s son Joffrey at his wedding. Before she died, she wanted Cersei to know that.
Victorious from their defeat of Highgarden, with wagons of Tyrell gold safely transported to King’s Landing ready to pay off the substantial Lannister debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos, the Lannister and Tarly armies then suffered a surprise counter-attack by Dany, Drogon, and the Dothraki. Jaime’s army was routed and he nearly died trying to kill Dany, but Bronn stopped him at the last moment and saved his life.
Meanwhile, invited there by old pal Tyrion, Jon Snow and Davos travelled to Dragonstone to entreat Dany to help fight the Night King. She was sceptical about his claims of an undead army marching South and demanded instead that he pledge his allegiance to her. Like Mance Rayder before him, Jon Snow refused to bend the knee, saying his Northern people would never accept her as their Queen because of the Targaryen family history. Dany more or less took Jon and Davos prisoner at Dragonstone, but humoured them by allowing them to mine the Dragonglass they wanted to fight the Night King.
Jon Snow having banished her in season six, his arrival at Dragonstone meant Melisandre left for Volantis to stay out of his way, but not before she and Varys had a frosty conversation in which she told him that both of them, Essosi by birth, were fated to die in Westeros.
Once hostilities had thawed and Jon and Davos were allowed to leave Dragonstone, Davos took advantage of being down South to go to King’s Landing and retrieve royal Baratheon heir Gendry, who’d been working as a smith in Flea Bottom ever since Davos rescued him from Melisandre’s clutches and sent him on his way in a little row boat. Gendry now carries a war-hammer, just like his father King Robert, and he knows how to use it.
During his time on Dragonstone, Jon became a more and more trusted advisor to Dany, and her dragons even allowed him to stroke them (perhaps recognising his true Targaryen nature). Dany listened to him when he told her not to burn Euron Greyjoy’s ships in retaliation for his attack so that the people wouldn’t see her as just another tyrant.
Earlier in the season, Tyrion and Varys had discussed concerns that Dany’s habit of burning people alive with her dragons might turn her into her despised father, the Mad King. Dany, in turn, expressed concern over Tyrion and Varys’ loyalty to her. Things all got a bit testy.
It was Tyrion who noted that Jon was the latest heroic man to fall in love with Dany, an observation she scoffed at until she realised it was true and she and Jon got hot and heavy in the chambers of her ship. Tyrion saw Jon enter Dany’s private quarters (stop tittering at the back) and foresaw trouble from their relationship. It was Jon who questioned Dany’s belief that she was unable to bear children following the witch’s curse in season one. Witches aren’t the most reliable of sources, he sensibly told her.
Dany and Jon’s steamy session came after she’d had flown her dragons to his rescue beyond the Wall. To convince sceptical Southerners of the Night King’s existence, Tyrion came up with the plan of bringing one of the White Walkers’ soldiers to show-and-tell, so Jon, Ser Jorah, Gendry, and the Brotherhood Without Banners (incl. the Hound, Ser Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr) volunteered for the job. Things got sticky, however, when they were attacked by a Wight-polar bear then surrounded by an army of Wights and stranded on a rock in a patch of ice for days.
During the fight, the group learned an important lesson about Wights: kill the White Walker who reanimated them, and they all die. The theory goes then, that if the Night King is killed, his entire army will collapse. Also, Wights definitely can’t swim.
Thoros died of his bear-related injuries, and the rest of them bar Jon were rescued by Dany on dragon-back, who’d been alerted to their perilous situation by a raven Gendry sent after running more marathons in a row than Eddie Izzard did that time for Sport Relief.
Once again though, the whole thing was all a set-up. The Night King was ready and waiting for Dany’s dragons, appearing to have endangered Jon’s group in order to lure her over the Wall so he could kill one of her children with a specially prepared ice spear, then resurrect it as his very own undead flying war machine. His plan went perfectly – he killed Viserion, who is now the Night King’s personal mount and breathes blue fire.
The loss of Viserion hit Dany hard, and once Jon Snow saw her fearlessness and sacrifice in battle, he bent the knee and called her his queen. Jon had been rescued by the timely arrival of Benjen Stark, who saw off the Wight attackers and gave his nephew his horse, likely sacrificing himself in the process.
Over at King’s Landing, Cersei spent the season drunk on both power and Arbor Gold. Without mourning for Tommen, she attempted to rally the lords against the foreign Targaryen invader, coming off more than a little bit UKIP in the process.
When Euron Greyjoy arrived in King’s Landing with his Iron Fleet to make an alliance against Dany and his niece and nephew, Cersei led him to think she would marry him after Dany had been defeated. To sweeten the deal, Euron delivered Cersei the gift of Ellaria Sand and her daughter Tyene, enemies of Cersei’s after Ellaria poisoned Princess Myrcella in season five. In revenge, Cersei poisoned Tyene using the same concoction used to kill her own daughter, and left her mother in a cell to watch her beloved daughter’s corpse rot.
Cersei also made a deal with the Iron Bank of Braavos, after paying the Crown’s debts with Highgarden gold, to borrow more money so she could employ the Golden Company of Essos, an army of mercenaries, to fight against Dany’s Unsullied and Dothraki forces.
The revelation that Cersei was pregnant, if anything, made her more vicious. She began to flaunt her sexual relationship with brother Jaime, seeing no reason any longer to hide, and planned to reveal publicly that he is the father of her new child.
The season though, ended with Jaime and Cersei separated. Cracks started to appear when Jaime went behind her back to meet secretly with Tyrion, who wanted to broker a meeting between Cersei and Dany to discuss a ceasefire and alliance against the Night King. Cersei’s spies followed Jaime, but she agreed to the meeting, which was held at King’s Landing’s Dragonpit. The meeting brought enemies and friends of old face to face: Tyrion and Cersei, Brienne and Jaime, Bronn and Tyrion, the Hound and the reanimated Mountain… The two Clegane brothers didn’t have their long-awaited clash, but the Hound mysteriously told Gregor that he “knew what was coming for him. [He’d] always known.”
At the Dragonpit, the Wight was presented and the case was heard for everybody to unite against the threat from beyond the Wall. Cersei tried to force Jon Snow to bend the knee to her, but he told the inconvenient truth that he’d already pledged his allegiance to Dany then made an excellent speech about the need for honesty in these trying times. Euron Greyjoy appeared to decide to cut his losses and run back to the Iron Islands, while Cersei, after being privately entreated by Tyrion, appeared to agree to send her armies to help.
However, it was all a ruse. Euron had actually gone to fetch the Golden Company to strengthen Cersei’s forces, and she was planning to attack Dany rather than assist her. Jaime was disgusted by Cersei’s lie, and having seen up close that the Lannister army stood no chance against Dany’s dragons (Cersei’s Hand, disgraced maester Qyburn, created a weapon called The Scorpion, designed to kill Daenerys’ dragons, but it didn’t turn out to be much cop), and what was coming in the North, he chose to keep his oath to side with Jon and Dany against the Night King. Jaime was last seen heading North.
The cliff-hanger ending saw the Night King, riding zombie-Viserion to Eastwatch (being guarded by Tormund and the Wildlings), where the undead dragon destroyed part of the Wall allowing the undead army to cross South. The fates of Tormund and visitor Beric Dondarrion were left hanging in the balance. As were the fates of everybody else…
Game Of Thrones season 8 starts on HBO on Sunday the 14th of April and on Sky Atlantic on Monday the 15th of April.