[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode two of HBO's Game of Thrones, "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms."]
The Night King cometh, and with him, the Army of the Dead. In short order, the Game of Thrones cast will feel the full weight of the White Walker war, with Winterfell likely falling in the process.
If Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and everyone else you know and love is about to die, it won't be because they didn't try. Indeed, midway through "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms," Jon and his allies rally together and formulate a plan for how best to take on the undead threat. The scene is one that fans should study closely, according to what creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss revealed in HBO's latest Inside the Episode feature.
"The most important thing about that scene is understanding the lay of the land and understanding what their intentions are, what their plans are, what their expectations are, so we know what we're looking at," says Weiss. "Things may not go entirely according to plan, so we thought it was very important for people to know what everyone in the room expected to happen, was worried would happen, and hoped would happen."
Here's a tip: when the creator of the biggest drama on television on the edge of its biggest battle ever says "thing may not go entirely according to plan," best to listen up. The Hollywood Reporter listened up. After surveying the war room scene, here's our breakdown of the plans on the table heading into the next episode's massive battle sequence, what everyone hopes and expects will happen, and how it will all most certainly go to Seven Hells.
Operation Night Fall
The plan: The heroes at Winterfell believe they can defeat the White Walkers by defeating their leader. As Jon puts it: "The Night King made them all. They follow his command. If he falls … Getting to him may be our best chance." The problem: The Night King won't expose himself if he's the White Walkers' walking, stalking kryptonite. The solution: Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) becomes bait. The Night King wants nothing more than to erase the world, and as such, he wants to kill the Three-Eyed Raven, the keeper of human history. The Night King has tried and failed to kill the Three-Eyed Raven many times before; he won't stop now, even if it's a risk to his own life.
In order to draw him out, Bran will wait for the Night King in Winterfell's Godswood. Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and a contingent of Ironborn will hang nearby as the Three-Eyed Raven's guards. Additionally, Jon will have dragons ready to give chase should the Night King leave. No one knows if the Night King can be killed by dragon-fire. Then again, no one has tried.
Why it won't work: Because Theon is on guard duty. Seriously, Theon? All the greatest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms are available, and Theon gets the A-mission? It's a clear setup for a great Theon Greyjoy death; standing up against and falling to the scariest killer in the Seven Kingdoms is definitely a fantastic way to close out Theon's story arc, but it's a horrid plan from the characters' perspectives. As Jaime once said about Theon's people: "They're not good at anything. I know the Ironborn. They're bitter, angry little people. All they know how to do is steal things they can't build or grow themselves." Perhaps it's enough that the dragons are a second line of defense, but we know what happened the last time we saw Daenerys' fire-breathing children go up against the Night King.
What's going to happen: The Night King will come. Theon Greyjoy will attempt to defeat him. He will fail. He will fall. So will Bran, just in time for Jon Snow to arrive on dragon-back. The good news? Bran will warg away from his body just before the killing blow, sending his consciousness into the husk of a dragon — fulfilling the first Three-Eyed Raven's ancient promise that Bran Stark will never walk again, but he will fly.
The Front Lines
The plan: Clearly, killing the Night King isn't a simple matter. Indeed, it's an ill-thought to do. Even if it works, the forces of the living will still have to contend with the masses of the dead. As such, the vast number of soldiers are set to be positioned outside of Winterfell. The war room table puts Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) on the right flank while the Knights of the Vale are leading the left flank. Targaryen forces make up the mass of the middle between them, a mixture of Dothraki and Unsullied warriors.
At some point in the battle, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) notes that he will give a signal to "light the trench," which means we should expect fireworks. The dragons will not be involved, as per Jon's command: "If [the dragons] are in the field, they won't be protecting Bran. We need to be near him."
Why it won't work: Plenty of practical reasons, such as the overwhelming numerical odds facing the Winterfell warriors, but more importantly, there's the meta question: when have the combined forces of men ever won a battle against the Army of the Dead? And no, retreats at "Hardhome" and "Beyond the Wall" do not count as victory. History tells us the good guys will ultimately win out against the White Walkers, but we're still only at the midpoint of the season; Winterfell is going to fall, and it's best to brace for that outcome.
What's going to happen: The Unsullied and Dothraki are toast. The Knights of the Vale? Finished. So long, Bronze Yohn. Heroes like Brienne and Jorah (Iain Glen) will fall heroically. Tyrion's plan to light the trenches will go through, but when's the last time one of Tyrion's plans paid off as pitched? We know the Night King can part seas of fire, as seen in season six's "The Door." No reason to think an incensed trench will keep the dead at bay this time. Indeed, it may trap people inside of Winterfell — people who are going to be desperate to escape anyway.
The Crypt Keepers
The plan: Not everyone is a fighter. Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is only too happy to let you know about his skills on the battlefield. Those who cannot fight need a place to hide and survive. The safest place in Winterfell, according to Jon Snow? The crypts, the same place Davos sent the little girl who reminded him of the late Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram).
Others confirmed for the crypt: Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Little Sam, Varys (Conleth Hill) as per trailer footage, as well as Tyrion, sent to hide away on Daenerys' command. As she tells him: "There are thousands of [soldiers] and only one of you. You can't fight as well as they can, but you can think better than any of them. You're here because of your mind. If we survive, I'll need it."
Why it won't work: Because the crypts are both shockingly unsafe and shockingly terrifying. One of the most popular theories surrounding the coming battle sees the Night King raising the bones of old Starks from the dead, flooding the crypts with deceased lords and ladies of Winterfell. Imagine this: headless Ned Stark and undead sister Lyanna on the move, clawing and gnawing at the living, with Jon Snow now not only having to reckon with the existential truth of his Targaryen roots, but the undead manifestation of his past on top of it all. Can't you see it? It's way too delicious and devious not to go down.
What's going to happen: The horrors in the crypt, for one thing. Expect evisceration of most if not all of the folks who are trapped in the furthest depths of Winterfell: the little girl, Gilly and Little Sam, and even Varys the Spider. Jon Snow may make his way down there to face off against his mother and adoptive father; Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) too, based on the crypt teaser HBO released several months ago, itself a huge tipoff for the crypt killings. Somehow, Tyrion will manage to escape, perhaps thanks to Varys sacrificing his own life to save his old friend.
Escape From Winterfell
The plan: As far as we can tell, there is no plan. The Northerners and their allies have staked out Winterfell as the final battleground between the living and the dead. If they lose here, they lose the realm — or so they believe.
Why it won't work: Wait, what are you asking here? Why won't the escape plan work? Because there is no escape plan — and seeing as there are still three episodes left after the battle, some people need to get the heck out of dodge.
What's going to happen: A few exit strategies on the board. One, waiting it out: somebody could hide out in a dark corner of Winterfell until the dust fully settles, not unlike how Bran waited out the Greyjoys back in season two. Two, hitting the road on foot: maybe Arya and the Hound (Rory McCann) can enjoy one last road trip, though the odds of survival for the masses are not so high. Three, hitting the high seas: Theon will die, but he had to sail his way to Westeros, and who better to take over his ship for a one-way ticket to King's Landing than recovering smuggler Ser Davos? Four, dragons: Jon and Daenerys both have tickets booked on Targaryen Air, and can take a few passengers along on the ride if need be.
If we want to carve out a fifth option for how Winterfell can be saved while the Night King and his army are forced out of dodge, how about this: Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) showing up in the nick of time with a ton of other red priests and priestesses at her disposal, performing fire magic that beats back the White Walkers. Not the likeliest scenario, but the fact that we have yet to see the Lord of Light's biggest fan raises some alarms, as does Arya name-dropping the red woman in this past episode. Maybe all the forces of the living need to survive the Battle of Winterfell is a Deus ex Melisandre.
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