6:45am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Final Season: 23 Burning Questions After the Battle of Winterfell
Throughout Game of Thrones, the red priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) often uttered the same chilling refrain: "The night is dark and full of terrors." In the end, she meant it: "The Long Night," the epic Battle at Winterfell episode from director Miguel Sapochnik ("Hardhome" and "Battle of the Bastards"), clocks in as the longest installment in Thrones history at 82 minutes — and the magnitude of the story more than meets the runtime.
Heading into "The Long Night," everyone expected a huge loss for Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and their allies as they fought the Night King and the White Walkers. How many people expected a huge loss for the Army of the Dead, however? Well, if we may take a moment to gloat, here's an excerpt from a story published on The Hollywood Reporter a few days before the battle played out: "What are we expecting heading into the big battle at Winterfell? Total loss, or close to it, with handfuls of series regulars plucked from the board. It's a very likely outcome, sure — but with time still left between now and the eventuality, why not follow Tyrion's lead and have a bit of half-drunk hope? After all, here's what we're not expecting: the White Walkers to be destroyed halfway into the final season. Wouldn't that be a twist?"
"We don't have time for all this," as Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) might say, but still! What a twist it was! In a single 82-minute outing, Game of Thrones completely changed its face, much like Night King slayer Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is wont to do. With the stage set for a very different final three episodes than the season's first three rounds, now's the time to take a seat by the fire, warm up and field some questions about what's ahead as Game of Thrones enters the final stretch.
1. Are we really done with the White Walkers?
Unless there's an enormous flash-forward in which the Night King's son shows up for vengeance, then yes, it would appear the war against the Army of the Dead is well and truly over.
2. But wait, what about the Night King's son? Isn't that a thing?
Kind of, actually. In season four's "Oathkeeper," Game of Thrones shocked the audience with a scene in which a White Walker scoops up one of Craster's abandoned baby boys and brings him to the Army of the Dead's frozen headquarters. It's the first ever sighting of the Night King, and ever since, fans were left to wonder if there was a hidden purpose behind the White Walkers taking and recruiting infants into their ranks. If there's a purpose, it's yet to be revealed — but considering how the entire White Walker army dropped as soon as the Night King died, it feels safe to say that the unseen White Walker babies are gone as well, joining the various zombies, undead giants, skeleton soldiers, ice dragons and tragically unseen ice spiders in the great beyond beyond the great beyond.
3. Wasn't the Night King supposed to be some sort of secret Targaryen?
That was a popular theory on the board after the final season premiere, thanks to the flaming message the Night King left pinned to the wall at Last Hearth. Set afire, the spiral of limbs looked like House Targaryen's sigil. Alas, if there's any bigger connection, then it's not revealed yet — but the Night King's relatively easy death should put that line of thinking to rest.
4. Okay, so is he an ancient Lord of House Stark, then?
Maybe, but we're never going to find out, at least not in the context of Game of Thrones proper! Any further Night King origin information will likely be relegated to the upcoming prequel series from Jane Goldman, set thousands of years earlier and set to focus on the first conflict between man and White Walker — assuming the prequel moves past the pilot stage, which is set to film over the summer.
5. So, the Night King isn't actually Bran from the future?
Stop asking about the Night King. He's dead — and no, he's not time-traveling Bran.
6. Okay, fine. How about other dead people? It was really dark in "The Long Night." Can you confirm who died?
Happily! Well, not happily, but sure, let's confirm. In addition to the Night King and his whole White Walker army, a huge swath of the Dothraki, several Unsullied and Northerners, this is the list of the named, main dead, in order of expiration: Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton), Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten).
7. Pouring out a horn of ale for all the fallen, truly, but they really killed Lady Lyanna? Really?
Sadly, they did. She goes out in a one-on-one fight against an undead giant. The hulking thing picks her up, crushes her in its hand, and Lyanna returns the favor with a dragonglass dagger to the giant's eye. The reason for her death, as per co-creator Dan Weiss in HBO's weekly "Inside the Episode"series: "We needed to give one of the strongest smaller people in the show a chance to go out taking down one of the strongest larger things we've ever seen on the show." You and Weiss may have different definitions of the word "needed," but that's between you and the Many-Faced God — and even then, nothing's going to change the fact that Lady Lyanna is no more. Pour out a horn of ale, indeed.
8. Why did Melisandre die? All the others were brutally killed, but the Red Woman just walked out into the cold dead of night and called it a day. How come?
Fair question. The short and frustrating answer: it was the Lord of Light's will, and who are we to question it? Melisandre saw her own demise in the flames, dating at least as far back as season seven's "The Queen's Justice," when she told Varys (Conleth Hill) that she would die in Westeros. When she comes back to Winterfell, Melisandre stops Davos (Liam Cunningham) from executing her outright, promising she'll be dead by dawn. It's likely she used all her remaining energy for the fiery magic tricks she unleashed throughout "The Long Night," or even for whatever power was required of her to finally get some predictions right. Likelier still: Melisandre removed the glamour that kept her elderly age at bay, then willingly walked out into the cold winter dawn. After an exhausting night (and who knows how many additional exhausting nights it took for her to reach Winterfell on her own, what with having to dodge White Walkers on the way to Winterfell) and without any magic protecting her ancient state, it's no wonder she dropped dead.
9. If Melisandre could see into the future, then how come she lit the Dothraki swords on fire?
A few possible reasons, ranging from the surface ones (it looked cool, don't be a nitpicker!) to the snarky ones (somebody had to provide lighting for the set) to the matters of destiny — namely, Melisandre saw the flaming swords in her fires, and acted accordingly, even if it meant death for the Dothraki. Indeed, that's a big plot-driven reason: the Dothraki had to be largely taken out in order for the next steps in Daenerys' storyline to transpire.
10. Is that why Jorah died, too?
I think so, yeah. Technically, it's the many, many stabbings that did in Ser Jorah, but the story had its way with him as well. The late Lord Commander Mormont's son was Dany's oldest and most reliable friend and advisor; taking him off the board unchains the Breaker of Chains for whatever the story needs her to do next.
11. Another question about Melisandre… didn't she predict Varys (Conleth Hill) was going to die in Westeros? Isn't that why you were so sure he would die at the Battle of Winterfell?
Yes, that's why I was so sure he would die at the Battle of Winterfell. Obviously, swing and a miss. Another reason why this would have been a great place for Varys' death: he would have had a chance to stand up for the people of the realm he's championed for so many seasons, in the presence of the bones of Ned Stark, a man who long ago Varys told all about his true loyalties. It would have been a perfectly poetic place for him to die; Game of Thrones must have other plans in mind.
12. Is it true you have a new wild prediction about Varys?
It's true! And obviously, temper your own expectations considering I whiffed already on Varys, but how about this: somehow, some way, Varys winds up ruling over Westeros after all. In our Series Regular podcast from the start of the season, Dan Fienberg offered a compelling notion of Jon Snow winning the Iron Throne, only to melt the thing down both literally and symbolically, paving the way for democratic elections in the Seven Kingdoms. What if some version of that outcome comes to pass, and Varys winds up winning over the realm? Melisandre's vision of his death, which extends past her own life obviously, would be a glimpse into the far future when Varys is old and gray, having lived a lifetime of great service for the people of the realm. What do you think?
13. Sounds like a reach.
And that does not sound like a question.
Fair enough. Here's a question: can you please explain the Arya Stark stuff? Brown eyes, green eyes, blue eyes — what did all of that mean?
It's outlined thoroughly here, but in case you don't want to navigate away, here's a condensed version: Melisandre met Arya back in season three, and predicted the two of them would meet again someday. She talked about all those different colored eyes, and promised Arya would shut them forever. The blue eyes clearly refer to the eyes of the Night King — at least, that's the reference in retrospect.
14. If Melisandre knew Arya was going to kill the Night King as early as season three, then why didn't she take custody of Arya back then?
Great question, not a great answer from me. Maybe because she saw other things in Arya's future and knew the young wolf needed to roam free in order to learn all the ninja skills required to kill the Night King? The likelier reason is less satisfying. In the "Inside the Episode" feature, co-creator David Benioff says the plan for Arya to kill the Night King has been in place for three years. Three years. That's only as far back as season six, which means the writers didn't know Arya would kill the Night King until pretty late in the run — and, more to the point, it means they didn't know Arya would kill the Night King back in season three when she met Melisandre.
15. Wait, they didn't know Arya kills the Night King until three years ago? Don't the writers know how the books end?
Good question, with some complicated answers! Benioff and Weiss know the broad strokes of how George R.R. Martin plans to finish his story, but since the books are not finished yet, and since Martin compares his writing style to "gardening" (i.e. he often allows himself wiggle room to react to stories as they grow, rather than sticking to very strict blueprints), it's possible that Benioff and Weiss' plan for how to do away with the White Walkers is very different from what Martin has in mind. What's more, Benioff, Weiss and Martin have all stressed that Game of Thrones the TV series and A Song of Ice and Fire the novel series will have meaningful differences between their respective endings: Arya killing the Night King is very likely one of them, not the least of which is because there currently is no Night King in Martin's books, at least not as anything more than a man of myth; certainly not as a confirmed White Walker kingpin.
16. That's actually pretty exciting. So when should we expect the books to come out?
17. Can we squeeze in another Night King question?
Sounds like you're going to find a way even if met with a "no," so, sure. Squeeze away.
18. Jon Snow. Wasn't he supposed to kill the Night King?
That was the conventional wisdom, yes, and certainly the basis for one of my big predictions about the erstwhile King in the North coming into the final season. Why should we have expected anything else? Jon was at the forefront of the White Walker war all series long. He had a Valyrian sword in hand. He stared down the Night King twice and lived to tell the tale. This was his war. Why wouldn't he be the one to end it? Again, as per Benioff in the "Inside the Episode" feature: "We hoped to kind of avoid the expected, and Jon Snow has always been the hero, the one who's been the savior, but it just didn't seem right to us for this moment." In other words: Game of Thrones wanted to Game of Thrones, which means keeping the killing move out of the traditional hero's hands. Fair enough, I guess.
19. Then why did Jon Snow die in season five only to come back to life two episodes later?
Picture me shrugging. Honestly, don't know. My best guess: Jon Snow dies in George R.R. Martin's "A Dance With Dragons," the fifth and most recently released installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, and the author has something in mind for how his death and probable resurrection will factor into the equation — and Benioff and Weiss don't know the exact answer themselves just yet. Having to adapt Jon's death from the novels without knowing the follow-through as per Martin, Benioff and Weiss are having to come up with their own answer to that question. One would have imagined Jon's rebirth was tied into his role in the White Walker war; and maybe it was, insofar as he reclaimed Winterfell during the Battle of the Bastards, made it safe again for the Starks, which allowed Arya to feel safe enough to come home, which put her in position to kill the Night King. Maybe that's all the answer we're ever going to get — because now that the Night King is dead, it's really hard to imagine Jon's resurrection playing a huge role in the endgame, beyond how it impacts his claim to the Iron Throne.
20. How much is Jon Snow going to care about his claim to the Iron Throne?
Probably a lot, even if he doesn't want the thing! He's going to care about it because Daenerys is going to care about it, and Daenerys cares about it because Jon's claim challenges her claim — and now that Jorah is dead, and so many of her forces have dwindled, all in service of successfully destroying the White Walkers, Dany is set to turn her attention to Cersei Lannister and the Iron Throne in very short order, and with a very short fuse to boot. The final three episodes of Game of Thrones will surely deal in the Iron Throne of it all in some capacity — and whether he likes it or not, Jon Snow's going to get sucked into the drama. He is Aegon Targaryen VII, after all.
21. The Night King is dead. Bran Stark was his ancient nemesis, the Three-Eyed Raven. Does Bran not have a purpose anymore?
It might be best to temper our expectations for Bran moving forward. In season four, the Three-Eyed Raven promised Bran he would some day fly. Many people thought that meant Bran would one day warg into a dragon — either Drogon or Rhaegal if it was one of the living dragons, or perhaps more awesomely, he would hijack Viserion and put an end to the Night King's undead steed. The last option did not happen; but Bran did spend the majority of his screen time in "The Long Night" flying around as a flock of ravens, so, technically, he flew? Bran warging into a dragon felt like a slam dunk prediction heading into the final season, but the fact that it hasn't happened yet and the fact that the Night King is done means the odds of it happening are severely diminished in my eyes. As for his greater role in the rest of the series… well, Bran was very invested in Jon Snow learning about his Targaryen roots, so his continued role in the pursuit of the Iron Throne feels like a likely bet. Exactly how that manifests is another story entirely. Speaking of Bran, don't you want to ask about Theon Greyjoy?
22. Absolutely. How great was Theon's death?
It was really great. Theon lived a hard life. He was taken hostage as a child by Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the nicest captor one could ever hope to find, but a captor all the same. When offered his first chance to go back to the Iron Islands, Theon was immediately met with rejection, because he spent so much time under the care of the Starks. In order to impress his father, Theon tried to capture Winterfell, and it backfired spectacularly. It led to Theon spending years as a prisoner of Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), the polar opposite of Ned Stark as far as treatment in captivity goes. Losing body parts left and right, Theon's injured psyche was only broken down further, with some horrible physical wounds to add to the pile. He eventually mustered enough strength to escape the Bastard of Bolton, but when faced with his next opportunity to stand up to a nightmare — his uncle, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) — he literally jumped ship and ran away. In season seven, Jon restored Theon's courage with one of the best pep talks of the series, telling him: "You're a Greyjoy, and you're a Stark." It was enough to convince Theon to rescue his sister at the start of the final season, and in the end, it was enough for Theon to fight tooth and nail to redeem himself in the eyes of House Stark. Before his death, Theon receives these final words of empowerment from Bran: "You're a good man, Theon." It's all he ever wanted to hear in his life, and it's enough to push him into taking on the Night King one-on-one — an obviously losing battle, but not so obvious that it stopped Theon from running straight into the jaws of death. After living a life haunted by nightmares and a shattered sense of self, Theon picked up the pieces and challenged the scariest force of death imaginable. He did not live to tell the tale — but what is dead may never die.
23. What is dead may never die. How do we close out after that?
With some quick hits! Much like the Avengers, Game of Thrones is officially in the endgame now, with only three episodes left before it's all said and done. Here are some of the things that still need to happen, questions I still feel we need answered, and other odds and ends to keep an eye on:
• The Iron Throne. Who's going to sit on it? Will it even exist?
• The Cleganebowl. It's happening — but when? And in what form will the Mountain and the Hound's big battle take place?
• Now that she's killed the Night King, what's next for Arya Stark? Will she be the one who kills Cersei Lannister, or will she die trying?
• Who will kill Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)? Because there's no way this story can end with her still alive, right?
• What will Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) do once the war for the Iron Throne comes back into focus? He fought on behalf of the living. That war is done. Will he so easily return to his sister's side, or will he instead stay united with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), his current companions at Winterfell? Is it his destiny to kill Cersei, or is he destined to die on her behalf?
• How about Jaime's brother, Tyrion? Where does he fit into all of this? Will he and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) rekindle their marriage, after renewing some fondness in the crypts of Winterfell? Is it possible that this series ends with the two of them ruling over the Seven Kingdoms as a power couple, showing that if peace is possible between two top Starks and Lannisters, peace should be possible for anyone?
• Are the crypts of Winterfell finally, actually safe?
With any luck, answers to all of those questions and more are coming our way in the next three weeks. Head to THR.com/GameOfThrones for more final season coverage as we sort through it all. While you wait, chew on our preseason prediction series Final Path to get ready for everything coming next, and to see what we have gotten right and wrong thus far in the final Game of Thrones season:
Read all of THR's Final Path series, featuring character-by-character predictions:
1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
18. Tormund Giantsbane
19. Beric Dondarrion
20. The Dragons
21. The Night King
22. Across the World of Ice and Fire
23. Final Predictions