'Game of Thrones' Final Path: The Journey of Samwell Tarly

Game of Thrones-Publicity Still 9-H 2019
Helen Sloan/HBO

Welcome to Final Path, a regular feature leading up to the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones. In every Final Path, The Hollywood Reporter's resident Westeros expert Josh Wigler will offer a character-by-character deep dive of their journey through seven seasons, as well as what can be expected in the upcoming eighth and final season. Up next: Samwell Tarly.

"Sometimes, a man has to make hard choices — choices that look wrong to others, but that he knows are right."

It's one of the many pearls of wisdom thrown out into the ether by Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), the faithful member of the Night's Watch whose brilliance has saved the realm from certain doom on more than one occasion. Overblown hype? Possibly! But let's review: Sam killed a White Walker, created an environment where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) could lead the Night's Watch, found a cure for greyscale when it arrived in Westeros and discovered a wealth of dragonglass at Dragonstone with which to fend off the army of the dead. What did you do last week?

While he's not the flashiest character in the series, Sam is among the fullest, with an arc that's all but complete already — which could be very bad news indeed, heading into the final season. If there's nowhere to go but down, is Sam about to lose everything? It would be a heartbreaking development for a variety of viewers, not the least of whom is the man who plays Sam.

"I think if he were to die now, it would be the worst possible time, because all of [his] potential would disappear," John Bradley told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview shortly after season seven ended. "Before, there wasn't much potential to disappear, no potential to be crushed underfoot. Now there's so much. He's starting to realize it now for the first time, how much of an impact he could have. If he died now, it would be the saddest, most frustrating and most tragic and most regrettable and most heartbreaking time that he could go than at any other point in the last seven seasons."

Will Bradley's worst fears for his character come true in the final season? The official answer is: off in the distance. Thankfully, the official Final Path predictions for Samwell Tarly are just ahead. Read on…

Names and Titles: Samwell of House Tarly, steward of the Night's Watch and former maester-in-training at the Citadel, occasionally (and awesomely) known as Sam the Slayer.

First Appearance: "Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things," the fourth episode of the first season. Sam comes to the Night's Watch shortly after Jon Snow, and immediately makes an impression as a human punching bag. 

Last Appearance: "The Dragon and the Wolf," the season seven premiere. Years after his Night's Watch enlistment, Sam has not only thrived in combat situations (okay, not all of them), he's also found himself at the heart of some of Westeros' greatest secrets — including the truth behind Jon Snow's parentage, which he deduces with help from Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright).

Best Friends: Jon Snow, all day, every day. Sam's loyalty to Jon knows no bounds, going so far as becoming Lord Snow's hype man in the season five election for Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Outside of Jon, Sam's heart belongs to Gilly (Hannah Murray) and his adopted son Little Sam. If they ever meet again, one imagines Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) helping Sam out with a favor or two, thanks to Sam curing Jorah's greyscale affliction back in season seven.

Worst Enemies: A lot of the people who used to directly terrorize Sam are now dead and gone, including Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) and Rast (Luke Barnes) of the Night's Watch. Even Sam's cruel father Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) is little more than ashes in the wind, after his fiery death at the maw of Drogon the dragon. The only enemy left that truly matters is the Night King and his army of the dead, a force Sam has done all in his power to combat — in the ways he knows how, at least.

Best Kill: Aside from totally killing it in the library? At first glance, one doesn't take a look at Sam and think of him as particularly lethal. But that would be forgetting the fact that Sam is the first person in the entire series to kill a White Walker, back in season three, when he and Gilly were fleeing Craster's Keep. The weapon of choice: a dragonglass dagger. Since then, Sam has come forward with a strong pitch for how to take out the White Walkers: mining dragonglass from Dragonstone. He also walked away from the encounter with a flashy new nickname: Sam the Slayer.

Worst Wound: Sam suffered some beatings during his time at Castle Black, memorably on the night he and Gilly took their relationship to the next level. There's the exhausting journey north of the Wall, too, back in seasons two and three, which nearly killed Sam on multiple occasions. His worst wounds, however, are the ones he suffered earlier in his childhood at the knee of his ruthless father, Randyll Tarly. 

Critical Moments: Sam owns one of the fullest arcs of any character on Game of Thrones. He first arrived as a self-declared craven, terrified of not only his father and the Night's Watch, but pretty much everything and anything under the sun. Since then, Sam marched beyond the Wall and returned with a veritable White Walker head as a trophy, became so savvy that he shored up a huge political win for Jon Snow as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, found true love and became a father, rose up against the father he feared for so many years, divined vast amounts of knowledge from a brief stint as a maester-in-training and is now returning to the North both fearful and confident in his own abilities. Mock the man if you wish, but do so at your own peril — and do so knowing that today's Sam Tarly couldn't care less about what anyone thinks, as long as his people are safe and his job gets done.

Unresolved Mystery: How will Sam react once he learns about his father's death? He has yet to hear the news, and one imagines he'll get the memo soon after he first meets Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). There was no love lost between Sam and his father, sure, but will he live comfortably with the way in which Randyll died? And what about the other casualty in the mix: Sam's brother Dickon (Tom Hopper), also killed alongside Lord Tarly? There wasn't much in the way of bad blood between these siblings, outside of some awkwardness. Will Sam abide the slaying of his brother in such a vicious way?

Final Predictions: First, there's Sam needing to square up with Daenerys' decision to roast his family alive. One expects a heavy conversation there. Given the lack of love for his father, Sam could easily give Daenerys a pass; heck, one couldn't blame him for giving her a high five. But will fealty come so easily? The death of Sam's brother makes that a big question, sure, but the bigger question comes down to the last appearance of would-be Maester Tarly.

Sam knows Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne. In the past, Sam has shown just how far he's willing to go in order to put his best friend in a position of power. Now that he knows about Jon's connection to the Targaryen line, it's fair to expect he'll champion even harder for Jon to rule Westeros as the new king, whether Jon likes it or not.

Jon not liking it, by the way, is a likely outcome. Learning that his new girlfriend is actually his aunt? It's going to get awkward, and quick. Sam will be the bearer of this unfortunate news, assuming Bran doesn't beat him to the punch. What kind of strain will it put on Jon and Sam's relationship? Hopefully not a lasting one — assuming either one of them escapes Game of Thrones alive.

For Jon, at least, we've made our thoughts known about his survival odds. What about Sam? There's a very popular theory that he will survive the series, and chronicle the adventures as the veritable author of A Song of Ice and Fire. It's a cute idea, and one that has roots in a previous episode, when he and the Archmaester (Jim Broadbent) talk about a book meant to chronicle the fallout of Robert Baratheon's death. It also has a Lord of the Rings tinge about it, which George R.R. Martin has cited as an influence for his novels. Is it a coincidence that both stories prominently feature an unlikely hero named Sam? Maybe. Maybe not. 

If Sam survives long enough to write a book about this adventure, it won't be without a fight. He's at Winterfell at the moment, and we know there's a big battle coming. Some details from the sprawling sequence are starting to trickle out, including the fact that at some point, Sam will wield a Valyrian sword: Heartsbane, the ancestral weapon of House Tarly. He's killed a White Walker before. Is he about to do it again, or die trying?

Good news: Sam won't die trying. He's going to make it through the coming battle. Is he going to come out unscathed? That's another question entirely, and the very nature of "unscathed" is up for some debate. Right now, Sam is at the height of his powers and confidence. It would be nice if he could stay right there… but this is Game of Thrones, where tragedy strikes often and strikes furiously. 

In the months since season seven ended, I worried about what might happen to Gilly. Sadly, she struck me as the likeliest character to die given the roster of players at Winterfell in the season seven finale. Since then, we have learned that virtually every character will make it to Winterfell in time for the big fight against the Night King — Gilly included, seen in the season eight trailer in the crypts next to Varys (Conleth Hill). My prediction for Varys? Not so rosy. The good news: I think Gilly is going to be okay.Tragedy is bound to strike in the final season, but we need some happy endings — and if anyone has deserved one, it's Sam and Gilly.

As for Sam's final landing spot, I see a few different outcomes: Sam becoming Lord of the Reach, as the last surviving member of House Tarly; Sam becoming Archmaester of the Citadel, as the one person in Oldtown who truly cared about the White Walker threat; and Sam taking the place of the late Maester Aemon Targaryen, continuing service at the Night's Watch. The first of those options is a nice capper on his relationship with his father. The other two feel a little truer to Sam, a student of the world — and yes, both would allow him to write his book. As for how Sam and Gilly could stay together if he winds up living out his days on the Wall? It would be irregular, yes… but I suppose that life is irregular.

Last Hope: I would be lying if I said I'm not nervous about Sam and Gilly's future together, even after all of that — so, with this last hope, allow me to double down on my hopes for their survival. I don't love the idea of losing either one of them from the board for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it would be absolutely brutal to watch. Fingers are well and fully crossed for Sam and Gilly's happily ever after, even if it may be asking for too much from the Seven Gods.

Catch up on the Final Path series:

1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage. Game of Thrones returns April 14, 2019.