'Game of Thrones' Final Path: The Journey of Tormund Giantsbane

Game of Thrones - Tormund 1 - Publicity - H 2019

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: Tormund Giantsbane.

There's much to ponder in these final days before the final Game of Thrones season begins. Who will win? Who will die? Who doesn't care much about the Iron Throne at all, and just wants to live?

Chiefly in that third category: Tormund Giantsbane, the Free Folk fighter brought to ferocious life by Kristofer Hivju. In an ocean of complicated characters, Tormund is about as simple as it gets: he's here to survive — though he wouldn't mind a good fight or two along the way.

If the season seven finale's closing moments are to be taken at surface value, Tormund will get neither of the things he desires in the final season. That would be because Tormund seemingly dies in the fall of the Wall, when the Night King and his army destroyed Eastwatch and marched on through to Westeros. That, of course, will not be happening in the final season, because Tormund is very much alive. Why else would we be talking about him here in our Final Path series? Read on for the Tormund highlight reel, both in terms of what's behind him and what's still ahead.

Names and Titles: Tormund Giantsbane of the Free Folk, acting leader of the Wildling community and acting commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea — before it fell into the sea.

First Appearance: "Valar Dohaeris," the season three premiere. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) enters Mance Rayder's (Ciaran Hinds) camp for the first time and lays eyes upon Tormund. Instantly, he thinks he's met the King Beyond the Wall. In short order, he learns his mistake: Tormund is no king — at least not at that point.

Last Appearance: "The Dragon and the Wolf," the season seven finale. Tormund was last seen on the Wall at Eastwatch, with a front row seat to the Night King's reign of terror. The Wall comes crumbling down on Tormund's watch, and the Wildling himself goes unaccounted for… but we know better than to count him out just yet.

Best Friends: When he was first introduced into the series, Tormund was the ride-or-die lieutenant to Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall. Since Mance's fall, Tormund has developed a strong bond with Jon Snow — first reluctant, then forged on the battlefields of Hardhome and outside the gates of Winterfell. In his time working with the King in the North, Tormund has shown some fondness for Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), and a lot of fondness for Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) — fondness that isn't exactly reciprocated.

Worst Enemies: A life lived beyond the Wall has left Tormund with a sour taste in his mouth for the Night's Watch. He even had trouble accepting a working relationship with Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) due to his late father's status as Lord Commander. These days, on the other side of the Wall, Tormund has warmed up to the Watch, or whatever's left of it. More than anything, his key adversaries are the ones everyone else is starting to worry about: the Night King and the White Walkers.

Best Kill: In season five's "Hardhome," Tormund joins Jon Snow on a mission to bring the Free Folk south of the Wall. Upon their arrival at Hardhome, the Lord of Bones needles Tormund for going soft on the "southerners," which leads to Tormund beating the Lord of Bones into oblivion. It's a shocking death for a relatively minor character, albeit one with more importance in the books, and one with an unforgettable aesthetic even for show-only viewers. Beyond that, it shows why it would always be a mistake to underestimate Tormund Giantsbane.

Worst Wound: Depending on how things shake out, the situation at the end of "The Dragon and the Wolf" could very well lead to Tormund's worst wound. Death's a hard one to recover from, unless you're Jon Snow or Beric Dondarrion.

Critical Moments: Since his capture at Castle Black, Tormund has slowly but steadily become one of the bedrock characters on Game of Thrones. Much like Bronn, he's a secret ingredient that enhances most every scene. Indeed, an example of that quality also stands out as a critical moment for Tormund: the first time he lays eyes upon Brienne of Tarth in season six — specifically, the way the camera lingers upon Tormund's eyes lingering upon Brienne. What was originally a one-off gag became such a force on its own that Tormund's feelings for Brienne have become a defining part of his character. It's as much a testament to Tormund as a player in the world of Thrones as it is to Kristofer Hivju's wild energy as an actor.

Unresolved Mystery: There's really only one big mystery involving Tormund, unless we want to get into the weeds of what he allegedly did to a bear once upon a time. Let's not get into those weeds. Instead, let's go straight into the final predictions.

Final Predictions: Beyond what he and Vermont state trooper Robert "Rabbit" Roto may or may not have in common, the biggest question surrounding Tormund right now is this: is he alive? The way the show ended in season seven, it's worth wondering if Tormund survived the fall of Eastwatch — and if so, how?

Let's start with the first bit: Tormund absolutely survived the fall of Eastwatch. How do we know? He's seen in the full trailer for season eight, alongside a couple of other people whose lives were on the line at that point in time. Exactly how he made it out of Eastwatch alive, and his next moves after survival, are bigger questions still in need of answering. House Umber's home at Last Hearth stands in between Eastwatch and Winterfell, and could be a likely next destination for Tormund — though he may not receive the warmest welcome there, considering he's the man who killed Smalljon Umber (Dean S. Jagger) in combat at the Battle of the Bastards.

Wherever Tormund goes next, both literally and figuratively, just know that he's going to be fine. In fact, here it is, quite possibly the most out-there prediction in the Final Path series: literally nobody on Game of Thrones is safer than Tormund Giantsbane. Every other character could die some horrible, gruesome death, and Tormund would still be standing, laughing on a pile of bones.

Okay, hyperbolic noise-making out of the way, here's a more serious way of parsing it out. Game of Thrones had two incredible opportunities to kill Tormund in season seven. First: "Beyond the Wall," when Tormund was nearly dragged into a subterranean abyss by several clawing zombie hands, not unlike Private Hudson in Aliens. (Apologies for the Aliens spoilers if you have not seen Aliens, but honestly, it's your own fault for not having already seen Aliens.) The Hound (Rory McCann) ultimately pulls Tormund from the depths, saving the man from what would have been one of the most horrifying and memorable deaths in recent Thrones lore. Second: "The Dragon and the Wolf," when Tormund and the other men at Eastwatch are presumably killed by either the ice dragon's blue fire or the falling Wall itself. Neither did the trick, as Tormund is still standing, as confirmed by the season eight trailer. 

With two shots at an iconic Tormund death already fired and deliberately missed, will Game of Thrones ever really take a third shot at Tormund and mean it? The man has been to the edge of extinction and back again, twice in two episodes. If Thrones was going to kill Tormund, he'd be dead by now.

The other thing keeping Tormund alive: he's the only Wildling we know, aside from Gilly (Hannah Murray). These two characters have the entire Free Folk perspective riding on their shoulders, and in Gilly's case, she has been so wrapped up in the Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) story that she's more of a Westerosi than most Westerosis. (At least, she knows Westeros history better than most!) Tormund is the last living face of the men, women and children who traveled south with Mance Rayder, looking to escape the White Walkers, looking to build a better life. Among its core messages, Game of Thrones has been telling a story about refugee crises, and the ways in which nations interact with those who are disenfranchised and in desperate need of help — and all the fear and alienation that comes along with it. If the messages brought on by the Wildling story is to survive, then Tormund must survive as well. Maybe not "must," as the final season could elevate a background Free Folk character into a more prominent role. Until that time, however, consider Tormund as safe as it gets on Game of Thrones — which, of course, is still not very safe at all.

Last Hope: For no new Wildlings to become prominent characters in the final season, because their rising status could very well mean Tormund's final fall, and that's not an acceptable outcome by any measure. Additional last hope is for you to watch Aliens if you haven't watched Aliens already. No more delays. Get on it, right now. (And on that note, stay frosty, Tormund Giantsbane.)

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
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
13. Varys
14. Melisandre
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
17. Bronn

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