'Game of Thrones': Looking Ahead at Season 7's Royal Rumble

The penultimate season of the HBO fantasy series sees four major parties heading for a collision.
Courtesy of HBO

Ever since the very beginning of Game of Thrones, the members of House Stark repeatedly issued an appropriately stark warning: "Winter is coming." Those words no longer apply. Winter is here — and so is war.

The Emmy-winning fantasy epic returns this month for its seventh season, featuring a shortened order of seven episodes, as opposed to the traditional ten. What the latest round of Thrones lacks in episode number, it's set to compensate with heated battle — literally heated, too, given the arrival of dragons in Westeros, and assuming a certain queen still has her hands on caches of wildfire. 

While Thrones built its reputation on unpredictability, even the earliest days of the series offered a hint of what was eventually coming down the pike: tensions between Houses Stark, Lannister and Targaryen fully boiling over, with an inhuman threat pressing ever nearer all the while. As of the season six finale, we now know the main players in that impending conflict. Without further ado:

1. The Mad Queen

Like her father Tywin (Charles Dance) before her, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) now stands tall in the Red Keep, poised to unleash her cruel tactics on anyone bold enough to challenge House Lannister. Unlike Tywin, Cersei actually sits upon the Iron Throne, the de facto Queen of Westeros following the suicide of her youngest son Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). Indeed, with all three of her children now dead, Cersei is completely free of her emotional anchor and moral center, such as those things ever existed. 

Even before Tommen's death, Cersei showed just how far she was willing to push it in the name of self-preservation, incinerating the entire Sept of Baelor and the thousands of people in the immediate vicinity just to kill a few enemies. Mission accomplished, but at what cost? The invoice will surely be paid in season seven, as Cersei enters the coming war with a crown on her head and wildfire in her arsenal, but lacking in numbers and trusted allies, certainly compared to her new adversaries. Even her lover and brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) can't quite look her in the eye anymore. If any of the main warring parties stands a chance to fall before the end of season seven, Cersei is number one on the board.

Learn more about the Lannisters:

2. The Mother of Dragons

If you're currently in King's Landing, look east toward the Narrow Sea. There, you'll see her: Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, etcetera etcetera, finally at Westeros' doorstep and ready to take the Iron Throne back in her family's honor.

It's hard to root against Dany (Emilia Clarke), given everything we've watched the young warrior endure over the course of six seasons of Thrones. It's wise to root for her, too, given all the assets she possesses, not the least of which is her impressive array of alliances with Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) of Highgarden, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) of Dorne, and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) of the Iron Islands. Her board of advisors is as reliable as it gets, too, including spy master Varys (Conleth Hill) and Hand of the Queen Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who possesses some unique insights into Daenerys' most immediate foe.

Oh, and there are dragons. Heard about those? Sure you have. And that's not even mentioning the Unsullied, Dothraki and Second Son soldiers who have signed on for Daenerys' cause over the course of the series. Winning the Iron Throne won't be as easy as it looks on paper, or else there wouldn't need to be even thirteen more episodes of Game of Thrones. With that said, to borrow a phrase from another popular fantasy epic, the odds are ever in Dany's favor.

Learn more about the Khaleesi:

3. The King in the North

The last time someone ran around Westeros under the title "King in the North," it did not end so well. With that said, the new man in charge has already died once before. How much worse can it get?

Potentially, a lot worse: Jon Snow (Kit Harington), recently freed from his Night's Watch obligations due to his aforementioned temporary death, now presides over Winterfell and the other houses of the North. His decisive victory over Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) during the Battle of the Bastards solidified Jon's place as the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms' frostiest region, though some folks may disagree — folks like Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and perhaps even Sansa (Sophie Turner), both of whom looked less than thrilled with Jon's appointment at the end of season six.

But Jon has a lot more on his plate than worrying about yet another insurrection. Really, he has an entirely new side of his family to start considering: House Targaryen, and not just in the form of Daenerys. In the season six finale, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) discovered a secret that readers of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels had suspected for a long time: Jon is secretly the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, which means the brooding hero has both ice and fire coursing through his veins. Should make things interesting when Jon meets Aunt Dany and her dragons... 

Learn more about Jon Snow:

4. The King in the North of the North

"If we don't put aside our enmities and bound together, we will die, and then it won't matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne."

Leave it to Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) to once again be the voice of reason in the midst of chaotic times. His warning is beyond valid, as he and his fellow allies in the North already know all too well that the Night King and his army of White Walkers are steadily approaching Westeros. If Cersei, Daenerys and Jon are too focused fighting each other for supremacy over the Seven Kingdoms, they may as well be knocking down the Wall and letting the undead army into Westeros themselves. 

Will the Night King's army make landfall in Westeros before the end of season seven? Frankly, it feels more like final season business, but it's not off the table. First, expect the Mad Queen, the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North to hash out their respective conflicts before the final great war begins.

Learn more about the White Walkers and their place in Westeros:

Follow THR's Game of Thrones coverage all season long for news, interviews, analysis and more. Season seven premieres July 16.