How Will Game of Thrones End?
It snows in King’s Landing. The army of the dead marches for the wall, a giant and a dragon on their side. Winter has well and truly come. That’s how season seven of Game of Thrones ended. We see the first chapter of what comes next on Sunday. For months, we’ve all been pondering the same question: how will Game of Thrones end?
We’ve been hard at work, with teams of researchers (i.e., the author and his cat) watching and re-watching the entire Game of Thrones run, mining it for clues and running complex calculations (i.e., talking it over with the cat) to definitively establish how Game of Thrones will end. Thanks to my cat’s fascination with the dragons and his expertise in narrative matters, we have a good shot of being right.
While there are sure to be surprises along the way, we’ve come up with a few high-probability guesses, based on our own study of the show. Based on the narrative style of the show and the basic tenants of storytelling, there are a few guesses we can make that will almost certainly be true.
The Fall of the Night King
We get very few points for guessing that the final season will focus on the Long Night Part 2: Electric Boogaloo, or that the Army of the Dead will be defeated or at least reduced to the point of eliminating the threat.
Even with Viserys the Dragon breathing blue flames for the side of the dead, the Night King cannot win. It is narratively prohibited. Ironically, Viserys’ wall-melting power would not have been available to the Night King if Daenerys had let Jon Snow die. We would hope that there are positive consequences to this loss, as well as the negatives we’ve already seen.
The army has been built up as a real threat by expert storytelling. Nevertheless, our heroes will best it. While good could fall and evil triumph, that ending would be so disappointing that we’re not even sure Game of Thrones would attempt it.
Belief Triumphs over Cynicism
Over its seven seasons, the show has expended great effort in establishing the philosophy and religion of the characters. There’s a gradient of nihilism to belief, with some characters strong in their belief in purpose, like the Red Woman, and other people, like Tyrion Lannister, explicitly scoffing at the idea of purpose and meaning.
And yet, in the last season, even the most cynical of characters, the Hound, has found something to believe in. He looked into the flames and he saw the wall, the army of the dead. He believes. And the show wants you to believe as well. It’s hard to believe in characters, of course. They might all die in the first episode of the new season. We all believed in Robb Stark, and then the Red Wedding happened! Nevertheless, the expected course now is the triumph of meaning over non-meaning, of purpose over nihilism, of meaning over cynicism.
The army of the dead and the night king will be defeated, and it will happen with the characters working as a team. The show has been building up the idea of the value of teamwork, of working together. It’s Jon Snow’s whole purpose. But it’s hard to predict whether this will pay off or not. Is the show simply baiting us emotionally so they can behead yet another kingly Stark? That would be a disappointing ending.
Magic Plays a Bigger Role
But there is magic in this world, a verifiable force working beyond the control and understanding of the men and women of Westeros. Jon Stark is brought back to life. Renly Baratheon is killed by the Red Woman’s blood magic. There are higher forces working at a level that has not been explained to the characters or the audience.
What role will these forces play? We cannot say. They’ve mostly been used to create a deus ex machina, and the rules aren’t clearly defined. But at the end of the show, the believers in something greater—whether it’s dragons or the Lord of Light—will be triumphant, while the cynics will be defeated. This wouldn’t be much of a prediction for most shows, but for Game of Thrones, it’s meaningful. When anyone can die, survival is not guaranteed. The role of magic has been gradually increasing throughout the seasons, and we expect it will grow even further.
Take, for example, the Azor Ahai prophecy which has yet to be fulfilled, providing ample fodder for speculation. Is Jon Snow the modern reincarnation of Ahai, the warrior that forged the famed blade Lightbringer and ended the first Long Night? The required the death of Azor Ahai’s wife the first time. Its recreation would likely require the same. The burgeoning relationship between Jon and Dany would lay the groundwork for this Hobson’s Choice, and make for compelling TV. Perhaps Sam will tell Jon, or a Bran with all have Time Traveling Warg Vision.
Daenerys Almost Wins
Daenerys, unfortunately, cannot win the Iron Throne. She might get within spitting distance, but she can’t simply win. Right now, she’s the favored horse. And, based on what we know about this show, the expected rarely comes true. So, something will prevent her from winning outright.
Unless we go for an “evil wins” ending, Cersei will die. She has been set up as pregnant, but we expect that this will make her harder but not impossible for Jon Snow to behead for treason and being a generalized monster. That’s what you call character growth: a man who wants to be good doing something bad (killing a pregnant woman) for the right reasons (if she stays on the throne, all of Westeros dies). Season seven Jon Snow wouldn’t even lie to Cersei. Would season eight Jon Snow kill her?
The remaining Lannisters, Tyrion and Jamie, may survive. Neither has shown a narrative or character interest in the throne, so they won’t inherit. We hope they do, because, of the surviving characters, they’ve had some of the most interesting character moments on the show. They’ve developed in believable, meaningful ways. Of course, Game of Thrones has rarely rewarded likable characters with survival.
However, Daenerys is too obvious, too straight forward. She can’t simply win, but she may get close enough to taste it. In a show known for its twists and turns, could the final trick be, in fact, the absence of a twist? It would subvert expectations, but it would also be a major let down.
More likely, Jon Snow will sit on the throne. The revelation about his character has been set up this late specifically to provide a true blood claim to the throne. And yet, Jon doesn’t want the throne. So he’ll need some Character Growth to get there. Maybe that comes when his love, Daenerys, dies?
If Jon takes the throne and Sansa rules in Winterfell, then the Starks will have risen to control all of Westeros. The sweetness of the ending should not be underestimated, but it would be nearly the only time that GoT has given fans what they wanted.
What happens to…
- Theon beat the tar out of out… somebody in the last episode. He punched him so good he just died! No prize for noticing Theon’s redemption arc: they’ve been setting it up since he became Reek. Theon’s last act, whether to sacrifice himself to save Yara or to perform some other act of great courage, will mark the final step in his redemption. In fact…
- Euron will probably die at the hands of Theon. From a narrative perspective, Euron’s character has zero depth. He’s a basket of psychotic impulses. He’s a catharsis carrying sack, dropping a Character Growth Moment when killed. He’s a Great Value version of Ramsey Bolton, from a narrative perspective.
- Varys will probably survive to work with whatever ruler reigns. He might die in an incidental fashion, but he’s not established enough on the show for his death to carry great weight. That said, since his season six reintroduction, they have been attempting to lay a firmer character foundation. So perhaps he will die in a way that represents his turn from cynical manipulator to sincere believer in something bigger than himself.
- The Mountain will be killed by the Hound, or maybe vice versa. We have good odds on a fraternal fight at some point. With all the narrative work we did to bring them back from the dead, and with the straight monstrosity that the Mountain has become, we home and expect that the Hound will be victorious in this battle.
- Qyburn will have a Frankenstein ending: thrown to his death by his monstrous creation. Maybe Sam, representing the Maesters that expelled Qyburn, will kill him. But Qyburn would have to threaten Gilly first, and that doesn’t seem like him.
- Davos is marked for death because he’s too good to live. He also doesn’t bring a lot to the table for Team Dany. His death would be more narrative power than his survival. His death will likely provide motive power for some character change or decision, just like other deaths have.
- Lady Brienne will do whatever Sansa tells her, just like always. There’s not a lot of narrative juice to get out of her death, since basically none of the characters like her very much. The best resolution of her storyline would be if she killed Jamie. Imagine this: he lies on the battlefield, horribly burned by a dragon. His death is sure, but painful. Brienne would absolutely deliver a merciful killing blow.
- The Dragons will not stay in Westeros indefinitely. There’s simply nowhere to keep them, and we know what happens to dragons forced to live in captivity. They can’t range over the area required to keep them alive, and as a wise man said, you can’t teach a dragon the difference between what belongs to them and what doesn’t. It’s hard to imagine Dany killing them, but they might die in battle. Or she might pull an “Airbud” and throw rocks at them while crying, begging for them to leave. That did happen in Airbud, right?
- Who knows what Arya will do, honestly. Her character is about unpredictability at the moment. Establish a Faceless Men franchise location in Westeros?