There are no books to work from on Game of Thrones this season — even George R.R. Martin might be surprised with what’s happening on the HBO series — and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, two resident Thrones experts will answer your five most pressing questions.
1. Has Cersei lost the plot, or is she winning a game no one else is playing?
Ryan: Cersei has a bad rap for being impulsive and psychotic, but I appreciated the way she handled the truce negotiations in “The Dragon and the Wolf.” As far as the Targaryen alliance is concerned, she reluctantly accepted the situation and is on board with the fight against the Night King. But in reality, she’s taking the opportunity to send for reinforcements that will help her retake the territory she’s lost and strengthen her power.
And why would she do anything else?
There’s not enough room for two queens in Westeros, so it’s Daenerys’ head or hers. An army of dragon-killing undead appearing in the North is just the kind of wild card Cersei needed to pull this latest round of the game of thrones out of the fire. Sure, that same army could end up being an even worse problem than Daenerys in the end. But in the zero sum game Cersei is playing, what’s the difference between getting killed by a Targaryen or the White Walkers? Better to let them “take care of” each other first and hope whatever’s left over is weak enough to stomp out afterwards.
Cersei is in survival mode, plain and simple. Let others try to save the world. She’ll try to protect herself and her unborn baby. In that context, even pushing Jaime away (and into the Zombie Mountain) makes a lot of sense. While surrendering in the face of insurmountable odds may be the smart play when it comes to minimizing troop and civilian casualties, it doesn’t change the fact that it almost certainly ends with Cersei’s head on a spike. Jaime went from being a man who pushed a child out a window to protect Cersei to… whatever the heck he is now. Personally, I love the character growth.
But it’s no wonder Cersei considers it pure betrayal.
Josh: First off: I, for one, am glad that the whole Jaime/Cersei prophecy thing hasn’t come true, because a) prophecies are boring (they’re like a “three weeks earlier” title card after a movie opens en media res) and b) Jaime leaving Cersei is a far more interesting character choice. He, not some crazy, old forest witch named after an amphibian, is dictating (Dickon-ing?) his fate.
Anyway, I’d be pissed, too, if I found out my sister-lover lied to a literal mother of dragons about forming an alliance to help her defeat ice-zombies only to be, like, nah. Cersei’s scheme — she sent Euron, who pretended to beat a cowardly retreat to the Iron Islands, to Essos to pick up her Golden Company super soldiers; he’s the Obi-Wan of Game of Thrones — isn’t terrible for her, but it’s awful for the one million people living in King’s Landing, and the rest of humanity, too. She’s yelling at the sun for revolving around the Earth when everyone else is curbing climate change. There’s one potentially major flaw in her plan, though: what if Daario Naharis is leading the Golden Company?
2. Can you explain Littlefinger’s betrayal(s) that led to his death?
Ryan: Littlefinger’s web of intrigue made its first appearance 15 minutes into the first episode of Game of Thrones, and since then there’s only a few dynamics south of the Wall that Lord Baelish hasn’t twisted to his advantage.
Ned Stark only became Hand of the King because Littlefinger had the previous one, Jon Arryn, poisoned. The distrust between Stark and Lannister that has led to so much death? Stoked by Littlefinger, who had Lysa Arryn write a letter to her sister Catelyn blaming the Hand’s death on the Lannisters. He also falsely implicated Tyrion in the attempted assassination of Bran, and Catelyn’s arrest of the Imp was the spark that plunged the realm into war.
If it weren’t for Petyr Baelish, the Starks and Lannisters probably would have settled into an antagonistic but bloodless disdain for each other in the court of King Robert. But instead, Littlefinger led Ned Stark by the nose to the truth about Cersei and Jaime’s incest. And when that situation came to a head, he set Ned up in a failed coup that got him, well, beheaded. Baelish was long overdue for execution based on the crap he pulled in season one alone.
Josh: “That’s what you do,” Sansa tells Littlefinger, who’s arguably the most influential character on the show when you list his crimes out, in front of the Northern lords and Knights of the Vale. “You turn family against family. Sister against sister. That’s what you did to my mother and my Aunt Lysa. And that’s what you tried to do to us.” It wasn’t the first time Littlefinger misjudged someone — he genuinely didn’t realize Ramsay was a monster (or in Aidan Gillen’s words, he had “slack judgement”) — but it was the last.
3. Why is it such a big deal that Jon Snow’s real name is Aegon?
Ryan: As we learned from the Max Power episode of The Simpsons, names (which you mustn’t touch) change how people see you. Even Bran’s demeanor altered massively when he realized Jon Sand’s true name was actually Aegon Targaryen. You’d think someone as woke as him wouldn’t subscribe to all that negative bastard stuff, but that’s just how Westerosi society is. A bastard child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark? Yuck. But with marriage comes birthright, and now you’ve got a serious new power player on the scene, someone whose claim to the throne may be even stronger than Daenerys’.
To top it off, Jon was named after Aegon the Conqueror, the first Targaryen king to unite the Seven Kingdoms with blood and fire. Branding wise, you couldn’t give a kid a more kingly name. (It beats something like, I dunno, Frank Stinkman.) Now maybe Daenerys will be thrilled to learn she’s in love with her nephew and the two will shack up happily as Targaryen relatives are known to do. But it’s just as likely that the sudden power dynamic shift creates a rift when the forces of humanity need to be as united as possible.
Josh: This is why you should never sleep with your co-workers (or, in this case, your aunt who’s also your dragon-riding queen). It only complicates things. Also complicated: what do we call Jon now? He’s the Larry/Jerry/Gary of Westeros. I guess both names work, but I’m sticking with Jon until Bran and/or Samwell reveal the King of the North’s true identity. I’m just thankful he isn’t “Jaehaerys,” which is what many Thrones viewers, myself included, thought was his real name. Nope, it’s Aegon, just like Rhaegar’s other son. Man, learn to pick another name. I hear Frank Stinkman is available.
4. What’s the deal with Tyrion creeping on Jon and Daenerys?
Josh: It was the weirdest moment in the finale (which is impressive, considering the episode also featured a scene where a dude kneed Theon in the nuts, but “Reek” didn’t feel anything because he doesn’t have a penis — I don’t think that’s how bodies work). After a tense meeting with his incest-loving sister, Tyrion watches Jon Snow enters Daenerys’ bed chambers to make some (unknowingly) incestual love of his own. He looks somewhere between depressed and furious, but why? Why does Tyrion of all people care what happens behind close doors? Think back to last episode, when Dany lists off Drogo, Jorah, Daario, and Jon Snow, the four men who “all try to outdo each other of who can do the stupidest, bravest thing.” Tyrion revealed Jorah’s love for Daenerys and got him sent away, and Tyrion is also the one who suggested that Daario stay in Meereen while his queen conquers Westeros. (Drogo was already dead by the time Tywin’s non-Kingslayer son sailed west.) Is Tyrion sending these men away because he’s in love with Daenerys?
It depends on which Tyrion we’re talking about. There’s early season Tyrion, the one who knows every brothel in King’s Landing like the back of his hand (that’s holding a bottle of wine), and there’s now Tyrion, the peace-brokering Hand of the Queen who hasn’t been with a woman since… I don’t even remember. This is a character who’s in a whorehouse the first time we see him. Honestly, I miss the womanizing, drunken Tyrion. Game of Thrones could use more ambiguously good-bad guys and/or girls. “He wasn’t the first to love you,” Tyrion said earlier this season to Daenerys, “and he won’t be the last.”
Could he be talking about himself?
Ryan: With only six episodes in season eight, I have to wonder just how deep into this strange Daenerys/Jon/Tyrion triangle the show can possibly go. Will Tyrion’s unrequited love push him to betray his queen or screw over Jon Snow? I’m gonna have to see a little more than some creepy voyeurism to buy that kind of development. Tyrion had a understated but powerful season seven with all his ruminations on betraying his family. It’d be a shame if he’s reduced to working out issues of romantic frustration in the final stretch of the show.
5. Where are the White Walkers headed next?
Josh: It was never a question of “if” the White Walkers were going to destroy the Wall. (It would be a boring show if they were like, “Oh no, a wall,” and turned right around.) It was a matter of when. And how. We finally got our answer: the season seven finale. With a flame-spewing ice dragon, obviously.
The new question is: now what?
The Walkers have a long way to go before reaching Winterfell. If they stay east, they would likely pass through Last Hearth, where the Umbers reside; Karhold, which is overseen by the Karstarks; and the Dreadfort, the former Bolton stomping ground that belongs to the Starks after Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay. (She owns a shirt that reads, “I Married A Sadist And All I Got Was a Lousy Fort of Dread.”) They could also head west, but that would involve traveling through mountains and the House Glover-overseen Wolfswood forest, which is no one’s idea of a fun time, even when you’re an ice zombie.
Ryan: Based on the way Game of Thrones runs roughshod over geographic realities, I bet the army of the undead is going to skip all those regions and roll right up on Winterfell, possibly without anyone noticing until they’re a couple hundred feet away from the castle walls. I had it in my mind that the final season of the show would be all battles and fire and blood and ice. But the finale seemed to imply there’s still going to be a heavy focus on political machinations and intrigue. So I expect the White Walkers to cram a lot of conquest into a small amount of screentime. Considering how grim Game of Thrones likes to get, it wouldn’t surprise me if they manage to annihilate all life down to King’s Landing before someone finally figures out the Night King’s achilles heel. It’s like the aforementioned Ramsay used to say: if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.
BONUS QUESTION: Who was the best character in season seven?
Josh: The answer should be Jon Snow. He is, as we (finally) found out in the finale, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, the should-be leader of the Seven Kingdoms, the guy who, like an executive who’s smart enough to sell before the bubble bursts, bounced from the Wall before it came crashing down. (You had one job, Dolorous Edd.) Or maybe Daenerys Targaryen. She rode a dragon, which is more than you and I can say. Or how about Tyrion Lannister? He brokered temporary peace between his family and the Starks/Targaryens. Or who could forget Gilly? (Sorry.) She’s the one who noticed the important passage in a dusty old book about Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
But nah, I’m going with Davos.
He didn’t have much to do in the finale, other than assist in Jon’s wight demonstration and note, “I wish you hadn’t done that” when the King of the North nearly ruins everything by being honorable. But that’s precisely the point: Davos doesn’t talk; he listens. You know what happens when people talk and talk and talk? They end up like Littlefinger, with their throats slit on the cold. blood-stained floor, or Oberyn, who demanded satisfaction but ended up getting his eyes popped like grapes. Davos is smart enough to not let pride get in his way. He does what’s right, not what’s noble or what gives him the best shot at the Iron Throne. Remember what he said about the Great War: “If we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.”
Smart man, that Onion Knight. Even his hype-man intros are to the point.
Ain’t no one else the MVP over Davos.
Ryan: You say that, but I’m picking Euron Greyjoy.
He started out kinda iffy in earlier seasons but he’s really come into his own this year, what with the cheeky bum jokes and his shockingly effective naval battle prowess. He killed two thirds of the Sand Snakes, may or may not be the father of Cersei’s unborn child, and owns the most spectacular pair of pantaloons in Westeros. What’s not to like? And he’s not running back to the Iron Islands like a scared baby to hide from the undead. He’s on a secret mission to ferry the Golden Company across the Narrow Sea! Or at least that’s what he’s told Cersei. The fun thing about Euron is he could totally be preparing to betray the Lannisters. You just never know with him, he’s the ultimate wildcard. And for that, he’s my favorite character of the season.
Josh: Of course we, two men, would pick two men. We’re no better than Sam (who took credit for Gilly’s discovery — he’s the classic Nice Guy who’s actually kind of a jerk). So, my backup MVP is Arya for slitting that cockroach Littlefinger’s throat. It was the most cathartic moment of the season.