Winter is finally here. Season eight of Game of Thrones arrives this weekend, with the first of the concluding six episodes airing on Sky Atlantic at 2am on Monday and again at 9pm on Monday.
We are entirely in a tizzy as the HBO epic at last swoops towards its endgame. Truly there is so much to play for. Will Jon and Daenerys’s relationship survive the inevitable revelation that the Khaleesi of Jon’s dreams is also his magic sex auntie?
What sort of reception can Jaime Lannister expect at Winterfell, given that on his previous visit he spent most of his time canoodling with his sister and pushing small children out windows?
Does the Night King have a plan beyond covering the Seven Kingdoms in permafrost?
Answers to all the above will presumably be forthcoming across the closing season. But right now all attention is on this weekend’s episode. Here are 10 questions fans will hope to see considered sooner rather than later (bearing in mind that we already know, from the trailer, that Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion survived the destruction of the Wall).
The King is the North is seen marching purposefully towards the dragon Rhaegal in the full-length trailer for the season. We have previously witnessed Drogon, Daenerys’s favourite dragon, subject Jon to a drive-by sniffing at Dragonstone and accept him as a potential ally. With Targaryen blood pumping through his veins – though he doesn’t know it – Jon certainly has all the qualifications required of a dragon rider.
Consider, moreover, that Rhaegal is named after Rhaegar Targaryen – Jon’s secret dad, and it’s almost too perfect that he would end up leading the beast into battle. The other question is whether Kit Harington will continue to look epically grumpy while wheeling about in mid air.
All through its previous seven seasons, Game of Thrones has shown us the White Walkers advancing south at a leisurely pace. But now the Night King has the resurrected Viserion as steed.
This has already increased the urgency of the Walker invasion, with Viserion toppling the Wall with a few blasts of its electric blue breath. With the Seven Kingdoms at his mercy, is it going to be straightforward march south for the Night King?
George RR Martin promised a bittersweet ending to his grand tale – code for lots more deaths. Could someone shuffle off in the first episode back? If so, it is unlikely to be a major-character. Whatever else, please can it not be Ser Davos. This early in, it would be more than we could bear.
Jaime has slipped free of his toxic relationship with Cersei and ridden north to fight with Jon Snow. That will reunite him with Brienne, with whom he struck up a deep connection when they travelled the Riverlands together in seasons two and three (it was with Brienne he shared his secret pain over being disdained as the Kingslayer when all he was doing was saving King’s Landing from Mad Aerys’s wildfire).
Some fans believe a romantic spark is about to catch alight and that they are destined to be together. But do we want to see these two gritty characters having a Disney ending? And where will that leave Brienne-fancier-in-chief, Tormund Giantsbane?
One looming question is how long Game of Thrones will put off the big reveal that Jon is a Targaryen and – awkward! – nephew of his lovely new girlfriend, Daenerys.
Bran and Sam have both solved the puzzle of Jon’s origins. However, as the manifestation of the clairvoyant Three-Eyed Raven, the Stark boy is no longer fully human. Could he simply blurt out the truth? Or will Jon’s dear friend Sam let him in on the secret first?
A third possibility is that both keep schtum and that Jon doesn’t see the awful full picture until further into the season. It’s just a guess but our bag of gold is on the latter.
One of the most riveting sequences in the trailer was of Arya pegging it hysterically through what looked like the crypts of Winterfell, pursued by something terrible. Some fans claim to have warged into YouTube and spied the outline of the Night King. But to the average viewer Arya’s pursuer remains a matter of mystery. Could we learn the truth in episode one?
GoT showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have indicated that the concluding season of Game of Thrones will contain strong echoes of the very first series. There are certainly parallels as Daenerys and Jon head for Winterfell, where Sansa awaits them. The last time a Queen came to the Stark stronghold, boundless horror unfolded (beginning with Bran “falling” from that tower). How will things work out on this occasion?
All along, the White Walkers have been a background threat – with courtly back-stabbing providing Game of Thrones’s juiciest moments. However, arch-manipulator Littlefinger is dead, and we more or less know where all the other players stand.
That said, Game of Thrones wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without everyone plotting against everyone else. Going into the first episode, fans will therefore be anxious that the show is more than the straightforward tale of Jon and Daenerys versus the Night King (with Cersei smirking back at King’s Landing). Can Benioff and Weiss furnish Lord of the Rings spectacle while also exploring the darkest reaches of the human heart?
One delicious fan theory is that Tyrion – still a Lannister after all – is secretly in cahoots with Cersei and waiting for an opportunity to turn against Daenerys. For a supposed strategic genius he has, it is undeniable, blundered terribly as the Mother of Dragon’s Hand – beginning with his ludicrous plan to invade Casterly Rock (which the Lannisters were more than prepared for).
Even if he is a turncoat, his betrayal is unlikely to take place in the first episode. However, viewers will watch closely for any hint Tyrion might be about to forsake Daenerys and rally to the Lannister banner.
Littlefinger was the headline casualty last season, and it remains to be seen how Sansa’s storyline, in particular, will function without Lord Baelish whispering conspiratorial nothings in her ear. It looks like we’ve also said our farewell to the Sand Snakes – last seen pleading for mercy in Cersei’s dungeons – but most of the audience will agree we’re better off without them.
A bigger loss will be Lady Olenna, the devious brains behind House Tyrell. She was Cersei’s most implacable adversary. Who remains to contain the Mad Queen of King’s Landing?