When “Game of Thrones” returns to HBO for its seventh season next Sunday, it will feature fewer episodes — seven, down from its usual 10 — and a more concentrated focus, as key characters unite and turn toward King’s Landing, the capital city.
That’s where Cersei Lannister has taken the Iron Throne by force and is presumably ruling the Seven Kingdoms with a golden fist, gold being the Lannister trademark and contempt for all non-Lannisters being her own personal one.
Which contender will be the most threatening to her reign? And will the bloody throne derby continue to distract nearly everyone from those ice monsters up north, preparing to annihilate humankind? As we get closer to the answers to these and related questions, let’s review where we left off last year.
Cersei took over in the Season 6 finale, blowing up the city’s Great Sept and most of her rivals with it — she was last seen seated on the throne as her twin brother and soul mate, Jaime, looked on with concern. How will her power grab affect their toxic bond? And what will Cersei be like, in general, now that all her children are dead? Her devotion to them was her lone sympathetic quality. How monstrous might she be with only Jaime; Qyburn, the demented maester; and the undead Mountain to keep her company?
Daenerys Targaryen has spent the show talking about heading to Westeros, to reclaim the throne that once belonged to her father, while remaining bogged down in the east. That appeared to change at the end of Season 6, when the dragon queen teamed with the seafaring Yara and Theon Greyjoy to finally cross the Narrow Sea. Possible obstacles include Euron Greyjoy, the evil uncle to Theon and Yara who showed up last season and has a fleet of his own.
But Team Daenerys is a juggernaut and includes an enormous army as well as the trusted advisers Tyrion Lannister, who could have an awkward homecoming awaiting him, and Varys, the invaluable eunuch. (Jorah, her ardent admirer, is off looking for a cure for his greyscale.) Dany also has the backing of Houses Tyrell and Martell, united in their Lannister loathing, as well as air support from her three DC-10-size dragons.
Jon Snow, meanwhile, is doing remarkably well for a formerly dead bastard, having defeated the terrible Ramsay Bolton and been elected the King in the North. And he could possess even more power than he realizes. (More on that in a minute.)
There is intrigue in the north, however, as Sansa Stark, Jon’s half sister (as far as they know), has come into her own and continues to mingle with Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. This Machiavellian operator’s schemes have shaped this story from the beginning (see: the deaths of Jon Arryn and Joffrey Baratheon). He, too, has designs on the Iron Throne and wants Sansa to join him.
Elsewhere the other two remaining Starks, Arya and Bran, are on their own missions. Arya graduated from her assassin internship with the Faceless Men and is working on her revenge list, which happens to include the woman sitting on the Iron Throne. Arya ended last season crossing off a different name: Walder Frey, the vile lord who betrayed Arya’s mother and brother at the Red Wedding.
Bran, last seen near the Wall with Meera Reed, has begun to realize his own destiny as a powerful mystic, known as the Three-Eyed Raven. This has paid significant dividends — his vision at the end of Season 6 revealed that Jon Snow was the son not of Ned Stark, as is the official story, but of Ned’s sister, Lyanna. Jon’s father is Rhaegar Targaryen, the long-dead older brother of Dany who ran off with Lyanna during the show’s prehistory.
If Lyanna and Rhaegar were married before they died, Jon would have a strong claim on the Iron Throne. (Legitimacy is always his issue.) The combination of Stark and Targaryen blood could also give Jon all sorts of powers that might be useful in, say, a war against an undead army led by the White Walkers. The long-promised winter has arrived, and Jon has generally been the only warrior who has given the White Walker problem the attention it deserved.
Will he use his new clout to confront the White Walker threat, possibly with intel from his buddy Samwell Tarly, last seen at the Citadel? Or will his gaze turn throneward?