In the end, the Night King will reign supreme over Westeros, and all of the humans who tried to resist him will be converted into those proto-zombies known as White Walkers, sad trombone.
Sorry, no, that’s wrong. When it is all over, when the epic battle of battles has been fought, Sansa Stark will be left occupying the Iron Throne, saddened over the loss of so many friends, family members and even worthy enemies but nonetheless determined to rule what remains of humankind with compassion and resolve, moderately triumphal bugle cry.
Or, wait: It’s the Clegane brothers, the Hound and the Mountain, once mortal enemies, who will emerge from the coming test of tactical mettle as survivors and co-sovereigns on this side of the Narrow Sea. Their champion at tournaments — and commercial sponsor — will, of course, be the Bud Knight, no trumpet notes necessary.
What I’m trying to say here is that A) everything sounds better with a horn section and B) almost anything could happen when “Game of Thrones,” HBO’s sprawling epic about dragons, monarchy and the gratuitous nudity they inspire, comes back to our screens April 14 and then, five weeks and six episodes later, goes away again forever.
Put another way, I’m saying: Spoiler not alert, at least regarding Season 8 (Seasons 1-7 are fair game). Like Jon Snow back in the early years of “GoT,” when he was but a handsome illegitimate lad on a frosty inter-tribal carnal lark, I know nothing. And I can give away nothing in these coming paragraphs that will taint your viewing of the wrap-up of this eight-year sword opera splayed across an imaginary Middle Ages.
But like any decent “GoT” follower, I suspect things. I hope for things. I have to, as the Tribune writer who does the “Game of Thrones” recaps each Sunday night, staying up late to offer a crystalline distillation of what just happened on screen, or at least coherent sentences. And I have followed the scant news that the “Thrones” team has allowed to dribble out of their kitchen like one-bite appetizers for a late-afternoon cocktail party. But I do not know.
And not knowing, to my way of thinking, is a good thing. You can go deep into the corners of Reddit or winteriscoming.net to find wildly entertaining fan theories: Ned Stark is really alive thanks to a body switch engineered by the faceless men. This whole story we have witnessed is actually from the writings of Samwell Tarly, and he is, by the way, yet another secret Targaryen. Speaking of Targaryens, Daenerys is a Mad King-in-waiting.
Or you can sit back and revel in the ride, experience, perhaps for the last time, television the way television has historically been presented: one episode at a time, over time. This way, anticipation can build, characters (and actors) can grow and change, and a great number of us can afterward stand around water coolers of the thirst-quenching or metaphorical kind and enjoy this broadly shared storytelling experience, one of the few cultural commonalities that remains to us. Oh, and without the temptation to binge watch, we can all report to work the next day without telltale eye bags.
There are a few important things that we cannot help but know about this season. For one thing, the show is building toward a super-mega-battle that will make even Season 6’s “Battle of the Bastards” look modest. The 11-week filming of this battle and the endurance it required of cast and crew is one of the few plot facts that HBO has allowed the actors to talk about, and it is “expected to be the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film,” Entertainment Weekly said in its report from the set, the only one HBO allowed.
This will be, to one degree or another, the “Winter Is Coming” battle that the whole series has been pointing toward, the one where the Night King’s frozen undead armies from the North plus his newly undead zombie dragon try to take over from those petty, perpetually feuding humans situated south of them. Given their documented venality over seven seasons, many of these particular bipedal persons may not particularly deserve survival, but viewers should have a rooting interest in it, nonetheless, grounded in basic Darwinian theory and unapologetic speciesism. Also, I think we all root for the Starks, not counting Bran, who is the Dorne of the Starks.
This battle will most likely come in Episode 5 of this season’s six, partly because “GoT” has a history of doing big things in penultimate episodes, partly because we have been told that episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who was so masterful with the Battle of the Bastards (which aired in a penultimate episode). Sapochnik also directs the season’s third episode, but that just seems too soon for the show’s equivalent of the World Series, Wrestlemania and Waterloo wrapped into one. Both episodes, incidentally are about 80 minutes long, like the other two of the final four episodes. The first two of the season check in at under an hour each.
We know that a top HBO executive has said the showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff delivered an ending that will be “dramatically satisfying and emotionally satisfying” to fans, as Peter Sagal, “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” host and cohost of the podcast “Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal” says in the video preview we recorded for chicagotribune.com. This seems to promise no “Seinfeld”-style undercutting of the main characters, no “Sopranos”-style mystery, and no “Sex and the City”-style pandering wrap-up.
“Satisfying” probably means a human being and his or her kind will emerge victorious, in one way or another, again for unabashedly speciesist reasons. But given the “Thrones” history of tinkering with main-character lifelines and audience expectations, “satisfying” could very well mean we’ll end up with a big surprise on the throne. Rather than the expected Jon Snow and/or his lover/aunt Daenerys, it could well be a Tyrion Lannister in the big knifey chair. Perhaps his sister Cersei will be ensconced in a revolutionary co-monarchy with her perpetual glass of wine.
Or just maybe the good people who remain will get together and decide the traditional system of hereditary feudal rule is inherently unfair to the peasant classes and antithetical to the idea of a meritocracy and now is the time to give agrarian socialism a true chance. Like I said, surprise.
We do not know what to expect from some of the show’s wild cards, the figures who have receded into the background but just may return to impact the conclusion. What of Melisandre, ageless and red, off to some foreign isle, ostensibly to recruit allies? What of Brandon Stark, whose forays back into time would seem to allow him to maybe, possibly, alter current events? And what about the direwolves? I miss the direwolves.
We certainly know that this last blast of the show has been far too long in arriving, especially since this is not really the eighth season but rather the second half of the seventh season. The first half ended after seven episodes some 20 months ago, back in August of 2017. We were different people then, curious to see what this Robert Mueller fellow would dredge up, intrigued to watch whatever interviews respected broadcasters Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer would do next, and so on. Indeed, it has been so long that in writing this I have had to double-check how to spell both “Daenerys” and “Targaryen.”
On the other hand, the evidence suggests that it has been exactly the right length of time away. When HBO put out that two-minute trailer for the coming final season in early March, it was like “Game of Thrones” had never left us. The hype immediately returned to Frazier-Ali levels. And we forgot our long abandonment — at least until it comes out in therapy — because we were all just so thrilled that Mother (of Dragons) came back to us.
You want anecdotal proof of the tenterhooks the show’s return has fans on? Just today I saw an email header saying one “David Boroff” had requested to join my network on Linked In and — true story — my mind at first read it as “David Benioff,” because of course the “Game of Thrones” showrunner would be friending me on a vocation-based website and, yes, sure, hand to my heart, I’d probably consider a job writing on his next series. Oh, wait: “Boroff.”
The trailer did its job, too. It teased just enough information to fuel the fires, but not so much as to make viewing anticlimactic. We learned Arya Stark, for instance, has apparently continued on her assassinary ways rather than, say, going off to study the classics at university. She’s seen with a big knife, and running, and with blood on her face.
We learned Jaime Lannister, last seen finally abandoning his treacherous sister/lover to join the fight for humanity up by Winterfell, has enough of a beard that he looks like an investment banker just starting in his new career at the microbrewery he funded.
We didn’t learn much about Tyrion or Sansa, except that they are, at some point, still alive in the season. Ditto for time-traveling mystic and wet blanket-to-drama Bran; the answer, he always seems to be trying to tell us, lies right where I am looking, in the middle distance.
We also learned that Dany and Jon are seemingly still an item. They hold hands together. They approach the two living dragons together. Apparently nobody has told them what Bran and Samwell and viewers now know, that Jon is really a Targaryen and rightful heir to the throne and that Dany is really his aunt. Oh, and that Jon is not illegitimate, but rather the product of a secret marriage. Even if they had been told, it may not have mattered, because in the lore of the series, Targaryens marry Targaryens.
But, really, it’s not necessary to know any more. I came across a new promotional teaser, just out this week, showing a certain important place in the series in seeming ruins. You can look it up if you want, but it is a thing I really wish I did not know as I prepare to watch.
At its best, “Game of Thrones” has been rollicking storytelling that you can enjoy without thinking about it as a climate-change allegory, without wondering which character derives from which historical monarch, and without having or wanting to work hard to stay ahead of the plot.
It is enough to know that winter is here, and the battle shall be joined, and maybe spring is coming?