Everything You Need to Know Before 'Game of Thrones' Season 8

A deep dive into the motivations and means of the HBO show's last remaining characters.

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Apr 11 2019, 7:34pm

Images courtesy of HBO.

This Sunday Game of Thrones makes a return with its eighth and final season. And in six episodes, it’s all over.

The HBO show premiered in April 2011, back when it was just George R.R. Martin, the successful fantasy writer, instead of George R.R. Martin, the household name. Only about 2.2 million people on average watched the show live that first season. Today, it’s the most popular show going—and certainly the most written about.

The show, like the Song of Fire and Ice novels on which it’s based, is famously massive, both in scale and in the sheer number of characters involved. (The Ringer recently wrote an article on just the top 25 villains.) So it’s understadable that even the most hardcore fans night forget some weird detail about the effectiveness of dragonglass, let alone entire characters or subplots.

We last saw GoT in August of 2017 as The Wall came tumbling down and Jon Snow made sexy-time with his Queen/Aunt Daenerys while Arya crossed another name off her revenge-murder list and Jamie effectively broke up with his sister, so you can be forgiven if you need a bit of a primer before throwing yourself back into Westeros.

So here’s what you need to know going into Game of Thrones according to who’s doing what and where.

Where does everyone stand right now?

Team Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen
Status: Alive

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What has she been up to? She’s been busy forming alliances. For much of season 7, Danny’s desire to take the Iron Throne had produced alliances with the Tyrells, Dornish, and Greyjoys. With the combined forces of her unsullied army, Dothraki Riders, and three dragons, it seemed like it was game set and match. However, after a few terrible mishaps—the unsullied being sent to Casterly Rock, leaving the Tyrell’s castle unguarded, and primed for a royal sacking—many of her best allies were captured, and in the case of Olenna Tyrell, killed.

With Tyrion’s strategic advice up for questioning, Danny moved forward and aimed Drogon at an entire Lannister regime against his wishes (“Battle of the Goldroad”). She also found the time to form a relationship with Jon Snow; at first demanding that he accept her as queen for political clout, but later for more affectionate grounds, which he did. With Jon’s warnings of white terminators heading their way, Dany agrees to allow him to mine obsidian from her spot in Dragonstone; the whitewalkers need their Dragonglass kryptonite.

Where is she? By last season’s end, she was travelling north on a rescue mission to save Jorah Mormont, Jon Snow, and the White Walker kidnapping posse. During the battle however, the Night King effortlessly tossed an ice spear through her dragon Viserion, killing the dragon and later resurrecting it as an ice zombie dragon. The display was enough to give Daenerys pause, shifting her Iron Throne aspirations to a temporary ceasefire with Cersei. Our final glimpse of her was sailing towards the Stark home in Winterfell while sexing it up with Jon Snow.

What does she want? She’s still all about the throne that her family lost during Robert’s Rebellion and we don’t know how far she’d be willing to go to make that happen. But currently, there’s a bigger fish to fry, and he’s called the Night King.

Jon Snow
Status: Alive

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What has he been up to? After the upteenth near-death experience with the Night King leading up to season 7, Jon makes it a mission to bring together every ally he could possibly muster. With Cersei being the hardest to convince, he comes up with a silly idea to steal a White Walker from beyond the wall. And lo and behold, our lucky son of a bitch gathers an allstar avengers team that includes The Hound, Jorah Mormont, Davos Seaworth, and company to assist.

While the ultimate cost of their venture comes at the death of a dragon, they still manage to convince Cersei through demonstration to commit to lending her military strength to the North. Throughout Jon’s season-long mission, we also find out through visions of Bran, that he’s is in fact Dany’s nephew—Ned Stark was never Jon’s father. It was a lie in order to keep Jon alive from the revelation that he’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and Ned’s sister Lyanna—making him the most prominent heir to the Iron Throne and a very odd hubby for Dany.

Where is he? He’s with Dany. Since the meeting up with Cersei they’ve opted to sail back to Winterfell for a much needed Stark family reunion. It’s a long trip, and we were left with Jon bedding with Dany in a display of intimacy.

What does he want? He’s more interested in humanity ending their in-fighting to band together and defeat the White Walker threat. Like he’s proven before, that laser focus may make him susceptible to far more human threats.

Tyrion Lannister
Status: Alive

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What has he been up to? Ever since Tyrion killed his father and smuggled his way from the Lannisters to a Targaryen, he’s been upholding his role as adviser to Queen Daenerys—with a few snags in between. Throughout season 7, it’s been Tyrion’s chore to ground the fiery impulses of Daenerys with concepts of mercy and patience. His track record hadn’t been helping him however—successful in arranging the parley with Cersei, but dead wrong about telling Daenerys to leave the Tully’s (Highgarden) undefended from the enemy Lannisters. Given his last name, Daenerys has reason to question Tyrion’s motives towards his blood family.

Where is he? On the same boat heading towards Winterfell. With his motives being questioned by his queen, we were left wondering why Tyrion was eyeing the relationship between Jon Snow and Daenerys with such concern. Given his brother and sister, he might know a thing or two about the way incestuous relationships often turn out.

What’s his motive? To continue to aid Daenerys in reclaiming the Iron Throne. But while he’s seeked revenge on his sister, we still aren’t sure about his loyalty to the Lannister name—provided that he’s in fact a Lannister rather than a Targaryen.

A reddit post from two months ago summed this possibility up pretty well, but basically, there’s an abnormal hatred between Tywin and Tyrion. His mother died during childbirth, which mirrors what occured with the parents of Daenerys and Jon. To add icing to the cake, he was also able to approach the dragons in a crypt without getting his skin burned to thee bone—a sign of Targaryen blood, or a likeable Tyrion.

Jorah Mormont
Status: Alive

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What’s he been up to? Serving Queen Daenerys. For much of season 7, Jorah had a mission to rid his body of the skin turning disease known as Greyscale. In his efforts, he came across Samwell Tarley who helped free him of the disease. From there, he returned to his beloved queen. Upon meeting each other, Jon Snow attempts to give Jorah his sword, Longclaw—which belonged to Jorah’s much-respected father, Jeor, and can kill White Walkers—but he refuses with the belief that Jon was meant to own it.

Where is he now? On his way towards Winterfell with the rest of the crew. At the moment, he has no idea that Daenerys and Jon slept together.

What’s his motive? Whatever Daenerys wants is his motive. But it’ll be interesting to see how that may change once he finds out about her new love interest.

Grey Worm and Missandei
Status: Alive

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What have they been up to? Living out the healthiest relationship by Game of Thrones standards. We were left with the Unsullied army commander Grey Worm admitting his weakness for Dany’s handmaiden and adviser, Missandei. Throughout the season, both demonstrated their love for Dany and their willingness to lay down their lives for a ruler who favoured the freedom over dominance. But on one night they found a connection between each other, and made it official by sleeping together.

Where are they now? On their way to Winterfell.

What are their motives? To serve Daenerys in whatever way that they can.

Yara Greyjoy
Status: Alive, Captured

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What’s she been up to? Busy being captured. After swearing her loyalty to Daenarys, she loses a battle to Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet in episode two, “Stormborn.” As Euron took her prisoner, her only sibling, Theon, watched on like the broken down “Reek” we once knew. We only see her again in the season 7’s “The Queen’s Justice,” looking like she’s having a terrible time at the hands of uncle Euron.

What’s her motive? At this point, probaly just to get the fuck away from Euron and give Theon a well-deserved beatdown.

The Sand Snakes
Status: Obara, Tyene, and Mymeria are dead apart from mother Ellaria.

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What have they been up to? With Yara Greyjoy transporting the Sand Snakes back to Dorne, they were ambushed in the same battle by Euron Greyjoy. Euron himself killed Obara and Mymeria before delivering Ellaria and Tyrene to Cersei. Subsequently, in regular, twisted poetic fashion, Cersei poisoned Tyrene with the same toxin that Ellaria used on Cersei’s own daughter Myrcella back in season five.

Where are they? Well we have to assume that Ellaria is experiencing equal amounts of torture and rage at King’s Landing.

What’s her motive? She’s had a hate for Cersei ever since her lover Prince Oberyn Martell was killed while defending Tyrion during a trial by combat. To that effect, she’s sworn an allegiance with House Targaryen by oath.

Olenna Tyrell
Status: Dead

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What’s she been up to? Poisoned when castle Highgarden was left unguarded. During her last moments, Jaime offered her a poisoned drink as a sign of mercy. When he informed her that it wasn’t going to hurt, she admitted being the woman responsible for the death of his son Joffrey. A badass to the end.

Team Lannister

Cersei Lannister
Status: Alive

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What’s she been up to? Getting drunk off of power and revenge. After ridding herself of a certain problematic cult, she’s been in reconstruction mode. She’s a queen now with little tolerance for anyone in her way. Thus far, she orchested the killings of the Sandsnakes along with Lady Olenna Tyrell, and captured Yara Greyjoy. She’s also joined forces with the most powerful mercenary army on the seas, lead by Euron Greyjoy.

About the only bit of happiness she’s had came from the revelation that she’s once again pregnant thanks to good ol’ Jaime Lannister. And yet, her promise to Tyrion that she’d support the North in the fight with the Night King was a lie—she intends to send Euron Greyjoy with that newfound Tyrell money for a legendary group of sellswords called the Golden Company.

Where is she? Back in the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, King’s Landing. The last time we saw her, she was having an argument with Jaime about her lie towards Tyrion. He was a little mouthy with his sister until she came painfully close to having him killed.

What’s her motive? To maintain the utmost power by any sacrificial means necessary. She still wants control over the Seven Kingdoms.

Jaime Lannister
Status: Alive

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What’s he up to? Following the small victory of overtaking house Tyrell and ridding himself of Olenna, she left him with some parting words to think about: “If she’s driven you this far, it’s gone beyond your control,” she said of Cersei. “She’s a disease. I regret my role in spreading it.” Since then, he’s witnessed the burning power of Daenarys’ dragons lay waste to his regime, and he’s watched as his sister continues head down a path he can’t follow.

Where is he? The last he was spotted him, he got into a spat with Cersei over her fake-promise of helping in the fight against the white walker horde. To the claps of every Jaime faithful, he took his horse and headed in the direction of Winterfell.

What’s his motive? It stands reason to believe that Jaime is far more moral than the man who once pushed a kid out a window. While we can now see him heading towards the north, we still don’t know how strong his loyalty to Cersei remains. As far as predictions, some believe he might in fact be the one to kill Cersei.

If you head back to season 5, you’ll remember Maggy the Frog who spoke of a prophecy:

“The king will have 20 children, and you will have three. Gold will be their crowns. Gold, their shrouds. You'll be a queen, for a time. Then comes another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.”

Well, Jaime just happens to be younger than Cersei and he also bares particular gold finishings. Given the way he abandoned Cersei at the end of season 7, it would be poetic justice for brother/lover to do the witch in.

Bronn
Status: Alive

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What’s he been up to? If it weren’t for this mercenary for hire, Jaime would be ash in melted armor. In one of the more bullshit GoT moments, Bronn attempts to take on a dragon with a dragon-skin-piercing crossbow. It doesn’t work of course, and in between fighting the Dothraki and dodging flames, he still finds the time to push Jaime out of the way seconds before Daenerys’ dragon nearly melts his gold-plate armour-wearing ass.

Where is he? As far as we know, he’s still in King’s Landing. While he never joined the parlay discussions between Cersei, Jon, and Danearys, he arranged for Jaime to have a secret convo with Tyrion within the dragon pit. It stands reason that he cares for Jaime and will likely follow him up north.

What’s his motive? It’s hard to say. Bronn was always a sword for hire and so far it’s Cersei who’s offering him the coin. But given some of his Jaimie-positive vibes of late, he’ll likely join the fight against the White Walkers.

Euron Greyjoy
Status: Alive

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What’s he been up to? While he first entered the game with the desire to marry Daenerys, he’s developed a thing for Cersei—giving reason for his alliance with the Lannisters. In order to prove his worth, he’s single-handedly defeated the Sand Snakes, and took out Yara Greyjoy’s armies with her as prisoner. Currently, he’s on another mission to fetch the Golden Company from Essos—a group of expert mercenaries that Cersei spent hard earned coins on.

Where is he? On his way to Essos by boat.

What’s his motive? Lust mixed with power. It’s obvious Euron is willing to side with any woman with a pretty face and bank if they’d be willing to be his wife.

Randyll Tarly and Dickon Tarly
Status: Dead

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What have they been up to? After their defeat at the hands of Daenerys and her Dothraki, both father and son were captured. After the mother of dragons gave them a reasonable option of bending the knee, they refused, forcing Daenerys to have her dragon execute them both.

Team Stark

Arya
Status: Alive

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What has she been up to? As the former faceless assassin, she’s embraced the fact that she’s no longer “no one.” Shortly after slicing the neck of the man responsible for killing her mother Catalyn and brother Robb, she reunited with Sansa at Winterfell with the intent to check Cersei off of her kill list. Beyond a few stern words with big sister about past mistakes, both siblings came together to sentence and kill the grimy Petyr Baelish for past crimes against the Starks—including his hand in the death of Ned—with Arya delivering the killing slit across his neck.

Where is she now? Winterfell along with sister Sansa. With Jon Snow on the way, it’s bound to be one tear-jerking reunion.

What’s her motive? First and foremost, she wants revenge. Of all the Starks, she’s been driven by and developed a taste for blood. We still don’t know to what extent she’s willing to
go to get it.

Sansa
Status: Alive

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What’s she been up to? Busy earning the most improved player award on Game of Thrones and eliminating the toxic men from her life. The latest being Petyr Baelish, whose death reminded all of the lessons Sansa learned over the years. At the moment of Jon’s departure to meet Daenerys, he left her in charge of Winterfell, and also sent her guard, Brienne of Tarth to represent her interests at King’s Landing.

Where is she now? In Winterfell awaiting the return of Jon Snow and company.

What’s her motive? While she desires the same things as Jon, there’s reason to believe that she doesn’t trust Daenerys as a force of power. She’s seen other leaders with power turn and watched firsthand as the master manipulator Cersei ruled with a killer fist. Given her lecture towards Jon about the real dangers of Cersei, she may value Jon’s might more than his mind.

Samwell Tarly
Status: Alive

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What’s he been up to? Our jolly old friend of Jon’s has been occupied at the Citadel—pretty much a giant library. So far, he’s managed to cure Jorah Mormont’s greyscale. He also discovered that the White Walker kryptonite known as dragonglass can be made from the obsidian deposits at Dragonstone. Oh, and he also out-predicted our Three-Eyed-Raven Bran, by determining that Jon was in fact half-Targaryen.

Where is he now? Busy at the Citadel, no doubt oblivious to the fact that Dany executed both his father and brother, Randyll and Dickon Tarly.

What’s his motive? To learn and become one of the many Order of the Maesters who will advise the Seven Kingdoms on matters of historical, scientific, and medical concern. Though, his loyalty to Jon is unquestionable.

Bran
Status: Alive

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What’s he been up to? Just busy being mysterious I guess. You know the story: he climbed up a tower, spotted Cersei and Jaime doing the nasty, and got pushed down to cripple-dom. Now he’s the Three-Eyed Raven. He has the power to see the past, present, and future, and he’s the reason we got confirmation about Jon being half Targaryen. He also knows the Night King’s location and tipped off Sansa to Petyr Baelish’s past crimes. We still don’t know if he can alter the past or change the future, but he’s no doubt a key player.

Where is he now? In Winterfell with Sansa and Arya.

What’s his motive? To put a stop to the Night King, provided he isn’t already the Night King. As far as theories go, this became popularized the moment the Night King’s elongated features first appeared. Maybe Bran is actually the Night King? Maybe he’s a terrible time traveller and influenced the Night King’s motives in more ways than he can imagine.

Tormund Giantsbane
Status: Unknown

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What’s he been up to? Busy crushing on Brienne of Tarth. Apparently he has a thing for large women, but either way he’s here for Jon Snow. He was one of the few avengers to trek beyond the wall and capture a White Walker.

Where is he now? He was last seen guarding the wall separating the civilized from the White Walker menace when an ice dragon ripped that shit apart. Did he go down with the wall? We still don’t know.

Brienne of Tarth
Status: Alive

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What’s she been up to? She’s still the best swordsman with a sworn loyalty to Sansa. Since meeting Ayra, discovering the little Stark is an amazing duelist, and representing Sansa’s interests in front of Cersei, she’s continued to show her allegiance to the Stark house since her vow to bring the Stark girls back home.

Where is she now? On her way back to Winterfell with the rest of the crew.

What’s her motive? To keep her promise to the Stark house and defend them at all costs.

Team White Walker

The Night King
Status: Undead

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What’s he been up to? Busy being OP. During his slow march towards civilization, he’s managed to kill a dragon and add said dragon to his roster of undead giants and terminators.

Where is he now? The last time we spotted him, he took down the wall and the Night’s Watch with it.

What’s his motive? We still don’t know the why, but he’s pretty hell bent on turning everyone into the undead.

Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.