It's been two years since we last checked in with the characters of Game of Thrones and eight since we first met them in 2011. In that time, more than 100 characters have met their untimely demise and countless plotlines have started and ended, twisted and turned or, in one instance, rowed out to sea only to return four seasons later (we're looking at you, Gendry).
In short: even the most die-hard fan couldn't be blamed for losing track of this complex game of interconnected families and dynasties. So, a quick refresh ...
Last season, Daenerys arrived in Westeros to make her claim on the throne, which she believes is rightfully hers as the daughter of Aerys Targaryen. She met Jon Snow and later rescued him from a White Walker onslaught in episode six - but not without losing one of her beloved dragons, Viserion, to the Night King's extraordinary javelin throw. Viserion was then turned into a terrifying ice-dragon and, in the final scene of last season, burnt down the mythic wall that was the only thing separating the White Walkers from the rest of civilisation. Dany's currently on her way to Winterfell with Jon, who she's now sleeping with – an uncomfortable sight for viewers who had just learned the pair are related. Turns out Dany is Jon's aunt. With two dragons still alive, Dany might be Westeros' only hope in the fight against the army of the dead.
Most of Jon's arc last season was spent convincing people that White Walkers actually existed. Though his trip north to capture a wight went disastrously wrong, he somehow made it to King's Landing and surprised Cersei Lannister with a captured zombie, proving the existence of the Army of the Dead. It was also confirmed that Jon's birth parents were Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, who had legally married in secret, making him Rhaegar's legitimate son and the true heir to the Iron Throne (and, to reiterate, Daenerys' nephew). This could mean a clear path to the throne for our Jon, but this is Game of Thrones, so we all know it's never going to be that simple.
The current queen of Westeros, now in cahoots with the psychotic Euron Greyjoy, remains supremely disinterested in co-operating with Daenerys and the Starks. After telling them she'd send her troops north to fight against the White Walkers, she immediately informed her brother Jaime she had no intention of doing anything of the sort. Cersei's also claiming she's pregnant again, which gives her an heir to the throne and one thing left to actually live for. She's in danger though, owing to the prophecy we saw in flashback in season 5 that has so far predicted the deaths of all her children. It told us she would one day be cast down by a "younger, more beautiful" queen (Daenerys? Sansa?) and there's an extra line in the book that says one day, the "valonqar" (little brother) will kill her. Thankfully for her, Cersei still has The Mountain watching her back, as well as that dragon-slaying arrow launcher she ordered last season.
Tensions seemed to be brewing between Sansa and her sister Arya at Winterfell last season, stoked by a deceiving Littlefinger – until, in the season finale, the sisters teamed up to conspire against him and promptly had him executed in one of the series' best twists. Having eliminated Westeros' most dangerous meddler (who, when you trace it all back basically triggered the events of this entire show), Sansa reconciled with her sister and assumed power over Winterfell. In a tease for the new season, Sansa is seen swearing allegiance to Daenerys – but she doesn't seem too happy about it.
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Now a fully fledged assassin, Arya Stark opened last season avenging the deaths of her family at the Red Wedding, slaughtering the entirety of House Frey. Following that victory, she intended to kill Queen Cersei, but abandoned the plan to reunite with her siblings at Winterfell. She encountered her old direwolf Nymeria along the way, a significant nod to the original novels, which at times refer to Nymeria leading a deadly pack of wolves to kill Stark enemies. Let's also not forget about Arya's kill list - with four down, she still has eyes on Cersei, Melisandre, The Mountain and Beric Dondarrion.
Jaime almost lost his life in a stand-off against Daenerys and Drogon last season (an attack that annihilated the Lannister and Tully armies) and it seems he felt rattled enough to finally abandon his increasingly unhinged sister/lover Cersei after discovering she lied to Jon and Daenerys about supporting them against the Army of the Dead. We last saw Jaime riding north as snow began to fall on King's Landing. There are a number of theories about Jaime's path in the final season, one of them being that he'll kill his own sister – but others wonder if the "Kingslayer" himself might be the one to kill the Night King, given he's in possession of the Valyrian steel blade he took from Joffrey after his death.
We last saw Tyrion listening outside while Jon and Daenerys got it on, with a dark expression that looked something like ... jealousy? Disappointment? As Daenerys' right-hand man, Tyrion may have developed personal feelings for the dragon queen – or maybe he's just wary of letting her get too close to people he doesn't trust. Tyrion remains a slippery character – in the season seven finale he spoke to both Jaime and Cersei in private, seemingly trying to regain trust with both of them. Plus, there's a prophecy from the books that may hint at Tyrion's path. It declares that Daenerys will be betrayed three times. Guess how many times she's been betrayed so far? Twice.
Now the "Three-Eyed Raven" with the ability to look through (and change) time, Bran holds crucial information for many characters – including confirmation of Jon's true identity and the fact that the Wall has been destroyed. The Night King seems to be coming for Bran specifically, ever since he encountered him in a vision in season six, so there may be a terrifying stand-off coming for Bran this season. There's also that wild theory floating around that Bran will eventually become the Night King himself.
Yara was captured by Euron at sea last season, while a terrified Theon jumped overboard. Yara remains enslaved but this season might offer Theon a chance to redeem his cowardice.
Honestly, we could go on forever. Melisandre probably has some magic up her sleeve, particularly now that she thinks Jon is the Prince That Was Promised; Brienne is ready to fight for the Starks; Missandei and Grey Worm remain wonderfully in love. You could spend hours reading up on the background of every character in this show and where they fit into its wider mythology – or, you could do what we do and just push on through in the hope that your smarter friends can explain it all to you afterwards. At the end of the day, we can all agree; the six final episodes of this enormous show are going to be its craziest yet.
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Game of Thrones screens Mondays at 1pm on Sky SoHo and is available the same day on Neon.