It’s winter in July and the first seven of the last 13 episodes of the biggest show on TV are upon us. Game of Thrones has already begun whittling down its final players and setting up its endgame. But that hasn’t made the list of game-changing revelations, shifting alliances, revenge-murders, and time-traveling plot twists to remember much shorter.
Last year’s lightning-paced Season 6 established the three major forces in the clashes ahead: Newly crowned King in the North Jon Snow and his motley army of wildlings and Northerners, the (totally Mad) Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei Lannister, and Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen who, believe it or not, will finally touch down in Westeros this year to reclaim the Iron Throne.
With the sadistic Ramsay Bolton now dog chow, there’s also a new Big Bad on the map: Yara and Theon Greyjoy’s egomaniacal uncle Euron. Not to mention the Night King and his legions of White Walkers and wights who, thanks to Bran, are now a hair’s width away from bringing the Wall tumbling down and unleashing a wintry apocalypse on everybody.
We’ll go deeper with predictions and fan theories for what’s to come in Season 7 (the first episode airs this Sunday, July 16) in a post coming later this week. But for now, let’s put our hand on a weirwood tree, close our eyes, and gaze into the past to remember what’s already happened, who’s on what side, who’s the most vulnerable, and every single plot point you’ll need to remember for Game of Thrones’ penultimate season.
(And yes, for the record, Gendry is still on that boat.)
Cersei Lannister Was Crowned the Mad Queen
With a sip of red wine, the Queen Mother went nuclear at the end of last season, executing all her King’s Landing tormentors and insubordinates in a stunningly orchestrated (and perversely beautiful) demolition of King Aerys II’s wildfire under the Sept of Baelor. But as Cersei’s plots so often do, this one partially backfired and led to the suicide of her only surviving son. Young King Tommen walked himself out a window, unable to go on without his beloved Queen Margaery. She perished with her brother Loras, the High Sparrow, the Faith Militant, Cersei’s traitorous cousin Lancel, and Hand of the King Kevan Lannister in a burst of green flames—leaving Cersei herself to finally ascend to the Iron Throne.
The Mad Queen’s most redeeming quality as an adult has been a boundless love of her children, as Tyrion once said. No more offspring means no fucks left to give. Cersei’s twin brother/lover Jaime meanwhile spent more time last season reluctantly away from Cersei, a situation that continued to allow him some necessary perspective on their toxic relationship. (To be fair, most humans are disappointing compared to Brienne of Tarth.) The grim look on Jaime’s face as his petty, ruthless sister’s new crown touched her head said it all: Gods help us.
Olenna Tyrell meanwhile, understandably peeved at the queen for blowing up her grandkids, forged a new alliance with fellow Cersei-haters Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes down in Dorne, thanks to some facilitating by Varys. Bad news for Cersei is good news for would-be Westerosi queen Daenerys Targaryen, and Varys is Team Dany all the way.
Brienne of Tarth Said Her Final Goodbye to Jaime
Sansa Stark sent the Maid of Tarth and her loyal, well-hung squire Pod south to Riverrun, the ancestral home of Catelyn Stark’s uncle Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully. The mission was to enlist his army’s help in taking Winterfell back from Ramsay Bolton. But by the time Brienne arrived, her BFF/unspoken soulmate Jaime had already swooped in to stop the Tullys from doing any such thing. The Lannisters had recently gifted Riverrun to the Freys as a reward for their Red Wedding treachery. Which as Brienne points out, is rude. She pleads with Jaime to go against his sister’s orders and leave, doing what he knows is right (“I know there is honor in you, I’ve seen it”). But the best she can do is broker a deal to allow the Tullys and their army to leave unharmed if they surrender.
That didn’t happen either, though. The famously stubborn Blackfish refused to leave the home he was sworn to protect and resolved to die in battle rather than break his oath. Even oathkeeper-in-chief Brienne thought that was dumb. She points out to him that he should live to make himself useful instead: “Don’t die for pride when you can fight for your blood [in the North].” No dice. Defeated, Brienne sailed away in a boat with Pod and shot one last longing look at Jaime, who raised his golden right hand in goodbye. Sob.
Two Starks Reunited, But One Was Lost
In the most unexpected, meteoric political rise this side of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow went from being a corpse to being declared King in the North in just ten episodes. Melisandre used the Lord of Light’s magic to revive the bastard apparently just too pretty to die. He then executed the Night’s Watch mutineers who betrayed him and resigned as Lord Commander, leaving loyal pal Dolorous Edd with the gig instead.
Technically freed from his oath to keep watch until death, Jon left Castle Black to reunite with Sansa and lead the siege against Ramsay Bolton to retake their family’s home, Winterfell. The Battle of the Bastards came at a cost: Ramsay cruelly sent little Rickon Stark running across the field, only to shoot him down at big brother Jon’s feet; Wun-Wun the giant (the last giant in the Seven Kingdoms!) also died in battle.
Maybe if Sansa had given Jon a heads-up about her alliance with the conniving Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, who now commands the Knights of the Vale, Wun-Wun would still be alive. Instead she rode onto the field with the Knights behind her in a belated surprise, helping turn the tide of battle in the Starks’ favor and eventually feeding her ex-husband/serial rapist to his dogs. Fine. But Littlefinger, whose long-con attempt to take the Iron Throne for himself now hinges on bringing Sansa along as his barely-legal bride (vomit), is already at work sowing discord between her and her half-brother.
Judging by the disgruntled look on Sansa’s face while everyone else in the room was busy shout-electing the new King in the North, the scheme is working. The North’s rag-tag forces—little Lyanna Mormont’s Bear Island knights, a few Glovers, Cerwyns, and Manderlys, the Knights of the Vale, and the wildlings led by Tormund—are only tenuously united as it is. How will they fare against Cersei’s forces and the threat of White Walkers if Sansa and Jon start bickering as well?
Davos Seaworth Learned Melisandre’s Dirty Little Secret
Oh, man. The Onion Knight tearfully, righteously raged at the Red Witch after learning she was mostly responsible for barbecuing Shireen, Stannis’ young daughter whom Davos loved as his own. “She was good, she was kind, and you killed her!” It was brutal. The whole thing played out in front of Jon Snow, who banished Melisandre south from Winterfell in lieu of executing her for murder.
Bummer for Melisandre, who believes Jon is the Prince Who Was Promised who’ll defeat the Night King’s encroaching army of White Walkers. She was wrong about Stannis (which she admits), but she may not be wrong about Jon. Or maybe she is. What we do know is she’s actually shockingly ancient, a fun fact she hides with her magical choker. Maybe she’s old enough to know a thing or two about how the White Walkers were quashed a thousand years ago. If that’s true, we’ll surely see her again.
Arya Stark Exacted Her Revenge and Sandor Clegane Returned
Arya and her ex-captor/reluctant protector Sandor “The Hound” Clegane haven’t met since she left him for dead in season four. But they are both currently prowling the same region: the Riverlands. Arya finally left behind her tedious Braavos storylines (training with Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar and that little sociopath the Waif), to sail back to Westeros after learning through a play reenactment what happened to her family at the Red Wedding.
Using the trickery she learned from Jaqen, Arya slipped into the Freys’ fortress at the Twins and exacted her revenge in vicious, delicious style: she murdered two of Walder Frey’s sons and baked them into a pie, then personally served it to the crusty old lech. Just as he realized what was happening, she slit his throat—exactly like he once had someone do to her mother.
The Hound did some avenging of his own. Rogue ex-members of the Brotherhood without Banners massacred the peace-loving, religious folk who’d nursed him back to life and welcomed him into their traveling commune. That irked him enough to renege on his new no-violence ways, track the perpetrators down, and go all ax-murderer on some of them. He found the rest being hanged for their crimes by the Brotherhood itself, led by Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest whom Sandor and Arya once saw bring Beric back from the dead. Appealing to his desire for redemption, Beric and Thoros recruited Sandor to the cause.
Daenerys’ Fleet Has Finally Set Sail for Westeros
After six seasons of promises and procrastination, the Mother of Dragons finally, finally got her bum in a boat and crossed the Narrow Sea to reclaim her “birthright” as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. At her command now is perhaps the most formidable army and fleet of any major player left in Thrones. She’s got the elite soldiers of the Unsullied, led by Gray Worm. She’s got the 100,000-strong Dothraki khalasar she claimed after torching alive the male horselords who took her captive at the beginning of the season. And she’s got a good chunk of the Greyjoy fleet: 100 ships brought to her by Yara and Theon after the siblings escaped their pirate uncle Euron, who killed his older brother Balon and won the Iron Islands’ Salt Throne at a “kingsmoot.” The brutish new Greyjoy king will no doubt ally himself with Cersei soon, since Daenerys promised the siblings independence for the Iron Islands once she sits on the Iron Throne.
Also in Dany’s corner: the Dornish navy, thanks to Varys’s deal-making with Ellaria Sand, and ships and soldiers from House Tyrell, sent by Olenna. She also has a number of ships swiped from the Masters, a formidable brain trust in Varys, Tyrion, and Missandei, not to mention three fully-grown, fire-breathing dragons. Daenerys is now also conveniently single (boy toy Daario Naharis unhappily stayed behind to keep the peace in Meereen), leaving her free to forge a politically advantageous union in Westeros. Her no. 1 lovestruck fan Jorah Mormont, meanwhile, is off somewhere hunting for a cure to his greyscale.
Samwell Tarly Can Now Discover the Valuable Secrets of Oldtown
The cutest couple in Westeros—and the only good humans left in it, probably—are currently at the Citadel in Oldtown, where Sam hopes to train to be a maester. The giant Beauty and the Beast library there undoubtedly holds forgotten secrets about ancient Westeros and how humanity quashed the White Walkers during the last Long Night. Also significant: at the moment, Sam has with him one of the last known blades made of Valyrian steel, “Heartsbane,” stolen from his terrible dad Randyll during an awkward trip home to Horn Hill. (Valyrian steel is one of the only materials capable of piercing a White Walker’s skin, along with dragonglass.) Expect Sam to play a significant role in his buddy Jon’s upcoming siege on the Night King’s forces.
Bran Learned to Time-Travel and Promptly Ruined Everything
In case you’ve repressed memories of last season’s heartbreaking “Hold the Door,” Bran survived a terrifying onslaught from the Night King’s army of wights and White Walkers. The kid’s abilities are still more powerful than he can really control (not only can he look into the past, he can actually affect it), so naturally he ignored his mentor’s warnings and found the Night King in a vision, allowing the undead monster to reach out and mark him. That’s when all hell broke loose: The Night King instantly found the weirwood tree where Bran and Meera were hidden and launched an attack that claimed the lives of Bran’s mentor, his direwolf Summer, many of the ancient, magical Children of the Forest, and his sweet, simple-minded friend Hodor.
It turned out the gentle giant was only ever capable of saying his name because of Bran’s time-travel meddling that night: Bran warged into Hodor in an effort to use his body and ended up in a vision of his childhood as a stable boy named Wyllis. Meera’s screamed command to Hodor to “hold the door” and stave off the White Walkers long enough for her to escape with Bran in the present ended up transcending time, to disastrous effect. The breach between past and present and the stress of existing in two timelines at once basically melted young Wyllis’s mind and left him unable to say more than a butchered version of Meera’s command. Way to go, Bran! Poor Hodor held the door until the very end.
Jon Snow Is a Targaryen. And Winter Is Finally Here.
The young Stark made one other important discovery through his visions: Jon Snow isn’t the son of Ned Stark after all, but of his younger sister Lyanna. She was betrothed to Robert Baratheon but instead fell in love with the Mad King’s son, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen—Jon’s real father. Surprise! One more Targaryen, one more claim to the Iron Throne. Bran, meanwhile, is now traveling back down toward the Wall with Meera. (His undead Uncle Benjen—a Night’s Watchman who went missing in season one, reunited with Bran in season 6, and saved his life—was traveling with them too but jumped ship near the Wall. For supernatural reasons, he can’t cross it.)
If Bran crosses that Wall, however, the mark on his arm will mean the Night King can too. And if the Night King brings down the Wall, it’s the beginning of the end for humanity. Sam better start reading, and fast.