It’s hard to believe it’s been more than eight years, but that’s how long it’s been since HBO premiered Game of Thrones on April 17, 2011. In the near-decade since the show launched—it was during President Obama’s first term—a lot has happened in the world of Westeros. Yet if we put on our Three-Eyed Raven goggles, it’s possible we might be able to see where all of this is going by returning to that very first episode.
“Winter Is Coming” begins by setting the stage for the Army of the Dead, which was marching down from the north to end all life in the Seven Kingdoms. The White Walkers are no longer a threat—Arya squashed that when she stabbed the Night King earlier this season—but a lot of what unfolded in that premiere is still very relevant. In anticipation of tonight’s finale, we decided to look at where Game of Thrones‘ surviving characters were when the show started to see if there are any clues for where they’ll be when it all ends.
Jon, notably, is the first Stark to speak in the series. His first bit of dialog occurs while Jon helps Bran during an archery practice session. “Father’s watching,” Jon says, adding, “and your mother.” Fans all now know this purposeful possessive pronoun set up Jon’s bastard lineage, but it’s more explicitly explained later in the episode, with Jon outright saying “I’m not a Stark” when the family stumbles upon a pack of direwolf puppies in the woods.
In the intervening seasons, we learned this isn’t true: Jon is actually the child of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and Rhaegar Targaryen. They were wed in a secret ceremony in Dorne. Jon is a Stark. He’s also a Targaryen.
What to look for in the series finale: Many fans now point to George R.R. Martin’s series title, A Song of Ice and Fire, as proof that Jon Snow, the physical manifestation of the wintery Stark clan and the dragon-rearing Targaryen family, is the prince that was promised. But things quickly get complicated. First, while Jon technically has a more legitimate claim to the throne than Daenerys, he insists he doesn’t want the title. Tyrion and Varys suggested the two wed to paste over who should rightfully rule (incest is a typical Targaryen trait). And now, with Daenerys having burned King’s Landing and with it any goodwill with the Westerosi, people may revolt if the Starks, an old and revered family, provide cover to “the Mad Queen.” Jon, like Ned, the man who raised him, is stuck straddling sides. For Jon, it’s not only the two families he represents, but the members of those families he loves. And like Ned, Jon wants to believe his highest calling is to loyally serve whatever cause he’s pledged fealty to. Given that he’s publicly and privately declared several times that his loyalty is to Daenerys, the question is if that loyalty to her will get him killed, just like Ned.
In that first episode, Bran proves himself to not be a particularly skilled combatant (Arya is much more proficient with a bow and arrow than he is). Bran’s forte—and ultimate downfall—is his passion for climbing (and for learning secrets). After clambering to the top of a tower, he accidentally spies the Lannister twins, Cersei and Jaime, engaged in a very taboo act. The episode ends dramatically when Jaime pushes Bran off the window ledge.
In the intervening seasons, Bran becomes more and more separated not just from his family, but from the earthly realm. When he finally becomes the Three-Eyed Raven, it allows him to see important things from great heights, like he once did before.
What to look for in the series finale: There are numerous theories swirling around who—or what—Bran really is. For years, fans believed he was the Night King, but that seemingly went out the window (too soon?) when Arya killed the icy demon during the Battle of Winterfell. A writer at Cosmopolitan has posited that Bran is evil. She points to Bran being opaque about what it means to be the Three-Eyed Raven and that he never provided a good explanation for what the Night King wanted with him. Adjacent to this theory is the one that Bran warged into Drogon during the Battle at King’s Landing, and he was the one who destroyed the city. As for what the echo between the first and last episode could be, at one point, Catelyn Stark, Bran’s mother, tells him “You always look at your feet when you lie.” Perhaps a downward glance could indicate Bran’s intent.
Sansa Stark always wanted to be a queen and seemed happy to be groomed for the role. From the first moment we see her onscreen, she’s shown acing her embroidery, receiving praise from her septa for her fine work. Later, she makes puppy dog eyes at Joffrey Lannister, and pleadingly tells her mother, “It’s the only thing I ever wanted,” about the possibility of traveling to King’s Landing so she can eventually marry the prince.
But it’s been many hard years for “the little dove,” the nickname Cersei gave Sansa in that first episode. Sansa’s been engaged or married off three times. She’s been mentally and physically tortured. She’s been doubted and underestimated. Perhaps no other character has so fully morphed from pure innocence to world-weary.
What to look for in the series finale: Sansa, having once been foolish in the ways children are, increasingly doesn’t suffer fools. She also knows almost better than anyone how to play the game. After all, she spent years at King’s Landing studying under some of its best competitors—and has outlived them all. There’s a strong case to be made that Sansa, who once used needlework and proper pedigree to climb in stature, will ascend to the Iron Throne because she understands that simply expecting to be queen isn’t enough—one has to earn it.
When the series begins, Daenerys is first seen standing on a balcony in Pentos, across the Narrow Sea, on the eve of her wedding to Khal Drogo, the leader of the Dothraki. Her brother Viserys had made a pact with the blood riders that his sister would marry their Khal, and in exchange they would help him win back the throne that once belonged to his father, the Mad King. It is at her wedding that she witnesses the gruesome “revelry” of a Dothraki wedding, clearly her first glimpse of what will be her bloody, death-filled future. She receives two notable gifts. First, Jorah Mormont gives her books of the histories of the Seven Kingdoms. Being apart from Westeros, Daenerys can only absorb what it means to be Westerosi through books and tomes. But the most consequential gift she gets is three dragon eggs.
Daenerys spends much of the series making her way to Westeros. It takes years to amass her army of the Dothraki, the Unsullied, and Free Men, and she earns their trust by “breaking the wheel.” But as she notes several times during the final season, her family may be from Westeros, but she is not.
What to look for in the series finale: The common complaint up to this point is that Daenerys’ “mad” turn was unearned. But from the very beginning, she’s been seen as a threat from a distant land. Before crossing the Narrow Sea, she built armies and allies, seemingly understanding that empires aren’t built alone or in a day. Yet, like Sansa, she’s been informed by what she witnessed and experienced during her formative years. Much like her brother Viserys, she feels entitled to the Iron Throne, seeing it as her birthright. In that first episode, Viserys tells her he would let the entire Dothraki tribe and their horses violate her if that’s what it took to recapture the throne. Daenerys learned that you shouldn’t let the pain of one—or many—stop you from taking what’s yours. But it’s worth remembering what crown Viserys ended up wearing.
Arya plays a relatively minor role in the first episode of the series, but still the littlest lady of Winterfell is quickly established as never really wanting to be a lady. She’s a fighter. She nails the bulls-eye her brother Bran can’t seem to hit, and she pokes fun at her sister for wanting to be a queen.
What to look for in the series finale: Just like with Bran, there are numerous Arya Theories. One of the most prominent right now is that Arya is dead. Some say she died back when she was training with the Faceless Men. Others say Arya died during the Battle at King’s Landing and the white horse she encountered at the end was also dead (instead of signifying death). And while the GoT universe certainly employs magic and sorcery as story devices, it’s more likely that Arya is alive, and the white horse was heavy-handed allegory that Arya will bring death with her to her final destination. What will that final destination be? If the series wants to be truly circular, it would end in Winterfell, where it all began.
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