[This post contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6.]
Game of Thrones season 6 came and went, and now fans are left with an icy wind blowing through their hearts until the series returns. As far as endgame-setting seasons go, the sixth go-round in Westeros and beyond may have surpassed expectations with the same steely determination that it surpassed the source material it's based on. Calling the season finale 'The Winds of Winter' was probably painful for book readers still holding out hope the words of George R.R. Martin might be first to thrill them with the secret of Hodor's name (and the limits of his vocabulary) or the confirmation of a decades-long fan theory, revealing Jon Snow to be half Stark and half Targaryen, but them's the breaks – and besides, the title was probably more a hat tip to George's still-pending tome than some inadvertent nose-thumbing.
Like winter, though, the end of Game of Thrones is coming, and with just 13 (or 15, maybe) episodes left, the only show on TV capable of captivating the world (okay, social media users) on a weekly basis has its work cut out for it if this Song of Ice and Fire is going to come to a satisfying conclusion. Anxious viewers are about a year removed from the next season, which will most likely see Westeros lit up like an octogenarian's birthday cake, but there's so much more to look forward to than Drogon hocking a flaming loogie on the Red Keep.
Here's a rundown of what we want to see in Game of Thrones season 7:
The Wall Comes Crashing Down
It is pretty much a given that the Wall has to come down if the Night King and the rest of the White Walkers are going to be a real threat to the newly anointed King of the North and his pals (with the possible exception of pre-teen spitfire Lyanna Mormont, because not even an undead army is foolish enough to mess with her), much less the rest of the realm. But as Benjen mentioned, right before he dumped Bran and Meera at the nearest weirwood tree, the Wall was built with more than just ice, sweat, and tears; it was lovingly crafted with magic baked right into its foundation, meaning anything undead cannot pass (hence why Benjie peaced out without so much as teaching Bran that cool fire-whip trick of his).
The Wall coming down is an integral part of the Game of Thrones endgame and it will make for an astonishing set piece that will understandably raise the stakes of the series, just when things have begun to go right for the Starks. But the Wall's destruction – or whatever happens, but let's be honest, seeing such a prominent landmark crumble is the kind of visual spectacle the show specializes in nowadays – won't just mean an imminent threat for everyone's favorite northern house, it will be the wakeup call everyone south of Winterfell needs. Sadly, considering how the mark of the Night King brought Max Von Sydow's Three-Eyed Raven to his end, Bran might also be the key to undoing the living's best defense against the White Walkers.
Arya Stalks Cersei in King's Landing
The term "face-changing teenage assassin" is one of the most Game of Thrones-y things Game of Thrones has going for it. After Arya showed off her cooking skills by whipping up a tasty-looking "Frey Pie" (although the Westerosi health inspector is likely going to have issues with that fingernail) and superb throat-slitting techniques, it's pretty clear the youngest living Stark has upped her game and is ready to move into the major leagues of murder. Let's face it: once you stare off into the middle distance while the head of a major house bleeds out in the crook of your arm, it's time to take the act someplace more lively, where the action never stops, not even for meat pie.
Arya has a long list of People Who Need Killing ahead of her. It's a list that includes Melisandre, Beric Dondarrion, and Thoros of Myr, as well as both Clegane brothers and Ilyn Payne. Now, she could go stalking around the Riverlands hoping to track down her targets or she could take her bag full of faces south, to the place she knows one of her major targets will be. The assassination of Walder Frey was a great way to let viewers know Arya's back in Westeros and ready to get to work. But her first kill may also be an indication of her plan of attack: don't waste time searching for people.
Now that Cersei has gone full Mad Queen and begun the Rhythm Nation portion of her reign, it would make sense for Arya to head to King's Landing for a little one-on-one time. That's not to say Arya will be successful, but if people close to the queen start randomly disappearing (or dropping dead in front of her), the slow realization that someone is stalking her will make for satisfying viewing.
Sam Puts His Library Card to Good Use
Samwell Tarly has traveled far and wide to reach the Citadel and to gaze upon its many books, to see the chandeliers hanging from its ceiling, sparking theories this is all one big story being recounted by him or maybe even young Sam. But Sam's not just there to marvel at the meta-nature of it all; he's there to learn, dammit. There's an untold number of pages in that library and Sam better hope the maesters there keep an updated card catalogue, because there're some pretty specific things the maester-in-training needs to find before he can put Heartsbane to good use.
With all that went on in the season 6 finale, it might seem like seeing Sam and Gilly reach the Citadel was a minor thing, but it wasn't. Even though Gilly will probably have to go full Yentl if she's going to get some quality reading time in, she and Sam are there to seek answers to some lingering questions that may help turn the tide in the war to come. Perhaps, locked away somewhere in those thousands upon thousands of volumes in the Citadel is the answer to making Valyrian steel and maybe just how the Wall keeps the undead at bay.
Sansa and Jon Conflict Heats Up
As the northern houses were busy swearing their allegiance to Jon Snow (is there anything Lyanna Mormont can't do?), his non-bastard half-sister Sansa Stark – the one person in the room with the most legitimate claim on Winterfell and the North – went from looking pleased to discontented in less time than it takes Cersei to say "yes" to a fourth pre-noon glass of wine. Some of that may have been the result of expectation as far as the conventions of lineage are concerned, and some may have been inspired by the look she got from Littlefinger. It is hard to say whether or not Petyr Baelish is again manipulating Sansa, or if she's simply implementing the lessons she's learned from her time spent with him – that it's all a great game and, more importantly, that chaos is a ladder – but it seems unlikely that all is well in Winterfell.
The same can be said for the North in general. The houses may have been united in an act of naming Jon King in the North, but how long will that last with the Bastard King being so tight with the Wildlings? Resentment is a powerful force, one that the northerners aren't immune to (just look at house Glover when Jon and Sansa came calling for help against Ramsay) and the potential for rupture may mirror what's going on in Sansa's heart right now. Then again, with Littlefinger inviting her to aim for the Iron Throne, maybe Sansa is playing Petyr Baelish more than he's playing her.
Jaime's Love is Tested
Jaime Lannister has layers. One minute he's sharing a tender moment with Brienne and telling her to keep the Valyrian sword Tywin bestowed upon him, and the next he's threatening to catapult a baby into a wall to expedite his reunion with Cersei. Of course, when he returns to King's Landing he finds a smoldering Sept of Baelor, his youngest son dead, and his twin sister being crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. That's a more drastic change than coming home without a hand.
More to the point, however, is that in wiping out her many enemies (and thousands of innocent lives as well) Cersei essentially did the very thing the Mad King threatened to do before Jaime shanked him in the back. Jaime may have lost his honor and earned the dubious title Kingslayer, but he did so saving an untold number of lives. With Cersei's power growing unchecked and her willingness to carry out the plans of the Mad King now a proven fact, it seems Jaime's story can only end in tragedy.
Bran Seeks Out Howland Reed
Bran's vision of his father inside the Tower of Joy confirmed Jon's parentage, but left the new Three-Eyed Raven with one hell of a conundrum: How do you go about telling not just Jon Snow, but the rest of Westeros that the living embodiment of Ned Stark's shame is actually the biggest-kept secret in all the Seven Kingdoms? While it makes sense that Bran's first course of action would be to head to Winterfell – since he's pretty close – unless greenseers can broadcast their visions, such a trip may be for naught.
That's why Bran needs to seek some help in the form of the man who was there: Howland Reed. Sure, Howland didn't go inside the tower with Ned, but it's hard to believe he doesn't know the whole story. Besides, there's precedence for Howland's secret-keeping ability. This is, after all, the guy who helped perpetuate the legend that Ned bested The Sword of the Morning himself, Ser Arthur Dayne, in a fair fight. If you're fine with keeping the greatest assist in Robert's Rebellion off your resume, then it's no small wonder Howland hasn't said squat about Jon Snow's origin.
It is convenient, then, that Bran would find himself in the company of Howland's daughter Meera, the one person who might make a trip to Greywater Watch easier. This makes for the logical next step in Bran's quest and, if successful, could shake up Jon's status on the show even more. But Howland's verification is only half of the story. Even though HBO's handy dandy lineage chart clearly connects Jon to Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, 'The Winds of Winter' sure wasn't shy about killing the audio when Lyanna spoke to Ned just before baby Jon was dropped in his arms. Is there more to Jon's parentage than R + L = J? Perhaps, and Howland could be the key – unless of course Bran can track down that nurse first.
Dany's Army Sweeps Across Westeros
Daenerys Tarygaryen, Mother of Dragons (and all the other titles that come after it) is sailing to Westeros. As luck would have it, though, she didn't hit the open ocean on her own. Traveling with her is likely the largest, most dangerous fighting force Westeros has seen in a long time. Dany's packing the combined might of a Dothraki army, the Unsullied, and the backing of Dorne and what's left of the Tyrells. Oh, and Daenerys has three enormous dragons flying alongside as she crosses the ocean. Needless to say, wherever Dany's many boats come ashore, it's going to… well, make waves.
Khaleesi's journey west is the culmination of six seasons worth of story, but there's no indication that she's going to head right to King's Landing. After all, Yara and Theon did hand her a fleet of ships and they have a pesky, murderous uncle standing in the way of the first queen of the Ironborn. What better way to announce her presence than by first breaking the wheel in Pyke and helping to install Yara on the throne? And where will Dany and her army go from there? Well, Daenerys might do well to go on the campaign trail. She needs to rub elbows with the common folk and get them believing in her as a difference maker – something she can make evident not through fear and intimidation, but through a demonstration she's serious about being the kind of ruler destined to leave the world better than the one she was born into. And with Tyrion by her side, there's a good chance the Hand of the Queen will advice the Breaker of Chains to do just that. Besides, how else is she going to meet Jon Snow if she doesn't do some traveling first?
Jorah Mormont Finds a Cure
The last time anyone saw Ser Jorah Mormont, he was off to find some ointment to put on that greyscale and hopefully return to his queen without having become one of the feral stone men, like he and Tyrion saw in Old Valyria. There is a cure – or a way to stop greyscale from spreading at least – this much is known from Shireen, but in her father's throw-everything-at-the-infection-and-see-what-sticks methodology no one bothered to put any of the procedures through clinical trials first, so there's no way of knowing what did the trick – or if it was a combination of many things. At any rate, Jorah has his work cut out for him, to say the least.
It's safe to say nobody is counting on Mormont to survive his latest ordeal, but if there's one thing to be said about Jorah, it's that the dude is tenacious. He took down a Dorthraki warrior in single combat, he returned from his banishment with the man who would become the Hand of the Queen as an "I'm sorry I was a spy" gift, and even helped orchestrate the ultimate bonfire in Vaes Dothrak, so the guy has a knack for showing up long after he's been counted out. That's not saying the next time he's seen Ol' Jorah won't be a little worse for wear, but his dusty goodbye to the Mother of Dragons cannot be the last time this scruffy swordsman is on screen.
The Night King
The Night King has endgame written all over him. Just look at the way he lets his piercing blue eyes (and skin) do all the talking. Last time he and Jon Snow crossed paths, the Night King turned the hand signal for raising the dead into the ultimate "come at me bro." The last time someone turned in a burn like that while getting some serious work done, Tywin ended up with a bolt in the chest. All that's to say, this guy is set to play a major role in the end of the series, and with seasons 7 and 8 being shorter than the usual 10-episodes, the biggest bad ever to walk in Westeros will probably need to get some screen time.
Don't expect it to be a lot of screen time, though. With Cersei and Euron still needing to be taken care of, and various loose threads like the Brotherhood Without Banners, Melisandre, Gendry, and Hot Pie (okay, he's not a loose thread, but still, fingers crossed) still out there, there's a lot of story to tackle in seven episodes before the Night King can really come into focus. Still, it'd help raise the stakes if he makes a personal appearance at the first stop on this list.
Game of Thrones continues with season 7 in 2017 on HBO.