The Battle of Winterfell in Game of Thrones season 8 is one of the most anticipated events of the TV show's final season, but it's also an event that may mean a lot of characters die fighting the Night King and the Army of the Dead. Game of Thrones has been building to this moment ever since the first ever episode when Ned Stark executed men of the Night's Watch who had deserted after an encounter with White Walkers.
These blue-skinned villains of Game of Thrones have gone from the stuff of nightmares and children's stories to the biggest threat to Westeros, and the living are preparing to take their stand in Game of Thrones season 8, episode 3 - and hope that it's enough.
The first two episodes of Game of Thrones season 8 were spent on mostly exposition - people meeting once again, battle preparation, romance, and more. By the end of the second episode, however, the Army of the Dead had arrived. And soon, the longest consecutive battle in live-action history will take place. But who are the major players in the Battle of Winterfell and who will most likely die?
Team Night King: Bran As Bait And His Protectors
Team Winterfell doesn't have the might to actually defeat the army of the Night King by sheer numbers - especially because anyone who falls may be resurrected as part of that army. In a pitched battle, they are royally screwed. However, it's already been revealed that killing a White Walker seems to kill the wights that they are responsible for resurrecting (or siring, if Walkers suit vampire terminology). This means that if someone can kill the Night King, the very first White Walker who is responsible for all the others, the entire army should (theoretically) drop dead on the spot. Useful way to win a battle... but not an easy feat.
In order to try and get close to the Night King so that someone can kill him, Team Winterfell have decided to leave Bran in the Godswood as bait. It's assumed that the Night King will want to kill Bran, as he's the Three-Eyed Raven, and that the Night King will find him thanks to the mark he left on his arm (after their vision-interaction when Bran was north of the Wall). Protecting Bran is Theon Greyjoy and his Ironborn, as Theon attempts to make up for his past attack on Winterfell. The plan is for the Night King to appear and then be taken out by dragonfire from either Rhaegal or Drogon (or both), although no one knows if dragonfire will actually kill him.
Team Winterfell: Who Is Defending The Castle?
While Bran sits in the Godswood, everyone else is attempting to deal with the massive army of wights headed their way. From the map on the table at Winterfell, it's easy to see where the main forces are: the Mormonts (small in numbers as they are) are defending the inner castle. Front and center is Daenerys' army, with the Dothraki on the frontlines and the Unsullied backing them up. On both flanks are the Stark forces, with the Tully army at the front of the east flank. Many of the major players are going to be right in the thick of it, too. Brienne and Jaime are going to be heading up the east flank with the Tully army (as has been seen in the trailer and when Jaime asked to fight under her). Grey Worm will be in the middle of it all leading the Unsullied. Tormund will presumably be with the Wildlings, as will Beric, and it looks like they are making up the right flank part of the Stark forces.
As well as those who are fighting as footsoldiers, there are a few other players with bit more of a role to play. Davos is going to be on the walls, watching the army approach and giving the signal to light the fire-trench dug around Winterfell, which should slow down (and, hopefully, kill plenty of) the wight army. Arya and Sansa are last seen on the battlements, and it's likely that the sisters, along with Gendry and the Hound, are going to be fighting within the castle walls. Most of the women and children, along with Varys, Tyrion, Gilly (and potentially Sam, although he is likely going to want to fight) are going to be hiding in the crypts. Finally, Jon and Daenerys are going to be on their dragons for at least part of the battle, although it's likely that they'll get into the thick of it at some point as well.
Guaranteed Survivors (Who Needs To Fight Cersei)
While there can be no characters who are 100% guaranteed to survive, because this is Game of Thrones, there are quite a few that most fans are assuming will make it through alive. Jon and Daenerys are the least likely to die, because not only do they have to go up against Cersei for the Iron Throne, but after last week's big reveal, fans need to see how Daenerys reacts to Jon being Aegon Targaryen. In addition, leaving only one major contender for the Throne against Cersei would be far too simplistic for Game of Thrones - there needs to be a few characters duking it out for rule of King's Landing. Jaime and Tyrion are also fairly safe bets as survivors, as their story with Cersei (and Bronn, now that he's been sent to finish them off) is not yet finished.
Other characters who have the benefit of plot armor include Sansa and Arya - because although the sisters may well not make it through the fight, they seem to be major enough characters to make it a little further. Plus, Arya has that kill list to finish. The Hound is also likely to be safe, as he has some unfinished business with his brother in King's Landing. Varys is a good bet as a survivor, because he is in the crypts with Tyrion (and if Tyrion survives there, Varys is likely to as well), but also because he has some potential unfinished business with Melisandre and her death predictions for the two of them. Finally, fans who subscribe to the theory that Sam is narrating the entire series from a future perspective have to believe that he also makes it out alive.
Probable Casualties (And Now Thier Arcs Have Ended)
Overall, there need to be enough survivors of the armies to actually take on Cersei, but it's assumed that many of the fighters are going to be exiting the show this week: Brienne, after her gloriously happy moment in the second episode, is definitely at risk, especially now that her core arc has concluded. Beric, having died long ago in the books (and having lost his resurrecting priest) is also a solid bet to go, as is Jorah, whose arc has been fairly clearly wrapped up (and who will never get to truly love his dragon Queen, it seems).
Theon, as the protector of Bran against the Night King, stands very little chance - and there's a certain poetry to him finding his death at Winterfell which would suit the series. Greyworm is also almost definitely on the way out, not just because he is leading the Unsullied on the battleground, but because he had such a touching talk with Missandei last episode. Making sweet, romantic plans for the future just seems like a red flag when it comes to surviving in Game of Thrones. It's likely that Edd could bite the dust, as he's important enough to create an emotional response, but has no vital part to play in the final three episodes. Finally, Gendry may also be on the way out, having served his purpose as dragonglass-blacksmith.
What Will Actually Happen
Of course, it's important to remember that, outside of the battle plans explicitly stated last episode, there is really no way of knowing exactly what is going to happen. The battle plans themselves may fall apart, especially if the Night King has some tricks up his sleeve (those crypts are being considered awfully "safe" when fighting against a foe that can raise the dead), and there's no way of knowing what will happen when the Night King actually comes after Bran (assuming that he does). Game of Thrones is all about twists, and a straightforward and easy-to-predict battle is just not going to happen, so fans will have to wait another few days to find out for sure!
Game of Thrones season 8 continues Sunday, April 28, at 9 pm ET on HBO.